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Category: Culture

They Stopped Making Those
Back in the 80s (that’s the 1980s), I bought a pair of pants out of the L.L. Bean catalog. They fit perfectly.

Let me repeat that: the pants fit perfectly! I had never had a pair of pants that fit perfectly, not from a catalog, not from a department store, not from a tailor. I don’t think that is an unusual experience for any of us. I believe, in fact, that many people live their entire lives and never find such a garment. That is because no two people on earth have quite the same hip/butt/thigh/waist/crotch configuration. It’s like fingerprints, except that the HBTWC index, as it is called, is much harder to ascertain.

As soon as I realized what I had found, I called L.L. Bean to order another pair, possibly more. “I’m sorry sir. Our supplier stopped making them. Would you be interested in our stretch chinos? I hear they fit like a glove.” No, I said, and hung up. Why would I want pants that fit like a glove? Any more than I’d want gloves that fit like a pair of pants?

If you are wondering how something so ordinary as a piece of clothing could roil the normally placid waters of my peace of mind, let me tell you about these trousers. Right out of the padded envelope, when I put them on, they stayed right there. No binding, no bagginess, no sensation that I was wearing them at all. They came in an earthy sage green with just a hint of blue in the stitching. Very nice. Free-thinking and a little rough, but with a clean-cut feel that matched the self-image I try to project to the world. They didn’t even need a belt — unless it added to the free, clean-cut, rough elan I was already styling.

I could go on, but I sense that I am losing you. I will only say that I wore those pants until they disintegrated. I will always treasure our time together, but that last day was numbingly sad. Kind of like meeting your soulmate, then having her die that same day in a gruesome haybaling accident. That’s never actually happened to me, but I can’t help feeling that the sense of tragic loss would be similar. Yes, it was a sad day, but also an omen of a dark awakening in me. The Law of Supply and Demand, I began to suspect, might be an unjust law.

A few years after the L.L. Bean incident, a show debuted on American TV that seemed to have everything. Max Headroom was funny and edgy and hip and British. Instantly, it became my favorite television show. I was sure that it would not only become a smash hit, but change television programming forever. It died quietly after 14 episodes.

I wanted more, but that did not seem to matter. Americans just didn’t get the joke, or something, so the creators just stopped making them. Stopped making them! How could that be?

This same injustice has been visited on me a number of times since then. In the 90s, I found an athletic/outdoor shoe that was perfect as well. Perfect shoes, as any Zappo’s aficionado can tell you, are almost as hard to find as perfect pants. And yet, there they were on my feet! This time, I was able to order two more pairs from Chaco (even though they were only available in a ghastly color). Once the last pair fell apart, I could not get another. No matter that I really, really wanted those shoes.

And my favorite beer (Ruthless Rye from Sierra Nevada)? No longer available in my area. A small, practical pick-up truck that was cheap to operate? Sorry, they were just too popular. And so on. I have concluded that the so-called Law of Supply and Demand, and capitalism itself, are nothing but a scam.

As proof, I offer these devastating struggles with the “free market.” They are the evidence that our demands, no matter how keenly felt, will not be answered by a correspondingly adamant supply. Oh, once in a while you may get what you want, but it will be cruelly snatched away from you. Truth is, the market just doesn’t care.

I guess I could demand a better system, but that would almost certainly be futile.
Free to Binge
Bingeing. It’s a thing now, especially during lockdown. Prolonged, end-to-end viewing of television programs for which numerous episodes are available — it certainly is a tribute to the technological wonders all around us that such an option is even available. And yet, this easy availability troubles me.

Contrary to reports you may have heard (from my life-mate) I am not anti-binge. Please understand that, though I am not a member of the Freedom Caucus, I am absolutely pro-freedom. People should be able to do whatever they want to as long as no one else is harmed. My concerns about bingeing, then, are strictly reserved for my own choices and patterns of behavior. Others should chart their own paths. And risk madness — or worse.

To be fair, such outcomes are rare. Or so it has been alleged by my life-mate. Anyway, my chief issue around bingeing is more about aesthetic well-being than physical. Watching parts of an artistic drama that was conceived to be experienced discretely is an approach fraught with dangers.

Not the least of these is the possibility of a colossal waste of time. Not in watching shows you really enjoy, but in watching shows you turn out not to enjoy. You know what I’m talking about: some story or character will suck you in at the beginning, and before you know it you’re 20 episodes into some cavalcade of dreck without any way to get any of that time back. Or worse, you ignore the clear early warnings in a multi-season show (like the multiple decapitations in Episode 1 of Game of Thrones), only to discover in Season 5 that you really don’t like torture and non-stop graphic violence after all. Those hours — to say nothing of the enormous emotional investment — are gone forever, and you have precious little to show for the experience.

There is also the distinct possibility that such investments might begin to compete with real-world demands for your time and attention. Your job, your family, your social life — activities that involves actual, flesh-and-blood people — can all become drab and empty when compared to your imaginary existence among dragons, time-travelers, and British royalty. And speaking of British serials, we can see the even more pronounced disorientation wrought by the the appearance of the same actors in every show — in different storylines, as both heroes and villains, across a kaleidiscope of settings, both real and imagined. No wonder our lives are in chaos.

Or so it seems to me. Wouldn’t it be better, for you and your loved ones (talking to you, life-mate), to simply enjoy individual installments of your chosen TV show one at a time? To savor each episode and fully explore all the hypothetical storyline permutations presented by that chapter? Rather than rushing through them in an orgy of consumption?

That is my argument, at least, when the matter is discussed in my home theater. Since we are in lockdown, of course, actual disagreements are forbidden, so we compromise. My life-mate doesn’t watch my shows and I don’t watch hers. Separate…and free.
Location, Location, Location
Like most people, we have a wireless phone in our house. It’s a genius invention if you ask me. Instead of being tied to one location — where we decided to put the phone jack — we can talk on the phone anywhere we want to, even outside. This may not mean much to you if you don’t own a landline, but for those of us still living in the twentieth century, it’s a wonder.

The upside of the old, tied-to-the-wall system was that you always knew where the phone was. Fortunately, wireless phone makers came up with another, perhaps even more wondrous invention: the locater.

You might be tempted to dismiss this capability as just another feature on yet another modern device, but think of it: a locater! It tells you where the phone is! By making it send a signal! Brilliant! I’m not ready to say the locater pushes fire out as the number one greatest invention of all time, but it certainly displaces the wheel as number two.

I understand that the locater might seem to be a rather simple technological feat, but remember that we are only at the earliest stage of this breakthrough. I challenge you to imagine where this potential explosion of human ingenuity might lead. We can certainly foresee similar devices that might help us find our keys, our remote, our glasses. Those should be relatively easy advances for this new technology, and are no doubt currently in development. But, for a moment, let us expand our minds beyond these mundane concerns and think big.

Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, if we could find, at last, the lost continent of Atlantis? The lost tribes of Israel? Or Jimmy Hoffa, for gosh sake! The possibilities are endless, really. We could find our lost youth, our lost innocence, or even (if we so desired) our lost virginity. And who wouldn’t want to know where, oh where, has my little dog gone? Nothing would be off the table — especially when you consider that there may never be another lost cause.

There is a lot of work to do before that happens, of course, but we’ll find someone to do it, I’m sure. Once we get the right technology.
Numb and Number
If you’re like me, you find it easy to make an emotional connection with a letter. They do mirror our words and thoughts, after all — almost as if they were a part of us. If one of them is going through a rough patch, we automatically feel their pain. They are almost living things — like beloved family pets.

Take the letter Q, for instance. You would have to be pretty cold inside not to feel some kind of compassion for this hapless glyph. For starters, it can hardly go anywhere without U tagging along. It’s not as if U needs the work; it’s a vowel, for gosh sake. But there it is, crowding into the picture almost every time Q gets a chance to shine. And on the rare occasion when Q does appear on its own, it is almost always as a pathetic attempt by our alphabet to mimic a sound from another, foreign, set of letters — like the Hebrew letter qoph. Or qajaq, a Scrabble word with no meaning at all. Sad.

It is also a bit of an afterthought as a letter, looking, as it does, like an O that has left its pants unzipped. It all seems so unfair. But at least Q is a letter. In its alphabet-universe there are only 26 such characters. Even Q can think of itself as something special is such elite company.

When it comes to integers, though, it is quite a different matter. There are an infinite number of numbers, so no one would blame you if you felt nothing at all for any one of them and whatever tough circumstances they might find themselves in. Having feelings for a number is less like caring about an old and beloved dog approaching its last days and more like sympathizing with your laptop when it crashes. It’s that hard to relate to a number.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Recently, I have been experiencing profound surges of empathy for 2020.

Think of 2020 before the year began. It held a position of representing almost unparalleled excellence as a measure of eyesight. 20/20 vision is not perfect, but it is the ideal level of visual acuity to which we all aspire. To many of us, 20/20 is an unattainable goal even with corrective lenses or surgery. How many numerals have a credit like that on their resumes?

Apart from that association, 2020 was also on its way to an achievement of numerical niftyness that would have been rare indeed among other dates on the calendar. It would have gone into the books along with 1010 and (someday) 3030. The coolness of such dates easily outstrips years like 1818 and 1919 or any other every-101-years occurrences.

All of that, of course, came before the actual transpiration of the year 2020. You don’t need me to tell you what it’s been like, but I will anyway: COVID, job loss, eviction, schools under threat…okay, I’m getting tired of it already. Except one last thing: corrupt and uncaring governance. Oh yeah, and now a giant, killer heat wave in the West, which has now been followed by the historically awful and destructive fires currently afflicting the entire Pacific Coast of America.

Whatever 2020 might have had going for it on January 1, it’s all gone now. In my opinion, it is in the running for the worst year ever, and maybe even the worst number ever. That is a long fall for any symbolic character. There is only one thing that could make it worse.

Please, don’t forget to vote.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon