Encouraging Airplane Creepiness

Airplanes are, by definition, strange places.  You’re placed in a metal tube, sitting cheek by jowl with a bunch of unknown people, and the only thing you’ve got in common with them is that, at that particular time on that particular day, you’re taking that flight to get from point A to point B.  Your fellow passengers, for the most part, are probably reasonably decent, up-standing, law-abiding folks, but you never know — they could cover the spectrum from kindly, doddering grandparents to budding serial killers.

delta-coke-napkins-915Most air travelers, me included, are just grateful when the flight ends without incident and they can get out and get on with their life without further ado.  And here’s how you know that that is the prevailing sentiment of virtually everyone — at the end of your next flight, watch how many people dawdle to continue their conversations with the person in the next seat over, and how many grab their carry-ons at the maximum possible speed and hightail it out of there.  You can also reflect upon how many deep friendships you’ve made with random people you’ve met on an airline flight.

So how in the world did Delta and Diet Coke think that it would be a good idea to distribute drink napkins with messages that encouraged passengers to try to connect with other passengers?  The napkins carried weird messages like “Be a little old school. Write down your number and give it to your plane crush. You never know…” and had places for passengers to write down their names and telephone numbers to give to their “plane crush.”  Another napkin’s message was:  “Because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey… you never know.”

Gee, what could go wrong with encouraging passengers to even think about another passenger as a “plane crush”?  And what could be creepier than getting a napkin with somebody’s name and phone number on it, knowing that, after the flight is ended and you’re deposited in a strange city, the total stranger who had it handed to you might want to interact and see if you’re interested in something more?  And, possibly, be upset if you aren’t and ready to stalk you to the end of your days?

After passengers commented on the obvious creepiness, Delta and Coke apologized and have withdrawn the napkins.  But it really makes you wonder:  what process is used in vetting airplane napkins, and who in the world was responsible for coming up with the napkin text and approving it?  Doesn’t Delta have any idea that 99.9% of its passengers don’t view airplane flights as a great opportunity for flirting?

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Crossing The “Critical Edition” Barrier

For a 2019 New Year’s resolution, of sorts, I vowed to try to read at least one book that is more challenging than my normal fare.  In furtherance of that goal, I went to the library and picked up Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, in the Penguin Classics edition.  That means the book comes with a lengthy introduction, an appendix, and lots of footnotes — all of which make the book seem more mentally demanding than, say, your standard sci fi fiction.

img_8056Admittedly, presenting a Charles Dickens novel as some kind of awesome intellectual gauntlet is a bit dodgy.  After all, Dickens was easily the most popular writer of his day, read avidly in both England and America, and David Copperfield was one of his most popular books.  Dickens made huge amounts of money through his writings and his literary tours, where he would read aloud from his works to large live audiences.  Some sources contend that, during his heyday, 1 in 10 Britons who could read read Dickens’ books — which is pretty astonishing, if true.

But here’s the thing:  those readers of the past didn’t read David Copperfield in the form of a Norton Critical Edition, or a Penguin Classics volume, knowing that the book is generally considered to be one of the Greatest Novels of All Time.  Anyone who has taken a British Literature or Comparative Literature course in college knows about the “critical editions,” which expect the reader to carefully digest every sentence, pick up nuances and associate them with historical and cultural figures of the time, analyze the plot and the characteristics of the characters, and correctly interpret the text for underlying messages.  Even now, decades after the final exam in my last literature course, my heart quailed at the prospect of tackling an esteemed writing presented in the “critical edition” format.

I skipped the lengthy introduction to David Copperfield and went straight to the book itself.  The first sentence reads:  “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”  Of course, being a “critical edition,” there’s got to be a footnote in there somewhere.  Sure enough, “hero” is footnoted.  When, out of curiosity, I went back to the back of the book to read the footnote, it said this:  “hero:  Carlyle discussed the hero as “the man of letters” in On Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841).  See Introduction.”

Really?  I’m supposed to interrupt the flow of the book in the very first sentence to read that?  Who gives a flying fig what “Carlyle” has to say?  The footnote was almost a parody of academic overkill — which is really why so many of us hated “critical editions” in the first place.

So, with David Copperfield, I’m going to try to break through the “critical edition” barrier.  Footnotes be damned!  I’m going to read David Copperfield like those adoring Britons did, like any other book, without worrying about introductions or critical context or the comments of Carlyle.  Who knows?  Maybe underneath all of the academic posturing and overlays of intellectualism, there’s actually an interesting story in there somewhere.

Deploying The Mad Bomber

The weather app on my iPhone cautions that it’s 2 degrees Fahrenheit outside, on its way down to a low temperature below zero.  There’s a brisk 14 miles per hour wind blowing steadily from the west that, combined with the temperature, has created a wind chill factor of minus 16 degrees.  And the National Weather Service has issued a warning that the extreme cold and wind could produce wind chills as low as 40 below zero, which could cause exposed skin to experience frostbite in as little as 10 minutes.

That kind of scary cold is an assault on all that’s holy and everything warm and pleasant in the world.  But nevertheless, in a few minutes, I’ve got to take an exuberant, cold-loving dog out to do her business.  What to do?

Alert the armed forces!  It’s time to deploy the Mad Bomber!

The Mad Bomber is easily the warmest hat in the house.  In fact, it’s easily the warmest hat in any house.  Made in China, it features a nylon shell, natural rabbit fur trim and interior lining. It even has a little clasp that allows you to lock the hat around your chin, the better to protect those delicate, flabby neck wattles by swathing them securely in fur.  When you don the hat, your encased head immediately begins sweating.

Of course, it’s not a stylish piece of headwear, as a bit of doggerel I composed some years ago acknowledges.  The Mad Bomber belongs on the head of a rustic villager trudging across the windswept Siberian tundra, or perhaps your high school janitor out salting the teacher’s parking lot on the coldest day of the year.  But then, no one turns to the Mad Bomber for style.  It’s deployment is purely a defense mechanism, designed to give humans a chance at surviving the most brutal temperatures and crippling cold.

Brace yourselves, Columbusites — it’s Mad Bomber time!

“Discordant Retirement”

After you turn 60, you start getting a lot more retirement-related communications — just like you begin to notice that you’re getting a lot more spam mailings and internet ads about things like cheaper prescription drugs and various devices that help the enfeebled perform daily chores.  And it all starts, really, when you get that AARP application in the mail that is the official acknowledgement that you are old.

istock_000021521956largeMost of the retirement materials you receive are just a variation on the kind of stuff you’ve probably received for years, that talk up some great investment opportunity that is so bullet-proof you’d be a fool not to put your money in, or promise to take great care of your savings and lead you to the retirement of your dreams.  For me, those kind of “cold call” communications get moused into the trashcan.  But sometimes you see something that’s actually interesting — like this piece on “discordant retirement.”

What’s “discordant retirement,” you say?  That’s the name retirement planners have given to married couples that effectively retire at different times — where the wife keeps working after the husband stops, or vice versa.  It’s a cultural phenomenon of sorts, because it’s obviously a reflection of the prevalence of two wage-earner couples, rather than the ’50s sitcom model of working husband and wife on the home front, where the husband’s eventual retirement would be the decisive, unilaterally defining retirement event.

And it’s also interesting in that it illustrates something else about the concept of working:  people react differently to it.  Some people tire of working and decide that once they’ve reached a certain financial point they just won’t take it anymore, while others find work empowering, or important to their self image, or a significant part of their social life that they just aren’t quite ready to give up.  The article notes that “retirement” isn’t always easily defined, and often a “retired” person has just decided to do something else, like work for a charitable entity.  There are many reasons to “retire” — however you define that notion — and an equal number of reasons to keep working, and everyone is going to approach the issue somewhat differently.  In a sense, the notion of discordant retirement shows just how far we’ve come, with each half of a couple making their own individual decisions about when and how they want to retire.

After reading the article I thought about couples we know and how many of them are illustrations of “discordant retirement.”  So, what are potential “discordant retirees” supposed to do?  Well, obviously, it’s something that couples need to talk about, just as any successful married couples need to talk through and reach agreement on many issues in their lives.  And discordant retirement offers opportunities, and challenges, as couples try to figure out when and how to pull the trigger on things like Social Security payments, Medicare coverage, and other consequential retirement-related decisions.

“Discordant retirement” sounds bad, like it’s a cause for bickering — and perhaps, for some couples, it is.  But it’s actually the result of people exercising their basic individual freedoms and working through their desires and needs in the context of a partnership.  The retirement planners need to come up with a better name for it.

On The Shores Of Lake Schiller

Thanks to the melting of the snow we got over the weekend, followed by the persistent rains that fell more recently, Schiller Park had become Lake Schiller this morning, with many of the pathways completely flooded.  The whole area had a certain ghostly beauty under the light fixtures, with the watery areas just beginning to freeze as the temperature dropped.

I imagine the Columbus water reservoirs are full to bursting, given the amount of precipitation we’ve received already this winter.  If California wants to bring an end to its long-standing drought, I’m sure the water-logged states of the Midwest would be happy to work out a trade in which our excess water is swapped for the Golden State’s excess sunshine.

A Test Run Would Be Nice

Recently we went out for brunch at a nice restaurant in the Short North.  Our meal was perfectly enjoyable, but my dish was a bit messier than a mere napkin could manage, so I went to the restroom to wash my hands.

The restroom is one of those with a rectangular paper towel dispenser — the kind where you are to remove the paper towels from a slot in the bottom that is supposed to allow the towels to be taken out one at a time.  I washed my hands and went to get a towel, but found that the dispenser had been left so crammed with paper towels that it was impossible to remove one.  Due to the sheer weight of the towels that had been packed into the dispensing space, I couldn’t get my hands into the slot. My efforts to extract a towel had me desperately clawing away at the towel opening, trying to remove a whole towel, but the cheap paper towels were immediately ripped to shreds.  I never did obtain a complete towel, and had to make do with tiny towel fragments instead.  The whole experience left me a frustrated, wet-handed patron who was cursing the paper towel manufacturers of the world — and whoever decided to overfill the towel dispenser.  It didn’t exactly give me warm and fuzzy feelings about the restaurant, either.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me lately; overfilled towel dispensers have unfortunately become commonplace.  I suppose the bathroom attendants of America figure that if they overfill the towel dispenser, they’ll have to fill it less often.  But bathroom attendants, hear me!  Have pity on the hand-washers!  Doesn’t anybody do a test run anymore, to see if a device is actually working as intended?  Is it too much to ask that an establishment have a towel dispenser that actually allows a patron to wash their hands — and then properly dry them?

 

Fear Of “Running Out”

Lately we’ve been exposed to lots of curious storm-related behavior.  Among the more interesting phenomena are the phobias that seem to be triggered by the approach of a significant storm.  You’ve got people who worry compulsively about how snow is going to affect their lives, and many of them decide the appropriate, rational response is . . . to head to the store and buy toilet paper.

Lots and lots of toilet paper, in fact.  When I walked past the Giant Eagle in our neighborhood in advance of one of this winter’s storms, I saw multiple worried people trotting out of the store to their cars, clutching huge, 24-roll packs of bathroom tissue.  At that post-purchase moment, with the toilet paper safely in hand, they undoubtedly felt an enormous surge of relief knowing that, even if the storm was a historic disaster that left them snowbound for days or even weeks and every member of their extended families decided to visit at just that moment, they would have enough toilet paper in the home to take care of business.  In short, they wouldn’t “run out.”  And they weren’t alone, either.  The rush to buy toilet paper in advance of a snowstorm has been the subject of some reporting; traditionally, toilet paper, milk, and bread are the panic buying items of choice.  With the increasing popularity of low-carb diets, I’m guessing that TP has now moved past milk and bread to occupy the number one snow-buying slot.

Oddly, there appears to be no official name for the psychological condition that causes otherwise rational people to rush to the store to lay in enormous supplies of toilet paper when storms are near.  Perhaps we can call it Cottonellophobia, which sounds like something you could find in the DSM-VI.  Nevertheless, the toilet paper effect is so pronounced I’ve got to believe it influences grocery stores supply decisions and sales figures for companies that produce Scotts and Charmin.  If Mr. Whipple were still alive, he would be squeezing his brains out during the winter months.