Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Feelings: A Linguistic Ailment

I feel, therefore; I am?

Over the last decade or so, an alarming disease has spread across the American language. It has rendered speakers, mostly under the age of forty, incapable of articulating a firm declarative sentence. This affliction can be observed in people of nearly every race, religion and credit rating. The most commonly noticeable symptom of this linguistic ailment is an inordinate use of the phrase “I feel” at the beginning of statements where it does not belong. If one is asked an “Either/Or” question, feelings are irrelevant. For example; if a barista asks if you would like whole milk or skim in your coffee, responding with “I FEEL like I want skim…” is unacceptable. The barista, who is getting paid very little to wake up early and be scalded all morning, has no interest in your feelings. The barista simply wants to complete your order and move on to the next dehumanizing task of the day. They are not paid enough to acknowledge your feelings. Nobody is. This is why therapists charge such steep hourly fees. So what, you may ask, has caused this castration of linguistic fortitude? I have a theory that it correlates with, but is not limited to, the following cultural trends and events:

Self Esteem “Self Esteem" was invented in the 1980’s. Prior to this time, people were not encouraged to think highly of themselves by default. If one does not have an artificially inflated sense of self-worth, one is less likely to share their personal insights with strangers. In previous generations, a person had to actually accomplish something meaningful in order to be asked for their opinion. Now, one gets a medal just for participation - AND the false sense of entitlement that comes with it.

Home Video Cameras In the 1980’s and 90’s, American homes were saturated with a new form of technology that turned every family into the stars of their own poorly produced TV shows, still in re-runs during holidays and family reunions to the present day. The home video camera, which began as an expensive novelty item, quickly turned into a ubiquitous documenter of mundane events that could be replayed ad infinitum, or until an overworked VCR scrambled the tape. Previous technologies that produced choppy silent films which required an empty wall and a bulky projector to consume were no match for the ease and portability of VHS tapes. People became accustomed to watching instant replays of their Christmas mornings, Thanksgiving dinners and high school band concerts almost immediately, thus giving everyone the ability to consume themselves as their own entertainment source.

The Writers Strike of 2007-08 In the fall of 2007, a consortium of TV writers banded together for several months and refused to write sitcoms and crime dramas, citing mistreatment and under-appreciation by their producers. Unfortunately, the TV networks were prepared for this. They had amassed an emergency reserve of “reality” shows to fill in the gaps. The American Public quickly adapted to a steady diet of nouveau riche housewives, teen singing contests and food pornography, all of which promoted the culture of self-indulgence and unfiltered “confessional” sharing. When the strike was resolved in 2008, the writers returned to an industry that now demanded more “reality.” Obviously, their plan had backfired. Post-stirke, instead of writing cheesy dialogue accompanied by canned laugh tracks, they had unintentionally created the Bravo network and the catch-phrase, “I’m not here to make friends.

Weblogs, or as we now call them; “Blogs” In the late 1990’s, when the internet was measured out in minutes on a phone bill, a new form of self-publication was invented called the weblog. In their primitive form, these weblogs existed as strings of plain text written by mole people for other mole people who needed a medium more permanent than email, but less formal than journalism. The rest of the world was unaware of their existence until the early 2000’s when the masses were given access to things like LiveJournal and Myspace, thus inventing a medium for angsty teenagers, disillusioned college students and under-loved adults to “express” themselves immediately without the buffer of an editor. Every emotional trauma could be published online for the world to consume. This eventually gave birth to current (as of 2016) mediums like Twitter, Instagram and a pile of other instant gratification services that have given the public a false impression that their problems are unique and that their thoughts are valuable.

• • •

So how can we combat this unseemly malady that has turned the American public into self-obsessed whiners? How can we persuade cultural figures like Lena Dunham to stop perpetuating the preponderance of hedonistic turns of phrase in the dialogue of premium episodic dramas that we shamefully hate-watch without cessation? How can we find a balance between self-worth and self-indulgence? These are questions to be left to you, dear reader. Next time you have the urge to provide an explanation for something, qualified by the phrase, “I feel,” ask yourself; why? Do you really “feel” like you need skim milk in your coffee, or can you just ask for it like a grown-up without having to resort to that level of personal oversharing that benefits nobody?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Hayley Mills Ruined Our Lives

Hayley Mills with an apple.

Like many homosexuals over the age of thirty, my childhood was saturated with the films of Hayley Mills. From Pollyanna to the Parent Trap to her role as Miss Bliss on the first season of Saved By the Bell, she seemed to be everywhere. One may recall her girlish charms and jaunty British-ness and draw the conclusion that she was harmless and benign. This was the genius of the Disney company and their diabolical scheme to create a society reliant upon therapists, antidepressants and extravagant theme park vacations.

If you are not familiar with the work of Ms. Mills, let me fill you in. She was Walt Disney’s blonde sweetheart of the 1960’s with a vague English accent that never made sense in most of the American film roles she landed. She was relentlessly cast as an innocent young girl placed in troublesome predicaments that were cleverly resolved in the end with the aid of catchy musical numbers and ill-founded hope. Hayley made being a teenager look like a wholesome and light hearted endeavor. Whether it was discovering a long-lost twin at summer camp, solving mysteries on the beaches of Greece or climbing mountains with explorers in search of a missing relative, she promoted an illusion that anything is possible for those with the right outfits and the belief that “things just work out.”

Let’s examine some of her notable films:

Pollyanna (1960)

Pollyanna is a misguided young girl who suffers from delusional thinking. She is, of course, an Orphan sent to live with an estranged miserly aunt played by Jane Wyman, who built a career on perfect posture and crisp diction. Pollyanna’s dead parents were voluntarily destitute missionaries who taught her to always find the silver lining, which they had to do often since they had no money and Pollyanna never even had a doll to play with (which becomes a central plot point later in the story). A series of very dull things occur that I don’t really remember, but the main takeaway is that the horrible aunt doesn’t like the little girl, and the little girl just wants love and approval and a doll to play with. She does everything she can to please the aunt, but it’s never enough, and instead of choosing to appeal to a new target audience, Pollyanna continues to make every attempt to gain the affection of this woman who really needs to get over herself. Somehow the little girl finally acquires a doll at a church carnival, but due to a clever plot twist, the doll falls out of a window and into a tree. Pollyanna then attempts to rescue the doll and predictably falls out of the tree, becoming a paraplegic in an age before public accessibility standards were in effect. Her positive attitude falters for a brief moment, but it is immediately restored when the people of the town all come to visit her in her wheelchair and the aunt finally decides to give up and be civil.

Moral of the story: if you are persistent enough with people who don’t deserve your respect, you can eventually wear them down and force them to like you.

The Parent Trap (1961)

This is perhaps Ms. Mill’s most famous role. Using the magic of primitive trick photography, one actress is able to play twins named Sharon and Susan who were separated at birth and never made aware of each other’s existence. Through a twist of fate, both girls are shipped off to the same WASPy summer camp for affluent white girls. Self-internalized misogyny runs rampant and the twins become enemies instantly after discovering one another. The girl-on-girl drama escalates, elaborate pranks are performed and eventually the pair is forced to live together in isolation as punishment for causing so many camp disruptions. Rather than having a mud wrestling fight to the death, the two girls acknowledge the obvious fact that they are sisters and form an alliance. They spend the remainder of their time at camp engaging in an elaborate espionage scheme to trade identities and manipulate their divorced parents into getting back together. More drama ensues, the parents finally catch on that they’ve been played, and everyone reunites in time for Ms. Mills to perform an upbeat duet with herself that inspires frivolity and re-kindles a spark between the estranged lovers. A few final complications occur, causing the viewer to doubt the effectiveness of the hair-brained scheme, but in the end, all is made right and the girls’ plan is a success.

Moral of the story: If you prey on the emotional weaknesses of others, it is possible to manipulate everyone around you into denying their own experiences and adopting new patterns of behavior to meet your own selfish needs.

Summer Magic (1963)

Set in the ragtime era, this period comedy must have been pieced together from remnants of other failed ideas as fulfillment of an obligation to feature Hayley in a musical. In this film, Ms. Mills is poor again, and forced to abandon city life, following her widowed mother to begin a new life sequestered in a small town in the country. Burl Ives shows up to sing a few songs while helping the family fix up the run-down (but giant) house they are squatting in. Just as the family is starting to feel comfortable, tragedy strikes again, and they are compelled to take in a recently orphaned cousin with chronic PMS. The two girls dislike each other at first, but then bond over teaching a younger girl how to please a man by appearing to be weak and useless in a musical number called “Femininity.” The newly bonded cousins combine feminine forces to beguile wealthy men at a Halloween party in hopes of exchanging their youth and beauty for the resources hoarded by the aforementioned wealthy men.

Moral of the story: If you perpetuate unrealistic gender biases that promote female objectification, you too can escape a cycle of poverty.

Perhaps the rational conclusions to be drawn from these facts are obvious, but just in case, I will break them down. Hayley Mills acted as an agent of the Disney company to lie to generations of American children, setting up unrealistic expectations that made growing up more tedious. Some have reacted to this betrayal by spending unnecessary hours in therapy talking about their feelings. Some have been driven to drink or abuse prescription mood enhancers. Personally, I decided to become a New Yorker, which has been the healthiest of possible outcomes. If you have been wronged by Ms. Mills as so many others have, know that you are not alone.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sustenance Abuse

An example of a photo that should not be taken, especially with a flash.

For many New Yorkers, a refrigerator is place to store condiments, leftover takeout, cocktail mixers and unsorted mail. Preparing one’s own meals at home is an activity stigmatized by the micro-kitchens found in most Manhattan apartments. This is not to say that knowledge of how to cook is lost on us, for how can one send a steak back to the chef without being able to provide specific instructions for its fine-tuning? Part of what makes living in New York so great is the unending variety of restaurants and cafes that are used in place of home kitchens to keep us nourished and sustained. New Yorkers have uncovered primal instincts locked deep inside of our ancestral DNA that allow us to forage all about the city, finding hidden food sources in unlikely places. Any seasoned local knows at least five meatball sub shops that are off the grid and no more than two street meat carts that will not induce regret. This knowledge comes over time and sometimes at a price paid in antacids and emergency visits to Starbucks restrooms. One of the downsides to this utopia of culinary delights are the types of people that frequent certain establishments. I enjoy a good meal just as much as anyone, but after several years observing various trends in dining behavior, I have come to the conclusion that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to enjoy oneself while eating out. Picture Imperfect A well presented plate of food is a delight to the eyes as well as the stomach. Many restaurants in Manhattan, and even some parts of Brooklyn now, have perfected the art of laying out food on a dish in such a way that it almost seems a shame to disturb it. A shame as it may be, food is meant to be eaten, not gazed upon. This realization that life is but a fleeting series of ephemeral moments should not spoil one’s appetite, nor should it be cause for documentation. Very few things, aside from a fussy child or a marriage proposal, ruin the ambiance of a delicious meal as much as flash photography igniting flickers of lightning at inopportune moments all over a dining room. The idea of photographing a meal is something that seems akin to a very sad kind of homemade pornography, for what is the appeal of seeing a perfectly grilled salmon steak on a bed of mediterranean risotto that I did not have the opportunity to experience for myself? It’s like reading a cookbook only for pleasure, which I find to be a rather hollow and ungratifying experience. I’d be very disinclined to meet a person who actively seeks out photos of his or her friends’ weekend meals to fill the sad hours of an uneventful life. The biggest offenders used to be young women from general studies programs at NYU with rhinestone encrusted fingernails, but now the disease has spread to grown men and women who really ought to know better. Now, every restaurant patron may be under the false impression that he or she is the next Ansel Adams of crème brûlée. This behavior is unacceptable and should be stopped. You Are What You Don’t Eat Every few years, a new trend in voluntary food restriction sweeps the movers and shakers of the New York dining elite. One moment, it is the highest fashion to abstain from wheat and the next it is consuming dairy only from cows who are sung to sleep by opera singers in the better regions of Long Island (far enough away from Fire Island not to be kept awake by electronic dance hits and lingering fumes of amyl nitrate). Ultimately these practices come and go, but the communities of wretched people who adopt them stay the same. It is disconcerting to go to a diner only to see a newly printed menu highlighting the vegan mozzarella sticks, paleo health shakes and gluten-free bagels with free-range lox and tofu schmear. No thank you. This is not what New York is all about.  Such crimes against the culinary arts should be confined to Los Angeles where they originated. One does not become noble for choosing to omit a perfectly fine source of nutrition from his or her diet. Abstinence from baked goods never made anyone interesting. New York was built on pastrami on rye and kosher franks. Glorifying yourself by bragging about that which you do not eat is not something to celebrate, it is a topic of conversation to be avoided. The Ball Jar Some fashions in dining can start small, and spread virally, like the subway bed bug infestation of 2010. Unlike bed bugs that cause irritation without being visible, other societal ills can be seen with the naked eye. One trend that I have observed taking hold over the last several years, most likely originated in Brooklyn (and I’d bet money on Williamsburg, specifically). It was a small regional outbreak at first, which escalated rapidly. Now, every “cute” bar and cafe from the Far Rockaways to Chelsea to the Marble Hill serves its beverages in old-timey Ball jars. If you are unfamiliar with Ball jars, they are the glass containers in which rural-American grandmothers store their homemade jams and jellies. They should not be used as serving vessels for $16 cocktails. If one is spending $16 to $18 on a watered down drink with a column of hand-carved ice occupying the majority of its volume, it is insulting to have it served in a container worth 25 cents. Idealistic young people who yearn for “simpler times” they never witnessed (à la the great depression or the glamorous days of war rationing) find it charming to be taken advantage of in this manner. These are the same people who believe that online petitions can affect broad social changes. If I wanted to drink out of re-purposed containers, I could just stay home and drink alone, which would save a great deal of money. It is because of this, that I opt to stay in most evenings and enjoy my own company.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

In-Flight Entertainment

I have come to the conclusion that anyone who strikes up a conversation on an airplane has given you their permission to be lied to. I try to avoid unnecessary chit chat as much as possible, especially while belted into an uncomfortable seat. An ideal flying situation is one that involves a deaf foreigner sitting next to me who has politely taken a sedative.

It’s not that I advocate lying in real life. I am terrible at remembering what I’ve said from one day to the next, which is an important skill one needs to manage successful deceptions. Lying is almost as dependent upon a sharp memory as it is on a creative sense of morality. Luckily for me, my short-term memory can retain events for up to five hours without too much degradation, which is sufficient for a flight from New York to San Francisco.

I look forward to air travel about as much as the average person looks forward to a colonoscopy. I do not have an inordinate fear of dying in a plane crash, but rather, I dislike being crammed into a metal tube with 100+ strangers for several hours who all believe that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s. Usually I do my best to keep to myself and stay occupied with reading materials and the in-flight beverage service. The social contract I strive to uphold in these situations is to mind my manners, remain calm, and interact with my fellow travelers as little as possible. Unfortunately, this standard of behavior is not as widely practiced as it should be. When these rules are broken, the aforementioned social contract gives me the liberty to entertain myself as in the following cases.

Stacey from Portland

Portland, Oregon is a friendly enough place inhabited by mostly well-mannered white folks who are all “unique” in a similar way. On a flight from Portland returning to New York, I had just belted myself into my aisle seat when an art therapy student in a dung-colored skirt and clogs sauntered down the aisle and took her seat next to me. She smelled of Nag Champa and misguided optimism. As the flight attendants began to secure the cabin, she tapped my shoulder and introduced herself as “Stacey!” to which I replied with a nod and a half-smile. I tried to return to my reading, but Stacey had other plans.

“Hello again! I’m not sure if you heard me, but I’m Stacey. I get a little nervous when I fly, and they say that making friends with the people around you helps to ease the tension - So… I hope you don’t mind that - I mean, you look friendly - I mean, I don’t want to tell you how you look or anything, but you seem friendly...” she kept babbling on for about five minutes before taking a breath. Obviously, Stacey was not good judge of character. I decided this was a trait that needed to be exploited.

“Oh, Stacey, you’ve caught me at an awkward time,” I said mournfully. “You see, Eduardo, my lover of five years left me for another man, who happens to be my former best friend, Ted. They kidnapped my beloved cat Charles and started a new life together in New York. Unfortunately, Ted was out walking the the cat in the rain on Central Park West last Tuesday when a taxi lost control and ran into both of them at the Mariner’s Gate on West 85th Street. Poor Charles was killed instantly, and Ted is in a coma at Lenox Hill. There was nothing to do but cremate the cat, whose ashes I am on my way to collect now. So, I am sorry... Stacey, but I would prefer to be left alone...”

Poor Stacey, overcome with the inability to generate an appropriate response, left me alone for the duration of the flight, allowing me to read and enjoy the beverage service in peace. 

June from Roanoke

The flight from Roanoke, Virginia to New York takes about an hour and a half, which is just enough time to peruse one issue of the the New Yorker from cover to cover. The small regional airport in Roanoke has several gift shops, but no bar, which I find troubling.

Upon boarding a medium-sized commuter aircraft from a staircase on wheels that was rolled on to the runway moments before, I found myself seated next to a marshmallowy woman in a floral leisure suit. I could tell she was a talker before I even sat down, and so I decided to pretend I was a non-English speaking tourist from Québec. I figured my poor French would be enough to fool her.

“Well hello!” she said in colorful tone, pregnant with unnecessary extra syllables that matched her outfit. “I’m June!” I smiled and nodded, trying to look as foreign as possible. I sat down and buckled myself in, hoping maybe she’d take the hint and pull out a Danielle Steel novel or some knitting. She did not. 

“Is New York your final destination or are you connecting? I’m meeting some of my gal pals for a Carnival Cruise out of New York tomorrow and I am just so excited, let me tell you. We do this once a year together and it’s just soooo much fun! Have you ever been on a cruise?” She waited for my response with anticipation. I thought carefully.

In my best fake Canadian French I said “Je suis très désolé, madame, mais je ne parle pas l’anglais.” She looked disappointed, making a little grimace, and then pulled out a bag of potato chips. I felt very satisfied that my ruse had worked, until I realized I had a New Yorker magazine in my hands, which was obviously (even to June) printed in English. I proceeded to read the magazine in English, while pretending to only speak French, and June avoided eye contact while eating two bags of ranch flavored low-fat potato chips until we landed at JFK.

Thus I learned that a lie told while on an aircraft does not always have to be believed in order to be useful.

Sigríður and Hildur from Reykjavik

There is something absolutely the matter with American teenagers, especially in contrast with their foreign counterparts. I’ve met a wide range of teenagers from other countries who manage to be pleasant, well-mannered and even appear happy while in the presence of their parents. This is abundantly true for the young people of Iceland.

On a connecting flight from Paris to New York, I made a stop in Reykjavik just long enough to buy a sandwich for hundreds of Krona, hoping that the exchange rate to US Dollars would be favorable. Since I never left the airport to see the “real” Iceland, I have a limited amount of information upon which to draw a conclusion of their culture. From what I could gather, everyone is astonishingly pleasant and there is a national reverence for dried fish products and licorice-flavored beverages in colorful packaging.

Once I boarded the plane, I took my seat next to two very blonde girls with porcelain skin. I was suffering from a cold that the Parisians had given me as a souvenir to bring back to New York. As soon as I sat down, the girls offered me a tissue, noticing my drippy and swollen red nose. Their tissues were a great relief, since I had been forced to use a roll of toilet paper that I stole from a restroom as Charles de Gaulle earlier in the day, which in true French fashion, was stiff and non-accommodating.

They introduced themselves at Sigríður and Hildur (no, I could not pronounce these names either, but I had the girls write the names down so I could at least see what I was saying incorrectly). They informed me that they were both fifteen years old and this was their first trip to New York. They were traveling in a large group, which was scattered all about the plane. I scanned the surrounding area and saw small groups of equally polite young aryans talking quietly and not making a fuss.

“Siggy” and “Hilda,” as I decided to call them, were delighted to learn that I lived in New York and they wanted to know all about my exciting lifestyle. They were so wide-eyed and full of hope that I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had a terribly dull job in a hideous building located in the armpit of midtown and that my diet usually consisted of street hot dogs and the stale coffee I stole from work. They didn’t want to hear about the ceiling flaking off in my tiny closet-less bedroom in my fifth floor walk-up that smelled like rotting Chinese food from the grad students below. I decided to give them the version of New York that they wanted to believe was real, and that in my heart, I knew I deserved.

“Well Siggy and Hilda,” I said in an authoritative tone, “New York really is everything you’ve heard, possibly even more. I wake up every morning in a spacious apartment with hilarious roommates who have become my best friends. We work each day in fast-paced city careers looking out over the skyline of Manhattan from our well-organized desks and drink imported espresso from bone china. In the evenings, we frequent all of the trendy restaurants and hip new bars while sensibly enjoying cocktails and exchanging stories of our exciting dating lives. Each new day brings new possibilities. I feel like the luckiest guy in America!”

It was quite fun to be the embodiment of every New York sitcom and big budget movie to a couple of foreign girls who I’d never see again. For five whole hours, high above the Atlantic Ocean, I had it made.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Five Months in Park Slope: A Non-Scientific Urban Ethnography

A typical street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Being a single childless New Yorker in my early thirties easily places me in a bubble, a rather nice one that I enjoy very much. Every now and then, the membrane of this bubble is penetrated, forcing me to acknowledge other parts of life that I forget about if I’m not careful. Some would call this a “reality check.” For me, it feels more like an involuntary social experiment.
On a hot day last summer, I was enjoying a frozen margarita with a friend at a neighborhood bar. Normally, this is what I would consider to be an adults-only activity, but apparently mine is not a universally held opinion. Our evening of socially-acceptable drinking was interrupted by a shrill sound, followed by a brown smell, oozing out of a small bundle in the arms of a woman at the end of the bar. She looked tired, but had managed to put on some lipstick and a pair of earrings. With an infant supported by one hand, and a drink supported by the other, she introduced me to a cultural phenomenon I’ll call the Park Slope Happy Hour. In any given local bar in this corner of Brooklyn, when the sun is beginning to lower in the sky; worn out nanny-less mothers take their seats on stools with their offspring. They do their best to juggle the responsibility of parenthood and the necessity of release in a utopia built of red bricks and mood stabilizers.
Park Slope is a lovely neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its beautiful architecture and abundance of affluent white people in their early forties who practice a form of digital attachment parenting. These members of Generation X who’ve grown up to become attorneys, tech start-up entrepreneurs and small-batch whiskey purveyors inhabit the beautiful brownstones and townhouses that are now a breeding factory for future generations of non-functional humans.
I have been renting a small room in the middle of this cultural ecosystem for the last few months, and I have made the following observations which I will list in no particular order:

A Child by Any Other Name:
There is a hierarchy of names given to children in this community which are used by the parents to define their place in the social caste system:
Literary elite: Names based on obscure literary or historical references that show the amount of liberal arts education the parents have. These names are assigned with the intention of making other people feel stupid.
Organic elite: Names based on heirloom herbs and spices or endangered species of medicinal plants.
Genealogical elite: Names of ancestors, pre-immigration to America, i.e. Stanislav, Olga, Lucius or Gretl.
Former recreational drug users: Made up names with impossible to decipher pronunciations which should be considered a form of child abuse.
New-comers: Names chosen by parents who are new to East Coast liberal society, possibly from Texas or the Midwest. They are usually just standard names with an arbitrary spelling, i.e. Mykael, Ashlyiegh, Ehvahn or Zben (pronounced “Ben,” the Z is silent).

Technology is rapidly evolving and we’re told every year our lives should become better, faster and more efficient. Each new day brings an updated version of a familiar invention that surpasses our previous expectations. Although this logic can be applied to telephones, cars and cameras, the opposite is applicable to humans.
Children in all of the aforementioned social castes are more fragile and helpless than the children of thirty years ago. I can speak from experience, because I have been here the whole time, observing and taking notes. On the sidewalks of Park Slope on any given Saturday, it is not uncommon to see children as much as eight years old being carted around in baby carriages the size of modest Jeeps. Even for those who have somehow acquired the skill of walking, they are never allowed to do it alone. There is always a mother or father (sometimes both) moderating every slight behavior or decision the child makes, thus preventing the development of independent thinking or learning through empirical observation of the world around them.
Once these stunted offspring approach puberty, direct surveillance by parents is replaced by electronic devices that the children have been lead to believe they can not survive without. Oddly enough, the children voluntarily report all of their activities by taking photos and videos of each moment of their lives, and publicly sharing them with others. They no longer remember things like addresses or phone numbers, or how to get from their apartment to school without the aid of a Global Positioning Satellite. Without a batch of photos of the previous day's activities, their atrophied brains would suffer from a perpetual inability to access their own short term memories.
This problem is not isolated just the children, but at least the adults who have adopted such cerebral crutches once had the mental strength to “walk on their own.” The next generation of children will be victims of voluntary de-evolution. In the years to come, we will have amazing microwave ovens with new abilities beyond our dreams, but there will exist a new race of miscreant people who will be helpless to function without them.

Curated Facial Hair:
In the decades to follow our current epoch, the quickest way to visually determine the age of a photograph will be to see the facial hair worn by the men in it. This will be augmented in the photographs taken by the residents of Park Slope. To be completely upfront about my stake in the matter, I have worn a modest beard since the age of eighteen, and I take no issue with facial hair in moderation. I think that a nicely grown and properly maintained beard is quite an attractive feature. There comes a point, though, when facial hair takes on its own identity in order to express something about its owner’s self-image. I have observed the following outlandish trends on the streets and in the fine establishments of “the Slope” over the last few months:

The Waxy Moustache:
In an attempt to revive ye olden days of barbershop quartets and a world before Women's Suffrage, a cohort of men have brought back the waxed handlebar moustache. When walking into a bar, seeing one of these shiny lip adornments is amusing at first. Upon further inspection, seeing a dozen of them is disconcerting. It’s like being surrounded by a room full of automatons pulled from a ride at Coney Island who have been dressed in skinny jeans and band T-shirts and served craft beers. They can be overheard talking about their “complicated” relationships.
The WASPy Rabbi:
It is common to see blue-eyed men with honey colored hair sporting cascades of precisely trimmed beards that fall anywhere from their collar bones to their nipples. Often these men are dressed in some sort of tweed and they smell of lavender or patchouli. They wear impeccably polished leather shoes and they are fond of vests. The group is mostly comprised of Gentiles who have appropriated the essence of their Hasidic neighbors in Williamsburg to the north, and then had it styled by Brooks Brothers and Cole Haan. Many of these men have rings on their fingers, but it’s anyone’s guess as to the gender of their spouses.
Seeking Mrs. Claus:
A more casual version of the designer Rabbi look is the eventual Santa Claus look. These tend to be men who are less interested in precision and more interested in comfort. Their beards have been allowed to grow without the intervention of pruning. They probably don’t iron their pants, and they may go a day or two without changing their underwear. Rather than smelling like a meadow, they usually smell more like a college dorm room. Often, these men are single, but still hopeful.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Subway Delinquent

Proof, that I am a dangerous criminal!

My family was known for many things when I was growing up, but being on time was not one of them. As hard as we tried, I cannot recall a single event to which we were not anxiously rushing. My mother would try to combat this by setting our clocks fast by several minutes, but the only thing that came of this was that each room of our house had its own slightly different time zone. When it was 8:15 in my parents’ bedroom, it was 8:17 in the kitchen, and 8:19 in the car. In reality it was 8:05 and we were scheduled to be somewhere by 8:00. On Sunday mornings we were always late for church. This never stopped my mother from making a grand entrance and saying hello to folks in each pew as we made our way to whichever unwanted empty space was still available.

I would like to say that the embarrassment of chronic tardiness has pushed me to rebel in a more punctual direction as an adult, but it has not. Try as I may, I’m always running behind. Luckily for me, New York provides a myriad of plausible explanations for such things, many of which are even true from time to time:

A street protest closed down my normal route, and so I had to take a detour.
A sewer line burst, causing fountains of liquid filth to flood lower Manhattan.
My train started running express for absolutely no reason and skipped my stop!”

Because of the unpredictability of the city, New Yorkers have adapted to a culture of leniency, for the most part, when it comes to planning. If you make dinner reservations for 7:00, it really means 7:15. If you tell someone you will meet them in 20 minutes, it really means up to 45. If you say you’re on your way, it means you’re still squeezing into your pants. We understand and accept this, all the while, still hoping that we’ll become our perfectly punctual selves, next time.

On a recent Friday morning, I found myself several minutes behind schedule as usual. Was it my fault that the coffee girl was in training? With a steamy to-go cup in hand, I was power walking with determination. As I bounded down the subway stairs to the turnstile, I felt the dribble of my hot beverage absorb into my woven gloves, and quickly turn cold. I rifled through my pockets to find my MetroCard, swiped and saw the dreaded green letters flash on the grimy display; “SWIPE AGAIN AT THIS TURNSTILE.”

Every New Yorker’s heart sinks just a little when this happens. It normally means that the card reader at the turnstile is gummed up, but if you switch to another terminal, the machine will likely “think” you are up to no good and refuse your entry. In good faith, I swiped again, only to see the same message. I swiped a third and a fourth time, with the same result, until I swiped a fifth time and saw the worst of all the turnstile messages: “JUST USED.”

My heart was racing. I could hear the train approaching the platform below. When “JUST USED” appears on the screen, it means the machine “thinks” you have already entered at that station, and you are now just trying to let your friends enter with your card. You are prohibited from trying again for 15 minutes. In a normal case, I would have gone to the attendant in the booth to explain the situation and have them grant me a manual entry, but there was a line of at least a dozen old ladies buying single-fare cards with change being counted out of sandwich baggies. I did not have the luxury of time to allow senile and bespectacled octogenarians to finish with their archaic ritual. The rumble of the approaching train was growing stronger and the pace of everyone else in the station was quickening in response.

I had two choices. I could follow the rules; wait my turn in line behind the grandmothers of Brooklyn and be noticeably and inexplicably late to work, or I could take matters into my own hands. I had indeed paid my fare. It was a mere malfunction of technology that caused the problem I was now facing. As the train could be felt slowing to the platform below, my morality shifted toward the quicker and more devious of my options. My heart raced. I looked at the line of old ladies at the booth, half of whom appeared to be sedated, and I looked down at the train doors below me which were now opening. I steadied my hot dripping coffee cup in one hand, and hoisted myself over the cold metal of the turnstile with the other. In one swift maneuver, I flew over the turnstile with the gracefulness of a groggy toddler.

No sooner had I crossed the threshold, then I heard a shrill voice yelling in my direction, “Sir! Sir! Stop! Sir!

Much to my dismay, my little insurrection was witnessed by two subway police officers lurking in the shadows. The levels of New York City Police presence range from the riot squad holding shields and wielding assault rifles, to traffic cops moderating left hand turns in the middle of intersections to the subway police which have little more respect or authority than a high school hall monitor checking your bathroom pass. The particular individual I was dealing with embodied all characteristics of the classic NYC “Sir Lady.” If you have never encountered a “Sir Lady,” let me explain.

Sir Ladies can be found in airports, movie theaters, train stations and anywhere else that human behaviors are tightly monitored by rules of conduct that may not necessarily have legal consequences. They are uniformed, often uncomfortably in ill-fitting pants that betray the shape of even the fittest of humans. They are given just enough power to be obnoxious, but not enough to carry a weapon and they take themselves very seriously. Sir Ladies are required to look unamused at all times, and more often than not, they have a walkie-talkie holstered at their hip that choaks out static and microphone feedback.

My heart was racing and my stomach felt like it had sunk to my knees. The train below me was being filled and would soon pull away, leaving me behind. I walked over the the Sir Lady and tried to explain the situation as politely as possible. Before I could finish a sentence I was interrupted with, “Sir! Do NOT talk back to me. Just stand here for a minute while I do what I need to do! Give me your ID.

She was enjoying the power trip.

She retrieved the walkie talkie from her hip holster as I handed her my Driver's License, then started yelling to a supervisor sequestered away in some unseen corridor. “Yeah, we’ve got a jumper!” she explained to a muffled voice on other end of the conversation. “Yeah… No, not a runner, just a jumper… Yeah.... Uh huh… Nope… Yeah… Ok.

By this time, the train below me left the station and all of the passengers exiting were enjoying the show. It’s not every day you see a nerdy little man being detained by the subway patrol. I was trying my best to look as though I was not thoroughly embarrassed, but I suspect that my strawberry-colored face gave me away. Any time I shifted my weight or scratched my head, the Sir Lady would give me the stink eye. I tried to continue drinking the coffee in my hand, but this act drew her suspicion and so I stopped. How could I be so insolent as to consume coffee in her lofty presence.

After 10 minutes of mysterious walkie-talkie conversation, she pulled out her ticket pad and a pen. A scratchy unseen voice had given her the green light to proceed. It was obvious that she relished the opportunity to fill out a ticket, and she was going to savor the experience. With a smirk, she handed me a very illegibly written ticket from the Transit Adjudication Bureau. Without another word, she walked away to continue her noble work of “crime fighting” in other corners of the subway.

For my crime of acrobatics, I owed the city of New York $100.00. In nearly 6 years of living in New York, I have always managed to stay below the radar of the Sir Ladies, until now. I am officially a criminal, hardened by the harshness of the city. I have disturbed the peace, and been found guilty in the eyes of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Despite my attempted justifications of the turnstile card reader malfunction, she still described my crime as “jumping over the turnstile to avoid legal payment of fare.”

What have I learned from this experience? What wisdom have I gained from my brush with the law? It's hard to say. Will I change my ways in an act of atonement for my sins? Sure, if it’s convenient. Will this teach me to be more punctual and reduce my risks when running late? Who knows. What I have learned is that it’s always necessary to thoroughly assess your risks before committing a small victimless crime. Look around, especially in the shadows where the Sir Ladies may be hiding. My mistake more than being late, was being sloppy. For that, I am truly sorry. I hope that the citizens of New York can sleep more soundly knowing that justice was served.