Thursday, August 11, 2011

Small talk in Baton Rouge

On my recent road trip to California I found myself just west of Baton Rouge on Highway 10 and in a strange conversation with a sheriff. He stopped me, told me immediately that I was speeding, but that he wasn’t going to give me a ticket. But he did want to talk and ordered me to step out of the car. What he knew about me was my name, I lived in Virginia Beach, VA and had no tickets or outstanding warrants.

In Hell on Earth, a love story, Hank had some pretty strange conversations with Foo Ling where they both appeared to be talking in circles. When my conversation with the sheriff was over I felt like I had just stepped off of the same merry-go-round that Hank and Foo Ling rode on.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked.
“Opelika,” I said.
“Do you live in Opelika?”
“No, I was visiting a friend. I live in Virginia Beach.”
“Where are you going to?”
“San Antonio.”
“Why are you going to San Antonio?”
“Well, I’m not really going to San Antonio. Well, I am but I actually going to Fullerton, California to visit my daughter.”
“Why are you going to San Antonio then?”
“I’m meeting my wife there and we’re going to visit the Alamo. She’s flying down and I’ll pick her up at the airport.”
“She didn’t want to drive with you?”
“Well, I wanted to drive and she didn’t want to drive so I guess you could say she didn’t want to drive with me but the main reason was she didn’t want to drive.”
“So she’s just going to San Antonio and then flying back? And you’re driving to California to see your daughter?”
“That’s correct.”
“Doesn’t your wife want to see her daughter in California?”
“Yes, she does and she’ll be flying out there in September.”
“And will you be driving out to meet her?” he said sarcastically and I was sure that he wasn’t expecting an answer.

I watch Law and Order on TV so I know a little bit about what the police can and cannot get away with and I was just about ready to ask him if he was going to charge me with anything and if he wasn’t than I was going to leave when he told me to get back in the car and drive safely. None of his questions pertained to speeding and the sense that I got from this conversation was law enforcement always has the terrorist thing going on the back burner.

And if the terrorist thing is going on the back burner and you’re a traveler (X), you definitely want to be going from Point A to Point B and back again. You don’t want to be (X) going from Point A to Point B with a stop in Point C and another stop in Point D where you meet up with (Y), who flies in, stays a few days and then flies back to Point A to await your return in two weeks, while you continue on to Point B. I’m only glad I didn’t mention that between Point C and Point D I went to Point E to visit cousin (Z).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Letters to the Editor

As readers of Hell on Earth know, writing letters to the editor was often the only newspaper writing Hank did. The only drawback to letters to the editor is that there are not enough of them. The number of papers is decreasing as is the space given to letter writers. This is too bad because what we need most in this country right now is responsible public discourse.

Letters to the editor are being replaced by a little thing called “comments” on the Internet. There are hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of articles appearing on the Internet daily about every subject imaginable and at the end of each article for the small price of becoming a member someone can record a comment to the article they just read. The most important thing to know about these “comments” is that they do not represent responsible discourse.

Let’s look at how a Letter to the Editor(LETTER) differs from a Comment on a Website(Cow).

In the first place, a LETTER requires a real name whereas a COW can get by with something like Snookyburger or Catinmouse or Waggler.
A LETTER also requires a real address while a COW can be sitting in a bar in Tijuana with a laptop and a margarita or at a prison for the criminally insane—not that they don’t have a right to an opinion but wouldn’t you like to know this piece of information.

Just as it has to be written by a person with a real name and a real address, a LETTER has to have a real idea. Oh, it can be misguided or extreme or even very, very confusing but, bottom line, it has to be something that can be expressed in real words, which is the way responsible people communicate with each other. A COW writer only has to know where to find the #, @, $, &, !, and % keys on the keyboard.

There is always a real possibility of a LETTER turning into a real discussion with different people with different ideas joining the dialogue. This is not the case with COW’s where a reply of “##$@%” to “!!###$#@” followed by the rebuttal, “Oh yeah, #&$**##!#!!!” is really more like a time bomb waiting to go off.

The web, it turns out, isn’t really the place to go to find responsible discourse, which is too bad because a future where the top row of a keyboard becomes the main means of communication is going to be a real %##!$%#&&(*)^^%$# and I ain’t &%%$#!@@!#$ whistling Dixie.