03.01.14

The Most Annoying Phrase of 2014 – An Early Front-Runner

Posted in March 2014 at 3:38 am by The Layman

Words contain such wonderful potential as to alter a mood, evoke an atmosphere, and transport the imagination.  But while words may not literally cause physical injury like sticks and stones, they certainly do have the power to annoy.

As language evolves and morphs, we rely on phrases to utter as placeholders while gathering our feelings and catching up to that train of thought careening off the tracks in our heads, or searching for better words to more effectively convey our point.  Inevitably, during verbal discourse between imperfect humans, this use of the spoken crutch has come to be expected, if not accepted.

Some crutch phrases sound benign; for example, the second sound ever uttered by man must have been, “um.”  On second thought, “um” is not really a word, but more like a sound.  So maybe that was always in the caveman’s lexicon, mixed in with the other assorted grunts and gestures of the day.  Surely we should give something so entrenched in our DNA a pass.

Other phrases, however, grate on the listener’s ears like denim dragging across a plush carpet.  And when I say a listener’s ears, I mean my ears.  And nothing annoys my ears more at the moment then the phrase, “sort of.”

Only two months have passed in 2014, but this phrase “sort of” has already sprinted to the front of the pack of annoying phrases.  To be fair, it first wedged itself in my consciousness like a caraway seed stuck between my teeth in 2013 and continued to build momentum, thus it hit 2014 in full stride.  How can such a phrase invoke so much displeasure?  Consider these two examples.

1)   A person recounts a wonderful meal they enjoyed by stating, “We went out to Boar’s Head Inn last night for dinner and had a great meal.  They had a huge fire roaring in the fireplace, with candles and potpourri baskets scattered throughout the dining room. The room had a, sort of, romantic and rustic ambience.”  Huh?  Besides begging the ancillary question of how could one possibly eat with the stomach-churning mix of potpourri scents, burning wood and cooked food swirling in the air, the main question remains, was the ambience “romantic and rustic,” or was it not?

2)   A radio commentator states, “The President has toned down his rhetoric in recent days.  He appears to be backing away from his position and, sort of, executing an exit strategy.  Huh?  Is he executing an exit strategy, or not?  And if he’s not executing an exit strategy, what exactly is he doing?

Out here on the Perch, I stand confused as to why a speaker would inject such doubts into a listener’s mind.  What are people thinking when they use this phrase, are they trying to sound high-minded?  Commentators on TV and radio use this phrase incessantly, apparently in the hopes that it would layer a sheen of intellectual gravitas to their presence.  However, they just come across as sounding phony and pretentious.  And, they have also managed to weaken whatever point they were attempting to make, thus running headlong into an immutable law of the universe, the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has proven its omnipotence since the dawn of time.  When the caveman first discovered fire, he must have slapped his chest a couple of times in celebration of such a species-altering revelation.  Little did he know that soon the cavewoman would force him to sit next to her around a roaring fire, hold her hand, and grunt about how his day went hunting the mighty woolly mammoth while managing not to get eaten by that relentless saber toothed tiger.

Given the lack of outrage in the general population over the incessant use of the phrase, “sort of,” perhaps I am overreacting out here on the Perch.  When the word “like” burst forth from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California into the nation’s consciousness, commentators railed against our instant affinity for it and declared the occasion as the beginning of the end of civilization as we knew it.  I sense none of that angst with “sort of.”

Perhaps because “sort of” sounds so similar to other benign and accepted crutch phrases such as “you know,” “I think,” “kind of.”  In fact, “sort of” sounds like an extension and close relative of “kind of.”  Perhaps that’s why the phrase does not even register on people’s radar screens.  But that defines the slippery slope threatening the semantic topography of our conversations.

Where do we draw the line on this crutch phrase creep?  Soon we will just talk to each other in words and phrases that do not define our firm convictions.  Does this illustrate the regrettable reality that when we talk with each other we are not really listening to what the other person is saying, that we would rather stay lost in thought formulating our next point?  Or it represents just another manifestation of the short attention span of our digital existence today.  Focusing on many tasks means focusing on none.  Watching TV or listening to streaming audio on the laptop while simultaneously surfing the web causes a phrase such as “sort of” to magically blend into the background noise.

And maybe none of this truly matters, because the notion of carrying on a face-to-face conversation with another person seems so quaint today.  When you are texting or tweeting or sending an email, there is no room for crutch phrases.  They represent an indefensible waste of 140 characters and take too much effort to tap out on a touch screen.  In a communications paradigm where “ur” means both “your” and “you’re,” a silly phrase such as “sort of” finds no safe harbor.

Because of the actual, unintended effect of this insidious phrase, speakers who wish to not annoy should just discard it like a humpback whale ignores its vestigial leg bones.  And with that I will try to let it go.  With three hundred sixty degree views of a pastoral tapestry and sunsets over rolling hills, the Perch is not the place to come to feel upset.  It is a place where one can, sort of, relax and unwind.  Like, you know, chill.

02.02.12

2012 Washington Auto Show

Posted in February 2012 at 2:02 am by The Layman

I visited the Washington Auto Show today to view live and in-person some intriguing models about to hit the market, as well as some influential concepts. The show, held at the D.C. Convention Center, is not really a manufacturers’ show; rather, it is produced by WANADA (Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association).

But the manufacturers do send some of their latest concept models for display at the show. The crowds were light on this work and school day, so I was able to get close to the cars and take some unobstructed pictures. For larger versions of the pictures posted below, as well as other pictures not posted here, check out The Perch on Facebook.

The following models represent some of the most interesting cars on display at the show.

Chevrolet Tru 140S and Code 130R Concepts

Chevrolet, a company with a miserable history of developing small cars, displayed two stunning small, sporty concepts aimed at the segment of buyers who would typically shop Scion cars. As someone who drove the family Chevrolet Chevette during high school in the mid-80’s, my arms still ache when I think about the effort required to actuate the turn signal stalk and muscle the steering wheel to make a turn. However, these two concepts force me to re-evaluate my opinion of Chevy’s ability to produce a desirable, satisfying small vehicle.

The first concept is the Tru 140S, a coupe with the flair of the best exotics from Europe. It wears an appealing coat of matte white paint. The only thing that kept the Tru 140S from upstaging the new Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S coupes is the fact that the concept does not have any running gear under the skin.

Chevrolet Tru 140S Concept

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The second concept is the Code 130R, a small coupe with big muscle car ambitions. The Code 130R also has no running gear, but exhibits all the requisite bulges around the fenders and wheel wells. While it bears the bow tie logo of a car company that knows a thing or two about making muscle cars, the Code 130R does bear a passing resemblance to the BMW 1-series coupe.

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Dodge Dart

Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 locked in an alliance with Fiat, with a roadmap in place for Fiat to eventually take over all of Chrysler. One of the major elements of the roadmap required Fiat to provide platforms and technologies for future Chrysler products. The Dodge Dart represents the first major milestone of the alliance, allowing Fiat to take a controlling share of Chrysler. Chrysler has not offered a small, compact sedan for sale in the U.S. market since the Dodge Neon.

Now, thanks to Fiat contributing the Alfa Romeo Giulietta chassis and the MultiAir engine technology, U.S. buyers will be able to once again purchase a Dodge compact sedan. The rakish Dart departs from recent Chrysler sedan designs, with only the design of the rear light bar tying the car to its Dodge brethren. The interior seems unremarkable at first glance, but it does offer a huge 8.4 inch screen at the center of the dashboard.

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Lincoln MKZ Concept

The star of the DC Show is the dazzling Lincoln MKZ concept. Either I am getting old, or Ford is serious about reviving its luxury brand with an injection of style and panache. Everyone thought Mercedes-Benz blundered when it introduced the CLS-class, a four-door sedan with the flat, angular roofline of a two-door coupe. But Mercedes should feel vindicated as a visionary, as the CLS has spawned a raft of copycat models from the likes of Audi (A7) and BWM (6-Series Gran Coupe).

The MKZ concept falls in line with that trend, but the design is well-executed, and more stunning when viewed in-person than in pictures. Viewing the concept from the rear, I don’t have to squint too hard to see traces of Aston Martin in the taillights.  If Ford brings this concept to production, it will elevate Lincoln to a new level of style and elegance.

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Ford Evos Concept and 2013 Fusion

Ford single-handedly launched the movement towards aerodynamic design when it launched the Taurus in the mid-80’s. In the decades that followed, Ford seemed to have lost its way with trailblazing design. But now it appears Ford is aggressively poised to once again assume the mantle of design leadership. The Evos concept, introduced last year, represents an expression of Ford’s future design direction.

That direction became clear once Ford unveiled the 2013 Fusion with the new corporate trapezoidal grill first shown on the Evos concept. Once again, DNA from Aston Martin, of which Ford owns a small stake, has seeped into Ford’s other products.

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Lexus LF-LC Concept and 2013 GS-series

The Lexus LF-LC concept signals the brand’s future styling direction, which Lexus applies to the 2013 GS. The most striking aspect of this new brand identity is the in-your-face grill. Carmakers love to make a statement and establish a corporate face with the grill. Sometimes, of course, that backfires. Just ask Acura, who recently had to quickly redesign its corporate face when its overwrought grill design was roundly panned.

It remains to be seen how the market will react to Lexus’ latest design statement. In the meantime, somewhere in Southern California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has just diverted his attention from repairing his marriage to Maria Shriver for a moment to call his lawyers and demand compensation from Lexus for ripping off Predator to design its new corporate face.

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01.23.12

Dawn of a New Day

Posted in January 2012 at 7:52 pm by The Layman

The morning sun rises outside the window behind me while I toil at my desk.  The fresh light peeks through the window blinds and arrays itself in a jagged splash along the wall to my right, like the glow from a streetlamp on the wall of a dark office in a classic noir film.

Looking at the pattern on the wall, I cannot stop my mind from wandering.

I wonder what predicament befalls our hero.  Faced with a wheelbarrow full of rotten choices, which path will he choose? And when will our heroine reveal herself? Will she present our hero with a way out, or will she simply further complicate his plight?

Then I reach behind me and slam the blinds shut. Because the glare from the awakened sun on the computer monitor washes out my document, and really hurts my eyes.

01.20.12

So I Wanna Be a Screenwriter

Posted in January 2012 at 7:37 pm by The Layman

I am working on an original screenplay.  Although I must admit, I have been working on it more slowly, than surely.  Writer’s block never hits me as hard as it does when I attempt to move my script forward. Every time I pick up the script, I crash into an invisible barrier which makes the U.S. naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis seem like the finish line tape at the local 5K race.  Perhaps the movie gods have sent this immovable force to convey to me the message that my great movie idea needs more polishing, the same kind of polishing required to turn sand into the mirror used in the Hubble Space Telescope.

But I digress.  As I understand it, the movie industry would consider this a “spec” script; which, in plain English, means it will never see the light of day.  Actually, it means that the script is unsolicited, and no one has actually paid me to work on the project.  Common knowledge seems to suggest – if that community is the internet, that is; and really, does a bigger community exist? – that my efforts will never make it onto the Big Screen.

But I am okay with that. I have managed to convince myself to enjoy the journey, however painful it has seemed so far, and not focus on some distant theoretical destination.  After all, the salmon knows that it will die after spawning, yet it still fights its way upstream until it accomplishes its mission.  A shooting star knows it will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, yet it still arcs across the night sky in a flash of fiery glory, amazing all the terrestrial beings lucky enough to view it.

So I will continue to plow away, head down, one foot in front of the other.  If I ever finish this screenplay, perhaps I will post it here on The Perch.  In the meantime, if you ever dip your toes into the frigid, fast-moving waters of a Pacific Northwest stream one fine, fall day, please look for me.

01.19.12

Clash of the Culinary Titans

Posted in January 2012 at 9:03 pm by The Layman

The feud between celebrity chefs Paula Deen and Anthony Bourdain has been bubbling like a pot of chicken stock simmering under low heat.  As a foodie, I enjoy nothing more than plopping down on the couch with a big tub of popcorn (drenched with butter, of course) and following the knives flying back and forth between these cable television divas.  Recently, this culinary clash flared up like fat drippings from a bone-in ribeye steak on the grill hitting the white-hot charcoal, when Deen announced on NBC that she has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Now, here on The Perch, we normally frown upon taking a cheap shot at someone who is suffering from a disease.   But Deen’s plight is a bit different.  Wrapped in all those layers of hypocrisy that shield her, like the Teflon on my omelette skillet, none of the criticism would stick on her anyway.  The same cannot be said of Deen’s cooking and my ribs and dickie-doo (for those readers who have not had the pleasure of living in the South, a dickie-doo is when your gut is so big, it sticks out farther than your dickie-doo).

Deen was diagnosed three years ago, or twenty six thousand five hundred thirty five sticks of butter, depending on if one measures the duration while inside or outside of Deen’s kitchen, and has chosen to keep that information private until now – the occasional rumor notwithstanding.   Perhaps it would be unfair to state that Deen’s lifetime of preparing and consuming rich, mouth-watering southern classics caused her diabetes. According to a recent study by the International Diabetes Federation, one in ten adults will become afflicted with diabetes by the year 2030.   What is fair to state is that not only is Deen entering a new life stage in terms of living with and managing this disease, she is determined to profit from her affliction as well.

At the same time that she announced her disease, Deen also announced she has signed on as a paid spokesperson for drug company Novo Nordisk. Together, they will educate the public on healthier eating to help keep the disease in check.  If Bourdain thought several months before Deen’s announcement that her being in the pocket of “evil corporations” was despicable, what must he think now of Deen’s newest partnership with Big Pharma, the most evil of corporations? In fact, this little tidbit apparently penetrated Bourdain’s alcoholic haze with the clarity of a crystal decanter, because Bourdain managed to put down the shot glass long enough to tweet, “Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.”  Of course, Bourdain taking shots at a fellow celebrity chef for drumming up business serves as a prime example of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.  If Bourdain has stepped into a kitchen long enough in the last ten years to remember what a pot looks like, that is.

Happily, interested spectators do not have to pick sides in this ongoing clash of culinary titans.  Picking sides in a made-for-television drama is as futile as keeping our kitchen at The Perch as spotless as the typical kitchen on the set of a Food Network cooking show.  So here at The Perch, we hope that Deen successfully manages her diabetes and continues to live a healthy life, and Bourdain continues to tell us exactly how he feels.

The Copy Room

Posted in January 2012 at 6:47 pm by The Layman

The green glow skimmed across her face like the shadow of a puffy cloud sweeping over an undulating field. She silently hummed to herself the melody of The Song to the beat of the rhythmic whirring and clicking of the copier.

Lately, she had been thinking often of that period in her life, and The Song brought her back to that space and time as if the events had unfolded yesterday. The power of music effortlessly pierced the reservoir hidden deep within her memory, and the liberated emotions washed over her like the waves shaping the contours of a sandy beach, un-muted by the passage of time. The well-worn feelings comforted her.

She glanced up as he walked into the room and placed a sheaf of papers in the facsimile machine. He looked vaguely familiar, and she recalled that they had met before. But she had not cared to remember his name. As he punched the keys on the machine to dial a number, he began to softly sing the chorus of The Song. The same one that was playing in her head on an infinite loop. And over and over again on her iPod. She looked at him again, this time with a swirling mix of surprise and curiosity. Her eyes unblinking.

He stopped singing when he looked up from the fax machine and noticed her stare. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly as his cheeks reddened. “That song has been stuck in my mind all day. It’s called . . .”

“I’m familiar . . .” she replied softly, interrupting him in mid-sentence.

He nodded, then started to say something, but suddenly decided not to. Instead, he pursed his lips and grabbed his documents from the fax machine. Her confused gaze followed him as he briskly left the room.

01.17.12

Burger King Delivers

Posted in January 2012 at 8:08 pm by The Layman

From Burger King, the fast food company that promises the discerning gourmand that she or he can “have it your way” comes the news that in a limited number of markets, “hav[ing] it your way” means you can have “it” delivered to your doorstep.

My first reaction upon hearing the news was that this is what happens when you let a bunch of investment bankers, and Brazilian bankers at that, run a food business. All those Ivy League M.B.A. degrees, all that Wall Street experience in the business of money, all the expensive and exhaustive strategic, market and operational analysis, and this is their revolutionary idea?

As an American who has eaten a fast food burger or three, I find it hard to wrap my mind around this novel approach, much less wrap my fingers around the greasy burger wrappers after handing over my money while standing at the open front door of my home. Fast food burgers are meant to be eaten in the car, with one hand holding the neatly-wrapped burger, and the other hand on the steering wheel. If one must sit on a stationary chair, then it should be a hard, slippery, plastic chair securely bolted to a similarly hard, slippery, plastic table, all preferably painted in a palette of bright, happy colors.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to believe that Burger King may be on to something. After all, these bankers possess some modicum of business savvy and experience. And Burger King is the first to roll out this risky, albeit novel strategy on a wide scale.

But some questions remain stubbornly unanswered. Will the delivery person be draped in royal regalia, with a fake orange beard, topped off by a shiny, faux-gold crown? Instead of a brightly-lit, plastic billboard on the roof of the delivery vehicle, will the delivery drivers prowl the residential streets in a car topped by a big plastic crown with tiny points of lights? I am not sure I would like my neighbors to note the alarming frequency with which the car with the funny, giant crown on the roof pulls into my driveway.

I will have to set aside some time to ponder these and other questions. But first, I must log on and find out if my home falls within the current delivery areas.

The Eternal Wait

Posted in January 2012 at 6:45 pm by The Layman

His gaze fixates on the horizon.

When his eyes tire, he looks down and wonders, “For how long should one wait for a sure thing?”

Paralyzed by the prospect of an unfathomable fantastic, reluctant to embrace the mundane reality of a quotidian life, he sets aside any thoughts of action for another day. And returns his eyes to the distance. Unblinking.

Zero Dark Thirty at the Airport Terminal

Posted in January 2012 at 6:39 pm by The Layman

The accordion player cranks out a constant, upbeat polka. He sits on a tattered suitcase and stares straight ahead, only occasionally glancing at the harried passengers walking briskly by while pulling their oversized steamer trunks on wheels masquerading as carry-on luggage. He shyly makes eye contact with the rare person who stops and listens appreciatively, and smiles.

Bleary-eyed, it is easy to imagine that I am sitting in a busy Central European train terminal. But then the aroma of warm tortilla and pork from the Chipotle hits my nose, the holiday muzak from the overhead speakers drowns out the resolute accordion player, and I realize I am just sitting in the waiting area of Gate 63 in the B terminal of Dulles International Airport at 5:30 AM.

It is way too early in the morning for this assault on my senses.

10.25.10

Fall 2010

Posted in October 2010 at 11:34 pm by The Layman

The landscape explodes with color.

Fiery reds, brilliant golds, luscious oranges.  But like a shooting star, the flash is fleeting.

At the peak of glory, beauty fades, leaf by falling leaf, plucked and carried away by the passing breeze.

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