It's said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I don't know what those who ignore toilet seat history are doomed to, exactly, but I'm quickly finding out. And it's not pretty.
Here's the thing.
My wife and I have lived in our condo for four years, give or take a blizzard season. The place has two bathrooms, and the toilet in each is fitted with a No-Drop Ev'r-Quiet Easy-Lower Seat™.
I have no idea whether that's the actual name of the thing, of course. But seeing as how it's a toilet seat, and to sell toilet seats you probably need some kind of flashy creative verbiage, and that whoever bought the things probably saw them in a late-night infomercial or something, it's a pretty safe bet that I'm close.
(Or that the actual name is worse. Like the "Slo-Commode". Or the "Whisper Shitter". I weep.)
The point is, you can't accidentally drop the lids or the seats on these things. If you tap the back of the seat, it glides slowly and gently down to the bowl, without any unnecessary drama or porcelain banging involved. It's a convenience. A middle-class luxury. A toilet that's seen, but never heard.
(Well. Except after "Taco Night", maybe.)
So these fancy terlet seats are a pretty nice thing. And, like all nice things, they have a problem. Namely, one gets used to them. One grows accustomed to one's nice thing, and then when one is in a situation without the nice thing, one's usual habits turn one into a rude and boorish monster who makes all the neighbors and maybe damages a bathroom fixture or two.
I know. It happened to me last year.
In that instance, I was a guest in someone else's house. A fine house, a very nice house -- but not a house equipped with space-age "Serene Latrine" technology.
(Okay, I'm taking credit for that one. "Serene Latrine" isn't half-bad.)
So, I banged the toilet in the middle of the night and woke people up, and go read the old post if you want all the details. I'm not obligated to relive all of my public humiliations year after year.
I save that shit for Christmas with the in-laws, thank you very much.
"You don't need to know who was doing what in there, or if it was Next-Taco Morning or what kind of horseplay might have been involved. Or why a horse was in the bathroom in the first place."
Anyway, that's the history. Zoom forward to last week, when we suddenly needed to replace the toilet seat in our guest bathroom.
I'm not going to tell you why, exactly, we needed to replace it. That's private. You don't need to know who was doing what in there, or if it was Next-Taco Morning or what kind of horseplay might have been involved. Or why a horse was in the bathroom in the first place.
Let's just say that the old toilet seat was... indisposed, and so we ordered and fitted a replacement. A replacement, it turns out, that is also not fitted with a Crashless Crapper Cap.
(Nah. The "latrine" thing was better. Ah well.)
And this is where the "ignoring history" bit comes in. Because I've used that toilet a half dozen times since we put the new seat on. And every time, when I finished I ever-so-gently tapped the top of the lid to close it. Not thinking, just force of habit. And history-ignorant.
So far, I've woken up my wife, made the neighbors' baby cry, set off a nearby car alarm and possibly perforated an eardrum. Which is not cool. I mean, I've only done two of those things in a bathroom before this whole seat debacle.
Well. Maybe three. But in my defense, that kid was always whining about something. It probably had colic.
Anyway, I've got to find some way to muffle this seat banging, before I do any real damage. Or we have to buy another one, with the Languid Lid feature. Otherwise, I'm going to lose my bathroom privileges altogether.
And Taco Night is just around the corner. Yeeks.
I meet new people from time to time.
Well, not "new" people, exactly. So far as I know, they've all been people for some substantial amount of time. Decades, in most cases. Some of them are actually quite old people, indeed. They're just new to me.
So. I meet new-to-me people from time to time. And I'd like to stop, because it's incredibly difficult. Every single little bit of it.
First, I don't remember names. It's like a social blind spot. I hear someone saying to me, "Hi, I'm..." And that's all I get. I'm always so busy being sure to make eye contact and smile and make sure my hands are dry and not reflexively staring at my crotch in a panic to see whether my fly is zipped, I never hear the name. Or see my zipper. It's a nightmare.
(On the bright side, I can usually play off missing the name, so long as I never, never ever see the person again. It's when they show up again, socially -- if it's a new neighbor, say, or a mother-in-law or prospective boss on a job interview -- that things get sticky. Eventually, I have to call these people something. And they never seem very pleased when my personal nicknames for them come out.
Well, maybe if Porky, Hairpile and Snagglefang would wear a nametag now and then, we wouldn't have this problem. I don't see how any of this is my fault, frankly.)
But that's just the beginning. Then there's the touching. There's always some sort of touching, and I never know which kind is appropriate. When do you shake hands? When should you kiss cheeks? Or "pretend to kiss cheeks, but don't actually touch your lips to my face, you big gangly doofus"?
(As it was once described to me. Rather loudly.
"So I'm always finding myself in the middle of some half-grasped handshake or near-gropey hug, or with my tongue in some strange European's ear."
I never know. So I'm always finding myself in the middle of some half-grasped handshake or near-gropey hug, or with my tongue in some strange European's ear. Never the sexy strange ones, either. It's always the hairy strange ones that smell like olives and failed national currency.
But that's not even the worst part. You'd think, after the triumvirate trauma of introductions and greetings and social pawing, that the horror would be over. But no. Then it gets personal -- because next comes the questioning.
Many questions are possible. "How's it going?" "Do you come here often?" "Did you know your fly is wide open?" But there's one you can always count on:
"So, what do you do?"
Maybe this is fine, if you do something that most people have ever heard of. If you plumb, say, or lawyate or buttle. These are easy enough answers. But I don't have one of those jobs. So I have to guess how much or little to describe, based on how familiar I think my new acquaintance will be with the field.
Obviously, I'm always wrong. So answering "what do you do?" usually goes something like this:
Me: I work for an epigenetics company.
New Person: Ah. And what's that?
Me: Well, you know about genetics?
New Person: Not really, no.
Me: It's like that. Only more meta.
New Person: Oh. Um... oh.
Me: I'm a bioinformatics programmer.
New Person: So... is that a computer thing?
Me: Yeah. Mostly, it is.
New Person: Ooh, can you help me set up my printer?
Me: Sorry, that's not really my area.
New Person: So you're not very good at your job.
Me: Yeah. Probably not.
Me: I sit at a desk all day and fiddle with spreadsheets.
New Person: You a stockbroker?
New Person: Financial analyst?
New Person: Tax preparer?
New Person: Did you go to business school?
New Person: Well, thank god for that, anyway. Chin up, pumpkin.
Screw it, I give up. I'm not meeting anyone ever again. If I know you, I'll be happy to see you again soon. If I don't -- and if you can't have the common decency to impersonate someone I already know -- then I'm sorry. I'm done. No more meeting. Kaput.
Unless you wear a name tag. And don't touch me. And just assume I'm unemployed.
So basically, just like the people who already know me. You're already fitting in!
This Thanksgiving week has been more... distracted than usual, so I'm way off schedule here. In lieu of actually getting back on track and posting something new, here's my favorite Thanksgiving-related nonsense from a few years ago:
Enjoy that, and your turkey, and I'll catch up with something new over the weekend.
Probably. If the tryptophan coma lifts in time. Wishbones crossed!
Like most people, I find taking cabs in Boston a white-knuckled, horrific experience.
My reason for this, however, is probably not as common. Let's talk it out.
A lot of people are scared by the driving, what with the cabbies careening across lanes and cutting off oil tankers and honking at people in front riding the mall escalator too slowly.
I don't mind these things. I figure when it's your time to go, it's your time. If you're desperate enough to step willingly into a Boston taxi, then you've effectively signed your life into the driver's twitching, hairy-knuckled hands. You're not paying cab fare, so much as contributing to a personal Russian roulette fund. It's zen. Or something. Whatever.
Other people hate cabs because of the language barrier. They complain that the cabbie can't understand them, or they can't understand the cabbie, and their trip to Logan Airport for vacation left them in the middle of Boston Harbor, scraping barnacles off their travel bag.
"If it takes a little doodling on a napkin and a game of charades to get where I'm going -- hey, it's still better than airplane food and getting fondled by some fat guy in Customs."
Also, their suitcase. You know what I'm saying.
The "lost in translation" thing doesn't bother me either. I like traveling abroad, and don't have the time or money to go as often as I'd like. But a cab ride crosstown is like a twenty-minute jaunt to... well, wherever. The cabbies come from all sorts of strange and exotic places. Haiti. Albania. West Jersey. All over. If it takes a little doodling on a napkin and a game of charades to get where I'm going -- hey, it's still better than airplane food and getting fondled by some fat guy in Customs.
So. What makes my cab rides so harrowing?
It's grammar. Or sentence conjugation. Syntax? Something like that.
Here's the thing. I got into a cab yesterday, and I wanted to go to this restaurant downtown. So I told the guy I'm going to this restaurant downtown. And because I have a shred of human decency -- okay, so half a shred, fine -- I also said "please". Here's exactly what I said:
"I'm going to this restaurant downtown, please."
(Well, not exactly what I said, of course. The name of the restaurant was removed, to protect the innocent. Nobody wants my name next to theirs on Yelp. That's not selling any cream pies.)
Now, look at that sentence; the thing is a nightmare. It's not a question, but it's got "please" at the end. It's half-declarative, half pleading and all wrong. It's stating a fact, but I'm entering a Boston cab. Meaning, it's highly fricking unlikely that I'm actually going to this restaurant at all. So it's basically a lie.
That's where I want to go, sure. But I tell the driver, and he nods non-committally, and that's the end of my control over the matter. He might pick a fight with a Winnebago driver who runs us off an overpass. He could dump me in a park south of town. Maybe we wind up in Cuba.
But I've got no confidence my stop is going to be the restaurant, and I don't feel right saying it. So I've decided to say something else instead. The question is... what? All my ideas are more grammatically correct -- but they all suck. See?:
"Can you drive me to this restaurant downtown, please?"
No good. It makes me feel like I'm twelve years old, bumming a ride from Dad. Or more accurately, "Daaaaaaa-aaaad", because "I'm late for soooooo-oooccer practice, gosh!" No.
"Shall we go to this restaurant downtown?"
Way off. First, now I'm Mary Poppins. Second, it's not entirely clear that I'm not propositioning the driver. And I'm not. Either of those things. I don't even own an umbrella.
"I would like to travel to this restaurant downtown, if you please."
Also, I would like the royal valet to fetch my satin codpiece, for I shall be spending the eve in merriment amongst the peasants. Next.
"My intended destination is this restaurant downtown. Warp speed, please!"
Basically an invitation to be dropped off in an abandoned warehouse outside town. Also, a challenge for certain drivers who think their twenty-year-old Ford LTD might actually achieve "warp speed". Or at least Mach 3.
So taking cabs is an even bigger pain in the ass than before. The last guy got me to some restaurant -- the right one? I don't know. After half an hour of downtown traffic and screaming down sidewalks, I forgot where I'd told him in the first place. He dropped me off in the drive-through of a Taco Bell the health inspectors closed six months ago. Maybe that's what I asked for. I'm not that bright. You can't rule it out.
Screw it. From now on, I'm handing the cabbie a Google Map and a note saying I lost my vocal cords in a childhood electronic toothbrush accident. Anything's easier than this.
I was at the office today, in the middle of a pre-annual review chat with my boss, and she asked me what seemed like a very simple question:
"Are you happy?"
I knew what she meant. And I knew what the right answer was. But things are never quite so simple. Not when you live in my head. Here's the long version of my answer to her:
(Okay, quite long. Deal with it, Gabbo.)
As the years go by, I find myself becoming more philosophical. This has several effects on my day-to-day existence.
I'm more contemplative, for one. In the past, I'd often observe situations -- particularly those fraught with drama -- proverbially "watching from the sidelines". Now I'm even a bit further detached. It's more like watching from my couch, with a feed from a sideline camera. Also, it's on TiVo. And I made popcorn. Much better.
I notice I'm also less prone to emotional ups and downs. I mean, we've all got the sun engulfing the earth and the eventual heat death of the universe to look forward to. What's a loss by your favorite team or a big job promotion or the birth of a child in the face of that? It's all relative. Settle down, already.
"Clearly, the main effect of being more philosophical is also becoming several orders of magnitude more insufferable in conversation."
Clearly, the main effect of being more philosophical is also becoming several orders of magnitude more insufferable in conversation. You do not want to see me at the punch bowl at your holiday party, let me tell you.
I haven't always been so bad -- though I've pondered life's various big questions for as long as I can remember. I thought I had things all settled, with a personal philosophy I adopted many years ago. As I put it in another post quite some time back:
"But the way I see it is this: if you're happy with your life -- if you really sit down and think about where you are and what you do, and you're truly, informedly happy about your situation -- then you can't really have any regrets."
I got by with this outlook for a good twenty years or more. I tried to learn from mistakes, sure -- and I made enough that I couldn't help but learn something, if only new and creative ways to sign apology cards. But otherwise, the sentiment above was all I needed, no problem.
Until there were problems. Like the fact that "informedly" is probably, in fact, not actually a word. So there's that.
Worse, though, is the gaping hole left in the reasoning. If happy, then no regrets, fine. But what if not happy? Or unsure if happy? Or slightly less happy than that really good time I had last week, but now it's raining and my favorite team lost and that "heat death" thing is only getting closer every second? What then?
The philosophy says nothing. It implies, perhaps, that one should then form regrets. But when I reached that point a few years ago, I decided I didn't really want any. Let's face it, I'd gone two decades without any regrets; I wouldn't even know how to take care of one. You've got to feed those things and spend time with them and walk them in the middle of the night -- who has time for that? Plus, they're like rabbits; you let one or two of them in the house, and suddenly you're overrun with little regrets, stomping through the living room and shouting and peeing on the carpets. No, thanks.
I needed a new philosophy, but the "no regrets" thing was apparently non-negotiable. So I took a look at the other side of the equation: just what is "happy", anyway?
That's where things pretty well fell apart. Quick, flippant little happy "life mantras" were out, and serious philosophical set in. And took root. And put all its little philosophical deodorants and vitamins on a shelf in the bathroom, because it was going to be staying a while.
Not everyone has these problems, of course. Some people go their whole lives without the slightest concern for existential matters, and they seem at least as happy for it.
(Or "happy", to use a distinction that wouldn't make the first bit of sense to them.
Happy is as happy does, I suppose. I think Nietzsche said that. Or Grover from Sesame Street. One or the other.)
Take my wife, for instance. I once asked her if she had a personal philosophy -- probably because I was ready to adopt the first decent one I heard that didn't come at the end of a sneaker commercial. Her reply:
"That's really more your thing."
I tried to do something with that. "Always pass the buck in life." Or: "You do your thing; I'll do my thing." But it didn't help. Frankly, her personal philosophy is kind of crappy.
So I went back to "happy". If I didn't feel quite as happy, what did it mean? How did I get there? Should I just shut up about it and pick a better favorite team or something?
I turned to books. Lots of books. I'm guessing that everyone who comes to a similar point in life believes that somehow, they're the only one. Their existential crisis is unique and unknowable and unfathomable to others, especially people just doing "their thing".
And then they search for books with "Happiness" in the title and find fourteen kajillion volumes explaining the how and the why and the neurotransmitters and psychopathology and evolutionary cross-wiring and social intertwinery that makes it all tick, and sometimes not tick, and other times lose power in the middle of the night and make you late for work.
So I dutifully read a bunch of books with "Happiness" in the title, and I learned some science and a little psychiatry and seventeen kinds of philosophical outlooks, and none of them was quite what I was missing. And eventually, like saying a word over and over until it sounds foreign and odd, "happy" just stopped making any sense.
What is "happy", I asked myself again. It's just a ratio -- not even that, but an internal impression of a ratio -- of pleasurable experiences to painful ones. More pleasure over time, with less pain, feels more like "happy". And what are pleasure and pain? Responses to certain neurotransmitters. Instinctive reactions. Endorphin cascades. As I began to understand it, "happy" at its core really boiled down to chemistry and physics and psychology and all sorts of other classes I nearly failed in college.
Yuck. I'm not going back there.
Still, the basics clicked. "Happy", I decided, isn't really a definable thing. If I've felt 51% good and 49% sad -- or believe that's the ratio, at least -- am I "happy"? Would one unhappy thing, like an untied shoelace, tip the scales? Do I need a two-thirds majority, like I'm passing a law in Congress? And what's the time frame -- would I say I'm "happy since lunch, but generally miserable since Tuesday"?
Happy got hard. And one thing I know is in my personal philosophy -- apart from not caring or feeding for regrets -- is that I don't want to work very hard at it. So "happy" is out, as a concept. Along with an awful lot of other things -- but my boss didn't ask me about those, and this has gone on long enough already.
So, how did I answer her? I don't say that I'm "happy" these days -- not because I'm not, but because the question has lost all its meaning. Still, I didn't want her thinking I was about to run off to some other job, or thinking of coming in and pulling all the fire alarms and re-enacting Flashdance some day.
Also, I didn't have time to explain all the above to her. She doesn't want that.
Oh, sure, I know you didn't want that, either. But you're not signing my paychecks. So nyah.
In the end, I answered as positively, as honestly and as philosophically as possible:
"Well... I'm probably not unhappy."
See? Philosophy can be simple, after all.
I'm so getting fired tomorrow, aren't I?
I don't have a problem blazing my own trail. Walking the path less taken. Beating my own drum, non-euphemistically speaking.
Still. Sometimes I wonder.
In the summer, the company I work for offered employees a chance to buy into a CSA. Naturally, I signed up right away.
(I didn't know what a "CSA" was, exactly. I thought maybe it stood for "Chocolate Stout Apocalypse".
Not that I want the world to end. But if we have to go some day...)
Anyway, I was informed soon after that "CSA" (in this context) actually means "community supported agriculture". (Mine was better.) And that signing up meant weekly deliveries of large quantities of strange vegetables and gourds that I and my wife would be expected to eat.
Or freeze. Or hollow out into festive organic candle holders. Or take into the bedroom. Something. The farmer people didn't care, so long as we used up all our veggies in time for the next cornucopial cavalcade the following week.
"And I wouldn't know what to do with a rutabaga in bed if it put on high heels and fishnets and called me 'Uncle Wiggles'."
And so, we ate. And ate. And ate some more.
Because we'd hurt ourselves carving squashes into tchotchkes. And I wouldn't know what to do with a rutabaga in bed if it put on high heels and fishnets and called me "Uncle Wiggles".
(It's a personal failing, I know. I'll just have to manage the shame as best I can.)
The point is, I signed us up for the CSA, and all summer long we had a steady stream of vegetables coming into the kitchen. Bell peppers. Eggplants. Potatoes. And kale -- lord, so much kale. I've never seen so much puckered-up green stuff in my life. It was like "cold water pool day" at an Oscar the Grouch cosplay convention.
(Too far? Too far. Meh.)
But the missus and I weren't alone, awash in our sea of leafy green. Oh, no. The boxes of farm goodies were delivered to my office, every Tuesday afternoon. And there were lots of goodies each week. Twelve, fourteen boxes -- maybe more. Some people even opted for bigger baskets, or the "fresh eggs" add-on.
How did they eat all that stuff each week? I don't know. Maybe they have families full of small at-scurvy-risk children. Maybe they're feeding hippopotami in their basements. Maybe they have kohlrabi fetishes. Not my department. All I know is that a good dozen or more shipments showed up and went home with my colleagues, week in and week out, all summer long.
A few weeks ago, the CSA announced their "fall offering". Same deal. Veggies delivered. An avalanche of radishes and zucchinis and big flat leafy things I never figured out, and some stuff that looked like a tree stump and a carrot had bumped uglies and made a thing, and I don't know what half that stuff was, ever. But I ate it. Mostly. And a lot of the non-stump looking varieties were probably even good for me.
So when the fall menu rolled around, I signed up again. My wife encouraged it. And she makes some tasty meals out of oddball greenery, somehow, so I did it. The new "fall boxes" started coming last month.
To me. Just me. At my desk. Because no one else in the company signed up for the fall CSA.
Not one. Fifteen people, maybe, and they all. Dropped. Out. I'm now "walking my own less beaten drum", or whatever -- though I hadn't really meant to, in this case -- and frankly, I'm a little worried.
I mean, why would everybody drop out of this thing? I can see attrition, sure. There are only so many collard greens you can stuff down your facehole in a season before you say no mas.
But everybody? Is there something wrong with these baskets? Did they get together and decide to boycott over cheap quality or something, and not include me? Am I eating pesticides and worker pee, or what? Are the turnips not free-range enough? Have the farmers sent us rat poison? DID SOMEONE FIND A SPIDER IN THEIR BASKET?!?
I don't have these answers. What I have is a personal vegetable-and-possibly-arsenic weekly delivery service, a veggie crisper stuffed with celery and cilantro and shit I never knew people were meant to put in their mouths, and one hell of a lot of doubt about this whole "fall offering" deal.
I guess none of it has killed me just yet. But that doesn't mean it won't. Or that the spiders aren't hanging out behind the mustard in the fridge, just biding their time to strike. Also, that rutabaga in there keeps giving me the stink eye.
I don't trust these autumn veggies, people. I just don't.
Imagine, for a moment, you're me.
All right, stop pretending to throw up in your mouth a little. Very funny, smartass.
So, you're me, just for a moment. One specific moment, in fact. Last Friday afternoon, a couple of minutes after three. You're late for a meeting in a little conference room you've never been in before, down the hall on the back side of the office. So you hustle over there, and you see two doors, both closed.
You don't know which is the conference room, and there are blinds on the inside of both doors, blocking the view. You prepare to barge into the closer room -- or, maybe, knock, as civilized people apparently sometimes do -- when the moment happens. The moment when you're me.
The moment when you remember, vaguely, a memo from a few months ago that said the company was converting one of the two small conference rooms in the back hallway to a nursing room for new mothers. Of which there are several.
And so, in this moment -- as me -- what do you do? What do you do?
If you're anything like me -- and right now, you are me, so hah! -- you won't know quite what to do. You've got to get to your meeting. But you can't get anywhere near the milkmaid room, especially if it's currently occupado. So here are your options:
You could knock. But that's not especially straightforward. Knock too softly on the meeting door, and no one will hear you. Knock too hard on the nursing door, and you'll startle whoever's inside, in the middle of whatever they happen to be doing.
I don't know what that is, exactly. I just know that if the inside of that room ends up looking like a cross between Carrie and an industrial dairy accident, I do not want to get blamed for it.
"If you hear talking -- or warmup shouting or brass knuckles clicking against the table -- it's probably your meeting."
So. You could try peeking through the sliver of window not covered by the shade. This is a fine idea, if you happen to be eyeballing into the meeting room. You'll see your boss or the HR rep, or the company lawyer, or whoever's scheduled to be screaming at you this time. But if some milking mom is in her designated "safe place" in the office and looks up to see a beady peeper staring past the doorknob at her, it's not going to end well. She will crack a bottle in half and cut you. Full or empty, it doesn't matter. And no jury would convict her.
Fine. How about listening? You could quietly sidle up and put an ear to one of the doors. And pray that no one walks around the corner and asks you what, exactly, you're listening for. Outside of that nightmare, the result should be fairly conclusive. If you hear talking -- or warmup shouting or brass knuckles clicking against the table -- it's probably your meeting. But if it's the nursing room, then you'll hear... well, I don't really know what, exactly. I imagine those machines they use make noise of some kind. Like a *chugga chugga chug* kind of thing, maybe? Or a *hrrrrmmm hrrrmmm* deal? *A-oooooga*?
I don't know much about this particular process, clearly. The only thing I've ever extracted milk from is a carton. Or maybe a slice of tres leches cake. I'm guessing the procedure is probably not a lot like either of those. At least, I hope not. For everyone's sake.
So seriously, if you were me -- what would you do? Because I sure as hell didn't know. I stood in that hallway for ten minutes, trying to figure out the best way to find my meeting without getting slapped, inciting a riot or having a breast pump jammed somewhere into me and milking me from the inside out.
In the end, I went home. It was nearly three thirty, so I wasn't likely to accomplish much of anything, anyway. I'll probably get in trouble for missing the meeting, and get yelled at some more. Which they'll probably call another meeting to do. I'm okay with that.
Just as long as it's not in the back hallway conference room. That place is a fricking mine field.
(What's that? Oh. Yes, you can stop being me now.
Oh, just breathe, ya big baby. It's not that bad. Sheesh.)