Spaces, Spaces Everywhere and Not a Spot to Park

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner bemoans the wrath that is brought upon him and his crew after he shoots the albatross that was circling around their boat. In the heat of the following days,their circumstances become dire and the mariner exclaims:

Water, water, every where,The Ancient Mariner

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

There are definitely times in each of our lives when we metaphorically shoot an albatross. We binge watch series on Netflix instead of study for a test. We pig out on ice cream instead of eating something that is actually healthy. We stay up late for no good reason and wake up groggy and irritable. Our actions have consequences. Sometimes we do something knowing wholeheartedly that it will bring ill fortune. We can’t escape the consequences of our actions. But, what if killing the albatross is the only option? What if there is no other way? Who should bear the brunt of the consequences? I am a strong believer that every man and woman is responsible for their actions and is therefore responsible for the consequences. While each person is, quoting poet William Ernest Henley, in a large part the “master[s] of [their] fate” and “captain[s] of [their] soul,” there are definitely times when the albatross has to go.

captain philips

My albatross was shot sometime around 1:00 this morning. I got to my apartment late last night. There is permit parking that is available to those who possess permits. And there is free street parking, which goes faster than a pack of gum in a middle school. Upon my arrival, all free street parking was taken. Each spot was occupied down to the trickiest parallel parking positions. Although the supply of free spots was exhausted, there were several permit spots still up for grabs. I had inquired about a parking tag before I moved in and felt pretty confident that I would be able to get one, but that was most definitely not the case. Knowing completely what I was getting myself into, I pulled up to a spot marked “Permit Parking Only.” I sat in my car for a while before taking my keys out of the ignition. “I know that parking here will result in me getting in trouble, but there is no other way.” I could empathize with the Ancient Mariner there was definitely water everywhere, but not a single drop that I could drink. I fell to the temptation of parking in the permit only parking without a permit. I went to bed and really didn’t think that much about it.

I woke up this morning and went to get something out of my car. While on my way to work this morning with a container of fried rice in one hand and my keys in the other, I discovered that my car had been booted. It wasn’t one of those cute boots you see on infants. It wouldn’t look cute in a family photo. My heart sank and I honestly heard the sound of metal hitting the blacktop. The yellow-black boot was utterly, unabashedly, and absolutely unfashionably preventing my vehicle from moving. I was a bit upset, but I did what I needed to do to get the boot off. I called the company’s very expensive shoe horn to remove the boot. I shot my albatross by staying out too late.

College towns are notorious for difficult parking customs and laws. I love when I am able to safely secure a spot for my 2003 Acura 3.2TL, or ODB as I call him. There is satisfaction in knowing that your car has a home. I understand how it feels when someone takes my spot in a parking lot, or when someone without a parking tag prevents me from parking. I’ve had nights when I’ve had to drive around for an hour looking for a spot at like midnight and managing to secure a spot a good mile away from my apartment. I have had to park in a neighborhood I’m not familiar with because some bonehead without a tag took my throne. The throne that I paid for, mind you. I get it during regular semesters. More people are around which means more cars. There is a high supply in students with cars and a very limited amount of parking spots. It’s basic economics. It makes money for both the apartment complex through selling stickers and the parking enforcement makes money through tickets, giving boots, and even impounding cars. People need money. It’s a part of life. But, I would have to argue that the summer is definitely different. There are less students. Less students equals less cars.The ratio of cars to parking spots changes as a result of graduations and move-outs.

The summer is a time of relaxation, recharging, and regeneration. There is no better time to get things in order than the summer. People drive down long coastal roads with the windows down blasting their favorite summer songs. Kids are out of school. Everyone is outside. It’s a happy time. Or at least it should be.

Getting booted, getting a ticket, or even getting impounded impedes the flow of happiness during a time when excitement and happiness abounds. Everyone should be happy. Even the institutions bend on cutting students’ pockets and dripping their debit cards dry enjoy happiness every once in a while. The happiness of both apartment complexes and parking police comes from siphoning students salaries. While this is both awful and outright unjust, there should be some way for tenants and tyrants to meet in the middle. I don’t suggest being more lenient during the leisure seasons. I’m not an advocate for anarchy. Order must be maintained, and laws must be abided by.

My plan to pursue both the purse of the parking police and the public interest will be fair to both parties. Impartial to all who own cars. I hereby propose the end-all solution to  automotive woes of students all over America.

With the institution of parking tickets, more and more people race to buy parking tags. It usually doesn’t cost that much, but due to limited parking in most college towns, these spots are finite. I feel like competition is very American. And I love America. So, the stakes should be higher when it comes to parking in a college town. Not only should the students be subject to the rules of having or not having a parking sticker, but everyone in town should be. It would create a friendly competition of who should lay claim to spots in the ever increasingly coveted car parks.
To make things interesting, each parking lot will be equipped with a keypad where each driver will input the current number of miles on their odometer for that particular day. If a car doesn’t have the requisite amount of miles, then the car cannot be parked in that spot. If drivers are able to get the needed amount of miles, then they will be granted access to the parking lot. No more parking stickers. Parking police will still be able to enforce parking laws, but instead of getting people for not being in the right spot, they will only be able to cite those who aren’t able to get a spot period. The police will be able to go around at midnight for 15 minutes and check who wasn’t able to find a spot. It will be like a giant game of musical chairs and hide and seek.

Along with this, to involve the whole community, drivers who are able to consistently drive the required amount of miles will be given discounts. Cheaper gas, cheaper tune ups, and maybe even coupons and VIP passes to restaurants. And for students, cheaper tuition and books. Sounds pretty nice, right?

With these incentives, there will also be penalties for those who aren’t able to find spots by midnight. If the parking police catch you driving past midnight still looking for a spot, they can get you and you have to pay a flat fine of $30, or a box of donuts for everyone in the car. You have to pay the fine before the sun rises that morning or else the fine is compounded. The money that is collected by the parking police will be used to build parking garages that adequately meet the needs of the community. Although this might lead to the creation of tribes and factions in the community and maybe even a civil war, it would definitely solve the parking problem. In a community like this, the albatross that we have to kill won’t be our paychecks. We’ll actually be saving money. The only albatross we would have to worry about is the OZone layer. Sure, by driving so much and using so much gas, we’d burn a hole right through the atmosphere. This might be a small sacrifice to make, but it’s definitely worth it. We might have a Mad Max: Fury Road situation on our hands if things get too out of control, but in the end if we are able to drive our cars enough to deserve a parking spot, we’ll be able to have a stress free summer, and sleep soundly at night knowing that in the morning, our cars will be safe, secure, and above all bootless.

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Samuel Johnson and Fiction in the Age of Netflix

Samuel Johnson Breaking Bad #2Naturally, as a millennial college student, one of my best go-to pastimes is watching the occasional episode or two of a show on Netflix. Most, if not all, college students alike can relate to the need for a little downtime, so why not, right?

Browsing through the new shows to watch, I’ve come across a vast array of classic television shows and movies. Great stuff. I’ve discovered the original Twilight Zone (do-do-do-do — do-do-do-do)

in the grandeur of its surreal and hauntingly timeless social commentary. I’ve watched John Wayne — the distinctive, the hero, The Duke and The Legacy — in the WWII classic depicting the D-Day Invasion, The Longest Day. And along my Netflix scrolling, I got in touch with my musical side, choosing Milos Forman’s 1984 drama Amadeus. Among these classics, all of which I enjoyed, I feel that I’ve found, or rather, rediscovered the awe and mystique of a modern classic of a very different genre, in Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad. Okay, okay — before you start sharpening your pitchforks and running me off the internet — please give me an ear and a couple of eyeballs on this one.

Breaking Bad is a modern classic and it very well may be a bit misunderstood in this category. The baseline story of Walter White, the sidetracked high school chemistry teacher that turns to cooking meth and drug trafficking to support his cancer treatments is a fascinating story. It takes the viewer through twists, turns and life troubles all tied and mangled together in this difficult life dilemma of Walter’s own making. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I know, I know — I promise — I get it. The show has very strong language, dark and oftentimes very morose themes, sexually uncomfortable content, gruesome, unthinkable violence, and of course the themes that accompany drug abuse at its absolute worst. Need I say more? Believe me, I’m not condoning Breaking Bad or saying that it is a cleaner show than many others on the Netflix spinwheel. What I am saying is that Breaking Bad, even at it’s worst isn’t too bad. It’s difficult plot lines and complicated characters in unthinkable quandaries is timeless and in the classical sense — a classic. Breaking Bad is actually pretty good as it shows the consequences of living badly. It shows Walter and his friend, Jesse’s lives with the above mentioned morally messy predicaments, void of the safety of fixed morals that naturally accompany the good of John Wayne-ish heroes. It is not sugar coated. Where John Wayne comes out on top because of his principled right and good, Walter comes out on the bottom because of his disingenuous wrong and bad. Breaking Bad in all of it’s gutsy awfulness allows the viewer to see that bad behavior, although it sometimes results in short-term rewards, ultimately proves to be damning and destructive.

Breaking Bad is pretty bad. It is. But, on the other hand, it is good in that it shows the stark contrast between the consequences faced by characters in the show that choose dishonesty and deception and those that go about their lives doing what is noble and right. The presence of moral dilemmas and glimpses of upright moral character in the show is what stands out to the viewer — even me, for example.The development of the characters, exhibited through both moral deterioration and moral maturation is what really sells this series to me as a modern classic.

In all of it’s badness, the character driven scenarios are drenched in the reality of consequential outcomes. Some shows that are similar, even grittier, than Breaking Bad in type and genre,seem a bit over the top and unrealistic. Some shows tend to portray characters in normal life situations as only consisting of actions and behaviors that are morally problematic. The characters and their unscrupulous behaviors and choices are even devoid of natural consequences. Sure. Sometimes people just plain get away with stuff. They do. There have been murders that are unsolved and atrocities and injustices to humanity that remain among some of the most heinous and puzzling unsolved mysteries. All of this does happen in reality. People do hurt other people.This isn’t anything new in history. It only takes a view of the nightly news to remind us of the unkindnesses we as humanity can perpetrate unconscionably on one another. The media, in all of its varied facets, is feeding on these atrocities. Ratings on accessible streamed viewing and movies at large are proof of the increased satiation of themes that show murder, mayhem and gratuitous sexual and violent content. Many of the popular shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and especially HBO right now are rated TV-MA and seem to project and glorify a lifestyle of carnality without consequences as the perpetual norm.

It’s difficult to find anything that is void of social morality decline with very little in a storyline that reflects the reality of eventual consequences. There seems to be plenty of nudity, carnage and profanity without responsibility and conscienable liability. What kind of message does the media present when gratuitous sex, graphic nudity, profane language, and gruesome violence are glorified? Is this the kind of media that we should indulge in? If so much out there can be defined as “mature,” is all “mature content” bad? How do we employ wisdom in making these perplexing multi-media choosing decisions when there are so many options available? Is there something to learn from bad moral behavior that will direct us to do and be better? Do I have to watch 1960’s reruns to feel like I haven’t been Netflixally violated?

In relation to these questions, I’ve done some deep digging. I have dug deep and in so doing, I have excavated some fascinating old essays and periodicals. I might even refer to these as “bloggings from the past.” Some are even past — way past — the past. I found some extremely sage and scholarly advice from English essayist, Samuel Johnson.You know. Samuel Johnson. 18th century “blogger-extraordinaire.” He’s the one who wrote and compiled the first comprehensive English language dictionary. Ring a bell? Well, if you don’t know who he is, take a listen. Johnson was a proponent of practical common sense and morality. One writer spoke of Johnson saying that he embodied for the English people “all [of the good qualities] that [they] admire[d] in [themselves].” Fun fact, if any of you are wondering why words like “selfie” or even “😂 (the laughing-so-hard-that-you’re-crying emoji)” have been added into the dictionary, you can thank Samuel Johnson. He believed that instead of creating a dictionary that taught only the proper words and usage of words, the dictionary should encompass the language and every facet of it in its entirety.

Among these, he wrote many essays in periodicals that dealt with social issues, most especially in relation to the preservation of morality and the importance of teaching and living a life of virtue. He actually wrote a sharp, opinionated essay in 1750 in his periodical the Rambler, which, in his day, went viral. He addresses what he believes to be the do’s and don’t’s relative to how writers should write fiction. His words seem to echo the concerns many of us have as a result of being bombarded by immorally saturated media.

Johnson took on the media of his day. He wrote about writing with a moral core and with social responsibility. He believed that when one would write fiction, a writer should consider the possible lessons that can be learned from the media and the potential influence the content in the writing can have on the youth. Literal youth, the young at heart, the young at mind. That could really include everyone. He expresses that “[fiction is] written chiefly to the young, the ignorant and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct and introductions into life” (Johnson, On Fiction). Deny it all you want, but the truth is, whether you’re a teenager or middle aged adult, each of us at some point fit into the demographic of “young, ignorant, and idle,” or as the up-and-coming urban poet Khalid puts it, “young, dumb, and broke.” Each person has the qualities of a youth and the ideas, scenarios, and situations that are presented in the media have the power to either influence for good or for ill. Johnson emphasizes that “[youth are] easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current fancy.” Most youth, and even most adults are looking for ways to fit in and feel “normal.” This may seem like a modern train of thought, but believe it or not, teenage and even any-age insecurity has been around even before Johnson’s time. With the presence of these feelings of needing to fit in and wanting to feel cool, individuals oftentimes look to the media they consume as a way to identify with a group. When the media presents immoral and indecent behavior, some individuals will look at that as a sort of norm and conform to that idea in order to “[follow] the current fancy,” as Johnson would say.

So, with this being said, those who publish this kind of media that is presented, not only to youth, but generally, should be careful when it comes to the type of message that is being presented. With regard to today’s media selections, there are a lot of shows that portray a life of sexual promiscuity, dishonesty, irresponsibility, violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and everything in between as bringing true and lasting happiness. In regards to this, Johnson writes that although it is important to write characters based on reality and the “general converse and accurate observation of the living world,” he argues that “many characters should never be drawn.” Generally speaking, breaking the law and performing indecent and immoral actions isn’t generally what everyone does on a daily basis. Performing actions that lead to breaking the law and being incarcerated usually don’t leave people happy either. Johnson continues saying that drawing these characters, through the media, that ought not to be drawn “more frequently… [make] men cunning [rather] than good.”

This doesn’t mean that in order to be truly happy, one shouldn’t have flaws or imperfections. Each of us has weaknesses and that’s what makes us human and plenty of humans learn how to be happy amid flaws and imperfections. Imagine a television show where everyone is good and there is nothing bad in it. To be honest, a show where the characters are all perfect and have no character flaws would not be on the air for very long. It’s the character flaws that can help create a conflict, which then can be resolved. The rigid dichotomy between good and bad is what makes life life. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi speaks of this dichotomy. Lehi states that, “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11). Samuel Johnson agrees that the combination of good and bad is necessary. In this context, a character needs both vice and virtue. As Johnson states, “vice is necessary to be shown, [but it] should always disgust…. [and] Wherever it appears, it should raise hatred by the malignity of its practices.” Disdain for characters that do abhorrent things, seems to be a natural response to socially unacceptable behaviors. We should naturally revile their very presence in our stories! But, these characters do bring a contrast — opposition — that can help teach a moral value, except when we glorify the behavior of the disdainful. As Johnson advises, when presenting a character’s vices, they should be presented so that the audience doesn’t want to imitate their actions.

We can have characters that have both vices and virtues, while at the same time not making their vices look appealing. According to Johnson, we need to be careful how we present the good, the bad and the ugly. If we choose to present the bad and the ugly, we need to take care that we show the accompanying prison time, loss of fortune, feelings of twilight zone-like craziness and seeing the love of your life leaving you for John Wayne and listening to Mozart. Just sayin’.

So, Breaking Bad. This show is, in my opinion, a good example of what Samuel Johnson wanted emulated in writing. TV shows can have characters with virtues and vices, and oftentimes more of the latter, and still present the vices in a non-glorifying manner and send a message worth discussing, especially for youth. There are a variety of characters that do bad things and keep the bad cycles going in Breaking Bad. And, there are some with redeeming qualities, too. Johnson would be proud!

In Walter White, we see a man who is driven to “break bad” because of a lung cancer diagnosis. He’s a good person with a good heart at the beginning of the series. But, we quickly see this mild tempered father and teacher turn a new, but not very glamorous leaf. As we see through the series, he makes morally questionable choices that he feels are justified because he either is doing it for his family, for the greater good, or to save others when it is convenient for him. At the beginning of the series, the audience can relate with Walter. He’s in dire straits and is out of options. We all have times when this happens. There are bound to be times when the bad choice outweighs the good, and the bad choice looks like, ironically, the only good choice. Although Walter is initially very relatable, through his choices he alienates himself from everyone that matters to him in his life, as well as the audience. He chooses short-term gratification through choosing bad over good. Walter, a desperate chemistry teacher with cancer changes into a godless, murdering, almost drug kingpin. The thing that I appreciate about this metamorphosis is that it absolutely shows the consequences of Walter’s actions. Although he gratifies every desire he wants, in the end he is left with no family, no identity, and as the romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley puts it, is left a “colossal wreck” (Shelly, Ozymandias).

The same can be said for Jesse Pinkman, Walter’s partner. Jesse Pinkman is a meth cook and a drug addict. Throughout the series, we see how Walter’s actions and manipulation of Jesse, accompanied by Jesse’s own impulsive choices, destroys everything that Jesse loves. As the series progresses, we see glimpses of what Jesse wants. We see what brings Jesse joy in his life. This is very evident in the episodes “Kafkaesque” and the series finale, “Felina.” In “Kafkaesque,” Jesse is asked in his support group about what he would do if he had the chance to do anything he wanted, assuming that money wasn’t an issue. He expresses his love for woodworking and that if that were the case, he would pursue a career in carpentry and woodworking. He recalls taking a tech class in high school and having to make a wooden box. He discloses to the group that making the box was the only thing he really gave his heart to in high school. This joy is revisited in the finale when Jesse is cooking meth against his will. He daydreams that he is creating a box out of wood. The scene creates a feeling of sublimity. It shows what could have been Jesse’s reality, but this picturesque scene doesn’t last. He wakes up only to realize that he is basically a slave. This scene, rather than painting a false idea about the consequences of being a meth cook, instead illustrates Jesse’s regret for having ever joined Walter in cooking meth in the first place.

If we look at both of these characters and their development throughout the series, we can see that the show’s creator and its writers do not glamorize or glorify vice. Johnson cautions us if a character is shown to be “indeed splendidly wicked…” but their wickedness overshadows their righteousness, “we lose the abhorrence of their faults, because they do not hinder our pleasure.” This sort of character, which Johnson emphatically proclaims, “ought never to be drawn,” leaves the audience believing that it is possible to practice the “art of murdering without pain.”  Johnson ends his remarks by declaring that although vice is necessary, “virtue [on the other hand] is the highest proof of understanding, and the only solid basis of greatness; and that vice is the natural consequence of narrow thoughts, that it begins in mistake and ends in ignominy.” These remarks are very true in the examples of Walter and Jesse. We see that as the characters realize that the life of meth cooking, drug abuse, dishonesty, and murder only leads to destruction, they begin to be enlightened and come to an understanding. An understanding, that is, of the truth of what is right and what is wrong, although it comes too late in both cases.

In relation to Johnson’s words, we can see that in TV shows like Breaking Bad, although they sometimes overdramatize reality, they oftentimes present what in reality really does happen. When this is done in the media, books, movies, and television shows, they can be used to foster an environment of teaching and learning in regards to making decisions and living a virtuous and moral life. Instead of showing only the good, we can use the good and the bad in the media as a means to facilitate discussion regarding good and bad choices. In our own choosing of media, we can determine which media glorifies vice and which media presents moral dilemmas through a real-life lens. And in turn we can become wiser viewers. In becoming wise viewers, we can help others be wise in the media they choose to indulge in. In a time where morality is becoming more and more subjective, we would be wise to learn how to recognize the media that aids in building up morality as well as understanding the benefits of a virtuous life and seek opportunities to teach those we love to do the same, even if those lessons come from unexpected sources.

What do you think? Do you agree with Samuel Johnson on this issue? Is all mature content bad? Are there any tv shows, movies, or books that you’ve been able to learn from? Can “bad shows” teach good, meaningful lessons? Is it okay to let youth watch TV shows with mature themes? If so, when would allowing kids to watch, or read material with mature themes be appropriate? Please respond in the comments. Thanks!