Inhibition.

Raj on “The Big Bang” theory, at least in the early seasons, couldn’t talk to Penny unless he was drinking alcohol. I get that. Back in my club DJing days, I was always isolated from the crowd by playing music in a DJ booth removed from the action. I controlled the tempo of the bar, but I didn’t participate in that tempo. I never had great social skills in that situation; I indicated my attraction to my husband by shining a light in his face from the DJ booth. Sexy times.

Earl has not been feeling well the past couple of weeks; his back has been hurting him and he’s had a lot of down time. When I told him that I was in the mood to go out for a drink tonight he encouraged me to do so alone. There’s a gay bar not too far from our home, it’s a 10 minute walk or one ride up the Brown Line to the next stop. The clientele is older. The music is from a jukebox. The faces are friendly. I decided to venture out alone.

I’m still not good in these social situations. I tend to get a beer and park myself on the perimeter. I’m fascinated with the people watching. I love watching the cliques do their thing and finally mingle. I enjoy watching who goes home with whom. I like trying a different beer. I was content. A man approached me and asked why I was standing in the corner. I replied, “I’m flying solo tonight and just watching the crowd.” He invited me over to their corner of the bar and said that they were friendly.

I thanked him but continued to do my own thing.

Another man invited me to dance to “Life In A Northern Town” by The Dream Academy. He was about my age, incredibly handsome and although there was no dance floor, the bar area magically cleared when he decided he wanted to dance. I couldn’t find a danceable rhythm in the song so I made a few strides and smiled in an awkward manner. He thanked me and moved on to someone that could find rhythm where there was none.

Apparently when I stand in the corner, drinking a beer by myself and enjoying the people watching, I can be a little intimidating. There’s a million things that I could use to strike up a conversation but I’m worried that I’ll misstep and say something awkward and people will then tweet about me and I’ll have some sort of dark sticker on my identity and my lack of social convention will go on my permanent record. I can chat with the best of them, but only after the conversation has started. I’m not good at meeting new people and I’m not good at striking up a non-dork conversation. I need to get better at this sort of thing.

I tested the bar by playing a fairly obscure Mariah Carey song on the jukebox. The track was “Prisoner” from her first album. I’m not a Mariah Carey fan in any way, but this song was a drag favorite back in 1991 so I wanted to see if the crowd knew the song. A couple of folks at the bar sang along so I apparently wasn’t completely out of my element. I finished my beer and left, nodding a smile at a few people along the way as I made my way out the door.

I had a quiet walk home. Maybe next time I’ll actually interact with the crowd instead of just observing it.

Climate Change.

Earl and I were enjoying dinner at 6:00 p.m. Central Time. The curtains were drawn and we had a beautiful view onto our balcony and the cityscape it reveals. Here it is mid-November and we were also seeing flashes of lightning. Not unheard of but not very common for this part of the country in the middle of November.

I’ve been paying close attention to the weather for the past 24 hours in preparation for a flight I have planned for Sunday afternoon. Even the aviation forecasts are describing our weather as a “roller coaster” this weekend, with flashes of autumn and winter taking turns in the same day.

All of this has been leading me to think about Climate Change. Even though the apparent position of the United States is that Climate Change doesn’t really exist, I can’t help but notice the weather feel different than it did when I was a kid. A little less predictable. A little more like a roller coaster. As I chug through the last year of my 40s, I do think about the fact that the really bad stuff probably won’t happen until I move onto the next phase of my eternal journey. I worry about my young nieces and nephews though. What are they going to have to deal with when they’re my age? What will the planet be like? How much of the Continental United States will be under water?

It would be easy for me to think, “eh, this isn’t my problem, I’ll be gone”, but that’s not part of responsible thinking, now is it. We should work hard, give more than we take and do what we can to make the world a better place than how we found it. As “the greatest country on Earth” moves farther and farther away from that goal, tending to one’s selfishness seems to be the goal of the day, I can’t help but wonder what permanent damage we are doing to life on Earth with our collective irresponsible choices.

I hope someday we all smarten up a little bit and start seeing the Big Picture again. It would be a nice change of pace.

Why.

Years ago I was walking into Danbury Fair Mall. Several people were making their way through one of the entrances and a man held the door for the line of six or so people that walked through. I said “thank you” as I passed through, but I had a frog in my throat and it just sounded like a croak. Getting oriented to the mall, the man ran up to those of us in the process of dispersing into our own directions and yelled, “You’re suppose to say thank you! You’re welcome!”. His grandiose gesture brought the gaze of others upon us and we were to feel sufficiently shunned.

This had me wondering, was the man holding the door open to be polite to those of us passing through the entranceway? Was he holding the door open to feel better about himself? Did he need to feel superior in some way? I couldn’t help but think that his gesture was not a gesture of kindness but an gesture of superiority.

I don’t think I’ve ever stopped asking “why”. As a kid I’m sure I was always asking my mom and dad crazy questions like, “why do the power lines always travel in pairs” or “why do they open register 2 before opening register 1” or “why is the first exit in Ohio exit 241?”. I’m always searching for a reason or a justification or a cause for every and anything in the world. Knowing the impetus behind an action or a situation completes my thoughts on it. It isn’t necessarily closure but there’s logic and that brings me comfort. My dad died because he didn’t keep his airplane airborne at a low altitude. There is a second stop sign on the wrong side of the street at many intersections in Chicago because the signs are easily hidden by parked cars. I was the only one of my generation with red hair because the Irish genes on both side of the family met under the right circumstances at the right time to kick off the ginger gene.

When something happens or somebody does something without an apparent logical reason I can be bothered by it. I think that’s one of the reasons why I struggle with some friends and members of my family still being Trump supporters. There is rarely any logic behind anything the Trump administration does. There’s no rationality behind exclaiming Trump is “The People’s President” when the man has never worked a day in life, dodged the draft, openly admitted that he’d sleep with his daughter if they weren’t related, has toilets, heck, complete rooms gilded in gold, has bankrupted several companies, has his own fleet of jets, had his wife imported from the old country and signs legislation that will bring more financial burden to the middle class. In what world is any of that indicative of “a man of the people”.

I can’t figure out why this country is gripped in such hysterics, angst, vengeance, and competitiveness.

If we set aside our egos, stop the grandstanding and take a step back and look at the world around us (instead of focusing on our small speck of an existence we’ve built), it’s really easy to see that we are way off kilter. The only reason I can find for the craziness is 9/11 and the ensuing non-stop wars afterward. There’s lot of chest beating about how we beat the terrorists and we are doing great things in the world, but it only takes a quick glance at the news or social media or the communities around us to see that we haven’t won anything. Watch a rerun of any television show from before 2001 and see how much different we were. Brighter colors. Brighter smiles. Brighter times.

With the constant turmoil of 2017 I have not been able to rationalize any of it, and it’s taking a toll on my psyche. Moving to Chicago has helped a bit; the people here are friendlier, there’s more to do and the skies are brighter more often than they were in Central New York, but it didn’t resolve the logic I’m searching for.

And for a person that needs some sort of resolution or logic or a complete circle of thought to any given situation, I’m ready for these times to end and for us to start acting rationally again.

Freak.

I’ve mentioned before that my interest in computers, and technology in general, was kicked into overdrive when our local Ames Department Store converted over to a computerized point-of-sale system in the early 1980s. Prior to that I was interested in anything that had a button. I wanted to know what that button did, how it did it, and more importantly why it did it. I was fascinated by anything connected or systematic: the telephone network, washing machine cycles and their predictability, how traffic signals worked. All of this was fascinating to me, and when Ames brought in and IBM 3680 Retail Store System to replace their mechanical (yet inventory tracking) cash registers, I was awestruck. Keen observation taught me how the old inventory numbers from the mechanical cash register price tags were modified to work with the computerized system. Since Ames was basically the only game in town, we went there often and I’d discreetly watch every keypress the cashier made. I could easily remember all the notes taped to the cash register, for example, I knew who wrote bad checks at any given time.

I was 14 or so when I went to Ames with older friends from the neighborhood. They walked around; I did the same and decided to buy a candy bar, a card for some occasion, and a Billboard magazine. None of these things had price stickers on them and this was before the days when scanning was mainstream outside of a handful of grocery stores in bigger cities, so all of the data was punched in by hand by the cashier.

In the spirit of speeding up their cashiers by forcing them to use “touch typing” for the numeric keypad, all the number keys were covered. Apparently cashiers were expected to know certain inventory numbers by memory. Notes taped to the cash register usually helped in this regard.

The customer in line in front of me was completing their sale when I noticed a change in the rhythm of the printer and the precise moment the cash drawer opened. Usually the drawer opened when the receipt finished printing and ejected for removal; in this instance the cash drawer opened immediately after the amount tendered was entered. This was a good thing, the cashier didn’t have to wait for the cash register to do its thing before making change for the customer. I deduced that the software must have been upgraded to be more efficient.

The cashier was a young woman named Kelly. She had graduated a few years ago and had been working at Ames since graduation. She’s was kind of snotty in high school. Her father drove our school bus and he picked up his daughters every morning. They were the last stop on the run before heading to the school. Kelly would take her sweet time coming to the bus, sometimes making us wait three or more minutes. Normally the driver would just move on, but he knew his daughter was going to school so he’d wait. She’d take her sweet time coming down the driveway. We’d all roll our eyes and make comments under our breath. We didn’t want to get hollered at by the driver for being disrespectful. She’d get on, glaring as she did so. Her hair was big with lots of Aqua Net.

Her hair hadn’t changed much since graduation. She wasn’t particularly happy in her job. A few years later, my friend Scott and I were hanging out in the break room (Scott worked the service desk at the time) and she was back there reading the National Enquirer. That was 1986 or so. She told us she thought the government should move all the “gays to Mars” so that they didn’t “infect the good people with the AIDS”. That was the same night Scott and I came out to each other.

Back to the checkout line.

Kelly looked at the candy bar and typed in 67200000. The register complained with a large beep. She sighed, hit clear and did it again. 67200000. Beep. Clear. 67200000. Beep. She had tried again. I mumbled “67235515”.

“What?”, she asked, looking squarely at me.

“67235515. The SKU for candy bars was changed a few months ago and it’s now 67235515. You entered 67200000 the last time I was here and it worked but the software changed and it must not work anymore.”

She looked at me, aggravated yet quizzical at the same time.

“67235515”, I said once more.

She entered the number and the register didn’t complain. She then entered the price. 39 cents.

She came to the card and entered the SKU. 81230013.

Next came the Billboard magazine. 02700000. Beep. She sighed again.

“02730021”, I replied.

“How do you know that?”, she asked as she entered in the number.

“I don’t know, I just do.”

I actually knew all of this information from the notes I had seen taped to the cash register and from careful study of the receipts any and everyone brought home from any store. Those receipts were my connection to this budding technology and I wanted to know everything I could about them.

“You’re a freak”, was her only comment as she laughed at me.

I turned red as I handed her the money. The drawer opened immediately as soon as she entered the amount tendered. It had never done that with me as a customer before.

My friends and I were in the ’69 Dodge truck my friend Ray owned headed back home when he asked, “how did you know those numbers”? He had watched the whole thing from end of the checkout stand as he waited for me to come through the line.

“I study these things because computers are the way of the future.” I was too embarrassed of being called a freak again to admit that I had collected dozens of these receipts, had figured out every nuance of the cash register system and had even drawn out flow charts of how they worked.

“You need a life”, was his only reply. He then turned up Van Halen on the cassette deck and we motored home.

I munched on my candy bar.

Town Square.

My first blog entry from the Apple Store on Michigan Ave.  This is the flagship of the new Town Square concept. This is our second visit, as we were here on opening note. The view is still quite impressive.

Experience.

I could just walk and explore for days. I don’t need a destination. I don’t need the structure of a schedule. I don’t need to know where I’m going. Wandering or meandering like this allows my head to go into a very happy place. My observational powers sharpen. I watch people. I see things. 

I don’t need to be part of the crowd; I’d rather watch from afar. I don’t need to go somewhere, I don’t want to see something, I just want to go and see. 

Most find joy in having the entertainment handed to them: a movie theatre, a museum, an amusement park, a nightclub. There’s nothing wrong with that and that’s how much of society operates, but I’m finding that as I get older my tolerance for that is waning and my need to meander and explore is becoming more important to me. I don’t know if it’s age, or the structure of a 55 hour work week, or just the daily grind in general, but walking around, watching tourists, looking down side streets, and just watching people this morning was a very fulfilling experience for me. 

I need more of that. 

Beautiful People.

A little Monday morning pick me up. Here’s “Domino Dancing” by Pet Shop Boys. Those with a good ear will find the production of the track familiar; it was produced by Lewis A Martineé, who produced the first two albums by Exposé