Inferences From A Magazine Rack

When you’re killing time during a long layover in an airport, and a Hudson News is the only non-fast food place to visit, you tend to check out the magazine rack. So, what does the generic airport magazine rack tell you?

First, it tells you that magazines aren’t exactly thriving. The current magazine rack is pretty shrimpy by comparison to the full wall of magazines you found in the old days. Airport book options are shrinking, too.

Second, it suggests that modern Americans aren’t all that interested in serious reading. Once you go past The Economist, you’ve pretty much exhausted the serious reading category. Time and Newsweek have become the print equivalent of clickbait and don’t even try to present themselves as serious journalism. The rest of the shelves are devoted to the celebrity culture and the Royals — which is pretty much the same thing. How many interviews with, say, Taylor Swift is a person going to read?

And third, has any celebrity couple been the subject of a longer run in the romantic speculation/break-up/make-up category than Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt? Didn’t they first hit the gossip rags more than 20 years ago? And yet here they are, the subject of rumor and speculation and disclosures by purported insiders. In the history of American popular culture, is there any other couple that has had greater tittle-tattle staying power than these two?

Out Of Whack

I’ve been on the road a lot recently, and I feel like it’s had an impact on my normal routines.  I’ve moved back and forth between time zones, spent a lot of time on planes, gotten up at odd hours (even for me) and stayed up later than normal, and am no longer on the schedule that I’ve typically followed.

a41_lot271_2-maxAnd I’m feeling all of that, too.  My circadian rhythms are out of whack and off kilter.  I feel like an old golf ball that has lost its crisp bounce and now is just landing on the fairway or in the rough with a pathetic, disappointing thud.

The hoary saying is that you are only as old as you feel.  Of course, that saying suggests that there are times when you do feel older, and are reminded by mind and body that you’re not the spring chicken you used to be.  The realization that your rebound process seems to be taking a lot longer now than it did in the past is one of those times.  But right now I’m just too tired to care.

McMansion Envy

American homes are a lot roomier than they used to be.  In 1973, the Census Bureau determined that the median size of a new house was about 1,500 square feet.  As of 2015, that number had shot up to about 2,500 square feet.  And with Americans having fewer children on average, the increase in house size translated into a lot more square footage per resident — from 507 square feet per resident for new houses in 1973 to 971 square feet per resident for a new house built in 2015.

mcmansions-real-estateSo, are Americans a lot happier with their larger, roomier homes?  A researcher tried to figure that out and determined that the answer is:  not really.  Although American homes have grown significantly in terms of their square footage, overall house satisfaction hasn’t changed.  According to the research, the apparent reason is that some Americans are trapped in an endless cycle of house one-upsmanship.

The researcher concluded that Americans whose houses are among the largest in the neighborhood tend to be most prone to house unhappiness.  These homeowners build the biggest house around and are satisfied with it, but when somebody builds an even bigger McMansion on a nearby lot, knocking them out of the “biggest house in the neighborhood” slot, suddenly their satisfaction with their home drops.  The research also indicates that there’s been a kind of nuclear arms race at the top end of the American housing market, with the size of the largest 10 percent of houses increasing 1.4 times as fast as the size of the median house.  Evidently “keeping up with the Joneses” now means adding on to your house to maintain your status as king of the block.

I’m not sure about the statistical analysis used in the research and how you can determine with certainty whether people are dissatisfied with their already big house because it now isn’t the biggest house in the ‘hood, as opposed to other reasons for house dissatisfaction.  But I do know this:  I feel sorry for people who measure their own happiness and satisfaction by comparing their possessions, whether it is houses or cars or something else, to what is owned by others.  It’s a rat race that isn’t really winnable, because there’s always going to be someone with a bigger house and fancier car.

Such people are never really going to be happy — at least not for long.  Better to find a house that you and your family like, forget about participating in the pointless big house derby, and be amused as you watch the Joneses and their McMansions endlessly duke it out for top dog status.

Working For The Three-Day Weekend

In the distant, early days of Homo sapiens, there was no concept of “work” in the modern sense, and thus there were no holidays, either. Every day involved its many toils, from hunting and gathering to working to find shelter and water and protection against predators.

Then, as civilization developed, designated jobs became an inevitable part of the process. No city could exist without people charged with performing essential functions like laboring in the fields to bring in the crops, delivering food from the countryside, serving as scribe for Pharoah, or building the new pyramid or ziggurat.  The concept of holidays came later still. First, there were only religious holidays or seasonal holidays, to mark the Feast Day of Set or commemorate the harvest with a day of celebration. In the medieval era, when a saint’s day arrived, the duties of the job were replaced by lengthy religious obligations and, perhaps, fasting and the ritual wearing of a hair shirt.  It wasn’t exactly a laugh riot.

As humanity advanced even more, the concept of a work week was introduced and, then, secular holidays. When some brilliant soul realized that secular holidays really didn’t have to be tied to a specific date on the calendar and instead could float — so that the holiday could combine with a normal weekend to create a three-day weekend — it was a huge step forward in human development. And when an even more enlightened individual realized that we could use those three-day weekends to bookend the summer months, so that the joys of summer could begin with a glorious three-day revel in the warmth, it marked a true pinnacle in the annals of human achievement.

As we celebrate the joys of this three-day Memorial Day weekend, let’s remember those forgotten figures of human history who came up with the ideas that led us here — and be grateful that wearing sweaty hair shirts isn’t part of the equation.

Like A Dog In The Rain

Recently I went for my morning walk on a blustery, rainy day.  As I was walking along, struggling with my umbrella in the gusts and grumbling about the cold, crummy weather, I saw a raincoat-clad woman with a dog.  The woman also looked peevish about the rain and wind.

4149865894_7a5fd51c5a_oThe dog, however, was undisturbed.  It clearly recognized that, as a four-legged creature without clothes, rain slickers, or opposable thumbs capable of gripping an umbrella handle who was subject to the walking schedule and whims of its human companion, there really wasn’t much it could do about being out in the rain and the wind at that moment.  It obviously needed to get out, walk, and answer the call of nature.  And so, it just went about its business, as usual, without concern about the fact that it was getting soaked.

I was struck by the dog’s placid expression and its contrast with the stormy looks on my face and the face of the dog’s owner.  There were no snarls or bared teeth — by the dog, at least.  The dog, who was powerless to do anything about its situation, was imperturbable, while the humans who had total control were letting the bad weather bother them.

It was a very zen-like moment, and it made me realize that, in the right situations, there is value in following the dog’s example:  don’t worry about what you can’t change, accept your circumstances, go about your business, and when you get back to that safe, dry, warm place . . . shake it all off.

Found Money

On Thursday, drivers on U.S. Route 31 in Grand Haven, Michigan confronted one of those moral dilemmas that ethicists love to discuss.  A fellow driver somehow forgot that he left a cash box containing $30,000 on the bumper of his car.  As he drove on the highway, the box fell off the bumper and opened on impact with the pavement, and the thousands of dollars in cash spilled onto the road and into the air.

image-photo-money-thrown-in-the-air-april-2016And thus, the ethical thought experiment met reality:  if you were driving one of the following cars and saw the money on the road — where you were out in the open, surrounded by total strangers, where no cameras would see your conduct and no criminal consequences were likely to attach to what you did next — what would you do?

In this instance, other drivers immediately started stopping, scooping up the money, and driving off — conduct that, incidentally, caused a traffic tie-up on Route 31.  Of the $30,000 in the cash box, only $2,500 was immediately recovered and returned to the owner.  Since Thursday, police have appealed for drivers who pocketed the loot to probe their consciences and turn in the money.  Only some have done so.  Two teenagers turned in $630, which would sure seem like a lot of money to a kid, and one woman turned in nearly $3,900.  The police commended them for their honesty.  However, most of the money remains unrecovered.

Over the years, I’ve found wallets and car keys and credit cards and other valuable items, and I’ve always returned them immediately because I’d like to think other people would do the same with an item I misplaced.  But before I hurt my shoulder patting myself on the back, I also recognize that I haven’t been in desperate need of money on those occasions, either.  If you were at the end of your financial rope and suddenly saw hundred dollar bills on the Route 31 asphalt, would you do the honest thing — or would you think that your prayers had been answered and drive off with fistfuls of money without a second thought?

Going Off The Beaten Path

We’ve been watching Russell’s dog Betty recently.  She’s a very nice, well-trained dog — kudos to Russell on that! — who absolutely loves taking walks.  Every morning I leash her up and take her for a walk around Schiller Park so both she and I can get some fresh air and exercise first thing in the morning.

img_0028For the most part, Betty is an easy dog to walk.  She keeps her nose down, hunting for interesting smells, and stays on or in close proximity to the sidewalk, swiveling her head from side to side and remaining on absolute tactical alert for any random dog that might be seen off in the distance.

But the interesting thing is what happens when we depart from the sidewalk for even an instant — say, to drop a tied-off bag of doggie doo into one of the Schiller Park trash cans.  When that happens, Betty’s entire personality changes.  She goes from the dedicated, straight-ahead walker who diligently tracks down every stray scent to a young dog who clearly wants to frolic.  She does a kind of antic, bouncing dance, going down onto her paws then leaping into the air, makes a growling sound, veers suddenly from side to side with tremendous force, and then starts to nibble at my shoelaces while I’m trying to walk.  Frankly, it’s pretty annoying on a cold workday morning, but she’s just having a dog’s definition of fun.  After a few minutes of such play, I give her a tug on the leash and we head back home.

It’s instructive, isn’t it?  Betty likes her walks, to be sure, but what really charges her up is to go off the beaten path.  Betty’s little dance just demonstrates the value of departing from the straight line and going free form every once in a while.