Department of NO

Here’s the flip side of yesterday’s discussion about saying lovely things that people want to hear.

That Guy In The Hat revealed the following bit of information about his role at work:

I am “The Department of No.” I’m the guy that has said to co-workers, “Reality is over here waving ‘hello’ to you. Come join us for a while and then you can go back to where you live.” I’m not a terribly popular person.

Just as it is exceedingly pleasant to deliver the good news that parking is FREE, it can be demoralizing to be forced to play the Messenger of No. I avoid doing it whenever possible, and I know I’m not alone. At the Fringe Festival, venue managers have to stand firm as they enforce the festival’s No Late Seating rule. Rumor has it that harsh words have been exchanged and tears have been shed over this simple regulation.

And yet sometimes “No” is a very useful thing to hear because it can focus your attention. When I was a high school freshman, I wrote a homecoming skit to represent our class at a pep rally competition, but after watching one rehearsal the faculty advisor refused to let us perform it. There was something about the tone and approach that was so wrong he said he would rather that we offer no skit at all than present the one we had prepared. It would hardly matter, he noted, since the juniors or seniors were bound to take first prize anyway. As writer/director, that ticked me off. I had one night to re-write and one morning to rehearse the cast and get approval before we performed our bit for the whole school.

We won, of course.

I doubt that would have happened without a necessary kick in the pants from the Department of No.

When has the word “no” been a blessing in disguise?

My Brief Political Career

I’ve been volunteering at the Fringe Festival the past few days and on Sunday I got the best possible assignment – standing at the entrance of a University Parking Garage to tell people the parking was FREE.

There was no joke or gimmick involved, and no sandwich sign to wear. It was simply an opportunity to make that one – to – one personal connection that means so much.

People would drive up to the ramp with a confused look in their eyes – a look that turned to suspicion when they saw me standing by the ticket machine, and then turned to resignation when they realized I wanted them to roll down their window.

They brightened right up when they heard the message. Parking is FREE!

It’s Sunday!
Why is the mechanical arm blocking my way?
The garage’s computer thinks the ramp is full, but it’s NOT full!
How do I get in?
You have to go in through the exit! No penalty. Parking is FREE.
OK then. Awesome.

Later, out of fatigue or frustration, the stubborn mechanical arm that was blocking the entrance lifted. Now the people had open access to the FREE parking. I could have walked away at that point but why leave? There might be some lingering confusion or doubt, and I could dispel it with a wave of my hand. So I did. I directed people through the entrance, calling out FREE PARKING as they sailed happily by.

Of course I missed the more intimate human contact of the earlier confused/suspicious/resigned/relieved sequence, but if anything the drivers seemed MORE pleased at receiving this great boon without having to talk to me.

There was no difference in the way people responded to my message. All demographic groups whether sorted by age, sex, skin color, religion, IQ or zip code were delighted to hear that parking was FREE, and I was delighted to tell them. What a lovely afternoon.

I made a promise to myself then and there. I will hesitate to criticize politicians for “telling people only what they want to hear.” I discovered just how much fun it is.

When have you enjoyed the pleasure of bringing good news to strangers?

More Junk Mail

I’ve had a lot of cards in the mail from politicians lately. Something must be going on! Here’s one that came from Loomis Beechly, representing Minnesota’s liquid 9th district.

Greetings, Constituents!

It’s a beautiful time to be in Minnesota’s 9th, which includes AND is limited to all the water surface area in the state. I agree that it’s an unusual way to draw the lines that divide congressional districts, and if you looked at a map of the 9th it would appear to be a spray of freckles across the face of a perplexed state. But it does make sense on a number of levels.

1 – It brings together many, many sparsely populated areas. There are quite a few Minnesotans who live on the edges of lakes, but their homes are not in my district. The 9th is water surface only, so I represent a lot of houseboat residents and people who list jet skis, pleasure craft and ice-fishing structures as their primary residences.

2- These are often places of relaxation. Beer is the district’s number one beverage all day long, and its effects are cumulative. This makes the 9th a relatively conservative district early in the day, and wildly liberal the closer you get to sundown. After dark, 9th districters rarely say no to anything. It is truly a “swing” district, and the two sides of our personality tend to create a balance.

3 – The boundaries of my district are clear to the naked eye. You can tell exactly where the 9th begins and ends – something that’s not true with other congressional districts in general, even if there are stark political differences on either side of the line. In a logical world, you would be able to tell where Betty McCollum Territory ends and Michele Bachmann Land begins, but you can’t, just by looking at it.

I’m proud to represent Minnesota’s 9th congressional district, and I encourage all residents to get out and vote on Tuesday, August 10th in the state primary.

As an independent, I’m running unopposed this time. But with so few registered voters, even a loosely organized write-in campaign could unseat me. Everybody says incumbents need to look over their shoulders. I am trying to look over both my shoulders at the same time. If you want to know whether I favor the left one or the right one, let’s talk. I can tilt pretty much whichever way you want. That’s public service!

And if you’re visiting the 9th district for summer recreation, have a wonderful time. You should have voted “absentee” in your home district. If you didn’t, please don’t try to vote in our primary unless you’re voting for me, and you think you can get away with it.

Of course I disavow any knowledge of your actions.

Thanks for your kind attention!

Congressman Loomis Beechly.

Are you planning to vote in tomorrow’s primary?

If Not Here, Where?

In response to a string of comments from yesterday, here’s an anniversary song for Clyde and the Mrs.

Alongside great art like Paul Robeson singing Shenandoah, the internet is full of strange, inexplicable things that exist only to make you pay attention for a few moments before you share it with your friends. They pay attention for a few moments and send it to THEIR friends, and before long a huge pool of human attention has been collected so it can be sold to advertisers. This is the world we live in.

I’m not making things any better by sharing this with you, but how could I resist?

If this sounds familiar to you, here’s why.

Have a wonderful summer weekend!
Name a song that makes absolutely no sense.

Slightly Out of Synch

Yesterday’s drier, cooler air was an invitation to open the windows and go outside, so I did. What a lovely world we live in. The outdoor spaces are so inviting, and there’s a lot to do out there!

August 5th was the day I finally decided to put out the garden hoses and bring in the extra long extension cord that had powered 2009’s Christmas lights. While I was outside it occurred to me that the lawn could use its annual springtime feeding. And how “pre” does a pre-emergent weed treatment have to occur? Is it too early to put some down for the emergence scheduled for spring in 2011? 2010 is a lost cause, I’m afraid.

When it comes to yard chores I realize I’m late getting started, but in my defense I should point out that there is a certain balance to my calendar. I usually don’t bring the hoses in until November. But getting the house ready for winter is always a challenge. The week between Christmas and New Year’s comes in handy for that, and I do a lot of my autumn raking in April.

The seasons race ahead while I struggle to keep up.

I’d say it’s a fair bet that my Myers-Briggs results will not identify me as a prime candidate to lead a band of primitive hunter-gatherers. Under my guidance, we’d always be late for the harvest and miles behind the herd. For that matter, I would not have made much headway as a Cro-Magnon man either. It’s tough to be successful on a cave bear hunt if you’re just getting around to sharpening the antler points on your jabbing stick when everybody else is set to go.

We all feel pretty advanced when it comes to comparisons with ancient humans who wore animal skins and hunted with spears, but I wonder. Fred Flintstone dressed in a business suit and magically inserted in a downtown Minneapolis cubicle farm or dropped into a board meeting would probably do better for longer than any one of us were we suddenly transferred to the Upper Paleolithic office for a Wooly Mammoth expedition.

I could have done OK during the Bronze Age though I tend to shy away from molten metals. The Roman Empire might have been a congenial place to land as long as I could manage to stay out of the Gladiator business.

Timing is everything.

Historically, what era is your best “fit”?

Lighter Than Air

Here’s a note that came in late yesterday from marketing guru and idea man Spin Williams, who is always in residence at The Meeting That Never Ends.

We’ve got an exciting project underway right now to help some very smart and enterprising people bring back Airships! Several companies are working on it right now, and we have a difficult and challenging assignment here at Spin Williams Ideas and Marketing! Naming!

We’re very, very excited about traveling in these lighter-than-air craft, but please don’t call them blimps, zeppelins or dirigibles! And whatever you do, don’t refer to them as Hindenburgs! All these names are loaded with heavy baggage and you know how it is when you want to go flying – heavy baggage is costly and it slows you down! These are the drawbacks we face:

Blimp – the name sounds round and slow and goofy. In the minds of Americans, “blimp” will always be associated with a tire manufacturer and/or a sandwich shop.

Dirigible – This word is hard to say properly. DEAR-idg-able? Often it comes out as DIRGE-able, and a dirge is always a downer.

Zeppelin – We love the snazzy “Z” at the beginning of this word and the double “P’s”. It has a very nice look and it flies off the tongue, but like so many things, the Nazis ruined it for us! There’s no going back.

Hindenburg – Speaking of Nazis, this name links to a bad memory, even for people who weren’t there at the time and so they can’t actually “remember” it. This name leads directly to visual and aural images of flames and falling and tragedy – unhappy connections, at least until the Broadway musical comes out.

Not The Image We Want

Our assignment is to come up with a new, more popular name to stick on the next generation of lighter than air ships, although our client doesn’t like “airship”. Too much history, he says, preferring “Hybrid Air Vehicle”.

Obviously he is in desperate need of help.

So far at The Meeting That Never Ends, we’ve floated these ideas:

Bubble Craft.
Air Cushion.
Helium Rocket.
Sky Liner.
Fluff Train.
Puff Plane.
Buoyant Bus.
Cloud Cruiser.

Just like taking a trip in a new generation Hybrid Air Vehicle, it’s been great fun to take off, watching the ropes drop away as we rise majestically into a clear blue sky, but we’re a long, long, long way from getting anywhere!

What do you think of our ideas so far? If you have a new suggestion, we’ll consider any reasonable offers, and we’ll even look at the unreasonable ones!

I told Spin I’m a bit partial to “Puff Plane”, but he and his team should also consider “Stout Bird”.

How are you at naming things?

Triceratops Trumps Torosaurus

Yesterday Clyde nominated the triceratops controversy as the likely topic of today’s blog.

Until he mentioned it, I didn’t know there was a triceratops controversy.

It’s an interesting situation, though. How rare and wonderful, to be the focus of a campaign to preserve your name millions of years after your extinction. We should all be so lucky.

A couple of paleontologists at The Museum of the Rockies, John Scannella & Jack Horner (oh the awful rhymes he has endured), have concluded that the charming three horned dinosaur we all know as triceratops is actually a juvenile torosaurus. Originally it was thought that they were two distinct types of dinosaur since the skull shapes were so different, but now it seems that dinosaur skulls were quite changeable over time and evidence has been uncovered that plots the development of the wee triceratops into the mature torosaurus.



This sparked indignation from triceratops defenders who challenged the theory because they don’t want to part with the name or the image of their favorite three horned beastie, nor do they want to let go of the idea that it can grow into a fearsome adult with jaggedy skull frills and no fenestration. Extinction is bad enough once. To top that with never-existed-ness is a terrible insult. The stage was set for a Pluto-like debate.

But wait! There’s a game saver!

It turns out the name triceratops came into usage before torosaurus, so under the rules that govern the naming of things that are no longer alive on the planet, the earlier title trumps the latter. Rather than disappear, triceratops takes over torosaurus’s territory completely, so now it is the torosaurus that is no more, and the name triceratops that will live forever, or until an asteroid crashes into the earth and erases us completely along with everything we think we know.

Happy ending? Apparently nobody loves the name torosaurus enough to put up a fight to preserve it. So in this case, it appears timing and popularity have led to a situation where the baby has taken over the adult’s name and identity completely.

The child is truly the father of the man, much in the same way the grown adult named Ron Howard will always be known as “Opie”.

Have any of your childhood features (physical or otherwise) survived the transition to adulthood?

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