19 Things I Don't Understand, Volume 4

For the second year in a row, I’ve joined my family on a little summer vacation in Cape Cod. And for the second year in a row, I somehow have found myself being the one making the three-hour drive from Boston with my grandparents in the car.

There really is nothing like taking two people in their mid-to-late 80’s on a three-hour drive.

Here is a sample interaction:

Grandfather: For Christ sake, Timothy, how far is this place?
Me: It’s in Truro. We have a long way to go.
Grandfather: We’ve been driving for four hours!
Me: We’ve been driving for 35 minutes. We’re about a fifth of the way there.
Grandfather: How could we not be there already? We’ve driven across the whole state!

[5 seconds of silence]

Grandfather: I don’t see any signs for Truro. Are you sure you’re on the right road?
Me: Yes. We’re on the right road. I have the directions here.

[I show him my iPhone]

Grandfather: What’s that, your radio?
Me: Yes. It’s my radio.
Grandfather: Well I haven’t seen any signs for Truro. Call your father and ask him if we’re on the right road.
Me: No, I’m actually not gonna do that. I have the directions right here.
Grandfather: Enough with your damn radio! Put your hands on the wheel.

[I put my iPhone down]

Grandfather: Both hands! Put both hands on the wheel!

[Now driving with my hands at 2 and 10 o’clock]

Grandmother: Timothy, slow down, it’s teeming buckets.
Me: It’s not raining. It was raining earlier. Then it stopped. It is no longer raining.
Grandmother: Put your windshield-wipers on, Timothy.
Me: But it’s not raining.
Grandfather: Christ, Timothy, how far away are we going?!
Me: We’re going to Truro. It’s about a three-hour drive.
Grandfather: We’ve been driving for six hours already!
Me: It’s been 38 minutes.
Grandmother: Timothy, why don’t we stop and wait for the rain to slow down. The road is awfully dangerous.
Grandfather: Slow down, Timothy.
Me: But I’m going—
Grandfather: Just slow down!

[10 seconds of silence]

Grandfather: What is that? There’s wind blowing in this car.
Me: That’s the air conditioner.
Grandfather: Timothy, do you feel that? What is that? There’s wind blowing inside the car!
Me: That’s the air conditioner.
Grandfather: The who?
Me: The air conditioner.
Grandfather: Like hell it’s the air conditioner! There’s wind blowing right here! [Turns the heat up to 78 degrees even though it’s sweltering in the car already]
Grandmother: Timothy, where’s your jacket?
Me: [non-response]

[10 seconds of silence]

Grandfather: This can’t be the right road. There’s no way it’s this far.

Later in the drive:

[Grandfather finishes eating a peach]
Grandmother: Eddie, where are your teeth?
Grandfather: What?
Grandmother: Your teeth. Where are your teeth?!

[Grandfather realizes that the dentures which comprise several of his teeth are not in his mouth]

Grandfather: I haven’t the slightest idea. I must have swallowed them!
Grandmother: You didn’t swallow them...look on the floor.

[Grandfather looks on the floor]

Grandmother: Check your pockets.
Grandfather: Why the hell would I put my teeth in my pockets?
Grandmother: Just check your pockets!

[Grandfather checks his pockets]

[Grandmother checks the bag with the peach pit in it]

Grandmother: Timothy, pull over. Your grandfather lost his teeth.

[I pull over. We search for his teeth. We don’t find his teeth. It later turns out he never had his teeth. It turns out he had left his teeth at home.]

There were several cars driving to Truro for this family trip, and any of them could have been in charge of transporting my grandparents. There was no obvious reason it would have been me. And yet, for the second year in a row, I found myself making the trip with them.*

And quite simply, I don’t understand how that happened.

And so, to commemorate my bewilderment, it’s time for 19 more things I don’t understand.

1) Why fans riot when their team wins. I’ve felt like breaking, vandalizing, and burning things before after watching an important game involving one of my favorite teams. But it tends to occur when things went badly for me and my team. Yet after the Lakers won a few weeks ago, jubilant fans were like, “Yeah! Yay Lakers! Let’s smash the windows of that old man's shop downstairs! Go Kobe! Let’s kidnap that lady’s kid!” And this happens all the time, all over the country—after great victories. I don’t get it.

2) How old is too old with food. I never know when food has expired. Someone pointed to a rotting banana on the counter last week and told me it was completely fine to eat. Apparently you can slice the mold off cheese and it’s good to go. Eggs can allegedly be eaten three weeks after the expiration date. Stuff in oil supposedly lasts for years. Water that has been sitting is said to accumulate bacteria after a few days and should be tossed. Bread should be refrigerated. So should Parmesan cheese. Hot sauce does not need to be refrigerated. But ketchup does. Frozen meat lasts a year. Frozen fruit lasts forever. Sell-by date. Consume-by date. Best-by date.

Seriously, what the hell?

I hate this topic, because I never know what to do, and I am always scared to test the limit after a childhood of my mother telling me everything “is fine, just eat it.” I have undoubtedly thrown away countless amounts of not-yet-expired food because I’m confused and frightened.

3) How a washing machine works. The washing machine may compete with the dishwasher in its complexity. But it’s different. While the dishwasher is deeply mysterious in what happens inside once you close the door, the washing machine is at an impossibly high level in its controls.

Go ahead. I beg of you. Tell me what the hell these dials mean:

Washing Machine #1:

(In case you were wondering, that’s “1, 2, 3, cloud, 4, triangle, shower, half-shower, swirl, 5, 6, beaker, 7, shower, half-shower, small swirl, 8, 9/leaf, 10, shower, half-shower, small swirl, Z, rapid 32 apostrophe)

Washing Machine #2:

(2, 6, W, 8, 12, oblong off, 2nd rinse, S, R, 2, 6, W, 10, 14, pre-wash, 2, 4, ENZYME SOAK, 30, SOUS, little off, S, R, 2, 6/W, 10, little off, S, R, C)

Washing Machine #3:

(95 degrees, 60 degrees, flower, 40 degrees, hygiene plus, active 40 degrees C, Mini 30, feather, 40 degrees, fox, swirl, castle, 30 degrees/pig's face in water, snowflake, 40 degrees, sushi, snowflake, beaker, 40 degrees, 60 degrees)

How is anyone supposed to understand what the hell is going on with a washing machine dial? Further, what the deuce does “permanent press” mean? What’s being pressed? And how does a washing machine “press” something? And why is it permanent? How does a washing machine press something so hard that it can never be unpressed?

4) When you capitalize and when you don’t. Winter? winter? fall? Summer Semester? Chemistry? math? History? Happy new Year? internet? jetBlue? Sincerely yours? Atlantic Ocean? south? East? Democrats? The president? Oh my god? master’s? Avenue? midwest? Pacific standard time?

5) Why flight attendants have to specify exactly when it is that they’re saying goodbye. Every time I leave the plane they say, “Bye bye now.” Why “now”? “Bye bye” would accomplish everything, you’d save yourself time, and you wouldn’t creep me out as much.

P.S. Bye is clearly one of those words. One of those words where if you write it a lot and look at it for awhile it starts to look really weird.

6) Political systems in other countries. Other countries are always talking about the “ruling party” and the “majority coalition” and like 3 or 4 parties who all have “seats” in the “Parliament” and share influence somehow. I don’t really get it. I also don’t get the difference between the power of a Prime Minister (prime minister?) and President when there are both in the same country. Like in Russia. Putin is the Prime Minister and Medvedev is the President but Medvedev is Putin’s bitch. I always thought “Prime Minister” was kind of synonymous with “President” and I most certainly don’t understand the situation when a country has both. And then there’s all those Middle Eastern countries with their kings and their princes and their Prime Ministers. Confusing.

7) Why rolling suitcases were only invented recently. Seriously, what the hell? The wheel was invented like 56,000 years ago. And now we’re using wheels for advanced things like cars and bicycles, but the 1990’s roll around (pun) and everyone’s still carrying their luggage around like an idiot? When the original purpose of the wheel before all the advanced uses was to help humans transport heavy things without lifting and carrying them? I distinctly remember going to the airport in my earlier years and everyone was lugging their suitcases everywhere. Only in the last 10 or 15 years did rollie suitcases emerge and now—obviously—everyone uses them. I just don’t get why this “innovation” didn’t happen hundreds of years ago.

8) Why people leave their cell phone ringers on at night. I always get really angry if I call someone late at night and they pick up and tell me I woke them up. I’m always like, “Well why the hell is your cell phone ringer on??” And they’re like, “Wait—you’re mad at me??

I just don’t get it. If I left my cell phone ringer on at night I’d sleep 20% less in general. Most mornings when I wake up I have a couple missed calls, either from the late night or early morning. What if all those calls woke me up? And what if all those people had to think, “Wait, Tim might be sleeping—I'd better not call him,” instead of calling and leaving a message that I can hear when I wake up.

I try to figure out rational reasons for leaving the ringer on, but I have a hard time coming up with one. Most people are like, “What if there’s an emergency?” But think about it—what emergency? What could occur that requires my immediate input or help or attention that can’t wait until the morning? Sure, someone you care about could get hurt or be in trouble—but if you’re really that intent on finding out the second it happens, then get a land line and tell your close family and friends to call it in case of emergency. Isn’t that a better option for the one emergency every ten years than being woken up 2,588 times in those ten years just in case that one moment occurs?

9) Whether “bi-monthly” means “twice a month” or “once every two months.” And it’s not just me. I’m pretty sure that no one knows this.

10) What the hell a Kosher diet entails. I have close friends who keep Kosher. And yet, I don't get it. There's the whole milk and meat thing. But there's also the whole "each meat in itself must also be Kosher" thing. And then there's the shellfish thing. And the thing with the separate plates. Further, is "Kosher" capitalized? I thought going to Wikipedia would help. Instead, it tossed this one at me:
One of the kosher requirements is having cloven hooves such as goats, pigs and cows. Pigs, in spite of their cloven hooves, remain non-kosher because they lack the other kosher sign, cud-chewing. Horses are entirely uncloven.

11) How to stop on roller-blades. I haven’t roller-bladed since they got huge like 15 years ago. And for good reason. I don’t know how to stop. So for awhile I pulled the whole “Go until you want to stop and then zoom into a bush or dive head-first onto the grass” until I finally said screw it and gave it up.

12) What the deal is with butlers. What really is a butler? Is it a servant? An assistant? What does he do? Does he live in the house? Are there women butlers? Is there butler school? Is there a butler ladder? Like, do butlers work their way up from shitty families to prominent ones? Is it competitive? If a butler is in a bar and a girl is like, “What do you do?” and he’s like, “I’m a butler”—does she think he’s a needledick, or does she think he’s kind of rad? Can people hit their butlers? Do butlers sit at the dinner table with the family? Can butlers hook up with women in the family? Do they really stand all upright? Are the large majority of butlers in Britain? This is just a taste of my butler questions. I could go on for pages.

13) What really defines an “Arab.” Is an Egyptian an Arab? A Palestinian? A Moroccan? Are all Arabs Muslims? Is an Iraqi Jew an Arab? I’m pretty sure people from Iran aren’t Arabs. Is it a race? A region? Is it somewhat synonymous with Middle Eastern Muslim? Or not at all? And where does the adjective “Arabian” fit into all this? Is everyone on the “Arabian Peninsula” an Arab? Is Arab also one of those words that looks weird when you type it a lot or have I just typed it so much that at this point any word would look weird?

14) Where the water comes from in those refrigerators with a water dispenser on the door. This is probably something I should understand. But that doesn’t mean it’s something I do understand.

15) Why things air earlier in the Central time zone than in the other three. What does it mean when something airs at “7/6 Central”? Does it mean that it airs at 7:00 for the Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific time zones and at 6:00 for the Central time zone? And if so, why? Why would it be different for the Central time zone?

16) Why soccer refs know the amount of time left during garbage time but refuse to make it public. During the heartbreaking USA-Brazil match the other day, I was brought back to a familiar question—how hard would it be for the refs to slap an exact total on garbage time and have it on the ticker for fans to see? Is it a power trip? Do they just not know exactly so they figure they’ll “ballpark” it? Do they want the freedom to let a team finish an attack before calling it? I don’t get it. It leaves so much room for referee subjectivity. If your team lost in the last second of garbage time and you suspected that the refs let it go on longer than they should have so the team could “finish their attack,” how furious would you be?

17) Why people are obsessed with The Police. Their music kind of sucks.

18) Why people can’t have the same type of food twice within a given period of time. People are always like, “No, I just had Chinese on Thursday, let’s get something else” or “No, I’ve had Italian twice this week, let’s get something else.” I don’t get it. Who cares? Are people ever like, “No, I had a Sam Adams last weekend, give me a Heineken”? No—so why with food? Do people taste food for four straight days, and want the taste fully out of their mouth before having it again? Does their Chinese-meter have to fill up again? Do they know that they don’t have to order the same thing? That menus have a variety of options? No—intra-country variety won’t do. They’ve had their fill of the whole cuisine of Mexico after eating that burrito on Monday. Mexico and its entire culinary tradition will have to wait, as it has found itself in the penalty box until the requisite waiting period has expired.

19) What car alarms accomplish. We’ve all heard them going off. Haplessly. Pointlessly. What do car alarms achieve? They’re set off by their fool owners far more than by thieves. And they’re such a commonplace sound at this point that a dude could steal a car and drive it around with the alarm going off and I wouldn’t blink an eye. And why do they go through the idiot rotation of various alarm sounds? It’s like a guy at the car company was scrolling through his options for possible alarms and someone recorded it and decided to make that the alarm.

I just don't get it.

More things I don’t understand:

Volume 3
Volume 2
Volume 1

*On a bright note, we passed a town called Sandwich, and if you don’t think I stopped there, ordered a sandwich, and then said, “I’m eating a sandwich in Sandwich,” you don’t know me very well.


Anonymous said...

I'm brazilian and felt awful for the american team watching that game. Granted, I didn't see the USA team scoring the first two, so I wasn't that into the game to be ecstatic when Brazil scored theirs. The first one. Then the second one. Right about then I got really into it and was mad happy when we scored the third. And then I saw the Dempsey guy crying and felt really bad for him.

When you say iPhone is the one, right? I've been following this blog for a while and can't imagine you having the old one. You should've shown the compass thingie to your grandfather, that he'd understand.

I want to eat a sandwich in Sandwich, with your grandparents. That sounds awesome.

Anonymous said...

you're one of the more interesting humans.

#7 don't you feel sorry for the few lone skycaps when you see them looking all forlorn outside the airline terminal or inside by the baggage claim?? they used to serve a real purpose.

Anonymous said...

Your depiction of grandma and grandpa had me laughing so hard I needed kleenex and a run to the bathroom so I didn't pee in my pants. All old people are somewhat alike but I could hear them and picture this so it was hysterical to me. What was even funnier was the realization that Grandpa would forget that he left his teeth at home and during the whole week at the cape panic when he noticed he didn't have them and start searching. Also, the reason you were left to drive them is because you are the only one patient enough to do so! Thanks for the laugh I needed it!

Anonymous said...

This post made me laugh out loud at work and everyone kept looking at me.

Anonymous said...

the dialog with your grandparents sounds like a comedy routine. hilarious. you can't make that stuff up.

Anonymous said...

Man you are damn funny! I love your pieces and it has already been a routin for me to check your blog every week and have a good laugh! Thank you for your one of the kind sense of humor and keep it coming :)

Anonymous said...

Problem is I can only do it

Michael Jackson's ghost.

ps The remaining cheese has
gone bad too.

Anonymous said...

#2 you can put bananas in the fridge as soon as they begin to turn a little brown and they will last a lot longer.

Anonymous said...

#9, I dislike the word fortnight for 14 days or 2 weeks from now. This annoying woman at work continues to say, speak to you on the next Fortnight call. Can't stand it!

Anonymous said...

Are you already living in New York or you weren't able to sell all your stuff and gave up?

Nornny said...


You have no idea how much this confuses and stresses me out when my manager tells me to set up bi-monthly meetings...

Anonymous said...

#14 There is a water line, much the same that feeds an ice maker.

#15 Yes, In middle America, CST, most shows air an hour earlier than on the coasts. I think it's because they were originally considered farmers who needed to get to bed earlier. As someone who lived in CST most of my life, I am now a sleep deprived EST resident.

Allison M said...

You are great.

Anonymous said...

Well. According to Google, bi-monthly means once every two months AND twice a month...simultaneously. Who knew?