Thursday, October 28, 2010

On A Roll: Parallel Parking

In my last post I expanded on my earlier examination of automobiles' "trending" toward bumperlessness, and the subsequent new crop of bumper-fixtures which are taking the place of those old fenders. (Come to think of it, I can't quite remember if I "expanded" or "expounded"—I'll have to go back and read the post again myself.)

Where the bumpers at?

Throughout the late '90s and into the aughts bumpers faded away, as if whiling away their golden years hidden in nursing homes, and in recent years a new generation of half-assed youth—"Bumper Badgers" and bolt-on battering rams—took their place. It's like the cycle of life, death and rebirth, played out in steel, chrome and fiberglass. The old crop decays and is subsumed by the earth (or chassis, in this case), and becomes the fertile soil from which new life springs forth.

Or some shit like that. I'm sorry, I've been combating recent sleepless nights with a bottle of Percocet and the DVD boxed set of the Discovery Channel's mesmerizing, epic, and brutal Planet Earth, so my thoughts are "trending" toward grim and ponderous (if a bit warm and fuzzy). In my impaired state I can't really even take credit for that previous paragraph—I was just taking dictation from the voice of Sigourney Weaver in my head.

As I was saying, I've been on a bit of a roll with topics of the automotive variety. Today, hopefully, I can get the last of that out of my system so that hereafter (not "the great hereafter," mind you, just the garden variety "hereafter," which really just means "after") I can return to other topics, like ads about cars.

Other than the metal railings that adorn both ends of that Smart car from the other day, I noticed one other remarkable thing.

In an average sized parking space that car has oodles of room all around it. There's so much room there, you could probably park another Smart car. Unfortunately this is the exception to the rule; we're still in the age of SUVs, which as ages go is proving to be quite epic. Which is to say tedious and neverending, like Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.

Being this the age of Sport Utility Vehicles, I recently had occassion to drive a "Mercury Mariner" SUV, the occassion being that I temporarily procured it for the purpose of transporting "flat packed furniture." While parallel parking this vehicle, I was surprised to find a beeping noise that alerted me to my proximity to the car behind me. With the increasing or decreasing distance to an object, the frequency (and annoyingness) of the beeps increased or decreased. While somewhat irksome, this feature simplified the task of parking quite a bit. (It also obviated the need for my usual parallel parking routine; depending on how nice of a vehicle I'm driving, I'll either get out of the car to repeatedly gauge the margin of safety, or I'll just ram the car behind me once to break the unbearable tension and confirm exactly how far back I can go.)

And that was a Mariner from a couple years back. The newer ones now have video and sonar and a bunch of other junk:

Things certainly have changed. Parallel parking back in the good old days—the 1970s, for instance—consisted of boat-sized old Pontiacs, Cadillacs, and Chevy Novas engaging in a lot of back and forth, fender-knocking movements. (I suspect this is where the term "bumping uglies" originated.) In the current age of delicate glossy finishes, high-tech gadgetry, and overall sanitized living, parallel parking is becoming a matter of precise, computer-assisted micro-driving with cameras, lights and audio-alerts. These are designed to prevent your vehicle from ever touching another car's bumper, thus eliminating the risk of three horrific potential outcomes: setting off somebody's car alarm; your BMW contracting VD from the neighboring Hyundai; or enraging the driver of the impacted car, who has been sitting in his driver's seat for the last 20 minutes with the engine running for no discernable reason (and without even the decency to curb his own emissions by running a hose from the tailpipe back into the passenger compartment).

Speaking of car alarms, I thought that horrifying trend had died out, but lately again I'm finding myself tortured by that familiar curbside wailing. Is it possible they did go away briefly, only to return like so many other retro fads? It's not such a far-fetched notion. In fact, I'm beginning to think that were I to go out "clubbing" (something I rarely have time for, as it interferes with my usual after-dinner chores like ironing my bow ties) I would find that these days kids are dancing around in their high-top Nikes, wearing skinny jeans with leg warmers and setting off car alarms. (Y'all ready for this? Weee Oooo Weee Oooo Bwooooop! Bwooooop! Eee-rrr-eee-rrr bwip bwip bwip)

Finally, to conclude my trend of automotive riffery, I will say that now as in the past cars are irritating, but they're hands down better than Planet Earth DVDs for procuring flat-packed furniture. Also Percocet is handy—not so much for procuring furniture, but just in general.

Anyway, where was I? Right—disc 5, coming right up.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Smart Car, Smarter Bumper

Thanks to my own recent post about cars and their bumpers (or lack thereof), I can't stop staring at parked cars. I'm a bit obsessive to begin with, and now that I've appointed myself an expert in this branch of the automotive sciences, walking down the street I'm like a horticulturalist in a rainforest, or a priest at a day care center.

Just the other day I came upon this Smurf car:

This vehicle is only three apples high.

Instead of marveling at its diminutive size like an ordinary person, I thought "I bet it's got some kind of crazy bumper protection going on!" And sure enough I discovered a metal bar across the grill.

Pictured actual size

It might seem absurd to have a handicapped bathroom-stall rail bolted to the front of your toy car, but in rugged Park Slope you have to be able to hold your own.

I suspect I may have started out that neighborhood jaunt accompanied by other people, possibly on the way to brunch at one of Park Slope's many fine brunching establishments (where the omelettes are organic and the lines to get in rival those of a new Apple product launch). But memory of such details (and the chance of any companions waiting for me) were obliterated by my obsessive desire to see what sort of protective encumbrances the other end of that tiny vehicle might present me. Which brings us to the rear.

You may believe that pair of metal rods to be a bumper protector, but by this point I've seen enough automotive add-ons to rule that out. Sure, it might double as a fender-shield, but that's not its primary function. I suspected it could be a set of curtain rods for a nice tie-back and valance combination. But standing there on the sidewalk, the enlightenment of familiarity struck me—I'd seen bars like those before:

This is New York City, after all, and I'd bet this tiny car is owned by someone who lives in a studio apartment, and who is so concerned about maximizing space that she or he has outfitted their micro-mobile with a couple of Grundtal racks from Ikea in order to make additional breathing room in their kitchenette.

If that's a pot rack, you might wonder, why is it empty? Well, my literalist friend, seeing as the picture was taken at roughly brunch o'clock, I have to assume the owner was cooking. And if the brunch-date goes well, that car and its loaded racks will make for a nice "Just Married" getaway car. With all the pots and pans clanging around, no tin cans will need to be tied to the bumper as the couple of happy Smurfs drives off to their awaiting honeymoon toadstool.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Importance Of Hard Work. Or Not.

Back in the early-middle portion of the last century there was a fine group of people known as "The Greatest Generation." These were folks who worked hard, fought valiantly and sacrificed greatly both at home and abroad during World War II. You probably already knew that, because you're a smarty-pants like me. But did you also know that the term "Greatest Generation" didn't exist until a clever guy named Tom Brokaw made it up? I don't know who Tom Brokaw is, but he must be a real smarty pants too!

I became aware of that fascinating etymological factoid while reading the Wikipedia article on the subject; I also learned that The Greatest Generation was sandwiched between "The Lost Generation"—which (I presume) on account of shell-shock after fighting in World War I couldn't find their way back to the airport in Paris, and so took to sipping anise liqueurs and writing great novels—and "The Silent Generation," which came of age at the tail end of WWII but was pretty much phased out with the advent of "talkies" (I can't quite make the timeline add up for that one, but then again I was never that good at math).

Anyway, after the war The Greatest Generation also proved to be highly adept at earning a living, procreating, and buying appliances. This resulted in The Baby Boom and the 1950s. I'm also not sure what The Baby Boom was, but I fear it was some kind of gruesome mishap involving too many babies and shiny and new—but unattended—toaster ovens.

Apart from all the babies getting blown up, the 1950s were an era of progress and prosperity. But since then it's all been downhill. Materialism, industry and fossil fuels have lost their glorious sheen. Wars in the "post-war" era have not been so great—in fact they've been pretty lousy across the board. In the decades since The Greatest Generation, greatness has given way to disillusionment, frustration, and indolence. (One good thing has come from this, however—without indolence we wouldn't have indy-rock.)

Since the last reflected gleam of the setting sun of greatness faded from the chromed fenders of the 1950s, we've had generations of rebellion and indulgence; we've had beatniks, hippies, yippies, yuppies, hush-puppies, slackers, Generation X, Generation Y, and, well, basically we're at the ass-end of the alphabet here, and things are not looking up. (Actually I'm not really sure if Hush Puppies were a generation, something you wear, or something you eat.) If you've observed today's up-and-coming generation, you can see that young people need something to rally around, to spark their motivation and industriousness, to end the current slumping in employment, the economy, and if we're lucky, their posture.

Now I may be a smarty-pants, but sometimes you just need good luck to solve your problems. Answers often are found when you aren't looking, and in the most unexpected places.

Earlier this week I chanced to pick up a copy of Paper Magazine (I mean this quite literally, as I picked up said periodical from the sidewalk when by chance I came across a large stack of about a dozen copies of the October issue someone mysteriously had left out along with the recycling). What I learned upon perusing the pages of the magazine was that advertising has the power to save us every time. Or the products that advertising is hawking have such power. Or at least the ads make you feel that way about the products, which frankly is good enough for me. (Like I said, I'm not really that good at making things properly add up.)

Anyway, there's finally hope! Here's the ad that restored my faith in mankind, or the economy, or generational oversimplifications or whatever it is that makes this world tick:

Here's a guy in Levi's hanging out. As you can see in the corner of the ad, this scene takes place in a town called Braddock, PA.

What's so remarkable about all this? For one thing, these new jeans from Levi's are ready for work—"Whatever The Work May Be." But it's not just the jeans. Look at that stylish kid, wearing his jeans, loafing on his bed in his arftully unrenovated pad in Braddock PA. I can relate to this guy!

He's a studied James Dean, a Jack Kerouac ready to face the travails of the world... even if he's not actually doing anything just now. That's because he's empowered by a cultural identity that, while not based on blind adherence to the soul-crushing labor of earlier generations, is infused with all the rugged style that was distilled from those labors. Monastic in a self-romanticizing manner, he has taken independence-affirming nourishment from his book and his proximity to a six-string guitar, and now he is ready to face the world, and whatever work awaits. As long as it's not too physical, because without socks those wingtips are going to give his Achilles tendons some ugly blisters before an 8 hour workday is through. So he has an Achilles heel—so what? That only makes him all the more noble. Kinda problematic that work is his Achilles heel, but there's no need to overthink it.

Enough about unimportant details. What matters is that he's got a classic, functional look, and positive, empowering text floating above him; he's the modern day male equivalent of Rosie The Riveter!

That's right: industrious Rosie, with her "can do" attitude and very "now" blue-collar work-wear. (Or very "then," I'm not quite sure—again, with the timeline issues.) The only difference between her and Braddock Boy (who I'll call "Brad" to keep it simple), is that while Rosie was already at work, tying a bandana over her hair and rolling up her shirt sleeves, Brad was massaging Crew Forming Cream into his pompadour in preparation for sitting on his bed in a pair of jeans that somebody like Rosie had actually riveted at a place where work actually occurs.

This ad's slogan is about "Work." But it contains another buzz-word, hidden in plain sight, that Brad and his ilk can relate to: "Whatever." Put together, this whole "whatever the work" business, the nonchalant attitude and effortless confidence, evokes a sort of guy whose inflated self-assurance has convinced him he's got the talent and perspicacity to do anything that's creative or admirable—I could be a writer, or a truck driver, a musician or a construction worker—but really he lacks the experience to understand the long hours of work that go into becoming capable of doing any such things.

A trip to the Levi's website unearthed plenty more newly aged clothing and corresponding ad-copy:

"The Trucker Jacket: A hardworking classic, modernized for the rigorous demands of today."

These retro-jackets are now even tougher than the originals from which they draw their inspiration, because back when truck drivers first wore such jackets, they never had to sit on their beds for hours, facing the rigorous anxiety of deciding whether or not to get a job.

I dare say this ad campaign is an ego-stroke for the entitled and delusional generation. I can be a well-read bohemian who's got his feet firmly planted on the ground in sharp loafers and denim that's been aged to perfection like blue cheese. And yeah, that "work" thing. I could totally do that. If I felt like it.

You see, of course, it's all a fantasy. There is no work. If there was, and it was the kind of work that necessitated wearing denim pants, Brad would've been out of the house hours ago, not sitting on his bed reading a David Mitchell novel at 9:30 in the morning.

Just below the Levi's logo there's a tagline encouraging this guy to "Go Forth," which is probably exactly what his parents wish he would do.

But don’t feel bad about yourself because of your disposition toward indolence. Feel good about your potential. And if you do go out, don’t be a slave. Instead run with your dog through the fields in your skinny jeans.

Modern young people (and to be honest, also us "youngish" types, a.k.a. The Smarty-Pants Generation) feel a vague sense of shame and impotence about being an aimless, entitled, not-the-greatest kind of generation. They—okay, we want to feel that we can be noble and industrious, but we were weened on Super Mario Brothers and The Red Hot Chili Peppers and we're not quite ready to give up our indulgences in order to feel like real adults. Levi's and their advertising department have embraced this cognitive dissonance and run with it like a spindly youth with his dog.

Could they really pull off such a complex feat as synthesizing these contradictions? Well Levi's pretty much invented smarty-pants, so I think so. Here's the formula they seem to have devised: address one desire with words, and superimpose that over an image evoking the contradictory other desire. And that's all there is to it. The slogan tells you that you can be that productive worker, but the picture silently reassures you (like Dick Halloran offering Danny ice cream) that there's no need to be nervous. You can still frolic in the fields like Huck Finn in girl's pants (or if the outdoors is too daunting, you can be like Brad, and lounge about Dharma Bum-style in blissful self-aggrandizing pseudo-meditation). It's blatantly paradoxical, but while the ad is adeptly stroking the brain of your inner lizard you'll be too sated to care.

When it comes down to it, whatever. The work may be. But then again the work may not be. It's all up to you. And while you're deciding, I'll be sitting with my shoes up on the bed working on my math skills. And wearing my smarty-pants.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ancient Etiquette, Modern Felony: It's All Greek To Me

In my last post I delved into the ancient Greek practice of an adult man taking on a young boy-lover. (Maybe I shouldn't say I delved into the practice of it so much as I cut and pasted some stuff about it from an online resource—otherwise I may set off some kind of Federal Perv-Alert, resulting in a visit from dark-suited men with sunglasses who will tell me things like "You're disgusting!", and "You have the right to remain silent.")

I mentioned former Representative Mark Foley (who in 2006 resigned after there came to light a particulalry salacious IM conversation with a Congressional page), and I suggested that the scandalous acts of contemporary elected officials often bear a striking resemblance to the societally sanctioned behavior of men deemed noble in the days of ancient Greece. To wit, this passage from an article in the aforementioned resource, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The cultural ideal of a same-sex relationship was between an older man, probably in his 20's or 30's, known as the erastes, and a boy whose beard had not yet begun to grow, the eromenos or paidika. In this relationship there was courtship ritual, involving gifts (such as a rooster), and other norms. The erastes had to show that he had nobler interests in the boy, rather than a purely sexual concern. The boy was not to submit too easily, and if pursued by more than one man, was to show discretion and pick the more noble one.

The ancient Greeks may have invented democracy and given us great works of theater and philosophy, but they were also a ribald and rooster loving bunch.

We in the modern world may seem to have more proper and prudish attitudes towards sex, but if you just scratch the surface you'll see that things aren't that different. Don't imagine that we don't have same-sex courting rituals between adults and minors anymore—it's just that now they take place using Instant Messenger (also they're sort of illegal). Here's a brief excerpt of Mark Foley's ruinous cyber-chat (which can be viewed in its entirety here, or if you prefer a conveniently color coded pdf version, here).

Maf54 (7:46:01 PM): well I better let you go do oyur thing

[redacted screenname] (7:46:07 PM): oh ok

[redacted screenname] (7:46:11 PM): have fun campaigning

[redacted screenname] (7:46:17 PM): or however you spell it

[redacted screenname] (7:46:18 PM): lol

[redacted screenname] (7:46:25 PM): ill see ya in a couple of weeks

Maf54 (7:46:33 PM): did any girl give you a haand job this weekend

[redacted screenname] (7:46:38 PM): lol no

[redacted screenname] (7:46:40 PM): im single right now

[redacted screenname] (7:46:57 PM): my last gf and i broke up a few weeks agi

Maf54 (7:47:11 PM): are you

Maf54 (7:47:11 PM): good so your getting horny

[redacted screenname] (7:47:29 PM): lol...a bit

Maf54 (7:48:00 PM): did you spank it this weekend yourself

[redacted screenname] (7:48:04 PM): no

[redacted screenname] (7:48:16 PM): been too tired and too busy

Maf54 (7:48:33 PM): wow...

Maf54 (7:48:34 PM): i am never to busy haha

[redacted screenname] (7:48:51 PM): haha

Maf54 (7:50:02 PM): or tired..helps me sleep

In the exchange, Foley was pretty clear about his sexual interest in the page, but also, in accordance with the erastes/eromenos rubrick, evidenced his "nobler" concerns for the teenager, for instance, indicating his hopes that the youngster doesn't get in trouble with his mom, and inquiring whether or not the page had gotten a "haand job" from any girl over the weekend. (I think "haand job" is a Dutch term, pronounced "hond yawb," for a toasted cheese sandwich.)

Despite these efforts, Foley was a little sloppy in his adherence to the ancient rules of seduction, providing no farm animals or other gifts. He may have been able to seal the deal if only he'd had the texting chops to proffer an emoticon-style rooster.

Maf54: cock-a-doodle-do! lol

As for the underage page, he seems to have been observing proper eromenos protocol by playing hard to get: IMing that his mom was calling, and claiming that he had to sign off in order to do "HW" for his AP English class. There's no way to know for sure of course; maybe he was being coy and made that stuff up, or possibly he was telling the earnest truth about those interruptions, or, who knows, it could be he intermittently signed off because he was simultaneously fielding advances from Congressman Eric Massa.

If this were the case, Foley would've been facing some stiff competition; Massa was apparently honing his lewd advances since back in his Navy days. Also, as a slightly younger and presumedly more tech savvy man, Massa was likely more adept at typing pictures of cocks (and other gift-worthy animals).

Furthermore, while Foley exceeded Massa in age, and in years of service as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives—and was therefore, at least on paper, the "nobler" of the suitors—I suspect that a coveted room may have opened up in Massa's home/underpaid-staffer crashpad.

Sadly this living arrangement was not in the public eye until after Massa's political demise, because it would've made for the best season of MTV's "The Real World" ever.

The lesson in all of this, of course, is that, well, first of all, sexual mores have changed in the last few millenia (by "sexual mores" I'm referring to attitudes towards sex, not eels that like to get it on); and second, that members of Congress haven't figured out that just because a message is instant, that doesn't mean it's not permanent.

For practical purposes, if you are in a position of power or esteem, and one day you find yourself tempted to titillate a teenager with textual doodles of a farm-cock, take my advice: cock-a-doodle-don't.

And if you are a teenager yourself, watch out for lusty IMs from U.S. Congressmen, and over the weekend don't have too many "haand jobs"; remember, moderation in all things.