January 2007

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2007.

I went to Schlotzsky’s for lunch today and as I was munching on my chicken and pesto pizza a man in his early thirties came in with his two sons. He looked like a typical yuppie in winter gear and his sons, roughly five and seven years old, were similarly attired. The kids were rambunctious and confident. The man was friendly. The scene was unremarkable until the man spoke. He addressed the manager, who happened to be standing near the register, “Hi, sorry to bother you but we’re from North Carolina and I’m trying to get bus tickets to get home. Could I get a couple drinks for the boys?”

The manager said that would be no problem and gave the boys cups. While the boys filled up their drinks, the man gave his spiel to a customer and I think he got a couple bucks. Then he went outside and had a smoke. He appeared to be giving his spiel to a man and woman who were also out there smoking. I couldn’t tell if he got anything from them. The boys joined him outside as he approached a newly arriving customer when she exited her car. I saw her give him a buck or two. Then he guided the boys toward the main part of the shopping center. As I drove home, I saw him receive a few bucks from a middle-aged woman outside of Einstein’s Bagels.

He didn’t give me his spiel at the sandwich shop because he never made it over to my side of the place. I would have happily given him a couple bucks — if I believed his story. But I think he was full of crap. He was making a killing though. I suspect he and his human props made a complete circuit of the shopping center. Am I a heartless bastard? Am I overly cynical?

I would love to live in a world where I can have pleasant conversations with complete strangers. Once in a blue moon it happens but it’s rare. Nine times out of ten when someone talks to me in public they want money or they are crazy. This has been my experience regardless of locale, at least within the United States. And when I have initiated conversations, most people think I want money or am crazy. We’ve all been beaten into submission by the beggars and the crazies.

There’s the straight-forward approach. Stand at intersection with sign. Or stand at intersection with funny sign. Or sit at entrance to subway stop with sign/funny sign. Some people get more creative. They approach you and say, “I lost my wallet. I need $1.20 to get home. Can you help?” Or, “My car is out of gas. Can you give me a couple bucks to get gas so I can get home.” And now this guy and his kids who need bus tickets — to get home. Clearly, the scammers have determined that needing to get home is an effective theme.

I just didn’t buy what this guy was selling. How did he end up at a shopping center at Colorado Blvd and Yale Ave needing bus tickets to North Carolina? He and his kids did not look the least bit downtrodden. The kids were altogether disinterested by his spiel. They had seen him doing this many times. It disgusted me the way he was using the kids to ramp up the sympathy. Mainly, I just had a feeling he was full of it, a feeling heavily influenced, no doubt, by a negative presumption based on past experience.

Either I’m a grinch or this guy is despicable. And maybe that’s why he was so successful. Nobody wants to feel like a grinch and nobody wants to think a father would use his two boys as part of a money-grubbing scam.

After lunch, I arrived at my home as the sun was going down and the bitter cold was retaking the city. I reminded myself how lucky I am to have a warm home and a warm bed. Who am I to judge this man? I don’t know what hardships he has endured and continues to endure. All I know for sure is that he’s spending some of that alleged bus ticket money on cigarettes.

Don’t let anyone tell you there’s nothing educational on television. I just saw a show about a Super Volcano under Yellowstone Park that, when it erupts, covers most of North America in a shroud of ash rendering the landmass a sunless desert incapable of supporting life. The good news is that this only happens every 600,000 years. The bad news is that it last happened 640,000 years ago. We’re 40,000 years overdue!

I also saw quite a hard-hitting investigative report on Entertainment Tonight a few nights ago. A beautiful reporter put on a fat suit complete with some kind of freaky fat face makeup and went up to random people in a public park to see how willing they would be to take a survey. She then ditched the fat suit and make-up and tried again to get random people to take a survey. You will be surprised at the results of her experiment. People were more responsive to the stunning young woman than they were to the fat woman with the oddly contorted face!

Then there is Inga Bongo. I became acquainted with Inga while watching one of those shows about multi-million dollar real estate listings. I don’t begrudge the wealthy their money or their desire for fancy homes, I even enjoy watching Cribs. But I was surprised to see the wife of the President of Gabon looking at purchasing a $25 million home in Beverly Hills. Curious and Gabon-ignorant, I decided to check out the CIA World Factbook and discovered some interesting factoids. President Bongo is democratically elected, ahem, and has held power for four decades. Gabon is an oil-rich country, which may explain why it “enjoys a per capita income four times that of most of sub-Saharan African nations.” Still, “because of high income inequality, a large proportion of the population remains poor.” The Factbook shows Gabon as the recipient of $331 million in economic aid. Hmmm. Just wait until the Super Volcano erupts. Then the good citizens of Gabon will get the last laugh.

Here are the TV shows that have the most to teach:

1. COPS. If you want to steer kids clear of drugs and alcohol, this show has to be a hundred times more effective than any public service announcement. Nobody wants to end up like the people on this show: bedraggled, half-dressed, bloody, toothless, high, drunk, stupid, crazy and generally looking like life has run them over with a beer truck. If this show does not convince kids to stay in school, forget it. Nothing else will.

2. Supernanny. If I ever have kids I’m buying this show on DVD and watching every episode 100 times. It’s always so easy for the Supernanny and then she leaves and the family immediately falls into complete disarray. And seeing how these families live is frightening, with kids running around screeching like lunatics in charge of the asylum. Again, I will be ordering the entire DVD series.

3. Trading Spouses. This show is a lot like Supernanny because we are dropping into the lives of various families. The main difference is that usually the kids are older and of course there is the spouse trading. Having the couples mix it up creates a great dynamic because in each case the visiting spouse acts as a surrogate for the viewer — an outsider trying to make sense of a crazy family. It’s interesting to see how each family member reacts to the “new” Mom or Dad and the new systems and rules they put in place. We could all benefit from participating in experiments like this, provided we are willing to change. One funny note: it seems like the extremely anal buttoned up types are more open to change than the hippies.

4. Antiques Roadshow. A fun way to learn little tidbits about history, like what toys were popular when Teddy Roosevelt was President. Or where the secret compartment is in some piece of Colonial furniture. I hate the segments on ceramics.

5. Colorado Inside Out. This is a public affairs show on the local PBS station. Peter Boyles, a long-time radio talk show host is great as moderator. Just don’t get him started on immigration. Patty Calhoun, the founder of a local weekly newspaper, is the most even-handed of the commentators. Dave Kopel represents the right and Dani Newsum represents the left, and assorted local media/political types also rotate into the show’s lineup. Boyles steers the panel through a half hour give and take on politics. Great stuff for a low-grade political junkie like myself. After CIO, Independent Thinking comes on. Independent Thinking features Kopel colleague Jon Caldera and mainly functions as an infomercial for Caldera and his think-tank. Usually his panelists are shills but when he brings on a worthy opponent, the argument does get interesting.

6. The Real World. I’ve ignored this show for a long time but this year it’s The Real World: Denver so how could I not watch? This show teaches us that you can call anyone anything — you can find the one cage-rattler that tears at the core of their humanity and sends them into a rage or a fit of sobs — you can do all this AS LONG AS YOU SINCERELY APOLOGIZE THE NEXT DAY. Warning: this may only apply to people under the age of 25. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to make more use of this technique in international diplomacy where the apologies tend to come 50 to 450 years late if they come at all.

7. This Old House. And all similar home improvement shows. As a homeowner, I’m obligated to watch these shows even though I have zero home improvement skills. It’s fun to dream about the new edition, the remodeled bathroom, the new basement entertainment center…

There you have it, a sampling of the educational programming your TV has to offer. And you can’t discount the random programs you come across while channel surfing either. The other day I spent at twenty minutes watching how orange juice is processed. Basic cable rocks!

I’ve talked about public radio’s This American Life before. I think it’s the best radio show in production today. Each episode is a priceless collage of human nature, and sometimes a messy one. Here’s a miscellaneous funny quote from one of their shows, context unnecessary: “When someone shoots one of my front windows out I just move my chair over to a different part of my house.”

The host of This American Life is Ira Glass. He is quoted at length in Studs Terkel’s Will the Circle Remain Unbroken? and he has a number of funny lines. In one he says, “My access to Christianity was through the recordings of Jesus Christ Superstar. I would listen to those records over and over. My first introduction to Christianity: Jesus Christ Superstar…” This made me laugh because it was pretty much my introduction to Christianity too. I went to Sunday School and knew many of the stories but I didn’t really get into it until my brother got the role of Jesus in the church youth group’s performance of the musical and he began playing the record over and over and over and singing the songs over and over and over.

But what really cracked me up was Ira’s unusual take on death:

I fear death, but not the raw sort of visceral, gut-wrenching fear I felt as a child. I don’t want to sound callous, because I’m glad I’m alive and I don’t want to die. But how many more friends are you going to make? How many good conversations can a person have? How much ice cream can you eat in a lifetime? I’ve been lucky: I get to spend my day doing something that I choose to do. Most people can’t say that. That’s an incredible thing. I don’t imagine myself living to fifty.

I could go the rest of my life and be happy if I never had another argument about abortion, immigration, gun control, drug legalization, and various other topics. Maybe that’s what life is: checking off the things we can’t stand anymore until there’s nothing left? I keed, I keed, but Ira’s logic paints a dreary portrait of immortality, doesn’t it?

« Older entries