Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Small World: The Way We Were

Who among us has not occasionally longed to travel back in time?

For example, what if you could ride a dinosaur? Or witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Or ride a dinosaur through the signing of the Declaration of Independence and upload video of your stunt to YouTube, which you now own, because you have a time machine, and you can do anything you want and the world is now a twisted product of your perverse whims, and the ensuing paradoxes are tearing the very fabric of the universe asunder? Or maybe this has already happened and what we perceive as "reality" is merely the construct of someone who has had or will have or will have had had a time machine and used it to meddle with history, and because of this we have no control whatsoever over our own destiny and merely dwell in a self-perpetuating perdition of temporal contradictions?

Fine, so maybe time travel isn't all that great. Still, at least you can safely experience what it would be like to travel way back to the year Two Thousand And Aught Seven, Anno Domini, thanks to a Canadian periodical called "The Glo Bean D Mail," which contains the following article forwarded to me by a reader:

Ah yes, 2007. People "boogied" to the sounds of Incubus and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Audiences thrilled to movies like "Wild Hogs" and "Norbit." And newspapers printed articles about "fixies" which contained passages like this:

Popularized by bike couriers as a fast, simple way to charge around town, the fixie has become the ride of choice for young downtown cyclists – a personal statement and urban art form in one.

Amazingly though, the above words were not published in 2007. They were actually published yesterday(!), in the aforelinked "Glo Bean D Mail" article. So, too, were these:

Some come with stubby, shortened handlebars to make it easier to squeeze between cars. Some have swooping ram’s-horn bars of gleaming chrome, stripped of all handlebar tape. Others have wheel rims made of bright anodized aluminum in pink or gold. Still others have snappy whitewall tires. The latest thing is to have a coloured bicycle chain to match the bike’s colour scheme. A leather seat by Brooks, the storied English saddle maker, often tops things off.

After reading this, I have three questions for the writer, none of which has anything to do with "fixies:"

1) What's it like to be cryogenically frozen for four years and did it hurt when they thawed you out? (Okay, that's technically two questions, but whatever.)

2) Are you bummed you didn't get to see "Avatar" in the theater?

3) Michael Jackson died. How crazy is that?!?

Of course, those of us who have actually had to live through the past four years know how it all went down: first came the fixie fad; then the fixie scene closed; then all the fixie scenesters discovered bikes with gears and reinvented themselves as insufferable pedants. It was, in a word, horrible. But I guess it all seems perfectly delightful when you missed the whole thing because you're the Rip Van Winkle of the "bike culture:"

Still, the rise of the fixie is a healthy sign of a maturing bike culture in the city. Like high-school kids, urban cyclists are dividing into tribes. The nerds are the guys with panniers and reflecting vests; the jocks are the road-bike riders in spandex; the artsies ride vintage women’s bikes with flowers in the basket; the fixie riders, of course, are the cool kids.

Wrong. Wrong! They're all nerds. Have you really not figured that out yet? Or do you still have freezerburn on your brain?

Meanwhile, everybody knows that fixies are totally "out," and interesting hats are totally "in:"

On the train from Oyster Bay - w4m - 29 (City-bound on LIRR)
Date: 2011-07-24, 11:49PM EDT
Reply to:

You boarded the LIRR at Oyster Bay on Sunday evening with your bicycle, an interesting hat, and a copy of the Economist. I was the girl with a gray tank top and dirty blonde wavy hair, jabbering with my Irish friend, but too tongue-tied to talk to you. Did your bike survive the fall?

I've ridden the Long Island Railroad countless times and I've never seen anybody even remotely that pretentious. It must be a North Shore thing. A bicycle? Sure. An interesting hat? Possibly. A copy of the Economist? Perhaps. But all three at once? That's almost as impressive as a guy with a Swedish military bike and a weary Portuguese friend! But the big question is:

So how interesting was the hat?

I mean, was it really interesting, or just mildly interesting? For example, there was a time back in 2009 when I thought the "tricorne" was going to make a comeback, since I saw someone wearing one on the street:

So was the hat that interesting, or was it just "beer hat" interesting? Actually, maybe that's the guy she saw on the train. If so, I'm glad to have helped.

Speaking of pretension, I was reading the July 25th issue of The New Yorker recently and there was an article about "tiny houses:"

Evidently, there is a growing subculture of people who are into tiny houses, and it appears to be the next evolutionary phase of minimalism:

The occupants of tiny houses tend to be committed, and slightly self-regarding, citizens, who cook on little stoves and have refrigerators like wall safes. They shed years of possessions and keepsakes to get by with two shirts and two pairs of pants and two mugs and two forks, in order to occupy what amounts to a monk's cell, for the sake of simplicity, frugality, or upright environmental living. They often embody the zeal of religious converts.

And because shacks are too "Hatfields and McCoys" for minimalists, and cottages are too "Grimm's Fairy Tales," they've invented a new form of pretentious dwelling that splits the difference:

They aren't toys or playhouses or aesthetic gestures--a copy of Monticello as a sandbox in a field in East Hampton, say--and they aren't shacks or cottages, either. Shacks don't have kitchens and bathrooms, and a cottage is larger than a tiny house.

In other words, a tiny house is basically an artisanal mobile home, and people pay up to $54,000 for them:

The tiniest house that Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells is the XS-House, which is sixty-five square feet, and costs sixteen thousand dollars to build yourself, or thirty-nine thousand dollars if Tumbleweed or someone else builds it for you. Tumbleweed's most expensive house, the Fencl, is a hundred and thirty square feet; it costs twenty-three thousand dollars to build yourself and fifty-four thousand dollars to have built.

Of course, the tiny house movement is a reaction to the McMansions and jumbo mortgages and bursting bubbles and crushing financial burdens that characterize life in modern-day America:

According to Greg johnson, the publisher of a tiny-house Web site called ResourcesForLife.com, to inhabit a tiny house "you have to remodel your sense of what success is and how important it is to you to convey to the outside world 'Hey, I have a big house and big car and I'm successful.' If you have a piece of inner tranquillity, you don't have to prove anything to anybody."

I can certainly understand that people want to liberate themselves from excess and live more modestly, manageably, and efficiently. To that end, I've come up with a revolutionary idea. Imagine if, instead of living in garden sheds, people lived in sort of "tiny house collectives"--large structures containing multiple tiny houses within their walls. Not only would such structures be more efficient than single-family dwellings, but they would also foster a sense of community and even allow for cooperative ownership arrangements. We could call these tiny houses "apartments," and we could call the tiny house collectives "apartment buildings."

Now, imagine multiple "apartment buildings" in close proximity to each other, and the dynamic communities that would result--hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people living in tiny houses and sharing ideas and experiences and creating economies and forming governments. I haven't come up with a catchy name for these communities yet, but I'm thinking either "cities," or else "people nuggets." Then, if for some reason you decide you actually need or want more living space than the people nugget contains, you can just leave it and move into a normal fucking house.

Unfortunately though, tiny house minimalists can't seem wrap their minds around the concept of living in a place that suits their needs. Instead, it makes much more sense to them to live in a miniature version of the McMansion that offends them so much, possibly with one of these on their microscopic front porch:

(America 2.0: Tiny Houses and Tiny SUVs)

In other words, the minimalist/tiny house ideal seems to be to return to the way life was back in the Middle Ages by transforming America into a land of fiefdoms dotted with designer hovels in which the inhabitants have no equity.

Of course, whatever sort of dwelling you inhabit, you should make sure you lay your head on a cycling-specific pillow, as forwarded to me by a reader:

I predict pillows for cyclists will reach prices of up to $5,000 in the next few years, after which urban cyclists will reject pillows and begin sleeping without any sort of head support at all and we'll start seeing articles about a new "fixed-head sleeping movement," and about how some of these crazy urban sleepers are even running their beds blanketless.

Just make sure you don't sleep without your helmet.


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