ignorance before Google
Sunday, September 3 2006
I drove out to Lowes today to pick up a small amount of pine tongue and groove flooring, the only material strong enough yet segmented enough to get into the small space I'd opened up in the subfloor in front of the laundry room's deck door. (For those who don't know what I'm going on about, this is part of a months-long rot abatement project, one where I'm fixing a rotted subfloor beneath a door without actually removing the door in question.)
Both on the way to Lowes and on the way back, I noticed that my car (the dark blue '97 Honda Civic hatchback) was behaving strangely. Its automatic transmission was shifting roughly and the needle of the speedometer, when it wasn't registering zero miles per hour, was flinging itself wildly all over its range, often as high as eighty miles per hour. It tended to do this only at high engine RPM. At highway speed, the speedometer was completely dead. It being the Labor Day weekend, I elected to drive at traffic speed, whatever that happened to be, since I had no idea whether or not I was speeding. I also avoided drive-time alcoholic beverage consumption.
Back home, I used Google to diagnose my car's problems. Before long I'd found a site suggesting a possible explanation for what I was seeing. A fuse (#15) had probably blown and the most likely cause was a short in the "wiring harness" beneath the engine's intake manifold. Sure enough, when I went out to inspect the Honda's fuse box, #15 was blown. We're all too young to remember, but how did people live with their ignorance in the days before Google?
This evening we all drove over to Rhinebeck, where we met up with Susan the German Translator to watch Half Nelson at Upstate Films. I'd heard great things about this film, but I nevertheless found it disappointing. It did its best to defy cliché and depict complicated characters, but the biggest defied cliché of all was the complete absence of a story arc. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler, but the most remarkable thing that actually changes about the main protagonist is that he shaves.
After the movie, we all had dinner at the Hurley Mountain Inn, a place Gretchen and I haven't been to together in over a year. We'd gradually decided that the place was too right wing for our tastes, something we couldn't overlook despite its convenient proximity. Its stifling right wingness seemed to be on special display tonight, particularly in that certain "Republican" look among the customers. But that wasn't the worst of it. Believe it or not, the Hurley Mountain Inn is still referring to deep fried pieces of potato as "freedom fries." That's so 2003; not even the Congressional cafeterias are still calling them that.
There was a bit of tension during the meal when Gretchen brought up the subject of her friend Annie (currently in Tanzania). Annie has a long history of manic depression but has decided to reproduce, that is, pass her troubled genes down to future generation(s). That she has decided to do this has led Gretchen to drop her as a friend. Susan didn't understand Gretchen's argument at all, pointing out (somewhat correctly) that even genetic parental mental problems don't reliably manifest in offspring. She also resorted to the nuclear argument, reminding Gretchen that the Nazis had followed the kind of eugenics Gretchen was advocating. Susan even knew the old Nazi eugenics slogan and could utter it flawlessly in its original German. Though we couldn't understand what it meant, the bombast and creepiness was there in the very language itself and didn't require translation. As always, the argument came down to wether or not life is a good thing to have. Gretchen feels it is a curse, and not something to casually force someone into, particularly if you might predispose that person to misery. Most of the rest of the world, meanwhile, views life as a gift. Someday we'll realize there are too many gifts eating up what little of our world is not already made of gifts, but in the meantime people keep on packing larval versions of themselves into an increasingly-funky Skylab Earth.
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