May 26, 2006

Phone books

Raise your hand if you keep a phone book in your car. They can be handy when you need to use the yellow pages away from home.

Phone books are becoming less and less useful since people are doing away with landlines and are less likely to be listed. Even businesses might not be listed in the white pages when they depend on cell phones or VoIP (and I see them as less legitimate, too).

I have recently learned about the old-fashioned city directory. I first heard of such a thing when reading about people in Athes in the 1930s. Then I actually got to see one from Toccoa for the year 1971, which I was told might have been its last year. It was like a phone book with business advertisements and a section for individual people, and the individual listings included the person's occupation along with his phone number and address. My father-in-law said that stores might extend credit based on whether a customer was listed, so that is what they did before instant electronic credit scores.

May 23, 2006

Wooden nickel coincidence

Nellie went to the orthodontist's office yesterday and was given a bunch of wooden nickels that are to be saved up to be redeemed for some kind of prize. When she got home she received my letter in the mail and was surprised to read the last sentence: “Don't take any wooden nickels.”

May 21, 2006

Species in society

We often consider a social organization by focusing just on the one dominant species, whether we're looking at bees or humans, but of course our human society is made of more than humans. We could choose a perspective that certain animals are rightful and integral parts of society, though if we really focus on interdependence our perspective will swell to cover a whole ecosystem, and that would be no focus at all because it may not be useful to consider a tree a member of our “society.” So where should we draw the line?

I think it interesting to consider a few choice animals as actual members of our society. Although certain animals are noted for performing useful functions — functions that can be replaced by machinery and modern technology — our connections with them really go much deeper than that. Let's just consider dogs and cats.

Dogs perform some useful functions, but they can only do so by intense socialization with their owners. Dogs can assist in hunting, which is useful, but it makes no sense to think of a hunting dog that hasn't been trained while spending a lot of time interacting with humans. Dogs are commonly kept for security, but they can function so only when they have bonds with the members of the households they live in. For purposes of alerting their owners about activity near the house, they can distinguish between family members and strangers even before they ring the doorbell. Many dogs also stand ready to intervene in case a stranger attacks their owner.

In addition to simply being useful, dogs are known, of course, to be “man's best friend.” People enjoy the companionship of dogs, and they care for them and about them almost as if they were human children. Having your dog with you in public facilitates socializing with other people because it attracts attention and advertises a common interest to other dog owners. In fact, sometimes neighbors talk to others' dogs and not to each other.

Cats are different because dogs and humans have socializing behaviors that are more similar, but cats are still useful and enjoyable companions. Cats are an original form of pest control, killing all rodents and insects that come in their way. Cats made possible our civilization as we know it since they protected our stores of grain from rodents in the early days of the agricultural mode of civilization. That function isn't so important anymore, but we still seek the companionship of cats, and cats still seek human affection.

Our pets do not simply perform work. We have personal relationships with them, and we care for them as members of our household and not simply as items of personal property. They are the non-human members of human society.

May 08, 2006

It works

The year — probably '95. The scene — the shop at the residence of my friend Alvin. Alvin and I were hanging out as we often did, and we always act silly. One of my jokes was completely unremarkable: I picked up the telephone handset, listened for a dial tone, and hung up. “It works,” I announced. Later that day, Alvin's sister Mandy came home, and she picked up a telephone, put it to her ear, said, “It works” — and she hung it up. Had she been spying on us? No, she was not even home at the time, it seemed. I think fate was just trying to amuse us. I hope so. Or Mandy did a good job of hiding.

May 02, 2006

Spontaneous trip to Baltimore

Alvin and I were sitting around talking about the possibilities for the weekend. We always talked about unlikely things, but at six p.m. that evening in 1998 we acted on it: We departed on a twelve-hour drive to Baltimore. In Baltimore, we walked around downtown, saw Edgar Allan Poe's grave, and went to an Orioles game. Then we came back. Alvin finally went to sleep Monday morning.