Monday, July 30, 2007

The March of the Crankies

I’m one of those rare people who get more patient and less crotchety as I get older. At some point in early adulthood, I figured out that viewing every small irritation as a moral outrage would give me a heart attack.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed my annoyance threshold has dropped to pre-2000 levels. It might just be the misery of high summer in a swamp. Or it’s the dark side of city life: we live in such close proximity to one another that familiarity breeds contempt. So many things are so irritating to me right now that I’m ready to become a full-on misanthrope. A brief recap:

1. It’s tourist season. Many, many, MANY other people have described the travails of tourist season in DC, so I won’t get bogged down in the details. But, for me, here’s the root of the problem: DC is a city, where people live, work, eat, fall in love, see their friends, and vote (no matter how irrelevant our votes might be). It is sheer agony to watch tourist families waddle around, acting like they’re in Disney World. Our beloved home exists merely as photo ops for the family album. You know, go ahead and litter, one of Disney DC’s “cast members” will pick it up. Hey, walk as slow as you want, and take up the entire sidewalk, because we’re all on vacation here! Nobody really works in Disney DC, so let's clog the Metro during rush hour with two dozen giggling Girl Scouts. Let’s just see museums and memorials, because why mix it up with the servant population? So, welcome to DC, tourists. Maybe next year you could actually get acquainted with the two concepts I call “local color” and “etiquette.” Mainly, keep off the frickin' subway when people are trying to get to and from work. If I've had a long day at the office, I do not find your children cute. I especially don't want to know what they've learned that day.

2. Gum chewing. I find the sound of smacking utterly revolting. If I’m watching a movie, and two characters share a noisy saliva-centric kiss, I have to mute it or leave the room. And, to me, gum chewing is the most disgusting habit ever. I can cheerfully sit next to someone while they smoke a full pack of high-tar cigarettes, but once the gum comes out, I have to change seats. And, lately, I’ve been besieged by gum chewers. Just today, I spent four Metro stops squashed up against a man who was slurping his gum. Then, just a little while ago, I received a phone call from someone who was smacking gum. Blech. I’d almost rather listen to someone burp into the receiver for 10 minutes.

3. Loud headphones. If you are listening to your iPod, the music is intended only for you. Turn down the volume, already! While it’s sort of fun to imagine the amount of damage you’re doing to your hearing, your taste in music sucks. Also, when conducting a conversation with a fellow human being, take out the earbuds. Otherwise, I just start making things up to see if you’re actually listening to me.

4. People who ask me to guess their age. It’s mostly women that do this, and it’s annoying. There’s never a right answer. Either I think you look too old for your age, or I think you look too young to be taken seriously.

5. Cell yell. I don’t really mind people who have loud conversations on the Metro, so long as they’re conversing with the person next to them. But listening to someone shout into their cell, narrating every portion of their journey home, and having to suffer through a one-sided conversation? Sheer pain. Back when I was working in Bethesda, a gentleman sat down next to me, pulled out his cell, and proceeded to call his assistant (I bet his assistant hates his guts). As far as I could tell, he was killing time on his way to the office. The best part, though, was when he hung up. A woman on the other side of the train said, “We get it. You’re important.” (Not me!) Another portion of this syndrome are people who call just to say they’re going to arrive in five minutes. Just be there in five. That doesn’t require a bulletin.

6. Lawn chairs at Screen on the Green. It’s a level field, genius. So if you’re sitting on a lawn chair, clearly you’re blocking other people’s view of the movie. Sit your ass on the field like one of the proletariat. You’ll be a better person for it.

7. Those who mock my paleness. My mom had skin cancer. I’d just as soon not get it. Therefore, I’m not going out without sunscreen. So please don't suggest I get a "healthy tan." Tans ain't healthy, genius.

8. And, as ever and always, I get annoyed when anyone comments on my looks. I know I’m small and thin. I know I look younger than I am, to the point that I am 30 years old and am often asked for ID. Repeatedly stating the obvious isn’t endearing you to me. I own a mirror, I know what I look like, and I’d appreciate it if we could all move on.

9. People who arrive late to a movie. If the film has started, sit your butt down in the first open seat you find. Don't troll up and down the aisles, looking for a good spot. The good seats were taken 15 minutes ago by the people with the common decency to show up on time. For the love of all that is sweet and good, do NOT ask other patrons to move around so you and your friends can sit together. Again, find the first seat you can, and sit down in it.

10. Dick Cheney.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cheney for President!

I received an email at work today, speculating on a Cheney presidential bid. As a fortune teller, I am able to determine the course of world events should this occur. A timeline:

March 2008: Dick Cheney announces his bid for the Presidency, declares that as he is neither Executive nor Legislative, he can do whatever he damn well pleases. Other Republican candidates begin to disappear under suspicious circumstances until the only candidates are Cheney and Giuliani.

May 2008: Guiliani is moved to undisclosed holding facility to recover after ill-fated drag queen hunting trip.

July 2008: Cheney wins the Republican nomination by default. Cheney declares himself neither Democrat nor Republican, re-opens the Know-Nothing Party. It is once again trendy to fear Catholics and immigrants, meaning that anti-Hispanic hysteria reaches an all-time high. Any family with chickens as pets is held for questioning and deported to Mexico, regardless of whether they are, in fact, Mexican.

August 2008: Selects Jimmy Hoffa as running mate, Jimmy Hoffa discovered to have been living in Cheney’s undisclosed holding facility.

November 2008: Dick Cheney wins the election, moves to undisclosed holding facility to visit Jimmy and plot further evil. News media report that "None of the Above" is the actual President, however, these reports are quashed in the name of national security.

January 2009: Dick Cheney inaugurated as 44th President, declares that he is actually neither gaseous, solid, nor liquid. As he is the Fourth State of Matter, the space-time continuum is inverted, creating a wormhole by which we are sucked into Alternate Reality America.

March 2009: As there is no Constitution in Alternate Reality America, the following groups are rounded up and held in camps: gun haters, liberals, and anyone who can read above a fifth-grade level.

June 2009: Have you read Revelations lately?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I Coulda Had a V-8!

Last night, I went to Screen on the Green (just like I do every Monday in the summer).

The film was The Thing From Another World, and boy, it may just be the most educational thing I've ever seen.

A blood-sucking vegetable dude from outer space crash-lands in the North Pole. And that was the logical part.

The Thing lives off blood. So it goes where there's no one and nothing to eat. It lands the first week of November, and is there for three days and nights. (Yes, in an amazing slice of genius, the North Pole has day-night cycles during what would actually be six months of darkness.) Then the evil veggie starts rampaging through the science station, doing battle with wisecracking military dudes, a hot secretary, a goofy reporter, and some self-important scientists. The scientists want to study the Thing, and the military want to kill the hell out of it. Eventually the head scientist tries to communicate with the alien, and gets whacked on the head with a two-by-four for his trouble. The military dudes save the day, and the reporter asks the world to "Watch the Skies!"

But here's what you really need to know: Science is bad. Aliens, or really anything that's different from us, are bad. If you don't understand it, you should probably kill it. Hooray for the military! Rah rah rah!

I love the 1950s. Conformity and paranoia.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost?

Wow, Prince William County just can't seem to catch a break lately. Aside from the overcrowded schools and housing market crash, now they're dealing with an influx of....chickens. Yes, families are ticking off the neighbors by populating their backyards with chickens. Apparently the newest wave of immigrants are rural Latinos who keep chickens as pets. I guess it would be one thing if they used them for eggs or whatever, but, no, they're pets. Can you pet a chicken? Can chickens do tricks?

This is just so unbelievably funny. Because it wasn't bad enough that Dale City has cookie-cutter split level homes, foreclosures a-go-go, and so on. Now they have to contend with hordes of chickens roaming the neighborhood, cawing at the crack of dawn and getting ripped to bits by the neighbor's Labrador.

The last family profiled is my favorite. Not only do they keep chickens, they keep their chickens indoors. I have heard of indoor cats, but not indoor chickens?

And so, the culture wars of Prince William rage on. I can't wait for the next installment.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Michael Bay, I Love You

I saw Transformers on Saturday night with Bob, Kevin and Janet. For a moment, let's put aside the fact that I spend Saturday evenings going on 1950s-style double dates at the movies. Next weekend I'll probably go to a sock hop and a soda fountain. And let's ignore the fact that Janet and I, not the guys, picked the movie. Let us glory in the beauty of Transformers, the most awesomely awesome movie to ever be so completely awesome. We're talking about a film that states, "In Partnership with Hasbro" as the opening credit.

It was a lot like guys I partied with in college: loud, dumb, brash, and a complete and total hoot. Bigass trucks, planes and other hunks of metal reassembled themselves into even bigger robots. They even made that thuck-thuck-thuck sound while they transformed, just like they did in the 80s cartoon. Then the big robots would blow stuff up. It was cool. Also, as we learn in the end, Autobots are kind of voyeuristically pervy.

Sure, there were other plot points: would the nerd get the girl? Would the honorable hunky Air Force dude get home to his wife and baby? Would the shadowy government operatives get their butts kicked? Would the President ever get his Ding-Dongs? But who cares? We're talking about a movie where the good guys lead the highly dangerous bad guys into a densely populated urban area that is nowhere near where they were before, just so the big robots could throw the other big robots through some really big buildings. There's nothing better in a summer film than plot holes with a purpose.

And the robots. Oh, how they rocked. The goody goody Autobots had sweet, approachable names like Bumblebee and Ratchet. But the bad boy Decepticons got to be Megatron, Bonecrusher, Barricade, and, my personal favorite, Starscream. The Decepticons were the original branding consultants. How can you NOT be afraid of a dude called Bonecrusher?

In short, Michael Bay, I love you. Sure, when I got home, I had to pour myself a big glass of water and lie very, very still in a quiet room. My ears are still ringing, and I've gone through half a bottle of ibuprofen in the last twelve hours. But that was the most fun I'd had at the movies in ages. Please make a hundred sequels, each one louder and dumber than the last. I'll see every single one.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Prince William County: Legislating Xenophobia Since 2007

So, I grew up in Prince William County, Virginia. Woodbridge, to be exact. And I usually don’t think too much about it. For a county with nothing but strip malls, bowling alleys and chain restaurants, PWC has produced some great people. But I’ve been following the illegal immigrant crackdown with both detached sarcasm and occasional gut-twisting flashes of annoyance.

If you haven’t been following the immigration debate, here’s the story so far:

There are probably over 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Nobody really knows how many, of course, because they aren't documented. For a long time, nobody really cared except for xenophobic hillbillies, talk radio hosts, and shady employers in search of cheap labor. Then suburbia was looking a little more crowded than usual, and they started selling piƱatas at the Wal-Mart. Illegals wanted fair pay and justice, and locals wanted them to just go back to Mexico (even if they weren’t Mexican, because anything south of Texas is Mexico). Congress recently fell on its collective ass and failed to pass any sort of immigration reform bill. Cities and states, attempting to rival the stupidity of Congress, began dreaming up strategies to make illegals so miserable that maybe, just maybe, they’d disappear. Then we could all just go back to normal. Wal-Mart could once more be the province of the sort of folks that spank their kids in public, and suburbia could once more be the home of Mom, Dad, and their 2.4 kids.

But the world only moves in one direction: forward. You can’t turn back a clock, uncrack an egg, or erase every Pauly Shore film ever made.

All of this brings us to Prince William County. Good old PWC recently passed a resolution exhorting county staff, including police, to rigorously deny whatever services they can to illegal immigrants. Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. claims this will stem the tide of “economic hardship and lawlessness” in Prince William.

Before I say anything else, “economic hardship and lawlessness”? Is this guy for real? Since when did Nokesville become the West Bank? Are roving gangs of Janjaweed lighting fire to the kiosks of Potomac Mills? Are rebel armies taking hostages over at Chinn Library?

By “economic hardship and lawlessness,” Stirrup means heavier traffic, an extra fight or two on Saturday night, and a multitude of ugly cars in Dale City’s driveways. A hassle and a problem, yes, but hardly the end of society. And I do get that we can’t open our doors to everyone who wants to come here. And Prince William went from predominately rural to extraordinarily congested in just twenty years. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

What this resolution really seeks to do is make illegal immigrants so freaked out that they’ll just pack up and leave. They’ll move to Stafford County, Stafford will pass a resolution, so they’ll go to Spotsylvania, and so on and so forth until they’re far far away.

I doubt that’s possible. I get queasy at the idea of punishing people who just want to work and support their families. I figure that if you're willing to swim a river, travel in the back of a U-Haul, or cross a desert, you deserve to be an American more than I do. I doubt Joe Illegal (or Jose Illegal, as the case may be) wants to turn Woodbridge into the Wild West.

It seems like the politicians who beat the “family values” drum are the same ones who want to raid workplaces, deport everyone they can, and split up families if they have to. Whatever it takes to ensure that the only families we value are the ones that look exactly like ours.

And I can’t believe I have to point this out: America is a nation of immigrants, both voluntary and involuntary. Only about two percent of the US population claims Native American ancestry. So, Mr. Stirrup, you’re an immigrant. I daresay you have ancestors who staked their claim with broken treaties and smallpox blankets. Nowadays those same claims are being staked with flophouses and day laborer pickup lots.

Everything we hear now about Hispanics is the same stuff we said about the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, and so forth. This is a story we’ve all heard before. And the ending is always the same: eventually we get over ourselves and learn to get along.

What we need is a way to track these guys, give them a fair shake and a decent salary, and not scare the crap out of people. We also need to change the rhetoric from “us vs. them” to “we’re all in this together.” There are 12 million people living in limbo, and nothing is going to change unless America is willing to share its toys and play well with others.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Basket Case

I spent a good portion of Sunday at the Folklife Festival on the Mall. Here are my random thoughts:

1. America is awesome. I noticed a big line that led to a tent labeled “Marketplace.” Yes, Americans are so hopelessly consumerist that they will stand in line for 20 minutes in the baking hot midday sun…to shop. The line was far longer than those for food and drink, so we value shopping over sustenance. God bless America.

2. Congratulations, you reproduced! No, that does not excuse you from basic manners. (I know probably someday I’ll have some rugrats, and I’ll look back at this blog entry and cringe. So be it.) I don’t really get the solipsism of young parenthood. Yeah, you’ve got toddler quadruplets, a ginormous all-terrain stroller, and an amazing assortment of overpriced totebags. I will never understand why that entitles you to grind to a halt at the top of escalators, in the middle of walkways, or, best of all, directly in front of an entrance. Get out of the way, then adjust Barrett’s Ralph Lauren sweater or give little Mackenzie’s face a scrubdown. There are 6 billion other people on this Earth, and most of us don’t really care about you or your little brats/sociological experiments/excuse for living. So please stop acting like you're the only people on Earth.

3. I stood in line to look at a basket, a box of tea, and a lady making jam. God help me.

4. Culture is funny. I especially liked that one of the Folklife featured locations was exotic Virginia. We learned all about boats, churches, slaves, plants, and roads. However, no one discussed Virginia’s more recent cultural contributions, like chain restaurants, gay-bashing and Lorena Bobbitt.