Friday, February 25, 2011

Car Horns Are Worse Than The Hydrogen Bomb

I can always tell when it's Friday. The building that houses my office is on Varick Street in New York City, a couple of blocks from the Holland Tunnel, so every Friday at about 4pm, the sound of horns honking in backed-up traffic gets louder and more frequent and more insistent, reaching a fever pitch at about 5, a chorus of pointless noise pollution.

I always wonder what people think they're accomplishing when they honk their horns in traffic. Especially in a situation like this, where everyone can clearly see cars backed up to the horizon line. When you can't even see the bottleneck, how is honking going to help? Whatever is causing the blockage can't hear you, and I have a feeling that whoever is at the front of this line is just as eager to get to Jersey City as you are. As is everyone else in this long line, a line with no end and no beginning, a line of desperate souls stuck in the last place they want to be. Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic, and everybody would like to forget about how inconvenient all this is.

But thank you for the reminder, Mr. Horn Honker! For a second there I almost got lost in an interesting conversation with my passengers, or the music on my iPod, or a lively discussion on the radio, or taking in some of the lovely architecture. Thank you for reminding me that this sucks and I should be actively hating it, myself, and everyone around me. Without your help, I might have momentarily forgotten.

I guess it releases a little bit of tension. It feels cathartic to make a loud noise. I get that. It's almost as good as screaming or something. Unfortunately, the tension you're releasing is not disappearing into the astral plane, but being offloaded onto everyone around you. When you're not expecting it, a close car horn will make you jump in your seat, mutter a swear word, and wonder why the spot between your neck and your shoulder suddenly feels tight.

Everyone agrees that horn honking is the worst and most annoying thing about living in a city. I have personally polled everybody in New York and a 98.6% majority agrees with me. Various respondents have offered potential solutions for the problem. Higher fines for unnecessary honking has already been tried, but in a city like this it's an unenforceable joke (unless all 11 million of us are deputized and armed). The death penalty for unnecessary honking is a nice fantasy, but the ACLU will surely block the way, citing the rights of that perennially abused minority (assholes).

So how do we tackle this problem? It seems to me that some kind of modification of the honking mechanism is required. One of my favorite suggestions came from a friend who said that all horns should come with a finite number of honks in them. I like that one, but it has problems, mainly that it depends on the user to budget their honking, which based on the recent budgeting history of this country is not going to work. So just let them use up all their honks and then they don't have a horn, right? It's important to remember that car horns do have a necessary function, which is to avert accidents by alerting other drivers to dangerous situations before they turn disastrous. We can't leave people driving around with no horn.

So here's what I propose: modify all car horns so that they are just as loud, if not louder, INSIDE the car as they are OUTSIDE the car.

Think about it: the sound of a sudden car horn honk is jarring, disturbing, and damaging to the ears to everyone except the person sitting in the car that's honking. So if you're sitting idly in traffic and feeling impatient, would you be so quick to honk that horn if it's going to leave your own ears ringing? Not so cathartic now, is it?

And on the flip side, if another car is drifting into your lane and about to cause an accident, you would probably be okay with some temporary hearing loss if it prevents a 9-car pileup.

It's win-win! So come on, Congress, get to work and start fixing the real problems this nation faces. And when you're done with car horns, you can get started on car alarms.*

*Car alarms: the most perfect real-world expression of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Has anyone ever said, "Oh my god, call the police! I hear a car alarm! We have to prevent a grand theft auto in progress!" No. That has never happened in the history of the car alarm. It is the most useless invention in this history of inventions and it's time to outlaw them.  

But the horn thing first.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Huffington Post Is A National Disgrace

I recently made a decision that has changed my life for the better. This is not a big, earthshaking choice like giving up alcohol or having a child; it's more like I removed a constant annoyance from my daily routine. It's like that old joke: Man raises his arm and tells his doctor, "It hurts when I go like this." And the doctor says, "Don't go like that."

In this case, "don't go like that" means "stop visiting The Huffington Post."

I don't mean to say that I would go to the site and come away hopping mad or with my blood boiling. I agree politically with probably 80% of what's published there. But in all media, tone is everything and I can't stand the misleading, tabloid-style headlines, the 80-point fonts, the celebrity bloggers... I hate the tone of this website, and I can't take any more. It's over, Huffington Post.

A lot of left-leaning people like to lament the lack of a news outlet equivalent to The Drudge Report or Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and there have been various efforts over the last decade to make those happen, with varying success. But The Huffington Post is Exhibit A in why such a thing does nobody any good.

When this site started, it was supposed to be like a less obnoxious, unbiased Drudge Report. (Liberals think that "unbiased" means "liberal," but I have no problem with that; conservatives think it means "conservative." That's just human nature.) And for a while, it kind of was. But it obviously either wasn't getting the eyeballs to make it profitable (or more likely, profitable enough) so it started pandering and raising the headline sizes and removing any pretense of objectivity and goosing up the gossip coverage.

I don't need objectivity. I don't have a problem with bias in a news story-- I kind of doubt it's possible for anyone to be totally unbiased. I'm a big boy with a fully functioning frontal lobe; I can spot the bias and take whatever news it accompanies with the necessary grain of salt. Bias doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the constant indulgence in sniggering over minutiae. Making mountains out of molehills is a trademark of the right-wing noise machine, as is feigned outrage, and HuffPo is doing its best to outdo them at both. Hasn't anyone ever heard of the Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Sarah Palin is their current whipping post: everything out of this woman's mouth gets a headline, even if it's just a verbal typo. To be clear: I can't stand Sarah Palin and I think she is the most manifestly unfit leader to ever achieve national recognition. She makes Dan Quayle look like Abraham Lincoln. But it doesn't give me any pleasure to revel in her every tortured, obviously self-serving statement. If we really want her to go away -- and I really want her to go away -- the best thing we can do is ignore her. (She would really hate it, too, which is a bonus.) So how 'bout we do that? 

The other, equally aggravating HuffPo staple is its flogging of gossip stories. Now look: I like a nice gossip story as much as the next guy -- the last entry in this space was about Lindsay friggin' Lohan -- but can you at least do me the courtesy of limiting the gossip stories to be about people I've actually heard of? Are people that interested in the comings and goings of Padma Lakshmi? Who is Padma Lakshmi, while we're on the subject? She's beautiful, but why do I care if she's pregnant? And who is Kendra? I remember a 28-day period where the HuffPo homepage featured screaming headlines about Kendra (no last name ever given) every single day. 

But the worst thing about this site, by far, BY FAR, is its celebrity bloggers. Who decided that just because someone's been in a movie they deserve prominent real estate on a news outlet? Alec Baldwin is funny on 30 Rock and I largely agree with his politics, but does that mean his every stray thought needs to be read by the world? Harry Shearer is responsible for some of my favorite comedy ever -- he's Mr. Burns AND Derek Smalls -- but his strident, condescending writing is unreadable by me.

But the most headscratchingly awful writing on this site, and in fact that I've ever seen on the Internet (which I think we can agree is saying something) is the unhinged blatherings of Jamie Lee Curtis. Allow me a couple of quotes. First, from her Jan. 27 post, "Nothing To Undo":
Today, not yesterday and probably not tomorrow, but today, this moment, I have Nothing to Undo. I have not done something I am regretting or have not put into motion something that will gather steam, like the cartoon snowflake turning into a giant snowball. This place of relative equanimity comes from my idea that inner-direction has shifted to be at least at best equal to my constant outer-directedness.

Huh? I have read this three times... wait... make that four times, and I have no idea what it says.

One more, from the September 15, 2010 post "Consider The Source":

As my ubiquity reaches its promotional peak, and I am asked daily to opine about a young co-star's public fumbling and what I consider the source of her issues, I come back of course to look at my own. We all are a product of our parents, our environment, our peers, and yet when we look in the mirror we are looking at the problem... and the solution. As parents we all need to remember that we are our children's most important source, and the greatest gift we can give them is the permission to have their own opinion backed up by good discourse and debate, and of course by asking good questions. Believe me, at 52, I am just figuring it out, and I am trying to be careful about what I feed my son without asking if he really likes what I am dishing up and being willing to hear NO. 
Food for thought.

Yes, food for thought. First thought: Who gave you a blog? Second thought: "As my ubiquity reaches its promotional peak"? What does that even mean? Third thought: Who ends their own musings with "Food for thought?" I'll tell you who: people way too impressed with their own musings.

Both of these posts sat on the Huffington Post homepage for weeks. Weeks. On the front page of what is ostensibly a news source. I don't begrudge anyone the right to spout off on the Internet. If people love the writings of Jamie Lee Curtis, I would encourage those people to seek those writings out. On or whatever. But even the Drudge Report doesn't give key real estate to, say, Kelsey Grammer. Even The New York Times makes you look for the editorials.

With this constant elevation of celebrities, both by its extensive gossip coverage and by featuring the blogs of celebrities over the blogs of experts, The Huffington Post is contributing to the general belief that celebrities are better than everyone else, and that is not cool. So I'm not reading it anymore.

Food for thought.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lindsay Lohan Should Get The Death Penalty

I have worked as a bartender in a very popular bar in New York City for the last eight years, and one of my greatest pleasures in the job can be described like this:

Pretty girl comes up to the bar. Orders something at the upper scale of the price range (Grey Goose cosmo. Grey Goose dirty martini. Grey Goose is very popular with the type of person I'm about to describe). I go to make the drink, and when I return the girl will have busied herself with something: looking at her phone, digging through her purse, something like that. She will completely avoid eye contact with me as I stand there looking at her, waiting for my opening to tell her she owes me eleven dollars. Sometimes, when the bar is busy and I have other customers waiting, I will leave her to finish her business, serve someone else, and then come back to her. By now, she will have let her guard down, and I lean down on the bar, as though beginning a conversation, and say quietly, "Can I ask you something?"
"What's that?" she'll reply conspiratorially, probably expecting me to offer her a shot or ask her where she's from.
"Do you have eleven dollars for that drink?"

Her face falls. Obvious annoyance registers in her eyes. She comes close to actually shaking her head as if to say "Can you believe this prick?" but doesn't. She can't believe she is being asked to pay for what she ordered.

There are more egregious variations on this scenario. More often than you'd think, some pretty girl (usually not as pretty as she thinks she is) will announce (not ask for, announce) that she wants a free drink or even a free round of shots. I cannot tell you how much I love to tell this person "Absolutely not."

Why do I take such delight in this? Is it because I hate women? Is it because I like to be a dick to women? No it is not. The best thing about the job-- I'm only a man, after all-- is the parade of beautiful girls that I get to bear witness to, briefly interact with, and then (most likely) never see again.*

The issue here is entitlement. The worst quality a person can have, in my opinion, is the conviction that they deserve special treatment without a moment's effort to earn it. This quality is not exclusive to women, or beautiful women-- most people, male or female, beautiful or otherwise, are nice, reasonable, and happy to pay for whatever they order-- but in my experience it's much more common to them.

It's not all their fault: they are conditioned to feel this way by the many horny dudes that have bought them drinks, the many horny bartenders that have given them whatever they want for nothing, the horny doormen that let them in without waiting in line or paying the cover, the horny DJs that play whatever crap they ask for, the horny waiters that bring them appetizers they didn't order.

But it's still pretty gross. To believe that you are somehow better than everyone else just because of the genetic hand you were dealt-- the luck of the draw, nothing more-- makes you no better than Hitler. That's right, Hitler!

I mention all this because I saw someone reading about the recent (and less recent, and generally ongoing) legal troubles of actress Lindsay Lohan in the Post on the subway this morning. She now faces felony theft charges for allegedly stealing a very expensive necklace from a jewelry store. A couple of years ago she was accused (but not charged with) stealing someone's super-expensive mink coat from a nightclub. Last year she was accused (but not charged with) keeping a Rolex someone left at her house (and then tried to get back). And as everyone knows, she has a long history of drunk driving, drug offenses, and behavior generally unbefitting a lady, notably including missing a court date because she didn't want to come home from the Cannes film festival. (She claimed that she couldn't come back because her passport was stolen).

This is all entitlement taken to its most extreme. Based on having been in a few movies (though I can't think of any except the FREAKY FRIDAY remake, the LOVE BUG remake, and MEAN GIRLS**, only one of which I would even classify as "watchable"), this person thinks she has the right to do anything she wants and the rest of us are supposed to pick up the check, clean up her mess, and thank her for the privilege.

A friend of mine used to work as stage manager at a very exclusive nightclub here in New York, and she once told me of coming into contact with Ms. Lohan. It seems she was blocking the stairs and creating a fire hazard, and my friend politely told her so and asked her to move. Lindsay replied: "Do you know who I am?" My friend said, "I do, but right now you're also a fire hazard." Lindsay then continued about her business as though my friend wasn't there and the conversation hadn't happened.

What is that? That is entitlement. Should Ms. Lohan be convicted of the charges she currently faces, I think she should be given the maximum sentence. Actually, I think she should be given more than the maximum sentence: she should be given the death penalty. We need to make an example of her. Not an example to other celebrities, but to all those entitled assholes running around thinking just because their face is more symmetrical than the next one that they don't have to play by the same rules as everybody else.

One other thing: natural redheads are rare and lovely. There could be no clearer sign that this jerk went Hollywood when she lost 30 pounds (not an improvement) and bleached her hair. Because movie stars are blonde and skinny, get it? And I'm a movie star! And where's my champagne? I shouldn't have to ask for it! Where's my assistant? This is bullshit!

Seriously: death penalty.


*Being happily married is such a blessing in this area. Rather than get tongue-tied and awkwardly try to figure out some way to impress a beautiful girl-- which I undoubtedly would if I were single-- I am perfectly content to enjoy her like a walking work of art until the moment she leaves, and then never worry about seeing her again, getting in touch, finding her on Facebook, bumming out that I didn't make a better impression, etc. Taking this weight off of interaction with the opposite sex is enormously liberating, and is one of the best things about (my) marriage.

**Ironic, isn't it, that Lindsay got top billing in that movie and was unquestionably the star and the hottest property coming out of it, but now, a short seven years later, all of her co-stars (Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan) are having far better careers, have all proven themselves to be much better actresses, and incidentally are all looking much (much, much) better than this entitled little prick. Lesson: Be nice and take care of yourself.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Night of the Yellow Pants

I hated all the Super Bowl ads last night (except for the Darth Vader kid, which I loved because that is exactly where my 4-year-old son is at right now. It's amazing how expressive he is even when he has his Iron Man helmet on and we can't see his face.). Every ad was so totally, transparently gimmicky-- every single commercial I was just waiting for the "turn" when it was going to go for its watercooler moment. When you're waiting for that to happen, it doesn't even work when it does happen. And every ad is so obviously trying to top the others (without knowing what anyone else is going to do), they're working backward from "be outrageous."

For example: when the cowboys start singing "Tiny Dancer"(in whatever ad that was, I don't remember. Bad sign, ad guys, bad sign) I'm not thinking "Oh that's so clever!" I'm thinking a) "That's the best twist they could come up with?" and b) "What took so long to get to it?"

And what is with all the ads with people getting clocked with Pepsi cans? In the first place, they were obviously CGI, which takes me out of every cinematic moment, whether it's comedy or drama or whatever. If I'm thinking about computers, your film isn't working. Secondly, it's not really funny even if it does look real (which it doesn't). And thirdly, repeating a joke, as every ten year old eventually has to be taught, doesn't make it funnier.

I was never particularly a fan of Eminem, but it was still a little sad to see him in two (2) different commercials. Just like that, old Marshall turns in his chips. It would have been better if they'd been in reverse order, and the Detroit car ad had come first. At least it would have read like he was a hometown boy trying to save his city. Instead, the claymation Eminem explaining why he always turns ads down because he hates the products, only to reveal that he gave in to the flavor of Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, was unspeakably depressing. Next year: Rage Against The Machine bobbleheads for Snickers!

But all of that was just prelude to the awful, awful spectacle of the Black Eyed Peas' halftime show. I have never been a fan, or even more than passingly familiar with the Black Eyed Peas -- I knew Fergie was in their band, but I couldn't have named any of their songs. I bartend a couple nights a week, and last night I learned that all those crappy songs that I can't stand that the DJs play every Friday and Saturday night and I don't know what they are? Yeah, those are all Black Eyed Peas songs. (Okay, to be fair a couple of them are Katy Perry.)

Where to begin with this trainwreck? The costumes were awful. Fergie made history as the first drag queen ever to headline a Super Bowl halftime show, and's helmet made him look like a black Max Headroom (not a compliment). The moment they hit the bare stage armed with nothing but microphones, I feared the worst, but I couldn't have imagined what a flat, crappy-sounding performance they were about to give.

The Super Bowl is no stranger to sound challenges. The last few years have seen the Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Prince at the fifty yard line. These are all complex productions with dozens of mics and instruments to mix, and whatever you thought of their performances, all of those acts sounded fine when they had their turn. The Black Eyed Peas had five signals for the sound guy to contend with: the four "vocalists" (for lack of a better word), and the prerecorded track they were "singing" (for lack of a better word) to. And yet, the track was barely audible and except for the autotune they drenched with, the vocals were totally dry (meaning no reverb or echo to smooth it out), making the whole thing sound like karaoke. Bad karaoke.

Oh wait, I guess the sound guy had six channels to mix-- I forgot about Slash rising out of the stage with a sequined top hat to play "Sweet Child O'Mine." Fergie really outdid herself in this section, warbling like she was doing an Axl impression (never a good idea) for sixteen bars before Slash disappeared back into the stage, presumably to make an angry call to his agent.

Worse than the sound or their terrible voices, though, the "band" (for lack of a better word) seemed totally disengaged from the biggest gig of their lives. It was awful, a total disaster, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the first time ever, I wished I was on Twitter, so I could keep up with what I assume was an avalanche of hilarious remarks about the debacle. I still haven't signed up for Twitter, but this is a start, I guess.