Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hawks and omens

I started listening to an audiobook recently which came highly recommended. It was called "H is for Hawk," and I listened to it for a couple of days but decided to bail. It was just too dry for me, and I still have 255 other books on my "to read" list.

The next day, driving down the freeway, I saw a hawk circling above me and took it as a sign to give the book another try. I like bird omens. Even if they end up wrong, they're pretty. 

I still didn’t like the book, bailed again. This morning, a week later, I looked out my front door and, I kid you not, a HAWK was sitting in the center of my front lawn. Never happened before, in decades living here. It turned its head from side to side, then flew away after 20 seconds or so. I saw the distinctive tail feathers. It was a hawk. 

O.K., universe, I get it! It’s a great book! I’m not reading it. H is for "hard pass."

I am not a big believer in omens, but they certainly go way back. Humans have tried to make sense out of randomness forever. Eclipses were interpreted as a sign, abnormal births too. Even, according to one source I read, "the behavior of a sacrificial lamb on the way to the slaughter" was an omen.

Behavior. I'm guessing...oblivious or petrified? Which one was a bad omen for the slaughterer? Maybe if the lamb suddenly starts moonwalking, get out your locust nets? Maybe if, on the way to the slaughter, the lamb runs over and bites the lion in the butt, you know you'd better clean out your rain gutters for the coming frog-pocalypse. 

After the slaughter, things got even wiggier, apparently. They would call in the entrail expert to intuit the future via guts. If the guts looked weird, it was bad news for actors, at least in one culture. I read that if the experts thought signs pointed to the king being in danger, they would put a fake king on the throne until they thought the danger had passed.

Who do you get to play a fake king? An actor. Imagine the casting notice: "Wanted, for a one week to one year run, middle aged, beard preferred, must resemble the currently sitting monarch. There is a stipend, and we absolutely WON'T kill you once your part is no longer needed."

They'd totally kill him. And, to be honest, during the gig, the mead was only so-so. 

I do not think a pristine set of lamb entrails ever ensured a good harvest. It did mean a good dinner that night, at least, and a solid future for mint farmers. 

This is all by way of saying, I'm not going to read that book. 


Monday, September 2, 2019

Rick's van and the Eagles song which turns me 14 again


Just a note to say this week's column is exclusive for my Patreon supporters, who will be reading my riff on the topic of how music, specifically one song on this album, can transport me back in time to a particular moment at age 14. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A reminder to remember

There are two kinds of people in this world; the kind who check their children's pants pockets before doing laundry, and the kind who don't. (All right, there is a third kind, the kind who don't have children, but you are not reading this, because you are golfing.) 

List of people in the first category:

Gandhi
Mother Teresa
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (I'm guessing)

List of people in the second category:

Hitler
Pol Pot
Most of my friends (I'm guessing)

I have always wanted to coin a term for the kind of person I am, the kind who is simultaneously fastidious AND sloppy. Attentive AND oblivious. I am sure my more literate friends are right now screaming the term which already exists and which I can't think of, which is probably "Man! The word is 'man!'" 

I check pockets for important documents before doing laundry. I have never found a kid's mash note or an early draft of the Magna Carta, but I'd feel sick if I pulled one out after a load, the paper pulverized into a wet cylinder. I am fastidious. I am also sloppy. I am someone who has found a three year old "to do" list buried in a stack of my papers on a table, a list of things never accomplished but now rendered irrelevant by time, which is SWEET, let me tell you. 

I write myself notes throughout the day, reminders, things I know I will forget if not committed to paper. These notes pile up at home in several locations, and every couple of months I make a pile of them and transfer all the reminders to a yellow note pad, which I then place on the floor propped against the leg of a coffee table to age like whiskey. 

"Why don't you write notes in your phone instead?" my wife asked recently. This was a good idea, but quickly dismissed on spousal grounds. If you start implementing your spouse's advice, it's a slippery slope. Soon you are putting glasses in the dishwasher correctly, and it's all downhill from there. A husband needs to maintain an aura of bemused disinterest in the  household. I think Kant said that. Or Dave Barry. 

I made an end run around my wife's idea, and googled "best to-do-list apps." I downloaded one and transferred all the tasks from my scraps of paper and yellow pad, both. Now everything I need to remember to do is organized and not littering the house. When I finish a task, I click it and—poof—it disappears. Some of the items involve work that the homestead needs and some are more esoteric; admonitions to do more writing, exercise, taco truck field research. 

Having no excuse when you forget something is a daunting new reality for me. Now my reminders can't fall behind the sideboard or get kicked under a chair. We're in 21st Century George territory. I have resolved to check the app once a day to keep up with things. It's foolproof, too, because I've stuck a Post-It note on the fridge to remind me. 


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Would you Kondo your condo?

Whenever I hear the word "condo," I remember the best use of a condominium reference ever in a movie, in the original "Rocky." Rocky has had success, and a guy is advising him to invest his windfall. "Condominiums," he suggests. Rocky looks left and right, then leans in and, mistaking the word for "condoms," whispers "I never use 'em."

So in recent years when Kondo became a verb I had to smile. By now you have heard of Marie Kondo, home tidying specialist. Her book and TV show on Netflix have been read and watched by millions. To "Kondo" your house is to rid it of junk, and render it organized, user-friendly and joy-inducing. 

Hack! What is that? Oh, a hairball, sorry. 

There has been a predictable backlash by the lazy and the rule-averse, but the truth is, since Kondo-ing I have never had easier access to my underwear. It sits now in a tidy row of little ball shapes like dim sum, next to my little sock balls. These don't take up less room. That would require a shift in physics. But they are easily 80% cuter in there. 

My t-shirts also sit in neat rows on their sides, using the vertical space of the drawer so efficiently I can also fit pants in there now. My previous pants organizing system was to toss them in layers on top of the vinyl-to-digital transfer record player I never used. In the dark, I could find the pants I wanted just by feel. Life was sweet. 

Now my pants are in a drawer, folded tightly. Now I have to remember which drawer. Now I have to see that record transfer thing and feel guilty that it's been sitting unopened on my bedroom floor for five years, next to the unplayed guitar. Worst of all, they say vinyl is coming back, so now can I even get my money back by selling the transfer thing online, or did I miss my window?

Kondo's philosophy is to remove from your dwelling anything which does not "bring you joy." This is a tall order, especially since none of my clothes brought me joy even as I tore the tags off them. I am hoping joy has a slightly different definition in Japanese. Like maybe "the satisfaction which comes from not leaving the house naked." 

I have not gone full Kondo. I have a plastic tub of clothes in the garage, winter clothes at the moment, which in November will be swapped with my Hawaiian shirts and shorts. I am sure I could release some of what's in there to the larger thrift store-frequenting public, but that requires the will to make decisions (see above—lazy and rule-averse.)

Plastic tub manufacturers are enablers, you know that?

The garage itself screams out for Kondo-ing. I expect that small emergency tsunami rafts could be built from all the VHS tapes and forgotten Happy Meal toys alone. As someone who has grown up in a consumer society in the great consumer age, I feel simultaneously the guilt and the paralysis which comes from too much stuff to deal with. I think there should be an app to find other people to come to your garage and brutally, indifferently do what needs doing. And you could go do their garage.

Human nature, of course, suggests that a lot of "Ooh, that's cool, I'm taking that home" would go on, so basically your garage would stay just as full, just with other people's stuff. 

Marie comes off sweetly on TV, and I am sure she means well. I just hope she's not as perfect as she seems. I hope there is one drawer in her house where earth worms could thrive. She has children. I hope every drawer handle in every room is sticky. 

That would bring me joy. 


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Patreon week: Movie titles a-tweaked

What do "Night of the Loving Dead," "Sinnin' In The Rain" and "Schindler's Lisp" all have in common? They are a few of the many movies I describe in this week's Patreon-supporters-only column feed, movies whose meaning changes entirely if you change just one letter in the title... 😄

https://www.patreon.com/George_Waters