My child bride, Whirl, has begun to identify certain quirks of my characters as “windmills.” She compares my behavior to that of an errant knight, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme. And I must give her her due. She has a point. I have taken up particular causes—some may say particular frivolous causes—and attempted to advance them to no discernable end or for no obvious reason.
These impossible, foolish tasks prove capable of capturing my attention, raising my ire and consuming precious time and energy: both physical and emotional energy.
It causes me to wonder if other people have windmills and if so what they might look like. The more interesting question may be: why do we build these windmills at all and set them as targets?
Two prominent windmills on my psychological horizon are sport utility vehicles and cellular phones. These objects—these material objects—have the capacity to bring me to a frothy, bilious boil. But when I think on the topic with more circumspection I begin to realize that like most inanimate objects the true objects of my aversion are not these base things, but rather the way they have insidiously inserted themselves into my everyday life. They have done so at a cost.
I am further aggravated by when evangelists harangue me about the virtues and advantages of their boon fetishes—my banes.
Without spending a supercilious amount of time discussing my discontent I would like to briefly identify some of my motives with regard to these two windmills of mine. I will start with the sport utility vehicle.
As I have discussed previously, I grew up in Colorado. I learned how to drive on a Jeep Cherokee. That vehicle would later—after I learned how to drive it—be more affectionately named “Big Red”. (It was big. It was red. It was appropriate. Back off me, man.) Colorado has quite a few mountains. In those mountains are quite a few roads that are best traveled either on foot or horseback in the summer and skis in the winter. Driving is best done with a four-wheel drive vehicle, like “Big Red.” These are not city streets. They are not smooth. They are “jeep roads” with big boulders and washed out gullies. They are the types of roads that sport utility vehicles were designed to drive on.
At some point in the early to mid-nineties someone must have figured out that an easy way to get around the tax penalties for making big cars that consume lots of gasoline was to call them trucks. Sport utility vehicles are, essentially, four-wheel drive trucks with a cab over the bed. That, combined with that “bigger is better” cultural fixation we Americans tend to have led to a literal explosion of these boxy monstrosities on every highway, byway, alleyway and driveway in America.
This shift in vehicles from the minivan of the eighties to the SUV of the nineties did not include a parallel shift in driving style. Owners continued to primarily use their vehicles for daily commuting and modest errands. There was no rush to drive on the back-country roads of my childhood or haul large trailers. No. People just wanted a “big cool car” for the simple reason that they could have one. Now we have every roadway in America dominated by the height of vanity on an epic scale. Fear dissuades people against purchasing smaller vehicles: the risk of being transformed into a fine red paste during a collision outweighs the general good sense of something more appropriate to typical driving. Bigger cars. Bigger garages. Bigger roads. More gasoline. Shorter sightlines.
Sport utility vehicles make excellent windmills.
A recent television advertisement from Hummer capitalizes on this negative cultural impact of the SUV and markets the H3 as a way to “get even” with all those minor annoyances in life. The example they give is being cut off in the checkout line at the grocery store. The H3 is presented as the perfect way to say “fuck you” to the world, rather than do the difficult work of contending with other people in our lives.
Cellular phones join sport utility vehicles for different reasons. I personally resent the unstated implication of availability that accompanies the ownership of a cellular phone. Cellular phones make us more available. But they do so at the discretion of other people. There is again an unstated but implied cultural rule that is quickly fossilizing: if you own a cellphone, I should be able to get a hold of you.
This manifest as anger. Why did you not answer your phone!? This manifests as fear. Is everything alright? You weren’t picking up. This manifests as bullying. What? Don’t you want to talk to me anymore? I tried to call you three times.
With miniaturization and technological development, this fetish becomes more insidious. Yesterday several news sources reported on a Scottish company, Trisent, and their new service that will enable employers to track workers’ movements through their cellular phones. The service is aimed at the business market. My work provides me with cellular service, as I am often on-call in the off hours.
I can only speculate on how that “advancement” will alter the effects mentioned earlier as human inquisitiveness degenerates into outright intrusiveness. Nevermind what I was doing at 333 West 35th Street at 11:00 pm on a Tuesday night. What do you care? It is none of your God damned business.
Ownership of a cellular phone should not imply that the company in fact owns me.
Thus, these are my windmills. Often you will find me fighting against them—wildly tilting at them with quixotic abandon.