Thursday, February 26th4.1°C
Old as dirt. Twice as gritty.

Mandatory condolences

First it was mandatory birthday greetings on Facebook, the ‘surprise’ birthday-wishes schtick in which you get to show your utter amazement that so many people actually remembered your birthday despite that you put your birthday in your profile knowing full well that all your friends will get endless reminders about it. One of the best comments I’ve seen following a spew of birthday greetings was the disingenuous remark, “There's no hiding them anymore, is there?” Umm, actually, there is, although it means the only people who will remember your birthday are people who actually do remember it, and haven’t been badgered about it.
Let’s face it, the Facebook birthday schtick is as tacky as those cheap plastic license plate frames that get you to advertise for the dealership where you bought your car. And in both cases - with the birthday greetings and license plate frames - people blithely go along with it for reasons I cannot fathom.
“OMG, you guys REMEMBERED MY BIRTHDAY! I can’t believe it, so many messages! There’s . . . there’s just no hiding them anymore, is there!” 
“YES, I was horribly ripped off when I bought this car from Bob’s Auto Emporium! But, who cares, they want me to use this crappy license plate frame to promote their business, and wow, I sure will, Bob, you betcha!”
The first thing that comes off the car before I drive it off the lot is the license plate frame. The day they pay me to keep it on is the day I’ll consider keeping it on. So far they’ve always just laughed nervously when I’ve suggested that. They think I am kidding. 
And the first thing that came off my Facebook account was my birthday, once I realized what it meant in terms of promoting it. Obligatory happy birthday greetings are not my thing.
Wait, I digress.
Where was I . . . 
Oh right, so Facebook has just exponentially upped the ante in the tacky department with their new Mandatory Condolences. They don’t call it that, they call it ‘Legacy’ but trust me, that’s what it is, it’s mandatory condolences. Legacy is currently stateside, but sadly will arrive here soon enough.
I should add that on the Facebook blurb for Mandatory Condolences . . . err, I mean Legacy, there is a reference to people ‘passing away’. They don’t ‘die’, because nobody dies these days, they ‘pass away’ or they ‘go to the other side’ or they ‘leave’ or ‘evaporate’, they will do anything and everything, but they flat-out refuse to die. 
I’m doing none of those, I’m just going to die and be done with it. My pets just die as well, they never go to the Rainbow Bridge, they just up and die. My dog would have hated this mythical bridge full of dead animals that makes adults, even atheists, talk in cloying euphemismal My Little Pony terms. Angus, if you’re anywhere near a damn bridge, make a run for it for god’s sake. Oh wait, you can’t because you’re dead, so you’re busy moldering in your grave, which is fine, since it is what we all - people and animals - do, unless we're cremated, in which case we get to be lung-choking dust that will blow into people’s faces when they try to scatter us. It is the last great thing we get to do: Piss someone off by getting all in their face.
People - especially in North America - are afraid of death (as evidenced by the fact that they can’t even say the word) but at the same time are obsessed by it, which to me is an abysmal waste of valuable living time. Yet despite this fear of death, people find ways to trivialize it, especially on Facebook where someone might post an update like this:

OMG, my dog died today, it breaks my heart.

And the damn thing gets 50 likes. Are people liking that your dog died? Or that you’re really unhappy? They can’t just type ‘I’m sorry’ instead of ‘liking’ it?

And as though we don’t meet up with enough death and grief close to heart as we travel life’s road, we now too-deeply mourn the death of celebrities, other strangers, and even unknown pets far and wide. We are in perma-grieving mode, perma-RIP mode. I was caught up in it when Steve Jobs died, it actually affected my whole morning until I realized, what the hell am I doing here, I did not know this man. Write about his admirable traits, sure, but grieve? No. If we too closely embrace all the world’s woes, how can we hope to schedule joie de vivre into our lives? 

Back to Facebook’s Legacy blurb. It reads, “Today we’re introducing a new feature that lets people choose a legacy contact—a family member or friend who can manage their account when they pass away.”
It is an interesting idea, and begs the question, ‘what else should be kept going after you’re dead?’ Should your survivors keep your Netflix account running as well? Add movies they think you’d like to your My List? What about the telephone, should the line be kept live in case people want to call and leave you a message?
Further along in the blurb we discover, “You’ll be able to respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook”.
But wait . . . omg, why? Why why why? Why would you ‘friend’ a dead person? “Hey hi there! It is SO GOOD to be reconnected, how in hell are you? Dead? Oh right, well there’s that.”
Apparently you can also, “update the profile picture and cover photo”.
But if you’re updating a profile picture of someone who has died, what in god’s name are you going to use? A picture of the grave? A picture of the body in the casket . . . hold on, maybe a picture of the body with one finger at attention.
. . . Hold on. Okay, yes, put that way Legacy may have potential after all.



Oh sweet sleep. I love those slipping-down seconds when you feel yourself disappear into another world, your brain drifting away on the promise of a good dream. Then maybe you grind your teeth for a bit if you’re into that kind of thing, then it’s time to maybe snore and drive your mate out of his or her cotton-picking mind, now it’s time for a toss here, a turn there, a flip, a kick or two, a cuddle, then maybe you’re too hot so you kick off the covers and then you’re too cold but the covers are no longer around, they have been stolen by that bastard lying beside you. Yet all this is done as seamlessly as a ballet performance, and in the deepest of pristine sleep. This is what we call a ‘pretty good night’s sleep’. 

There’s another kind of sleep, though. It is called ‘a crappy night’s sleep’ or, after a few nights of it, ‘no bloody sleep at all, AGAIN, thank you SO MUCH for asking, #I@#$)#@‘. 

When the person living in the same house asks you ‘how did you sleep’ after you’ve had a bad night, he or she is generally far too smart to add that they slept like a baby. However, they were in that bed with you, so you already know they slept like a damn baby because every time you looked over, there they were, mindlessly sawing logs with a smile on their face, completely oblivious to your suffering. Gazing down at their pathetic sleeping form, you hate them with every fibre of your exhausted being, and things don’t improve all that much in the light of day. Forgiveness takes time, and lots of coffee.

As a rule, I am pretty lucky in matters of sleep. I’m generally down for the count for eight hours, at which point a form of pre rigor mortis has set in. I’m a morning stiff, you see - although luckily not a dead stiff (yet). All my joints manage, in those short eight hours, to completely forget what their job is, so I’m like the Tin Man, can’t move fast, I need my oil, which is taken in the form of several cups of coffee. I don’t really mind, because who wants to move fast first thing in the morning anyway, unless you’re chasing down the rat who ‘slept like a baby’. 

On those rare occasions when sleep refuses to come, I take it very personally. Very very personally. Very very very personally. I take it personally because I know that it is a vindictive and deliberate act on my body’s part, with the brain fully in on the game. They get together and decide to toy with me. “Let’s not sleep tonight, bwahahahaha, we’ll do a sleepectomy on her (again), she will go mad with it. We will have fun. Bring popcorn, I’ll bring beer.” There’s no good reason to do this to me, it’s unbelievably malicious.

A sleepless night goes approximately like this - I hit the pillow, and fall into an instant deep sleep. One nanosecond later, my eyes open. I silently explain to them that it is not time to open. They shut again, but then, as though on springs, they reopen. I repeat myself, this time less patiently. The eyes shut, but reluctantly and with attitude, so I cover them with my hand. This is when the brain takes over. The brain is much more powerful than the eyes. You can bully the eyes into doing what you want, but just try that with the brain. It has so many tricks, and it knows you really well. It knows what buttons to push. 

Next the legs get into the game. The usual way to sleep is suddenly not good enough for the legs. No, they now hate that way of sleeping, and won’t do it. They won’t do any other way either, instead they flail about. They have decided that the bed is hostile territory, and they want nothing to do with it. The arms notice these antics and get into the game. The rest of the body thinks this is amazing stuff and it does what it can to play along. So there I am, a twitching nervous wreck, unable to sleep in the uncomfortable bed - the same bed that the body thought was just fine one night earlier. 

In theory, the trick when you can’t sleep is to just go with it. Relax, read a book, don’t think about time or sleep. Reeeeeeee-laaaaaaaax. I grab my book and make it through the first sentence and suddenly feel more tired than I’ve felt in my entire life. I put down the book, turn out the light, and zzzzzzzz . . . z . . . . . . z . . . zz . . . z - damn, I have to go pee. Has there ever been a more tired person staggering to a bathroom? No, there has not. How can I even make it back to the bed? Maybe I’ll fall asleep on the floor because that’s how tired I am. With effort I do make it back, and my body and brain laugh in harmony as I once again come fully awake.

I accept that I won’t sleep ever again. This I announce out loud. “Why even bother,” I say in my best Eeyore voice. “I will just stay up for the REST OF MY LIFE.” No response from the dead weight on the other side of the bed. We all - myself, my brain and my body - head into the office to get this column written. In minutes I am fast asleep in the chair. My joints, which are whiny things at the best of time, notice that they are resting in highly unacceptable positions, so they ache at me until I wake up. I stagger back to bed, and am now totally ready for sleep, oh boy. Crawling into the bed, chilled and done for, I fall instantly asleeeeeee-wide-awake.

This slips me into rant-mode. I become severe with myself, because sometimes you have to be. “You stupid stupid stupid body, you stupid stupid stupid brain. I hate you more than I’ve ever hated anything or anyone, why, I oughta smack you a good one. I wish you were de . . . wait, never mind that, but I really hope you suffer.” 

And that’s the thing, it works, I do suffer. It is a complicated relationship. 


Superlatively speaking

Our society has managed to fall (or dive) into a steamy vat of superlative muck in recent years, and it has changed the way that we communicate. I’m not sure what, if anything, is still said or written in a normal low-key way, even the extra-low-key Brits are losing their ‘keep calm’ attitude, all that’s left of Keep Calm are the memes, mugs and t-shirts.

This need for overkill has seeped into everything, making our conversations sticky with over-the-top superlatives folded into big emotional statements (possibly to cover up a lack of real feeling?). At any rate, whatever you want to say these days, you’d best say it big, with exaggerated passion, because otherwise you will look wishy-washy.
For example, the word ‘like’ is almost obsolete, except when used as a pause in thought, like, right now. Take a look at this sentence: “I like this man, he is pretty smart. He’s not too shabby, and he’s funny, too.” If you say this, it will look as though you can barely stand the guy.
In order to pop, the declaration has to be brought up to modern standards: “OMG I love this man, he is the smartest person I have ever met in my entire life, and on top of that he is the kindest and nicest and most perfect person ever, and nobody is funnier in the entire world, maybe even the entire universe. Did I mention good-looking? Holy Toledo, I might die just thinking about him, he is that awesome. He is just a big cuddle-hunky-bunny bundle of awesomeness.” Saying it this way, people get the idea.
Digging deep into the past, about 1/2 century-and-change ago, kids could get into trouble for saying something like this: “I hate that kid down the street.”
“What on earth are you talking about, Jo Slade?” you Modern Millies grumble. “Why would a kid get in trouble for saying that?”
Well, because ‘hate’ was once considered a word that you just didn’t use. Ever. You could dislike someone (although even that would get you chided) but ‘hate’ was a dirty word, or close to it, it was seen as too over-the-top, too dramatic. 
You would also catch hell for using the word ‘love’. You could love whoever you supposed to love, ie your mother and father and possibly your siblings (although you didn’t go around saying it, it was an assumed thing), but unlike today, you didn’t automatically love everything you didn’t hate, and you didn’t have to verify that love by saying it all the time. The word ‘like’ was the word of choice. And you didn’t need to announce what you liked and didn’t like, you just quietly went around liking stuff on the sly. Yes, this seems archaic now, but once upon a time that’s the way it was. 
Linguistically speaking, you really have to be on your toes today. You need to keep up in conversations and correspondence that require massive doses of superlative drama, and this can often lead to one-upmanship.
Him: “Hey, come here, you are going to FREAK OUT over this website.”
You: “Ha ha, sure, but hang on, check this out, you are gonna have TEARS POURING DOWN YOUR HYSTERICALLY LAUGHING FACE over this one. Your head will EXPLODE.”
Him: “Well, I would but I am too busy DYING FROM LAUGHTER over this site. Come here and prepare to see the FUNNIEST THING YOU WILL EVER SEE IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.”
Damn. Once ‘entire life’ comes into it, you’re close to being hooped, you’ve got to regroup, and fast. Might I suggest a nice little ‘anywhere on earth’ remark, with plenty of exclamation marks:
You: “OMG, wait, no way! This is shocking!!!!!!!!! Ya gotta see this, it’s THE RAREST OF RARE AWESOMENESS THING ANYWHERE ON EARTH, EVER.”
Nailed it.
In closing, I’m going to leave you with a small taste of a pre-superlative yesteryear. It is not for the faint-of-heart:
“Hmm, interesting article in the newspaper today.”
“Oh? What is it about?”
“It says that a 500-ton meteor is heading toward Earth. Apparently we are all going to die in ten minutes, give or take.”
“Oh my, well I guess there isn’t much point in making dinner, is there.”
“Probably not, although I do feel a bit peckish, don’t you? Perhaps this is as good a time as any to tell you that I care about you.”
“Now, let’s not get emotional, dear. Should we sit outside and watch the meteor as it arrives?”
“Good plan, I’ll prepare drinks. Oh say, I think it may be here already, the house is shaking rather a lot. Would you mind terribly if your Martini is shaken, not stirred? Would you like one or two oli. . . .”

El cheapo 2015 horoscope

Welcome to your brand new year, fresh out of the box and sparkly clean. A new year means there are fresh horoscopes baking. You already get a quality horoscope on Castanet from Heather Zais, but we’re not talking quality in this column. This is the low-end economy horoscope for cheap people, like you.
If you are new to horoscopes, ‘horoscope’ is a euphemism for ‘a bunch of zodiac signs’. To make them easier to count, the signs are put into four groups. The best group by far is the Dirt group, because Capricorn is in there, and Capricorn is what is horoscopically known as ‘superior in all ways’. It is also known as ‘my sign’. 
The four groups:
Dirt (Earth): Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo
Dirt signs can expect quite a bit of dirt this year. For some, the dirt will involve planting things then watching them die because you have no clue how to garden. For others it will involve the latest dirt about that hot number who works three desks from you. 
Rainy (Water): Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio
Rainy signs should plan on getting wet this year. Go swimming. Or move to the coast. Or for god’s sake at least have a bath.
Nothing (Air): Aquarius, Gemini, Libra
Nothing signs will keep on breathing air, except for the ones who die at which point they will be switched over to either Dirt or Sparky which they will get to know up close and personal, although being dead means they probably won’t appreciate the irony.
Sparky (Fire): Sagittarius, Leo, Aries, Herman
Sparky signs will be smoking up a storm. What they are smoking we don’t even want to know, but it will probably lead to the same fate as Nothing.
Now for your individual fortunes. Normally you might just read your own sign, but in this case you should read them all, from the top. It’s important in a six degrees of separation kind of way.
Capricorn, you will win the lottery. The ticket will be in your leather jacket pocket, but you will forget all about it when you drop off the jacket for dry-cleaning after you spill a jar of pickles on it. Soon after, you will note that your dry-cleaner has retired, and is vacationing in Hawaii for several months. Yes, there is a connection. You will fall into despair, and complain non-stop on facebook about this unfortunate turn of events. You will go to Hawaii in hopes of finding the thief. Star-speak: Pluto is all over the moon’s cusp.
Taurus, you will find a lottery ticket. You know it belongs to the idiot with the leather jacket but you will cash in the unsigned ticket and not feel guilty, because you are a heartless bastard that way. You will sell your dry-cleaning business and go on vacation in Hawaii for an insanely long time. You will unfriend your facebook friend who keeps going on and on and on about a lost lottery ticket. Star-speak: Neptune is moving toward the sun and when it hits, Neptune will be crispy critters.
Pisces, this will start out as a good year for you. It sure won’t end that way. You will buy a dry-cleaning business which you’ll get for dirt cheap because the seller is retiring and is highly motivated. You will be eager about your new business until you start to notice that everything coming into the store is dirty. This will depress you, and you will join a facebook group for depressed people where you will meet someone who is feeling depressed because he went from very rich to very poor in very short order. The two of you will meet up, and consume vast quantities of cheap red wine to drown your sorrows. Your wife will leave you, at which point you move to Hawaii and hula dance for a living. Star-speak: The sun will rise then set each day, with cusps.
Cancer, you will leave your husband because he won’t shut up about dirty clothes. You will take possession of his dry-cleaning business in lieu of alimony, and will enjoy the work because you motto is ‘a little dirt never hurt anybody’ despite that you are not a Dirt sign. Later in the year, you will develop severe allergies to the chemicals used at the shop and will be forced to sell. Because you’re good looking and ruthless, you will sell for far more than the business is worth. You will fly to Hawaii to celebrate. Star-speak: Mars goes red with disgust over the erratic Sparky behaviour of the sun.
Scorpio, after a savvy market move you will be rolling in money, until you are tempted by a beautiful woman who is selling a dry-cleaning business. You will fall for her questionable charms and will pay several times what the business is worth. You will sell out to the pot-head who lives down the street from you so you can follow the seller to Hawaii. Star-speak: The cusps start fighting back, they want the right to be planets. They form a union.
Aquarius, your days of enjoying pot pretty much 24/7 will come to an abrupt end when your neighbour insists that you buy his dry-cleaning business. Although you want to say no to him, you know that he knows about that dirty little habit you have, not to mention the pot habit. You turn the dry-cleaning operation into a pot-growing operation, inspired, in part, by the meth lab in Breaking Bad. You buy a funny black hat like Walter White’s, but trust me, you don’t look like Walter White. Your business thrives, but at some point you will mysteriously disappear. Star-speak: Virgo is getting antsy about something, who in hell knows what.
Gemini, your job as a pilot for a shady econo-airline will be at risk when you toke some solvent-tainted pot bought from the dry-cleaner down the street. Completely out of your mind, you will fly the plane and 365 passengers to Hawaii instead of their chosen destination of Australia. You will be flying significantly higher than the plane you are flying. The airline won’t be pleased, and will have you arrested. Star-speak: Saturn gets a new ring, as if it doesn’t have enough already.
Libra, your career as a police officer will be compromised when you arrest a pot-head airline pilot who offers you all kinds of money to ‘lose’ him in a paperwork shuffle, which you do because you are completely lacking in any morals, a common thing with Nothing signs. You and the pilot will hit it off and go back to his hometown so he can off the idiot who sold him solvent-laced pot. You will help bury the body where nobody will find it, then head to Hawaii to escape possible investigation. Star-speak: The sun and Scorpio have a thing going, and it doesn’t involve cusps.
Sagittarius, you will go into business when you see an ad in the paper for a dry-cleaner in foreclosure due to the owner having gone missing. You will wonder about some of the dry-cleaning products being used, but will continue using them because they smell pretty good and are quite relaxing. You will feel unbelievably mellow, especially when you’re at work. Eventually you will sell your house and move into the back room of the shop. You use some of the money from the house sale for a quick trip to Hawaii. Star-speak: The sun and moon switch jobs, which result in various situations, mostly involving nakedness.
Leo, you will switch to a new dry-cleaner after hearing about the great place on the other side of town. At first you have doubts, since it looks as though the clothes come out just as dirty as when they go in, but the doubts will go up in smoke. After a few months you will start to sleep on the street outside the dry cleaners, because you never know when you might need your clothes cleaned. Star-speak: A star falls on cusping Libra, hurting both.
Aries, as city mayor you will be worried about the lack of motivation that seems to have seized the entire town. You will drop off clothes at a dry-cleaner, and soon after you won’t be worried about a thing. You sure will be hungry, though. You will meet a man who lives on the street outside the dry-cleaners. You’re pretty sure that the two of you get married and honeymoon in Hawaii, but it’s all a bit hazy. Star-speak: Libra and Aries are splitting up, and selling their cusps to the highest bidder.
Virgo, you will buy a lottery ticket for a good friend’s birthday. If he wins, the two of you can buy a boat and sail around the world. However, your friend is an idiot and will lose his ticket after which he will not be all that appealing as a boating companion. You meet a dry-cleaner who, while not exactly clean due to the strange chemicals used at his business, is laid-back and highly successful. The two of you go to Hawaii in your new boat. Star-speak: The sun is seriously thinking about calling it quits. It is that disgusted with humanity’s antics. 
Herman, you’re not really a sign, are you. Just go home, okay? Star-speak: Hawaii is vaporized by a surprise comet riding in on the cusp of Armageddon.

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About the Author

This bio was written by Jo Slade. As you can see she has written about herself in the third person. What normal person would do that? They just wouldn't. Who knows how many other persons might be involved in this thing, a second person? Another third? I worry about it. I - she - we - can't even keep it straight, this paragraph is a damn mess, there are persons all over the place. Round 'em up and shoot 'em. That's what I'd do, and by golly I think that's what Jo Slade would do as well.

Biographic nutshell: Jo has been messing around with words for a long time. Sometimes she'll just say words instead of writing them, it saves on paper.

This column: The columns that appear here are of a highly serious and scholarly nature, therefore it is advised that you keep a dictionary and ponderous thoughts nearby.

If, after reading the column, you find yourself tossing and turning at night, burning with the need to email me, just do it. I answer to [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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