If you are a latecomer to Breaking Bad like me and haven't caught up all the way to the end, you fear the landmines that are out there today.
Now that the last episode has aired, and the smart people who had caught up or — even better — watched from the beginning know how everything ends, all it would take is a peak at a headline or a few words overheard in a restaurant to ruin the whole experience. This is such a phenomenon that the New York Times did a story about it.
It's the blessing and the curse of the bounty we have before us today. When the prime-time soap Dallas revealed who shot J.R. in November 1980, it was the second-most-watched program in U.S. television history. That's because back then, you had one only shot. You couldn't record it. You couldn't get it on Netflix. There was no box set. You had to watch it when CBS aired it or else live with everyone telling you what happened.
Today, a TV show is like a book. You can get it any time. You can do it chapter by chapter, or you can stay up all night, mainline seven episodes, and finish a series in one week.
The problem is that unlike a book, popular shows are still seen by millions of people at the same time, just like always. And, just like always, every one of those people has loose lips that are talking about it and loose fingers that are typing about it. You didn't catch up in time for the ending? That's your problem.
But I'm hoping that long-time Breaking Bad fans will have some mercy on the rest of us. After all, when the show first aired in 2008, it only had about 1 million viewers. That's likely because the show's premise seemed so ridiculous: A high school chemistry teacher is diagnosed with cancer and begins cooking meth so he can provide for his wife and son after he's gone. He relies on the help of one of his former students, who is a junkie himself. The teacher's product becomes legendary in Albequerque, the southwest, and beyond. They start making music videos in Mexico about the great Heisenberg, the teacher's drug manufacturing alias. To stretch things even further, Heisenberg's brother in law is a DEA agent.
But despite that ridiculous background, the show becomes its own addiction largely because the writing and acting is so good, and the twists and turns are so dramatic. It sucks you in. In one key episode, for example, when the DEA agent/brother in law is poised to bust Heisenberg outside the meth lab Winnebago parked in the junkyard, you can't take your eyes off it because you feel like your world is about to explode.
Someimtes, when I was watching the show in a loop on Netflix, when I didn't even have to lift a finger to make the next episode appear, time lost meaning. I became grateful for the show's creators, who, among other things, mercifully made a very short introductory riff so you skip through the credits and get right to the story. I forgot where I was. I might have been in Albuquerque. I was rooting for the bad guys. I was an addict myself.
Unfortunately, at this point in my life I'm not an undergraduate anymore and time does have meaning. I'm still about 25 episodes behind and it will probably take weeks or even months before I watch the finale. On the other hand, without the ticking clock of the finale in the background, I plan to savor every episode in a way I haven't been able to. Of course, for the next few days at least, when I walk around in public, I'll be covering my ears, shouting "Blah blah blah I can't hear you!" just to be on the safe side. The brilliant thing about Breaking Bad and the age we live in generally is I probably won't be alone.
You bought into all the marketing about how great life is with a vast social network. You're on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, all the rest. Everybody wants a piece of you.
But are you happy? I doubt it. Now you have all these empty relationships with people you don't even know or like. You forgot what your grandma taught you: quality over quantity.
The good news is that just as easily as you built up your social network, you can tear it down:
When you are having dinner with somebody, repeatedly interrupt the conversation with long cell phone conversations. You don't even have to wait for somebody to call — initiate one yourself! Talk away, the longer the better. Then send and receive multiple text messages, completely ignoring your dinner companion, whom you won't see again.
When you get on a crowded elevator, keep your back to the closing doors and face everyone for the duration of the ride. Smile.
There's a guy you know, Peter. He's unlikable, always bragging about his huge income. And yet you still feel the need to be nice. You greet him every time you see him: Hi Peter. Fortunately for you, his name is Dirk and from then on you won't have to deal with him. The lesson is that by using incorrect names, you can cut down on your social network.
On Facebook and Twitter, give a minute-by-minute report of your day, every little detail. Write about how tired you were when you woke up, what you had for breakfast, everything up until you fell asleep snoring with the TV still on. Send lots of pictures of your cat. Write thousands of passionate words on how you feel about Obamacare or about the elections. Repeat that every day. Boom! The "likes" start going away.
When you receive what is called a "spam email" from Christian Mingle, you might consider using a device to the side of your computer that is known as a "mouse." This "mouse" allows you to click on the "spam email." You can then click the "delete" button. Boom! No more Christian romance.
For $39.95 you can buy a a Bluetooth headset. Strap it t to your ear and talk about anything you want to very loudly. You don't even have to turn it on! Have fun. Make it sound complicated. If somebody approaches you wanting to make conversation, all you have to do is point to your headset. Boom! No more meaningless chit-chat.
When you are in a drug store and see somebody you know, pretend you don't know them. Be obvious about it so they feel snubbed and tell other people what they think of you.
Let's say you are trapped in a conversation with somebody who is prone to bloviating on and on about their view of blah blah blah this or blah blah blah that. Walk away.
Get a Doberman. Name him Frisky. Walk him around unleashed. As he sprints toward neighbors, say "Oh, Frisky. You're such a rascal!"
You're shopping. You just want to get in and out. You're looking at the chicken. But all you see are a bunch of cellophane wrappers informing the grocer that they have to "sell by" a certain date. And that date is today.
What do you do? You want your fajitas. But what about that date? What does it mean? Well, it turns out that much of the time, it means nothing:
Sell-by, use-by and best-by dates do not indicate whether a food is safe to eat, or even if is still tasty. Sell-by dates provide information to retailers about how long to display a product. Best-if-used-by typically indicates a date after which the food will no longer be at its highest quality — as defined by the manufacturer. But the meaning of those terms varies from product to product, and even among manufacturers of the same products, because there is no industry agreement on definitions and on which labels should be applied to which foods.
But if you're like me, sometimes you don't catch the date until you're getting dinner ready. That's when you find out the "sell by" date was a couple days ago. Then you might do what most people do. You toss it:
Fifty-four percent of consumers say eating food past its sell-by or use-by date is a health risk, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. A 2011 survey conducted by the Food Marketers Institute found that 91 percent of consumers occasionally discarded food past its sell-by date out of concern for the product’s safety; 25 percent said they always did so. Food waste has reached record levels. In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of food is thrown away.
I've never liked "sell by" labels. The grocer seems to be saying: Who cares about you? We just want to get this stuff off our hands. Then it's your problem.
This article made me feel a little better, because it confirmed my suspicion that date labels are just a guide, and a rough one at that. From now on, I'm going to use the philosophy I used in college, which is that as long as something is not stinky or groddy, it's okay to eat it. That philosophy got me to where I am today, which is alive.
International laws and informal warnings of retaliation are designed to dissuade dictators and terrorists from using weapons of mass destruction under any circumstances. A failure to enforce such norms in Syria would likely lower the threshold for chemical use in this and future wars. ...
That got my attention. But I don't think it's hard to grasp why a rational person would use chemical weapons: if you are desperate enough, using them gets instant intimidation of the enemy, even if it takes down some of your own. It's hard to argue that they aren't effective.
The case for attacking becomes stronger. And then hearing Syrian President Bashar Assad hinting that if the U.S. attacks, chemical weapons might be used in retaliation. "I don't know. I am not fortune teller." He thought he was being crafty, but the only right answer to that question is "no."
On the other hand, I see no reason why any attack on Syria should have to happen immediately. There doesn't seem to be much risk in confirming what happened, and if it's as bad as it seems, getting more nations on board for an invasion.
I think it's an interesting debate, even when Senator Ted Cruz says that by running air strikes on Syria, we would be acting as "Al-Qaeda's air force." He said it right before Congress came back from recess, which sometimes seems like exactly the right word. But is he right?
Deep down, I know it doesn't matter a fig what I think about any of this. But I have a recent drive through Hailey, Idaho, stuck in my mind. The town is lit up by yellow ribbons remembering Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a Hailey native who has been a prisoner of war in Afghanistan since June 2009. That might have nothing to do with Syria, where we probably won't deploy troops, but it seems like the reminder of an obligation.
The packaging and the commercials will give you fair warning. But mere words could never capture the true discomfort and humiliation of the four-hour erection.
1. In a literal manner or sense; exactly.
2. Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.
Merriam-Webster tries to justify this mess: "Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary."
That lame justification perfectly summarizes the breakdown of civilization. It's fine for a knucklehead on TV to say "I literally have butterflies in my stomach." But when dictionaries bless it? We might as well move back into the caves.
Think of a yardstick. It's always measured a yard exactly. Then think of somebody coming along and telling you that your yardstick could be used to measure a yard like it always has, but if you wanted to you could also use it to measure other things that are not a yard and you could still call the result a "yard" no matter what the stick said. As long as you felt good about what you had measured. Now let's all have a group hug.
It's rubbish. You can now add "literally" to all the other words that used to mean something but now mean nothing, like "community" or "proverbial." The really unfortunate thing about this change is it means you'll no longer be able to correct others for muffing "literally." I think there is nothing that people appreciate more than having their grammar corrected.
A few miles from the line between Elmore and Camas counties in southern Idaho, just to your right off Highway 20, there is a derelict stone house that has no roof and the remnants of a rusted blue pickup that has no wheels. There's nothing around them but sage and wildflowers withering in August. They’ve sat abandoned for 10 years or 40 years.
Since there's not much else to look at as you drive through the Camas Prairie except the breathtaking emptiness and the mountains on all horizons, the lonely clouds and the sky that goes on forever, I thought quite a bit about that place. Why would somebody just leave it? I wondered why they didn’t resurrect the stone for a coffeehouse and scrap that truck. People will buy anything on eBay or Craigslist.
Then I thought about where I was. This wasn’t a Craigslist kind of place. This was Camas County, with a population of 1,117, just a bit more than one person for each of the county’s 1,079 square miles.
In a place like this, you don’t sell off your old stone house and your truck. You leave them there and they sit for decades and wait for you to come back. Maybe you will or maybe you won’t. There’s no great urgency on anyone’s part to make the place productive. Somebody who wants to be productive can walk to the next square mile and have it all to themselves.
One of the great lessons of traveling is the reminder that there are different ways of thinking about things than the way you think about them.
Camas County is named after the camas roots that Native American tribes in the area ate for centuries. In the mid-1800s, the U.S. cavalry began to use the prairie as a feeding ground for their horses, eventually ignoring an 1869 treaty that reserved a portion of the land for the Bannock tribe. Civilians moved in, let their hogs feed on the camas plants. After losing the Bannock War in the summer of 1878, the tribes confined themselves to the nearby Fort Hall reservation and gave up ever reclaiming the prairie.
With no more Indian threat, settlers took advantage of the abundant grass and water, and then the railroad came in. By 1920, the county’s population had exploded to 1,730, more than 600 what it is today. Fairfield became the county seat. That isn’t surprising, since Fairfield, population 416, is the county’s only city.
When I reached Fairfield, I stopped in the Camas Country Creek Store for some coffee and then walked across the street to the county visitors center, which is a parked Union Pacific caboose. There was a gazebo nearby with a picnic table, and I sat there and drank coffee and looked at the town, listened to the sound of nothing.
It was Thursday morning. Not much going on in Fairfield. A huge flatbed pulled into a barn stacked to the rafters with hay bales. The Wrangler Drive-In, home of the Original Roadkill Pattymelt, wasn’t open yet.
I suppose most people would find places like Fairfield boring, but I think they can get your imagination going as much as Manhattan. What goes on behind those few doors? What if you need an emergency room? What do you do at night after the Wrangler closes?
A friend recently told me about a pretty young woman from Fairfield who moved away to the city. Think of the broken hearts she left behind, he said. I laughed at the time, but sitting there that morning, I could feel the sadness in the air. In Fairfield, which now has to change its population sign to 415, there probably isn’t much available on eHarmony. And yet there’s something about the place that makes loneliness beautiful.