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.”

Dog Grooming from Muppet Paws to Chicken Legs

This is Jackson, a 5 star dog, one of the most wonderful dogs the world has ever seen.  He is 12 years old, a long haired, dapple, miniature dachshund.

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I had the privilege of taking him to the groomer recently to make him look even more spectacular.  All did not go as planned.

Jackson has been blessed with what I call “Muppet Paws.”  His legs and paws are fuzzy and somewhat hilarious, much as you would expect on a Muppet.  This is a trait I have always prized.

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The groomer’s instructions were to bathe him and brush him, clip his nails, do other things with some glands too gross to mention here, and tell me when to pick him up.  I requested no haircut for him, just a brushing.  But apparently a haircut was what the groomer felt was needed and she clipped the hair around his legs, giving him a chicken leg appearance.  Until it grows out, no more Muppet paws for me to enjoy,

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See?  He’s so sad…

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And a tummy rub only exhibits the shame.  Poor Jackson!

 

I don’t like it, but it’ll grow out.  But why did bad haircuts become breed standard for some dogs?  Not to mention the awfulness of docked ears and tails, which I consider even more barbaric than the bad taste shown by an awful haircut.  To show a dog in its best light at a dog show makes sense, but really, is this necessary to do so with such absurd looks?

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This is a wonderful intelligent dog.  If it wins the competition, in every picture it will have this haircut.  It will be immortalized just like this.  We are fortunate dogs don’t have a strong aesthetic sense.  Entire breeds would no longer be our best friends.

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.

Bravery for the Modern Child

In the Wizard of Oz, we meet the Cowardly Lion.  His natural desire is to overcome his cowardly nature and he travels with Dorothy to ask the wizard for courage.

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We understand that courage is to be desired by all.  Even children can grasp the concept of doing the right thing, despite risks.  We tell them stories of selfless acts and our nation has virtually deified Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mr. King was one who never accepted the injustices he saw around him, but always respected the consequences of breaking them.  He did not avoid arrest.  Going to jail, or risking a beating (or worse) for the right cause was not something he avoided, but rather something he accepted.  This action takes courage.

Acts of courage are recognized the world over as the material that makes up the best of man.  Our own Medal of Honor, our highest military medal, is given for an act of courage.  Courage is understanding the risks and choosing the take the difficult path despite fear.  A fool can do good deeds, but can have no courage unless he understands the risks he is taking.  It is the man who falls on the grenade who gets a medal.  There can be no courage without risk.

Today, children have most of the risks of their lives removed.  Even some of the smaller risks, such as attempting to succeed at sports, have had the possibility of failure removed from them.  The movement towards increasing self esteem through constant praise and little to no negative feedback means there are no consequences to failure.  Without consequences, there is no courage required in attempting anything.  There is no risk at play.

With modern grade inflation, one of the first places in which a child may fail is getting into college. If you are offered a day off from school to protest, that takes no courage to take that day off.  If you never receive criticism for your artistic skills, you will become very thin skinned when true criticism finally arrives.  You may not have the courage to continue with it when you wilt the first time you receive a negative review.  College is too late to be a first introduction to success and failure.

It takes courage for a boy to ask a girl out (I’m old fashioned, but that is how it was when I was a boy).  He risks rejection and failure, but hopefully he grows from the experience.  When he finds the right girl, he doesn’t duck into the background, but approaches her and smiles despite his fear.  Practicing overcoming fear is excellent preparation for living a courageous life.  The rewards for courage, for taking risks and being true to oneself, can make a life whole and satisfying.

Without being tested, we may never know the mettle of a man.  But having opportunities for bravery encourage one to understand the consequences and teach one to overcome fear.  Life has a way of testing us as we age.  Without practice, we may not be prepared for what is to come.  I fear our children may be in for a rude awakening as they grow to adulthood.  They will quickly discover not every fall has a spongy landing.  Not every time they try their best will it be good enough. The security they have experienced in their childhood was only an illusion.  True self esteem comes from overcoming real risks.  We need to teach them to keep striving and to keep fighting.

 

Family and Coffee Cake

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Elizabeth, NJ.  My parents would drive my brother and I up for a visit on any given weekend and we would eat Jewish Deli food.  This consisted of lox, bagels, whitefish, and a bunch of the less attractive fare such as herring in cream sauce and gefilte fish.  Herring wasn’t a problem for me, but gefilte fish was another matter.

I’ve always found gefilte fish utterly disgusting and awful.  I mean, who really wants a mashed up fish patty with terrible flavor that is served out of a jar.  And in that jar it has been sitting suspended in a clear gelatin.  The thought makes me shiver.

 

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Clearly I am getting sidetracked by the horror of gefilte fish.  Back to the important part of this story.

These were wonderful family meals and my grandparents loved to host their children and grandchildren.  They rank among my fondest memories from my childhood.  My grandma always made chicken soup from scratch which was a star attraction of the meal.  And she always had Entenmann’s Crumb Coffee Cake fresh from the store in that box with the cellophane top.  This was one of my favorite foods.  It was a soft cake, with a dense crumb top and I loved it every time I came to their house.  You cannot eat it without the crumbs getting everywhere.  Plus, when you were done, you could sweep all the crumbs that had fallen onto your plate into a small pile and eat them too, which was the best part.  Alternatively, I would smush the crumbs together into a single giant crumb that I ate.  It was an amazing combination of saturated fat, salt, sugar, love, freshness, and high calories.

It is not everyday you find yourself with a perfectly made delicacy that is both inexpensive and (since the company went national a few years later) available in most supermarkets.

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Entermann’s discovered that people loved their cake so much that they expanded into an “Ultimate” crumb cake with more crumbs on top.  This was a good effort, but a mistake.  The cake had exactly the right number of crumbs on it.  Do not buy the “Ultimate” version that comes in a box with much more blue in it.  The one you want is the “Classic Crumb Coffee Cake,” much like Classic Coke.  And don’t think you can get the same thing in a bite size with their mini coffee cakes.  These simply aren’t the same eating experience or quality (in my opinion) as a square of the original stuff coming from the box.

For those uncertain of the correct etiquette of eating the cake, you cut it out of the box with a knife and eat it with your hands.  I guess you could eat it with a fork if you were frightened of getting white sugar on your tuxedo lapels, but I consider that similar to Bobby Kennedy eating his pizza with a fork and knife.  Sure, you could do that, but that’s not how it was done back in the old country of North Jersey in the 1980s.  Anyway, I don’t think it has confectioner’s sugar on it, so you could probably wipe away the mess with a napkin.

Many years later, in my late 20s, I came across an Entenmann’s coffee cake in a market and picked it up.  It was as good as ever and I now buy it whenever company comes into town. You only have a few days to eat it before it goes a bit stale, so it is better to have someone else in the house who enjoys it as well.

Sure, they have lots of other products I devour, such as their golden cake or those donuts that look like they’re covered in small tumors, but the crumb coffee cake is truly awesome.  Go buy a box right now.  Eat some.  Take it from me, if you don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself because this reflects poorly on your character.  But I promise you, you’ll like it.

It is even rumored that Frank Sinatra had a standing order for Entenmann’s coffee cake wherever he went.  Is this true?  I have no idea, but the internet says it is, so it must be so.

 

Drones, Theft and a Prediction

Recent news included a tidbit about drones (the kind with cameras, weapons, etc., not the kind from a beehive).  Apparently there is already a prototype drone that can land on electric lines and draw power to charge its battery.  This would enable the drone to remain in the field for long periods of time as it would not have to go back to a base to recharge. 

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Good Lord by Trustocorp, 2011, back lit stained glass

While the military implications of drones are fascinating, I believe the real significance of this article is in the potential of the technology.

If drones can steal electricity to charge their batteries, they can steal electricity to use for any purpose whatsoever.  Image if you have a drone that can perch on a line and has a plug that extends down to the ground.  Free electricity!  You need no knowledge of how to hook up a line to steal it.  You take no risk, the drone just flies up to the power line and you’re good to go.  When you’re done, it flies down and you pack it up.  No evidence exists of your theft at that location and the power plant picks up the bill for your usage.

In addition, if you have an electric car, it would only be a small jump in technology to have a small drone in the trunk and you could recharge your car’s battery anywhere you could find a power line.  No more stopping at a gas station for you.  No more worrying about the low range of your electric car.  Enormous potential abuses exist if there is an easy way to steal electricity with no way to be tracked.

 

My prediction

Perching drones will be made illegal for non-military usage as soon as they appear on the market. 

 

Though they may be as effective as a plastic gun printed with a 3D printer, the potential for abuse is far too high for Congress to allow them in private hands.  On the other hand, the government trusts itself to do the right thing, so their use will be monopolized by the government the instant they are available. 

Because most power companies are so heavily regulated that they depend on the goodwill of politicians, they won’t let out a peep of protest and will pass the cost of the theft on down to the private consumer.  Since the stolen electricity will be “free” to governments, as an expense passed on to private citizens and businesses, governments are guaranteed to abuse their new found powers of theft.  New technology of this sort cannot be put back in Pandora’s Box.  Once you learn to open the Kryptonite lock with a plastic pen, the whole design must change. 

What will become of our power lines?  Will they all have to be buried at great cost?  Will this be an excuse to watch everyone even more closely in our liberty loving society?  Or is there some far less costly solution?  Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing.  This new technology will have a greater impact than a small plane that gets to hang out a bit longer taking pictures.

Artistic Appreciation with Age

As I get older, I see beauty everywhere.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was in my teens and 20s, I had no interest in a natural setting.  I found no special enjoyment from a mountain or river scene, unless it was of the extreme Ansel Adams variety.Image

Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, by Ansel Adams for the National Park Service.

 

Now I can look at a lake and feel peaceful.  A waterfall holds my attention and an Olympic athletic performance keeps me riveted as never before. That change alone has added to my enjoyment of life.  I finally appreciate those things my parents and all the people around me have enjoyed for their whole lives.  The change has not stopped there and this is where I find things shifting to the absurd.

 

I now find beauty and interest all around me.  I still find some things much more attractive than others, such as the photo below.

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Tribute to Man Ray by Guy Le Baube (1994)

 

When I look around, I see beauty in the random patterns of wood flooring, in a chaotic pile of driftwood, in a broken down desk.  I take joy in the artistic unattractiveness of an enormously fat person on a scooter,  smoking, with bad skin and stains on their shirt.  It makes me want to take a picture.  I find cheaply made items, broken golf clubs and plastic toys from the 90s and I want to capture the image.  I don’t even want to make a statement about them.  I have no message to send, just the joy in the image.  I want to see them for what they are.  In doing so, I enjoy them.  As my joy in the simple and unimpressive has grown, I fear I am becoming like that kid in the movie American Beauty.  He describes a plastic bag blowing around as the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.  I have ridiculed this for years and I disliked his character intensely.  Now I’m not about to call something like that the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but I understand what he is saying.  I have to accept this is the one way street my mind has chosen to travel.

 

If this continues, I will find beauty in a plain white light switch on the wall or in the dust bunnies on the floor.  I find if I stare at something long enough it starts to grow on me and I see it as artistic.  I never understood the appeal of distressed wood (why damage something intentionally?), but now I find it may add to a table.  Perhaps I will appreciate the modern art paintings of a red square on a white canvas in another ten years.  Maybe on my deathbed I will appreciate the unpainted canvas alone.  I have always looked upon this sort of art with horror.  As a kid, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup paintings seemed a waste of time.  Now I love them.  Diane Arbus photographs of everyday people appeal to me now more than ever before.

 

Though my opinions of art have spread far and wide, I find greater beauty in specific wonderful pieces more than in the everyday.  The beauty of the truly stunning has become so great in my eyes I stand transfixed when I see it.  Put a couple of drinks in me a I have to own it, to make it a permanent part of my life.

De gustibus non disputandum est.

(Roughly translated, there’s no accounting for taste.)

 

Here is one of my favorites:

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The Weight of Water, Part 3 by Tara McPherson, 2008