jumpingfish
 Friday, October 31, 2003

Built-In Obsolescence

It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were arguing over built-in obsolescence. It was an era in which consumers were increasingly unwilling to sit and let the whims of corporate America, their quest for ever-growing profit, define the public's welfare.

Yet even then, as protestors stared down rifle barrels and radical laws were passed protecting the environment, even as black America began to emerge from a centuries-long hell and migrant laborers began to discover power and self-respect, even then it was a challenging notion that Detroit might build in obsolescence so that we'd have to buy new cars instead of driving reliable ones.

It was a radical notion then, but look around you now. It's the norm.

How long will that fancy camera last? How long does it take before that sleek, new PDA is tossed into the closet? Will they last as long as your car? And when they're gone, will you just go out and buy another one, paying again for what you paid before?

How much longer will CDs last -- CDs that pushed vinyl out the door. How much longer will DVDs last -- DVDs that are pushing CDs out the door. Will they last as long as your car? And when they're gone, will you just go out and buy another one, paying again for what you paid before?

2Mhz, 66Mhz, 80MHz, 400Mhz, 800Mhz. 386, 486, Pentium, Pentium-II, Pentium-III. G3, G4, G5. You KNOW that when each one goes, I go out and buy another, paying yet again for what I paid before.

This is important. It's important for industry that we buy and buy and buy, that we never stop. Ever increasing streams of revenue based on ever shrinking costs. Don't think sales. Think perpetual rental.

Built-in obsolescence. It's the business model for the 21st century. We won't own anything anymore. We'll rent everything forever. And we'll owe our souls to the company store, as well we should -- for our own good.


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 Thursday, October 30, 2003

What a Wonderful Time

Oh what a wonderful time to be a capitalist. New markets around the world. Hard working, affordable labor. Untapped resources just waiting for exploitation. And now that we've finally put the ugliness of the New Deal and silliness of the 60s and 70s behind us, we can get back to business.

With free trade ascendent, we no longer need worry about nationalists or environmentalists or civil rights activists or long-haired crazies preaching love and tolerance and welfare for the common man. While the engines of industry have purred and hummed, the wackos have grown old and forgotten the words to those songs they used to sing so loudly.

Profit is king once again. It's all our playground, now.


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 Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Long Winded Explanation

The sun was rapidly going down. We were battling the time shift of last weekend. It would be dark soon. So we wasted no time and started running right away.

As we stepped onto the pedestrian bridge, he asked me, So what have you been up to today?

That's an innocent enough question. One that when asked out of politeness might elicit an answer of Not much or The usual, and when asked with genuine curiosity might involve an answer consisting of a sentence or two. But I had more of an answer to give.

We work together, he and I, and he had seen me coming and going up and down the hall all day. I suppose he was wondering what was up.

Four miles later, as we completed our circuit and slowed to a walk, I finished what I was saying and added, So that was a long answer to your question.

I'm not sure he wondered that much.


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 Monday, October 27, 2003

Union Pacific Yellow

What was that that just rolled by? Racing by on the railroad tracks beyond the trees in the shade with the sun barely rising over the Live Oak grove. Quieter than the usual freight trains with their rumbling and rattling and shaking ground. A flash of Union Pacific yellow followed by a dozen yellow passenger cars and a mail car and two (yes two) dome cars with their old fashioned domes sitting on top in the middle.

It was flying along the tracks, that Union Pacific passenger train, behind its two yellow Union Pacific engines, flying along and barely making a sound -- because it was empty. It must have been empty, because they don't run those trains on these tracks anymore.

What was it? Where was it going? Oh how I'd love to have been sitting in the dome cars on top and in the middle amid all that speeding-by yellow.


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 Sunday, October 26, 2003

Some More Crows

I wrote something about crows tonite, I blurted out as we lay in the dark. It was three sentences. Wanna guess?

She was silent for a moment, and then she tentatively took a stab at one sentence that was remarkably close.

I chuckled and said, What next?

She thought for a moment again and came up with another good line, although the thought she had captured was actually part of my first.

Not bad! And?

After yet another moment she pronounced her final guess that was really right on. I laughed with glee that she had come so close based on so little.

Here is her rendition of Some Crows with no clue about the matter other than the number of sentences and the subject (crows):

Some crows flew by to Houston.
They were big and black.
They flew by and then on to somewhere else.

Now I know we were made for each other.


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 Saturday, October 25, 2003

Some Crows

I saw some crows flying off to the east, big black blotches against a cloud-swept sky.

They were flying on the winds of an autumn storm, their ragged wings flapping as rain fell from above.

I saw some crows flying as they do in a line, straight to the place where they were heading.


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 Friday, October 24, 2003

Talking about Bob

Ed and Sam sat on the deck with the fans on the wall blowing air from on high. The breeze felt good.

It had been a long time since they'd talked, but they had nowhere in particular to go. So they took their time. They ordered a deep dish pizza that they knew would take a long time to make.

...

Ed said to Sam, You know he thought we were a bit strange.

They were talking about a man they used to know when they all worked together.

He said we were always so worried about doing the right thing, worried about being honest. He said he had never worked with people like that.

Worried from day one. Remember? asked Sam, recalling with some distaste a phone conversation the first day, one that turned his stomach then and made him uncomfortable still.

From day one, Ed nodded. He remembered the conversation, too.

We have Bob to thank for that.

Bob was their boss back then, but he was more than just a boss. He was a colleague, a mentor, a friend, a father. At times he was like a grandfather to their children.

Ed continued, He taught us to trust in honesty, he encouraged us to speak the truth. And he ran the company that way.

Sam turned his head. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he fought to hold them back. He owed this man a lot. Really, he owed this man everything.

...

They were there for a long time, long enough for the weather to change. A front blew thru, and the hot, muggy air turned drier and cool. They didn't need the fans any more.

And then it was time to go.


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 Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Two Flat Flowers

A man sat down at a table outside. He needed a place to eat his lunch. The table before him was cluttered.

Someone left their newspaper here, he said Left it sitting on this table where I think I want to sit. So I'll move it to that chair over there. That's easy enough, just set it there for somebody else.

Of course, we know he didn't really speak these words. He was after all alone, and in any event people don't really talk like that. But those are the thoughts he thought.

And when he did move it, there was something left behind underneath: two flowers pressed flat, a purple and pink blooming Wandering Jew and a yellow Lantana both squashed by the weight of the words.

He moved the paper, but he left the flowers with their color on his table. He didn't particularly care for the words, but the colors vaguely appealed to him, something to liven up a black metal table sitting on a gray concrete sidewalk.

And when he stood to go back to the place that he had come from, he stood up more refreshed than when he sat down. Maybe it was the cheeseburger. Maybe it was the big glass full of Dr. Pepper. Or maybe, and this is the theory I like to hold, maybe those flowers just did him some good.

Or maybe not.

Whatever.


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 Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Gussied Up

Her hair matches her sweater;
Her sweater her hose.
She's done gussied up
from her head to her toes
in maroon.

---
Walking along Sixth Street, Austin TX


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 Monday, October 20, 2003

Outside The Men's Room

Plush carpet lines the hall, fancy wallpaper, dark wooden trim. Behind you is the door you just opened. On the left is another, on the right another, and straight ahead yet a third.

Thru one of those doors lies the way out.

Behind you the door you swings shut. The lights are down low. Faint music plays over the P.A. system, a familiar yet unidentifiable melody drifting down and landing on the carpet at your feet.

Now you must choose. Which way out?

Right? Left? Straight? you briefly wonder to yourself, but your body makes the choice for you and moves toward the obvious door.

You grab the handle and turn it. You pull on the door. And before you is a closet stacked with clorox, liquid soap, and rolls and rolls of toilet paper. You turn around.

Plush carpet lines the hall, fancy wallpaper, dark wooden trim. Behind you is the door you just opened. On the left is another, on the right another, and straight ahead yet a third.

Thru one of those doors lies the way out.

---
Omni Hotel, JournalCon 2003, Austin TX


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 Sunday, October 19, 2003

Spilled Beans

I'm walking along west Sixth Street on my way to get something to eat or to read. (I haven't decided which.) The sun is warming my back. A cool breeze is blowing thru my hair.

I'm walking quickly, because there isn't much time and there's still a long way to walk. But then I look down and come to a stop. At my feet there is a pile of beans -- a broken bag of pinto beans lying strewn about the sidewalk. I stand there in silence and look down at them, a once perfectly good bag of beans.

A woman walks up to me. I can see her in the corner of my eyes, but I'm still staring at those pinto beans.

The woman grunts, and I look up from the beans. She has a dirty, wrinkled face and squints in the sun. She is wearing ragged clothes and carrying a large bag under one arm. She grunts again and points to the beans and then motions to me with a questioning look in her eyes.

No, I say. Go ahead. I motion to her as she motioned to me.

So she reaches down and grabs at the bag, but most of the beans fall to the ground as she begins to stand. She hesitates briefly then stands the rest of the way up and turns and walks away.

...

I was standing there gazing at those beans, jotting down notes about the strangeness that struck me, the strangeness of the beans lying in the sun on that glorious day. I was scribbling something about the sun shining down from the blue sky overhead and my shadow stretching out into the street away from a broken bag of pinto beans.

It seemed a surreal moment. And I was self-absorbedly scribbling about it when the woman walked up.

And I am ashamed.

Here was this woman who was hungry enough to want to have those beans and decent enough to ask me if they were mine and yet proud enough not to scramble on the sidewalk as most of them fell back to the ground.

And here was me on my way to eat. Yet it didn't even occur to me to ask her to come with me, which I would do in a moment now if I could only find the rewind button.

No. I was scratching my notes, absorbed in my words, and oblivious to the misery of this woman's life.

I am so ashamed.

---
On the way to Waterloo Ice House for lunch.
JournalCon 2003, Austin TX


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Waterloo Lunch

I will sit here now under the cloudless blue sky. I will sit here with the birds singing in the trees and the breeze blowing at my back. I will sit here in the shade at this table and wait. I will sit here and wait for them to call out my name.

And then I will sit here and eat my cheeseburger and drink my iced tea in absolute bliss, because I am very hungry.

---
Waterloo Ice House for lunch.
JournalCon 2003, Austin TX


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 Saturday, October 18, 2003

Old Words, New Words

They looked at his face and then at the name tag that hung from his neck. They told him they sometimes read his stuff, that they liked the words, that they sounded melodic.

Once not long ago, he had opened a journal to read his own words written many years before. He had pulled back the cover and turned the full pages, but he could not stand to read them so he had slammed the book shut.

Perhaps, he thought, they saw something he didn't. Perhaps there was something they heard that he couldn't. Yet those other words were written a long time ago, in a different place, for a different purpose, in a different voice, by a different man. So maybe, he thought, it was good in the end that he'd slammed shut that journal and kept on writing without looking back.

---
Thank you, Margaret and Stacy.
JournalCon 2003, Austin TX


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 Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Chatterboxes

The talked and they talked. Loudly. The three of them talked and laughed and joked for the whole flight. Their chatter never let up.

And what is it with all these big cars people drive these days? one of them said.

They can hardly park the things, said another.

That's why I drive a Tahoe, said the third. It's just the right size. Not as big as a Suburban. Easier to turn around than a Hummer.

Forgive me for being uncharitable. I mean they clearly had a good time, and they certainly did no one any harm -- except maybe that fool with the Tahoe.

But you see the talking never stopped. It just kept coming and coming for 2 1/2 hours. I had a sore throat from listening by the time the flight ended.


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 Tuesday, October 14, 2003

That Was Chicago

A dim glow in the east with bright stars overhead.
The silhouette of the city against the dawning sky.
The rattle of the CTA train on the tracks.
Sunrise on the buildings along Michigan Avenue.
A near-full moon setting in the west.
Elite runners pacing before the start.
Sleek runners chomping at the bit.
Average runners milling around, stretching, talking, sitting, waiting.
Friends and family, smiling, holding hands.
Flying sweatshirts.
Beeping computers as the runners are off.
Screaming, cheering, pot-banging spectators in Lincoln Park.
Two brothers running together to the halfway point.
Volunteers holding out cups of Gatorade.
A wife jumping up and down yelling, "It's my husband! It's my husband!"
Kids with high-fives at the side of the road.
Pealing church bells.
A dancing dragon in Chinatown.
Honking semi trucks.
Banners hung from the overpass.
Banana peels and paper cups underfoot.
26.2 slow miles one at a time.
The finish line in sight with a quarter mile to go -- all downhill.
Congratulations hand on the shoulder.
A finishers medal over the neck.
Walking alone in the shade gasping between the tears.
Sore feet, cramping legs.
And the smiling faces of family at the end.

---
Chicago Marathon, 2003.


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addiction

Mark Pilgrim on Limbaugh's addiction (linked by redmonk)

He's just an addict. [...] there is not -- and this is the really important point -- there isn't a third option. You can be an addict, or you can be a recovering addict. There is no door #3.

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 Wednesday, October 8, 2003

The Jelly Donut

There was this jelly donut, see. Normally such a thing would have no attraction, but with lunch lost to an unexpected meeting and that powdered jelly donut left alone in its box well into the afternoon, it was hard to resist. It sat there, taunting me each time I walked by.

Early afternoon gave way to late, and the donut was still there. Yet I remained steadfast. My iron will persisted, weakened perhaps by each encounter but undaunted in the end. For there came a time, around 3 o'clock or 4, when I walked by the box and the jelly donut was no more.

The taunting was over. The temptations were gone. I could let down my defenses and walk comfortably by.

I walked off to my next meeting. And as I rounded a corner and started across the cafeteria, I saw before me a table with many slices of cake arrayed in neat rows. And plates. And napkins. And forks.

My defenses were down. I put a piece of cake on a plate, and I ate it.

At least I resisted the donut.


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 Tuesday, October 7, 2003

The Good Old Days

I think a lot about the good old days -- a symptom I suppose of mine. And I whine a lot about these.

I think of days when one book was a treasure and a dozen on a shelf made a library. I think of days when neighbors came together and raised a barn on a foundation of stones dragged from nearby fields. I think of days when simple games and handmade toys brought endless joy.

And then I think of flip-down TVs from the ceilings of SUVs rolling along the highway. And I think of how proud I feel when I've moved but one rock. And I think of the boxes of toys and gadgets, little and big, that sit long-unused on the shelf of my teenager's room.

And I think of the lying politicians behind their snickering smiles, and corporate fat cats with their cronies slipping them bonuses and options and golden parachutes from the compensation committees. And I think of loudmouth radio talkshow hosts, and clueless journalists parroting anything they're told.

And I hang my head.

But then... One night in the dark on the road home sitting at a red light I find hope: I am not the only one.

There I am, sitting at the light, and here is another car to my right. No other traffic comes or goes. There are no other cars to be seen. Yet we sit and wait for the light to turn green.

Where else in the world would you find such a thing?

Maybe these are the good old days. Who would have guessed it!?


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 Monday, October 6, 2003

Monopoly

They pushed the game board toward me, turning it so that the Jail would be near me. That's where I spent most of my time the last time we played, while they amassed their properties and bought their houses and collected their rents.

And this time, I was sitting in the jail again in no time at all, rarely passing Go, rarely collecting my $200.00. Yet the game was not an utter loss.

On one of those few circuits of the entire game board, I managed to buy Park Place, and my spirits soared as I held the blue card in my hand. And on another I bought Boardwalk, and with the money I had I bought two houses -- the first high-rent properties on the board.

For the first time in my life, I had them both! And houses, too.

Alas, I only collected rent once. For the two hours or so that I managed to stay in the game, with my precious properties arrayed before me, all the traffic just passed me by.

But when my money ran out and my three other properties were mortgaged, I still had those blue cards to keep my spirits high. It was a moral victory.


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 Sunday, October 5, 2003

The Football Game

The air was cool, about as crisp as an early autumn day might get in Central Texas. The sky was dark, but the stadium lights lit the field brightly. The football players were smashing. The cheerleaders were cheering. The pep band was playing from the stands.

Their team was losing badly on the field. A band father turned with a guilty conscience from watching the band to watching the team from O'Henry score another touchdown against the team from Small. Then he turned back to watch the band again, watching the flutes and clarinets bop up and down as the percussionists banged out a cadence, watching the brass shine, watching the smiles on the kids as they held their instruments high and as they shouted the words to the fight song and the words to Macho Man.

I don't think the kids in the band are paying any attention to the game, he said to his wife sitting beside him.

They sat briefly in silence.

That's ok, she said. I don't think the football players are paying any attention to the music.

---
O'Henry vs. Small Middle Schools. Fall 2003


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