Surveiled

I took my regular walk in my neighborhood this morning. It was Sunday, already hot at 10:00 am, and super quiet. No one was around except for the odd car driving by.

Suddenly, I heard a cheery, female voice. “Hi!” it said. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone.

“You are being recorded,” said the disembodied voice.

Ugh. Really? I thought. I couldn’t see a camera anywhere, and it wasn’t clear whether the voice came from my right or left. It sort of came from… above?

I continued on my walk, knowing that to someone, I looked as horrible as I do on those self-checkout cameras at Target. I was glad I wouldn’t see the footage, but I was also a little ticked. I wasn’t on anyone’s property, I was in the street, a good six feet from the curb to avoid parked cars — there are no sidewalks in this part of our apparently heavily-monitored neighborhood.

I get it. It’s 2022 and we are on camera almost everywhere we go — malls, grocery stores, gas stations, and drive thru windows. I accept that, because I understand the business owners are trying to protect their property and employees from robbers or vandals. Even though I try hard not to look at myself in the self-checkout monitor screens, I understand why they’re there.

I even understand Ring doorbells. If I’m on someone’s property, I have to accept the owner’s wish to record me. I don’t like it, but I get it. I can’t tell you how many Amazon packages I’ve thought about stealing until I saw the camera. I could be making bank, but those Ring videos thwart me every time. So yeah, I do understand the need to guard your home.

What I experienced this morning is different. It’s a little bit scary, slightly dystopian, and irritating. Where does it end? How much can we surveil our streets until we feel safe? Our boring, middle class, suburban Los Angeles neighborhood is already pretty safe by any standard. Aside from the occasional Fast and Furious wannabe teens doing donuts late at night, it’s rare to see a police car on our streets.

The next logical step in this constant-surveillance future we’re ushering in is recording and monitoring activities going on inside our homes. After all, couldn’t law enforcement protect us better if they could stop crime before it happens? You never know what’s going on in that house across the street. Isn’t it our right to know if there’s evil lurking behind those closed doors? What if it — gasp — gets out?

After all, we already have our homes stuffed with Nest thermometers, Alexa devices, and pet monitors. The structure is in place. We only need a few loud, self-righteous politicians to stir things up, creating new laws to “protect” us from ourselves. And, with every set of ten cameras you install, you get a free set of pearls to clutch.

In ten years, no one will think I was exaggerating.

Charge!

I was just thinking about all the things I charge around my house:

  • Razor
  • Laptop(s)
  • Phone
  • Earbuds
  • Mouse
  • Keyboard
  • Car

These things use very little electricity to stay charged. Living in Southern California, it seems crazy that we don’t have solar panels on our roof. Since we don’t own the house, it doesn’t make sense to pay for them. When we do own our home, that will be a priority.

In the meantime, I’ve been wondering about portable solar chargers. Mostly for emergencies, but also just because it’s an interesting idea.

Helping but not helping

Lonely chair and weeds photo by Adam Tagarro

Our yard is a mess.

Okay, it’s mostly fine but we have a lot of weeds, and the grass — where it exists — is dry and crackly. I’m okay with this for the most part because we live in super dry Southern California and it turns out that the natural landscape is not a golf course. I checked.

Don’t tell the neighbors and don’t get me started on overwatering.

We have a citrus tree, a Japanese Maple, a Loquat tree, a large green bush of some kind, a Rosemary bush that is approximately the size of Rhode Island (it even has its own government), and various other plants like lavender and… other stuff.

The funny thing is, we rarely water any of it. Somehow it’s all getting water anyway, and even if it’s coming from the irradiated groundswells of the old RocketDyne plant, they seem to be doing okay.

But the weeds.

They suck and I hate them. Sometimes I manage to coerce my 14-yr old into helping me pull them. Sometimes I wack them out of spite, and other times I spray them with a natural weed killer made from vinegar — I have a restraining order against RoundUp and it is not allowed within 50 feet of my body.

Either way, it’s for me to handle and I do have a plan, even if the plan is slightly slapdash and sometimes not working at all. And while I don’t like the weeds taking over the yard, they’re just weeds. Our landlord disagrees, but he is among the Southern-California-was-originally-a-Mayan-golf-course believers, so unless there are no weeds and a bright green lawn, he is not happy.

Today was one of those days when I put on my landscaper’s uniform (Trader Joe’s long sleeve crew tee, old Calvin Klein pants, hiking boots, floppy hat) and pretend that I’m not just trying to justify the purchase of the gardening tools I’ve collected. As I’m working away, our neighbor’s (real) landscaper shows up. This guy hates seeing me pull and wack weeds. I think it’s actually painful for him. He’s come over a few times and offered to let me borrow his gas-powered weed wacker (ours is electric). It’s like that scene in Three Amigos where Jefe swaps his gun for Ned’s.

Today, he pulled up, saw me using my little Ned gun weed wacker, waited until I went into the backyard, and started cutting down all the weeds I had left behind. Most people — normal, rational people — would have shrugged and said, “Well, at least the neighbors are paying for it,” and gone to take a shower.

Me? I got mad. I went out and told him to stop. I tried to explain that I had a plan (such as it is), and I had intended to spray the smaller, live weeds I hadn’t wacked so they would die and I could get rid of them later. While he understood the words coming out of my mouth, they did not make any sense to him. “I’m just trying to help you,” he explained. I thanked him and told him I appreciate the gesture, but really, I have a plan. He looked at the weeds, then he looked at me like I just said that aliens come down from space and handle my yard work. Then he shrugged and left.

There’s a scene in some movie (Up, maybe?) where a Boy Scout is trying to earn his Helping Old People badge, but he ends up doing things like helping an old lady cross the street when she didn’t even want to be on the other side.

Helping, but not helping.

Another notable example of helping not helping happened many years ago. Our family was eating at an Italian restaurant. We ordered one of the only pasta dishes on the menu that was vegetarian. When it arrived, it had little chunks of something in it. Was it meat? We asked. The owner said, “Yes! I added some pork in there for you. Don’t worry, it’s no extra charge.” He thought we couldn’t afford the meat.

Helping, but not helping.

Most humans want to help whenever they can. It’s a lovely trait. But before jumping in with your rescue pants on, it’s good to consider a couple of things:

  • Is help wanted?
  • Is it the right kind of help?

The only way to find out is to ask. And it’s also good to ask because there are also a lot of people who have a hard time asking for help. I’m one of them.

I want to be grateful for the free pork, but I don’t eat meat. I want to say thank you for chopping my weeds, but I had another plan. I want to be relieved that I got help crossing the street, but I was waiting for the bus on the other side.

The eroding of rights in America

While I did have a reaction to the news last week about the overturn of Roe v Wade here in the U.S., I didn’t want to jump into the fray on social media. Yet. There’s already a feed full of reactions and re-reactions, and it’s kind of a mess. But I do have strong feelings about it.

It’s quite clear that this overturn is the beginning of a larger campaign to remove rights from women, black people, and LGBTQ folks. While Justice Alito and his cohorts can stand behind the shield of the law and pretend that this is all about returning power to the states, it seems obvious that there is political and religious motivation at work.

I think there are three kinds of people in this country who are affecting (or not affecting) the reversals of rights that we are seeing:

  1. Those who are actively working to take away rights from women, black people, and LGBTQ folks.
  2. Those who are okay with human rights being removed or just don’t care, because they are not affected.
  3. Those who have no opinion and want to remain neutral because they “need more evidence” or they’re waiting for their favorite celebrity or politician to tell them what they should think.

In Group 1, there is at least overt action or words that can be argued or voted against. It’s still not okay, but it’s easier to fight because we can see it. Even if their only motive is to win an election, and voicing conservative views is merely a marketing strategy, it’s out in the open.

Group 2 is more difficult to handle because it’s not always obvious. People tend to hang out only with those who they know will agree with them. These people won’t make a ruckus at Thanksgiving dinner, but they will whisper behind backs or worse, shrug their shoulders at the actions of Group 1.

With Group 3, you may be able to get them to see your points and even get them to see the injustice caused by Group 1. However, if a comedian or politician with a strong voice comes along with opposing views, they will change their minds just as easily. These are the people whose strongest opinion on any controversial subject is that “there are two sides to everything and they should all be considered.”

For the rest of us who do care, the question is how do we make change — or make sure that change doesn’t happen?

I don’t have an answer for this at the moment. I’m working on it.

Now is so… now

vegan burger and fries
Photo by Rolande PG on Unsplash

I’m going to be starting dinner soon, but I wanted to get something down here because I’ve been neglecting the blog lately. I’m making vegan burgers and fries. Not quite a gourmet meal, but we all love some comfort food. Anyone else could make it, and I can make lots of other things, but like vegan French toast it’s kind of my thing. I have a system down.

Skip down to the archives!

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50

Today I turned 50. Fifty years old. Half a century. Roman numeral L. 

They say that age is just a number and mathematically they are right. Aside: Over the next 50 years, I’d like to devote my life to finding who the people are behind the mysterious “they.” Okay, so not the whole 50, maybe just a half hour.

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Smoke

cough. cough. cough. ahem.

I am feeling super lazy, so for this post I decided to illustrate the sky above Los Angeles right now. It’s filled with smoke, even though the fires are miles away. It’s like living inside a campfire, except there are no marshmallows coming.

The CDC says that being outside right now is like smoking eleventy-million packs of cigarettes (I’m still fact-checking that number because it sounds a bit high). If that’s true then all we need now is a ginormous keg of cheap beer on the bed of a pickup and it’s every party I went to in the 80s.

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What’s Better Than a Midlife Crisis Miata?

MIata flying through the air

A few days ago, a friend posted a photo of a guitar amp that he just bought. In the caption he mentioned going through a midlife crisis, but at least it wasn’t a Miata. First I laughed, then I Googled “Midlife Crisis Miata” because I didn’t know that was a thing. Yup. It’s a thing.

Speaking of midlife, is it a Gen X trait that as soon as we hear about something new, we must know what it’s all about immediately? Or is it just me that drops everything to look stuff up, no matter how trivial? Somebody mentions a DIY toothpaste on twitter and forty-five minutes later I’m pricing Icelandic baking soda on Amazon.

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Letting it go

Zips shoes

You might already know this about me, but I like to run. I’ve always enjoyed it. Yeah, I’m one of those freaks. These days I run at a pace for distance, but in grade school, I loved to run fast. I loved sprinting short distances. I was wiry and thin and not very muscled, but I could run fast. I wasn’t afraid of going all out for 100 yards. The 100-yard dash was my thing. Tetherball was also my thing, but you don’t get your picture on a Wheaties box hitting a ball on a string. So I focused on running.

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