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?”
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:
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.
So, what do angels do all day? I wasn’t particularly looking for trouble when I started thinking about this, and I can’t really say I’ve found any trouble, but it has been one of those little things that’s nagged at me for literally minutes and who knows when it’ll end.
I mean, I know, kind of, that angels are busy being in perfect communion with God, and I guess that’s great for them. I suppose that of all the people you’d want to be in perfect communion with, God is right up near the top of the list, well ahead of the guy who draws xkcd or that Firefly person other people on the Internet get all tense about. And I’m sure they’re happy about it, because of perfection and all that and plus, if they weren’t happy, God would know about it right away and could fix that before they even knew they were unhappy. That sounds a little creepy if I lay it out like that, but I have to suppose that God would try to play up the non-creepy side of that, and succeed, if God’s making any kind of effort at it. Also I suppose that if angels are there outside the mortal realm the whole idea of days or even time get pretty vague, but, it seems like being isn’t the same thing as doing. Given that they exist, I mean, what do they exist to do?
Pop culture, as ever, offers suggestions, most of them stupid. If I follow the twee movie industry right, angels can keep themselves fairly busy by coming into the mortal realm and guiding schlubby people into successful romances, possibly with the angels themselves, possibly with some faintly attractive person who has some properties such as existing and being played by the third-billed actor. Some work on teaching mortals to cherish what they have, which I guess is also nice enough. I suppose there’s a couple who have to explain why they can’t get the mortals Peter Falk’s autograph. (He’s getting coffee.)
It used to be different. Going back to the Like 1940s Or Something, angels got to work in vast bureaucratic organizations, becoming parts of the classic Men in the Grey Flannel Halo sort of lifestyle. They’d have titles and ranks and run off to take care of people whom review meetings have found are succumbing to life-threatening despair, or are maybe dying by accident way sooner than they ought to be, or maybe are just driving uncommonly poorly while in New Jersey, or not decorating their homes with enough telephones, or maybe they’re just trying to figure out the right way to bring the world to an end. Some of them might get into hijinks like putting that new-fangled Swing music on trial and deciding to acquit it on the grounds that they can kind of hear how there’s licks from Mozart slipped into it, plus, the people in the movie theaters watching this short really like Swing so they better not disapprove too much.
The angels in these presentations all clearly have stuff to do all day, and they seem to be pretty happy with an existence of staff meetings and interdepartmental communications. They seem to be happier staff meetings than I’ve ever been to, I guess because instead of having walls and PowerPoint demonstrations they have clouds and sunsets and the implication that someone who acts up might lose his cloud-seating privileges, which would be pretty exciting. They don’t have doughnuts, but maybe part of being in perfect communion with God is that you don’t even care about jelly doughnuts while you’re trying to remember exactly which planet Earth is, again. Come to it, worrying about things like Swing music when you aren’t sure about what planet Earth is seems kind of like busy-work. Maybe that’s what was going on in the mid-century like that, and the angels took to bureaucracy because they needed something exciting to do. I bet when they discovered PERT charts they were on cloud nine, if they could be said to exist anywhere.
What I take away from all this is that I believe I’m somehow turning into a precocious yet annoying seven-year-old.
I’m so very glad I’m not a power company spokesperson. I know if I were put into a meeting like that I’d be desperately hoping the matter could be solved in five minutes. “It’s been over a week since the storm, we should have our power back,” the tired and weary people would complain, and I’d say, “You’re absolutely right”, and then I’d be looking nervously at the door while people yelled at me for hours about how they should have electricity, even though I had agreed all I know how to agree, at least until someone mercifully came around and turned the lights out and said the power had failed. I’d be a lot more comfortable out in the field, pointing at cables and asking if I could do something to help with that one, and the actually trained electricians would say no, and maybe with that one instead, and the actually trained electricians would say no, and I start pointing to another one and they say no, and I start to suggest and then they send me to deal with justifiably angered residents. That’s probably how I would get stuck being the spokesperson in the first place.
I haven’t got any jokes about the end of Daylight Saving Time for the year because I’ve looked into it and nobody has any jokes about the end of Daylight Saving Time for the year. I see folks trying, but I’ve seen jokes before and they’re coming up way short of them. Plus even mentioning Daylight Saving Time is dangerous because when you do you get swooped down upon by people who rabidly hate it with the white-hot passion of a million disaffected fanboys, who’ll inform you that the time change is directly and immediately responsible every year for more than 224,000 adorable little schoolkids bursting into flame when sleep-deprived drivers run them down. I don’t buy it, of course; numbers that high suggest the drivers are using the pretext to get their cars set on fire. But I’m sure not going to get into that fight.
In the kitchen we’ve got this clock that picks up the time from the atomic clock radio station, which isn’t actually the dullest radio station I’ve ever listened to, and adjusts its time to fit. It’s an analog clock face, so when it adjusts the time it does by rolling the second hand forward really, really quickly, about twelve times normal speed, and the minute and hour hands follow. The result of this, and I’m not joking here, is that it takes about five minutes to rattle ahead a full hour in spring. To rattle ahead the eleven hours that it needs to do to fall back, though, takes it about 55 minutes. I’m just delighted that it can spend an hour rattling around to get done what it could do as easily by sleeping in an hour. It feels like every conference call I’ve ever been on.
Me, I spent the extra hour efficiently, getting done all the blinking I’d had planned for the next week.
The 1895 Bunker Act specifies a municipal government form to ease specifically the transition and merger of two municipalities into one. In this form, on the last January 1st or July 1st at least six months before the nominal date of the township merger, both municipalities begin holding their town council meetings in conjunction. These “junction” meetings are to continue for no more than eighteen months after the nominal merger date, or until the last person who remembers the communities being separate has died, by which time the new town council is to be in normal operation or will have to answer why not. The seats are occupied by the highest-ranking conjoined or Siamese twins from the respective municipalities’ Departments of Parks, Housing, Safety, Water, and War (the act’s terminology having never been updated since the National Security Act of 1947). In the event there is no qualified Siamese twin in the department then the highest-ranking available persons in each department will serve together having first strapped themselves together in the classic three-legged-race fashion. All meetings are to open with a song, but not the same song.
“We’ll need you for a conference call,” said the voice on the phone. This was a friendly voice, which made me think things were going well.
“All right … what are we going to be talking about?”
“We’re still figuring out the exact agenda, so just, stay loose, roll with it. We probably won’t need you really, we just want the insurance.”
I said thank you rather than work out whether to be insulted. “When is the call? When should I be there?”
“Oh, we’re working out the time. We’ll just call you when we’re ready.”
“Are you thinking it’ll be late morning? Early afternoon? Late afternoon?”
“Can’t really say. Just wait and we’ll be ready for you.”
“Is it going to be today?”
The voice sighed. “Don’t worry about trivialities. We We need you for the big-picture thinking, that insight you bring into our i-dotting and t-crossing.”
And this is why I spent the whole day sitting at the table, staring at my cell phone, wondering if I could dash off to the bathroom without getting caught.