Wednesday, March 12, 2008

To a bystander

The other day I was walking to my car and I realize I might have given someone the wrong impression. As I walked, said bystander may have heard, "Dang it! This American life is over."

I would like to clear this up right now.

There is no cause for alarm. No American life that I am aware of had recently terminated. What I actually said would better be transcribed as "Dang it! 'This American Life' is over." I'm an Ira Glass fan, you see.

Two-hand touch

When I was a kid, I played touch football with some guys at church once. I remember they said that you had to touch with both hands below the waist for it to count as a tackle.

Child safety programs at school had successfully instilled in me an irrational fear of being touched below the waist, but this was not my entire objection.

Instead, I reasoned that it seemed counter-intuitive to insist that the touch be only below the waist while other sports, like boxing, look very unfavorably on contact below the waist. Imagine a match where every punch had to land below the other guy's waist. Certainly, that type of trauma has its own intrinsic comic value, but I predict any such rule would be unpopular among boxers.

Maybe it would attract different kinds of boxers. All the would-be boxer-intellectuals who shied away from pro boxing for fear of chronic brain-damage may finally get their chance (assuming they have unnaturally high tolerances for pain).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

On feeling like a criminal.

I think that the ability to seem innocent is probably a great asset to criminals, but if criminals start to monopolize innocent-looking behavior, what behaviors will be left for the billions of innocent people in the world?

Two examples:

My apartment building is quite symmetrical. About three times per week, I mistakenly walk into this other apartment that's across the way from mine. This is usually a short visit, consisting of my looking around, looking confused and then looking to go to my regular apartment. The other week, however, they sent an email to the campus community about a burglar who matches my height and build who goes into unlocked apartments during the day and steals things. I just hope that no one confuses me with my evil doppelganger.

Example 2:

The other day I went to pick up my little brother at his work in Springville (the actual place shall remain nameless so as not to help criminals). It was late and my phone had died. Having no way to get a hold of him, I knocked on the door and the security guard let me in.

I explained my predicament. He asked if I had my brother's number, which I stored only in my dead phone.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket to look for my brother's number and lost control of the phone. After a bit of bumbling, the phone flew off my fingertips and under a chair. I was embarrassed at my clumsiness, but as I crawled under the chair to get the phone I felt something entirely distinct: guilt. It occurred to me that this normal-looking behavior was exactly the sort of thing a criminal would do.

Wasn't it a little too convenient that my phone had died, thereby necessitating my after-hours entrance into the building? Isn't it a little suspicious that my brother needs picking-up long after the building has closed at a time when virtually no one is working? Why hadn't I been able to name the division he works in or give any other information besides my brother's name to demonstrate that he really works there? Doesn't it seem a little implausible that the phone that is too dead to make a phone call somehow might have enough juice to find his phone number? Didn't the way I juggled my phone before dropping it seem a little bit choreographed? Wasn't it a little weird that to retrieve my phone, I had to crawl on my hands and knees? Isn't this exactly the sort of thing a criminal would do if he were trying to distract the guard from his watch? Couldn't this be a ruse to allow me to retrieve a weapon of some sort?

I started to feel like maybe the guard was beginning to suspect something. Heck, I was beginning to suspect something.

I tried to find the number in the phone, but it died each time before I could get it. The guard apparently did not have access to some kind of corporate directory (the sort of fact that any competent criminal's pre-crime research would have easily revealed). It looked like the only way to get a hold of my brother was to walk through the dark, mostly-empty building looking for him.

The guard said he'd go with me and we could look for my brother. I couldn't believe it. The guard obviously didn't suspect a thing. He was believing my string of unlikely coincidences just like he would fall for the ruse of an actual criminal. This made me feel more guilty. Not only was I suspiciously innocent, disorganized and clueless, but if I were malicious, I'd be good at it.

We walked and after a few seconds the guard was away from his post and (probably) out of range of any security cameras. "If I were a criminal, I'd be thinking, 'I've got him just where I want him,'" I thought. I knew this was exactly the part where a criminal could pull out a gun or something.

I started making a conscious effort not to do anything suspicious. This was a maddening proposition. Do I stay right near the guard or do I wander a bit so as to cover more ground and demonstrate that I consider myself beyond suspicion? What are they protecting in here and how do I act like I'm not trying to steal it? What kinds of assaults would the guard be vulnerable to and how can I make sure not to look like I'm about to attempt any of them?

We finally found my brother. His existence validated all my claims (I knew that only a criminal with much more sophistication than I had would've planted an inside man like that). In my mind, I was exonerated.

Criminals have ruined some of our best benign behaviors. Can you bring a violin case to a speakeasy without arousing suspicions? Can you dump a bag that's about the size and shape of a human body into the East River without looking bad? Can you offer someone "protection" in exchange for money without giving the wrong impression? What about boarding a plane while Muslim, requesting seat belt extenders, and sitting in a seat that's not your assigned seat?

P. S. I suppose I should thank that guy whoever he is for trusting me. It made my life easier and I suppose I was worthy of his trust.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I beat the system

You may notice that my most recent blog post was posted in the future. I started writing it in February, but didn't finish it and post it until today. I finally posted it, it posted it on the date when I started jotting down my ideas, not the day when I actually made the post public. I noticed that I could change the post date to any date, even a date in the future. So, I hope that my post on Feeling like a Criminal doesn't look anachronistic by the time the real March 9, 2008 rolls around.

On Asking Permission

Kids try a lot of different techniques to finagle permission from their parents. One ruse I tried was to ask each parent individually and then go with the answer I liked best. This did not work even once. In fact, this was the surest way to get a negative response from both--as soon as they got to collude, they would immediately agree to whichever answer was less desirable to me.

So, if asking both parents leads to an almost-certain negative response, is there some converse principle that leads to a positive one? Sure. If you want to guarantee a positive answer, ask neither.

An Unfortunate Circumstance

Hell is having to eat from vending machines and only having $10 bills.