A Closed Loop

The Air and Space Museum at night. From the Mall side.

“The museum is closed,” said the disembodied voice broadcast from the ceiling. I tossed my 3D glasses into the big box as I passed through the exit doors. I walked underneath the electronic gate, a sentry that would beep or screech or burp an alarm if the encoded goggles were still in my pocket.

I was close to holding on to them to set the alarm off. But I had the use the restroom. I found the recycling bin, past the guard station, and dropped my empty beer bottle into its mouth. No popcorn or raisenettes in the museum theatre, but a choice of beers and a hard cider. Weird. But I was on a mission. 

The cavernous voice reminded me, again, about the closed museum. I headed toward the bathrooms. That is until I was stopped by a crisply white-shirted museum officer. There was a shiny ribbon along the seam of her trousers, and she had a shiny plastic badge above her crisp white breast pocket. “The museum is closed.” I nodded. 

“Yup, just need to use the facilities,” I grinned and pointed at them, just nine or ten yards ahead. 

“The museum is closed.” She pointed solemnly the down escalator like the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The speakers from the ceiling backed her up, “The museum is closed.”

“I just can’t…” I started, but she just looked at me without mercy and pointed with a hint of “no exception” dripping from her pointing finger. “Is there one underneath here?” She silently nodded, her directive arm like a street sign. I stepped onto the moving stairs, away from the closest relief station. 

I stepped off the escalator and turned around. To see a long line snaking its way from the door. The museum is closed, except for the long line for the bathroom. And the other long line for the next screening of the movie. Didn’t seem closed to me. I was walking to find the end of the line as the regular refrain “The museum is closed” played across the PA system. I was shocked by the sudden vibration from my left back pocket. The sound from my phone was still muted from the show. “Hey,” I said after seeing The Big Guy’s image.

“You just walked by us. I’m going to punch someone if we don’t leave now.”

“I need to use the bathroom and there’s a ridiculous line.” (The museum is closed.)

“No seriously. Someone will be punched by me if I stand here another minute.” He was serious. 

“Where you at? We’re gonna need to stop somewhere else, you know.”

(The museum is closed.) “That’s fine. Just turn around. I can see you.” I couldn’t see him, even though I strained to see around the crowd of people who were not getting the message, either. Despite the near monkish chant, “the museum is closed.” I wished it rhymed. Then I saw him on his phone and put mine back in my pocket.

There was another museum cop standing a few feet away from him, offering the news that the museum was closed. “Wait, so are you saying that the museum is closed?” I couldn’t tell if the cop was ignoring or unaware of the sarcasm. 

“The museum is closed,” he replied. (The museum is closed.) I think that this was not the first part of their exchange, and I could feel The Big Guy getting riled. 

“You can’t go there, unless you get in line for those IMAX tickets. The door is there.” He pointed. These folks sure did point a lot. 

“But I want to go there,” I pointed to the exit on the other side. The side much closer to where I parked. 

“The museum is closed.” 

“So I can’t use that other exit?” (The museum is closed.) We were walking to my preferred exit. 

“The museum is closed.” I was starting to understand that punching feeling.

“We can’t leave through that other side?” I was going to scream if I heard that stupid overhead call and response.

“You can go out that way. The museum is closed.”

The Big Guy couldn’t hold himself back, “So the museum is like, closed!??!” The museum police put his hand on his club. (The museum is closed.) He repeated his line, the one about the museum being closed as we rushed each other out of that nightmare.

As we walked past the last of the guard gauntlet, the final line of defense said, “Have a good night,” and I thought that the Big Guy was going to kiss him. Instead he thanked him for not telling us that the museum was closed as we pushed out the door into the fresh, cool night air where we all asked each other the most important question. You know what we asked. It was funny, now.

Inside The Lines

Harold takes his purple crayon and draws himself a balloon so he doesn't tumble to his death.

I’m not doing it, but I know people who are. They say it’s relaxing. They find it a creative outlet. Some find it mindful. Some are obsessed, as people are when they embrace a new activity.

Adult coloring.

When I first heard the term, I thought it had to do with a type of sex play. I didn’t read those shades of gray “books,” but the popularity of adult coloring and safe S&M porn for the bookclub set were overlapping if not simultaneous.

If it wasn’t sex play, maybe it was adult themed coloring. You know, NSFW stuff. Don’t look at me that way. It’s a reasonable thought. I mean why else would they modify the action of coloring with “adult?”

I was wrong. There really isn’t much difference between adult coloring and just coloring. You get a piece of paper with a line drawing and you take your crayons or special pencils or even paints, I guess, and you color.

Remember all of those affirmations about it being cool to color outside of the lines? That we won’t be constrained by the rules imposed by our mean first grade teachers? That we will push beyond prescribed limits and put our pens wherever the hell we want to? No more. It’s all about playing within the lines. Au revoir, adios and adieu freedom.

It’s about the constraints. The comfort of knowing where you are supposed to be. The certainty of limits. Success via conforming. A new coloring order.

Folks can go online and download coloring sheets to print out and color. For ten bucks, you can go to Target and buy a Crayola™ branded book of “folk art” for your coloring pleasure. “Folk art” is a euphemism for cartoons that are easy for people to color. Big blocks of spaces to fill in with your favorite colors. Here’s how they sell it:

Lose yourself in a complex-but-relaxing coloring art activity with these captivating, bold, and colorful images. Includes 80 detailed art patterns on high-quality paper. Perforated for easy tear out and framing.

My favorite part? “Perforated for easy tear out AND FRAMING.” Emphasis, of course, mine. I would love to see that person’s bill from Michaels. Eighty from one book. All framed! Their hallways are covered in framed coloring pages of primitive cartoon chickens.  Or even worse, imagine being on their Christmas list.

Here’s the thank you card:

Thanks, Friend, for the thoughtful, framed coloring page of that rooster and the pig in the farmyard! You really are making me think about roosters differently. And is that Crayola™ crayon shade Barn Red? Thanks again, but next year, please don’t go through all that trouble for me. Love, Doc

Seriously, I love that people are enjoying simple, mindful or even mindless activity. I bet that people who are coloring see their breathing and heartbeat slow down, their brain waves relax and tension levels drop exponentially.

It’s cool that you color. I mean I write this stupid blog. Go on now. You do you.

Pass The Nuts

I know that lots of people only occasionally fly. I know that airports and airport etiquette can be very foreign. I do not expect expertise from my fellow travelers, and, in fact, sometimes exhibit airport clumsiness myself.

That caveat aside, seriously, what the hell is wrong with some of you?

How do you normally figure things out?

I recommend less going to your memory banks on how it was last time you flew–2008?–or a whack video you saw on YouTube. Also please disregard the purported inside tips from your somewhat-sophisticated brother-in-law or from your fantasy football league commissioner, especially if their great knowledge is based upon an email they received from an “expert” source. [PSA: please check wild claims that get passed around social media on snopes.com before adding to the noise. We all thank you in advance.]

Another idea is to use environmental information. One really great technique is to read the signs. There are many, many signs in airports. People actually have jobs to create signage. You don’t have to let all their work go to waste.

When I checked in for my flight, I was jazzed to see that the travel gods bestowed upon me a random TSA PreCheck. Jazz was induced especially because I was wearing boots–it’s the little things in travel. Also, I hate stripping down to my skivvies and filling up 4 or 5 gray bins with my laptop (must be alone in a bin) and shoes and scarves and a one-quart plastic bags full of liquids in containers all less than 3.4 ounces. You still can’t bring a bottle of water, though.

At today’s airport, there are two concourses. My flight was out of Concourse B. Only one had PreCheck open. Of course it was the Concourse A. The sign said the concourses are connected, so I turned around and walked across the mall and food court to the other security line. The woman in front of me read the PreCheck notice and did the same.

Concourse A displayed a 4×3 foot sign directing PreCheck travelers to the left and all others to the right. The sign explained the PreCheck rules which was pretty much put any bag you have on the belt and walk on through.

The woman in front of me removed her shoes and placed her coat in a bin. The family of four also in front of me confusedly pulled multiple bins out. Computers and tablets, belts and sweaters, watches and quart-sized plastic bags all unnecessarily placed with much consternation. The woman behind tapped my shoulder and asked if you could get from Concourse A to Concourse B. I told her yes, at least that’s what the sign said. She said she didn’t read that part.

It wasn’t crowded, so the passenger confusion was mostly self-inflicted. A TSA staffer reminded the six people in our line that they needed to have PreCheck on their boarding pass or go to the other line. A woman sheepishly ducked under the rope between the stanchions to her correct line. Another family crisscrossed to the PreCheck line from the standard line because they couldn’t read, either.

I put my backpack on the conveyer belt and walked through the magnetometer. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I’m at my gate fifty minutes before the flight. A man in black warmup gear and screaming scarlet kicks walked across the empty airport to the gate. The door to the jetway is wide open, but it’s not time to board. Will Scarlet looks around and, for some unknowable reason, decides to board himself. Seriously. He walked through the door and down the jetway a few steps and walked back out. He had his boarding pass in his hand and inspected the unattended desk and computer. He found the scanner and he SCANNED HIS BOARDING PASS. I am not making this up. Then some clueless woman saw him and followed his lead.

I waited for the monster to spit them out, but nothing happened. I looked at my watch and started to worry that maybe the flight had boarded and I blew it. (I have done this once before.) Now, I’m all consternated. But, unlike my fellow passengers, I walk up to the the kiosk for my flight and check with the people who work there. No boarding yet.

I walk back to my seat to see the two people who took the boarding into their own hands escorted out by an airline employee. She was explaining that boarding would be in 20 minutes. Will Scarlett looked like he didn’t understand. That was the only part that made sense, that Mr. Scarlett was confused. Still.

In my head I’m wondering, did they get all the way to the door of the plane? Did they knock on it? Or was the plane door open? Did they walk on the plane? Was the pilot there? Were there people cleaning the seatbacks?  Or were they just standing on the jetway until someone “found” them?

And damn them for making me look. I knew better, but vagaries in the travel system, the missing of flights, the capriciousness of rules among airports and heightened or de-heightened alert status (more working dogs!), means that you have to verify and not trust your experiences. So, you crazy mixed up travelers, my second piece of advice, in addition to reading signs, is ask the experts. The real experts. Don’t follow Will Scarlett down the jetway.

At least there were peanuts on my flight.

Rules Rule the Season

I sit here furiously typing (okay, furiously thinking about what to type. Okay, maybe just a little furious?) because I made up a rule. The rule is at least four thinkings each month. And it’s getting to the end and I have only two. (Three if this actually gets posted.)

I am not a big fan of rules and obligations. We impose rules on ourselves. This four entries a month rule is a rule to impose discipline. I am not so good on that discipline-thing. So I trick myself with rules I make up. I usually break them, but I am not so hard on myself.

And now, here we are, at the time of year of obligations and expectations. There are a bunch of rules that we impose on ourselves. The big thing I heard this year was card trouble. “I need to get my cards done….I am so late this year….I haven’t ever been THIS late….Do you think it’s okay if they get there like the day after Christmas?”

But there is also the expectation that others have about the cards. You know, staying on the list. Reciprocating. Keeping in touch.

The 15-year-old is saving up for a new phone. He has become the evil superhero Phone-Destroyer. He’s been through 3 so far this year. I said the next one was on his dime.

He had enough for a non-cool phone. The cool phone was in reach with after a few weeks of significant yard work.

I learned yesterday that he was back in the hole. Turns out that he was sneaking off to the mall after school to use his money to buy Christmas gifts for us. For us!?! I don’t know how we raised a kid with his generosity and kindness. Yet somehow he assimilated these excellent qualities–maybe applied as rules.

Merry Christmas!