Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grafters

I find salesmen fascinating. I've had a couple of posts about them. There's something about the 'seat of your pants' living that I just find so frontiersman-like; minus the dodgey hygeine and proficiency with pistols, of course. 

But the grafters, the people who sell things via a quick show on the side of the road are something else. I quite enjoy watching those red-faced (invariably) British ex-pats sweatily trying to sell me 'the last cleaning solution I'll ever need', their hands in a blur, their headset slipping off an almost bald, and completely sweaty, head.

I like the idea of someone making due with just a gift of the gab and well-crafted one liners. "Death of a Salesman" in reverse comes to mind. I imagine them to be real 'people persons', the sort who actually do like people, in general. A dastardly and foolhardy approach to life, but better a happy fool than a cripplingly depressed wise man, I suppose. All bluster, all flash, and very little else. 

Exciting, in it's own way.

It's also raw showmanship. Trying to convince a crowd that, every year, becomes more calcitrant against sales pitches; that, every year, layers irony on top of skepticism and finishes with a thick glaze of apathy. Enthusiasm, well-practiced, against a tide of urban ennui. 

Sure, it's for profit, they aren't doing it to raise our spirits or enoble society. There is no 'art' form they are trying to further. But that's what makes it even more fascinating. Raw commerce with no smoke and mirrors. "This is me, I'm going to try and sell you this questionable kitchen sponge, try, just try to fend off my pitch". 

Maybe I like grafters too much.  Mrs. Owl and I went to a night market a few years back. Almost every single person leaving had this ridiculous looking rubber broom thing. We both turned to each other and said "We are NOT getting that." I assume you all can guess what's in our broom closet, gathering dust, quite unexepectedly not being the last broom we'd ever buy.


EDIT: Oh hey, here's a video of the grafter featured in the article, doing his schtick:



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Owlet's Odd Geek Tendencies

Owlet is now two and a bit. She, for some unknown reason, has cultivated some odd geek tendencies.

As all toddlers love Raffi for an unfathomable reason, she is of course addicted, addicted to "Baby Beluga". Needs to hear it all the time, like a crackhead needs to hear the sound of a butane lighter on a broken lightbulb. I guess there are far too many syllables in Beluga, so she ends up saying "Baby Yoda", which is, frankly, awesome. What makes it more awesome is that we can say "You want baby yoda? more baby yoda?" and she knows exactly what we're talking about. (Last night, "Attack of the Clones" was on, and she was, disconcertedly, scared of Yoda. How can anyone be scared of a small green alien who talks in broken english?)

Pie has a very strong attachment to geek culture, and I don't know why that is. Maybe because pie is universally awesome. I call this the 'Bacon Effect', anything naturally awesome will become a 'geek thing' (see also, Tron).

So one day we go to get some pie. I assume she doesnt' really know or care why we are strapping her into the carseat, just that she can constantly say our names in a querolous tone, as if a lead-in to a pithy and enlightening question (Dadda?). Of course, she has a vocabulary of about 15 words (not counting sounds that animals and various modes of transportation make, I'd say it's about 4), this never happens. Funnily, she's completed mastered the tone of a question, so when she says "Dada", about 30% of the time I'm completely fooled into thinking she'll follow up after I say, "Yes?". Anyways, pie. We go get pie at this one supermarket that has the mostest bestest pie in town. We come back home. Owlet is put down for the night. She wakes up in the middle of the night and has a little chat with Mrs. Owl, it goes something like this:

"Me eat."
"You're hungry ?"
"Me eat."
"What do you want to eat?"
Thoughtful repose, a real deep introspection into the reasons for existence and whatnot.
"Me eat pie."

The fact that she connected all the dots and knew, with absolute certainty, that we had pie, blew us away. Or maybe she made a lucky guess. Or, I dunno, maybe we really don't expect a whole lot from our toddler. Or maybe pie is so awesome it accelerates brain growth. That seems most feasible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

RULES : How Many 'Feel Good Ads' A Company Has Is Directly Proportional to Their Evilness

I'm a sucker. A complete and utter sucker who, in the road of life, has only luck and a rather voracious web reading habit to thank for not falling for various Nigerian Email scams and being the proud owner of 3 college diplomas in only three weeks!

When political strategists get together and decide what their messages is going to be, you can bet I'm the low end of cynicism. I just naturally tend to believe whatever someone is telling me. Especially if accompanied by say, stellar copy and a crisp, clean cinematography. If you have a nice cropped shot of a sunflower and then zoom with some really heart rending words about caring for the only planet we have, you can bet that my vote for you to win the next Nobel Peace prize is in the mail. Never mind if you are say, Dow Chemical who made that ever so delightful anti-personnel weapon, napalm; or the 'We've Got More Money Than God But Can't Bear To Pay Our Fine For the Valdez Spill' Exxon.

I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps my addiction to whiz bang movies has made me an easy target. You have compelling image, of say, a bright eyed child telling me how your company is saving 1 million lives a day, I'll totally believe you. I mean, it might be an ad for the GOP party, and I'd still believe you.

But I've found, in my short life that, that the companies with the bestest, most tear jerking and optimistic ads are invariably these atrocious entities that one cannot believe have not been swallowed up by the bowels of hell. On second thought, their collective evil is so great I'm sure the Seventh Circle wouldn't like the competition. I mean Shell, which has been indicated in assassinations of environmentalists in Nigeria, who, quite by happenstance, I assure you, were opposed to Shell's increased rap-- I mean ethical drilling of their environment. And then there are the ads for coal. COAL! I still find it surprising we use COAL to power anything. It's pretty much the default energy source for 18th Century Industrial England, what with it's scampy street urchins and millions dying from respiratory disease.

So, that's my tip for you readers out there who haven't figured this out (which I'm sure you have, smart bunch that y'are), feel-good commercial == Corporation Made From Evil Incarnate.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Photography, Much Better Than Small Talk

It's a function of adulthood, going to parties with strangers. It's not that I was a big partier before. Unless you count playing 'Killer Instinct' and getting a Big Mac combo a "night out on the town". But when you reach a certain age, the circle of friends no longer expands, there's no new people falling into you life, like your new slightly off-kilter lab partner who can do a winning impression of Dan Quayle. Social life is, for a lack of a better term, static. Or, if you're a nerd like I, even more static. A veritable Tesla coil of non-social group expanding am I.

If you're a guy, social life is invariably going to the odd potluck with your wife's friends. (In the future, I look forward to many 'parties' with complete strangers who's offspring happen to be friends of my offspring.) Ah, adulthood.

Luckily, I've taken up photography. And really only because Mrs. Owl enjoys photos so much. Me, I'd be happy with the odd snapshot in a long forgotten manilla folder stuffed under old Transformers and not taken out until I'm moved into a slightly disused and alarmingly underfunded retirement home. But The Boss, she likes pictures, lots and lots of family shots and kids shots and shots with kids and family and, well. It goes on.

It's not like photography is not in the family. My dad was a big proponent of the 'candid' shot. Those shots taken just as life is running along. Unscripted shots of moments capture forever in quickly fading albums that no one will care about except for wives who'll dig them up eventually and just marvel, marvel at them. What he'd do is seem to have his damn point and shoot with him at all times. Usually we'd find him standing off in a corner, his right hand down by his side, kinda obscuring it with his leg like he was packing irons and this was a western, and we (me and my brothers) were the cheatin' card players soon to meet our grisly end. And then, BAM, he'd take a shot. The vast majority of these shots were utterly blurred and crap, but the very very odd time, there was magic.

This appeals to me. It's a very hackerish way of taking shots. That is, I'm not terribly good, but I' enthusiastic, and if take enough, one of those is going to be good. I think.

So, how does this fit in with awkward potlucks? Well, at one toddler's party and another potluck, I just made myself the designated photographer, looking all artsy and taking shot after shot. It's super effective at those awkward moments where you ask each other what you do, and how do you like it, and how did you get into it. It's a conversational shield, SHIELD I say.

And, sometimes, you get damned lucky and take some really great shots about which I can find nothing sarcastic to say:






Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hope

It's fashionable among the nifty trendsetting ultra-hipster pseudo-elite, to mock the US. Whether you are from the US hardly matters. And it's not only because America is such a unfathomably large target: bombastic and patriotic, star and stripes and assault rifles and Monday Night football; it's not only because America has become a caricature of everything that comes to mind when one says 'boor'.

No, it goes deeper than that.

For those outside the US, America represents that hypocrtical parent you catch toking a doobie while speed dialing his mistress. A paragon, if you will, of virtue, of (probably due to Hollywood) everything that's Good In The World. Independence, freedom, a general distaste for hierarchy. The States were always the Rebel Alliance for much of its short history; scrappy and just one of the good ol' boys; the passengers in steerage in the great Titanic of world politics.

All that changed, of course.

One needn't outline all the atrocious things that have passed under the Bush Administration. The list is unspeakably long, laughably absurd. Domestic wiretapping; pre-emptive wars; torture; prisons which sucked foreign nationals in and never let them out; black ops CIA torture shops that were stationed outside the US; botching of Katrina relief; hampering stem cell research; gutting environmental protection laws.

It all goes directly against what the US meant not only to itself, but to the world.

The list sounds over the top. Something out of a dystopian sci-fi epic where the protagonist is well-trained in a stylish killing technique and the art director finds colours outside the grey-scale to be abhorrent.

The affront is all the worse because it comes from the brash, bastion of freedom. The plucky upstart that showed those entrenched dowdy Europeans the what-for. A country that took the throwaways from different countries and built something great. A country, quite literally, of underdogs.

It's a poetic country.

A country that inspires patriotism, that feeling of belonging and pride that usually is only given to sports teams or marginal British comedy troupes. Sure, we laugh and scoff at the mulleted, stars-and-stripes parachute pants wearing red-neck at the NASCAR rallies; but that sentiment, to literally wear ones country, wells from somewhere. A sense that we are all equal, that every one has an equal chance to succeed in whatever way they see fit. That freedom, to do and say what we want and how we want, is a basic right, moreso than Star Wars prequels that don't suck or a Thanksgiving Dinner that isn't too awkward.

The world loves America, but even more than that, loves what America stands for. An idyllic rough and tumble world of meritocracy and hope. Hope for a better life, for the best in ourselves realized. Hope that those who work the hardest and the smartest will get their earned reward. That it's not where you're born or what you're born into, but rather what you are driven to achieve that counts.

It's that love that is so white hot that can turn to hate so cold.

And now the US stands on the precipice of another election, now with a Democratic nominee who inspires, who thinks about issues. Who really is about coming right from the very bottom, and clawing the way to the top. A thoughtful, enlightened president. One who can, let's face it, give one hell of a speech.

The world is once again in the thrall of US, once again in this honeymoon of America as an idea, no, no, the ideal idea. A country that almost every free country strives in some ways to be like.

Cynic that I am, it's only natural for me to brace for the worst. But Obama has me in thrall as well. This skeptic die-hard sarcasm-as-a-second-language nerd can't help but hope, throw his full unrepentant sentiment behind the idea that the US will choose a better direction, for a better country, a better world.