Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Are to Be Dead Birds, But Not Today

Look both ways before crossing the street Space Travelers.  This evening, while driving home, a squirrel darted into the road.  The car about 20 ft in front of me in the lane to my left prevented the squirrel from making it all the way across.  I made for a hasty retreat, but  Johnny Freedom Karr was headed right for it.  I could not stop, nor did I have the maneuvering room to turn.  I saw the squirrel flatten down just before its small frame disappeared behind the horizon of JFK's hood.  It was hard to tell if the squirrel would be clear of my wheels.  After passing over, I looked in my rear view mirror.  I saw nothing.  It vanished.  I was relieved.  Twice before, I've struck an animal...

...Both were birds.  

One instance stands out in my mind.  I was on my way into work one evening, and two birds swooped down.  One went too low and I struck it.  I heard the soft sound.  I'd swear I could feel it in my hands through the steering wheel.  I know that's very unlikely, but when it happened, I felt like it  struck my heart.  I was pierced.  

As I drove, I looked back in the mirror.  I saw it laying in the road.  One wing up in the air.  It was beating its raised wing with a terribly frantic rhythm.  That, or it was already dead, and it was the wind that simply moved the bird's lifeless wing.  As I slowed to the stoplight, I continued to look back in the mirror.  The second bird landed next to dead or dying bird.  It hopped around with its head down looking at the wounded bird.  I'm not one to anthropomorphize animal behavior*, but I couldn't help but try and put myself in the bird's head.  Did it know what had happened to the other bird?  Did it feel sad?  Did it hate me for killing the other bird?  I pondered things like if they were mates, and what our chance cosmic encounter could mean.  Did they have a nest?  Eggs?  How long would the bird stay there by the dead bird before it flew off?  Would it return to that spot later, or would it leave and never think of the spot or occasion again?

The light turned green.  I could not stay there.  I drove on, and as I left, I saw the bird still there bouncing around looking at the ground.  The scene faded from view, but not from mind. Thoughts of this bird would be in my head all day while I worked.  

This was life.  This was nature--It was not cruel, but indifferent.  In my life, I'll have to be the dead bird only once, but all have to be the surviving bird numerous times over.  I think the terror is that I realize I'm more prepared to die than to deal with death.  To mourn is agony.  It is not beautiful.  So while I'm not the bouncing bird, I'll still have to fly away; I'll still have to still go when the light turns green.  When death takes my friends and family, I'll have to keep moving.  I can't stay arrested on the side of the road trying to understand it, there may be no answer.  I can't just stay angry and blame something.  I can't simply regret this... regret that.  I'll be a dead bird one day, but until then, I can't use my life just staring at the earth.

*Space Traveler Fact:  Anthropomorphizing is reserved for electronics and vehicles.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chapter 33; Verse 1: The Autobahn Less Traveled

Guten Abend mine Space Travelers.  Ya!  We are having fun now! He he.

It's been a while since I've strapped myself into plane and ventured off.  I was investigating a trip to Europe for a while.  I needed to get out and meet people; have a cultural experience.  I needed to be put in a new context.  I find that when I travel, I see myself in the third person (sort of).  I think now is a good time for that.  I'm coming out of a huge period of change and some reflection on who I'm becoming would be good.

Hans Liberty Auto
The plan is to land in Berlin on August 31st, and fly out on September 13th.  I have a rental car reserved, and everything else (like lodging or figuring out how to order vegan food in other countries...) I'll improvise.  Not much of a plan, but I'm confident in my ability to make this work.  In many ways this trip has many similar elements to my 2007 road trip that started this blog.  I'm traveling alone, which in many ways seems like I'm missing out on the whole "sharing the experience."  I do like to have travel companions, but there is something incredibly satisfying about the independence and autonomy of single travel.  In 2007, I had not planned to hang a sharp turn and go off the planned route, but had I not, I would have missed Devil's Tower and (this detail stands out to me) the prairie dogs in the surrounding plain.  

So I have a general path sketched out, but nothing in concrete.  My goal is to hit Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt, and anything that catches my attention in transit between.

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Toilets: Stand Up, Seat Down

Let's do it wrong Space Travelers!  When was the last time you challenged why you do something?  What defines what is the correct way?  Try doing something wrong, and often enough, you'll find out.

There is the perennial joke about men and how we leave the toilet seat up.  Silly manfolk bipedal urinators, why pee standing?  Nobody can function at such an altitude!

I want this.
I'd never really had to deal with the seemingly inevitable debate.  That was until about four-ish years ago.  I was scolded for leaving the seat up.  I was confused.  It seemed harsh to meet such a sudden reprimand for a single offense.  I went into the bathroom and the seat was down.  I assumed she had lowered it.  A few days later, the topic came up again, and again I was confused.  I went into the bathroom and the seat was down.  In protest, I pointed out that the seat was down.  It was when she came in that the issue became clear to me.  She marched in, then lowered the lid.  I had not been leaving the seat up, but rather the lid.  The break down in communication came from the difference in what we were calling the seat.  Quickly this became one of those cases where you simply let the girlfriend win the argument because life is really too short to be fighting over toilet anatomy, and it's a suicide mission to correct a girlfriend on matters of definition or terminology.

We have in modern western society created a cultural practice of putting the seat down, and apparently this includes the lid (in eastern societies, they use a different toilet or the toilet just makes all the choices for you while playing music.  See also: Weird Japanese things).  It seems that to have an exposed and open toilet bowl is an offense worth a potty harangue from the lady-mate.  Or so it seems.  However, what in these last four years I haven't been able to wrap my head around is why?  Who crafted this rule?  Why do toilets have lids?  If lids are a part of being polite, why don't public restrooms have lids on their toilets?  It seems odd that our public choice should be less rude than what we choose to do in private residencies.  Seat and lid down could be the righteous thing to do, but I want to understand why.  The unexamined life is hardly worth living, and that includes etiquette in the water closet.

As it turns out, some answers are available.  The first matter to address is the public restroom.  As it turns out, it's a law.  The Uniform Plumbing Code Section 409.2.2 requires the use of an "open seat," but allows an exception for private residences.  The reasoning offered for the use of the open seat varies (splash back, genital contact, ease of cleaning, etc), but all logic offered resolves to some sort of sanitary measure as the common denominator.  In the interest of public health, the lid is omitted entirely.  Civilization seems to have a low priority on the lid, so why and how did this become an element of good manors in our homes?  

"No!  I will not calm down!  The lid is symbolic of this entire relationship!"
A male-female cohabitation is the battleground in which this war is commonly waged (drunk in a bar was a close second).  The common assertion from our finer halves is that they are "tired of putting the seat down for us."  Pulling someone else's weight can be a real drag so I am sympathetic.  Not to nitpick, but aren't they putting the seat down for themselves?  The reverse certainly could be said as well, and we'd think not twice about a man having to lift the seat for himself.  He's not doing it because she forgot anything, he's simply putting the toilet in the desired configuration.  If he leaves either the lid or seat up and the next desired configuration is that it be resting in a horizontal orientation, the action is no more dramatic than lifting the seat before toilet use.  In fact, when transitioning the seat out of the upright position, gravity is on your side.  Voila!  Now, all of the above can be used to argue either way for whose responsibility it is to put the toilet seat where, but at the heart of this intellectual quest is the matter of determining what the default position is.

In finding the default, let us summon science again.  In the highest tradition of Newtonian physics, we note that a seat in the upright position is a dynamically stable system with a greater potential energy than the statically stable system of the seat being down.  In the interest of using energy efficiently, it seems that lifting the seat is a waste.  However, a lid in the down position requires the expenditure of energy for all users because it obstructs waste from entering the bowl.  If the lid serves a function, then this use of energy may be a worth while investment.  We should investigate possible functions.

Get lost in the beauty
The purpose of a lid is in itself a debate.  At its simplest, it is purely ornate.  I've examined images of both toilets with and without lids.  I've decided there is merit to this argument.  The lid increases the surface area of the toilet as a unit and provides a large flat area which is ideal for decoration.  Anyone who has researched the housing market knows that kitchens and bathrooms are what sell homes.  So who wouldn't want to protect their investment?  Transforming the one place where you produce the worst sounds and smells into a work of art is a creative pursuit, and I support that kind of thing.

Beyond aesthetics, there is a functional element to the lid itself.  For those who find themselves tired after a long a stressful day at work, a toilet with its lid down provides a sturdy bench.  In terms of posture, a firm lid promotes proper spinal alignment, and by most designs, the height is such that the hamstring and shin will form a comfortable angle with each other and with respect to the floor.  If the toilet has a rear tank, the individual may find its cold porcelain therapeutic to sore muscles and enjoy the lower lumbar support.  To have good posture is to live well.

Earth day is everyday
Another utilitarian theory about the lid is that it acts as a two-way defensive barrier.  This school of thought takes into account two main (but numerous secondary) scenarios.  The first is to keep whatever is in the toilet from escaping out.  Currently, this has only proven effective against large vermin such as rats that swim up the pipes.  Attempts have been made to stop odors and insects from escaping, however, in 2010, our toilet technology simply does provide a viable solution for these common foes.  The second form of defense is the idea that the lid will keep things from getting inside the toilet.  It is unknown at this time, but conservative figures suggest that as many as 50 bazillion pristine toilet bowls have been contaminated when a user accidentally or intentionally dropped their $200.00 cell phone in.  Most mobile phones and PDAs operate on lithium ion batteries and the run-off toxins from such a spill would render the toilet water unsafe to drink.  I don't need to belabor the point, the lid can provide both security and an eco-safeguard to the local watershed.

A prototype hybrid unit
Given the complications that arise from toilets with actionable seats and lids, I began to wonder if it would be simpler if we simply fixed the seat to the bowl, and removed the lid all together.  Seats and lids are movable parts and are prone to damage.  The average American household spends over $26,000.00 on toilet maintenance in a given year.  This cost could be cut by up to 50%, and free up monetary resources for struggling families if fixed-seat toilets were installed.  This removes an unnecessary choice when using the bathroom, and helps save time (no doubt, equally important as money).  Don't think we can build it?  Wrong dummy!  This is the U.S. of A! We already have them, and they are being implemented in US prisons across the nation where in 2008 2,304,115 happy inmates use them daily without up-or-down dilemma.  Additionally, a seat that can't be removed, can't be used as a weapon in a cell-block uprising.  Now that's something we can all believe in:  A safer America.

I encourage all people to explore why we do what we do.  I used to be a mindless drone putting the toilet seat and lid down because I was told to do so.  Now when I place them down, I'm doing it for my own reasons.  It shows I care.  It's a message to my loved ones.  A message that I take pride in the appearance of my home.  It says that I care for my body.  It's a warning to rodent sewer intruders that "United We Stand." A lid down is the proud badge of the eco-minded individual.  Lastly, it says to all those that follow me into the bathroom that I trust in their ability to make the right choice, and that without the freedom to choose, it's no different than being in prison.  Don't just take my word for it though.  I encourage everyone to set out on the noble quest to find answers to this and other very emotional and personal questions about the human condition.  They may say "Whatever dude.  You thought waaaaaay too much about this."  Cognito ergo sum toileto seato summissus.  I think, therefore I lower the toilet seat.

"Go away!  I'm pooping!"
(428–427 BCE)

As a last note Space Travelers, in my research, I discovered many new and exciting ways to use a toilet.  If you attempt these at home, it should be under proper supervision, and always after doing warm up stretches.

The Side-Saddle:  This stance elongates the frame and is quite sliming.  Showcase your classic elegance with this old time favorite. Good for group settings.

The Sea-Doo:  This sporty stance is for advanced users only.  This is of course a slight modification on the "Stallion" which required stir-ups.  This method provides all the enjoyment of the Stallion without the expensive equipment.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

vLog Unspecial 07: Impersonations

Here is the companion video Space Travelers.

Don't forget to rate the video and follow me on Facebook.  I plan to keep drawing more faces as a side project.  I will upload all the face pictures into a picture folder on the facebook account where you can post comments on the pictures themselves and what type of character you think they'd be.


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari