The Missing Link

When I was in college, a friend and I rented the downstairs of a house that was owned by an 80 year old man who lived upstairs, who, as he told us when we met, “liked women to eat with, not to sleep with.”  His days were predictable in a way that floored me at the time.  About once a week, he took me to the Royal Fork for lunch, which was a few blocks away from where we lived, and had the most horrible buffet imaginable, laden with jello and gravy-doused stuff.  He had his schedule down to the point where he knew that if he walked out of his house at 11:12, he wouldn’t have to wait for the light to cross the street, and he’d be in line for the buffet before the crowd arrived at 11:30.

But life is sort of this way.  You make decisions at some point, like figuring out that a certain restaurant is terrible, or a certain path to work puts you in more traffic, or you feel better if you eat a certain thing for breakfast, and before you know it, your life is rather predictable, because you don’t revisit those decisions each day.  On the one hand, that’s intelligence.  Biology favors those who learn from their mistakes. But on the other hand, well. . . we don’t want to be those people, do we, that order the same thing at the restaurant every time? 

The other day at work, I went answer-shopping, the way we do.  We’ve all worked together long enough to know who to ask when we want backing to stand firm (“No way!  I would never allow a fire pit in a buffer!”), or when we want justification to relax a little bit (“It’s really not such a big deal, is it?  Won’t they be better stewards if they enjoy the natural areas on their property?”).  I went looking for the latter, because I’d picked up a project from the hardass who was laid off, and couldn’t really figure out what deals had already gone down, and couldn’t get too excited about the minor ways that the current proposal didn’t technically meet code. 

So I went to talk to N., and found J. and the boss already in his cubical.  “Hey, N., would you care about California wax myrtle planted in a native buffer as a minor component of a restoration plan?,” I asked, knowing he’d say, nah, but alas, J. jumped in first.  “I’d feel really uncomfortable about that.  No way would I approve it.”

I took the bait, and started justifying my position.  “Look, we’re in the middle of the suburbs, there is not a single habitat patch larger than a few thousand square feet within half a mile, this is pretty much a lost cause, and does it seem like such a bad thing to let them plant some little thing that they like?”

J. got all rigid about it, so I did what is so easy with the ADD crowd, hold up something shiny.  “J, did you listen to the This American Life Episode about Lucy?”

“Oh, that was so sad!,” he replied.  “I wept when I heard that.”  I really liked the use of the word “wept”, which you don’t hear much outside of Victorian literature, but the two other men got pretty uncomfortable hearing one of their own use that word.  Our boss did that shifting from one foot to the other thing, and N. turned to face his computer, suddenly busy.

“Isn’t This American Life too much of a suburban white middle-class narrative about the world”, the boss asked, holding up a different shiny thing to get away from the possibility of more talk about weeping, but it didn’t really work, because we ignored him and continued talking about the poor chimp who had been raised as a human, but at a certain point, became too much for her human family to care for, so they released her into the wild in Senegal where she was ultimately killed by a poacher, undoubtedly because she was so trusting and approachable.  The whole thing was bizarre and sad, and called into question the barrier between species, because the chimp obviously thought she was a human, and the biologist who went to Senegal with Lucy for a quick visit, and stayed, well, doesn't she seem more allied with the chimps than the people?

I'm working on wrapping this little train of thought up with a nice little bow, but this is more of a "some assembly required" post today.


  1. Ahhh. The reason why you wanted me to order the fish. I guess it wasn't an "outside of the box" kind of night for me. :)


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