imperfectly-realized sense of empathy
Thursday, May 25 2006
setting: rural Hurley Township, New York
Gretchen dropped me off at the Kingston bus station at a little past ten this morning and I began my travels to Los Angeles in an Adirondack Trailways bus. I made the mistake of sitting in its back half near some young women who, from their overheard conversation, sounded like they had decided to model their lives, as best as possible, on the one pioneered by Paris Hilton. That was how they sounded, but when I turned around to look at them at one point I saw that they were very average in appearance and even a little overweight.
I think we've all experienced the irritation of overhearing truisms expressed as revelations, but once you mix in a heaping handful of style tips drawn entirely from conventional wisdom, the effect is suffocating. I heard them recapitulating all the discoveries of teenage and young adult life, including:
- Crate & Barrel is a great store.
- It's desirable to get your hair bleached, but then you have to deal with roots.
- It's desirable to go to tanning booths, but that's bad for you.
- Really funny guys make jokes about how eggs (as in, the kind people eat) are chicken embryoes and (hushed voices now) are like your period.
- Unfunny guys make jokes about shaken baby syndrome.
- It's possible to like the music your guy friends like if you listen to it enough, but it's still totally unpleasant when the singer starts just totally screaming.
One of the girls was talking about her boyfriend's favorite song, which is a mellow ditty about a guy who takes a drunk girl home and totally takes advantage of her. She found this disturbing, even rhetorically asking him in his absence, "Are you like trying to tell me something?" She did admit, though, that she kind of liked the song herself.
Every now and then someone would venture to the back of the bus to make use of the restroom and that was when I really regretted my decision to sit so far from the front. Suddenly the bus would be filled with the stench of stale urine, cut only slightly by the fragrance routinely added to industrial-grade turd preservative. Everybody around me was muttering and complaining and a few of the ladies started sampling each others' fragrance products.
Getting to JFK Airport from Hurley without the benefit of a personal automobile is far from straight forward and takes about four hours. Once I was in JFK's Terminal 6, though, everything was pretty much effortless. This was to be my first time using Jet Blue, and I have to say I was favorably impressed by the experience. Unlike the other airlines, they've made a real effort to keep people happy where doing so is an easy thing for them. An example is the free WiFi and 120 volt outlets provided at the boarding gate. This is something that costs them practically nothing but which adds immeasurably to the comfort of the wait, particularly for the many bicoastal tech workers. The other airlines nickle and dime you with outsourced overpriced pay-to-use WiFi services, meaning most people opt out and wait around bored and, dare I say, just a little bit angry.
Mind you, JetBlue hasn't made their WiFi experience one of luxury; doing so would encourage people to hog the outlets or sleep next to them. In order to plug in, you have to sit on a hard, wide, thinly-upholstered bench.
Mike, the guy who set me up with this Los Angeles web development gig, actually discovered me through the website you are now visting. I've been working for him remotely fairly regularly since January and this has allowed me to cut back on my computer housecall business. For this particular gig, I would actually be working for Mike's friend Luc, but Mike was the one who picked me up at the Burbank Airport. I didn't know anything about his appearance other than that his ancestors were Chinese, but somehow we found each other.
We headed to a part of the the San Fernando Valley somewhat closer to Luc's house, meeting him for dinner at a small sushi restaurant. Luc is a regular there, and the chef greeted us each with a special sanitary handshake that consisted of knocking his fist into ours. Luc's relationship with him is one of total trust. We didn't order anything; a great diversity of food just kept coming and coming. While we didn't actually eat anything that was still alive, the restaurant could have easily accommodated this desire. They had containers full of creeping live animals all along the counter within plain view. Having a distinctly occidental relationship with my food, I prefer the abstraction of meat on a plate without the reminder of what it is and where it comes from. This feeling is part of an imperfectly-realized sense of empathy; I wasn't entirely comfortable eating creatures while their families looked on. To the chef, of course, the abstraction I prefer is absurd.
Somehow the three of us managed to consume $380 worth of sushi, sake, and beer, all of it paid for by Luc. (He told us that his sushi bills come to more than his mortgage.) We left feeling a combination of refreshingly full and pleasantly intoxicated. (Unless there is a bacteriological problem, one never feels unhealthfully full after eating sushi.)
I ended up spending the night in Luc's guest room.
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