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Turn Your Head and Cough #4
by Jason Torchinsky

I have a wonderful memory about my father. I was thinking about the hunting trips we used to take. Actually, I guess "hunting" is really the wrong word for it, as my father didn't believe in killing animals. But that didn't mean he had to like them. No, my dad didn't kill animals, but he had a score to settle with certain ones of them. I'm not exactly certain what, but let's just say he had his reasons. Yeah, we used to go on trips all right-- but we never shot a single deer or elk or yak or otter or whatever. No, we'd stalk the forest, catch an elk, and beat the hell out of it. We'd take turns, one holding it down, the other punching it in the gut, slapping it around, giving it a serious shiner to remember us by. We figured two on one was fair since the elk had antlers. Then we'd send that punk elk back to his little furry wapiti buddies just as an example. Sure, I never had any trophies or anything like that, but I did have the glorious satisfaction of knowing how a hard fist slamming into toned, furry flank feels. Cool alliteration, eh?

Those trips were some of my fondest memories with my dad. Then, one night while we slept, a herd of caribou broke into our home, dragged my father and I out of bed, tied me to my bike and my father to a gutter (I'd like to find that bastard who taught them knots!) and proceeded to beat us stupid. Yeah, they really laced into us that night, but, what the hell, we deserved it, and I remember how my father and I lay on the ground, surrounded by blood and hair and teeth, laughing ourselves silly about the justice of it all. "What comes around goes around," my father said, though at the time it sounded more like "Whabth coonth aroonds thgoethsz arooundzth."

Yeah, that's my dad for you. Another thing I remember about my dad was that, like all parents, he was always complaining about how I don't watch enough TV. So, to appease him, the other day I sat down for a good 15 or so hours of MTV.

Almost immediately after I turned it on, I saw some public service ad for environmental protection. The ad had either Pia Zadora or Quincy Jones, my reception was not clear, telling me that if we took all of the discarded paper used in a single day in United States, we could build a 12-foot high wall from New York to Los Angeles. A figure like that really makes you think. Makes you realize that we are in a situation where something must be done. A 12-foot high wall of paper from New York to Los Angeles? Dammit, let's do it! Enough of this coming on TV just talking and griping about what could be, hell, let's build that wall! The time for action has come!

At first I wasn't certain if this wall would be the best use for all of that discarded paper, but then I figured that if a 12-foot high fence of trash bisecting this great land of ours wasn't the absolute ideal use for all of this refuse, then those fine men and women of MTV would never have employed the team of engineers it must have taken to work out the logistics for such a project. In fact, unless my bastard neighbors have their way, I've already started my part.

This whole 12-foot high continental wall of scrap paper and old Post-it notes made me think about something else, an action which usually requires me to take about eight Tylenol. It reminded me of this astronomy class I had. The professor was convinced, as most astronomy teachers seem to be, that the concept of distances in space is far too vast and complicated for a normal human, and, according to some diagnoses, myself, to comprehend. Okay. That's not so unreasonable an assumption. The concept of a light year is pretty hard to grasp, especially on an empty stomach. After all, a light year is the distance a chunk of light travels in one year. Or, in layman's terms, the distance a chunk of light travels in one year. This brings up some interesting questions. Where does it go? And when it gets there, where does it stay? Does it travel on business or for pleasure? Why does it never bring back souvenirs?

But back to my point. My professor, realizing the inability to grasp the concept of such vast distances, invariably described it by asking us to imagine a stack of sandwiches reaching to Mars and back. Oh. Okay. I can't ever hope to understand how far it is to Alpha Centauri, but a stack of sandwiches that encircles the globe six times? No problem. I'll give you no problem, you. Why the hell does anyone entertain the thought that somehow imaging a stack of yummy rubens stretching out far past the limits of vision is going to make anything any clearer? Not that a stack of rubens miles long would be so bad. In fact, such a stack could go a long way in providing my life with some kind of direction.

Still, my point is that these analogies are silly. That same astronomy teacher also liked to use some analogy that likened the solar system to a series of sporting equipment strewn about the major cities of these 46 great states. I think the sun was a basketball in Cape Cod. The Earth was a racquetball in Memphis, and I think most of the rest of the planets were hockey pucks in the top dresser drawer of some geeky fat kid in Arizona. I think. No, wait, maybe that's how I had relativity explained to me. Yeah. Only the fat kid should be going at the speed of light. I think. Mmmm.

I guess the only one of these little analogous scale-explanation things, to use the technical term, that I would recommend keeping is also the only one that has really found widespread use: the football field. Pretty much anything larger than a couple of hearses will be measured in terms of the football field sooner or later. Airplanes, trucks, plots of land, amounts of food you can buy at Taco Bell for under $8.00, bridges, that kind of stuff. If it were up to me (and if it wasn't for that bastard John Sununu, it would be) I'd tell everybody to hell with metrics. Let's go with something we already know, something already an established standard. Employ the football field for all measures. For example, I myself am about 0.0181667 football fields tall. And they said I wouldn't grow. Neat, eh?

Oh, well. I've taken enough of your time. I like to believe that when you, my dear readers, read my column, I make some sort of difference in your day-- even if it's only that now you have to walk around with your hands full of the cheap newsprint that this newspaper uses, possibly staining some clothing. For this, if nothing else, I am happy. Solidarity.

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