Wednesday, August 15, 2018

it'll be all right


You hear the phrase, and you want to believe it. "It'll be all right." Or perhaps the slightly more formal and more assertive "It will be all right." The lack of a contraction adds a dollop of gravitas to the remark. It's not simply a remark; it's a sentence, not as in a judicial punishment but grammatically. It nearly takes the stance of a command, an imperative sentence, but then you would need "you," understood, as the subject: "Be all right." That's an entirely different flavor, isn't it? Even though that formulation is a command, it carries less weight, less force, than "It'll be all right." The phrase exudes hope; it's a declaration of faith that something will turn out okay, whatever that may mean. Yes, you want to believe it when they say it to you. But such faith, belief, credence, or acceptance is not based merely on the words. The words are the least of it. What matters more is who is saying it and how they are saying it. You therefore weigh a bushel of considerations: is this person prone to bromides or platitudes? Is it just a well-meaning but vacant wish? Is it even less than that, merely something to say, to fill the air, or a putative palliative that even the speaker does not believe? Or does the proclaimer of "It'll be all right" have a history, a solid back story you can grasp, a redemptive tale that gives you the hope that's intended? You smell that hope in the air after they say it. They say it breezily but with a substratum of insouciant certitude. You also wonder what elicited the plethora of "It'll be all right"s. You did not expect that the plight you described would come off so melodramatically, evoking so many "It will be all right"s or its variations. Now you wonder if you were laying it on with a trowel. And you fear you were seeking attention more than solace and strength. True, you had to fight off the knee-jerk: "How can you say that?" Or "Really? What makes you think so?" Or the flat-out "I don't think so; I doubt that." You could say that the "it" in "It'll be all right" is the fulcrum, the pivot, for all that follows, both for them and for you. Are there configurations of "it" that can never be all right, or is that a matter of perspective, attitude, faith, disposition, hope, or their opposites? You wonder what you would feel if your plight was received with no one saying "It'll be all right," a stony silence or a bounteous wordlessness, take your pick. And, c'mon, what's with this "plight"? You concede that word may be too freighted with danger, risk, and threat. But what choice did you have? How else would you term your condition, circumstance, or conjecture? You hear another "It'll be all right," a familiar ring to it now, like an echo in a canyon, and you are tempted to blurt out "But it is all right!" but you resist the impulse because you don't want to come off as a wiseguy, a flippant and cavalier contrarian. Instead, you find yourself repeating it, to your surprise. "It'll be all right," not audibly, more a mumble. You, of all people, don't know what this means or what to make of it. "It will be all right," they said and are still saying. You suspect you are right back where you started, but infinitely not. You don't mind. You're willing to wait to find out.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

remembrance of things past, and present


I'll talk to you soon.
See you soon. 
You said you'd talk to me soon.
I did.
You said you'd see me soon.
Correct. 
What happened.
Nothing.
What about talking to me soon.
I did.
No, you didn't.
What do you mean.
Exactly.
What do you mean, what do you mean.
I mean you didn't talk to me soon, or see me soon.
Yes, I did.
No, you didn't.
I don't want to argue about it.
I'm not arguing.
You're not arguing.
We're not arguing.
Then what is this.
Never mind.
Never mind what.
Where are you going.
Who said I'm going anywhere.
You're going.
I'm going to go.
When will I see you again.
See you soon.
Soon.
Talk to you soon.
I'm going too.
Where.
Not far.
Pretty close.
When are you coming back.
Soon.
You're saying soon.
I think so.
We'll get together soon.
We'll talk soon.
I'll text you.
Text me.
Soon.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

compulsion

. . . or is it obsession? I get confused. The screen says: 6:17 in its lean, sans serif sleekness. It tells me the time, doesn't it, that screen. Various symbols tell me if I have a text, a message from someone near or far. Press the home button. Wake it up. "It" is a device. Thank God-the Universe-the cosmos that I'm not on Facebook. There'd be more curating, checking, calculating, catching up, observing, weighing, reacting. At least I know my Twitter presence is utter, vacuous nonsense. Swipe the screen again. Wake it up. What's the latest? What is the latest notification, the crawl of lights on a building at Times Square, my own personal, idiosyncratic version of it. What about the hum, the vibration. Wasn't that it, a nearly imperceptible hum on the table at the coffee shop. Or was it the phantom hum, the one people falsely feel in their pocket even when it is not there. Click home. Or side button. Alert it, rouse it. What if I am missing a reply, taunt, compliment, accusation, headline, warning, omen, fact, fiction, question, assertion, tug, pat, hug, shove. But I just looked. I just saw the screen, moments ago. Nothing but ennui and quotidian banality. Is that it, a compulsive craving for excitement spurred by something, anything, good, bad, or indifferent? Indifferent, you say? Isn't "it" infinitely indifferent to my whims, wants, fears, validations, excretions, accretions, and deletions? Click. home screen. Nothing changed. Just the time. 6:29.  

walk a mile -- or more -- in my shoes, or yours


Why does anyone decide to take a walk at 1:17 in the morning? Would it be more ill advised for a woman to do so than for a man, and does that consideration involve common sense, sexism, or practicality, or all of the above, or does it solely depend on locale? 

Questions, questions. 

He walked out the door and into the night. He had brought along a long-sleeved shirt in case it was chilly, now that the storm seemed to break the heat wave.

She wore sensible shoes for walking, more like sneakers but not quite.

His pace was steady, not aggressive but determined.

She had a flashlight and a pocket knife at the ready.

He had a destination.

She had a destination.

Few cars drove by. The streets were as deserted as during an air raid.

Few pedestrians were about, none threatening.

No bicyclists.

No motorcyclists.

Some streetlights, some dark stretches.

No other walker walkers. Yes, some walked, but not as if they had any place they were fixing to go to, not at that hour.

They wore no earbuds to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.

He rehearsed what he'd say.

She imagined what she would hear.

A summery breeze made a cameo.

It was as if the footsteps touching the sidewalk, in some cases the roadway, were dissipating anger and anxiety, like waves emanating from an earthquake, weakening over time and distance, evoking fears of a tsunami.

There was no turning back now.

The tsunami warnings were posted.

The pebble had been dropped in the pond.

Monday, July 30, 2018

you're fired!

After my preceding blog post about my experience as a food-delivery driver, I got axed! In the middle of the night. 4:47 a.m. to be exact. Coincidence?! You'd think someone or some-thing-or-it-or-algorithm had read my blog piece with its albeit anonymous references to an on-demand food-delivery service. Coincidence?! The reason for being fired? Some balderdash about not meeting minimum customer rating and minimum completion rate ... which is literally laughable (LL) because unless the app was acting up, I was always on time or early. I mean, c'mon! If that's how DoorDash wants to play they can go fuck themselves. And, no, I don't care if an algorithm, robot, human, or humanoid fired me. Who'd want to be part of such a clusterfuck anyway?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

deus or dea ex machina


In case you didn't take four years of Latin in high school, the title of this blog post translates to "god or goddess out of the machine." Without googling it, if memory serves right the expression refers to a playwright's trick: to solve a plot dilemma the author injects a solution out of left field, as if a god or goddess had dropped out of the sky to make things right. Something like that. Close enough for my purposes. (I refuse to look it up while writing this. Go ahead. You're sure to look it up now, after this tease.) In this instance, the god or goddess in the machine is the notion of digital commands. I recently signed up with a food-delivery service. I installed an app on my phone and went through the required steps to be a valid delivery person seeking to make a few extra bucks at times of my own choosing. If I put myself on the clock, it makes me available for orders. I digitally inform the molecules or bits or bytes or electronic pulses -- I honestly don't know what -- residing in the app that I'm ready. The app knows where I am by GPS. If I receive a notification of a delivery order, I have 60 seconds to accept or decline the chance to go to the food merchant to pick up the food and then deliver it within a specified time to the person ordering the food and its delivery. A clock image in the upper-right corner of my phone screen starts ticking away the countdown. If I don't accept, someone else gets it. No pressure? Some pressure. Concurrent with this, I receive matching texts from the app. Messages like: "New Order: Go to XYZ (East Moses)." If I get to the food merchant and tarry in the parking lot, I start getting pestered by texts. Where are you? Choices are given, such as "waiting in line," "getting the food," "problem encountered," or "go fuck yourself." Yeah, yeah, I threw that in last one in there. Or if you accept the order and start driving, you might get a text saying something like, "You don't appear to be heading towards the order. Do you need help?" This annoys me because I know damn well where I'm going, thank you. If you fail to respond to an order -- typically because the app is frozen or acting up -- you are scolded. "You missed a delivery opportunity, which will now be offered to the next available PrancingReindeer." 

This digital hectoring wears me down. Who needs the cajoling, scolding, insinuating, needling, pressuring, belittling, and merciless nagging? Not to get too psychoanalytical about all this, but it dredges up the worst memories of growing up. It's a parental-memory nightmare-flashback. For the first time, today I encountered a fellow PrancingReindeer (my name for the delivery squad). He corroborated the woes I had encountered with the app. He was irate, ready to give up on this particular delivery vendor. 

But this person confirmed something I had been considering for a blog topic.

We treat the app like a person or persons.

He kept on using the personal pronoun "they" as he described his frustrations with the app. They said this, they did that, they told me this, they warned me about this, they didn't understand this.

I was thinking the same way.

Then a light bulb went off in my head.

"They" can't go fuck themselves because there is no "they."

I am learning to be calm when I am digitally hectored by the app by reminding myself there is no one behind the curtain, no Wizard of Oz. It is simply an algorithm or whatchamacallit responding to bits of data received or gleaned from me across the ether. It is very easy to think someone is twiddling their thumbs, timing us, watching us, waiting by the door ready to remonstrate us.

Surely the app has oceans of data on my timeliness, responsiveness, accuracy, speed, distance, heart rate, urinary frequency, attire, political views, browsing history, et cetera ad infinitum. And lakes of data are collected on the merchants and food merchants too. No doubt "they" know everything, and are using it to refine the app, I suppose.

But there is no person monitoring my delivery successes or failures. Is there?

It's all just automatically triggered prompts programmed in. 

Right? 

Are you sure?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

save it for a rainy day


We've been having summer showers today. They make for a delicious invitation to nap. I declined only because I slept so late into the morning, not that that eliminated the possibility of napping. We need the rain. People seem to say that when it rains, whether it's true or not. It's just part of the script. Like, in old Westerns someone would mutter, "It's a good day for a hangin'" and some tumbleweed would roll by across the parched main street of the town where the gunfight was supposed to take place. A good day for a hanging? That's rough. You would hope most think the opposite, as if no day were good for a hanging. Not if you were the hangee, that's for sure. Rarely, if ever, would the black and white movie depict a hanging. And if it did, the execution would be sanitized and visually bowdlerized so as not to acquaint viewers with anything resembling the real act, for fear of ruining that line about its being a good day and for fear of having viewers throw up and just maybe walk out of the theater, or the living room, opposed to the death penalty. The sound of rain on the metal roof of a car while you sit inside and watch the rivulets form on the windshield and wonder if there's a pattern to it, and then you don't care but just enjoy it. The Beatles had a song about rain, eponymously titled. Bob Dylan wrote and sang "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," but the words "rain" or "rainy" never show up; "stone" and "stoned" appear about 347 times. The Beatles song derides those of us who shun direct contact with nature, be it rainy or sunny. Has there ever been another song about rain itself, as opposed to rain involving romance or remorse or love or love's loss? When it rains it pours. Then it's pissing down, in the United Kingdom. If you want to get biblical about it, "...for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45). Save it for a rainy day. Save what? The sunshine, allegorically? Save the rain from the last rainy day? No, save money, they say. To mean: in halcyon or sunshine-imbued times, sock away some cash for the less-sunny, the rainy, times. As if people do. Most don't in American society.  I have read that Germans are adept at saving it for a rainy day. Save it for a rainy day doesn't quite work for attributes of beauty, fertility, pleasure, or luck. It's not as if you can horde it, whatever the "it" is, until a time comes for splurging. But we try. I do. As if that one great time, thing, event, person, episode, or instance can be cast in amber and later melted or have its DNA reconfigured for later cloning. Like those rivulets on the windshield and the saturating symphony on the car roof. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

promises, promises


We all make promises, don't we? "All" is extreme. Let's say that many of us have made a promise or two at some time or another. In some Christian traditions, we make a promise of faithfulness as infants. The promises are made on our behalf since even in that tradition it is acknowledged that a newborn, an infant, or a toddler is incapable of making any sort of valid promise. When I became an Episcopalian, arising from the birth of my third child ("just bring the baby; we'll baptize it"), I came enamored of a bit of wiggle room in the Rite of Baptism. The presider, such as a priest, asks the baby a series of questions as part of the baptismal covenant, the agreement that incorporates a series of faith-related promises. The congregation answers for the child, saying: "I will, with God's help." Granted, many readers will find the whole enactment surreal, even Monty Python-ish. For others, they proceed with a voluntary dollop of suspended disbelief. (Did you know the phrase comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? He was writing in 1817, advocating for fantastic elements in poetry: "willing suspension of disbelief.") As for our congregants making promises for a child, we might describe their surrogate promises as willing affirmations of belief in an aura of suspended disbelief. Something like that. "I will, with God's help." To me, the vow was refreshingly human. Maybe I'm the only one who heard it this way, but I felt it served as an asterisk that pleaded: "I will, but God, help me, because this is a tall order; I may not be able to keep this vow; in fact, on my own I know I can't. So help me out."

Promises.

The most notable and common promises are the ones that people make when they get married. Traditional marriage vows in Western societies tend to be just that: vows. Promises. We publicly promise to love and cherish each other, whether rich or poor, sick or well, "till death do us part." Civil ceremonies are light on promises and heavy on legal practicality declaring that each party is not still married to someone else and is free to marry.

The divorce rate serves as its own comment regarding marital promises. As time goes on, some of us revisit, revise, or reconsider those promises in the light of living history. The broken promises spectrum can run from violence and abuse to unfaithfulness to mental illness to simple incompatibility. A skeptic or a critic might say a promise is a promise; breaking it comes from making an excuse. Being twice divorced, I recuse myself from further comment. No judgment here.

But you have to wonder: Does a promise carry any weight in this day and age? Has the notion of a promise lost all gravitas?

We assume that politicians of all stripes break their promises. We accept it as a given.

"I promise I'll call you or text you when I get there." Do you believe it?

"I promise I'll be on time." Depending on personal history and personality, you recalculate. I, for one, tend to run late. It's another topic for another time. I'm working on it. I've explored the reasons for it. I'm getting better about it, or think I am. Other people are the judge of that. Knowing this about myself, I don't promise on-time-ness without some seriousness. I don't want to erode the fragile credibility I have, if any, in this arena.

"I'll call you or text you. I promise."

After a first date, any promise from either party is fraught with doubt and healthy skepticism. If "promise" is invoked, it becomes a test.

Promissory notes legally bind one to a promise. You have no choice but to keep the promise, or else you face unavoidable consequences.

"I promise I'll pay you back on Tuesday."

"The check is in the mail. I promise."

"I promise you, this won't hurt."

"I promise not to . . . "

"On my way." "OMW." Please. That's a promise to promise to promise to walk out the door, maybe, sort of, pretty soon.

The etymology of the word "promise" offers some wiggle room of its own. If you go back deeply enough to its Latin origins, to its neuter past participle and beyond, the word, more or less, means: to release, let go, send, or throw in front of or before. 

See? Even the word "promise" throws some doubt on its own fulfillment or expectation. It lets go and releases even as it binds.

And yet I can't promise you this isn't a richly embroidered rationalization.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

duck duck geese


I paused at the light, ready to turn right on red. I spotted a gaggle of geese attempting to cross the three lanes of Bridge Street, a street so named that fails to bring to mind any sort of bridge whatsoever, except a patch of roadway over a tiny stream. A gaggle of geese. The collective noun derives from the linguistic attempt to imitate the sound the geese make. Just so you know: the geese are not called a gaggle if they are flying. They become a skein if they take flight. These geese were jaunty and persistent in their effort to cross the busy road on a sunny afternoon in July. It seemed they had a leader, perhaps a few leaders. Presumably, the leaders would be the first to perish if the crossing proved fatal. It would remain to be seen whether such tragedy would thwart the efforts of the remaining gaggle. I turned right. In my rear-view mirror, I noticed the geese were making progress. They were getting cars to stop or slow down as they waddled across, more or less a few steps forward, a few in retreat, then another sally forth. The geese were causing risk to the drivers bearing down upon them. A sudden slowdown heightens the chance of a chain-reaction collision. As for my own driving risk, I had to avert my eyes and proceed forward on my own passage. 

We wholesomely respect such matters as "animal rights" in our society. Some places post roadside warnings: GEESE CROSSING or DUCK CROSSING. We do it for deer, too, though such warnings are more a matter of alerting drivers to be cautious with respect to deer gamboling across the road. In our public square, we champion and protect the rights of animals such as geese or ducks. We do so even at the risk to ourselves. After all, most drivers don't see geese or ducks in the road only to step on the accelerator and plow into the gaggle, exploding it into feathers, flesh, and blood. We're not like that. They are poor, innocent creatures. They have no say in their own safety, they had to cross the road for some reason, perhaps for food or water, maybe to go home to a nest. 

Humans? Forget it. We beep the horn. We get angry at a person or persons for being in the road, impeding our progress, especially in the midst of a travel portion, outside of a defined crosswalk. We might give the finger to the "gaggle" (horde? gang? clutch? group? crowd? tribe? remnant? family?) of humans. Add factors such as migration, race, mobility, behavior, size, attire, et al., and you alter the atmosphere and the attitude of some drivers, possibly increasing personal anger or vehicular speed. 

O, to be a skein in human skin!
 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

can I have one for free?


At first, I thought the sign said MUG SALE. Then I figured: RUG SALE. Two simple rows of letters were crudely and sloppily painted on some beat-up plywood, on a sandwich board, off to the side of the roadway. It could only have applied to one of the few stores on the other side of the heavily traveled road. I was driving by, so these were fleeting thoughts my brain was rapidly processing. MUGS SALE? Plural? Who'd give a shit about that? "Hey, let me grind to a stop, put my left-turn signal on, and get on over there and buy a car full of mugs!" I don't think so. Rugs? Possibly, but how many do you need, and how often? And you would need a store larger than the ones I saw, to make room for the rugs, unless they were bath mats or welcome carpets. The mind tries to fill in the blanks in order to make a familiar and expected word. 

Aha! That first letter is an H! The topmost first three letters, all caps, sans serif, and SALE below it were in white paint over a yellow background, which partially explained the readability challenges. HUG SALE? Wrong again. The sign painter or painters splashed on an E after HUG, a dark gray-black E, as if the E were an afterthought, or a correction.

Now I get it! 

HUGE SALE.

Incidentally, I noticed after a subsequent drive-by that the E was painted over a white background, which seemed to indicate that the E indeed was a correction. Omigod, what could the earlier version possibly have been? HUGG? How many ways can you misspell HUGE anyway?

So, they're having a huge sale over there. We don't know if the hugeness refers to the size of the items for sale (bulldozers? semi-tractor-trailers? railroad freight cars? aircraft carriers?) or the quantity of items, be they large or tiny, or the amount of alleged discount. 

Either way, it did not interest me in the least, not enough to swerve left.

HUG SALE would interest me. Wouldn't it interest you? Maybe not. Some people shy away from direct physical contact. They want their private space. They just happen to be like that. No law against it. Such individuals would keep driving. But some people undoubtedly would turn left for a HUG SALE, especially if the store had tawdry and gaudy neon lights, evoking an aura of illicit activity. On the other hand, the hug emporium could just as easily be family-friendly, in fact radically friendly, welcoming one and all, no matter your race, ethnicity, gender, social status, education, age, history, talent, background, mental state, physical condition, health, political persuasion, religious or secular beliefs, marital status, mobility, legality, sobriety, cordiality or hostility. (Did I leave anything out?)

HUG SALE.

How much would a hug cost? After all, no hug is truly free. Both the giver and the receiver invest immeasurable doses of time, vulnerability, physical exertion, emotional risk, social capital, and spiritual energy in the act of hugging. Oh. You were thinking in monetary terms. I suppose you can let the market determine that. (Is hug even the right word? Is a hug the same as an embrace? The sign had no room for that longer word, which invites its own misreadings.)  

Who would be the huggers and who would be the huggees? Couldn't the roles be reversed?

What would be the optimum duration of each hug?

I would limit it to one hug per visit, then get back in line if you're that hug-hungry.

What would be the appropriate firmness of the hug? Both arms? Slapping on back?  

No words exchanged?

Hug Monitors (HMs) would be able to sort out these practical matters, right?