Thursday, April 20, 2017

Into Arizona

Hello Reader,
Got travel?

There’s only one reason Europeans travel so far to the micro state of Monaco. No, not for culture: for the casino! Recently I flew hundreds of miles, past three states, due south to Arizona for the “casino thing.” From Sky Harbor I went by road to the Arizona Casino. The road infrastructure alone was a sight worth telling of; I also looked at colors. These are the three things to tell you about my trip: colors, road and casino. And then I’ll try to perceive the context of it all.

Arizona is sunny like Italy, with the same quaint red tiled roofs everywhere, but often duller, even grey. In “the grand canyon state” shoveled dirt is brown not prairie black. Pottery is red. Homes and structures are of dull earthy colors: ochre, rust, brown, grey-white (never a Greek bright white) or grey. A couple times I saw red buildings, but both were dull in hue, not bright like a barn. Nothing colored like a lime fruit, be it green or yellow. And no blue; never a bright hue. Phoenix, of course, is not surrounded by emerald ocean and brilliant jungle, but by dusty desert. Truly sunny, yes, but without intense tropical colors. No bright parrots. All the birds of the desert have dull feathers.

Do you like public art? In Calgary, the city has mandated that that all city infrastructure projects allot a tiny percentage of the budget towards public art, to be built very close by. Hence the giant hula hoop as you approach YYC. And hence the crude sketchings in the concrete under the overpasses: For me, the only memorable road art in Calgary is the realistic fish glimpsed along the Glenmore Trail walls as you are rushing by.

Around Phoenix, the broad highways are amazing. All the overpasses and road walls are a brownish red. They surely mix their cement powder with red dye. The art changes every mile. For the road walls, I invite you to imagine an endless variety of “crafty” decorations, such as cross hatching, swirls and vertical lines. Changing every mile. Now imagine embankment zigzags of ribbons of little rocks, bisecting land of different textures. Amazing embankments! All sorts of simple brick lines, as well as carefully landscaped repetitions of shrubs, then cacti, then bushes. All on reddish ground. No grass. Ever changing. Each red overpass, facing the oncoming traffic, has a different artistic picture on it—often a modern-art type animal, never mere realism. How affluent it all seems. You would think Arizona must be erupting in gold, or gushing in oil—more oil Alberta ever sees.

If you watch too much TV, you may be expecting elegant ladies in pearls and men in tuxedos.  Nope: Forget James Bond. Although back in the 1950’s we all dressed up for special things like air travel and going to the cinema, no one does now. The slogan near the casino door, under multi-media screens, goes something like “the local folks casino.” And yes, the folks are all people you would see in everyday Arizona life, maybe not like “the people seen at Walmart,” but truly like folks at the local mall.

No windows in the dimness. A constant sound, allegedly musical, tries to keep you excited: How silly, but at least it’s not like the blinging bells of an old video arcade. The sit-down slot machines have the same flashing vibrant colors of a pinball machine, while new digital technology allows flowing pictures. For example, The Walking Dead slot machine had chained zombies moving through a forest, and sometimes a close up of a zombie approaching. My own slot had dancing hot peppers. Wearing sombreros. Not much action at the gambling tables—the poor tables seemed lonely.

Again, as with the roads, there’s art: lots of indigenous art was inset behind glass along the walls near the restaurants. I saw a dress, with beads, of Navaho turquoise, that was off the shoulder. In other words, the aboriginal artists felt safe doing things a little modern, even as they surely felt pressured to be authentically traditional. Same with the bracelets, being inscribed traditionally, yet still a wee bit modern and free.

Tourism broadens the mind…
As for art and culture, I am still accustomed to my favorite decade, whence I was born: the 1950’s. I wonder: Is it a betrayal of our ’50’s uptight conformist culture for us to build and appreciate Arizona’s “artsy fartsy” highways? Are artists with aboriginal names, while making modern art, betraying folks of earlier time-space locations? If so, then do we call today’s artists “they” or “us?”

I wonder, because recently some people would make “culture” into a sacred cow, referring not to different “nations” but to different “cultures,” —that being their synonym for nation. Call me middle aged, but I grimace. Or laugh. I figure those folks don’t realize their fetish for rigidly separate and unique “cultures” is not “a new improved idea,” and certainly not “a fixed point,” but merely part of a pendulum swing, as new ideas, just like new styles of “off the shoulder” clothing, will have their day in the sun. (Like those sweatshirts after watching Flashdance) But some folks seem unaware, bowing down to their raised up “culture” as if it were a golden calf.

I like how my clothes closet figuratively has a Nehru Indian shirt next to British sailor bellbottoms, next to a Yankee preppie vest that looks like some sort of old life preserver. Hey, the styles might come back again… Meanwhile I amuse myself by extending the consequences of people’s fetish idea, imagining each one of “these American states” as having it’s own culture, where people who would cross state lines must step through watertight doors like on a submarine.

Never mind.

I would recommend you go to Arizona even if you don’t gamble. Why? Easy: When I left there today it was a dry 32 degrees; (90 Fahrenheit) when I touched down in Calgary the tarmac was sopping black and there were snow flurries blowing across the plane windows. A whole planeload of hardy Canadians all groaned.

Sean Crawford,
South East Calgary
Trying to warm up

Footnote on road speed
So there I was, driving a rental van in the dark, along a winding well-traveled rural desert road, with only one narrow lane each way, only a dotted line to keep us from oncoming traffic. I told my passengers, “The speed limit is 65 miles per hour, but I’m only going 60. It’s dark.”

With the windows rolled up we couldn’t smell the warm callitas; as we sped along we could contemplate the pompetis of love.

Have you ever driven the Queen Elizabeth II highway up to Edmonton? It has two lanes going north, with a hundred yards of grass separating you from oncoming lanes, along straight flat prairie. The Canadian engineers put the speed limit at 110 kilometers per hour. This snakey desert road was nearly that fast!

(And it was faster than the divided Stony Trail highway of 100 kph)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting a Sense of Humor

I remember sitting next to a guy from Manhattan, during Free Fall writing, when our “prompt” was “humour.” I leaned over to say, “That’s  “o-u-r”” Everyone along the table burst out laughing, without me having to say another word: they all knew what the joke was; everybody knows Yankees spell wrong, leaving out the “u” in humour, and other words too.

Hello Reader,
Got humour?

While traditionally the national spotlight has been on how physical health impacts our national economy, what about mental health? Everyone knows laughter is the best medicine.

Then surely an essay on “humour” can help my fellow citizens. Wait—Let me spell that word without the “u;” let’s avoid stressing my Yankee spellcheck machine. Besides, what’s a little “u” between friends? We North Americans tend to practical and quick with our spelling—the British, not so much.

Sense of Humor
Everyone knows God stuck us with different hair colors and textures. Most people, if they ever thought about it, would assume we are each stuck with differing degrees of humor too. Nope. You can dye your hair, tweak your style, and you can tweak your humor style too. Sure you can! It can help to have a foundation theory first, and then you may tweak from there. I call this foundation theory, “getting a sense of humor.”

I know whereof I speak, for while I was getting a degree in Community Disabilities, I had to take a business 101 course. Having already learned more management than I’ll ever need, I chose something different for my term paper: “Humor in the Business World.” My campus library was well wired up: Instead of going to the card catalogue to search for magazine titles, and then going to search for the specific paper magazines, I could download and print off complete articles from various business magazines of recent years. Cool, eh?  

Reading those articles, two things stood out to me.
ONE: Although it seems all the other business articles are “supposed to be” written with heavy, serious “professionalism,” these ones were invariably light and funny.
TWO: They all start out apologizing for their topic, saying “It’s OK,” and giving the readers permission to be funny. Why did this sound so familiar to me? …I wondered, then—Oh yes, I’m old enough to remember the sexual revolution. Note to couples everywhere: Your naked bodies are clean, not dirty. It’s OK.

(Incidentally, as regards better profit from better humor, see Southwest Airlines) So there I was, in my dusty university classrooms, learning about how to teach handicapped people things they would do well to know, if they wished to happily fit into society. We called it “mainstreaming” because our learned Yankee cousins were twitchy about the word “integration.” What we were taught, with all due respect to our professors, was that people learn best not from classrooms but from “role modeling.”

So here’s your sound bite conclusion: "Permission" and "role modelling." Are we done? No, not unless you believe that summaries and sound bites are as good as an essay. If you do believe so, poor sap, then maybe you should just run along and become a computer nerd, spending your life skimming your screen when you could just as well be reading it, and be reading real books too. Woody Allen skimmed War and Peace. He said it’s something about Russia.

Let’s expand this essay. It’s instructive to study an anti role model, such as a young fellow on a popular culture TV show that’s been running for years. A scientist. You guessed it: Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. On this award-winning situation comedy, or sitcom, the situation is that Sheldon is “humor challenged.” And he knows it. Sometimes he’ll do a forced, “Ha…ha.” Sometimes, “That was a joke.” And sometimes, if he thinks he’s pulled one off, “Bazzinga!” You may have seen the T-shirts. If he can have a Ph.D, then why can’t he have humor too?

Why?… Consider his childhood. Sheldon, unfortunately, was disliked for being a nerd. If he therefore spent his time away from other kids in laboratories and libraries, (But never skimming) then he would have missed many chances to role model. As for permission, Sheldon, unfortunately, had a strict religious mother. To explain the psychological fallout, just imagine yourself working in a big corporation with a really cranky boss. Re-e-e-ally cranky. There you are, being funny with two co-workers, when you glimpse the boss coming down the hall. You look to their eager faces, then you look towards the oncoming boss. Joke or boss? You probably shut down, and slink off to find some work to do. In fact, normally, you probably would avoid smiling too much, lest Cranky-pants notice, and have you transferred to the branch office in Alaska.

But now Sheldon’s an adult. He can give himself permission to model off of his young fellow scientists. Or can he? If imitation, and modeling too, is the sincerest form of flattery, then it kinda, sorta, follows that we only model off people we like and respect. Poor Sheldon: He thinks he’s better than his peers, he’s not humble; he’s self absorbed too, he’s not kind. In his unfortunate situation: No modeling is possible. Of course some folks are intense about science—and that’s OK—just like how other folks are intensely into self-improvement. That’s OK. But if an intense person can’t look outwards? Then the bust-a-gut effort just ain’t worth it: the prognosis for humor is not good.

What Sheldon doesn’t realize, in his intense lifestyle, is that even Eagle Scouts, working so hard on self-improving their number of merit badges, will also look to “secretly do someone a good turn every day.” Even wretched recovering alcoholics will look to do their “Step Twelve,” helping others who are still suffering—lest they suddenly crave the bottle. Sheldon? He really enjoys his collection of Star Trek memorabilia… with no clue that “it is better to give than to receive.” He’s oblivious—and he can’t do jokes. Coincidence?

“Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch” (Old TV cliché)
There’s a country-and-western song, now playing on better radio stations, where a father is advising his son, “Remember to always be humble and kind.” (Tim McGraw) Keep it in mind, for now, as we’ll be getting back to it.

When I was living in town, not on a ranch, but in sight of the Calgary Stampede grounds, long before I ever went to university or ever worked with any disabled person, I met someone. A staff person. Who invited me for tea and cookies. At a group home. With mentally handicapped people in wheelchairs.

So there I was, a future university scholar, wearing my blue Star Trek shirt, like Science Officer Spock—and being qui-i-i-te serious. Maybe, at most, I could summon up enough emotion to say, with my mouth in a straight line, “Fascinating.” I walk in. I sit down. You may remember a white funny T-shirt from those long ago days, with a blond in the foreground biting her lip in distress while in the background a party is roaring. She is thinking, “Oh my God, those people are partying like there’s no tomorrow!”

I walk in, “Oh my God, these people are laughing like there’s—.” They are joking; seeing the bright side of things; putting on a positive spin; laugh after laugh… You would have loved it, I’m sure, to see those poor-little-handicapped having such a rip-roaring good time. Wait, did I tell you I sat down? No, I couldn’t, for there weren’t any kitchen chairs (work with me, here) So I knelt. They say, “A man never stands so tall as when he kneels to help a child.”

I knelt, eye level, amongst the laughter… I humbly opened my heart, kindly thinking, “How can I bear to be be an uptight Mr. Spock, when that’s not what these guys need right now?” … (They also needed small talk)

You know the problem with making eye contact? You better not have self-esteem issues, because it means someone is looking right back at you. For a second I worried, “Oh God, do they know I haven’t dusted the warp drive coils?” But then I remembered: I’m trying to always be humble and kind here, like in the song. If I’m humble, then I don’t have any grand expectations that my coils will be dusted and shiny-polished. Therefore? I can’t be hurt. Besides, who can focus inward on being hurt and outward on being kind, both at the same time? (No one, especially not if they are trying to use a laser pointer.) The nice thing about being low-to-the-ground? If you tip over you have nowhere to fall.

Would you believe I told why the chicken crossed the road and why firemen wear red suspenders? Actually, no, I didn’t. We didn’t tell any prepared jokes: Life itself is funny enough, if you look at it slant.

Parting Concepts
So that’s it. My two specific concepts are “have permission” and “role model,” under the two umbrella concepts of being “humble” and “kind.”

One last Concept: I find humor helps me navigate a world that is just not as black and white as “it’s supposed to be.” And since Sheldon is from Texas, and I’m on a country and western theme just now, let me end by saying I am still chuckling, decades later, over a cunning old man in the western movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Now, I meant “navigate” as a metaphor, but this scruffy old fellow actually has to navigate a river—right between the blue and the grey, the union and the confederacy, the North and South—just when the boys on both sides of the river are standing there with their guns.  Actually the war has just ended, but they still have their guns. Of course they do, they aren’t in Canada, Toto.

Specifically, the old man runs a ferry, using an overhead rope and pulley, like a really big clothesline. He crams Josey Wales and his horse into the ferry with him. Then the cheerful man starts pulling them all across—after collecting his money in advance. Josey is a southerner, so old man gives a rousing rendition of, “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton…” He catches his breath midstream, grins, and starts up “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…” I think the old survivor had a terrific sense of humor, don’t you?

Sean Crawford
Trying to keep a straight face
around my Yankee friends,
from Maine to Miami,
who believe in polarized politics,
March, 2017 A—wait … A.D. or A.C.E.? (After Common Era)
Hey, if I can take out that “u” from humour, then I can take out that blasted “E” too!
in 2017 A.D.

Free Fall Fridays has to break with the tradition of being open on Good Friday because we won't be able to get into our own building, the City of Calgary's new Creative Space uncreative is that?