Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reflections On A High School Graduation

I went to my best friend's (since grade school) son's high school graduation this afternoon.  The ceremony and everything around it gave me pause for reflection.  Here are some of the thoughts I took away from this...

I don't know what the big fuss is about with childhood obesity.  Most of the children I saw at today's graduation looked just fine.  Some could lose a pound or two...but that wasn't any different from when I was going to school over 30 years ago.  Seriously, if this is what our elected officials sees as one of the "most serious epidemics" facing our world today, I think they have their heads screwed-on funny.  It isn't the vending machines or the marketing of soft drinks that is causing nutrition problems in young 'uns today.  The problem is that their parents have poor eating habits themselves, and have passed this along to their kids.  How can we fix the problem?  Fix the parents.  I don't know how you do this though.  You can't legislate-away stupid.  I am not calling parents overtly stupid, but I am saying that some of the lifestyle choices they build their family upon and set an example for their own children may very well be, well, stupid.  Remember parents, kids emulate what you do.  They don't do what you say, they do what you do.

Then I listened to the speeches singing the praises of high school, how it was so much of a family, and how everyone will miss all this as they get older.  I suppose for some people this is true, and perhaps it explains what I see of the comments from my old high school classmates on facebook.  I apologize to my former classmates when I say that I do not miss my high school years.  I don't have a deep and lasting connection with almost everyone I knew (there are a few, and I can count these on one hand).  I don't reflect fondly on my high school years.  It was an awkward time where I felt much more left out than I do now as an adult.  Today I saw picture mosaics that were supposed to represent these fond memories that the class of 2013 would remember ten, twenty, and thirty years or more from now.  It was the same pictures I remember in my yearbook back in the early 1980s.  It was pictures of the school dances, prom, sports events, and maybe a student council or class trip picture thrown in.  Fact is I was never part of this.  Me and most of the people I remember being friends with in high school weren't really part of all this.  I'm not saying this was a conspiracy, but I am saying that these same people who look back fondly on high school are going to be the ones in the various cliques.  The other half, well, sees it as just something that happened before the next phase of life.

I seriously looked back at my high school days to see if I could find something -- anything -- that would evoke fond memories.  I have a few, but they're not really of high school itself...

I remember a girl I knew - her name is June.  I have tried to locate her, and can't find her anymore.  We were on the bus together for the high school "Gifted and Talented Summer Institute."  June was involved with something musical, and I was taking a class about game theory (as close to computer science as they had back then).  I had a wild crush on June, and as nerdy guys do in this situation, I managed to make an ass of myself.  I didn't know it, but June already was seeing someone, but she took the time to talk to me on the phone about all kinds of things, and saw something other than my being an ass.  I'd really like to talk to her again now that I've matured, and just share ideas and stuff again without hormones in the way.

I remember the time I spent with several people sharing ideas about computers and making them come to life.  One of those people was Lenny, my friend who's son graduated today.  Another was Jay, who died back in December.  The third was Howard, who I've tried to revive a friendship with, but his current life and mine seem to be incompatible.  This is another way to say that we've grown apart - he has his life and I have mine.  We were all ahead of our time, and what everyone takes for granted today our little group actually was a big part of laying the foundation for.  We met with our counterparts in the nearby school districts of Babylon, West Babylon, Southampton, and other places on Long Island (the Long Island Computer Users Society, or LICUS) and had our own little social circle - before things like facebook, e-mail (as we know it), and text messaging ever existed.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was no Internet...yet.

As I go back further, all the way to first grade, I recall my friend Lisa.  I remember Lisa giving me a ride home on her bicycle in first grade, and like my later interaction with June, I enjoyed talking to Lisa.  As we got older into third and fourth grade, we too parted company.  I remember Lisa, Norma, Tom, and I (we lived near each other) getting together to ride our bicycles around and just talking about stuff.  Tom and I would talk about how we built stuff in the dirt pile in his back yard, and Lisa and Norma would talk about whatever girls talk about (heck, I don't even remember now).

In third grade there was Jessica and the first sexual experience I didn't know was one or understand until I was an adult.  Jessica didn't like me much anymore by high school (she was a few years behind me) and is now married and my one attempt to contact her to just say hello never received a reply.  Jessica and I lived down the street from one another.

High school, though, really didn't leave me with fond memories.  It didn't leave me with a sense of family.  Unfortunately, perhaps due in part to my own social ineptness, this same feeling followed me straight into college, where I also have a similar lack of fond memories or sense of family.  College seemed a lot like a more difficult extension of high school.

I can't blame my classmates for having a more profound connection with each other than I do.  I really can't.  However, I have to say that I wish they could understand why I don't.  Some of my high school classmates I think did try to make that connection that, if circumstances were different, we may have been friends.  I listen to the chatter on facebook and have come to the realization that most of them haven't changed a whole lot, and somehow it doesn't surprise me that their social life centers around dancing, drinking, and the rumor mill.  Whatever makes them happy is fine by me.

I still have yet to find the kind of social circle that they talk about in the high school graduation speeches.  As I enter the next decade of my life, I am finding it more difficult to make the kind of connections that lead to the kind of lasting memories that they talk about.  I still wonder where my place is in this world.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Arbitrary and Nonsensical

I apologize in advance for repeating this complaint again, but it just seems like it needs to be repeated.

I have not been back to the state of New York in three years to visit my family, and it seemed like it was long past time to do so.  In spite of our differences, I like my immediate family.  However, Austin, Texas is a long way from Long Island, New York.  The only reasonable way to travel is by airplane...and so I did the deed and purchased tickets today to visit my family.

Then I went online to look at the latest rules for air travel.  While things haven't changed too much since I last partook of air travel in 2008, I was reminded why my last few trips have been by car:  The airport security procedures are among the most arbitrary and nonsensical rules and procedures I have ever experienced.  Among them...

Take off your shoes, your belt, and remove everything from your pockets, and anything metal on your person.

It seems that the TSA doesn't really understand what the purpose of these items are, so let me explain:  My shoes are to protect my feet from dirt, fungi, and other shit that is all over the airport floor.  My belt is to help keep my pants up.  I admit that it is more to enhance the stability of my pants these days, as I am horribly overweight, but believe me when I say that a belt is not a fashion accessory - it's a part of my clothing (like my sneakers).  I don't mind putting my wristwatch into my carry-on for scanning, but I don't really like parting with my wallet.  It has money and other things of importance to me that I will need on my journey.  I've been through TSA security lines before, and I can't say they are terribly good about guarding against someone else taking my stuff.  I'll get to that in a moment.

Remove all large electronic devices from your carry-on bag so they can be X-ray scanned.  You should absolutely avoid putting these in your checked baggage.

I have a medical condition called obstructive sleep apnea that requires me to use a CPAP machine - an expensive device the size of a small shoe box that is essentially an air pump.  It blows air into my nose while I sleep through tubing and a mask so I don't stop breathing while I sleep.  That device, by itself, takes-up two-thirds of my carry-on bag.  I then have not one but two netbooks (I would rather bring my laptop, but it's too big after the CPAP...).  "Why two netbooks," you ask?  Well, where I work they will not let me log-into their network with my own netbook (by policy), and I am effectively on-call if a work emergency arises...and I can't really use it for my personal stuff.  This is the reason why I have my own netbook, which allows me to do my own personal computing, like web browsing and stuff.

I explain this because apparently the TSA thinks that people walk into an airplane with nothing other than their own selves and checked baggage containing a pile of clothing in this day and age.  Hello TSA, welcome to 2013.  What do I get to look forward to in your stupid lines?  Well, in addition to placing my sneakers, belt, and everything I would normally carry in my pockets into one of your trays to go through the X-ray machine, I now have to unpack practically everything in my carry-on bag and individually place that into your trays as well.  They remind me to mark my computers with some kind of identification in case someone tries to walk off with them.  Thanks for that reminder.  When Johnny Robber grabs my stuff and is halfway across the airport, it'll be a consolation to me that he has some kind of identification showing who he just ripped-off.  Thankyouverymuch asswipes.

Be careful of what you say.  Any speech that jokes about or is in opposition to our [ridiculous] procedures while you're being scanned will cause further delay and we will search you even more.

So much for the concept of free speech and redress of grievances, as I believe exists somewhere in the Bill of Rights.  Yes, I am aware that there is a time and place for things, and maybe the security line isn't one of them.  However, after enduring this arbitrary and nonsensical process, the best some of us can do to keep our own sanity is to offset it with humor and/or a grumble or two.  I have to wonder if the "people" who came up with these rules are actually some sort of automaton because they clearly aren't rational human beings.

Now enter the probulator so we can scan you for anything you didn't already remove from your person, and if you don't do this or we don't like what we see, we'll pull you aside and give you the same pat-down that we give suspected criminals when they're arrested.

I have nothing further to say about this except that I still have to wonder what I did that made my government treat me as though I were a common criminal.

We do this to make air travel safe.

You do this to make people's lives a living hell, hoping that the acts you make us perform intimidate would-be "terrorists."  Let me give you a little hint:  The people you call "terrorists" laugh at this whole thing.  This is the kind of reaction they were hoping our government would have.  The groups that are responsible for terrorist acts don't like the freedoms we have, and are doing everything in their power to take down our society from the inside. Seriously, if you think your silly stupid security procedures will prevent these people from committing another act of terror, you're sadly underestimating their creativity.  Congratulations:  You've created a fascist, authoritarian system inside of our democratic society, just like the terror groups wanted.

Never mind the myriad taxes and fees that get tacked-onto the cost of an airplane ticket, the special locks you must use on your checked baggage so the TSA can look at that as well, the cost of airport parking for a week, the cost of air travel itself, and the extra hour-and-a-half to two hours before flight departure you now need to get to the airport in order to leave on schedule, and the layovers between flight segments.  It is a terrible day-long beginning and ending to a vacation and visit to see one's family.

To those of you who find this process trivial, I salute your ability to deal with it.  No law-abiding citizen should have to put-up with this kind of treatment, though, and I find it utterly distasteful.

1,900 miles each way is too far for me to drive by myself, particularly with a sleep disorder.  Between the actual hours of driving and the day of exhaustion after each road trip, nearly a whole week is spent in travel alone.  After having done the road trip once and looked into trains and busses, airplane travel is unfortunately the only practical way to go.

I need to see my doctor sometime between now and the day of my trip to see if there are any "happy pills" he can prescribe that will make me oblivious to this ridiculousness.