A Letter from Dad: "Can Pushing Make the Line Go Faster?"

September 19th, 2019

When I was 17, I had one friend with an Autism brother1. He would sometimes bring him with us on our local sojourns, one of which was to sit on a bench at the tiny park and just watch traffic go by.

We would sometimes make up names for people who walked/drove past: "Oh, look at the nose on this guy! That's Bozo Redondo." "Hair check, hair check! This crazy lady has a swivel head and can't hold still; Miss Sheveled.2 "

Frank was usually silent, but very alert and always in observation mode. I think that's where we/I learned to always be aware of our surroundings/environment. Watch and listen to make sense of the world. I am not sure where he was on the Autism spectrum; whereas now someone hyper-alert makes me nervous ("what? where is it? calm down!") back then it seemed to be a calming thing. We relaxed in to our seat on the bench and did not want to miss anything in the moment: just speculating/naming/watching the world go by....3

If you have many years of acute observation, travel, elements of culture, and can be calm enough to observe, one becomes adept at what humans have always done to interpret their world: categorization/labeling.

Of course, this is prohibited. It is "frowned upon" (etymology?)4 to make any kind of observation about a person/place/thing.5 Some cultures/genders/groups are especially prohibited. Jokes are also taboo; there are daily news stories about someone being fired/shamed/black listed due to some remark or joke.

Yes, I was fired from a radio job for making an obvious joke about females back in the NOW days. But that's another story for another day (and you've probably heard it)6.

Throughout my life, I've had people tell me "you can't say that!" "that's not fair!"7 "you don't know that person!" "we need to help that ___ and that's not helping!" One's observations are empirical, untestable, and always suspect. Nature or nurture...why would you say something like that? Were you toilet trained at gunpoint? What were you thinking...or were you? You need to see a Psychiatrist!

Anyway Frank, his brother, and I went to a concert at the Claremont Colleges (Pomona, which later sent me a thin two paragraph denial letter the same day a fat envelope arrived from Stanford) one night. I think it was John Lee Hooker?

We were standing in line ("on line" if you are from New York) and when they opened the doors, Frank kept muttering "Can pushing make the line go faster?" as the crowd was tightening/jamming to the doorway. It was the only time I saw him get upset.

As the crowd continued to surge towards the door, he started to escalate and got louder..."Can pushing make the line go faster?" "CAN PUSHING MAKE THE LINE GO FASTER?" "No! Can't!"

His brother pushed us out of the crowd. We ended up sitting on a lawn next to the tiny place and listening from there. We had space and were able to turn down vision mode and turn audio up to eleven.

Frank started a meme with his observation. It applies to many things in life and I sometimes use it to this day--fifty years later8. The next time you are out and about and in observation mode ask yourself: Can pushing make the line go faster?" and look around.

Whatcha doin?

-t

p.s. "1872, Darwin Emotions ix. 223 A man who joined us, and who could not conceive what we were doing, when asked to listen, frowned much."

* * *

  1. I'd edit this to autistic brother, but I'm not sure the implied embodiment isn't intentional --if some afflictions are more central to a person's self-expression than others, you'd expect autism to be rather in the "central" group, wouldn't you? []
  2. I find the particular talent for appellatin' so delightful I couldn't tell you. As a kiddo I always drew my dad with a mohawk, when I drew him, 'cause he was so cool, see. I don't think he ever actually had a mohawk (other than a plastic one on his motorcycle helmet), but I'll probably always represent him that way, in my head. []
  3. When's the last time you saw teenagers engaging in anything like this most natural and otherwise timeless behavior? Watching the world go by on the phone isn't quite the same thing at all, is it. []
  4. I'm not sure that this rather un-idiomatic idiom even has an etymology distinct from sufficient insufferables muttering their irrelevant displeasure, but in the few tepid attempts I've made to find out, I've come away shorn of my good intentions by the sheer mass of similar mutterings. []
  5. I think he's a little over-sensitive to the emissions of various mulae. Then again, I refuse to live where he does largely on the basis of not wanting anything to do with the mulae, or at least on the basis of having a reasonable expectation that I can tell them to fuck off without some long-tail stream of personal inconvenience to myself. []
  6. Well technically this letter came in yesterday, and today's a new day, and the story's most definitely worth repeating, so here you go, drudged up from my archives:

    "KAYS, Hays Kansas. I was the morning announcer in my first
    job. KAYS was the only station in Fort Hays, Kansas (it was a
    radio-TV station where I also learned how to direct TV and was
    occasional weekend weatherman).

    Short jokes and funny stuff were a big deal in the 1970s and I used to
    try to throw in remarks, etc. This was conservative mid-america, so
    had to be careful of course.

    I told some risque stuff now and then and the station did what many
    midwest stations did by banning certain records (I remember "Tonight's
    the Night" by Rod Stewart being expressly forbidden. I got in trouble
    for playing the Isley Brothers once too).

    Anyway, I got called in to the manager's office, suspended for a week,
    docked pay, and then had to go back to the manager's office and
    apologize to the Kansas President of the National Organization of
    Women (NOW) because of a what I said talking with a news man.

    In those days, the "top of the hour" 00 to 05 on the hour, every hour,
    was news, farm report (barrows and gilts! I had no idea what those
    were when reporting prices...sorghum included!), and weather. Then
    the reporter would "throw" it back to the announcer with a "kicker"
    story--something funny or unsual or light news.

    He finished with a story about the first woman astronaut having just
    launched. So I said,

    "This is great! We have a woman astronaut, a female priest was just
    ordained, women are doing great things...I just don't think they
    should be allowed to vote!"

    Bam, right in to a record.

    Phones lit up, secretary comes in and says "Why are all these people
    calling the station?" etc.

    I just kept repeating to everyone, "it's a joke! it's not serious,
    it's a joke!" But almost got me fired from my first job.

    ...so there's my contribution to Woman's Month." []

  7. I really hope I didn't add to this pile of insanity as a child, but I shamefully have my doubts. []
  8. I actually remember Dad asking if pushing makes the line go faster throughout my childhood; waiting to get into the Del Mar County Fair, approaching Spike & Mike's "Sick n' Twisted" Festival of Animation, boarding my first plane to Europe.... []

3 Responses to “A Letter from Dad: "Can Pushing Make the Line Go Faster?"”

  1. Depends who's pushing.

  2. Diana Coman says:

    Well, ancient traditions of the latin sort seek to inform: it's pushing AND shoving that does the trick! (Or at least so it has been learnt from repeated observation of lines in the wild.)

  3. hanbot says:

    @ Mircea Popescu haha, indeed.

    @ Diana Coman aha, shoving! The rediscovered secret ingredient!!1

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