Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Nods and Signs

I went to Seattle today. I was early for my appointment, so I walked around the downtown area, ending up at a bookstore, of course, followed by the imbibing (imbibation [wink]) of a double-espresso macchiatto (sp?) at Starbucks--not a popular beverage, apparently, because the people behind the counter often look as if they have to consult the Starbucks-archives for that one. It's basically two shots of the poison plus a gesture--literally, I believe, a "marking"--of milk- or cream-foam. It seems as if Starbucks is now chiefly in the business of selling sugar, milk, and CDs, not coffee. Most of the drinks look like milkshakes "marked" with coffee.

To echo Loman in Death of a Salesman, I am liked but not well liked in cities. I tend to walk too slowly--I call it sauntering. --Unless, of course, I'm late, but I'm almost always early. Sauntering is tolerated in Seattle but virtually felonious in NYC. I take up quite a bit of space, anyway, so the sauntering only exacerbates things. People go around me quickly, like pilot-fish around an immense sea monster. Oh, well. I like to think of myself as breaking up their routine, in addition to frustrating them.

Also, if by chance I make eye-contact with someone, I usually nod a hello, perhaps even smile. I don't go out of my way to make eye-contact, mind you. I'm not a complete loon. But I don't like that robotic affect (not effect) that people adopt in large cities or immense institutions, like a big state university or a huge corporation. I guess the idea is that if you make eye-contact, the other person might take it as a sign that he or she should bother you, but I think if the person is going to bother you, he or she will do so anyway. For example, an Australian fellow was trying to stop everyone who passed him on the sidewalk in Seattle today. He was "clean-cut," as they used to say, and polite, so I suspected he belonged to a cult; that is, he wasn't asking for spare change. When he asked me if he could have a moment of my time, I said, "No, thank you," and resumed sauntering. (Sauntering does make me a less quickly moving target for potential cultists, unfortunately.)

[I gave small amounts of money to persons who appeared to be homeless. I know: the funds will likely be applied to an inexpensive vintage of wine (for example), but when you give a donation like that, you don't want to get all up in the person's business and ask her or him what fund the dollar (or so) is going to enhance.]

My guess is that approximately 22% of the persons I quickly nod "hello" to in Seattle quickly nod "hello" back. (It has to be a crisp nod; you don't want to come off as looking like you're about to go to sleep, or as if you're nodding agreement to a complex proposition.) In New York, I'd put the figure at 2%, half of whom want spare change, so the net is 1%. Philadelphia seems friendlier than NYC, at least according to the nodometer. San Francisco is very friendly. That's because an earthquake could strike at any moment, so people don't want to spend energy on discourtesy or tough, false fronts, and you could end up under rubble with the stranger beside you; at least that's my working hypothesis.

I also saw some amusing signs for businesses downtown today. One place, a clothing store, I believe, is called "Totally Michael's." I think that means everything in the store is either owned or (and?) made by somebody named Michael. If it's totally Michael's, though, what happens if you want to buy something? Does the cashier say, "No, I'm sorry. That's totally Michael's, and Mike has never been one to share, but thanks for stopping by"?

Then there was "Coldwater Creek." --As opposed to what? Hot Water Creek? --That would be the creek below the nuclear-power plant, I guess. Or Coldwater Puddle? And it's a clothing store! They don't even sell water from creeks or creek-related merchandise. How disappointing. Everything was 70% off, however, so there's that. I didn't go in because I was 70% uninterested. It is a rather poetic name, however, what with the creek, the water, and the alliteration.

"Urban Outfitters." That's a hoot. I guess they outfit you in pollution, prohibitively high leases, and some kind of taxi-cab attractor.

"Banana Republic" is ludicrous. That's a nickname for a Latin American dictatorship, isn't it (where elections are rigged--I mean, like in Florida and Ohio)? And is it really a republic? Do the people who work there elect a president and a congress? Or is the manager a dictator with fake military medals and a limousine with flags? I bet you can't find even one banana in that store. Why do we put up with these names?

"Totally Yours--If You Give Us Enough Money In Return." That's a better name for a store, although it's bit long, perhaps.
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