we need droids that understand etiquette and protocol

C3PO-RobotLuke Skywalker’s uncle, Owen Lars, may not have seen the need for a droid versed in the ways of etiquette and protocol, but we here in the United States sure could use one. It’s primary use would be to teach human beings how to be considerate to each other in little ways. If you ask me, we can’t get C-3P0 fast enough.

I have long held the belief that Americans are among the most inconsiderate people in the world. Perhaps, though, this is a function of me living in the USA continuously since 1984. Before that, I lived in Belgium and Germany, where the common (and not entirely undeserved) opinion is that French people are the most inconsiderate folks around – but that’s a subject for another post.

What I’m talking about is that lubricant that greases everyday interactions – common fucking consideration. There isn’t enough of it.

Most of us encounter this lack of consideration when we drive. Your lane is ending, but the guy in the car next to you refuses to let you merge into his lane ahead of him. You stop at a stop sign (or red light) and the guy across from (or beside) you blazes through the intersection without acknowledging your right of way. You don’t start moving in the 18 milliseconds after the light turns green and the guy behind you is on the horn like it’s his job. You send and read text messages while driving, putting dozens of other people on the road at high risk of being killed.

Those things I almost understand. After all, YOU are clearly more important than I am and YOU must clearly be allowed to reach your destination 37 seconds faster, those seconds being gained by cutting me off or whatever it is you’ve done that shows exactly how little consideration you have for the common man. I get that.

What I don’t get, though, is the stinking elevator.

When you’re waiting in the lobby of a building for the elevator, you know the elevator will arrive in one of two states – empty or full. If it’s empty, there’s no problem, obviously, but if there is even one person on it when it arrives, there is an extremely high probability that they will want to get off the elevator. That’s generally how ground floors work.

Yet, mysteriously, a sizable portion of the American population seems not to understand this function of the elevator. Instead, they, possibly waiting patiently in the lobby for the elevator to arrive, stand immediately in front of the elevator doors. That way, in the instant the doors are open as wide as their shoulders, they can get on the elevator and get on with their day.

This ensures that nobody that is ON the elevator can get OFF the elevator, because our lobby-waiter is blocking the doorway. Since they are clearly more important than you, they expect you to stay on the elevator until they’ve boarded, and THEN you can get off. This actually slows everybody down because it interrupts the natural flow of elevator traffic. The best way to facilitate a quick flow on and off the elevator is for those on to get off, then those in the lobby to get on and choose their floor.

Why people don’t get this, I just don’t understand. It is one of many indicators that our society is growing more inconsiderate by the day.

To further the elevator-as-symptom-of-our-ongoing-social-collapse, let me paint another picture for you. The elevator arrives in the lobby, those who are on get off and those who are off get on. The first person getting on moves to the right, presses the button for his floor…


This requires the other passengers to do one of two things: 1) ask the panel-crowder to press their button (which invariably produces an eye-roll, a sigh, and a half-hearted jab at the appropriate button, or 2) invade the panel-crowder’s space to push the button themselves. Thankfully, this is often ignored by the panel-crowder, because of course that person is texting somebody on their goddam smartphone.

Actually, now that I write this behavior down in black and white, I’m not sure if it’s a sign of somebody being inconsiderate or somebody just being a total moron. I’d skew towards the latter, except actual stupid people can easily figure out that standing close enough to the button panel that other people have to say “excuse me” to press 6 is inconsiderate.

(I can’t bring myself to get started on cell phone use, because that’s just depressing beyond all imagination. I think the smartphone has contribute more to the decline of consideration in this nation than any other invention in the history of man.)

I’ve been paying attention to these two items of elevator etiquette in the last two weeks. As to the first (crowding the door so people can’t get off), I’ve lost count as to how many times this happens. It’s at the point now where instead of saying anything as I’m trying to get off the elevator, I just stand there and stare at the person until they move. Luckily I’m kind of intimidating looking (giant baldish man with a full-on Grizzly Adams beard and a piercing stare), so most of the time they move aside pretty quickly.

The panel-crowding thing, though, that happens a bit less often. In the last two weeks (through yesterday), I’ve counted this as happening fully 50% of the time I’ve gotten on the elevator with another person or another person’s been on there already when I’ve gotten on. FIFTY PERCENT. One of every two instances.

Today is laundry day. (I could riff on laundry room etiquette for a solid hour, by the way, but I’ll spare you this time.) I got on the elevator with two laundry baskets and – guess what – the only other person on the elevator is standing so close to the button panel that I can’t press G without touching them. (He was going down to 1.) Instead of doing what I usually do, which is to say “excuse me” and wait for them to move, I simply reached over, brushing against his coat in the process, and pressed my button. He shot me an evil look, which I returned and said “you could always back away from the panel.”

As you might expect, I probably looked quite scary in my flannel jammy pants and slippers, which is why he grunted, broke eye contact and took two step back from the panel.

(In my return trip from the ground floor, where I’m doing laundry, a lady just walked onto the elevator on my floor fast enough that she nearly knocked me over. Well, technically, had we made contact, I’m sure SHE would have gotten knocked over, not me. What was she doing? TEXTING.)

These seem like little things, I admit, but they are indicative of a social rot that penetrates deep inside our society. We live in a society where ME is increasingly more important than THEE. This is acceptable in a 3-year-old, but in a grown-up? Nope. The more considerately we act, the better our society will become. When everybody behaves as if other people matter, guess what? EVERYBODY WILL MATTER. This inconsiderateness is the root of many of our societal ills – sexism, racism, anti-homosexual sentiments, anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, etc.

My point is that you are no important or necessary than I am. I am no more important or necessary than you are. We are, human-being-speaking, pure equals.

When we all start acting like that, many of our problems will fade away.

The irony of human nature is that we are incapable of doing so. We will continue on this spiraling cycle of ME ME ME until our society self-destructs…

…or until we finally develop droids to teach us etiquette and protocol.

DWYL… YOLO… please, STFU!

Americans are nothing if not fond of cliches and buzzwords. You hear them all the time and they flow past so fast that, if they register at all, you often overlook the deeper meaning that could actually change your life.

There’s a couple I want to talk about today, because they really irritate me.

YOLO: You only live once
DWYL: Do what you love

Please STFU already.

How about this one? IIWFTWCIW: If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it work.

“You only live once” seems to be the rallying cry of the young & hip these days, usually right before they do something incredibly ill-advised. Back in my youth, we prefaced the same behavior with “Hold my beer” or “Does this look fatal to you?”

While it is indeed true that you only live once, the real message behind that sentiment shouldn’t be “let’s engage in this risky and/or dangerous behavior,” it should be that the best way to live is in the moment. Be where you are, be who you’re with, and – to introduce another buzzy term – engage.  Stop wishing you were anywhere else doing anything else.

If you do it right, living once is enough.

Now let’s move on to “do what you love,” one of Steve Jobs’ favorite sayings.

Though he’s dead, so I can’t interview him for clarification, I can extrapolate from other things he said that what Jobs may have really meant here was “be passionate about what you do” – and there’s a difference between love and passion.

Passion makes you take chances.  Passion makes you think outside the box.  Passion drives innovation.  Passion inspires leaps of faith.

Love gets the job done, day after day, no matter what. Love pays the bills.  Love puts food on the table.  Love clothes your children.

Being passionate about your work makes you want to go every day, to see what new adventures are in store.  That coding problem you couldn’t figure out last night that you dreamed about?  Passion solves that.  Passion keeps you excited about your job, and that, my friends, is what DWYL really means.  “Be passionate about your work” isn’t as catchy, though.

Throwing around “do what you love” actually belittles every person who isn’t passionate about their job.  Every man or woman (or teenager) that slogs in a low-wage, low-expectation job because the rent’s got to get paid is diminished every time you utter DWYL.  Every office worker that rides the train and changes shoes in the break room gets a slap in the face when you say DWYL.  Every tech support agent you talk to on the phone that has a head full of knowledge and walks you through fixing your problem suffers a fresh humiliation when you chant DWYL.

There are millions of people in this world doing thankless, boring, mundane jobs.  They do not love being farmers or construction workers or cab drivers – but they love their families.  They get up every morning and go to work – back-breaking, mind-numbing work – so their children don’t go hungry, so their wives (or husbands) don’t go without shoes.

It’s tough to be passionate about doing the same thing for your entire career.  It was easy for Steve Jobs to be passionate – he never had to do the same thing twice.  He got to come up with groundbreaking ideas for cool new gadgets!  If you thought up the iPod (and I’m not saying he did, himself, but you know what I mean), you’d be pretty goddam passionate about your job, too.

Put Jobs in a corn field and maybe he’s the same passionate dude, dreaming up a new reaper attachment that makes getting the crop in faster and easier.  Maybe, though, he subordinates his dreams to the realities of life, of taking care of his family and making sure the lights come on when somebody flips the switch.

I’m unlucky in that what I’m truly passionate about – teaching – pays for shit in this country. For all the lip service thrown around about how education is important, the painful, simple fact is that education is as much a business as McDonald’s or Best Buy and the only way to make it successful is to reduce the overhead while increasing the numbers, which they do by driving down wages as far as possible and making classes larger every year.  It’s smart from a business perspective.

However, I’m lucky in that I don’t have to rely on teaching for my living. I have a day job that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and provides health insurance benefits. Unlike many people in this world, I have the luxury of living indoors and being able to be passionate about my job.

Well, one of my jobs, anyway.

Here’s the bottom line, then:  Stop saying “do what you love” and you’ll go a long way towards embracing the realities of this hard world. If you’re one of those people that’s truly passionate about what you do, then more power to you. Unlike Steve Jobs, for the vast majority of the world, our passions don’t translate into giant paychecks.


10 books that stuck

I said STUCK lol

I don’t usually participate in/repost Facebook things like this, but you know I loves me some books, so the “10 books that have stuck with you” thing, that one I can get into.  Knowing me, though, you should realize that I’m going to give you way more information about them than you really wanted.

Here they are in no particular order.

1.  Idoru by William Gibson.  When I started reading, if you told me my favorite sci-fi book in the whole world would be centered around a nerdy teenage girl and a rock star’s romance with a computer hologram, I’d have probably thought you were crazy – and told you so. Here we are, though, and there it is. I think one of the reasons I’ve been so disappointed with Gibson’s last few books is that they’re not Idoru and I desperately want them to be.  (I recently re-read Neuromancer and boy, is that a good book, but this one’s still better!)

2.  Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.

Wait, what?

Yeah.  The meme is “books that stuck with you” not “your favorite books.”  MK is a book you can never quite forget no matter how desperately you wish you could.  It’s equal measures haunting and hilarious, but the thing that gets you is that a lot of his sentiments (from the 1920s, mind you) translate so easily – and fully – into modern times. You hear people say things nearly exactly like things that Hitler wrote in this book.  It’s kind of upsetting, really.

3.  The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  I used to assign this book to my US history classes until the crying about “how are we supposed to do all this reading” got too much to bear semester after semester.  If you ever read this, stop reading it when the main character (Jurgis) starts going to the political rallies/meetings.  It’s boring socialist propaganda after that and truthfully, the story has ended by then anyway.  If half the shit that happens to the protagonist in this book ever happened to anybody in real life, it’s a miracle anybody survived the early 20th century.

4.  The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.  The original excellent adventure.

5.  Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson.  This was the first Calvin & Hobbes book I ever got – and I still have my original copy from 1989.

6.  Chess for Beginners by IA Horowitz.  My father (with whom I had a complicated, contentious and often unpleasant relationship) gave me this book when I was about 11 or 12 years old.  Playing chess with my father is among the few really positive memories I have about him, and it always meant a lot to me that he gave me this book.

7.  The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days by Ian Frazier.  The only other book that ever made me laugh as hard as this one was Death Rat! by Mike Nelson – and this one’s way funnier.

8.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  This book, I’m pretty sure, is what sparked my love of dystopian science fiction.  It’s also one of the books I think about when I get into one of my “words mean things” rants – the way Bradbury turns the word fireman on its head is pretty powerful.

9.  On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony. This initial volume in the Incarnations of Immortality series is pretty thought-provoking – the idea that Death is a job just like any other job, and what happens when Death goes on strike.  I’ve always felt it was the best in the 7-book series.

10.  Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough.  It’s a little cliche to say such-and-such book is the Bible of such-and-such discipline, but this one really is.  Every time I pick it up, I learn something new that helps keep me safe on the road.

There you have it, 10 books that stuck with me. If you’re tagged, let’s hear it 🙂