Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Fact Corrector

The Fact Corrector is allergic to mis-statements of fact. Poor thing, she cannot help herself. An erroneous utterance of a fact causes her to itch severely behind the ear, and she will need to scratch unless she can correct it first. This causes a great deal of trouble for the Fact Corrector, who takes to wearing earplugs whenever she is in public; otherwise, the itching would drive her insane.

If one place is 1.2 miles from another, then one should say so. "Between one and two miles" is sufficient, but "a few miles"? Incorrect! Misleading. Intolerable. How can one say 'turquoise' when the color is clearly 'teal'? Opinions are one thing, anyone can have one, but a fact is a fact is a fact.

1892, not 1896! 'Twelve eleven', not 'a quarter past the hour'! 0.8 inches of rain, not 'a trace'. People have become quite lazy nowadays. Precision used to have some value.

The Fact Corrector keeps all the right answers in her brain, behind and slightly to the right of her left eyebrow - you can see it working to retrieve them on required occasions. A slight twitch as the fact comes tumbling forward. Then the mouth begins to open. The Fact Corrector wishes she could stop, but she cannot. It is as if the facts themselves compel her.

The recipients of her corrections are as grateful as one might expect, which is to say not very. They thought they had left behind such experiences when they were children back at school. Hostile glances are exchanged. Eyes are rolled. The Fact Collector understands but she is at the mercy of a greater power.

The Fact Corrector lies awake at night, worrying that during the day she had made some trivial error, and so contributed to the rampant ignorance which is driving the world to destruction.

The Topic Changer

The Topic Changer must alter the course of every conversation on which he embarks. He is the steer-master, the mis-leader, the bad driver on the road of interaction. At work, people stop inviting him to meetings; they know he will only "take them offline" while still "online". He is the one who aims squarely at the 'rat-hole'.

He cannot answer a question directly, but he is always glad to answer another question entirely. Is it raining outside? It may be, but it's interesting to note that cats do not like to get wet. Is the president an idiot? Possibly, and did you know that hunting licenses are not required in Wyoming? Someone starts talking about a hamburger and before they know it they find themselves listening about glaciers.

The Topic Changer can take any topic, any topic at all, and change it to literally any other topic. Usually he proceeds by links of association, but sometimes he'll just jump directly to the unrelated matter without making any connections at all. Associations are also loosely defined. Rain to wet to cats. That's two moves, and you can see how he gets there, but hamburgers to glaciers occurs with no moves whatsoever.

His partner in discourse is hopelessly lost, and trapped. They want to yell 'hey, dammit, we were talking about hamburgers, not glaciers!' but know from experience that this would only serve to move the conversation from glaciers to something else as completely irrelevant and uninteresting, so they might as well stay with glaciers. This global warming problem is really serious. The heater in my apartment is broken, and my landlord is such a dick. His wife makes the best cream pies. Have you ever gone for a bike ride down along the canal?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Name Disapprover

The Name Disapprover frowns at every new baby's name. There is something wrong with each and every one of them. Whenever he hears that someone is pregnant, he is immediately concerned that they will make a tragic mistake; the child's life will become pure hell due to the unthinkable name they bestow upon it.

There once was a girl named Misty Dawn. Is it any accident she became a stripper? What will become of Aska? How can you name a girl anything that begins with the sound "ass"? What were they thinking when they named the boy Trevor? Will he not suffer predictable traumas at the all boy's british prep school he is now destined to attend?

No, no, no, the Disapprover declares, you cannot invent a brand new name for the child! What will the other children think when they meet a boy named Linrod? Bisbee? And Montana is not a girl, it is a cold and desolate state! Oh, the shame of it all. The Name Disapprover is quite upset about the fates of these cruelly marked children. It does not occur to him that since all of their peers will also have stupid names, their own won't matter a bit.

The Disapprover lives in a Golden Era, when everyone was Bob or Bill or Jane or Sue. The Disapprover would be happiest if everyone was named after him.

The Rag Snob

The Rag Snob knows the exact value of every worthless object, and these are the only objects that she values. Her wardrobe consist of only castoffs, and not just any, but the best. These she finds at only the best old clothing stores, and the combinations she makes of them are the very elements of style.

She is not concerned with what other people wear; it's just too bad for them if they insist on wearing clothes that look like they were just made that morning. These have not been proven yet. It takes time to bestow the gift of taste. And as for people who wear things that are designed to go together, it's simply shows a lack of creativity. Clashing is important.

The Rag Snob has preferences that are indecipherable; there is no apparent basis for them, and this is precisely what makes them good. She is her own best work of art, and there is nothing more beautiful than a random collection of objects, insignificant in themselves. Heraclitus said this, and he may have been looking at the Rag Snob's bedroom.

She collects a curious combination of things; uniquely smelly incense sticks, small blue ceramic frogs, pink glass perfume bottles, tourist playing-cards, swatches of fabric that contain both green and purple, photographs of license plates, chess set pawns, amusing cat mugs. Every new thing she sees and likes becomes the beginning of a new collection.

All young men love the Rag Snob and want to buy things for her, but as soon as someone starts contributing to one of her groups, it ceases to attract her. Her room is also filled with tupperware containers of things she used to like, but now remind her only of one boy or another. She'd rather her collections remain purely her own. If you love a Rag Snob, please, don't give her anything you think she would like. Give her something you think she'd loathe instead.

The Nay Sayer

The Nay Sayer will never agree with you about anything. He always knows better. It does not matter what you have said, the answer is "no, not this one, that one".

You may have suggested a Vietnamese restaurant in town - you have proposed the wrong one. The Other Vietnamese restaurant is more authentic, the food is tastier, the decor more agreeable, and the prices more reasonable.

You may have mentioned that Mr. X seems to be doing a good job - the answer is no, Mr. X is lacking in such and such qualities and it is Mr. Y who is doing the better job.

You may have thought that A was a pretty good movie - there are at least seventeen major flaws in it which he can readily identify, and you should really see B, it was a much better film.

The weather may seem to be perfectly miserable, cold, windy and wet, but no, no, saith the Nay Sayer, this is exactly the kind of weather he prefers, which is why he moved to San Francisco in the first place. Any other kind of weather is for bad-tempered people who do not really deserve to live.

There is no subject the Nay Sayer is not familiar with. You may taunt him with suggestions that Polish Lap Dancing has it all over the Serbian variety, and he will regale you with quite graphic descriptions which should surely change your mind.

You cannot get the better of the Nay Sayer. Even if you tell him that you did see movie B, as he suggested, and it really was much better than movie A, you find he will have changed his mind, and now movie A is the genuine masterpiece, whereas B is purely trash.

At length you will surrender to the infinite wisdom of the Nay Sayer. He talks louder and longer than anyone else, with great effect. After several lunches with this man, you will find you have lost your appetite for commenting on anything ever again.

The Rule Ruler

The Rule Ruler abhors those who breaks the rules she considers valid, while brazenly breaking any she considers otherwise. She is the ultimate arbiter, and it should be obvious to anyone that she is always correct.

For example, dogs should always be on a leash. People who walk their dogs off-leash should be fined twelve thousand dollars and not be allowed to own a dog ever again. Cats, on the other hand, should be free to roam at will, since cats are by nature nomads. As a cat owner, the Rule Ruler sees the logic of these positions. Who could not? Anyone who keeps their cat indoors should be fined twelve thousand dollars and not be allowed to own a cat ever again.

Her judgments apply to all rules - how much makeup a young girl should wear, what time zone the state of Nebraska ought to be in, how many terms a president should be allowed to have, what the speed limit should be on each and every street, which leg you should first put into your pants, where there should be a pedestrian overpass, how many blocks are appropriate between each Burger King, how many croutons should fit on a side salad, or how many miniature carrots should there be in a one pound bag.

The Rule Ruler never writes down her definite version of the rules, for she is free to change them when it suits her, but every rule is absolute at any given moment, and she will certainly let you know if you are transgressing. Letters to the editor will be written. Your mother will be informed. Public notices will be posted. Internet bulletin boards will be crammed with outlandish charges, for the breaking of a rule is the Rule Ruler's greatest horror.

It shall not stand. Lines in the sand are drawn. She may not have any authority, or be unable to mind her own business, but once she makes it her business, you will wish you had done whatever it was you did a little differently. And next time, you probably will.

The Super-Volunteer

One of the problems of living in a small remote town is the volunteer vortex. If there is a problem, volunteers have to fix it. If the problem concerns you, than you really ought to be one of the volunteers. If you become one of the volunteers, you get sucked in to spending more and more time on it. If you spend more and more time on it, you feel a sense of entitlement - that is, you are entitled to lord it over all the other townies who do not volunteer, or who do not volunteer enough. If you are the Super-Volunteer, you have reached the summit of small town heroism.

There is the problem of the school, which is that the school always has a lot of problems. They need to raise money. They need teacher's helpers. They need people to paint over the graffiti on the walls. They need coaches. They need people to mow the fields. They need people to pick up trash. They need donations of every kind. They need bakers for bake sales and sellers for bake sales. They need drivers. They need and need and need.

Then there is the problem of the public areas. Picking up trash, weeding the sandboxes, mending the fences, paving the walkways, trimming the trees, watering the plants, the public areas are always a mess.

Depending on the locale, there may be a water problem, an industry problem, a post office junk mail recycling problem, a volunteer fire department problem, a search and rescue problem, a water body pollution problem, an off-leash dog problem, not to mention the various annual community events - 4th of July parades, Easter Egg hunts - that all require volunteers, and usually the same Super-Volunteers year after year. Everything requires volunteers. It is truly astounding that anything ever gets done.

Without the Super-Volunteers, we would have nothing. The Super-Volunteer has lots of experience, she has done everything before. She has, in fact, been doing everything for years. Everyone knows that if they have a question, the Super-Volunteer will have the answer. She is allowed to call everyone by some endearment - honey, sugar, jack - in case she forgets their names, and why shouldn't she? Other volunteers will come and go; most burnout by the second time around. The Super-Volunteer sticks it out.

The Super-Volunteer keeps track of everything she has done, and makes sure that everybody else is made aware of it. The hours are logged. The knotches are cut. The certificates are posted. The blue or gold medals of distinction are bestowed. The Super-Volunteer walks down Main Street with a glowing aura all around her. All bow down before the Super-Volunteer. She has made her town the whatever kind of town it is today.

The Place-Holder

The Placeholder is the man - or woman, but let us say a man for gender simplicity's sake - who must establish and maintain his position in any and all situations, including the best chair in the conference room, the "man" seat at the restaurant - this is the seat with the best view - the preferred seat on the airplane, and so on; each and every 'place' he deals with must be staked out, judged, and acquired. Woah to the one who would usurp the Placeholder's spot. Such insolence cannot be tolerated.

The Placeholder has several special chairs in his home, which must never be occupied by spouse or child or guest. Possibly in every room he has a spot reserved. The Placeholder may even have a preference for a particular area inside an elevator, or a stall position in a public restroom, for which which he is prepared to wait for any length of time. The Placeholder arrives early, even days before a dinner reservation, in order to note the desired table, and around it the one true seat. The Maitre'D will be informed. I would prefer that one, the Placeholder declares, leaving no other option open for consideration.

Other people might be interested in the same locations, but they will have to wait their turn, which may indeed be never. The Placeholder has already established his primacy by the simple effort he takes to get there first. One cannot argue with that. If you had had the ambition, you too could have reserved the very same spot, merely by arriving even earlier. The Placeholder considers it the law of the jungle. If one wants the spot, one takes the spot. What could be more fair?

Above all else, the Placeholder has exquisite taste in the places he reserves. No one can argue that they are not the primo locales. If they were not, he would not have selected them. Everyone nods in respect to the awesome choices the Placeholder makes, and says to themselves, now if I had only thought of that. The Placeholder notes this recognition, and finds himself completely satisfied, not only with his spot, but with the prestige that comes with having found and taken it, and from having witnessed the acknowledgment of his wisdom and his craft.

The Futile Epikles

The Epikles lives for the chance to do good deeds. He prowls for the opportunity. He lies in wait for unsuspecting victims of his magnanimity. His favorite phrase is "can I help you?". People looking at a map in public are the most susceptible to his aid. Before they have a chance to get their bearings, he appears before them pronouncing his phrase, and he is never at a loss for the information they require. He seems to know where everything is located. He is always "glad to help".

The Epikles spends his free time wandering around doing any good deed he can muster. Any good deed, no matter how small, rewards him with infinite satifaction. In line at the supermarket, he will insist that someone with fewer items go ahead of him. Spotting someone at the bus stop without an umbrella, he will inform them of the likelihood of rain. If he is at a train station, he will look around for people who seem to need to know the time, and he will tell them precisely what it is.

His acts are inspired by genuine goodness; he has no doubts about his inner qualitities. Other people may find him a little odd, a little too forthcoming, a tad too friendly, perhaps. After all, they do not know this knight in shining armor who is popping up out of nowhere to rescue them from nothing. His good deeds do in fact go unpunished, for they are not quite good enough to merit that result. He is dismissed with a half-hearted 'thank you', and, convinced his helpee is now all right, he hustles off to find the next horizon.

Epikles from The Iliad

"Telemonian Aias made the first kill - Sarpedon's brave companion, Epikles - by heaving a jagged block, the topmost of a pile that lay inside one of the battlements. Not easily could any mortal alive hold it in both hands, even in his prime, but Aias raised it high and hurtled it down, shattering helmet, skull and brains at one blow. Down the Lykian dropped headlong from the wall's height like a diver, as warm life ebbed from his bones"


The Futile Epikles is a series of characters sketches, inspired by the book 'Earwitness' by Elias Canetti

astute observers will note that physical descriptions are generally not included - even the "fat bearded" know-it-all is not necessarily fat or bearded. all of these characters come in all shapes and sizes.