Monthly Archives: July 2008

Power Hankies!

While perusing a department store one day I realized that the concept of the power tie completely eludes me. What a great present a power tie would be, I thought. If only I knew what it was. Power ties, I am told, are supposed to say something. (I suddenly got an image of tie depicting a large mouth that screams “Holla Back!” when you push the “Try Me” button. But alas, it is not that kind of statement). Power ties supposedly reflect the confidence and authority of the neck it binds. Just how this works, or if it works at all, I cannot say. It would take a great deal of psychological bullshitting to convince me that one shade of red invokes a more trusting and submissive response than another. Must power ties be red? Or is there more variation? What patterns are they allowed? I do not believe I have ever seen one, and therefore I have no reference point.

On the other hand, I have seen a power hanky gracefully cascading from the breast pocket of a classmate’s blazer. This particular power hanky was blood red in color, with a royal blue boarder and miniature golden crests which from far away looked like yellow polka dots. It seemed fairly gaudy, and yet somehow I knew it was supposed to invoke a certain response. Given that power ties are supposed to make a statement, what, pray tell, do power hankies say? “Behold, weaklings, how mightily I excrete my phlegm! Cower at the power of my honker!”

So how did I know that this was a power hanky? It was not because the hanky actually impressed me in anyway: It was rather that its owner was an aspiring politician and well on his way towards mastering the politician’s sleazy affect. He would need a power tie for that profession, just to fit in. So it therefore seems that the tie, or hanky in this case, does say something about its owner, though perhaps not what the owner had intended. The tie declares the owner to be in a select group of people committed to intimidating their neighbors into submission. Thus, the tie does not directly intimidate, but it is rather only a signal that the person in the tie intends to run you over.

Given this conclusion, I don’t think I will buy a power tie for my boyfriend or brother. Sorry folks.

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Filed under Running Commentary on whatever tickles the fancy

The Mighty Power of the Coconut

“What do you mean, ‘Don’t panic?’” cried James, “This is a disaster!” Apparently my burning forehead and other symptoms didn’t appease my jumpy traveling companion. I suppose he had a right; we were, after all, sixteen and traveling alone in the Costa Rican jungle. James ran out the door, mumbling between various expletives, “Maybe there’s a doctor somewhere.”

In my delirium, I decided to pursue a state of denial. The power of positive thinking to the rescue! Oh, no, wait. Too woozy for that.

Flashes from the night before whizzed through my mind. In the previous twelve hours I had befriended people from all over the world. I saw and touched giant sea turtles the size of refrigerators. I photographed some sort of rare jungle cow. I also came very close to vomiting.

James returned with a Costa Rican gentleman I recognized from the night before. Praise the Lord! A doctor! He immediately pressed his hand to my forehead and announced I had a fever of 102. All of a sudden, he was gone. He left so quickly I wondered if I was contagious.

He returned five minutes later. Our mouths dropped. In one hand he held a giant machete. In the other he carried a coconut with a straw, as fancy as you would find at the Hawaiian Hyatt. “Drink this,” he said, smiling. “It will make you feel better,”

Honestly, I didn’t think I could eat or drink anything. But when the cool liquid touched my lips both worry and nausea melted away. I had never felt anything so soothing before in my life. My muscles instantly relaxed and my tummy stopped rumbling. The coconut milk was a panacea on my whole body. Not to mention, the mere idea of a Good Samaritan wandering into the forest with a machete and returning with a snazzy drink charmed me beyond words. I’ve had the travel bug ever since.

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Galileo’s Finger

Galileo's Finger

It is true. I went to Florence without seeing the David. I’m a dope. Then again, my alternative proved rather intriguing: I saw Galileo’s right hand middle finger. Don’t ask me why it was even possible to see Galileo’s right hand middle finger, but I did. There it was, a bony remnant poised on a marble pedestal, encased in a glass dome and surrounded by gilded inscriptions—a strange monument to the man who proved heliocentrism.

At the time I was studying the history of science. Thus, when the opportunity came up to visit the Museum of the History of Science, I was obliged to go. Besides, it apparently cost nine Euros to see the David. It only cost five to see the finger. Tradeoffs. (I haven’t yet taken Logic).

The museum overflowed with beakers and scales of all shapes and sizes. There was even a beaker in the shape of a crab. Globes from all over the world filled the interior of one room while telescopes filled the entirety of another. I diligently began to write down all of the words I didn’t recognize. I still have yet to Wikipedia the following: hodometer, diptych dials, polyhedrals, the efficacy of nocturnals, and horary disks and quadrants.

After passing through a hall of compasses, I found myself in a room that was relatively sparse compared to some of the others. Looking to one side, I got immediately excited: there, big as life, were Galileo’s actual telescopes. Releasing my nerd-hood, I started frantically photographing.

Satisfied, I turned around. Then I saw it. No way, I thought. I went to investigate. “The Right Hand Middle Finger of Galileo Galilei” said the plaque. I was flabbergasted. Galileo is eternally flipping the bird.

After the shock of seeing the nasty, crusted remains of what I’m sure was once a very useful appendage for the astronomer, the rest of the museum, needless to say, proved anticlimactic.

In retrospect, I learned two things that day. Firstly, even poor decisions can have fascinating outcomes. Secondly, there will always be people loonier than I am.

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The Average New Yorker

Lullaby of BroadwayThere may be those who would be offended by the idea of “the average New Yorker.”  New Yorkers, you see, all think that they are completely “individual,” entirely one of a kind, unique in every way.  Of course, in God’s eyes, everyone is unique, a completely new creation.  But I, who unfortunately lack divine vision, go to the Columbia campus and see hundreds of morbid looking metrosexuals with tight black jeans, multiple piercings, all of them sporting a solemn grimace.  Perhaps there is a tattoo here and there, or some dyed hair ranging in color from jet black to fuchsia.  New Yorkers most certainly suffer from the delusion that they are counter-cultural: they try so hard to be one of a kind that they succumb to a uniform “counter-culture” culture.

Perhaps it is too harsh to dismiss all New Yorkers in this way.  This is likely, as New York is, despite the large number of similarities between its residents, a fantastic place for people watching.  (I do, however, believe that the best people to watch are either not residents or among the few who actually do succeed in being individual.) Today, for instance, there were several characters worth mentioning. While sitting in Washington Square I spotted a couple leaning on each other on a bench listening to a street performer.  The lady was a beautiful black woman, extremely well dressed.  The man, on the other hand, was a regular Rasta, completely covered in hair with a long, straggly beard hanging from his face and an even longer, solid dread dangling from behind.  An odd pairing, I thought.  Later, while passing Grammercy Park, I saw an older fellow playing away on a tiny coronet no bigger than his withered hands.  His eyes were closed and his chops were well-rehearsed and sagging.  He looked as though he wouldn’t want to switch places with anyone in the world.  Then there was a young twenty-something wearing tennis shoes and short shorts.  He had a huge duffel bag hooked over his shoulders like a hiking backpack.  His legs were strong and lean, so we figured that he had walked to New York from Alaska just to see the Empire State building.  Five minutes later, he walked back in the opposite direction, making us think that he succeeded in his quest and was headed back to Alaska.

So there are exceptions to the Average New Yorker.  I know there are more, and I always love a good story about these characters.  Nevertheless, New Yorkers definitely have a similar strain of characteristics among them.  The most dominant is a general cynical attitude.  This manifests itself in the grumpy treatment of neighbors.  There are very few people in New York who will help you without provocation.  If you ask them for help, then they are usually happy to oblige, but it requires the asking.  This theory is substantiated by New Yorkers’ comments after they return from trips to Chicago: “It is like a smaller New York, but the people are so much nicer!”  New Yorkers seem dumbfounded by this nonobligatory kindness shared amongst Midwesterners.  Chicagoans will help you if you merely look lost, where as this concept is lost on New Yorkers.

And then there is the crazy driving.  When people visit New York, taxis are an experience in and of themselves.  New York drivers are extremely dexterous and daring if not flat out aggressive and rude.  Some people think that this is a manifestation of New Yorkers’ grumpiness.  This may be true, but I find it is only part of the answer.  New Yorkers in general, even the happy ones like me, have an addiction to efficiency.  If you go anywhere else in the world, practically, after living for a considerable amount of time in New York, the tempo of life might drive you mad.  Now, I tend to find New York tempos inhumanly fast, frankly.  I am a firm believer in smelling roses.  However, I take for granted the fact that there should be a drug store within walking distance where I can purchase practically any last minute need.  I also enjoy the ability to get wherever I want without having to wait more than fifteen minutes maximum for public transportation.  In Manhattan, the subways are usually quite reliable, as long as there is no construction.  This is not the case in other cities, and most certainly not the case on the south side of Chicago, where the #55 can leave you for hours in -15degree weather.  I also find myself getting unjustly agitated if anyone wastes even the smallest increments of time when getting from point A to B.  There is no reason, in my mind, why anyone would walk a 90degree angle–make a hypotenuse whenever possible, that’s my motto.  But the question is why?  Why is that so important to me?  How much time can I actually save, and to what ends?  I attribute this, along with the drug stores and functional subways, to my addiction to efficiency.  New York City is an enabler for an extremely efficient lifestyle.  People there like moving fast, thus creating a demand and a subsequent supply for daily needs on the move.  When I travel elsewhere, I try to overcome my New York cynicism and other distasteful New Yorker attributes, but boy, this efficiency addiction is hard to shake.

I have several other ideas for what creates the character of New York, but I feel I must draw to a close for now, as it is late at night and I spent the day carousing a good chunk of Manhattan.  What I can say for New Yorkers is that, though they breath cynicism and carbon monoxide and try so hard to achieve an angry affect, most of them, beneath their tough surfaces, are actually extremely happy to be where they are.  Ask a true New Yorker if he would ever leave New York, and the answer would likely be a solid No, though perhaps with a few added expletives.

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