Moon Children

Crossing The Field Of Innocence
Crossing The Field Of Innocence

The trappings of childhood are usually designed to prepare us for becoming adults, and the toys and books and clothes that we grow up with often stand in for the equivalents we adopt later in life.  The people we meet – and the relationships we forge as children – set the tone for the way we interact with the world as we get older.  We’re fortunate that adults are put together just as well as kids are, only with different toys, books and clothes to surround themselves with.

This, in a nutshell, is the central thesis of Moonrise Kingdom: regardless of the age we reach, we are really no more insightful about the world than our children, and our relationships are just as simplistic and/or complex.  There will always be a parent or mentor above us looking to chastise / be jealous of us for doing what we think is right.  In many ways, this is a thread that you can pull through all of Anderson’s work, to the point that even his working adult name is diminutive, both in the shortened form of “Wes,” and in that he will always be Ander’s son; he will always be a fully grown child.  Even Anderson’s co-writer for this film, Roman Coppola, is Francis Ford’s son, bringing this thematic element to the construction of the movie itself.  While Anderson often blends the world of the film and the world that created the film, this aspect of metatext might be the reason to include a narrator that talks directly to the audience, as well as interacts with these childishly adult characters.

Perhaps the most childish are the adults that spend a good portion of the movie searching for Sam & Suzy.  Laura & Walt Bishop live in what appears to be a giant dollhouse, and they play at parenting and being lawyers the way kids do.  Laura’s temper and violent physical outbursts toward her husband perfectly match the actions of an angry and confused 12 year old.  Conversely, Walt is quiet like a shy little boy, entirely reserved from years of coping with his abusive girlfriend.  This has led to his inability to do accomplish anything; he makes suggestions that he will ride a motorcycle or chop down a tree, but never engages in either activity.  The only time they engage each other is when discussing law, an act that mitigates this stunted arguments of adults acting like children; otherwise, they are physically separated, each in different rooms / depths of focus / beds.  They each play roles neither are particularly good at, nor do they fully understand.

Randy is probably the most childish, playing boy scout well into middle age.  His interactions with children are all based in camaraderie, delivered as friendly leadership moments among peers.  He offers no real guidance when they do wrong, and instead gives suggestions for how they can follow the letter of scout law more closely.  His own ability to wear this identity himself is much like his uniform: ill-fitting.  He is trying to teach the young scouts how to remain as such forever, but their own survival skills seem to have come from elsewhere.

Captain Sharp is no better; his policeman’s uniform resembles that of a little league outfit (right down to his ball cap), and as neither he or Randy have children of their own, they struggle to break out of the rolls they set for themselves when they were kids, and yet have no real idea how to do this.  You can easily imagine Captain Sharp saying “Police Officer” when asked what he was going to be when he grows up, and has thus been one ever since, not knowing there are possible alternatives.

At the center of all these childish adults are Sam & Suzy, each of them comfortably taking on the roles of a couple where not even their parents can do so.  They plan their individual escapes with an inventive amount of detail and preparation, and quickly consummate their budding relationship, something the adults are unable to do.  Their physical and emotional intimacy creates a counterpoint for the distance that exists between everyone else.  Unlike the childish cigarettes that Randy wields, held in the most dainty of manners, Sam smokes a wooden pipe.  Suzy reads to Sam – who listens attentively – where her parents can barely talk to each other without using a bullhorn.  The children seem particularly skilled in assuming their roles in this relationship; Sam’s training as a scout has made him the perfect at surviving in the wilderness away from people, while Suzy’s rage and intelligent sweetness makes her a perfect complement in sharing intimacy and fending off danger.

Both manage to pantomime adult mating rituals with comic outcomes, but the results carry more sweetness and beauty than any other examples of affection that are shown in the film.  Getting to know each other’s tastes, dancing to pop music, and even their first awkward motions toward physical contact not only mark a counterpoint to the Suzy’s parents, but is a perfect analog for the experience of dating everyone goes through.  We all feel far too young when we first experience someone physically, and we each feel as if we’ve wandered into some uncharted territory, on the ledge of a precipice or ocean, and in spite of what anyone may already have called it, there is an urge to shout out our own names to make this world our own.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” Captain Sharp asks Sam after he and Suzy are “rescued” by the bumbling search party, and this offers a little insight into the plight of the adults in this film.  Longing for a time when their lives could be simplistic – like when they were children – only drives their childish behavior more.  They each live with regrets they can never take back, and this motivation leads to their desire to stymie the progression into adulthood they think these children are foolishly making.  What they are ignoring, however, is that Sam and Suzy are already grown up; any effort the adults make is too late.  What scares the adults in this film the most isn’t that the kids are growing up to fast, but that they themselves haven’t even attempted to do so.

What sells Sam and Suzy’s adult behavior in terms of the films assembly is the careful use of cinematic tropes and references that not only correspond with the time period of the film, but include the deft incorporation of a narrator, played expertly by Bob Balaban.  The unnamed narrator not only breaks the fourth wall by addressing us directly while also appearing as a character in the film, but his careful monitoring of the environmental elements that are at play make him very well equipped to move between our world and theirs.  It his this character who not only fills us in on what is happening, but does the same for the adults when they are at a loss as to how to find Sam & Suzy.  In much the same way that Greek plays unfold, The Narrator both describes the action, but intercedes upon this action, and Balaban’s performance in this capacity as an actual meteorologist is perhaps the only true grown “adult” in the film.

Meanwhile, Sam, Suzy and the other scouts perfectly adapt their behavior to match those of the movies they are imitating, weaving elements of westerns, 50’s romantic dramas and war films into their perceptions of how they should behave.  The adults, however, continue their childish pursuits of a High School drama, until the storm strikes, at which time they try to step out of their roles to become adults the children really need.

More than anything else, the film is a mash note to the biggest influence in Anderson’s life: Young Adult novels of his childhood.  While there are some elements of this in his film version of the children’s book The Fantastic Mr. Fox, as well as certain elements of The Royal Tennebaums (Margot essentially re-enacts a bit of the storyline of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when she runs away as a child to live in a Museum), Moonrise Kingdom takes the ideas from this and a number of similar books (My Side Of The Mountain, Bridge to Terabithia, etc.) and remixes them with an Andersonian sense of how they all influenced his own childhood.  It’s clear that Anderson never managed to grow up, or, rather, spent his youth already grown up and had to wait in real time for his own body to catch up.  This has very clearly left an indelible impact on him, and it is no wonder that this movie is set in the ’60’s, when Anderson himself was born.  We are being asked to see this as a melting pot where his great loves – film, books, and the blurred line between childhood and adulthood – was born.

As with any Wes Anderson movie, the details in this film are flawlessly assembled.  There is a hand-made quality to everything he does, so much so that even the few CGI moments seem painless by comparison to the way some directors use the effect.  His Ozu references are just as beautiful as his nods to Encyclopedia Brown, and his musical selections are not only dead perfect, but work in a sort of Peter And The Wolf manner, helping track characters and story elements deftly and beautifully.  While it is impossible to say if this is my favorite film of his, perhaps that is not the point.  This is another chapter in the story he is constantly telling, a new iteration of a story that seems to share qualities with every film before it.

While you could never argue that each film is identical to each other, a simple glance at any scene from any of his movies screams Anderson in a way that is immediately identifiable, and it is this that I have come to love from a man who has a love of making movies that is only outmatched by his completely self-conscious desire to control every element of their artifice, and remind us that yes, we are not only watching a film, we are watching a Wes Anderson film.  And a damn good one, too.

Advertisements

The Conundrum Of Clothing

Minus The Glasses, I Have Dressed Like This Often
Minus The Glasses, I Have Dressed Like This Often

One of the many hurdles I’ve had in my life has been that of fashion.  I’m terrible when it comes to putting together an outfit to wear in public, and for years my default solution to this was to include a bow tie and a funny pair of pants, topped with some sort of sweater when appropriate, and thus hoping for the best.  I’ve often had to explain that I did not grow up wearing bow ties and funny pants, but adopted this look when I got older.  As a kid, my parents gave me jeans, t-shirts and regular bowl haircuts.

But the point is that I had not real sense of style; coordinating colors, matching shirts with pants, or understanding what was and wasn’t seasonally appropriate was somewhat beyond me.  Occasionally I would add a hat into the mix (non-ball cap, of course), and this would draw further confusion as to my overall appearance.  I remember one girlfriend in particular who would groan when I would show up with a hat, and she would ask me to take it off once we arrived anywhere we went.

During my tenure at The Bookstore, my dress code required button-up shirts, slacks & ties, an outfit that I was ill-suited to provide for my employer at first.  I remember my mom mailing me a box of ties she picked up as a sympathy gift, and I struggled for ages trying to figure out how to keep them around my neck properly, something I never learned growing up.  Our family has always managed to give new meaning to the idea of casual fashion, and ties were never a part of the experience.

I eventually found some shirts that did not match the ties at a thrift store, and had some marginal success locating some pants that maintained the appearance of slacks without actually being slacks.  (Full disclosure: they were “borrowed” from the stock uniform issues by various fast food jobs I’d held prior to that.)  The biggest problem I had was matching the shirts to the pants, which seemed to be beyond my ability.  I wrestled with this every time I worked, and I would get advice from my boss or my girlfriend at the time in the form of, “Don’t wear that.”

Why?  Tell me what I’m doing wrong!  Of course, little would come of this request.  Fashion, so I suspected, was an, “You either got it or you don’t,” quality, which I lacked entirely.  My temporary solution became black and gray pants coupled with white shirts.  Just about any tie could go with that.

Years passed, and I began to pick up the smallest tidbits here and there about what I should (and, more often, shouldn’t) be wearing.  I would resort to the “all one color” solution when it came to matching, or by wearing all wild clothing that would elicit random compliments that did not connect to the little I knew.  As my clothes became more and more monochromatic, I withdrew further and further from a desire to know (or care) about what fashion was really all about.  From what I could gather, you either had to be gay, a regular GQ reader, or employ a team of consultants to “look good,” and whats more, the cost of “nice” clothing was extremely repellant to me.  You want me to spend how much on that pair of jeans?  $80 for shoes you have to replace in a month?  Not playing the game made more sense to me, and by consciously making the decision to drop out of fashion, I was ironically playing the least attractive fashion card there is.

As with many things in my life, dating and women drove my continued fashion frustrations.  Clearly, there was a correlation between the clothes I wore, and the women I met, and more to the point, I was regularly being told by girls I would date that they found my appearance to be less that desirable (ironically, only after I met them).  The solution finally occurred to me one night, while drinking with a number of girls that I had become friends with.  They had launched into a lengthy discussion of clothes, and I began to tune out as I usually did in these circumstances.

However, when one of them mentioned that they had found something for one of their boyfriends, solving the conundrum of clothing finally struck me: have one of these girls take me shopping!  It seemed the perfect compromise to having fashion-conscious friends that I had no idea how to talk to.  About once a year I would arrange one of these shopping trips with one of the girls I knew, and they were more than happy to accommodate.  What girl doesn’t like having a doll they can dress up any way they’d like?  While I was never very good at figuring out how to arrange the clothes on my own once I got home, at least having the clothes in my possession increased my chances of looking good.

When I met my current girlfriend, I was at first a little unnerved by the fact that she would regularly buy clothes for me when I wasn’t around.  The items she bought were quite nice, and while I did have a few things that looked good before I met her, I often felt that my old wardrobe didn’t match up very well with the excellent selections she purchased.  However, I was also nervous about maintaining my own identity.  A lot of the clothes she got for me weren’t exactly part of any style that I had ever maintained, and while they were clearly very nice clothes, it was a look that I had never worn before.  I slowly began to incorporate a shirt here, or a pair of pants there, hoping that I wasn’t veering too far off into the realm of Not Me.

Around the time that we moved in with each other it finally dawned on me that I was worrying for no good reason.  Not only was I making a commitment to her that I felt good about, but it was clear that she was not trying to change who I was, but rather attempting to clothe that person in cool looking threads.  The things she was buying were not particularly far off from some of the styles I’d fooled around with in the past, and now I finally had a woman to take me shopping – and to go shopping for me – in a way that really made me look as good as possible without having to struggle too badly with these abstract fashion concepts I seemed perpetually in the dark about.  Little by little I weeded out all the lame non-dress pants, the falling-apart shirts, and the stupid socks for things that actually looked awesome, and I even beefed up my shoe count to a respectable number instead of relying on one pair of black shoes to go with everything.

There are still times when I have a little fashion freak-out, and feel absolutely baffled by how to make myself look decent.  Today, as I was dressing for my second day of work, and I had a near meltdown, going through three different shirts before I finally convinced myself that I’d landed on something that not only matched but was work-appropriate.  But these moments are rare, now.  One of the incredible comforts of finding a long term partner is that problems like this are no longer things you need to face alone.  A huge worry that has troubled me for most of my life – my own fashion – has been resolved entirely in a way where I don’t have to think about it and I get to look good.  That’s rare in this world, and I owe it all to my girlfriend.

This hasn’t, however, solved the problem of my own fashion nonsense.  I look at clothes, and they still confuse me.  I have no idea why some things match while others do not, and understanding how to determine color coordination is still a big mystery.  What’s funny to me is that, much like art, I can recognize good fashion when I see it, but I have no idea how I could ever go about assembling it on my own.

Steak & Potatoes

Steak & Potatoes
Steak & Potatoes

This is probably not news to anyone, but I am terrible at being a dude.  I have no desire to watch any kind of sports, and the last video game I played was years ago, and involved 8-bit graphics and The Konami Code.  I’m not particularly interested in porn, my inclination to look at, repair, or trouble-shoot engines is almost non-existent, and if given the option, I would rather work indoors, doing something that did not involve manual labor.  I realize that these are merely stereotypes in the first place, and that on the whole I shouldn’t be too concerned about any of this.  But one of my great, secret shames in life has always been that I have never been much of a griller and do not default to “steak” as my first choice for dinner.  Even worse, I have never developed a secret marinade that I pin my pride and manhood upon.

So it goes.  I hear that I’m charming, can string together complete sentences when I want to, and occasionally make jokes that other people laugh at.  For some reason, no one has been impressed by my comprehensive knowledge of Green Lantern, though.

So, the other day I decided to take a stab at skirt steak, which for some reason sounds way dirtier than it actually is.  I decided to include with the meal a baked sweet potatoe  because I will make any excuse in the world to eat sweet potatoe.  (Hey, look!  It’s thursday!  Better have a sweet potatoe!)  And, to round things out – and to give my trips to the bathroom that very special aroma – I went with asparagus as a side.

This was the first time since I’ve decided to actually learn a bit about cooking that I made a series of completely avoidable mistakes.  While I have never been “good” at cooking (no matter how liberal I become with my definition of the word), I screwed up in a few ways that I am even embarrassed to admit.  When I was looking at the marinade recipe, I completely missed the part that said, “Let it sit for two hours,” even though my girlfriend had said as much to me in person when I asked her about the same thing.  This put my dinner two hours behind schedule when I finally got around to making it.  In spite of making a quick sandwich to stave off the hunger that was rapidly setting in, that two hours passed as quickly as it does when you are in High School detention.  The lesson learned here is that even if you think you are listening, you probably should pay even closer attention to what your girlfriend is saying to you at all times.  (With the sub-lesson that, much like when you are cooking with a crockpot, when you are marinading steak you should start earlier than you think you should.)

I baked the potatoe in much the same way many others do: I wrapped in in tin foil, pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees, and threw it in for about an hour.  The potatoe came out great.  For the asparagus, I cooked them in a pan using grapeseed oil, and put a little salt & pepper on them before eating.  I have a terrible time gauging when things are done, and my only criticism here was that I could have cooked them a bit longer.  They were particularly thick pieces of asparagus, and clearly needed more time to cook through entirely.

For the marinade, I used many of the usual ingredients that dads have been telling their sons & daughters to use for generations: soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic salt, olive oil and mustard.  I am quite curious as to what other people use for their marinades, as I can see that this part of the cooking process to really be experimental.  When I was a kid, I was all about eating meat with steak sauce or ketchup, so the idea that you could marinade a steak and then eat it to enjoy these flavors that had soaked in seems very magical to me, and I’ll be curious to try out other ideas.  I could see an entire buffet of different sauces to fit other occasions, and I’ll be curious to dive in to the kitchen lab to see how these turn out once I have more ideas.

Due to the two-hour delay in dinner and the three fingers of whiskey I had consumed, I not only managed to fill the entire house with smoke, but cut myself – twice – while trying to sear the first piece of steak.  (It’s a special skill that I do not recommend you try to develop.)  In my idiocy, I did not cut the steak into pan-sized pieces before I marinaded them, and in trying to cut them up, managed to nick myself on the nuckle.  No real bleeding, but it was enough to distract me.  (I also cut the inside of my wrist on the door latch when trying to dispose of some garbage, too.)  The lesson learned here is: no matter how much you think you’ve planned ahead, you should probably plan ahead a little more.  Cooking is like becoming a serial killer: you want to make sure you cover ALL the bases before shit gets serious.

So I threw the first cut of meat into a completely dry pan that I had made as hot as the surface of the sun.  During my faulty “steak-research,” I had stumbled upon a page that said, “You want to sear your meat in a very hot, dry pan.”  In spite of my instinct to get a few different recommendations and split the differences, I decided to go with this one idea instead.  Many of you are laughing at me right now, as you are able to envision my dropping the steak in the pan, turning to throw away the piece of plastic I had in my hand, cutting the inside of my wrist on the door latch for the garbage, turning away in pain, and then turning back to see smoke billowing into my face from my stove.  It was complete chaos.  I picked up the steak with tongs and turned it over, thinking that this was somehow normal, but a few seconds later, not only was the smoke even thicker, but I was having trouble seeing.  I quickly managed to retrieve a plate, pulled the steak out of the pan, and turned off the stove.  By then, the damage had been done: most of the apartment was completely filled with smoke, my hand was cut up, and the cat was completely baffled as to what was going on, and chose that moment to start meowing with a certain kind of fervency that could only be the cat equivalent of saying, “Uhm, I think something is seriously wrong, dude.”

The lesson learned here is that you should never cook anything on the highest temperature possible in a dry pan.  (And, as a sub-lesson: don’t go with the first solution you find, no matter how sure the page says it might be.)

At this point, I needed to take a break and regroup.  I opened every window, both doors, and turned on the fans, in spite of the fact that I was cold and the sun had already set.  As I was using magazines to wave the smoke out, the cat kept following me around, as if to punctuate every flailing movement with the comment, “No, really, what the fuck were you thinking?  I’d like to know.”  I returned to my research, and found a few other sites that recommended cooking skirt steaks in a pan with a light amount of oil in it, and at a much lower temperature.  I wrapped up my wounds, went back into the kitchen, cleaned up what I could of the ridiculous mess I had made, and assessed how bad the damage was.

As you can probably see in the picture above, there are a few spots on the steak that were, ahem, “blackened.”  (Cajun style!)  But the cut of meat did not look too bad on the whole.  I put it in the dramatically-cooler, better prepared pan and finished cooking both sides.  It was slightly pink on the inside, which seemed to me a safe sign that it wasn’t a total loss.  I added some butter and cinnamon to my sweet potatoe, and cautiously sat down to try my dinner.  To my complete delight, it wasn’t actually that bad.  While there were a couple of bites that were a little more Well Done than I would have  liked, the meal was not ruined, and was actually pretty tasty, in spite of my wounds and overwhelmed-by-smoke senses of smell and taste.

To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I cooked another piece of the steak using this revised, much more sane method, and while everything in the house still smelled and tasted smokey, the steak came out pretty good.  I had this confirmed by my girlfriend, and while she didn’t seem to be thrilled that I had potentially ruined one of her pans, or that the house smelled like there had been a disastrous fire, she did say that the steak was pretty good.  (Though, I think the trade off of offering her a piece of tasty steak still didn’t win out when I had to explain why my had was bandaged twice, the house smelled awful, and I kept hinting at needing to find a new pan.)

But: delicious steak!  I can’t say it was a total failure, right?

Really?

Run In The Rain Forrest, Run
Run In The Rain Forrest, Run

I made my choice to live in Portland as someone who grew up in a rural small town in Oregon.  I am the quintessential Country Mouse who became entranced by the offerings of the Big City, and the wonderful bright and flashy things that a down-home kid can find.  There are books and records and rock shows and strange things to watch and listen to, and if you are into that kind of stuff, then this is the town for you.

Portland, in and of itself, loves to accentuate its “wackiness.”  This is nothing unusual; when has a town ever tried to “sell” people on the idea of their own town being “normal” and “just like everywhere else.”  I appreciate the strangeness that this town tries to embrace, and I would feel a bad if there came a day when the town just threw up its hands and said, “Actually, we want to be more like Salem, Oregon.”  The eccentricities keep me interested.

But really, putting live bands all along the route of the Portland Marathon – and having them start at 7 AM – is probably the most insane thing I can think of at this time.   This goes beyond just being “eccentric” and moves into the territory of just ham-fisted and misguided.  I awoke this morning, after having worked until far into the night, to crowds of people camped out in my yard, with a band playing on the sidewalk two houses down, cheering and screaming for their friends who are running down my street.  A quick glance down the non-marathon side of where I live has also revealed that all the vehicles of my neighbors have been boxed in by the friends of all the runners who have all driven to this neighborhood to watch people run through it.  And, if this one holds true to the marathon from last year, then there will be a huge mess left behind by the spectators who will leave and completely fail to clean up after themselves.

This is not “wacky.”  This is not part of the way that people keep this city “weird.” This is just annoying to me and my neighbors, and fails to cultivate any pride in the city and what it does for the runners, or what cause these people are running for.

I am tempted to go outside with a broom in my pajamas to yell at everyone, but from what I can see through my windows, there are at least 50 people on my block, and several cops running everything.  I want to complain and yell, and then have them offer me some form of sleep aid, so I can go back to sleep.  But at this point, my vitriol will have to be reserved for scathing blog posts.  No one will ever convince me that this is a good idea, for the simple fact that as a resident who lives on the physical path of the marathon, where people are camped out on my porch to watch, not a single person from the city asked me (or my neighbors) how we feel about being woken at 7 AM by live rock music, cheering crowds, and suburban lame-os invading my home.

Fuck the Portland Marathon.

Taco Tuesday

Taco Tuesday
Taco Tuesday

One of the first things that my girlfriend taught me to make (with the intention that I could take on one of the nights of cooking for us) was Tacos.  I’m no stranger to this meal myself: my bachelor version involved burning some meat, microwaving some beans, slathering it all into a huge flour shell, something that I called “the two f’s” (folding and frying), and then adding as much cheese and salsa as it took to cover up any damage I had done.  When she had taught me, it had actually been a long time since I had tried my hand at the meal, mostly because I had eaten it so much for so long that I no interest in making it again.

Once I had completed my first successful, “Taco Tuesday,” she approved that I could officially take over the meal in our weekly routine.  I’ve been doing this now for several weeks, putting to use her tips and tricks in a way that creates a much more edible meal.  (Tips like, “keep an eye on the meat while it’s browning.”)  This week, because of various complications, Taco Night coincided with The Debate, and I had also made another batch of chili (so we would have something to pack for lunches).  While you can’t quite make it out in the picture above, there are, in fact, tacos beneath all the fixin’s.  There is also the token glass of vodka, because cooking seems to work out better when you’re buzzed.

This weeks’ version involved black beans & sausage as the “base.”  I seasoned the sausage with cumin, white pepper, chili powder, and a few shakes of turmeric.  The ground sausage was simply browned.  I’m constantly on the hunt for different spice and flavor combinations, and would love any ideas that you may have.  For our “fixin’s,” I used tomato, red peppers, lettuce, green & white onions, avocado, plain yogurt, cheese & salsa.  (I would love to start making my own salsa too, and if there are any suggestions out there, please let me know.)

Since the chili was nearly done by the time the debate started, I decided to spoon a little on the side to see how it came out.  I was pleased with the spice combination of the chili this time, but it clearly needed a couple more hours to help soften up the vegetables.

Taco Tuesdays have been a fairly big success for me, as it is a hard meal to fuck up.  So long as the meat is edible, and none of the vegetables have gone bad, your tacos will go down without too many complaints.  The only thing you are “cooking” is the meat.  (I guess the beans are technically cooked too, but really you’re just “heating” them.)  After that, it’s just an assembly line process of putting things on that you want in the amounts you prefer.  We have gotten into the habit of “over-loading” our tacos with so much stuff that they really become taco-salads.  Still, I know my girlfriend loves Taco Tuesday, if only because she does not have to do anything in the kitchen.

I would really like to try to make some more authentic tacos; as a Californian by birth, anything truly Mexican is just impossible to resist.  Perhaps if anyone has any recommendations on what to do with shredded beef or pork, I would be happy to give it a shot.  Having gotten pretty good at the basic parts of the meal, I am really looking for new variations on the theme, too.  I would love to hear about the various ways you have developed taco night at your house.  While we’re both huge fans of tacos, I would like to change things up as much as possible, so that we don’t get bored and so I can increase my skill-set when it comes to my usefulness in the kitchen.

Now, wasn’t this better than an analysis of the debate?

Running Backward At Full Speed

The Future's So Bright...
The Future’s So Bright…

Yesterday the speaker went dead on my Borg Implant, and very quickly it became apparent that I was going to have to go to the Borg store downtown to get it fixed and / or replaced.  Most people I know seem to hate going to places like this, but I seem to have a strange love of these experiences.  Perhaps it comes from my years working retail, where I had to spend all my time in a mall, surrounded by people all day, every day.  Regardless, I’m totally into an Ikea trip, or a strange journey into a busy retail space, even if I am not making any purchases.  I’m fairly immune to impulse buys for the most part, and you usually get to see some of the most amazing and confusing examples of humanity when you leave y0ur comfort zone.

While I don’t mind making these kinds of trips, I did decide that I should plan ahead to make mine easier.  Not only did I schedule an appointment at the Genius Borg yesterday, but I gave myself the entire afternoon today in case things ran late for some reason.  I filled a 16oz to-go cup of coffee to help pass the time.  When I arrived 20 minutes early, the place was hoppin’, but knowing that I had scheduled an appointment, I simply checked in and stood at the bar, making eye contact with every employee that even pretended to look my way.

Time passed.

I began to pay attention to the customers that were coming in as my appointment came and went.  Each would complain about something they were angry about, would explain that they didn’t fucking well need appointments, and that they had better get some service or else.  (The “else” in this situation was never made clear, but I assume it was equal to, “I will not give you any more of my money today.”)

When I had finally waited 20 minutes past my scheduled appointment, I decided to use a much more subdued version of this behavior, and waved at every employee that looked in my direction.  After 10 of these waves were made – some of which were at repeated staff members – I finally managed to get someone to ask me if I’d been helped yet.  In spite of the fact that I’d been standing there for 40 minutes, and in spite of the fact that she had seen me standing there previously, I decided to move forward and just get to the point.

I quickly explained that I had an appointment, that I had checked in, and that I just needed an employee to help me.  She explained that she was sorry, and that the reason no one had helped me was that their computers were not functioning, and they couldn’t send a chat message to The Borg Implant Expert.  In spite of the fact that The Borg Implant Expert was 20 feet away – completely ignoring the fact that no one would talk to me until I decided to flag someone down – I nodded my head and said, “I see.”

She quickly walked me over to The Borg Implant Expert, who was engaged in helping a line of customers three people deep.  She stood next to me and said, “I’ll get his attention and tell him you have an appointment.”  Why she said this to me, I’ll never know; she stood patiently next to me and attempted to make eye contact with him to no avail.  Meanwhile, his line was getting longer, and customers came over with the intention of berating the woman who was “helping” me.  After someone demanded of her help with a product that was near the front of the store, she finally walked over to The Borg Implant Expert, grabbed his arm, pointed at me, said something to him that I could not make out, and left.  In a moment of sheer optimism toward humanity, I assumed that this meant I would be helped right away.

After The Borg Implant Expert helped two further customers, he looked at the device in his hand, looked up at a customer that wasn’t even in his line, and walked away with that person, leaving the people who were in his line to ponder their individual fates.  I tried to locate the woman who had been helping me previously, but she was quickly accumulating her own line of customers, and as she had been so entirely helpful before I was a bit apprehensive that a second attempt on her part could lead me to an even more distressing outcome.

Fortunately, it appeared that there was a quick pop wow occurring with a small knott of employees nearby.  Choosing to be more forceful than I had been earlier, I walked over and explained clearly that I had an appointment and needed some help with my Borg Implant, and would love some help as soon as possible.  This didn’t garner any immediate response from anyone, but did warrant accusing eye contact for one guy, and an, “Excuse me,” from another who quickly left the pop wow and accidentally bumped into me on the way out.

At that point I must have looked frustrated, because another employee I had not yet seen came over and asked if I needed some help.  I said yes and explained my situation yet again, adding that I understood there was some sort of computer problem, but that I would still like to get some help if possible.  After explaining all of this to him two more times, he realized that I had scheduled an appointment, though seemed quite confused as to the computer problem that was plaguing the store.  He told me that The Borg Implant Expert was busy helping customers at that moment, but that if I waited right where I was standing, he would return to tell me how long the wait would be.

Ready to leave the store and try again tomorrow, I turned around to find myself face-to-face with The Borg Implant Expert.  He said that he understood I had an appointment and asked what device was giving me trouble (offering that his area of expertise was only with Borg Implants.)  I briefly wondered how it was that he knew I had an appointment and yet didn’t know that the appointment was regarding my phone, which had been outlined when I scheduled the appointment and several times since with a variety of staff.  Instead, I started from the beginning – yet again – and patiently explained that since I had paid for the extended warrantee, that it should be a simple case of replacing the broken speaker, or getting a new Borg Implant entirely.

The Borg Implant Expert tried to log into the system to see if my story checked out.  “It seems that the computers are down for some reason,” he said.  How, exactly, this was news to him was beyond my understanding.  Regardless, he asked me if I had tried rebooting the Borg Implant (yes), and if I was sure that the speaker was broken, or if the volume was just turned down.  I rebooted the Borg Implant in front of him, which caused his face to light up in confusion.

I loaded up an .mp3 and played it for him, illustrating to him the various symptoms that had led me to the diagnosis I had made.  He stopped me several times, as he seemed to be quite confused by the various menus I was navigating, and more importantly, by the volume buttons on the side I was using to adjust the sound.  However, after a good five minutes of me teaching him some of the ins and outs of the product of which he was in charge, he determined that the speaker was, in fact, dead and that it did, in fact, need replacing.

He once again tried to log into the system to retrieve my information, but encountered some sort of problem that he didn’t quite understand.  He gave up and explained that replacing the speaker would take “15 – 20” minutes, and that I would have plenty of time to go and get a coffee and do some shopping while I waited.  I decided that it was best not to draw attention to the 16oz to-go cup of coffee I had been sipping on the whole time, and instead opted to leave the store for a few minutes to help clear my head.  I briefly considered either starting smoking again, or just killing myself.

Giving The Borg Implant Expert the benefit of the doubt, I was gone for 30 minutes, hoping that the extra time would account for a few customer interruptions, and further continued efforts on his part to log into the system again.  When I returned I walked through the store but could not find him, so I took up a post at the place where I had left him before, hypothesizing that he would look there first.  Another 10 minutes past, and he finally emerged to stand by the Genius Borg, scanning the store in every location save for the one where he had last helped me.  Another employee leaned over and whispered something to him, and he nodded and walked right past me toward the front of the store, beginning to get impatient.  On his return trip, as if by random chance, he noticed me and exclaimed, “There you are!  I was looking everywhere for you.”

The Borg Implant Expert explained that the speaker replacement had been a success, and that he just had to try and log into the system again so I could sign some paperwork, after which I could be on my way.  When that didn’t work he shrugged and offered that I, “seemed trustworthy,” then disappeared into the back room again for a few more minutes.  He re-emerged with my Borg Impant, and explained that, “It should work, I think.”

He handed it to me, but before I could activate it, he took it from my hands again and offered, “Wait, I should check and see if the wireless is working,” apropos of nothing.  After two attempts, I showed him where the wireless setting is located, and we both waited with rapt attention as my Borg Implant tried to connect.  I imagined that, in his mind somewhere, there was a script that he was supposed to use to explain to the customer why being able to connect to the wireless was important under these circumstances, but that in his current state, something was preventing that script from running.

Regardless, the Borg Implant connected without incident, and in a bizarre twist to the entire story, I thanked him and left the store.  I would like to think that I was thanking him for wasting my time, but in reality, I believe it was merely a reflex in the hopes that I could get out of the store sooner.

Clearly, I am not against the use or development of technology, and in many ways I feel that devices like this make me happy.  I would also like to think that I don’t behave like these employees when I interact with other people, and that I regularly use skills like “perception” and “reason” to make sense of the world around me so I can approach approach situations using forethought and caution.

What baffled me most is that the cornerstones of my experiences in the world of retail – taking careful notes and applying good customer service – seemed to be absent from every step of my experience today.  If, at some point, one of the employees had considered asking if they could help me, and then wrote down my problem when they had to pass the buck to someone else, it would have cut down on the confusion and frustration tremendously.  It might have even established a precedent that could have made future interactions with other customers much easier to deal with.  Instead, their reliance on technology to help them with every aspect of their jobs – the point where they barely understand the technology they are using in really basic ways – not only prevented any kind of efficiency, but completely undermined the purposes of the technologies in question.

Ironically, this has not soured my experiences when it comes to going to places like this.  Most likely, against my better judgement, I will jump at the chance to go to The Mall again, knowing full well that it will be full of strange idiots, befuddling encounteres, new-found depths of inefficiency, and a complete lack of awareness on the part of anyone I meet.   It is my chance to be completely entertained by the real-life Idiocracy that is developing before my eyes, and since I am in no position to stop it, the very least I can do is occasionally offer myself front row seats to the most entertaining show available: real life, in action.