Tag Archives: people

The awkward moment between hearing and understanding

This morning I woke up to news of NASA’s supply mission to the International Space Station having come to a premature and spectacular end in the form of a giant fireball to the tune of 100,000,000 dollars. It is a story like any other I suppose; good intentions marred by budget restrictions, management vulnerable to human error and ego, and an unhappy ending tempered only by the fact that no one was hurt. A lot like your average divorce then.

Still, I don’t write simply for the sake of writing. I am not enslaved to a corporate paycheck, and I have no vested interest in pleasing a particular customer base. I am a literary ronin. I fear no deadlines and answer to no editor. The words before you are unmarred by the censor’s pen. Thus I am permitted by default to speak the truth as others are simply not. Good. Fuck them. Fuck them and their corporate sponsors.

It is a tragedy of our time that kids like Justin Bieber are more popular than humanity’s collective efforts to better ourselves by pushing back the veil across the universe so omnipresent yet so inconceivably distant. The Indian Mars mission cost less than most Hollywood blockbusters, and yet it received little attention in the West beyond a thoroughly collectively surprised: “whoa! India has a space program?” Yeah, also, after this morning it appears to be better than ours.

Meanwhile we lose our minds over the most trivial crap – usually whatever is showing on MTV and FOX “news” or whatever Bill Maher said that makes uncomfortable amounts of sense in a world so pacified by political correctness it has lost the ability to be true to itself. Global warming? Not real. The younger generation? Doomed. Terrorism? ISIS is in our schools, and let’s not forget to enjoy life because Ebola is going to wipe us off the planet.

I advocate – whenever I can – that everyone take a deep breath, count to 10, and stop relishing the flawed nature of their humanity quite so thoroughly.

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Things I learned from shopping with women

Now, please do not misconstrue what follows as some passive aggressive stab at scoring points for the fellas. I am abjectly opposed to the battle between the sexes and would really like for us all to get along irrespective of our reproductive organs. That way we can all focus on what is important; race, religion, and of course sexual orientation!

I kid. Or at least, it would be funny if such observations did not stem from the tragic reality. I suppose we should be grateful that we haven’t declared open war on each other. Thank god for sex.

Still, differences between men and women abound. Such differences are the source of much friction, library shelves full of unhelpful literature, and the regretable existence of divorce lawyers.

One of the differences too numerous to count is the way we shop. When a need arises in a man’s life that can be solved by buying something said item is – pending budgetary review – bought immediately. Problem solved.

Women go about this same process in altogether different way. First and foremost it must be made plain that ‘shopping’ is more than a mere verb to a woman; it is a hobby ( and in some cases a compulsion or even addiction. ) That being the case it is easy to understand that women experience a different, emotional response to the exact same activity, and as such – much to the lament and consternation of many a man stuck holding bags – seek to prolong the process beyond the point where even the most self-determined man would throw in the proverbial towel.

Theirs is not just a social mandate to stay contemporary with regards to trending styles, but a very real sense that if a woman were to forsake the act of shopping she would deny herself the joy of the experience men do not know to look for. The reason surely must be that for a woman shopping is about more than simply the acquisition. A man could not imagine trying on two dozen pairs of jeans and gyrating our derriere in front of a mirror to ensure our butt looks just so. (it is worth mentioning that womens’ shops outnumber mens’ some 10 to 1 and as such most of us would be hard pressed to find a dozen different jeans in our size – a topic for another time)

One of my favorite frustrations is the undeniably feminine ability to profess a pair of jeans perfect in every way, put them back, and continue shopping. This is an act of such irrational defiance a man simply cannot be expected to sympathize with a woman on the matter. Ladies, I put it to you here and now in no uncertain terms: it doesn’t matter what he says, it is not dependent on how much he loves you; if he says he understands, he’s lying. He doesn’t understand – cannot begin to understand – he thinks you’re crazy.

Between the advent of the internet and online shopping men have had much reason to rejoice. Not only has the world been opened up to us from the comfort of our own homes, but we are now able to further limit the amount of time we spend in stores by making all the necessary comparisons before actually venturing out to purchace the item we decide upon. Better still, often times said item can be delivered to us. Wonderful, because here is another thing: we despise sales assistants. We loathe the phrase “can I help you find something” on the grounds that it is presumptuous and hollow, incinsere and redundant. No, your “help” is not required nor is it desired. I came here for a specific item, predetermined through careful scrutiny, and all I need you to do is get out of my way so I can get it. Unless there is a massive discount to be had you may stand idly behind the register and await my displeasure with your lowest-common-denominator personality there.

Women on the other hand crave validation. Moreover they are biologically predispositioned to be group-based, social creatures and as such actively seek out and engage sales representatives. The exchange between a woman shopping and the sales representative is a wholly biased one; the sales representative is trying to sell things – things you may not necessarily want or have come in for to say nothing of liking them or not. Alas, a capable sales representative can interact with my girlfriend in a more meaningful way in the first few minutes of meeting her than I could the first few months. This enigmatic bond between women transcends such trivial distinctions as compatible personalities, interests, and political affilliations centering instead on a common love of materialism and looking good – the sacred duty of any self-respecting capitalist.

In the interest of looking good whilst enjoying the shopping experience women will also try on, hold, fondle, and caress items they have no intention of buying under any circumstances barring an unexpected and wholly improbable win in the lottery. Oddly this is the one thing I do understand on a very fundamental level although it must be said I object on moral grounds even to my own admitted understanding of the phenomenon. I like to imagine that if I could walk into the Lamborghini showroom and “try on” the new Aventador to see how cute my butt looked in its hand-stitched, Italian leather seats, I might be tempted to take her for a spin knowing full well I cannot afford the $375,000 price tag of the base model.

What little, if any, conclusions we can draw from the myriad differences between men and women beyond biological purposes are not immediately interesting to me. Each generation and any number of self-professed experts will claim to have the answers to all our problems stemming from regretible interactions with the opposite sex, but – in keeping with my interest in observations rather than conclusions – I have noticed these are the kind of people who have been divorced a few times and have a lot of time on their hands to justify their failures. In the guise of learned men and women they spew their convenient, sugar-coated fortune cookie nonsense and for the bargain sum of $9,99 you too can among the clueless but endlessly willing diciples of abject mediocracy. The discerning (and if you made it this far, that means you) will not be surprised then that I offer no absolution of any kind. No helpful hints or tips to prevent your feet from hurting on a marathon shoppin spree with your significant other, nor advice of any kind regarding how to avoid being dragged along as a glorified shopping cart (or portable ATM for that matter). I think it is enough to spark the discussion and see what comes of it. I do so enjoy my fan mail after all – death threats and emphatic discertations that denounce me as an agent of Satan included.

As always I invite my audience to share their thoughts on the matter acknowledging aforehand that I realize doing so on the internet is like sticking your head through the bars at the zoo with your eyes closed and hoping you picked the enclosure of a pleasant herbivore saying “bring it on!”


After the Earthquake

It is a morbid fascination man has with the aftermath of catastrophy. We find the actual events, be they floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes to be frightful, disconcertingly random, and dangerous, but the destruction in their wake – the facts, and the images of death – are as irresistable to us as the flame is to the moth. Our desire to bring order to chaos sees us busily quantifying all we can: magnitude, distance, speed, and missing or deceased. Much like vultures, news agencies feast on the dead; each greedily trying to pick their way to previously unexposed pieces of the body, not long dead. We are responsible – the ratings do not lie – we are buying what they are selling. They are the merchants of death, and we are buying it wholesale.

I live in Tokyo, where the earthquake of Friday, March 11th brought the city grinding to a halt. I was on a subway train beneath the metropolis when the train too was brought to a stand still. An unscheduled stop is rare in Japan where anual delays are measured in seconds, but we were all of us only semi-conscious amidst the dull familiarity of routine. The announcer – privy to the alert from the Japanese early warning system – announced that we had stopped according to procedure regarding the imminent earthquake. The train began to shake in moments, slightly at first, then with increasing vigor. I looked around. People were calm. The shaking intensified and still people remained calm, albeit surprized. A silent uneasiness came over the train then – the car shaking and bobbing on its suspension just enough to worry its passengers. Still, no one cried out, no one clutched at the hand rails in desperation and the illusion of safety. The shaking lessened, then stopped, and relief replaced the tension. An announcement stating we would continue to the next station followed, and slowly the train resumed its familiar track as we sank back into the routine from whence we had come scarce moments before. The scene by the ticket gates spoke of a different earthquake – one that had induced the suspension of service of all trains in Tokyo. The street scene was more alarming still; crowds having gathered in the streets where once cars had driven, evicted from their homes and offices by common sense and the need for nicotine.
I was confused. There have been many earthquakes in my two-year exile in Japan. Some larger than others, but not one of them had produced this startling effect: all of Tokyo was on break.
Whilst walking home the first signs of damage became evident. At eye-level, over-turned potted plants, fallen bicycles, and broken glass could be seen. Tilting my head, cracks in buildings and partially crumbled fa├žades confirmed that this had indeed been a larger earthquake than I believed to have experienced in the subway beneath my feet. The sudden and surreal thought that my own building – significantly taller than these – may not have faired well hit home hard. Turning the final corner home I was greeted by a crowd glued to a television set on display outside the door of the local shop. The news being related was incomprehensible due to the richness of earthquake-speciffic vocabulary I was not taught in school nor had overheard previously in idle converation. The images, in contrast, spoke volumes. I watched, still not fully aware of the scale of what was happening, as a tidal surge (to call it a wave would be a tragic misnomer) of brown water, debris, and the crumbled remains of all manner of objects surged across an unfamiliar land. Helicopter news footage – be it a high-speed chase on a freeway or tsunami rolling across the land – gives the entirely false impression of lethargy in the events portrayed. The water, and everything in it, was moving at an entirely unimaginable speed. It was equally unstoppable as it was devastating. I saw cars, trees, houses and schools, there one minute and gone the next, the water making a mockery of our modern engineering in the same way it would make a mockery of the straw huts of our distant ancestors. Mesmerized we watched as forces the scale of which few can truly grasp wiped away the lives of those beneath the camera lens.
There is tragic irony in the fact that the very planet that sustains us is also readily capable of wiping us from its surface, reminding us of our infintessimal smallness. This is not calculated malice, it is a natural process which grows more frightening with each passing year as our buildings grow taller, our cities grow more crowded, and our dependence on electricity, water, and food grow in turn. As terrible as earthquakes and tsunamis can be, it is the population density of Japan’s east coast that is the single largest contributing factor to the many problems in the aftermath of a disaster. Emergency services are not designed to provide support for entire populations nor are they capable of combatting fear, panic, or logistical issues on a scale such as this.