Thursday, August 17, 2017

to the eclipse


As I drove down Interstate 81 South, I spotted a hitchhiker in his twenties, either scraggly or merely “roughing it,” with a cardboard sign. His branding tool was of the sort that panhandlers on urban corners employ, with captions such as: “Veteran” or “God bless” or “Anything helps” or “Hungry.” This particular hitchhiker on this particular day sported a sign that read, “TO THE ECLIPSE. 

Good one!
This was 10 days before the predicted solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. Predicted? Yes, it had not occurred yet. Although NASA scientists can forecast precisely when and where the solar eclipse will be, it still has to happen on its own. Cue Little Orphan Annie to sing about the sun coming up tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow… only a day away, etc. 
I attribute my dose of skepticism to the epic letdown of Comet Kohoutek in 1973. Experts hyped it in advance as a spectacular, mind- and soul-blowing cosmic event. It was a dud.
Presumably, the pedestrian pitching for a ride was aiming to get to somewhere like Nashville, near or on the eclipse’s path of totality. But that’s an assumption. Maybe he merely needed a ride down the road to Marathon, New York. Maybe he wanted to hit up a Good Samaritan driver for a few bucks or a pack of cigarettes. I’ll never know — unless by some strange Reverse Kohoutek Effect he reads this and tells me.
The eclipse’s expected shadow swath through the United States was “kohoutekked” as a destination for a rare and spectacular event. Madras, Oregon. Casper, Wyoming. St. Joseph, Missouri. Nashville, Tennessee. Columbia, South Carolina. Let me pause here for a cranky disclaimer. For years, I’ve heard media reports claim that a notable eclipse, either solar or lunar, would be the last one so intense and dramatic in a designated area for the rest of our lives! And then inevitably the experts conjure up ANOTHER “last-chance-to-see-the-intense-and-dramatic” eclipse. I’ve grown skeptical. Or old. 
Can you actually go to an eclipse? Wouldn’t you have to go to the sun, the moon, and the Earth? Aren’t you just going to see the results of the solar eclipse? At its climax it is two or three minutes of darkness in daytime. Spare me. I’ve had more than two or three minutes of darkness in daytime plenty of times. 
Did the hitchhiker’s TO THE ECLIPSE request mean, “Take me to the path of totality”? Our stranger may have wanted to go where the hottest (figuratively; these days “literally” means “figuratively”) solar-eclipse action was predicted to be.
Path of totality? Don’t even. I’ve been on a path of totality since forever. I don’t know anything short of totality. The path of totality is riddled with casualties. And they want to sell tickets to it?!? Gawd. On my metaphysical Google Maps, the Path of Totality is a highway with two lanes, marked All and None. It has few exits and no speed limits.
Speaking of highways, in retrospect I should have swerved to the shoulder, picked up the hitchhiker, and driven him as far as he wanted to go. I could have asked him about his own path of totality: Did he have one? Was he seeking one? Was he fleeing one? 
Oh, the places we’d go, the stories we’d trade!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

plus one


Plus One

The first time I heard the term I was confused. My friend seemed to be using it solely in a business context.

“Would you care to be my plus one at dinner Friday? My company is hosting this ritzy affair,” he asked an attractive female mutual friend. I was overhearing the dialogue, so I did not pay it much mind.

Not having heard of “plus one,” I assumed by the context that it was a sales term. I figured it meant something like this translated into non-drummer, non-sales-quota jargon (which had briefly been my world in the Eighties), “Would you please, please pose as my Number One sales prospect worth $23,500 in potential weekly revenue at dinner Friday? Because most of my prospects in real life are minus one, or minus one to the tenth, but don’t tell my sales manager.”

That explains why my sales career was of brief duration. If the company enforced the draw against advance they claimed I owed, I’d be a shackled indentured servant to this day, decades later.

Plus one.

I took it as code for elite. Like “A Team And Then Some.”

For those of you among the cultural cognoscenti, you already know plus one refers to a friend, date, companion, or, um, escort, that one brings to an event if you are the invited guest. Some sources say it dates to 2004. Don’t upbraid me for living under a cultural rock. I don’t get out all that much.

It comes from the format that guest lists or invitations employ: Jane Doe + 1. It serves a number of social purposes, some of them awkward. It allows a host to invite exactly one half of a couple. Why? Who knows. Reasons abound. The couple may be openly on the verge of fracturing, or in an open relationship. One member of the couple might be serving time in the big house or in rehab or undergoing a transition that is still unacknowledged. In plain English, maybe the inviter(s) just don’t like one member of the couple and never did. This affords an excellent opportunity to prevent the drunken, wild boor from wrecking the event.

Then, of course, there’s the lonelyhearts angle. This demographic would bristle at being a plus one. For them, it would be an embarrassing admission of authenticity, independence, self-gratification, and the inexplicable absence of co-dependent misery, signified by a scarlet letter “S,” for solitude. The shame! Alternatively, others would jump at the chance to be a plus one, roaming socially unfettered at the event in question. Besides, being a guest of a guest might hold the promise of the tables being turned at the next social event requiring invitations.

From a purely monetary or practical standpoint, the role of plus one offers the chance to enjoy a free meal — and more! (as direct-mail advertisements vaguely enthuse). The “and more!” might mean anything from new friends to life partners — or new chances at co-dependence or relationship failure. Seen in this light, the decision to be a plus one, or not, is laden with limitless permutations, a cosmic rolling of the social dice.

One side of you might say: “Go for it!” while your other self says: “Are you freaking crazy?”

Devil or angel.

So now I know. Plus one does not refer to sales tactics, clothing size, fertility methods, supersized drinks, erectile dysfunction solutions, threesomes, or unexplored spiritual dimensions. (Disclaimer: Any reference to any real product, trademark, entity, or proprietary method is purely unintentional and coincidental.)

Happy plus-one-ing!