Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stranger Danger

I’m a firm believer of reading the fine print.  To hell with those inspirational writers that bemoan warning signs and ripping the labels off your couch cushions.  I like to know what pants I have that can and cannot go in the dryer.  Last thing I need is to walk around like I’m sporting a codpiece.

Signs are not there to dot the horizon with motivational reasons for peaceful protest.  A “Do Not Turn on Red” sign signifies that if you turn on red, you will get to meet your maker.  Or Vishnu.  So, despite being a declaration of potentially bad or good religious advice, it is ultimately a metallic square that is advising you to a best practice.

Stop signs, traffic lights, and turn signal all fall into the realm of a best practice.  Warning me that my coffee is hot is a nice touch, too. 

Why does it cost me another buck-fifty for iced coffee, while we’re at it?  Am I paying for their diminished legal responsibility?  Do they know I’m going to set it between my legs while I drive through traffic in ninety-five degree weather, AC off, and window rolled down?

Back to point: These are all brilliantly conveyed bits of advice.  So many motivators and sensationalists will go on about how important it is to just throw this common sense out the window.  Ignore the lid on that hot cup of coffee; tear it off and careen around hairpin turns.  Go on: it’s all about being an individual.

I love being an individual.  I also believe, as long as someone else has spent the time, frustration, and blood (usually, a lot of this is required before they make labels beseeching you not to spill any of your own), then I may as well take the advice.  Common sense dictates the Gestapo will not assassinate me if I rip the tags off my pillow.  But I’ve got a real good damn question for you: how do you clean that pillow?  Does it go in the dryer?  If so, what’s the setting?

We can all rip away labels and signs, ignore the advice of our elders, and disregard what politicians have said before.  That is, if we want to keep doing the same thing every other individual has done.  These individuals ignore authority, sit in Starbucks writing novels, and usually have a thumb up their pooper. I can respect that, but they didn’t get their by ignoring every beacon, suggestion, and symbol.  How else would they know how to plug in their laptop?  How much their java would have cost?  Common traffic laws?  How to read a clock to get out of bed?  Operated their cellphones?  Squeezed into their skinny legged jeans?

You might have realized, I sound like I’m being an asshole.  You’d be right.  I have met people in my life that believe in the literal concept of ‘ignore all authority’.  They find themselves doing the same thing over again, and every time, simply muster a reflection on what they’ve learned.  Yet, they proceed to do the same mistakes over again. 

Rae read me a quote yesterday:  “You can’t make the same mistake twice; the second time, it’s not a mistake – it’s a choice.”  That dug in deeply, as I began to dissect what that means to me; how that concept has pervaded my life.  To go through your life doing the same thing over and over again, feeling it wear you down each time: it’s just a choice.  Standing on the sides, saying at least you did your own thing – bent the rules and ignored the placards where you could – is just a justification as flimsy as snot-laden Kleenex in the wind.  Sure, it goes in pretty swirls, but do you really want to go near it?

You can only break the rules when you understand how they work.  Simply looking at life, jumping up and down on a couch, and screaming of your varying fervors will just make you look crazy.  I’d like to thank Tom Cruise for proving my point.  Knowing how the rules worked, would have taught him a few lessons about delivery, timing, and appreciation.  He did not deliver his outburst to the right crowd; his timing was god awful; and because of this, I don’t feel he was ever truly appreciated for such a flamboyant display of joy.

Hey look – the word ‘flamboyant’ used to describe Tom Cruise.  Bet that never crops up….

There’s also a lot to be said about interpreting signs.  A stop sign is a pretty red road decoration if you don’t know English.   A turn signal could mean you’re moving your vehicle into the proper traffic lane, if you’ve never driven in the states before.  The funny thing about what’s written on a sign, is that it really  only says what you think it says – how you interpret those words, colors, and lights will ultimately be left to the viewer.

Not all signs are literal and written, though, and the ones dictating human interaction are poorly conveyed.  In this area of the country – maybe all over it, I have no basis for comparison – people can be very introverted.  Once engaged, they open up all over the place.  I’d like to say the stereotypical ‘Philadelphians will all cut you’ rule should always be observed, but, they won’t.  They’ll talk your goddamn ear off.  We all have seen the signs telling us not to talk, breathe, fart, or look anywhere at or near Philly.  And in some social groups in the city, that’s still best practice.  But people are people.  Even on my most anti-social day, I want someone to just engage in some way.  Talk to me while I cook, hold the door for me at the grocery, sing the same song I am despite being in the next car over. 

There’s no sign telling you who you can or cannot talk to.  Yet, we assume everyone is off-limits.  And this is a choice that we make on a daily basis – avoiding other people, simply because that’s the sign we were impregnated with between cellphones, television, and bad romantic vampire movies. 

Maybe the signs we should be ignoring aren’t the ones we can read, but the ones we think.  Take the time today to change the way you read the signs of people around you.  Instead of worrying about hot coffee burning your mouth, just open it and say, “Hello,” to one random stranger.  For good measure, smile while you’re doing it.

Maybe today, we should ignore all of the signs and labels in our heads that we put on the world, and leave the ones inside our poly-blend, cotton Oxfords alone.

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