Unadulterated Pleasure and Washing Clothes

I despise doing laundry.  Sure, like everybody, I get joy from having clean clothes.  And there’s nothing inherently awful about using a washing machine or dryer.  It’s the folding part that brings on thoughts of suicide.  Ultimately, when I do my own laundry, my folded clothes come out of the dryer and I turn them into clean, folded, terribly wrinkled clothes.  I put on these clothes and it looks like I just rolled out of bed.  I hate that look.

I’ve always considered myself a capable guy and able to acquire any skill.  The truth is, I can acquire any skill EXCEPT neat folding.  Also, I’m not very good at reading instructions before I try to use new technology.  I can read them after I become terribly frustrated, but I can’t bring myself to read them first.

Though I do my best to avoid the laundry, I have to do it on occasion.  Today, when putting a bunch of towels in the dryer, I had an epiphany.

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There is a single, harmless, pure joy in the world, and that is clearing the dryer filter of lint.  That and puppies, but this blog isn’t about puppies.

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Isn’t he cute eating his own foot while the other shows us his butt?  Now ignore the picture as it has nothing to do with this post.

 

I have asked many people and the anecdotal evidence is clear:  Everyone loves removing the lint from the filter.  The lint comes off in one piece, is minimally dirty, and it leaves the filter virtually spotless.  Since everything in the dryer was cleaned in the washer first, it even smells pleasantly like your fabric softener.  And it’s necessary, so you are doing something useful by getting rid of it.  Cleaning it is fast and efficient.  The only downside is after the process is finished, when you realize that mankind has not measurably improved by your act.

Something about cleaning the filter meshes perfectly with the natural anal retentiveness of the human mind.  It is the same joy as staring at the freshly removed Bioré strip, but much less disgusting than the impurities that were on your nose.  Where does our fascination with making something perfectly clean originate?  When you smear on the white wax on a car in careful little circles, then use a clean towel to get rid of the residue, you leave behind a sparkling paint job.  No white circles remain after you are done.  It’s not the applying of the wax that give true pleasure, but its removal.  The feeling of removing Elmer’s glue from your fingers in long perfect strips is satisfying.  But Why?

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This is how I imagine a Bioré strip looks up close.  Ugh.

 

This is especially apparent when something is peeled off.  Using paint remover and rubbing away a stray drop is one thing, but to peel off that dried drop of paint is much better.  I don’t know why this is so, but I’ve recognized this since I was a kid playing with arts and crafts.

When in our evolution did it become useful to give us pleasure from peeling away a layer?  Of course, bacteria and all other sorts of nasty things are left behind, but we don’t see them anymore and ancient men had no idea of their existence.  I doubt a caveman was ever able to create the clean conditions left behind that we experience after wax or glue has been removed.  Was it removing the skin of a banana to get at the fruit inside?  This seems unlikely.  Of what assistance to his survival was this odd source of elation? 

There is much less satisfaction in picking up things off a floor than there is in the perfect clean removal of something dirty.  Does it come from some animal desire to clean our wounds?  Or is it just a bit of OCD from the modern era?  I say it dates back much farther than the Elmer company.  The pleasure in peeling away is too universal.  It brings a visceral happiness.

Without easy answers, I find these questions highly unsatisfying.  Truth is, in looking too deeply into this, I have discovered I no longer care what makes me (and everyone else) tick this way.  Maybe some future sociologist or biologist or anthropologist or psychiatrist can answer this question for their doctoral thesis, but it no longer holds my interest.  When they do publish it, I won’t read it (unless it creates a scandal, then I will definitely read it).  Instead, I’m going to go pull a perfect rug of lint off the dryer’s filter and dump it in the trash.

 

As I have no answers for you, the least I can do is leave you with a quote on housekeeping from Mark Twain.

“Have a place for everything and keep the thing somewhere else; this is not a piece of advice, it is merely a custom.”

The Athenian Oath

“We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.

We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many.

We will revere and obey the City’s laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught.

We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty.

Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

 

The Athenian Oath was taken by the young men of Athens when they reached 17.

Ancient Thought, Modern Agoraphobia

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

-Seneca

I started reading (or rereading) some of the thinkers from Ancient Greece and Rome over the past two years.  Perhaps it is a time in life or simply an openness to timeless concepts that has drawn me back a couple of millennia.  Certainly the quotes above are meaningful to me, though I have picked concise, brief thoughts to share rather than lengthy discourses of some depth.

What strikes me most is the difference between how we perceive these early philosophers and the nature of their lives.  When I used to think of Socrates, I thought of a portly old man, expounding on life, or drinking hemlock in a sterile environment, wearing a white robe.

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Influential.  Brilliant.  Sterile.  Tedious.  Long gone and dusty.

 

In fact, Socrates was a very interesting man, always talking, feasting with friends, drinking and socializing.  In reading Plato’s works, I learned Socrates fought in battle as a soldier, showed courage and loyalty, and was invited to feasts as a favored guest.  Socrates spoke of the nature of love and beauty in rich and poetic language, not as a mathematical formula of A=B, therefore C.  Though his ideas were usually accepted as the best of those in an evening, his voice was one of many people enjoying a topic, rather than a teacher dictating to his students.  This was a man who loved his life, loved learning about it, and loved living it.

The more I read of ancient thinkers and philosophers, the more I am unimpressed with the sterile lives led by our current experts.  Modern experts frequently go from college to graduate school and on to professorships, never peeking their heads out of a library, never truly living the life existent beyond the confines of their ivory towers.  How few would attend a feast (or throw one) with a mix of more and less educated guests, from many walks of life, with opposing political and religious views?

I fear I have painted with too broad a stroke.  There are those who write and discuss beyond peer reviewed journals and safe, small gatherings of colleagues.  There are those who live the life of the mind, yet climb mountains, fire rifles and swim in strange waters.  Those who are unafraid to speak their unpopular ideas in their search for truth.  Those who are open to a challenge of their beliefs that they may be either refined or discarded.

I lament there are so few who show such courage.  How many of our politicians or scholars will be read thousands of years from now, much less in a hundred?   Whose words from our time will resonate through millennia as do the words of Cicero or Augustus Caesar?  Perhaps a fierce intensity of living should be placed alongside books as a good prescription for learning and discovering the intense truths of life.  I recommend starting right away.

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

-Seneca

 

Montaigne, Chess, Eggs and Men of Honor

I’ve been feeling a bit down the past few days and so I did a bit of light and heavy reading.  On the somewhat heavier side is Montaigne.  Montaigne’s essays make for enjoyable reading and his voice speaks directly to me all the way from 16th century France. Then, suddenly, he attacks the game of chess.  I really didn’t see this coming, but in his disparagement of chess he makes a strong statement about men of honor that set me thinking.

Please bear with me as the quote is a bit longish for those looking for quick amusement.  The emphasis in the quote is mine.

“What passion does not excite us in this game: anger, vexation, hatred, impatience, and a vehement ambition to win in a thing in which ambition to be beaten would be more excusable.  For rare and extraordinary excellence in frivolous things is unbecoming a man of honor.  What I say of this example may be said of all others:  each particle, each occupation, of a man betrays him and reveals him just as well as any other.”

Is the study and attempt to uncover the meaning of life a more honorable pursuit than the world’s expert studying rock paper scissors?  In my heart, I feel it must be so.  But, as I consider it more deeply, what of the artist who portrays beauty?  Is that frivolous?  Is a doctor or a priest on the same level as the man who becomes an expert at rolling play-doh snakes?

A little more than a year ago, I went to Per Se in Manhattan.  It was one of my most memorable meals and an early course had an egg in which the top of the shell was perfectly sliced away.  I can’t recall what was inside, but it was amazing and I don’t even like eggs.

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After the meal I discovered that making the egg in exactly this way took a tremendous amount of skill and quite a bit of training by the apprentice chefs.  This egg was one of the best parts of my meal and the beauty of the presentation was perfect.  I consider the course a work of art.  Yet I would found sustenance more easily (and cheaply) if they had just fried it up and put it on some toast.  It is a reach for me to find the egg course anything less than frivolous.

In Chess, there is no luck beyond the question of who plays first, and even that rotates back and forth in a tournament.  Some games and moves were so brilliant they have become famous.  The gold coin game had such a shocking and insightful move at the end that it is rumored the spectators showered the board with gold coins.  Regardless of what happens during the match, all that has physically occurred is moving a few plastic or wooden pieces around and then putting them in a box at the end.  There isn’t even a tear in the AstroTurf or a stray fly ball for a fan to grab.

Unless the category of things defined as frivolous is narrow indeed, I maintain Montaigne is in error.  Extraordinary excellence in anything becomes indistinguishable from art.  In this author’s strong opinion, making art is not unbecoming an honorable man.  In fact, art is one of the greatest impacts a civilization makes upon the world, long after it has crumbled to dust.  Extraordinary excellence is linked to eternal truths

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Author’s note:   When I gluttonously scarfed down the egg and wished I could have another, I was unbecoming for even polite company, much less honor.  Om nom nom nom nom.

By way of thanks for getting to the end of this long post, here’s a Faberge Egg.

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Stinkburger! Meanwich!

So, the news came out yesterday.  I’m a day behind, but what a news day it was!

In the grand tradition of the presidential eloquence of Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and Teddy and Franklin Rooesvelt, President Obama called the Republican budget proposal a “stinkburger” or “meanwich,” after visiting a deli.  Apparently those suggestions would be for a new deli sandwich if it were named after the proposed budget. I can’t help but think this is the funniest thing any president has said or done since the Beer Summit of ’09

This is presidential speech writing at its best.  I imagine the writers giggling as they saw this come across the teleprompter.  I humbly suggest he describe the Supreme Court as “filled with crotchety poopypants jerkfaces” in his next State of the Union Address.

All joking aside for a moment, the ability to laugh at oneself is a sign of strength.  Only fragile ideas and people are so brittle they cannot withstand a bit of ridicule and joking.  With this in mind, the Republicans should adopt the title “Stinkburger” for their budget, as nothing is quite as much fun as embarrassing your opponent with his own words.  Plus, it would show Republicans are capable of having a sense of humor, a revelation that would shock the world.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/04/02/obama-calls-gop-budget-plan-a-stinkburger/