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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Refuge For the Masses

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A day just like any other day. Except any other day didn’t exist on this planet, in this time warp, on my watch, in retrospect, with bi-focals, as a fossilized public service announcement. Aside from all that, this day was precariously stuck in now, and it was the only one I had.

In my later years, I would marvel at how poignant life was, even when it wasn’t trying to be. Myself unshackled by obligation or direction, each day opened up inordinate possibilities. By the natural order of things, I meandered down to the park to take in the solemnity.

I’ve found that at the park, some come to observe while others come to be the observed. And I suppose we fall at least a little into both categories. It wouldn’t be as fulfilling if we were each only there on our own. Even if no one notices us, the potential is always there. Say if a person happened to break out into something magnificent without warning, he’d have ample witnesses. This can be a great comfort. To be a cog in such a well-oiled — albeit random — machine is invigorating.

The weather, it didn’t matter on this day. Nobody was affected by it, and fewer noticed. The climate was no more than a hazy afterthought. Sometimes things with the capacity of being the most appreciated are the things most overlooked. Their significance is then only realized in their absence. Nothing about the wind was giving any hints. There didn’t have to be clouds if there were, because not a soul cared. I would’ve looked up if I had needed to, but the park was filled with its own atmosphere.

Yes, it’s the scenery, and it’s the scenery within the scenery.

Parks might as well be outdoor libraries. The messages found in sparse crowds as this are silently conveyed. So much is being said in the face of so little being audible. We invite the birds to help ease the awkward hush — being unaccustomed ourselves — and to help us forget that the predominance of definition of the moment is occurring separately within each of our own minds. There are a hundred different stories playing out simultaneously in a hundred different theaters. That I may have cameos in some only makes me feel wanted.

Silence also brings with it an aura of slow motion. Noise speeds things up, and the quiet brings it all back to being suspended in time. Perhaps if we could peer beneath silence, we could go backward in time. Our best chance may be at a park.

A curiosity about observing the park faithful: they all appear to have separate yet important agendas. Even the ones who don’t know what they’re doing seem to be doing it with purpose. In those cases, generally a good idea to bring a dog along, because the dog will gladly plot out your purpose for you. I surmise that people led by dogs are otherwise not self-assured enough to forge a purpose on their own. A dog, whether leashed or not, is an extension of ourselves, representing our ambition in greater energy and pace. It’s not so much that we walk the dogs, but more the other way around. Besides, who’s out in front?

Some in attendance attach wheels to their feet apparently to allow them to progress more steadily along their path, yet it’s often these people who retrace their path instead of lengthening it. As a result, they don’t get anywhere, but they do get there more quickly. Also a wonder is how the wardrobe choices of many park-goers seem to depend on two things: If it’s not an ice age, they’ll wear shorts and sandals. In the event of an ice age, they’ll reluctantly forego the sandals.

Parks can hold a menagerie of before-and-after pictures, with wannabes and already beens. The park discriminates against no one. The thing is, I usually enjoy watching the befores more. They seem to still have a hold on their passion. Maybe some of that preference is pity, maybe some of it’s relating. People trying to get in shape, others trying to stay in shape, others trying to show off their shape. People out for a picnic, or a stroll, or to become one with the ecosystem.

All in all, parks provide a wonderful humanitarium with no admission. You sit in one place, and they all come to you. Parades do happen every day if looking in the right places.

Some lounge on the grass to read or just collect in the sun. Funny how small blades of grass can not only accommodate this phenomenon, but invite it as well. We are drawn to large patches of grass as if it were magnetic. Sand can have similar effects for the loungers, yet it must be accompanied by a considerable amount of adjacent water to offset the connotations of dryness and heat. Grass, meanwhile, is self-contained. It acts as its own blanket, as it provides padding and is not hot to the touch. As a consequence, grass parks are much more popular than rock parks, cement parks, or those of other non-porous substances. Despite squeezing it out, urbania will never be able to replace the grassy oasis with anything more worthy of its expanse.

I presume I’m not the only one present mesmerized by the spectacle of humans in their recreative state, even though at first blush everyone looks to be caught up in their own space. If I looked around ever so unobtrusively, I may be able to see whose observation realm includes me. This is where subtlety works best, for if two people looking through binoculars were to happen to spot one another in unison, it would tend to spoil the moment. The lens you look through can’t be in the picture and retain any objectivity, let alone anonymity. So the best way to enjoy the park experience has to be as an undercover spy.

As I bask in the serenity of my surroundings, I find myself rejuvenated. The simple, uneventful drama of a park fills the lungs with a uniquely passive kinetic air. Watch them unceremoniously recycle as they arrive, take it all in, and then fade away. No announcement, no formality, no structure. People don’t check into a park, nor do they need to arrive on the hour or half hour. These are the ones who came at their leisure, partook, and once sated, floated off to be siphoned back into civilization.

As they say, life surely isn’t a walk in the park… but a walk in the park is.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taking Sides

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In a contest between a lion and a gazelle, I root for the gazelle. The gazelle looks so good running that it would be a shame to waste all that gracefulness by turning it into lunch. Likewise, in the match between lion and zebra, I root for the maligned zebra. It’s not that I don’t like lions per se, but in this case they aren’t picking on someone their own strength or speed. And further on to lion vs. wildebeest, I side with the wildebeest because the wildebeest has the disadvantage of no claws and an older transmission. Again, the lions aren’t playing fair.

In spider vs. fly, I go with the spider. After building such an elaborate web, they ought to get something out of the deal. See, maybe if lions set traps like that, I could respect them more. But lions just laze around most of the time yawning and stretching. They’re the overpaid professional athletes among the beasts. I suspect they got their vaunted king of the jungle status through purely tyrannical methods, not due to any public veneration.

In cat vs. mouse, I go with the cat, because domesticated cats are one of our few natural allies in the animal world, even if they could be spies, which is for another discussion. What’s apparent is they treat us passively, and they have yet to have their day in court. Add to that the fact that mice are simply up to no good, the cat is doing us a nice favor by eliminating them.

In cat vs. bird, I generally go with the bird, because birds are good singers. For the ones who can’t carry a tune, like a crow, the cat can have at them. I’m sorry, but going “caw-caw-caw!” isn’t singing. You probably weren’t aware that birds had their own version of rappers, but check them for chain necklaces next time.

In bear vs. salmon, I go with the bear, because I admire its tenacity in this situation, and salmon aren’t necessarily that easy to catch. On the salmon’s part, jumping out of the water is frankly just being cocky and setting yourself up for disaster. It’s hard to feel sorry for a species that doesn’t stay within its own natural habitat, that being, uh… what is it again? Oh yeah… water! Note to salmon: You were born to swim. Yes, your Shamu impression, while quite laudable, is highly inadvisable out in the wild. When your paying audience is the bear family, take a tip and stay in the pool.

Cougar vs. rabbit — in the snow, no less. You’ve seen it thirty-seven times during childhood in educational videos from thirty-seven different angles. As public sensitivity waned, eventually we were subjected to seeing a fate considerably less subtle than the distant Bambi gunfire, which allowed us the final perspective from the one being pursued. Yes, the cougar is starving, and it is extremely cold out. Although isn’t that the same reason that the rabbit should eat the cougar? I go with the rabbit here in an upset.

In cobra vs. mongoose, you’ve got to admire anything that’s crazy enough to take on a cobra. The cobra is trying to invoke fear in everyone by deforming its features and painting eyes on its head. So derivative, you cobras. Clear preference for the mongoose.

In wolves vs. anything else, I’d go with anything else. Wolves are dastardly scoundrels, they gang up on things, and then run away if confronted by an equal opponent. And notice how their heads hang down like they think they’re low riders. Give them points for effort, but the choreography is all off. If they were on The Forest’s Got Talent, they’d be summarily booed off the stage.

In hyenas vs. anything, it’s the same deal as with wolves. I’d always vote against hyenas, the quintessential wimps. They couldn’t be uglier if you painted them ugly. In the unlikely event of hyenas facing wolves, I’d want both sides to die from a heart attack. Neither side could rightly win such a confrontation. But at least I would let lions gladly beat either one of them, if only by default.

In cheetah vs. anything else, I’d have to go with the cheetah. They’re not arrogant like lions or tigers (or bears, oh my!). And cheetahs put on a good show for your money. Those 65-mph bursts make for great theater. The only exception where I would not be rooting for a cheetah would be against a starfish. Starfish are my friends. They have nuance to spare, and they’re never in a hurry. Starfish don’t look like they’re moving, yet in high-speed film, they chase after their unsuspecting prey quite methodically, and then otherwise keep to themselves and just hang out. And they’re very decorative. How many animals can say that? So what’s not to like?

Now if lions could go from zero to 65 in 4.8 seconds like the cheetah, then we could talk. But you don’t build up your racing skills lounging around in the brush like a hedonist. I’m thinking lions received their name precisely because they’re always lyin’ around. I mean, if the moniker fits, use it.

In horse vs. penguin, I gotta side with the horse here. The penguin is way out of its element trying to confront the equine family. On the flipside, several penguins postured at the track in racing regalia for the Kentucky Derby would be a sight well worth the price of admission. Yes, horses are gallant, while penguins are pleasantly wonky. Still, that’s not enough. Penguins for the loss…

In ants vs. grasshopper, I’d have to go with the ants. It’s not as if it’s a hundred hyenas picking on a humpback whale or something. Besides, hyenas would never have the requisite chutzpah to even imagine doing that. Ants, however, aren’t intimidated by a bug fifty times their own size. They back up their talk with results and build hills wherever they darn well please.

In elephant vs. scorpion, I think I’d be taking — oops… um, never mind. What’s the next one? Clean-up on aisle four…

In oyster vs. clam, I like the oyster. But then depending on the day, I might be inclined to go with the clam, it all depends. I could easily be talked out of my opinion. This one’s always befuddled me.

In planarian vs. paramecium, I’d definitely be rooting for the planarian, no hesitation. Even though underappreciated among the many micro-organisms, the planaria’s fortitude isn’t lost on me. Planaria are very flexible, reproducing by cutting themselves in two. They can do family planning on a daily basis. But, oh, talk about the headaches in re-zoning their political voting districts…

And here’s another thing… When they say the lamb will lie down with the lion, that’s because that’s what the lion is usually doing on any given afternoon. They don’t say the mountain goat will soar to new heights with the lion, because the lion’s too busy flossing with a blade of grass to be ascending anything higher than a bluff.

In Sumo wrestler vs. gorilla, I’d be pulling for the Sumo wrestler. It takes a great deal of courage to wear a diaper into the ring, and even more self-discipline to do it with a straight face. And while the gorilla is perfectly suited for the three-point stance, that’s not enough to sway me in the other direction.

In chinchilla vs. marmot, my sentiments would tend to lean toward the marmot. Chinchillas move around too fast and give me the willies anyway. If they did it with some form of panache, that would be another thing, but they act like they’ve popped one too many pep pills, and it makes me nervous. I couldn’t in good conscience root for something that makes me nervous.

Starfish vs. snail, for the ultimate duel. Land ho, ye mighty starfish! Chase down thy honorable foe and bring back yer righteous bounty… All hail the inimitable starfish, the pinnacle of all creatures above and below the earth, great and small. I have no compunction in rooting against the snail here. All I know is their S-car better go, or they’re gonna be the main course.

And finally, in shark vs. porcupine… imagine if you will, a dimension of sight and sound… where after all is said and done, we can chow down on shishkabobbed shark meat.

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