Some happy news from the neighborhood

Saw they’ve got the kid-size car righted and standing on the edge of the patio, so it looks like they had no trouble getting things sorted out with the Kiddie Car Insurance people and finding a reliable Kiddie Mechanic. I wonder if they went to the place on the corner with the quietly despairing signs. Well, it’s still good to see they have that fixed. I hope they’re having fun.

Their woodchuck was unavailable for comment.

Oh and Now the Neighbors Have a Woodchuck

They’ve got a woodchuck living in their yard! An actual woodchuck, all ready to come over and chuck some wood if they would. On top of all the other stuff they’ve got going on, they’re also going to be able to run their very own early-end-of-winter forecasts? That’s just too much, right? Why can’t we have a woodchuck living in our yard? We’ve got a great yard, it’s got a fence that really annoyed the other neighbors, and we’ve got this squirrel feeder that we found a real live worried mouse in the other day, and a goldfish pond, and a bunch of perennials that I can’t tell apart but that have names that sound like the butler in some low-effort 1930s cozy mystery movie series starring a reformed cat burglar, like, “Astilbe” and “Yarrow” and “Fescue” and stuff. And they get a woodchuck. I just can’t.

In Which I Envy the Neighbors

Like, I guess, everybody except the people at the end of the world we have neighbors. One set of ours has some fun stuff in the backyard. One of those trampolines like you see as one-bid prizes on The Price Is Right. A little canvas tent to make sunny summer afternoons pleasant to lounge in. A bunch of kid toys, little plastic slides, child-size cars, tetherballs, you know, stuff. Apart from the days each of these pieces were brought in, though, they’ve never used them. Now, I’ve told you all about how much I don’t how to have fun myself. But I can recognize signs of fun in other people. And now it’s got me worried that the fun that I’m not having is of a lower quality than the fun that the neighbors are not having. I don’t see any way out of this unless they have another trampoline party.

Some Things To Say About Flying A Kite Or Kites

So you know what’s a great activity that will get you some fresh air and keep you from screaming at the state of the world some? Kite-flying! Why not try that? You’ve had that kite you got … sometime in the past quarter-century … that you’ve brought through four moves, one across-country. Why not use that? The answer is because you can’t find it but you know you still have it. It is in the second bedroom, behind the bookshelf somehow.

That’s all right. You can get a new kite. If it’s been a while you may be surprised. You remember the classic old diamond kite, the kind Charlie Brown flew? That you could draw with six straight lines, plus one wiggly line for the tail, and a bit of string? That’s out of date. You can fly it, but is it worth the risk? These are hard enough times. You don’t need everyone thinking you’re flying kites ironically. Modern kites are much harder to draw, though, and nobody will blame you if you get one pre-drawn for you by the kite store. If you don’t know where the kite store is, go to the traffic light by the highway off-ramp and ask stopped cars. These are strange times. Anything might work.

There are more than three rules of kite safety. But many of them are common sense, so they can be written down as more than eight rules.

Be aware of your surroundings. Especially watch for terraces, dropoffs, ha-has, ponds, fences, or the Old North Creek that you might run into while running. You might be surprised how many kite-flyers get injured each year by running into stuff. I probably would be. Like, if it’s one? That would be surprisingly low, just from how many kites there are. 483 million? That would be surprisingly high, considering how much of the sky is not blotted out with kites. Ten thousand? That would surprise me. One thousand? That’s not so surprising if we count as “injured”, like, someone stomped their foot into a plastic cooler and it’s sore for ten minutes. What was your answer? Let’s compare. If you have no surroundings please ask your area library if they loan any out.

Do not fly during lightning storms. Only fly your kite during meteor storms and time storms.

Be careful flying near people. A hard-core adrenaline-driven power kite can reach speeds of up to 480 miles per hour, in a steep dive and while trying to catch prey. If this hits someone it’ll do them quite some harm. There’s not only the injury or the emergency room visit. It’s how nobody at the emergency room will take them seriously. “I’m very sorry you got hit by a kite,” the admitting nurse will say, “but you have to wait behind this fellow who swallowed a third bowling ball trying to get the first two out”. Even when they do get care, their whole recovery time will pass without their getting a single non-sarcastic word of sympathy. This will give the person your kite injured a tort against you. And then you’ll be unable to resist punning that it’s actually a torte, and that you’d rather have a cheese danish. This will let you all have a merry laugh at the situation. When they get out of the hospital they’ll run you over with a space shuttle. The lesson is before flying a kite to ask everyone around you if they or a friend of theirs owns a space shuttle.

Don’t fly your kite near power lines, no matter how good the otherwise open field looks. If you must, call the power company first and ask them to move the power lines away for you. They’ll be happy to, since it gives them something to do.

Don’t use your kite to scare animals however much they deserve it.

There are special rules involved in flying kites near or at an airport, and they count double for flying a kite from inside a plane. Be courteous and look them up ahead of time. Yes, you could just take out your kite in Economy Plus and trust the flight attendants to explain the rules to you. But they’re quite busy and don’t need to deal with your nonsense.

Have fun, but only in reasonable amounts, so that you leave some for others.

And Then I Thought About Fun

I know there’s exceptions to this next statement. But, generally, going to an amusement park is fun. I mean for the people going to the park for the purpose of fun. Just let me have this point, please. Where I’m going is that there are other things that are fun, too. Like, there’s going to karaoke night and singing the one song you’re kind of able to sing with mostly the right tones and pacing. That’s fun. So is making clicking noises back at a squirrel who seems to be trying to work out what your deal is. That’s fun. Again, if you want to do that.

But here’s where I’ve gotten. All these kinds of fun are very different activities. You can’t swap one out for the other without noticing that something is very different. One could not mistake chatting with a squirrel for talking about how you can’t imagine someone riding anything where you go upside-down. That is to say, fun is not fungible.

And so continues my lifelong discovery in adulthood of, oh, yeah, that’s why everybody treated my like that in middle school.

Finding the Fun: Caffeine Edition

I was hanging out online, since that’s easier than interacting with people, and the conversation turned to caffeine. One person piped up with this:

Fun fact, Red Bull actually has less caffiene than a regular cup of coffee.

While I was getting ready to have a reaction to that — don’t tell me you could respond to that without some warm-up first — someone else laid this on the group:

Fun fact: the lethal amount of caffeine is equal to 10,000 cups of coffee … at once.

OK, so, even if either or both of those are facts, this is fun? What kind of crowd am I moving in?

This is why I mostly drink coffee only when I misunderstood the question.

Ferret Skepticism

At the pet store is a plastic cage full of ferrets, which the label says are “lively tubes of furry fun”. Thing is every time I’m in the pet store, the ferrets are sprawled out on their backs, sleeping, dozing tubes of socks that had a wee too wild a party last night. I’ll suppose they’re fun, but the evidence isn’t on stage there. Just as well. Right next to them are guinea pigs, whom I understand much better, because while they may not be tubes of fun or anything they are always looking around with an expression that says, “Are you certain I was supposed to be invited to this meeting?”

Facing the Fun Fact of it All

I have a Peanuts page-a-day calendar because otherwise I’d only be reading three different Peanuts strips online every day, and on the back of every page is a miscellaneous bit of stuff, like a word puzzle or a sudoku puzzle or a note about what the day’s an anniversary of, which would be kind of useful if I saw it before I tore the page off the next day. On the back of January 27 they had this:

Fun Fact

Corporate executives consider Tuesday the most productive day of the week. It’s the day to get down to business and start crossing off items on to-do lists.

Is this a “fun fact”? I’m not a fair judge of whether something is fun because I own multiple books which explain the history of containerized cargo, and I’ve been thinking seriously about picking up James Q Wilson’s Bureaucracy for recreational reading. I know that sounds like a joke, but I got interested in Wilson’s book because of some reading I was doing about Harry S Truman’s 1946-1949 director of the Bureau of the Budget, so you see why that all makes sense. You can tell me whether corporate productivity assessments are fun.

But is it a “fact”? People have a complicated relationship with facts. We like them, because we’re pretty sure knowledge is built out of them, but just how that building gets done is a mystery. You can check in the World Almanac and find out how many tons of steel the United States produced in 1945, if you were trying to look up when Arbor Day is and had some trouble with the index, but all that really tells you is how much steel the American Iron and Steel Institute was willing to admit was made back then. And really, all you learn is how much the World Almanac claims the American Iron and Steel Institute claims was made back then, and they’re pretty sure you aren’t going to go checking, what with Google being a much easier way to find out when Arbor Day is. Knowing what you do about American steel production rates in 1945 doesn’t give you any idea about why Arbor Day.

We want facts to be on our side, as we get ready to do cognitive battle with the world, but they’re not reliable allies. A fact can be pretty hard to dispute — that steel-production figure has got to be pretty sound if I could figure out where I left the World Almanac so I could look it up — but then it’s also too dull to enlist except on a game show; it’s got at most the power to make you go “huh” and move on. Facts that are about anything interesting are graded and qualified and have subtleties and need other facts to help them out. If we, say, want to know what made World War II happen and what we can do to prevent a recurrence we can’t really grab anything concrete and have to content ourselves to not calling that area “Prussia” anymore.

We want facts to speak for themselves, as long as they stick to our scripts. When we run across a treacherous fact that doesn’t seem to care if it supports us we could say something about how we might change our minds based on “this fact, if it’s true.” This should cause Mrs Furey to pop up from seventh-grade English class and berate our intellectual carelessness. If it isn’t true it isn’t a fact, by definition, which is a kind of fact used to divert an argument we might not win into an argument everybody will walk away from, losing and bitter. We can get away with the carelessness because it’s a big world and Mrs Furey might need years before she can get back to us.

That’s all right; only the old-fashioned try to change minds with facts anymore anyway. Now it’s all done with the right colored lighting, appropriate background music, and the vague scent of vanilla, which research into the psychology of decision-making shows will cause us to decide, never mind what we said before, we are going to buy whatever it is that’s in front of us, whether it’s a Snoopy doll, a footstool, a bowl of keychains, or a 2016 Toyota Something Limited Edition (pre-recalled for your convenience). At least that’s what the facts they report say and who are we to quibble?

If there’s a fact I am pretty sure about, it’s that the calendar company started putting this stuff on the back of their pages at the same time they stopped printing separate pages for Sundays. That’s fourteen percent of the year they’re hoping I won’t miss if they put in a sprinkling of fun facts. I bet they decided to do that on a Tuesday.

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