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Tuesday, January 7, 2003

And another thing...

Now that I've got the juices flowing with today's memo (see below), I want to have a word with my fellow Metrorail users. (For those of you who don't live in D.C., the Metro is our version of a subway, paid for by your federal taxes.) First, for those of you who like to stand in the doorway, do you think that pressing your back against the entryway panel and sucking in your stomach actually changes the fact that you are in the freaking way? We can all appreciate that you want to be the first one off at your stop, but your behavior is discourteous.

Or, look at it this way: 90% of the people in this town work either for the government, a law firm, an interest group, or a media outlet. In other words, every minute the average Washingtonian is late for work is a net plus for the U.S. economy. So do your part to keep America strong, and step on into the train with the rest of the unwashed heathen.

I also have a beef with you people who think that the urgency to get on an imminently departing train dissipates the moment your fanny has cleared the threshold. News flash: the rest of us want to get on too. This is why we step on your heels and curse at you. Don't tell yourself it's just the unfocused impersonal hostility of city dwellers. It's actually quite personal; we want you, specifically, to die. Just don't do it until you've moved quickly to the middle of the train, unless you want your next-of-kin to retrieve a battered, heel-marked corpse from Metro Security.

Finally, whenever you find yourself in a crowded transit junction, say, Union Station or LaGuardia Airport, the fact that masses of people are flowing in various directions is a pretty good indication, people being the rational utility maximizers that they are, that we are all trying to get somewhere. The point is this: that aimless ambling gait that some of you like to adopt as you kill time before your plane/train/car, or figure out just exactly where you need to go, is a bit, well, maddening. If you are running ahead of schedule to Aunt Martha's for Sunday brunch, do you just drop your highway speed down to 20 m.p.h.? Do you park in the middle of the expressway while you check your stinking map?

No, the answer is a big freaking NO. People moving in a crowded place are just like people moving about on the freeway, only slower, and without the benefit of two tons of metal with which to assault you for blocking the lane. Please, for my sanity and your personal physical health, move to the side if you aren't going to keep up the pace.

Now, if you are going to venture out into walking traffic with the rest of us, please, for the love of all that is holy, stay in your lane. What's with the slow-motion serpentine, Sheldon? Are you under fire? Are you a freaking honeybee all of a sudden? Did you flunk geometry? The shortest distance between Point A and Point B is a straight line. So unless you are the bishop in some life-sized chess game that I seem to be missing, keep it in the road, or at least out of my way.

Someone should write a book on the rules of life.

And lots of people should read it.

posted by Woodlief | link | (16) comments


To: All building managers, women who like silk, and fat people

Subject: Temperature

Let it be winter, people. When the temperature grows colder, normal people wear warmer clothing. Clothing is one of the few side benefits of man's fall from Grace. Women, it is unacceptable to wear a silk shirt to work in January, even if it is a lovely burnt sienna, and then complain because you are cold. Building managers, it is even more unacceptable to cave to their demands that you turn up the heat.

We live in an industrialized society, which is generally good. We have the capability to create artificial environments for ourselves, which is often good. There is no need to flaunt our power in the face of nature, however. The fact that we are capable of making our office a balmy 84 degrees in the dead of winter is no reason to do so. Put on a sweater if you are cold.

Likewise for summer. It gets hot. Deal with it. Before you start complaining about the heat, try losing that extra forty pounds you are carrying. The rest of us shouldn't have to feel like meat hanging in a locker, all because you can't keep your hands off the Fritos during "Murder, She Wrote."

posted by Woodlief | link | (5) comments

Monday, January 6, 2003

Batteries, Thankfulness, and Mr. Rogers

We try our best to keep our children from the mass of plastic, noisy, electronic garbage that passes for toys these days. Children used to play with wooden or metal toy trucks that required them to scoot around on the floor and make sounds. Now they are given plastic trucks with electronic gizmos that won't keep quiet, and a remote control so they can sit on their fat little fannies and steer them into the ankles of nearby adults. Even Tonka, the great toymaker of my childhood, now produces almost nothing but this junk.

Anyone looking to explain the rise of attention-deficit disorder, beyond parenting that fails to instill self-discipline and peacefulness, need look no further than the hyperactive electronic surroundings of the modern American child. We overdose them on sugars, stick them for hours on end in front of a big box with flitting color pictures and overly loud sounds, give them toys that produce the same effect, and then marvel over the fact that they can't sit still, or pay attention long enough to learn to read.

Despite our best efforts, Caleb is fully aware of the importance of batteries. This is because two of the things he loves -- flashlights and a child's tape player, feed on them like vampires. Thus we are inevitably searching for batteries.

I tell you this so you will understand the following scene: Caleb is sitting on his little potty. It is during a period when he has decided that his poop is too precious to release into this uncaring world. The hour of crisis has arrived, when the danger of unintentional release has compelled him to direct his body to release no waste, lest the dam, if you will, burst forth.

So there he sits on the pot, happily reading his big Busytown book, while I cajole him.

"Poop, Caleb."

"Oh bother (for he loves Winnie-the-Pooh -- pardon the pun), I'll have to poo-poo later."

"How about now?"

"Oh bother . . ."

"Alright, alright. But don't you need to tinkle?"

A serious look comes over his face as he contemplates what it will take to achieve this while continuing his poop embargo. Finally he declares, "my pee-pee's not working. It needs new batteries."

May that never be true.

A few nights before Christmas he was again enjoying a good read of Busytown (he calls it his "big book busytown book") when a knock came on the door. I opened it to find forty or so carrolers on our front lawn. They commenced to singing, and upon hearing them the lovely wife walked towards the foyer from the kitchen. Now, Caleb loves visitors. He had only just an hour before made fast friends with a hopelessly deluded and earnest college student seeking contributions for a local environmental group. So as my wife came down the hallway, she -- thankfully -- intercepted Caleb, waddling as fast as his pants, which were still down around his ankles, would let him. She helped him get decent before bringing him to the door, which I'm sure the crowd appreciated.

And then there is thankfulness, which, like many things that we are tempted to take for granted in children, must be inculcated. We are standing in the grocery store check-out line, and Caleb is trying, and failing, to keep his little hands off the candy.

He asks, holding up a bag of M&M's, "can I have it?"


"Can I have this?" He is holding a Twix bar.


"Can I have this?" Bazooka gum.


"Can I have this?" Tic-Tacs.

"No, Caleb. Listen, we just bought you a something. We need to be thankful for what we already got this evening."

He studies the candy shelf in silence. I count the items in the cart wheeled by the woman in front of us. There are decidedly more than twelve. I feel a tug on my jacket, and look down. Caleb is now holding a Snickers bar.

"Can we be thankful for this?"

That's not as easy to answer as you might think. Moral instruction is especially difficult when one is struggling not to laugh. I wonder if God ever has this problem.

So now he's into Mr. Rogers. I am fine with this. The Grand Marshals of the Rose Parade this year, by the way, were Mr. Rogers, Bill Cosby, and Art Linkletter. The only interview I saw with them was on a Spanish station, during which they spoke in English and their interviewer translated for his Spanish-speaking viewers. At one point, the interviewer asked Bill Cosby whether he believed there are still good television shows for children.

"No," said Cosby, suddenly going from jovial to a bit angry. "There are things on today that my parents would never have let us watch, and there are few shows that I think are good for children to see any more."

While a slightly surprised interviewer translated his answer, Mr. Rogers reached out and put his hand on Cosby's arm in a show of support. So I dig Mr. Rogers, and Bill Cosby, and I recall Eddie Murphy's famous spat with Cosby, and now conclude that Murphy will be blessed if he can ever claim to be half the man that Cosby is.

But back to Mr. Rogers, and his influence on Caleb. My son has some cheap blue nylon tennis shoes with velcro straps. They look a lot like the blue shoes Mr. Rogers puts on when he comes in to his house, singing his famous song. A few weeks ago my wife happened upon Caleb at the top of the stairs, slipping on his "bobos," as I call them. "Would you be mine, could you be mine, please won't you be my neighbor," he sang.

God bless Mr. Rogers.

And as a good neighbor should, Caleb often tries to be helpful. The other day he and Eli were in their bedroom with their mother. She and Caleb went into another room for something, leaving Eli to play on the floor with a block in the manner he has, which involves lying on his back and chewing fruitlessly on it, in the hopes that it will transform itself into food. After a moment he realized he was alone, and began to fuss.

"What's wrong with Eli?" Caleb asked.

"Oh, he doesn't know where we are," replied his mother.

Caleb ran back into the bedroom. "We're in Virginia, Eli."

posted by Woodlief | link | (9) comments