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.

Stranded In Paradise

Cook Islands 2b

Most folks are like me — terminally ordinary.  There isn’t much more than what the world sees, and the back story is usually just about the same.  However, give any group of these “average” people a crisis, and the interesting ones will emerge from the herd like characters in an Agatha Christie novel.  Some years ago, I was privileged to observe a planeload of tourists when disaster (inconvenience?) struck.  These people are real.  I’ve left out the boring bits and glossed over the sordid parts (this is, after all, a family-friendly blog) but for the most part, this is how I remember them.

It was a trip to the South Seas.  The cunning plan was to find a shady spot, eat like Dumas, drink like Hemingway, unleash my inner Robert Louis Stevenson and write an adventure story.  Meanwhile, my beautiful and humourous companion would soak up some sun, snorkel and take award-winning photographs of everything exotic.  Good plan, great execution — and three days in, we were entirely on schedule.  I was sitting in the sun-warm morning, having my after- breakfast rum and umbrella concoction when …

“What do you think we should do?”
It was a voice from a face I kinda recognized from the airplane.
“About what?”  I asked, pulling the umbrella out of the glass.
“Canada 3000 has gone broke.  We’re stuck here.  We can’t get home.”
“Bummer.”
There was silence, so I took a drink.  More silence.  I’d missed something important.
“Well, we have to do something,” she said and walked off, hard stomps in the sand.

Over the next ten days, because we were trapped and I was a permanent fixture at a cabana close to the bar, I got to observe everybody up close and personal.  I discovered my little slice of paradise was an unsinkable lifeboat with a list of personalities worthy of Hitchcock.

There was the fat woman and her husband who showed up to The Stranded Tourist Meeting in skin-tight pink and yellow wet suits.  They looked like two gigantic Easter eggs.  Later, over frustration cocktails, they explained that they knew the scuba gear looked hideous, but, and I almost quote, “We like pink, so screw ‘em!”  It turned out their 9-to-5 job was doing English voiceover work for foreign porno films.

There was the oilman father, full of golf and Steinlager beer, his wife, mother of none and their two children, 20-something adolescents who had travelled the world on their parents’ dime.  We hung with the kids cuz they were fun.  She was beautiful, and as far as I remember, that was her career.  He was a delivery driver who lived in her spare bedroom.  One night, they danced in the moonlight surf as if they were silhouettes in a Thai shadow play.  It was weird!

There was a man and his wife who made the airline representative cry at The Stranded Tourist Meeting and were subsequently shunned by the tribe.  One night, they confessed to us that they were married — but not to each other — and were supposed to be in Dallas at a teachers’ conference.  No wonder they were stressed about getting home on time!

There were the three amigas, office worker women who had saved up all year for a two-week bikini experience – and they had a lot of bikinis.  They were broke enough to borrow money but not at all worried about it. (“We travel like this all the time.  People are always really nice to us.”)  They hitched a flight to Auckland with a German tour group and, I suppose, got home from there.

And there were the newlyweds, who discovered they shouldn’t have when the groom, in a fury of they’re-not-going-to-get-away-with-this spent his days fighting with the airline, the hotel, Visa, the Canadian government, New Zealand and a local guy named Henry – and his nights recounting the battles to anyone who would listen.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Groom wandered the resort in pretty clothes and a bottomless Singapore Sling.  After a week, she disappeared, and the rumour was she’d dumped the prince and caught a flight to Tahiti.

A week later, we followed her and from there, flew to Los Angeles — then home.  I never did write the adventure story, but for 10 years I’ve been toying with a murder mystery — except I just can’t get the characters right.

Cook Islands 1`

Parlour Games

questions

In a different life, I used to go to dinner parties.  You remember those: friends got together to eat and drink and talk about the people who weren’t there.  I used to love it when the wine outlasted the dessert and all the boors and bores would hit the road and leave the field to the serious among us.  At really, really good dinner parties, that’s when the parlour games come out.  There are a number of them (I’ve mentioned them here, before) and most are a lot of fun.  One of my favourites is quite simple: everybody takes a turn to wonder out loud about something they’ve never understood.  As the circle gets tighter, the questions get better and can provoke general agreement and/or heated discussion. Either way, most of them are interesting insights into the world around us.  Here are a few of my favourites (as close as I can remember.)

Why can Keanu Reeves be so good in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Matrix and John Wick and suck so badly in everything else?

Does anybody watch regular TV anymore?

Why does everybody win in Vegas — except me?

Why do they teach (3x + 2y) – 12 = (7x + 3y) even though every teacher knows it’s never going to come up in real life???

Why did August get 31 days instead of September?

Why didn’t Darth Vader remember R2D2 and C3P0?

Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the container?

Why do people who say they don’t believe in God, always talk about guardian angels?

How come a pizza can get to my house faster than the cops?

Who cares if a tree falls in the forest?

Why do potatoes have more chromosomes than people do?

How come people who say outlawing guns won’t change anything still think that making drugs illegal will?
How come people who say outlawing drugs won’t change anything still think that making guns illegal will?

Why are brushing your hair and brushing your teeth such totally different activities?

Why do dogs hang their heads out the window of a car moving at 60 kph but hate it when you blow in their faces?

Who owns the Internet?

How does aspirin know the difference between a headache and a sore knee?

Why do tornados always attack trailer parks?

Why, whenever there’s a riot anywhere in the world, are the protest signs always in English?

What is déjà vu “really?”

Is the light at the end of the tunnel that people say they see when they’re about to die, just being born again?  (I think somebody cheated on this one – just sayin’.)

Why didn’t Gandalf just fly Frodo to the top of Mount Doom on the eagles that rescued him?

Is calling it Mother Nature just a sneaky way of saying God?

Why, when adults talk to kids, dogs and old people, do they use the same voice?

Why do light years measure distance, not time?

Why didn’t Samantha Stevens realize she was sleeping with the wrong Darren?

And my personal favourite:

Is Harry Potter just a psychotic kid who made up the whole Hogwarts thing to cope with his miserable life, living under the stairs?