Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dumb blonde joke

A blonde driver is pulled over by a blonde police officer for speeding.

“Ma’am, can I see your drivers license, please.”

The driver rummages through her purse, before conceding that she can’t find it.

“Well do you have any form of a photo ID.” the cop asks, growing agitated.

The driver again digs in her purse, pulls out a compact, looks at herself in the mirror, hands it to the officer and says: “Here, this has my picture in it.”

The police officer looks in the compact and hands it back to the  driver.

“I am so sorry Ma’am, if I had known you were a cop I would have never pulled you over.”

DC has a disproportionate amount of jerks

I’m a firm believer in the “bad apple” theory. If one person in 100 is bitter, angry and selfish, everyone else is bound to be negatively affected simply by standing within their range. Consider that one jerk at the office. When he eats half your lunch from the fridge and then farts in front of your desk when returning to work, it’s natural to feel affected.

Life in Washington, DC can often resemble that gassy coworker. It’s hands-down the angriest, most divisive major city in the United States. For no singular origin, it’s easy to find yourself standing next to someone who doesn’t like you, doesn’t want to know anything about you, and if no one’s looking, might even lean over to step on your hand as you tie your shoe.

Fighting Words

Fortunately for the average fan of cities, much of the anger amongst Washington’s citizens can’t be recreated anywhere else. For starters, DC is ground zero for that endless war between Democrats and Republicans. When averaged out, the metropolitan area is almost exactly a 50/50 red-blue split, with the standard deviation resting on what party is presently in power. And in case you’ve never seen a political ad, speech, or poster before, these two sides hate each other. Elections, and government in general, are almost exclusively reactionary, and political change is usually trailed by a constituency that is motivated enough to make their voices heard. Some famous person once said that “Change is the result of a bunch of angry idiots”. I think that’s how the quote goes.

Job Turnover

The variance in ideologies also dictates the next major problem with a city that hinges on administration changes. Over 250,000 federal and government jobs are filled at any point in DC, but there is little job security because the new team in charge always wants to bring in their own people. This resonates throughout the city via massive turnover rates in almost every field. New lawyers at the Department of Justice, new economists at the Treasury Department, new Capitol Hill staffers and legislators. You see where this is going.

Critics of DC’s job environment will cite the influx of jobs being created every time a new administration takes office. Yes, there are still plenty of jobs to be had in DC, but this current recession aside, consider that most people in most cities expect their jobs to exist in four years. In DC, you’re rarely afforded that luxury.

This isn’t my house

When one feels a sense of disconnect, they’re less likely to react with the same regard for their environment. DC is a city of transplants. People come here from every corner of the country, but less than half of its residents are born in the district’s metropolitan area. If the average DC resident isn’t from here, it’s unreasonable to expect him or her to have a sizable connection to the area. It’s like a guest dropping a glass at a party. They may claim responsibility, even ask for a broom to sweep it up, but you know they’re not doing as thorough of a job, sweeping the corners, mopping the floor, as if it were their own house. “After all”, they might say to themselves, “There’s a bunch of other people here, and the host is going to have to clean up anyway”. Unfortunately, the host is from Texas, and didn’t have to put down a security deposit.

I’ve got a long drive ahead

The DC area is hard to clearly define, since people commute from humongous distances. According to Forbes magazine, DC area drivers spend about 60 hours a year stuck in traffic, and 15% of residents spend over an hour each day driving into work. Sure, other cities such as Los Angeles and New York experience traffic problems, but DC is a fraction of the size of New York and LA, so when you factor in another hour for the return commute, it’s easy to see why so many people have a frown on their face.

The “nod”

When I make inadvertent eye contact with strangers, I give them a nod, as if to say “I realize that we just made eye contact by accident, but I acknowledge your existence”. In the course of a day in a city, it’s easy to occasionally make inadvertent eye contact with strangers. And before I got to the DC area, I considered this gesture to be a good show of manners, especially because there was a 99.9% success chance that the same gesture would be returned.

But I urge you to walk around Washington, DC and test this gesture out. People will look at you with expressions ranging from “who is this person? what do they want? why did they nod at me?” to “I will absolutely try to murder you if you look in my direction again.”

It’s obvious that not everyone in Washington DC is a bad apple. There are thousands of people working in underpaid and stressful jobs for the single goal of helping others. But like a child who just found out the truth about Santa Claus, there are many jaded people who are marching to a downbeat.

One day, while waiting for a Metro train, I bent over to tie my shoe, just as a passing woman stuck the heel of her shoe into my hand. I looked up and asked why she just tried to punch a hole through my second favorite hand. She turned and looked up at me. “I didn’t see you down there” before continuing on. I boarded the train and pushed a man aside, as I made my way towards a seat. It’s hard to maintain a warm disposition when surrounded by frigid bodies.

Buffalo buffalo

In 1972, a graduate student in the linguistics department at the University of Indiana created what is possibly the zaniest sentence in the English language:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

The inventor of the sentence, Dr. William Rapaport, argues that the syntax of his sentence breaks down to the use of “buffalo” as a place (the city of Buffalo), thing (those furry rhinos who used to carpet the Great Plains), verb (“to buffalo”, which means to bully or overwhelm), and style (e.g. Buffalo-style buffalo wings). So, buffalo who reside in, or at least culturally identify themselves with, the city of Buffalo, NY (i.e. Buffalo buffalo) are engaged in the act of buffaloing other Buffalonian buffalo in a fashion that is stylistically unique to the city of Buffalo.

Dr. Rapaport, who heightens the confusion by now working at the University of Buffalo, has managed to successfully identify a word with enough versatility to serve as an object, verb, and place on the map, all while appearing identical in both singular and plural form. He has argued that last point most vehemently, on the grounds that plural “-s” endings “lack a certain aesthetic simplicity”.

Discriminating tastes aside, I applaud Dr. Rapaport for his discovery, even if it resides entirely on a single page in a dictionary. But let’s face the giant animal in the room; repeating the word “buffalo” seven times doesn’t make any sense. For starters, it fails the most basic of English tests. If I approached a human English speaker on the street and recited Dr. Rapaport’s sentence, he or she would look at me as if I had just tried to offer them a ride on my spaceship.

The sentence also holds no historical value. It was first written in 1972, long after any significant buffalo-related buffaloing could have taken place. Plus, there may not actually be any buffalo who identify themselves as full-time residents of the city of Buffalo, New York. A search of city records yielded no results, although all it takes is one deranged citizen to take a stab at unregistered buffalo ownership. An aggressive door-to-door search of homes for unregistered herds may yield positive results, but it’s unlikely to gain steam, given the current economic conditions.

To this English speaker, however, the confounding element of Dr. Rapaport’s sentence rests not in how it’s read or written, but in the amount of time and effort that took place in order to authenticate his research: The cloudy chalkboard of scribbled variations; The late nights with his academic advisor by his side, peppering it with suggestions  (“Perhaps you could cross out the third “buffalo” in the sentence and attach it to the end”); the nods of approval by faculty members when his paper was published; and the faces of his peers, who were complicit to the entire event.

So maybe William Rapaport has added a valueless sentence to the English language. Maybe this is the first case of a toddler speaking on the same linguistic plane as degree-conferring academics. Maybe his verbal concoction is less than Shakespearean.

But times are tough for the world of wordplay. The English language isn’t as ripe for innovation as it was during William Shakespeare’s time. Nowadays, the only way for a linguistics professor to make a blip on the cultural radar is to repeatedly string together the same word. So, it’s likely for the best that Dr. Rapaport keeps his gold star. Because when there’s not enough low hanging fruit to go around, you have to pick the apples beneath your shoes.