7/28/2010

7/26/2010

When I am King: A Time for Reflection

When I am King...

Everyone will smile for the camera. Everywhere.

I was leaving an office building the other day and was amused to see a woman approach the building and stop to fix her hair as she stared into the reflection that the mirrored door presented. The door opened into a building housing hundreds of people, any number of which might have been behind the glass at that time. But to her, it was just a mirror. And a chance to fix her hair.

We all do this: any time we see a mirror, we see just how awful things have gotten and we make some feeble attempt to patch something that nature irrevocably screwed up. We push the hair down that pops back up immediately. We scratch off the scabs from hitherto unknown shaving cuts, allowing them to bleed all over again. We scrape off the bit of chocolate cake that apparently missed our mouth the first time and then enjoy dessert a second time around. Or we do a quick zipper check (unzipped trousers is something else I’d like to see fixed. But that’s another topic entirely).

But that mirror doesn’t have to be a bathroom mirror - we’ll take any reflection anywhere. Give us a look at ourselves and we can’t help trying to fix the wreckage. This could be a car mirror, a reflective gum wrapper, or, most often, some mirrored glass in a random building.

It’s this last bit that I love; someone will go up to a public piece of glass and treat it like their own private boudoir. Meanwhile, there could be dozens of slovenly people on the other side of that dressing-room mirror, looking out at the person plucking that errant nose-hair. It encourages a dynamic of voyeurism that’s not otherwise available outside of seedy strip clubs. Reality TV tries to satisfy this need, but it’s too scripted and over-acted; we can’t really capture the moment unless the poor saps don’t know they’re on camera.

When I am King, webcams will be mounted behind all mirrored glass. No more will these episodes be reserved for those lucky few that happen to be on the other side when the person stops to spit-wash the lunch off their face. Instead, the precious scenes will be captured and broadcast live for everyone to enjoy. Isn't this the true purpose of the web?

If we, as a people, can’t learn to discriminate between private and public places, then we owe it to the rest of us to make our public indiscretions as public as possible.

7/16/2010

When I am King: Can Do Attitude

When I am King...

Airplane bathrooms will always be clean.

There are two irrefutable facts in life: everyone prefers a clean bathroom and is generally tidy when they perform their ablutions, and the bathroom on an airplane looks like the remains of a frat party the morning after "free grain alcohol and beef jerky night" at the local liquor store.

Since everyone is a model of toilet fastidiousness, how does that tiny room become such a hellhole after a few business travelers have gone in there to take care of business?

If you're the first person, you're set. FAA regulations may be somewhat lax on things like de-icing wings and avoiding rivet-shaking turbulence (which the pilots apparently think is more fun than riding a rollercoaster, though the sick hordes in coach beg to differ). But they're absolutely rock-solid on two things: the bathrooms should be tidy on takeoff, and nobody should have a container of toothpaste in their carry-on that holds more than the amount needed to cover a single bristle.

But if you're the second or later person to use the bathroom, good luck. You're better off holding it until you land, rent a car, and drive to the nearest gas station with a rest room that hasn't been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration (now there was a presidency that believed in bathroom cleanliness). If you can't wait that long, then you just tiptoe carefully into the airplane bathroom, close your eyes, and let fly. Which, come to think of it, probably explains the mess.

When I am King, there will be accountability for airplane bathroom mess. There will be a Toilet Monitor official on the plane (I nominate the Air Marshall, who hopefully has nothing better to do for the duration of the flight). After each person leaves that little closet of personal space, they must wait while the bathroom is inspected and approved for further usage. If the bathroom fails inspection, the former occupant is responsible for cleaning up the mess they made. Think of it like cleaning up after your dog when he goes on the pavement. Only this time it's you, and there's no plastic bag available.

Only through such means can we expect everyone to do their part when they part with their doo.

7/13/2010

When I am King: The Plane Truth

When I am King...



There will be no more flight safety instructions before the plane takes off.

I'm fine listening to the repetitive drivel that precedes the 15 minutes pre-takeoff joy ride around every runway in the airport. I'm even okay with the lesson about buckling and unbuckling the seatbelt, if only because I have kids that still have trouble getting their belts fastened in the car on the first try, and the folks on the airplane certainly have more patience explaining this instinctive behavior than I do.

But I draw the line at the fake Hollywood-wannabe approach of airlines in the last few years. All airplanes have television screens, many of them in every seat back so you can't fail to watch TV no matter where you look on the plane. It's like being in a sports bar with assigned seating. The airlines have figured out that they can use these TVs to avoid to pay people to deliver the speech live. Or maybe it was the flight attendants' union, fed up with years of saying the same damn thing on every single flight to every single passenger that had already heard it several times that year, and probably one or more times that very day on previous legs of their tiresome journey. "Enough," they said in the polite but firm tones that they learn in flight attendant school, "is Enough!" And so the airlines hired cut-rate crews of actors and film producers to produce the world's most boring movies (with the possible exception of most of Kevin Costner's films).

First, you have the "pilot" turning around in his pilot seat to face the camera, as if the film crew just popped into the cockpit unannounced, Candid Camera-like, and Pilot Jim thought he'd give them a quick explanation of the flight procedure. The best part is that he spoke into his radio microphone, as if the camera crew forgot their audio equipment. Meanwhile, the pilot-actor was comprehensible, which meant two things: he couldn't be a real pilot and his voice obviously wasn't being recorded through a real cockpit microphone. If either of these were the case, it would have sounded just like it does every time the pilot comes on during the flight to update everyone on the fascinating bits of your progress between Atlanta and Omaha: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is Jim Carbenherm, your pilot today. We've now reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet en route to rrrmmm mhem grrrgreem ehrhehhre. Off to your left, hrmmmth fffrmmrmrmrm greb foogub, just ahead on the right. Now sit back, relax, and feegstl crab. Flight attendants, bring me another scotch."

After the pilot/actor finishes his bit, it's time for Scene 2. A flight attendant/actor appears and gives the typical speech about the seat belts (Oh, *that's* where the clip goes!), the bit about saving yourself before your screaming whelps, and some helpful information about the seatbelt light (which provides a nice callback to the seatbelt fastening discussion). All of this is fine - we've heard it millions of times. I'm pretty sure we could all get up and do it if we had to. There's probably a performance-art troupe somewhere that does just this, each person getting up one after another and repeating the same shtick verbatim, each with their own personal interpretation of the words. They get zip for an audience, but it's an important statement in the arts scene of Bakersfield.

But the twist with this Meryl Streep understudy is that she's obviously received direction ("What's my motivation?") to smile every chance she gets. Apparently, people listen when you smile. Or take you seriously. Or something. And it's true - a smile, even one that doesn't go further than the lips it's pasted on, certainly makes us feel better than someone drooling or dripping blood from gnashing teeth. But a smile interjected before, during, and after every word spoken, is more than annoying - it's stupid. It's the smile of someone who's just puked their evening's consumption of rum and coke down your front, smiling because they don't know what else to say, and are doing anything they can to ward off probable physical response.

It's as if she's excited - Really! Excited! - that we all get to sit down, put the belt on, and sit in our amazingly cramped seats for 5 hours. And! we! should! be! just! as! excited! as! she! is! And maybe we would be, too, if we got the same medication that she's on.

Consider how much time and energy it takes from all of us to hear this over and over in our lives, even if most of us pretend to not listen and focus instead on the important task of leafing through the Sky Mall magazine to see what kind of crap people actually buy when bored out of their minds on long trips. I figure the speech takes about 2 minutes. If you assume about 250 people on the flight, that's just over 8 hours of life that they've sucked down the tubes on that single flight. Multiply that times the number of flights happening all over the world every day of the year and it's plain to see that this little airline speech accounts for millions of lifetimes per year. This is the biggest travesty and waste of life since Reality TV and the waiting line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

When I am King, there will be a much simpler system installed for plane flights. No more mindless tedium of the speeches,either live and rehearsed or recorded and pathetic. Instead of the speech, there will be a written contract on the TV screen on the seat back in front of us. In order to get to the entertainment channels, we'll have to click through the contract and agree that we read and understood it in order to proceed. It'll be just like every software or website agreement we've ever dealt with - we just zip to the bottom, click on the "Agree" button, and continue on. No time or brain cells wasted - we can do this operation with muscle-memory. Having saved all of that time and energy, we can hurry onto worthwhile pursuits instead, like watching some Reality TV while leafing through the Sky Mall magazine.

7/11/2010

Little Sports Jokes

I wonder:
Do speed-walkers pace themselves?

Do joggers ever get the runs?

Are soccer players goal-oriented?

Is scoring in basketball a net positive?
Do hockey players stick together in a fight?

7/03/2010

When I am King: Yes We Cancer

When I am King...


All parents will take up smoking.

When I was a kid, I'd bring home "gifts" from art class; projects that I had made in class with limited materials, constrained time, and no talent. But the thought was there; the thought that I had better get something for my parents for their birthday, Fathers Day, Mothers Day, or an apology for the baseball through the living room window.

These objets d'art were always ashtrays made from clay and baked in a kiln until hardened into its irreversibly misshapen form. There were white ashtrays, gray ashtrays, lumpy ashtrays, and lumpier ashtrays. These blobs of primordial earth littered the house, protecting our furniture from ash as they protected our interior aesthetic from taste and refinement.

There was no thought given to encouraging our parents in a deadly habit, or promoting second-hand smoke that we would all breathe in every day (anyone remember the smell of stale smoke in a hot car on a road trip?). Instead, there was just the guarantee that you could throw some clay on the table, mash it into a roughly concave shape, paint it, bake it, and you'd have another heartwarming present to give to the folks.

Nowadays, of course, that just isn't done. It would be wrong of schools and teachers to encourage kids to make colorful accessories of death. It would be like decorating a syringe for their drug habit, or giving candy to prolong their obesity: it's just not done (except for the candy bit. What else do you give someone that obviously loves it so much?).

So kids today are left completely at a loss for gift ideas. Birthdays and holidays come and go, and the kids are always scrambling for what to give to demonstrate their undying desire for more gifts on their own birthdays. Should they draw something? Paint something? Buy a tie that won't be worn?

All of this worrying is causing unnecessary stress for our children. How can we have our nine year olds fuss about such things when we need them to lose sleep over future SAT scores and music recitals?

When I am King, all parents will take up smoking. By so doing, we will create a demand for ashtrays in our houses and thus resolve the art-gift dilemma for the next generation.

Pregnant women will, of course, be an exception. But once that kid's out of the oven, get yourself a pack and start puffing; that child will be making ugly clay objects before you know it.