Pigeons And The “New Normal”

These days, everybody and his sister is yipping about “The New Normal” as if it were as inevitable as death and taxes.  The predictions run the gambit from “We’re all screwed!” to “The light at the end of the tunnel is utopia calling.”  Okay, we’re never going back to pre-Covid, but, I’m tellin’ you for a fact, our world’s “old normal” has just way too much in-your-face ego to give up without a fight.  We walk this planet with the swagger of a samurai gunfighter with a chip on his shoulder.  We do as we please, and no wiggly little bug is going to change that.  Even as we speak, Big Pharma is callin’ Covid out to finish this fight in the laboratory, and take a wild guess who’s going to win?  Boot Hill is full of tough little bastard diseases (cholera, typhus, bubonic plague) who thought they could ambush us and come out on top.  Wrong!  So, yeah, things are going to change but not that much — and I can prove it.

Next week, in the middle of the worst crisis in human history, there’s going to be an auction at Versailles.  You remember Versailles, Louis XIV’s 700-room testimonial to the success and excess of 17th century French culture?  One of the items up for sale is a shoe (one shoe, not a pair) and the reserve bid is 10,000 Euros.  For a shoe?  Okay, it’s Marie Antoinette’s shoe … but there’s only one, and it isn’t even signed.  At least when Michael Jordan sells his shoes, he signs them — and they come in pairs.  Anyway, Jean-Pierre Osenat, the guy running the auction, is confident the shoe will sell for a lot more than the opening bid.  In other words, crisis or no, our world still has the time and money to pay exorbitant amounts for second-hand clothing.  But this isn’t even special because …

Last week, the Pipa Auction House of Belgium also had a sale.  It went quite well.  In fact, they set a record.  Somebody paid 2.4 million dollars for … a pigeon.  WTF?  To be fair, “New Kim” isn’t your average poop-on-a-park-bench pigeon; she’s a pedigreed racing pigeon.  Apparently, there’s a difference.  Now, I don’t know anything about pigeon racing, but I do know how much 2.4 million dollars is, and for that kind of money, this little bird better be one kick-ass fast pigeon!  She better be Usain Bolt strapped to an F-14 turbocharged Tomcat — cuz if she doesn’t come with a sonic boom, somebody just got robbed.  People don’t pay that kind of money for a Lamborghini, for God sake — and that’s 0-to-60 in 3 seconds!  Besides, where’s the prestige?  Pigeon racing?  It’s not exactly the Sport of Kings.  Hobby of the Urban Geek maybe, but …

“Hey, baby!  Wanna come back to my place and I’ll show you my pigeon?  It’s a really fast one.”

Not the greatest pickup line in the world.  I guess pigeon owners are just dedicated to the “sport,” and they don’t care what ordinary people do (kinda like Hula Hoop enthusiasts.)  But whichever way you cut that sausage, 2.4 million is a lot of money.

So here we are — elbow deep in what everybody’s calling “The Second Wave” — (Holy hell!  Is there going to be a third one?) and somebody out there is about to plunk down serious coin for a worn out bit of footwear.  Not only that, but somebody else has already paid seven figures for less than 7 pounds (3 kilos) of poultry.

I don’t know about you, but this “new normal” looks suspiciously like the “old normal” to me.

The Pursuit Of Cool

The world is built on “cool.”  And, deny it if you want to, we all have an uncontrollable urge to pursue it.  It’s like hungry, horny and getting enough to drink – hydration: we need it to live.  That’s why everybody’s teenage years were so godawful.  Not only were we being pistol-whipped by our hormones, but every time we turned around, Susan and Dave, the “cool” kids, were standing there.  They had bodies by Mattel and clothes by Yves St. Laurent.  They knew exactly what to say on every occasion, never had an unfortunate zit and certainly never felt the need to fart.  In a word, they were cool.  Of course, we knew we would be way cooler if only we had the opportunity, but mostly we cursed our fate for being born incurable nerds.

As adults, we pursue “cool” in more subtle and sophisticated ways — what we eat, what we sit on, how we get around, what we watch on TV, even the way we speak.  (Slang is a very refined bit of “cool.”)  Plus, we convince ourselves that “cool” doesn’t matter (we’ve outgrown it) because one of the essential elements of being “cool” is … you don’t care about it.  And there’s a whole it’s-hip-to-be-square industry that’s grown up around that.  But regardless of how we chase it, “cool” is always out there.  It’s the way we define ourselves in relation to every other person on the planet.  And like it or not, some people are better at it than the rest of us.  It even extends beyond the grave.

For example, Hunter S. Thompson, the King of Gonzo Journalism had his ashes shot out of a cannon.  His buddy, Johnny Depp, did the shooting (this was back when Johnny was still “cool”) and Jack Nicholson, John Cusack, Bill Murray, John Kerry, Ed Bradley, etc., etc. all showed up to wish Hunter S. well on his final journey.  Personally, I think with that much “cool” standing around the cannon, they probably didn’t even have to light the fuse – it just spontaneously burst into flame.

Meanwhile, Gene Roddenberry, the guy who created Star Trek, had his ashes taken into space on the Space Shuttle – kind of a “There and Back” posthumous adventure.  He also had some of his ashes (along with Timothy Leary’s and a bunch of other guys’) shot into orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket.  Unfortunately, after several years, the orbit deteriorated and the capsule disintegrated when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.  But talk about totally cool — especially since the whole Star Trek phenom — from Jim Kirk to the latest Picard — is the ultimate sci-fi travelogue for nerds.  Star Trek has never been “cool” beyond its geek niche, but clearly Roddenberry is.

However, the best nerd-to-“cool” tale ever told is that of Eugene Shoemaker.  Here was a guy with a Thomas Dewey moustache and a personality to match.  He loved rocks — and not just any rocks: he was an astrogeologist.  (I don’t even know what those people do.)  Anyway, he was so good at it that, when he died, his colleagues convinced NASA to put his ashes on the Lunar Prospector, a capsule designed to crash on the Moon.  On July 31, 1999, it did just that — with a special polycarbonate “urn” containing Shoemaker.  So Eugene is the first human being buried on the Moon.  How “cool” is that?  Too “cool!”  (Eat your heart out, Clooney!)

So when all those people are putting on the brag about their “cool” walking tour of Greenland, or their “cool” new Nespresso machine, or their eco-friendly bicycle with heated seat and handlebars – remember: they might think they’re “cool” (just like Susan and Dave did in high school) but they’re never going to be buried-on-the-Moon “cool.”  That’s reserved for nerds like us.

Who’s Number One?

I lost track of popular culture sometime in the 80s, and now I’m permanently stuck with big hair and thin ties.  It’s not that I don’t like contemporary stuff; I do (pick and choose) but I have no idea who does what or even when.  For example, I was shocked to hear Destiny’s Child on my Classic (read — Old Man) Rock Radio station — so I looked it up.  My God! That was 20 years ago!  Anyway, I said all that to say I’m no expert on anything in the 21st century, but that’s not going to stop me from having an opinion.

So…  Last week, YouTube announced that it has a new “Most Watched” music video.  More people have clicked, looked and listened to this 2 minute track than any other song in human history.  It’s “Baby Shark!”  Just when I thought it was safe to finally come out of the closet and admit I actually like “Let it Go,” the mega-annoying tweenie hit from Frozen, apparently, two-year-olds have taken over the world.  (What next?  Womb music?)  Okay, okay, okay!  It’s a phenom: over 7 billion hits is nothing to sneeze at, but there’s a bigger question going on here.  Why is “Baby Shark” even in the conversation?  It’s not real!  It’s a novelty babysitter song for stressed-out parents who need a minute to sneak away and eat a candy bar or have a pee – in peace.  Here’s the deal.  Millions of chubby little fingers tapped this redundant little ditty to Numero Uno in the universe — even though most of those little fingers haven’t even mastered a knife and fork yet.  Unfortunately, that pushed all the good stuff out of the way.  “Despacito” (one of the best videos I’ve seen in years) got knocked off the top spot, and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” was moved to third.  (BTW, how did that guy become a heartthrob?  Yeah, he can sing, but if he’s sexy, I should have girls lined up around the block — and I’m old.)  Meanwhile, “Uptown Funk” in its original incarnation is 6th and the mighty “Gangnam Style,” the video that started it all (first to one billion!) is now 7th!  My point is, these are all recognizable songs, musical renditions of something — even if it’s only an aging K-Popper leaping around as if he has an unfortunate itch.  Putting “Baby Shark” in that mix is like including Velvet Elvis in the National Portrait Gallery because it’s on so many trailer park walls.  Face it, folks!  Sheer numbers are not always the best way to rank things.

Way back in the day (1958, to be exact) when Perry Como got the world’s first Gold Record for a million sales of “Catch a Falling Star,” that number actually meant something.  It meant people were willing to take the time and trouble to leave the house and go to a record store; and, more importantly, it meant they were willing to shell out some hard coin to take Mr. Como home with them.  That’s a lot different from showing your kid how to click “play” cuz you need time to fold the laundry.  These two should be treated differently.

I understand that a million isn’t what it used to be, and even a billion won’t get you into the top 20 on YouTube.  However, I do think if YouTube wants to be taken seriously, they shouldn’t be rolling out those numbers quite so promiscuously.  Quite frankly, more isn’t preordained to be better.  If you’re using that flawed logic, sheep should be running the show in Australia.  After all, there are 3 times as many of them down there as there are people.