Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don't Fence Them In: An Imbecile's Guide To Parenting

Trees are like children—you'll stunt their growth if you keep them in the cage too long.

If you're a person in possession of those funny creatures known as "offspring," you likely feel a very strong drive to protect them. But if you lack an actual family, (or a menagerie of cats to fawn over), and especially if you’re the sort of person whose screws are on the “Not So Much” end of the tightness spectrum, you can instead direct your protective impulses toward a specimen of sidewalk-dwelling flora—like a tree! This sounds far fetched, but it's really quite common; for some background you might peruse my previous posts on the subject, found here and here.

Whatever the object of your affections, parenting is a wonderful and rewarding experience, to be sure. However, even in the case of non-sentient plant life, eventually you have to let your little ones go.

On a recent perambulation I discovered this pitiable sight: a majestic hardwood still in the clutches of an overbearing caretaker—note the tiny steel fence that is barely able to contain its leafy ward any longer. Now, we've all seen, and at times experienced, overprotective parenting; but who knew it was possible to humiliate a tree? A sight like this—a plant so large that it dwarfs even a mighty sport utility vehicle, still encircled by a protective Smurf-sized fence—this is like insisting your son wear his stripey scarf and beany-hat when it's cold out—even though he's a partner at his law firm.

"Ma, please, I'm a grown tree!"

"You'll always be my little sapling."

I was tempted to fetch a pair of bolt cutters in order to liberate this penned-in perennial, but it's best to stay out of family squabbles. Plus I didn't want to embarass the poor thing even further by drawing attention to its plight (which is why I waited until it was looking the other way before snapping this photo).

Speaking of off-kilter parenting skills and holding on to your wood too tightly, there was recently an adult-sanctioned young-people's sporting match of a vaguely pornographic nature held here in New York City.

Exactly what sport is this? "Stick ball"? "Palm Piloting"? "Tugby"?

While at first glance this may appear to be a rather sordid sort of sporting event, it turns out there is an explanation beyond such prurient presumptions. What we have here is in fact the Quidditch World Cup, held at Manhattan's Dewitt Clinton Park earlier this month. (For more of those oddly disturbing images, see here.) Quidditch, of course, is a fictional athletic team sport in which the players fly around on magic-powered broomsticks, as described in the Harry Potter novels. Or at least it was fictional; now college students across the country have created a "real world" incarnation of this sport (assuming you can consider anything that goes on at college campuses to be of the real world).

I saw several local TV news stories about this Harry Potter-inspired event, and I was surprised to find that amidst all the coverage there was not one juvenile joke made about the blatantly phallic overtones of so much grabbing of crotch-rods (whether magically endowed or not). It is very commendable, the tasteful restraint and good judgment of our local news media—a group apparently operating at a lofty strata of journalistic integrity that is well beyond my capacity to reach (though maybe if I learned to fly on a broom I could have a chance of soaring so high.) Pole-handling aside, in the various news broadcasts there wasn't even a hint of derision for any aspect of the proceedings, despite the fact that this tournament consisted of post-adolescent young people wearing capes and running around, hobby-horse style, on straw brooms. And that struck me as quite odd, since local TV news teams are about as likely to pass up an opportunity to make idle banter and unamusing jokes as I am to decline a platter of Circus Peanuts.

Gratuitous marshmallow candy photo

After giving it considerable thought (which in my case required several days, and the neglect of other important tasks, like cleaning behind my fingernails with my lucky toothpick, or attempting to break my personal Circus Peanut mouth-cramming record) I've determined that the most likely explanation for that staggering degree of journalistic restraint is that adults are actually afraid of kids like this. Undoubtedly nerds like the ones who participated in this Quidditch tournament excel at all things geeky and technical, and in the post-Columbine, internet age of malcontent-hacker forums and terrorist chat rooms, people have finally learned that it's not such a good idea to further alienate kids who are a little different; if young people want to express their lingering adolescent urges by pretending to be wizards and holding dowels of empowerment between their legs, and if that makes them feel like they're part of something which doesn't happen to involve trawling the internet for instructions on making explosives out of Miracle Grow, then more power to them.

Ultimately, stifling a kid's urges towards fantasy is about as productive as caging a tree. Kids who endure that kind of overprotection (so I've heard) are more likely to develop obsessive behaviors, like watching endless hours of local TV news while stuffing their mouths full of (delicious) orange marshmallow treats. And nobody should end up like that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mixed Messages: Urban Clean-Up, Advertising Mash-Ups

Neighborhood beautification at its best

In my last bit of postage ("postage" being a redundantly nounified version of "post," much like "signage" for "sign," or "Carthage" for the ancient city of Carth) I looked at misguided signage placed by people who wish to keep dogs away from their curbside gardenage. Maybe I shouldn't be passing such judgments on people—I'm easily more misguided than half the slobs I cross paths with on any given day, and the quotidian trials and tribulations of modern life constantly leave me positively flummoxed. Flummoxed, by the way, means baffled or disoriented, as if having smoked some flum, or having been run over by a big odorific ox.

A flummox

So it's a matter of public record that I am no stranger to the role of Public Imbecile, but if anything I think that makes me more qualified to address the inanities going on around me. Anyway, for the time being I will refrain from further indictments of sign-posters. In the case of the above dog-related road-sign, I sympathize with people who simply wish to keep their block clean and dignified, and certainly there's no better way to improve the aesthetics of a neighborhood than by putting up an image of a defecating animal.

Now then, speaking of mixed messages, here's another bit of paradoxical advertising put forth by the Levi Strauss Denim Jeans and Pants Company, the likes of which I previously addressed.

"Enduring and essential, the cord has been reinvented for the modern worker in all of us."

Reinvented? I could be missing something, but those pants look exactly the same as all the corduroys I've ever seen. There's no doubt, however, that the names of the color swatches have been reinvented.

Again Levi's presents us with a masterful advertising mash-up: there's a bold statement meant to appeal to our would-be rugged and inudustrious side, paired with a subtler nod to the fact that "the modern worker in all of us" just wants to pick out paint colors from the Martha Stewart catalog.

Incidentally, at least a couple of those colors are named for Martha's dogs ("Sharkey Gray" and "Francesca"), which makes me wonder if one of the corduroy swatches is named for the Levi's mascot.

Here we have, let's say, Chip the jeans model, and beloved Levi's spokesdog Demitasse. You can't tell from the black and white photo, but he's really a breathtaking hue. Truly, an impressive example of doggage, Demitasse has a look that is both rugged and carefree—and he poops where he pleases, signage be damned.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mixed Messages: Curbing Your Territorialism

I often feel that I'm in need of a little direction in this life. So it's fortunate that I live in a city in which people are more than happy to tell me what to do. Hooray, people! Even when they're not around, they leave notes for me, often in the form of signs. For instance the above sign was thoughtfully placed on a tiny fence around a tree along the sidewalk. Without such instructions who knows what kind of shenanigans I would get up to.

Now while I appreciate the effort, I think the poster of this particular bit of “signage” (“signage” is the word for “sign” in the dialects of both the business and stoner communities) does not really understand the concept that he or she is signaging about. Allow me to illustrate.

Here’s a photo of a Brooklyn sidewalk. (Don't worry, the illustration part is coming up shortly.)

A photo

Now here's that same photo transformed, thanks to a rudimentary (but highly impressive, right?) overlay effected by the use of high-powered digital editing software.

An illustration

This new illustration shows that same Brooklyn sidewalk divided into three quadrants. I’m not sure what happened to the fourth quadrant, but I’ll chalk that up to budget cuts. (Much like I plan to go back to chalk up that sidewalk to play hopscotch.) Observe, if you will, that there runs along the large central swath of sidewalk a main corridor. This is where the principal activity of the sidewalk takes place: the walking for which the sidewalk takes its appellation. Hooray walking! (And hooray appellations, without which the Appalachian Trail would be The Anonymous Path.)

There's also an inner, or "stoopside" tract of the sidewalk. This thin margin is chiefly used for giving away instructional manuals for outdated versions of Photoshop. (This is usually accomplished with the aid of small bits of signage indicating "Free!") It is not intended for use as a walking lane, except by passive aggressive individuals who disregard useful, basic social conventions such as "Keep Right." (Note that I am curtailing my "hoorays" for such people.)

Finally we have the outer section, which is abutted by the actual curb—the “curbside” portion of the sidewalk. This is the pedestrian walkway's business hub, where various transactions and non-perambulatory activities take place, such as curbside pick-up of customers by limo-drivers, and curbside garbage collection. It’s also where dogs take care of their business, including (but not limited to) scavenging for chicken bones, perusing old newspapers, and taking dumps.

Now, concerning the above signage: first of all, to curb your dog means to guide your canine compatriot to the curb to take care of his or her business transactions in a manner that is not an imposition (in particular, a messy imposition) to the users of the central walking axis of the sidewalk. Secondly, see if you can triangulate in which quadrant that sign is located.

Hint: that car is not parked by the stoop.

If I, as a responsible citizen in dutiful compliance with basic social compacts, escort my four-legged charge over to the curb for eliminatory purposes, and I find that someone has obstructed it by building a bed of tulips thereupon, there's going to be some conflict between flora and fauna.

To put it another way, if you build your cabbage patch on the curb, EXPECT A DOG TO TAKE A TINKLE ON IT. It's not all that complicated; you can't presuppose that dogs are going to take a terribly nuanced view of the little plot upon which they are "allowed" to attend to their most basic of bodily functions.

Clearly there's some confusion about "curbing." The phrase "curb your enthusiasm" is an exhortation to curtail your glee (something Fox should seriously consider). However "curb" as a verb does not mean exclusively, "curtail." Contrary to popular belief (particularly that of the indignant and horticulturally minded), “Curb your dog” does not mean “Have your canine companion refrain from peeing or taking a poop on delicately manicured tree-gardens which are themselves located on the curb.” Dog-owners can lead their domesticated beasts to the periphery, or "hinterland," of the designated walkway, but as per genetic dictates honed over millenia of evolution, dogs pee ON things. Like trees. And miniscule fences, regardless of whether or not you have decorated the micro-lots they enclose with seashells, or if a family of damn gnomes resides therein. If you want your tiny urban arboretum to remain pristine and unsullied then you shouldn’t build it on the curb, where you are telling people to take their dogs.

This bit of inter-special friction notwithstanding, it's nice to see that here in the great city of New York, in addition to being indignant, we are also very multi-cultural in our outlook. Here's another piece of signage using the international symbol for "No-dog-poopy-here-please-lest-you-endanger-this-tree-which-is-like-60-years-old-but-somehow-incredibly-delicate-all-the-same."

We may not be so tolerant of the needs of our canine brethren (and, um, sistren), but at least we are sensitive to different cultures. And levels of literacy. Hooray everybody!