Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Documenting Human Stupidity

Click on This!!

This photo was taken for the sole purpose of documenting human stupidity.  There is no artistic value, but it is absolutely crucial to the story.  I was compelled to do a quick hand-held panorama shot because I was so bewildered by my fellow human being who inexplicably parked next to me.  Go ahead and click on it to make sure you understand the full picture of what I am about to describe.

Moments before this shot was taken I was parked completely alone in the back of this parking lot eating my lunch (mine is the pickup).  I chose this distant spot, as I often do, so that I could eat in peace and listen to the radio without being disturbed by others.  When I do this I might sit there for ten to twenty minutes and then I'll be on my way.  The weather was sunny and pleasant, mid 60's, with a slight breeze.  This type of weather is the best because it means I can sit in the car without having to run neither the air conditioner, nor the heat while I sit and eat.  On this occasion, my dad called so we were talking when the idiot unexpectedly pulled up and parked alongside me despite the fact that there were at least 100 spots available elsewhere in the parking lot.

Coincidentally, my dad and I engaged in a conversation a few weeks back regarding the propensity for people to park close by despite a plethora of open options, all of which would leave at least one space in between all parked cars.  His specific example involved an early morning scenario at the grocery store where there were 3 cars in the entire lot, yet somebody pulled up right next to him and parked.  He was situated at the front of the store which makes the chances of this happening more likely, but there were other equally as good parking options available at the time, none of which required parking next to his vehicle.  In spite of this fact, the person chose to park in the spot next to his.  Although I in no way condone the actions of that individual (it's reprehensible, in fact), I can at least understand the flawed logic.  After all, we're talking about being closer to the store.  My scenario, however, boggles the mind.

I've been searching for any line of logic to my situation, and I can't find any.  I can think of three potential reasons, yet none of them pass muster and I must conclude that the person was simply stupid.  There is no other possibility.

My first line of thought was that the person specifically sought out a shady spot and this was one of the few available.  I'm skeptical, though, because he/she quickly got out of the vehicle, yoga mat in hand, and presumably walked to the gym.  There were no dogs or children in the car that would require shade.  Plus, the weather was cool and a person could sit in an unshaded car for hours with no ill effects.   In addition, the interior of the vehicle would not be too hot upon his/her return.  Conclusion: Doesn't make sense.

Secondly, I thought this must be her customary spot.  I can imagine he/she might attend yoga often and chooses this spot often based on theory number 1.  Again, that might be valid in the summer, but even then only if there is a clear and open spot to be had.   As you can see, he/she could have left an open spot and still had some shade available to him/her (although, as we have established, shade was unnecessary on this day).   If the spot is taken, you move on, especially in a lot this size with this many open options.  Conclusion:  Inability to think and reason in real time.

Finally, I thought he/she must just be plain stupid.  I suppose I mean this in the "inability-to-navigate-social-rules-including-those-that-are-unwritten-but-clearly-set-in-stone" type of way.  Similar to Rain Man.  Why in the world would you park right next to me when so many other options are available?  Not only did he/she park directly next to mine for no reason, but look how it is also skewed within the parking space to the line closest to my vehicle.  Conclusion:  Yes, the person is stupid.

Folks, I'm begging you, as you go out in this world, please be aware of things around you.  Consider the environment you're in and analyze it, and do what is right.   Give me some hope that we may yet survive as a species despite these acts of wanton stupidity and egregious over-stepping of established social norms.  Some people are worried about global warming, and some are concerned with peace in the middle east, but I'm worried that if we can't solve something so simple as choosing the correct parking space we are ultimately doomed and need not waste our time with these other complex issues.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pissed Off Cows

I received a huge dose of life-affirming adrenaline yesterday courtesy of 1,500 pounds of mobile beef.  For some unknown reason Betsy the ringleader, an enormous hunk of coal black cow, didn't like Bella and I within her confines and decided to expel us from her territory with utmost urgency and sense of purpose.   I don't know what the difference was yesterday -after all, I do this a lot- but the shot of adrenaline I received re-affirmed with an exclamation point that life is all about experiences, nothing else. No object, material possession, or money could give me the sensations I experienced in that brief 90 second encounter.

As I often do, I took Bella to the large open space in the hills near our house to let her run.  Local cattle ranchers have an agreement with the homeowners association, which owns the land, to allow cattle to graze freely in the area.  The cows keep the land "mowed" and reduce fire hazards, and the rancher gets free food for his cattle.  I typically avoid any open space when I can see the cows, not out of fear, but because it means there will be fresh piles of sludgy dung all around the area we want to walk.  Any dog owner knows these piles entice the animal the same way a raw piece of meat does.  Also, the fragrant smell of the dung is absolutely irresistible and triggers the instinctual crocodile death roll in the dog.  The theory is that it masks the scent of a dog on the hunt. If you haven't seen it, it's an aggressive and urgent roll in the dung, starting from the neck on one side and moving down the back and then over to the other side, then repeated multiple times until you run screaming like an idiot and can physically reach your dog and make them move.   Typically the dog leaves the scene with a gigantic smile and sense of accomplishment while you mumble to yourself about having to give the dog another god**mn bath.    I recently took Bella to the veterinarian to have poop removed from her ear canal due to a particularly aggressive roll.   As you can see, there are multiple good reasons to avoid the cows.  Now I was about to have another one.

I couldn't see any cows when we first approached the gate, so I let Bella crawl under and I jumped the chest high post.  I took quick inventory and couldn't see any fresh piles, so we proceeded.   These first few minutes of freedom seem to be heaven for Bella.  She trots around the area with her nose to the ground like a vacuum, taking in the thousands of scents that are available to her.   She's 12 now so her movements are a bit slower, but she is never happier than in these moments.  Inevitably she creates her own fresh pile, nose twitching and smelling the air, reading the situation and scanning the environment.  From what I can tell, this moment is the highlight of her day:  Pooping in an open field with unlimited sensory stimuli tickling her nose.  We soon reach the crest of the hill and that's when I saw the herd of 20, and Betsy's ears immediately perked up.

As soon as I saw Betsy, I casually called Bella and started walking the other direction.  Bella had assumed the alert wolf stalking posture, but I knew it was an act.  I've tried to bring her close to the cows by the fence and she doesn't want any part of it.  She eventually turned towards me and we started walking in the opposite direction.   And the cows began to walk with us in the same direction.   I wasn't too alarmed, after all cows are curious by nature and I had seen them do this before.  Typically they will escort you in the other direction, making sure they can see you at all times and will stop at the top of the hill and watch until you leave.  I'm sure I could have done something differently at this crucial point, but let's discuss this snapshot in time just a little bit.

I am 100% suburbanite and large farm animals tend put a scare in me regardless of their alleged docile nature.  I was currently being approached by 20 such animals.   My research suggests that perhaps I should have acted like "the boss" and shooed them away with a large stick (maybe tapped Betsy the ringleader on the snout), or opened an umbrella to startle them.   Alas, it was 70 degrees and sunny so my umbrella was in the garage and thus, useless to me in this circumstance.  I am also not in the habit of carrying a walking stick like a shepherd when I go out with Bella, although I may change my stance on this.  Like her owner, Bella is also 100% suburbanite.  She doesn't possess the craftiness of a border collie, which will toy with cows and bulls all day long.  I've observed it myself, and it is something to behold.   Large, hoofed animals with great mass also tend to frighten Bella so we didn't have any other inkling other than to extricate ourselves from this situation.  To put it in evolutionary terms, we clearly chose the "flight" response over the "fight" response.

Because the cows are so prevalent in the area it's easy to watch them from a distance and I commonly see them running down the hills.  I always look for coyotes - which are also common - or a mountain lion - which are rumored to be in the hills-but have never seen either in pursuit.  Nonetheless, it's surprising the speed with which they come careening down the hills after each other.   I didn't study much in college, but I remember this:  F=m(a)  force=mass x acceleration.  The bulk of the animal running down a 15% decline must create amazing force and I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of it.  Yet, here I was in that exact position.

I fully expected the group to stop at the crest of the hill and watch us leave, but Betsy started trotting, which energized the herd.  "You're the boss, you're the boss" I told myself in my head.  I didn't buy it.  Here they come.  Son of a...."BELLA RUN, LET'S GO!!!!!!!!!!!  Bella can't move like she used to and Betsy was closing in.  I watched in horror as my sweet Bella was about to be crushed.  Valiantly, she turned and snapped, which surprised and distracted Betsy for a moment.  Betsy regrouped and re-engaged Bella, both running down the hill directly at me.

As I watched this scene unfold, I was actually thinking I wish I had my camera with me because the scene would have made an incredible photo.  The behemoth Betsy was directly behind Bella, head to ground, nearly touching her butt, and they were headed directly at me.  I would have used my 70-200 lens to completely fill the frame with Bella at the bottom and the big black blob with crazy eyes in pursuit.  I was actually lamenting the loss of opportunity.   It's Funny that in such a moment of abject terror the brain can calmly carry on a conversation in a parallel universe at the same time.

I fully expected Betsy to lift Bella with her nose and flip her, opening up the possibility for a mauling with her hooves.  I took a quick inventory and the gate opening was at least 300 yards away, not a possibility.  I looked to my left and the fence was right there, but it was chest high.   Mercifully Betsy didn't flip Bella and we jumped across a concrete v-ditch drainage channel certain that cows won't cross  that type of thing.  It turns out they will.

Bella and I both made it across the ditch, and Betsy crossed as well.  As I reflect on this, I'm not certain why Betsy didn't pursue us and push us up against the fence.  I know she crossed the ditch, which was was only about 10 feet from the fence, but she didn't crush me.  In a huge panic I lifted Bella over the top of the fence and dropped her on the other side.  The hair on her back was raised like a mohawk and her tail was squarely between her legs.  I quickly jumped the fence and realized we had escaped the full wrath of Betsy.

Immediately my legs felt weak as the adrenaline began to leave my body.  I began to chuckle, out of nervousness and amusement at the same time.  I began the process of assessing the situation in my mind and two things immediately became clear:  1. I'm so thankful neither Bella nor I was hurt.  2.  What a great story, I can't wait to tell people about this.  And so it is with experiences.  Unlike money or possessions, experiences never go away, they are always there for the re-telling and psychologists say experiences without a doubt are what bring us happiness.   I believe it.  This didn't cost me anything and in an odd way I feel euphoric about it.   Adrenaline is good for the soul and this shot of it has my soul soaring.  By the way, Betsy, I can't wait to see you on my grill.  I know Bella and I will have a laugh about it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Old Friends

Although it has been about twenty years since I last played a match, the racket immediately felt right in my hands when I picked it up today.  The swing motion is ingrained in my muscle memory the way any task is when learned at an early age.  I've heard it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a skill and I'm sure I played at least that much tennis from age 10-16.    In the ensuing years I've tried hockey and golf and I've enjoyed the process, but neither have ever felt natural.   My skating stride is choppy and I have virtually no stick handling skills, but I can get around the ice and mix it up a little bit.  My golf swing works and I can keep from embarrassing myself most of the time, but it's manufactured and mechanical.
The tennis swing, however, is pure joy for me because it's natural and organic and because it's inevitably interwoven in my memory with the close friendships I shared at an early age.  I bought two rackets with the hopes of rekindling the magic of those young days.

Early on in my tennis journey I was known as Jimmy Reid,  brother of Justin Reid, son of Jim and Janine Reid.   Justin moved in next door when I was six and his parents were members at the local country club.  Jimmy was Justin's step-brother but he lived in another state so I assumed his role and became Justin's brother at the club.  We quickly became close friends and tagged along while his parents played tennis.  Naturally we picked up the extra rackets and hit balls to kill time and became proficient without supervision or soul sucking coaching.  When I was good enough to have my own racket, my mom bought me a Wilson Pro-Staff graphite stick with the perimeter weighted system and 95CC head.  It was magical to me and I've had a Wilson racket from that day forward.  I've tried other manufacturers but nothing has ever felt the same to me as a Wilson Pro-Staff or its derivative.

After I bought the rackets today I called my good friend Jay to talk to him about it.  Jay and I spent a fair amount of time playing tennis after Justin had moved away.  We were in high school so soccer took up much of my time during the school year, but tennis was still something I enjoyed quite a bit, though not at competitive level.  We had a good laugh about the time he chucked his badminton racket across the gym, high up into the bleachers.  He recalls that I was taunting him mercilessly during our gym class match and that's the reason he launched it.  I don't remember taunting him, but I don't doubt it either.  I'm sure I was a knucklehead about it.  My head was swollen because that semester I was the first student to ever beat Mr. Amato in a match.

The racket skills acquired in tennis transferred well to the ping-pong table as well.  Justin had a table in his basement and when we weren't playing tennis, we were banging ping-pong balls around.  When Justin moved, the table was transferred to my basement and it resided there for several years before making its way to Jay's college house where it lived a glorious outdoor life of hosting beer pong before eventually succumbing to age.  Whenever we get together there is always a ping-pong match and there is always an underlying tension to the proceedings.  We try to act casual, but each one of us badly wants to be the house champion and have bragging rights until the next official match.  A few years back there was some controversy when we all took a cruise vacation and the ship hosted a ping-pong tournament.  Jay appeared to score the final point in our championship match, but the tournament referee (not me) ruled Jay had served out of turn and the score was restored to deuce.  My subsequent victory and first place medal is still under protest.  However, no rackets were thrown overboard.  I handled this one a little bit better.

Justin tells me his daughter is a helluva ping-pong player now.  She only recently discovered it, but apparently has the hand-eye coordination to be very good.  Parents, I can tell you this:  Teach your kids Ping-Pong at an early age, it is an extremely valuable social skill.  At any gathering, Jay, Justin, and I can beat 98% of all players, and it is a good thing to be "the guy" at the party.   In my 40 years I've been beaten one time at a social gathering.  I have compared data with Jay and Justin and they confer with this data as well.

Now that I've got the rackets I'm going to start playing again.  I've been looking for something to keep me in shape, but more importantly, I've been looking for a way to make some social connections since some of my greatest memories revolve around tennis and the people I was with.   I know the friendships will never compare to those early times, but if they are only half as good I will have made a great investment of my time and energy.  I just hope I don't tear my achilles while being run around the court mercilessly by a 70 year old who slices everything.