Splitting Infinitives

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

Anonymous

I was texting with Carla last night and we were discussing plans for this weekend when we all descend on her home town to see her father and work on getting things squared away.1 We were talking about getting her brother over to a nearby restaurant that was closed when we tried to go there the weekend after Christmas. In the process of composing the text I left out the verb when I meant to say we should take her brother over to that place. What I actually did was use his name as a verb. “We should [her brother] to the restaurant” instead of take her brother to the restaurant.

To beBefore I started trying to have a post every day I would have probably not made much of the incident. It wasn’t something that would make a blip on websites like Damn You Autocorrect and the like. Now I’m looking for something to write every day. Nothing is too trivial.

What if your name were used as a verb? What would it mean? There’s likely something you’d hope it would mean, but would people you know give it the same meaning? Would people to whom you’re close ascribe one meaning to your-name-as-a-verb while people who barely know you ascribe another?

What would you want your verb to mean?

This pops up on sitcoms every once in a while. On Community to “Britta” something was to make a situation worse by trying to help. In our home, to “Porter” something would be to beg for food, while to “Dunkel” something would be to make a game of something, no matter how inappropriate or inconvenient. It could also mean flopping down right in front of where you’re walking at the worst possible time. It would be a versatile verb. The type that confuses non-English speakers no end (because English is pretty damned arbitrary as a language).

What would your name mean as a verb?

Is it what you’d like it to be?

Do you have the courage to ask it? Do you have the courage to answer?

Happy hump day.


1He’s doing well, by the way. Much happiness with that.

Purpose

Everyone should find their porpoise.

I often say the purpose of my life is to serve as a cautionary tale to others. It seems to be how it’s working out, so I’m going with it. I think about the notion of purpose more and more  as the time for me to leave the security of a salaried job behind draws closer. I know what I’m walking away from, but what I’m walking toward is still a mystery.

Maybe it’s the times we’re living in. There are big questions out there being asked on a global level. Are we all really alone in this journey through life, or does our basic humanity require us to help one another to lift the common condition? How do we reconcile the power of great wealth with the needs of great poverty? Will we ever  know for sure who it was who let the dogs out? It’s been more than 15 years, people. Can’t we at least find this answer?

I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that people aren’t very good at articulating why they do what they do. My favorite example of this is mentioned in a lengthy 1977 Psychological Review article by psychologists Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson. In it, they describe an experiment where people were asked to judge the quality of different items. What the subjects didn’t know is that the items they were judging (nightgowns and stockings) were actually identical. People had no problem choosing one.  They tended to pick whatever item was on the far right, even though the items were mixed up between tests. When asked why the item they chose was better, the subjects would give all kinds of answers — except the fact that they picked the last item they looked at. That was the only thing the items chosen actually had in common. When this was pointed out to them, the subjects would deny it as a possibility.

I wonder, but do not claim to know, how often this runs in the other direction. I say “this is what I’m about” or “this is my purpose” and then proceed to act in ways that may or may not have any relationship to that purpose.  When asked why I did what I did, I attribute it to that larger purpose. “Why are you leaving your job?” is another way of asking “What purpose does it serve to give up the security of a regular paycheck to make a living project to project?” I really don’t have an answer for that. Somewhere inside me I have a feeling it’s what I have to do, but I’m loathe to try to articulate it any further. I don’t know that anything I’d come up with would really be accurate and it might send me down a rabbit hole I could avoid by not overthinking it.

On a more mundane level, I am a mere 12 days into what is supposed to be 365 consecutive posts. The fact that I was willing to go “purpose/porpoise” with a Baja Men reference in just 12 days tells me I think I’m probably going to make it. I have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no depth to which I am unwilling to sink in order to make a stupid joke.

Maybe that’s my purpose.

If Everyone Would Just Stop Starting Sentences With “If Everyone Would Just …”

I know this is an exercise in pointless recursion, but I’d like to suggest something to you if you’re writing a Facebook entry, a blog post or a YouTube comment. This might even apply in your everyday conversation.1

Don’t start any sentence with “If everyone would just …” Ever. If you accidentally start one that way, just stop. Better to be perceived as absent-minded or a fool than to finish the sentence.

Why? Because it’s not going to happen.

Turtles all the way down
Some know how to handle recursion.

We’re never ALL going to think or do any one thing in just one way. Not if we have any choice in the matter. Gravity will always win out because we have no choice over it. The earth will continue to spin on its axis whether we’re here or not. Things that happen following the words “Hey! Watch this!” will seldom work out as intended. Everything else? A crapshoot.

I think it’s an occupational hazard of being human that you fantasize how great everything would be if everyone just thought and felt about things the way you do. I catch myself doing it all the time. Then it occurs to me that a world where everyone thought and felt as I did about things would be

  1. Anti-social.
  2. Boring as hell.
  3. Utterly devoid of peas, which would probably create some gap in the biosphere that would lead to total ecosystem collapse.

Then I remember that it’s not ever going to happen. Like being President, or an astronaut or understanding the appeal of Lord of the Rings. There are things you’re just better of accepting and moving on with. I’m glad we have astronauts. I wish the job of President attracted fewer war criminals, but what’s an oligarchic military-industrial complex going to do? And while I could never get into LOTR, I think the world is an objectively better place because there are people who really love it. Think about it for a minute.  What would those people do with even more free time? Tolkien did us all a favor.

Again, I understand that I’m sitting here writing about how everyone shouldn’t say things like “everyone shouldn’t say” things. My only defense is that I have no illusion that it’s ever going to happen.  If even one person heeds my words then … wow. I’m surprised. What’s wrong with you?  You take life advice from some guy on the Internet? What are you thinking?

And while we’re at it, there’s a related thing. Don’t tell someone they’re “doing it wrong.”

They’re not.

They’re just not doing it for you.


1 OK, scratch YouTube. If you’re leaving comments on YouTube there is no hope for you.

Not Coming Home Again

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This is Asheville, NC. I’ve lived here twice in my life: 1968-1972 and 1991-1994. Thomas Wolfe famously wrote about this place that you can’t go home again. I haven’t, I suppose. What’s unique to my history is that this is the one place where I can relate childhood memories to adult memories. All the other places I’ve lived were either one or the other.

Beer is a big deal in my life now and it’s a big deal here as well. I like being able to find good beer, but in a way I kind of wish it were more like it used to be.

But, as Mr. Wolfe pointed out, it’s always been that way.

I guess that’s what Asheville is all about.

Religion

Life.  The Universe.  Everything.

You’re welcome to believe what you want to believe. I believe what I believe. What I believe is none of your business, by the way. And what you believe is none of mine. Let’s keep it that way.

Religion is meant to define how we navigate through a world where, individually speaking, we’re not the point of the exercise. It’s meant to teach us how to treat others.

It doesn’t say a damned thing about how people are supposed to treat you.

Hell, if you wanted to sum up the teachings of most religious traditions, it comes down to “A lot of things that really suck are going to happen to you, but this is how you’re supposed to act anyway. Just because.”

I understand evangelism. If you believe your system of deciding how you treat other people is a really good one, it’s probably a bad idea to keep it to yourself. It might do someone some good. Feel free to mention it. Feel free to live it and show it to the world.

Just don’t expect everyone to thank you for it.

If you’re in it for the thanks, you’re doing it wrong anyway.

Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. And don’t freak out when people don’t treat you the way you want to be treated. That’s just how it works. If you can’t live in a world where people don’t do what you want, that’s not a religious issue. That’s a potty training issue.

Don’t confuse them.

There’s nothing wrong with vertical video. Nothing. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

Hi. I’m Tom. I’ve been shooting video for more than 35 years. And I don’t have a problem with vertical video. In fact, I’m starting to have a problem with people who have problems with vertical video.

What am I talking about?  Here’s a video shot the “right” way:

Apparently this is virtuous video. Video that won’t curl your hair, lead to halitosis or Make America Lose the War™. (I think I owe George Carlin’s estate royalties for that line.)

This is vertical video:

Even Dunkel is bored with your aversion to vertical video. And yes, I snuck in a cat video.

I first learned this was a thing when I saw this video:

I’ll be the first to say that this is hilarious. It’s also about as intellectually rigorous as most of the arguments I’ve seen. I haven’t (and won’t) do an exhaustive analysis of those arguments, but there seem to be four of them:

  1. History:  Video has always had a horizontal orientation.
  2. Physiology: Our eyes are side-by-side and our perceptual range is roughly horizontally-oriented.
  3. Wasted space: A vertically-oriented video is often presented with black bars on the left and right when presented on a horizontally-oriented
  4. It looks funny: I think this is really just some fuzzy combination of the first three, but maybe not.

I’ll say right up front that the first three sound perfectly reasonable on their face. Each statement is actually true. Irrelevant, but true. Here’s why:

History

The ratio of a video’s width to height is referred to as its aspect ratio. Most of the time it’s expressed as a proportion:

Number Units Width : Number of Units Height

So a 4:3 aspect ratio would equally describe a screen 4-inches wide and 3-inches tall as well as one 40-inches wide and 30-inches tall. Don’t misunderstand: the units can be anything:  feet, millimeters, squares of chocolate, or the mark my forehead makes on the desk as I collapse from tedium. You’ll also see aspect ratios expressed as the quotient of width divided by height. Our screen with a 40-inch width and 30-inch height can also be said to have a 1.3333 aspect ratio.

I didn’t just pick that size out of the air as an example. You’ll learn, if you go to the Wikipedia article I just linked to, that this was film’s original aspect ratio. For reasons lost to the mists of time, Dickson and Edison (and likely more Dickson than Edison) decided the height of a frame would be four sprocket-holes and the width was based on what was left over on 35-mm film after you accounted for the space the sprockets took up.  So the Ür moving-image aspect ratio wasn’t sent down by the Almighty on stone tablets, it was tied to the physical characteristics of the first standardized film system.

So it’s true that video images have historically been horizontally-oriented. First it was a little wider than tall, now it can be a lot wider than tall. The thing is, it’s pretty tough to flip a movie projector or TV on its side. Still images never had that limitation. You’d never hear anyone being taken seriously if they tried to argue that landscape orientation is the only true photo orientation and portrait is the spawn of the devil. Digital video images are closer to still images than traditional analog moving images in that the display devices can be made to arbitrarily rotate the image so that up is always up and and down is always down.

So sure, we’ve always had horizontal video. We had to.  Now we don’t.

Physiology

Everyone’s a little different, but we have a little bit more range of vision side-to-side than up and down vision.  It isn’t in focus all the time and we actually pay attention to very little of what’s in front of us, but our visual fields of view tend to be horizontally-oriented. Not as horizontal as even old-school 4:3 video, but horizontal nonetheless. The argument against vertical video seems to be that moving images are somehow “wrong” if they aren’t mimicking the physiological characteristics of our eyes. That seems like a safe assumption on its face, but it falls apart pretty quickly.  Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things people accept in film and video all the time that the human eye isn’t capable of:

  1. Zooms
  2. Pans and tilts
  3. Fast-forward / Slow-motion
  4. Dissolves.  Heck, pretty much any transition except for (possibly) the cut.

Don’t start on me about pans and tilts. “What do you mean?” you say “I can certainly turn my head from side to side! I can look up and down!”  Yes you can. But what you don’t notice is that your eyes don’t stay fixed forward as your head moves. What basically happens is your eye tracks very quickly to where you’re looking and your neck catches up. You change your “shot” as fast as you possibly can and “edit out” the motion of your eye so you aren’t disoriented. Google “fixation” and “saccades” if you want to know more.

That’s why I’m willing to say the eye can sort of mimic a cut, but unless your name is Steve Austin and you’re the Six-Million-Dollar Man, your eye isn’t doing a zoom. So it’s kind of silly to insist on a horizontal orientation for video when we accept all kinds of things the eye can’t do.

At a deeper level, the whole language of the moving image is predicated on two things:  The interplay of light and shadow and the notion of directed attention. The camera’s gaze isn’t supposed to fall equally on all objects in the field of view. One of the hardest things to do is watch video shot by an unmoving camera. It’s like talking to someone who doesn’t blink. It takes a while, but after a couple of minutes your skin is crawling.

Is vertical video always the best choice to direct attention? Of course not.  Lawrence of Arabia would have been a silly movie shot vertically. What I find hilarious, though, is that the effectiveness of the Vertical Video Syndrome PSA up there really relies on the vertical video to create the negative space necessary for the joke to work. And speaking of negative space …

Wasted Space

This is the one I find the funniest: that somehow you’re not getting your money’s worth if every pixel of your display device isn’t taken up with video. It’s kind of like back in the days when TVs had a 4:3 aspect ratio and you’d hear screaming from people when they saw a letterboxed video. Or now when people are perfectly comfortable distorting the aspect ratio of a 4:3 source video to fill a 16:9 screen. Somehow people looking shorter and fatter (and circles appearing to be squashed ovals) is preferable to there being pixels on the screen that aren’t earning their keep by just showing black. To each their own, I guess. For the record, videos with distorted aspect ratios drive me nuts, but Carla can watch them without noticing. And I love her very much. I can accept mystery in my life.

For reasons no one will every really understand, YouTube doesn’t accommodate vertical video and to people who leave comments on YouTube (a scary, depressing group of people), that makes vertical video A Bad Thing.™   Here’s my video from above as it appears on YouTube.

Note how they blow up the still frame and then BAM! Black bars left and right. Other services allow vertical video. The fact that YouTube doesn’t isn’t a valid indictment. Sounds more like a lack of imagination on their part to me.

I really don’t know what to do with the wasted space argument. It’s a taste thing, I guess. But just because it bothers you doesn’t mean it bothers everyone.

And finally!

It Looks Funny

When I’m being charitable I say that this is probably a way for people to express their discomfort over some combination of the other objections. When I’m not being charitable I ask when in the course of human events we’ve ever seen things go wrong when humans immediately dislike something because it’s strange and unfamiliar. It usually works out pretty well, right?

Conclusion

This has been a long post.  I have a simple point. You may not like vertical video. That’s fine.  You don’t have to. No one’s making you. Just understand that it’s not the video that’s having the problem.

It’s you.

Don’t mistake the two.

 

Be Kind. Always.

I’ve been seeing this quote — or some variation — floating around the Internet for the last few days. It’s probably because of everything that’s happened to Carla and me recently, but this has really resonated.
Be kind. Always.We’ve been the recipients of many kindnesses large and small through these many months.  A lot of times it’s what’s kept me going. It’s in my nature to see a glass half-filled with water and see only a roiling pit of despair and futility.

Hey, it’s a gift.

It’s a toxic way to think and it’s been mostly through things others have done for me — things large and small, things that are part of their jobs or done just because they wanted to — that I’m anywhere near functional. I will always be grateful.

Months ago Carla wrote a piece on the culture of snobbery that I think is the other side of the coin. She talked about beer and music as things people get all holier-than-thou about, but we all know it goes deeper than that.

How much pain does a person have to be in to want to deny others small things that bring them happiness?

There’s nothing I can say and nothing that I can do that won’t attract condemnation from someone. I’m a liberal who doesn’t think much of the Obama administration. The line of people who would be happy to spit on me is a very long one. Mucus-filled, but long.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

That cuts both ways, doesn’t it? I may lash out at you about something because of something completely unrelated that’s bothering me. You may be lashing out at me because of something I don’t know about. I’ll feel bad later when I do it. I hope I apologize to you, but there’s a good chance I won’t. I don’t know about you.  You probably will, or would if you could. Or maybe you don’t even realize it happened?

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

But what is kind? I live just a few miles from the infamous Creation Museum. I’ve always called it the “Moron Museum” because, to me, that’s what’s really being displayed there. If the place has done no other good it has, at least, given the impetus for Charlie Pierce‘s book Idiot America.¹ In his formulation there are three premises that define life in this country:

  • Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  • Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
  • Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

I believe these to be true. I don’t believe that because it feels good for them to be true or that it confirms some dark suspicion I have about people. It doesn’t feel that good and I kind of wish there wasn’t so much evidence to support them. The book itself is nothing more than extended set of examples of the three premises in action.

So how am I to be kind when faced with something like the Creation Museum? Or being very liberal in an area that prides itself in opposing liberalism? (They call themselves ‘conservative’, but I can’t see what they stand for other than really, really hating people like me.) How am I to be kind? Because I think I really need to be. I like it when people are kind to me and I think I don’t really know what’s going on inside people. I don’t know what their battles are.

I think it comes down to dignity. It comes down to recognizing that other people have dignity simply by existing. Not by their actions. Not by their beliefs. Not by their color or gender or sexual preference or how they burp. And not by what I think about how they treat others. None of those things should influence how I treat others. Recognizing that others have dignity no matter what and acting accordingly is, I’m thinking at this point, the path to being kind.

I think the first thing I need to do is quit calling the Creation Museum the Moron Museum. I’ll call it the Idiocy Museum instead. It is idiocy. It’s disingenuous, willfully ignorant and claiming truth simply because they can get people to walk through the doors. Calling it the Moron Museum attacks the dignity of those who hold beliefs I think are wrong. I think those beliefs are quite definitely and demonstrably wrong, but calling the people who hold those beliefs morons denies their dignity. How can I object to attacks on my dignity if I’m willing to attack the dignity of others? People have dignity.  Ideas don’t. I don’t have to be kind to all ideas, but I think I do have to be kind to all people.

Can you separate the people from the ideas? Read this again and again:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

I think the struggle of being kind is understanding that people get to where they are by ways you can’t imagine. You have two choices at that point:  decide you can read minds and (what are the chances?!) conclude that you’re a better person than the other and look at them as less than human.  Or, you can take the leap and deal with them the way you’d want to be dealt with regardless of how that works out for anyone in the long run.

I can wish for kindness from others.  I can point out how they are being unkind. But nothing someone else does removes my obligation to be kind to them. If I can help them fight their battle, great. Often I cannot. I can still be kind, though.

Always.


¹ Based on an earlier Esquire article that can be found here.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross can bïte me

I don’t meant that of course. I don’t claim anything of a deep understanding of her work. It’s a link-bait headline and the closest thing to a fair interpretation is that I mean is that she’s the poster child for thinking about grief and I’m tired about thinking about grief. I’m tired of bursting into tears. I’m tired of reliving Tuesday morning. Tired.

A more accurate title would be The Uninformed and Unfair Caricature of Things Other People Have Said About What Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Wrote Can Bite Me, but that doesn’t really sing. And it’s missing the extra umlaut. Did you know an umlaut is also called a diaeresis? Neither did I.  You’re welcome. Anyway, Carla actually invited Dr. Kübler-Ross to take a big bite out of the big old existential whatever sometime Tuesday afternoon, and I guess I internalized what she said.  It popped into my head this morning after reading through some comments from yesterday’s post.

I’m not tired of missing Bock. From what I’ve read in so much of what you kind people have written to Carla and me, I’m always going to miss Bock.  We’re always going to miss Bock. And I’m completely OK with that. What I’m not OK with is Carla having to mourn and miss Bock and worry about my sorry ass at the same time. So I’m going to stop that now. The part about having to worry about my sorry ass, I mean.

My father died when I was 16 and dealing with his death kept me pretty much screwed up into my 30s.  Note what that sentence says: it wasn’t his death that screwed me up, it was how I dealt with it. I’ve been to too damned many funerals since then. I’ve learned a few things that work for me. I’m not going to talk about those, not right now anyway because it’s just self-indulgent and boring. Sufficed to say that in my head a death or something equally bad is just an excuse for my psyche to throw a party and invite every terrible thing I’ve ever thought whether it has anything to do with anything or not.

The problem with that is that is … well .. pretty much everything. But what I’ve been fortunate enough to see this time around is that one of the bad things it does is take up a lot of mental processing time that’s much better spent being amazed at how wonderful people are. And holy crap, you people are fantastic. Carla and I have said over and over to each other how amazing everyone has been about supporting us through this awful time. Some of you have written about the pets you lost. Some have simply said ‘sorry’ in just a few words. Some, on Facebook, just hit the ‘like’ button trusting that we’d understand that what they were liking was us and not what happened.  Stupid Facebook.  But don’t worry, we got it the way you meant it. And each and every one of those things wove a tapestry that is more than the sum of its parts. I’ve not been out of the house since this happened — not unusual given how I work — but Carla was surrounded by folks at Cincinnati State yesterday who came over to lend their support to her in person. She is grateful, and so am I. The folks I work with have been great. We mostly talk on the phone and via IM and e-mail, but it’s helped so much. I’m grateful. I’m humbled. You have made me want to be a better person. Anyone out there who says social media doesn’t lend itself to real interpersonal relationships are hereby cordially invited to kiss my ass. Clearly I have work to do on that whole ‘better person’ thing.

I said up above that for me, at least, experiencing the death of a loved one seems to be a black hole that attracts every crappy thing I think about (and there are a lot of those). Relevance or accuracy aren’t prerequisites for showing up, and are actually discouraged it seems. This loss of a cat who means so much to me (for his meaning doesn’t end with his life) has forced me to look at who I am and what I believe about how I relate to the world around me. Or, more precisely, how the world inside my head looks at the world outside my head. More than the death of a person, the death of a pet makes you look at how you relate to things because there aren’t all those messy words and opposable thumbs to make things complicated. Unless your pet is a monkey.  But then you have other issues.  Anyway, there is something streamlined about this, for lack of a better phrase. And it’s made me realize something that needs to be said. To come out, if you will.

So, thus it is spoken here in this place on this day in my 50th year:

I, Tom Streeter, declare myself to be … an introvert.

Crickets?

Really?

OK, so I’m sure this is as big a shock as Brian Boitano coming out as gay. I will be happy provide feathers upon request so you can knock yourself over. (But only for knocking yourself over, you sickos.)(Be a better person, be a better person, be a better better person.  Dammit. This is going to be hard.)

introvertCarla found this graphic on Facebook and shared it with me. The funny thing is, I really thought I was anti-social. Sort of the opposite of this from the movie Clerks:

Dante: You hate people!
Randal: But I love gatherings. Isn’t it ironic?

And it turns out that I am exactly the opposite of that. People are OK in small doses, but — no offense intended, really — being around a lot you people collectively really kind of sucks for me. But I like what you think. I like that you think. I even like meeting new people. Slowly. Over a period of time. And please don’t take it personally if I don’t jump at the chance to be in the same room with you at the same time.  really, it’s me, not you.  You’re great. But can you just talk to me on Twitter? Cool.

So 140 characters may not be your thing (ohhh, look at Mr. and/or Ms Fancypants with the complex ideas that can’t be boiled down to the length of a one-liner). That’s OK. I think I’m going to keep writing about whatever the hell I think about here and there’s Facebook or Twitter or comments that we can have a conversation.

I don’t want all the joking around to overwhelm the only real point I have in writing all of this.  Thank you.  Thank you each and every one. You have kept me going, and I am grateful in ways I can never say.

How it’s going

I woke up this morning with a Bock-sized hole in my heart.

It’s finally been more than 24 hours since things started going to hell and that’s a good milestone to be past. I very badly need to forget what happened between 8 and 9 yesterday. The sooner the better. It was such a small part of Bock’s life. There was so much more. Bock never had to anyone in his life who didn’t love him. That’s a pretty good life. We could have kept that going for quite a while, but it’s not to be. I want to focus on the good stuff, because there was so much of it.

Carla had to go into work today, so it’s just Porter and me.  We’re The Odd Couple.  In that we’re both odd (“One’s cranky, neurotic and needy. The other’s a cat.”).  Porter has never been alone in his entire life. For much of his life his companion was Bock. It’s not that they were inseparable, they didn’t spend every minute together, but they were both always in the house. To my knowledge, Porter is unaware of the fact that the world doesn’t come with at least one other cat to play with. I don’t intend for him to learn. As it stands at this moment — and everything is subject to change — this Friday afternoon Carla and I will go down to the Boone County Animal Shelter and find Porter a new buddy.  We want someone of similar size and age to Porter, easy-going and not all-black. We’re not replacing Bock: we’re finding Porter a new buddy and us a new cat to love. The Bock-sized hole in our lives is very precisely sized — custom-made, even — and will never be filled.  To try is pointless. But, as I said, Porter has never been alone and I’m afraid he’d get bored and, as I also said yesterday, that’s a terrifying proposition. I’ve always called him my little empiricist. He has to try everything. We need to have another cat to distract him. So we’re going to get one.

It is, of course, impossible to know what goes on in a cat’s mind. While Porter loves attention when he wants attention, he’s always been a little more solitary than the “Hey what’s going on OK fine why don’t you go ahead and pet me now then?” guy Bock was. There were certain things he’d do that would attract Bock’s attention and be a prelude to play. I’ve seen (and heard) many of these since yesterday evening. The first time just made me melt.

It’s hard not to see Porter this way. Click image to see a larger version from ComicsKingdom.com

An important ritual around here has always been The Giving of the Treat when we’re getting ready to leave the house. To keep them from bolting out into the garage when we headed out, we learned to give them a Pounce treat in the food tray of their carrier. That would distract them long enough for us to get out the door. After a while it became clear they didn’t give a crap whether we were leaving or not, but they sure liked the treat. We always — always — waited for them both to be there before we gave it to them. Yesterday evening and this morning Porter got his treat solo. Add to that the fact that no smells have been added to the litter pans or food feeders overnight and I’m pretty sure Porter knows Bock isn’t here now. He’s not moping around or being more (or less) vocal than usual. We leave sometimes and come back, after all. Maybe he think Bock will too. Or maybe cats don’t work that way. It’s just been a day, but right now he doesn’t mind being the only cat. Carla is right that nighttime will be the real test. That was their playtime.

Porter abides. I’m working on that with him.

Fear of a Black Santa

photo of me as Santa
I feel like I have a certain standing to comment in this whole “Santa is White” thing. Fox News human Q-Tip Megyn Kelly is now claiming her comments were in jest. For all I know that’s the truth. I do think, however, she’s proven beyond a doubt that she doesn’t understand either Santa or jest. C’mon! She also said Jesus was white. Laff riot, amiright?

Whatever Megyn Kelly does or doesn’t believe, this thing resonated like the dog-whistle it was.  It was heard in the trenches occupied by beleaguered Yule Defenders who work every day to find someone — anyone — who will Wage War on Christmas™. The fact that they can’t actually find any of those people  is really besides the point. It’s why they’re beleaguered.  Self-deception is hard. Megyn, besides proving you can spell a name pretty much any way you want, has provided a valuable reminder that who ever those people are, They Don’t Look Like Us®.

I first put on The Suit when I was in high school. I was much skinnier then. And I was way too young to be playing Santa. I decided I wanted to do it when I went Christmas caroling with some friends and they gave out Santa hats. Until I put that hat on I never realized how badly I wanted to be Santa. So I bought a suit (I think I ordered it from the Sears catalog) and my seasonal career was born. I had a fake beard and fake wig and hid my dark eyebrows by jamming my hat down low on my face (which you can see in the picture I still do). All throughout college I played Santa over Christmas break. I did house calls. I’d advertise my services in the local shopper newspaper classifieds and my mom would start taking appointments for me right after Thanksgiving. I’d get six or eight gigs a season.  Every once in a while I’d actually deliver the gifts for a family who’d be traveling over Christmas and had kids who were convinced Santa wouldn’t come if they were away. I helped light the Christmas tree at my college in Texas and I’d do visits to shelters and such for college service organizations. For the record, being able to say you own your own Santa suit in college does not help you pick up girls. Just saying.

There was a period of years where I didn’t play Santa, but when my beard started graying I really started thinking about doing it again. I started again in 2011 when Florence city councilman Ted Bushelman passed away.  He’d always played Santa at the City tree-lighting holiday kick-off, and he loved doing it. And he was good at it. He was good at it not because he had a real beard — he didn’t — or that his suit fit particularly well. No, he was good because he had a twinkle in his eye and a love, if not a need, to make the person in front of him happy. And so much better if that person happened to be a child. That was the way he was all the time. Putting on the suit was the least of the things that made him Santa. I’ve had the privilege to play Santa for the city for the last three years and I do it for the kids and the season, but I also do it for Ted.

I’ve changed a lot in the 30-odd years since I put on The Suit for the first time. Up until this year I put some whitening in my beard because I thought my mustache was too dark. I worked with a Santa last year at an event who is a great Santa and his beard is darker than mine (we were in different rooms and the kids never saw us together). The kids don’t care. My beard is really more gray than white and the kids don’t care. I think I liked my college suit a little better because it was a darker red than this one, but the kids don’t care. I never had a kid pull my beard when it was fake and I’ve only had one kid half-heartedly try since it’s been real. Real beard, fake beard, the kids don’t care. One of the greatest Santas I ever saw was the guy who used to do it at the Florence Mall. He didn’t wear a coat, just the pants, boots, hats and a red or green t-shirt with contrasting red or green suspenders.

Santa isn’t the suit.  It’s the person in the suit. It’s what the person in the suit brings to the fictional character being played. Santa can be black. Or white. Or any ethnicity. Santa can be female. Santa can be anyone who did what Ted did: have that twinkle in the eye and have the desire to make that person in front of them happy. Especially a child. I try to live up to that. I hope I do.

And I’m proud to call whoever does Santa. No matter what they look like.