Saturday, December 24, 2005

Prix fixe? No, prefix.

DISCLAIMER: This entry contains a lot of instances of the word "Catholic." However, this entry actually has nothing of substance to do with Catholicism. And, you know, some of my best friends were once Catholic.

I think the term "lapsed Catholic" is pretty funny. It ranks up there with "spot vulture." Spot vultures, of course, are the people who sit in their cars in the middle of the parking lot aisles, waiting for someone to vacate a parking spot. You know these people. They make sure no one can get around them, and very often they do this even when everyone else is in the store. Then, of course, no one can get their car out anyway, so the vultures honk a lot. But really, if they were true vultures, they would drive around the lot in search of a soon-to-be-departing vehicle. Nor would they honk. Real vultures aren't known for lying in wait, nor are they known for announcing their presence. They dive-bomb, and they do it quietly. Given half a chance, they will dive-bomb your car while you try to change your flat tire, and you won't know until it's too late.

But I was talking about "lapsed Catholics," wasn't I? I could go on a whole thing about how this term is funny because it implies that once Catholic, always Catholic. I mean, if you are raised Catholic and then decide it's not for you, then you become a lapsed Catholic. Which, in essence, makes you a non-practicing Catholic, even though you don't want to practice Catholicism. There's no escape! But I won't go on that whole thing. Really. My whole thing is actually much, much longer.

Some folks who treat substance abuse like to conceptualize "falling off the wagon" as lapse, relapse, and collapse. A lapse isn't necessarily bad. You can have a one lapse during a period of sobriety and still be perfectly fine. But a bunch of lapses can make a relapse. Relapse isn't necessarily bad, either, as long as you are able to commit to getting back on the proverbial wagon. But if you can't get your use back under control, you enter collapse. And collapse is bad.

So what of religious lapses, then? If a lapsed Catholic is someone who has stopped being Catholic, but might start up again, then a relapsed Catholic is someone who has stopped being Catholic, but has started up again. Or is a relapsed Catholic someone who stopped being Catholic, started up again, and then stopped (i.e., re-lapsing)? But perhaps that is an elapsed Catholic.

Then we turn to collapsed Catholics. Do they have bad knees?

And what about prolapsed Catholics? Are they people who support lapsed Catholics, or are they medical conditions?

Eh. Words are dumb.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Public transit story #1: Kids say the darndest things

My mother says that, when I was a wee little thing, I went very quickly from single words to paragraphs. (If you are surprised by this, you should check your pulse, because you might be, um, vitally challenged.) I didn't say too many embarrassing things, but I sure did have an opinion, and often a dissertation, on what was around me.

So I am always amused by, and occasionally protective of, little kids' public soapboxes. Once when we were in Target, we came upon this little boy in the women's underwear department. He looked all of six years old. Right at his eye level was a full-figure bra. He took the bra in his hands and exclaimed, "That is just INAPPROPRIATE!"

Shhh, said the adults with him.

We booked it out of Target, lest we pee ourselves with laughter in the middle of the store.

Last Thursday on my way to work, the train suddenly came to a halt. The driver got on the intercom and announced that there were some switching problems up ahead. She said we'd be sitting on the track for a few minutes, and then we'd turn around and go back to the station we'd just left. Our (formerly northbound) train would then become a southbound train, and another one would be along in a few minutes to take us the rest of the way north. It was still pretty early in the morning and there weren't a lot of people on the train, so there wasn't any collective groaning or anything like that.

There was, however, a small child in the back of the car, maybe five or six years old. After the driver's announcement, she regaled the car with a burning question:

"I know what is an egg, but what is a nog? What is an eggnog?"

Shhh, said the adult with her.

Then the driver made a second announcement: "We just have to sit here a few minutes longer, and then we'll go back to Orinda and the other train will come to get you."

Said the little girl, "We're going to be here A LONG TIME! I will read this book. Once upon a time, blah blah blah, the end, I love you, I'm going to bed."

Shhh, said her adult.

At that point, the train started moving. I was disappointed. I mean, I wanted to go to work and all--I love my job, and it pays by the hour--but I still don't know what a nog is either.

Friday, December 16, 2005

An allegory

Once upon a time there was a little gerbil. This little gerbil tried to do everything right all the time. It kept its cage neat, didn't snack upon its own poop, and never peed up in the Habitrail tunnels. Sometimes people picked up the gerbil and held it upside-down by its tail. It didn't squirm or try to bite the people. It was truly a very well-behaved gerbil.

The gerbil liked to chew on cardboard tubes. It was really into the cardboard tubes. Paper towel tubes, toilet paper tubes, what-have-you. It would only share its cardboard tubes with one of its cagemates. The two gerbils spent a lot of time destroying cardboard tubes together. They were very well-behaved, although sometimes they stayed up very late, chewing on tubes and chattering.

One day, the people got a huge new cage with some more gerbils. They hooked up the new cage to the old cage, and the gerbil and its cagemate got to know the new bunch of gerbils. They chewed some tubes together in the new cage, but soon the gerbil's cagemate got tired of the new cage and went back to the old cage. The gerbil really missed its cagemate.

The new gerbils told the gerbil that it was chewing tubes all wrong. They said that real gerbils all chewed tubes in a very particular way. The gerbil wanted to do everything right and make the new gerbils happy, so it started chewing tubes like a real gerbil.

The gerbil had always thought it was a real gerbil, but it started to have its doubts. Maybe it was a hamster, or a mouse, or a very small guinea pig. It spent a lot of time looking at its tail. Hamsters and guinea pigs don't have tails, so maybe it was a mouse. Maybe it should start calling itself a mouse, or at the very least, a gerbil imposter. It wasn't chewing tubes like a real gerbil, but its cagemate kept saying they were both real gerbils. The gerbil was very, very confused.

After a while, the gerbil grew tired of trying to do things the right way. It wanted to do things its way, because it realized that sometimes other gerbils' right ways were not the right way for it. So it did most of the same gerbilly things, like keeping the cage neat, not eating its own poop, and not peeing in the Habitrail tunnels. It still didn't squirm when people held it upside-down by its tail. But it did go back to chewing tubes its own way.

The other gerbils were very mad. They told the gerbil it would never be taken for a real gerbil unless it chewed tubes like a real gerbil. They told the gerbil it couldn't have any sunflower seeds unless it chewed tubes like a real gerbil. They started pooping in the gerbil's favorite corner of the cage. Once they put some poop in a sunflower seed shell and gave it to the gerbil. The gerbil was so happy to see a sunflower seed shell that it didn't notice the poop inside until it was too late.

Finally the gerbil couldn't take it any more. It went back to its old cage and its favorite cagemate. It chewed tubes the way it wanted to. It tried not to pay attention to the other cage. Every so often it saw the gerbils in the other cage giving it nasty, disapproving looks over their half-chewed tubes. Sometimes the other gerbils tried to throw poop at the gerbil, but they threw like gerbils and the poop landed in their own cage. The gerbil focused on keeping its own cage neat, chewing on tubes with its cagemate, and trying really hard not to care about the other gerbils.

Then one day the gerbil looked over at the other cage and saw that the other gerbils were practically swimming in gerbil poop. They called over to the gerbil and asked for help. The people had been trying to bring home new gerbils, they said, and the new gerbils wouldn't move in on account of the filth. A couple of gerbils had stayed over for a night or two, but none of them would stay longer. The prospective gerbils all complained of the poop and the rules about tube-chewing. No one knew what to do, because the poop-throwing and the chewing rules had always worked just fine.

The gerbil was indignant. How dare they ask for help fixing the very things that prompted it to leave? The gerbil stayed up many nights, chewing on tubes, wondering what to do. It finally knew, in its gerbilly heart, that it was a real gerbil. The other gerbils--maybe they didn't even have gerbilly hearts. Maybe they were all rats. They certainly behaved like vermin.

After a lot of searching of its gerbilly soul, the gerbil said to the other gerbils that it would, indeed, help. It would never benefit directly, it said, because it would never, ever, ever go back to that other cage, never. But it wanted to make life better for future batches of prospective gerbils. The other gerbils were very eager to hear what the gerbil had to say.

The gerbil said it had a single piece of advice.

What is it? What is it? clamored the other gerbils.

The gerbil said it was a really radical idea that the other gerbils might not like.

What is it? What is it? Please tell us! clamored the other gerbils.

The gerbil took a bite of a cardboard tube, stood up on its little haunches, and said through a very full mouth:

"There's no wrong way to eat these pieces."


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I do, but you don't.

I am a freak.

No, really, I am. I find Harry Potter vapid. I have no desire to read The Da Vinci Code, The Bridges of Madison County, or anything by Steven Covey. I have never seen Desperate Housewives, The Sopranos, or Sex in the City, nor do I plan to anytime soon. I idolized Simon and Garfunkel in my youth while my peers drooled over the New Kids on the Block. I find most romantic comedies so formulaic as to be unwatchable. I think Brad Pitt is funny-looking. Okay, fine, I don't like boys, and neither does my wife, really. That's why we got married. In the spirit of equality, I also think Angelina Jolie is funny-looking.

And I find Queer Eye for the Straight Guy completely and utterly tasteless. I have, indeed, seen a few episodes of this one. I thought it was offensive before I watched it, and I still think it's offensive. At its core, the show is based on the following little syllogism:

  1. All straight men are slobs.
  2. No straight man should be a slob.
  3. Therefore, all straight men should be cured of their slobbiness.
  4. Slobs can only be cured by non-slobs.
  5. Therefore, all straight men must be cured of their slobbiness by non-slobs.
  6. No gay man is a slob.
  7. Therefore, straight men can only be cured of their slobbiness by gay men.
  8. Slobby straight men are always good entertainment.
  9. Gay men are always good entertainment.
  10. Therefore, gay men curing slobby straight men is even better entertainment.

Besides being illogical, this is just plain dumb. I know plenty of slobby gay men and obsessively non-slobby straight men. In effect, Queer Eye only reinforces the notion that gay people exist only to help straight people be better people.

Now, the logical extension of the above is a huge steaming cesspool of irony: If straight men are inherently slobs and gay men are inherently non-slobs, then straight men can't be non-slobs! In other words, those Straight Guys must become more gay!!!!

Ha! Take THAT, homophobic assimilators!!!!

I do not, however, appreciate the irony of Queer Eye for the Engaged Guy. This, I think, is the epitome of offensive television masquerading as wholesome entertainment. In this great land of opportunity, gay people can't enjoy the full benefits of marriage. Sure, gay Americans can get married in Massachusetts and a handful of foreign countries. I married the most beautiful woman in the world three months ago, but Dubya's Crusaders want to make sure our party is permanently, Constitutionally spoiled.

According to the Queer Eye FAQ, only guys from the New York Tri-State area are eligible for de-slobbing. Neither Connecticut nor New Jersey allows same-sex marriage. New York only recognizes same-sex marriages performed outside of New York. In essence, gay guys get to help straight guys be less straight (see above) in order to get married in places where gay weddings are prohibited.

Indeed, in most corners of the world, same-sex relationships have no legal standing. We get harassed, assaulted, and killed because of who we are and who we love. Some of us may go our entire lives without ever enjoying the benefits of real, honest-to-God marriage, much less those of societal acceptance.

My wife and I planned our own wedding, and it was completely fabulous. We'll help straight people plan theirs, too... as soon as we can declare the proceeds on a joint federal tax return.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A room with a perfectly acceptable view

I have been living in California now for just over six months, and I am still in the throes of culture shock. There's this philosophy that everyone has to be first all the time. Unfortunately, not everyone can be first at the same time. In fact, only one person can be first in any given situation. That's, um, kind of part and parcel of being first.

This is why I hate the highways.

I am, however, getting used to the skylines out here. I like being up in the hills sometimes, where if it's not too hazy and my eyes and brain are getting along with each other, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm not so sure about the bone-dry hills dotted with scrub. They look like armpits. Giant human armpits. With green hair.

And every so often there is a kerfuffle about something ruining someone's view. In this particular case, some people are concerned about power lines blocking their view of the bay. They're trying to get the lines put underground, a project to be funded by additional property taxes. All those homes are worth a lot of money, you know, and apparently, imperfect views decrease their value. But many of these homes are owned by retirees, who bought them a long time ago for a lot less than their current worth, and who can't afford any more property taxes.

The old-timers don't mind the power lines. It's the newer residents who do, the ones who bought their multimillion-dollar houses for millions of dollars... and who must not be very happy with their houses. Because hy worry about how much you can get for your house, unless you're planning to sell it?

I grew up in a little itty bitty historic town on the other side of the country, whose two claims to fame are 1) it was founded by William Penn and 2) pretty much the entirety of downtown appears in the movie "Signs." My hometown has regulations about what color you can paint your house. (At least in San Francisco, Victorian houses are pink and purple, the way God intended--not colonial red, forest green, and Chesapeake blue.) I like rolling hills that are green in the summer, red in the fall, and spiky with bare branches the rest of the time. I like rivers and creeks. I like snow. Um, I really like snow. A lot. Also thunderstorms. I miss severe weather.

I also miss the view out of my bedroom window. Until a few months ago, the view was of the lumberyard. The main building was on the other side of our next-door neighbors' house. When I was little, we used to jump off the weird 3-foot ledges that stuck out of it. We decorated that white wall with flying rotten walnuts and muddy balls. From my window I could also see some of the other buildings, like the mill and the sketchy storage building.

Then the developers came and knocked it all down. In its place will be a "traditional neighborhood development" that is anything but traditional.

When I went back for Thanksgiving, I could look out my window and see houses two blocks away. I could see cars on other streets. I could see a lot of things I'd never seen from there before, things that had always been there. It was very disturbing. I wanted my old view back--which is to say, I wanted no view at all.

Sure, I was upset when the cell phone tower went up behind the old Acme grocery. It's tall and ugly. But I like being able to use my cell phone when I visit my parents, and they like using their cell phones. And I bet those people who fret about the power lines enjoy using their cell phones, too. How do we get all this lovely cellular reception? By having tall, ugly cell phone towers. Just like we get electricity in our homes by having heavy, ugly wires strung between tall, ugly poles.

So, go ahead. Put those wires underground. Then start thinking about subterranean cell phone towers. Because the more cell phones there are, the more towers we need--and the more likely one will wind up in your backyard.

Oh, and I'll take my lumberyard back now, please.