Saturday, February 07, 2009

You took two parking spots!

The roommate, with whom I commute as well as live, had jury duty so I was sitting alone in the wee 86 Honda Civic SI which I alternately call Red or Czar, listening to the BBC News. In the rain, the rare, rare, rain. Counting the minutes until I made a short dash to the train platform under an elevated freeway to catch the 7:19 Baby Bullet Caltrain #314 to MRU, the major research university where I sort hayseeds for contributions to my wellness fund.

And there across the street is a gigantic planet-killing SUV, slowly, inexpertly, inauspiciously backing into a clumsy park and, characteristically, taking two parking spots. The young woman gets out of the car, and unloads sundry purses and bags, along with a tiny dog. I am a cranky old bugger and, as regular readers will know, I am occasionally given to expressing my crankiness at particular breaches of the social contract. So I open the door and lean my leonine head into the drizzle to shout, "Ma'am, you took two parking spots!"

She heard me, paused a moment, and then carried on with her yuppie unloading ... and walked away without apparently even given a second's thought to rectifying her self-absorbed assault on subsequent parkers. I was steamed, but I tried to put it out of mind to pay more attention to the latest update on the Sri Lankan operations against the Tamil Tigers ... I'm for the government in that one, by the way.

Not the worst crime, taking two parking spots, but emblematic of this me-me-me culture of giganto planet-killers and cell-phone Nazis and barren suburban sprawl. Riles me.

But that is not my point.

I got to thinking about a committee on which I serve at MRU ... in fact, a committee I chair. The committee has proposed an activity which I, in my majesty, think is a waste of time. I fret about such things ... fretting is genetically predetermined in me, and I inherit it from my sainted mother but not, I think, from old Dad whom I resemble in so many other ways. Fretting used to be nothing more than self-torture, but in my magisterial aging, I have found ways to put fretting to use. One factor in this is to have a ready made retreat from fretting available ... I learned how to do this during a particularly nasty academic hair-pulling and mud-wrestling exercise that took place all around me in the terminal years of my doctoral "process". I try to maintain, at ready head as it were, a salubrious or at least diverting topic to which I can turn whenever I find myself turning pirouettes over something I cannot control, leastwise in the immediate term. One of my favorite retreat topics is Mars exploration; another is imagining what it would be like to be abandoned on an island, comme Alexander Selkirk.

But I digress ... in fact, this entire blog is a digression ... in fact, there is nothing I like more than digressing ... in fact, I think I have digressed enough that I return to my main point which is ... digressing is how I manage to think about things, so given the threat of a committee not agreeing with me, I wonked around the Internet until I stumbled upon a Washington Post opinion by David Ignatius entitled, in classic self-congratulation, "The Death of Rational Man." You can read it for yourself if you want his point. My point is to make my point, not his point, so even pointing to his article is pointless if my point is to keep you on my point. Lord ...

The sentence that provided me with a strategy to explain my opposition to the committee's agenda was this one:

A pre-mortem analysis can provide a real "stress test" to conventional thinking. Let's say that a company or government agency has decided on a plan of action. But before implementing it, the boss asks people to assume that five years from now, the plan has failed -- and then to write a brief explanation of why it didn't work.

Thank you, Mr. Ignatius ... that thought has given me something to "keep in mind" for the rest of my life. It is always worth thinking through what it would be like, and what the factors would be, if your plan utterly failed. Glass half full indeed. I suppose this is something I do all the time anyway ... but it is gratifying, crystallizing to read it put so deftly.

I clapped and wrote a little script for Monday when the committee meets, and I have rethought all my previous thoughts, and fretted myself to the point where I think that I can make my objections rational and positive ... the key to winning one's point in most cases ... and to co-opting the intentions of those who proposed something else to a solution that includes all of us. Goody, goody.

Then I read this:
... a Japanese proverb ... "An inch ahead is darkness."

An inch ahead is darkness. From the corporeal present to the ethereal future. If the committee goes against me, it will amount to an annoyance and not much more. But those bastards taking two parking spots, driving planet killers, consuming like there is no tomorrow ... an inch ahead is darkness.

So my fretting now is no longer the immediate "committee" but the disasters that await us all.

That is so much more satisfying.

Tonight's beverages ... classics both ... a Tonga Zombie and a Long Island Iced Tea. I guess I am no longer a "cheap drunk".

Photos by Arod, all part of a set I uploaded today to Flickr.

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