Monthly Archives: June 2015

Pavlov’s dog.

I never cease to be amazed at how we humans fall into a pattern. We are no better than rats who have the tendency to avoid empty spaces and who like to run besides walls. It is probably a matter of security and so the rat and the human brain love to repeat things that have worked in the past, never mind the fact that when conditions change we too should change and yet, we have a hard time doing just that.

I was going home last Sunday and was on a bus and about to get off. I rang the buzzer as I always do and waited at the back to exit. Now normally this is a mundane operation; the bus driver sees a green light flashing on a screen and this alerts it that someone wants to get off at the next stop. Once the bus stops at the proper area I must just touch the doors and they open. They always do, except not this time. For some reason, the doors did not open and I was stuck waiting for the next stop. I mildly uttered a profanity but then rang again, expecting the bus to stop at the next stop. It did not.

I was at that point in a state of confusion. I thought that maybe the bus driver was simply distracted, or perhaps she was going postal on me. You know what I mean. I had visions of a crazy bus driver not stopping anymore and driving all of us to who knows where. I did the next obvious thing and rang again when I saw that she was not stopping except that this time I advanced towards the front to exit from there. I was not taking chances anymore.

She had stopped two stops late for me and as I passed by her I mentioned that I had rang the bell twice. “No you did not”, she responded matter of fact. I was dumbfounded. I know that I am 53 but still at that age my hearing is still more than adequate and my fingers are still in working order. In short, I knew that I had rang the buzzer twice. I insisted to her that indeed I had rang twice. She responded by saying that if I had rung the buzzer the green light would have appeared, and since it did not I had not rung it!

I tried to continue my story about how the back door did not open but she talked to me like Apu in the Simpsons talks to the customer,” Thank-you, come again”. What she really said was thanks and good-bye twice because I wanted to explain to her the door not opening. She did not want to listen to my explanation. For her the equation was simple; no green light therefore no one rang.

I thought to myself that maybe all this was a dream and that I was still in my bed, dreaming that the door would not open. After all, if no one rang the buzzer maybe I was not really in that bus. It is like the old Zen story about a tree that falls in a forest and there is no one to hear the sound, does it make a sound when it touches the ground? At least for the bus driver, I did not really exist. All this was mildly disconcerting to me.

The attitude of the bus driver reminded me of Pavlov’s dog. In this experiment, a dog hears a bell ringing and food is given. Eventually, the bell is rung but no food is given and yet the dog salivates because the bell has been rung. The dog had been conditioned to salivate only by hearing the bell.

The driver’s reaction was similar in nature; no green light appeared therefore no one rang the buzzer. It did not occur to her that maybe there was a faulty connection between the buzzer and the screen or that maybe the buzzer had been rung but that there was a malfunction of her screen. No. I did not ring that buzzer, never mind that everyone on the bus who had ears heard that buzzer except it seems the bus driver. She did not entertain the thought that maybe I was right. No, the green light did not flash then that is it, I never rang that buzzer.

This little incident drives home the point that once we fall into the habit of seeing the same things and doing the same things at the same moment we too become like Pavlov’s dog. We do not question what we see and what we hear. Force of habit becomes so strong that we think that it is the other person that is in the wrong.

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The fork in the road.

We all have experienced these forks in the road of life. At times they are obvious but sometimes they are not. Often it is only when we reminisce that we see where the forks were and of course by that time too much time has elapsed. Often we must choose despite the fact that we do not have all the information. In some cases the information is impossible to obtain while in others, it is simply concealed from us. We know that the moment is important and yet, we hesitate; which way is the correct way?

We ask ourselves and we ask questions, but if the wrong questions are asked we do not get the right answers. Or so we think. And if we do get answers they often lead us to more questions. And so on.

I’ve had my share of facing a fork in the road and knowing that potentially it could affect me for years to come and yet I was utterly clueless on how to answer the call. Some have said that in the face of impossible choices flipping a coin would be appropriate but to me that would be a cop-out, a selling out to the gods of mercy and chance. Still, I have read that if two alternatives presented to us are of equal strength flipping a coin and letting chance decide was the best thing to do. At least you are advancing and if the choice was not a good one you would have learned something; never trust providence to make important decisions for you.

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Of cars and pedestrians.

It was Saturday morning and I was walking towards my bus stop a few feet away. As I always do I stopped at the curb of the sidewalk to look across to see if the lights were red for the cars and green for me. The lights were green for the cars and yet I advanced with confidence across the road, knowing that it would take me less time to cross as the car was slow in driving across the street. I am not an old geezer who walks with a cane but a spry 52 year old who can walk at a nice pace. I was not worried.

I was right in my assessment as I was able to cross the road in less than 6 or 7 seconds. In fact, I distinctly remember that as I set foot on the sidewalk on the other side the car had barely arrived behind me. And then it happened, the driver made an unpardonable sin; she honked at me!

I immediately turned around to see her pass behind me. I was so incensed that I shouted obscenities at her and shook my hand in righteous indignation and I might say, in a slightly juvenile way. But it felt so good. Now dear reader, I must say that I have been honked at in my life at various times not only by cars but by geese as well. Some were flying over me in a V formation while at other times I simply got too close to them and they honked at me as a warning to others that an intruder was approaching. But being honked at by cars is something that I can recall only once happening, and that was only a few weeks ago. I was fiddling with my mittens and was walking casually across the road not having seen that the lights were now green for the cars. A driver honked to warn me of what I was doing. I retreated of course and I silently thanked the driver.

I will be charitable and say that perhaps the driver was simply having a bad morning and seeing one lonely middle-age pedestrian getting away with breaking the law was too much for her. It was the proverbial drop that broke the driver’s back. But she could also be one of these self-styled busy bodies who make it their business to impersonate the police when the real police is not around.

Had I been in the middle of the road or on the verge of being hit I could have understood that she would have honked at me in alarm for my safety. But I was not in the middle of the road but safely on the other side. She was late, much too late and that offended me, attacking my abilities as a professional walker that I am. I have my pride too.

So, dear reader who might also be a driver, the next time you honk at a pedestrian make sure that it is warranted and not simply out of spite of having missed the walker. They will silently thank you I am sure.

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The smell of death.

I love to walk in parks and I feel better and noticeably saner afterwards. But if it is the month of November or April then I hate that pungent smell which offends my olfactory bulb, you know, that earthy smell that is present which is the smell of decomposing leaves. It is an odd sight of seeing squirrels running around full of life and then smelling that smell. It is an odd juxtaposition of life and death in the same moment and it is very odd, to me at least.

I look at the trees as I walk and see that they are without leaves, looking more like skeletons than their old selves, with their branches extending in all directions but naked without their covering. Hundreds and hundreds of leaves littering the ground, reminders of past days when these trees were in full bloom, a marvel to the eyes. Now they looked more like eyesores and reminded me of my mortality. I felt sorry for them as I continued my walk on the trail.

I was sad when I saw those barren branches but if it is April I know that they will soon come alive again and the cycle of life will resume. The tree will seemingly resurrect from death after lying dormant for several months. But if it is November then I know that the worse is still ahead for them. Of course all this applies to areas of the world that enjoy the four seasons, as we do in Eastern North America. My experience would no doubt be different in warm climates where trees are the same year round and do not shed their leaves. Perhaps then that would make me think of immortality instead of my mortality.

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