Dumb and Dumber

January 20, 2012

I’ve just finished my third day as a home-based business owner, and I’m already worried.  True, online sales have been beyond expectations, I was able to hook up my computer without professional help, and I accomplished transfer of my telephone lines to Comcast and disconnection of my former AT&T phone service through a mere sixteen customer service conversations with people who may or may not speak English as their native language.  But when I started to undress for bed last night I discovered to my horror that I was still wearing my pajama tops — I had apparently been wearing them all day without realizing it.    I’m obviously going to have to make sure I leave the house once in a while, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to put on pants  and to provide much-needed stimulation to my brain, which is the subject of my latest column in the Star.  Hope you like it, and that you remember you like it later.

Up The Valley: Dumb and dumber

I’ve always known that you don’t know what you don’t know, but now I’m learning that I don’t even know what I thought I knew. For example, I was listening to classical radio the other day, when the theme from “Peter and the Wolf” started playing. “Tchaikovsky!” I exclaimed confidently, congratulating myself on my encyclopedic knowledge of the arts, until the announcer patiently explained that it was Prokofiev. Of course it was; I’ve heard symphonies perform that work for as long as I can remember, but my knowledge of the composer was obviously contained in a part of the brain that was erased to make room for knowledge of the subclass code required to ring a $2 greeting card into the cash register.

A similar thing happened to me after law school, when I noticed that the part of my brain that once empowered me to make interesting conversation with promising new acquaintances of the opposite gender had been erased to make room for statutes of limitation, the rule against perpetuities and the formulae for calculating bonuses earned by Bay Area law firm associates. I guess it’s true what they say: “Use it or lose it.” It seems that regular reliance on computer spell-checking has reduced my spelling to a fifth-grade level, daily use of the cash register has left me unable to make change for a dollar without the written assistance of a receipt, and practical use of a calculator has been compromised by my inability to remember what needs to be divided into which to equal whatever.

And to think that I once handled multimillion-dollar legal contracts. It’s as if parts of my mind have become as flabby as my midsection, in need of some sort of mental corset or brain trainer or, like presidential candidates, constant use of a teleprompter. On the other hand, I retain an incredible amount of useless minutiae. Want to know who starred in the television series “H.R. Pufnstuf” in 1969? Wondering what the lyrics are to the Super Chicken fight song (I can perform this for you if you’re buying)? Curious as to the mother’s maiden name of that guy I dated 30 years ago? I’m a steel trap where these details are concerned, so why worry if I sometimes forget my own zip code and can never find my sunglasses?

Of course, my intermittent mental meltdowns are fodder for the technology industries, which exist mainly to make us all feel like doddering ancients. Nothing sounds sillier than people over 50 tossing around terms like “tweeting” and “Facebooking” and “Skyping.” I think a good rule of thumb should be that if you are of a certain age and you have heard of any device or application, or of anything at all of any kind whatsoever for that matter, you should just assume that if you know about it then it must already be tragically passé.

I particularly dread texting, and believe that there is a conspiracy among young engineers to transform what I typed into incoherent gibberish just to make me feel stupid. What laughs they must share,

sitting there in Cupertino by the server in the middle of the night, drinking Pepsi and eating Fritos, changing the word “nana” to “anus” in my messages for their own amusement. And they never tire of requiring me to update my passwords and PINs, just to confirm that dementia is looming. Apparently identity thieves have discovered my cat’s middle name, and so my passwords must be replaced with some constantly-revised combination of upper- and lower-case letters and numbers and colors and hand-signals to prevent penetration. I suppose I could write my passwords down and put them in a secure location, if only I could remember where that was.

On the bright side, my friends and I are mostly in the same boat. We sit around for hours patiently hacking away at conversational exchanges such as: “Did you see that movie last night? It starred the guy who was in that thing we saw in the theatre next to that restaurant we didn’t like.”

“The one near that place we used to go?”

“No, not that guy … the other one.”

Luckily, the theories of six degrees of separation, and of six degrees of Kevin Bacon (Google this, if people still do that), really do work, and we eventually remember whatever we were discussing, or forget that we were trying. After all, the secret to feeling smart is to surround yourself with people who are just as clueless as you are, and — as Gladys Knight, etc. recorded in 1989 on the Arista label — “that’s what friends are for.”

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of PennalunaNapaValley.com, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist. Read more at LauraRafaty.com.)

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I read that the President is appointing two new members to the board of the Federal Reserve: a Harvard economics professor and a former Treasury official.  I am not acquainted with either gentleman, but I can tell you without hesitation that they know nothing about our economy, for if they did, surely they would have told someone how to fix it by now.  We are stuck in the rut of entrusting our economic recovery to people with only an encyclopedic knowledge of what didn’t work in the past and hands-on experience in how to make it worse.  Why not shake things up a bit by adding some new blood: perhaps a psychic or a tarot card reader should be advising the Fed.  At least Ben Bernanke’s speeches would be more interesting, as he would step to the podium and blandly announce:  “We predict a tall dark stranger in an overcoat will soon appear with a briefcase full of Swiss Francs, access to the public bond market with credit on favorable terms, and a plan to help our economy realize its longer-term growth potential. The Magician card in our deck indicates that we will see action on the economy so long as we remain consciously aware of reality, resist stifling regulations and embrace the liberating power of corporate tax deductions.  Opportunities for European travel will present themselves in the first quarter of 2012, with romantic intrigue and favorable currency exchanges to follow shortly thereafter.  As a result, we have decided to maintain interest rates at their current levels.”

In fact, the more I see of Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve the more I think we should just turn the whole thing over to a newly created position of National Astrologer — surely Nancy Reagan can recommend someone, and it would provide another perfect recess appointment for the President.  In that vein, please check out this week’s Star column, in which I provide my entirely baseless Astrological Predictions for 2012.  Sure I’m unqualified, but I figure that if local weatherman Jeff Popick can predict winter in December and January when it’s 74 degrees outside, then I can claim to predict the power of the planets.  Read more about Star signs in the Star!

Up The Valley: My starry-eyed predictions for 2012

Astrology may be dismissed as silly, except when it confirms that we are exceptionally intuitive or creatively gifted, or that our last relationship ended because we were cosmically incompatible, not comically indiscriminate. My own knowledge of star signs is based almost entirely upon reading Cosmo’s Bedside Astrologer in the 1980s, but the basic planetary principles pertain. And so it is with an eye to the heavens, and a total lack of expertise, that I bring you my astrological predictions for 2012.

• Aries (3/21-4/19): Maybe it’s the horny Ram’s tusks or the alpha-dog disposition, but Arians are the sluts of the Zodiac. In 2012, you will continue to steamroll and seduce your way to glory, or at least to a very tall pour from the stingiest bartender at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Alluring Arians include Warren Beatty, Francis Ford Coppola, Nancy Pelosi and Lady Gaga.

• Taurus (4/20-5/20): The binging Bull is famous for soothing stress with excessive amounts of food, drink, shopping and sex. In 2012, you will satisfy your appetites at Villa Corona by day and La Condesa by night, but will be scandalously cited by police for a DWF (driving while flatulent). Bullish Taureans include Bono, Saddam Hussein, Queen Elizabeth II and Mark Zuckerberg.

• Gemini (5/21-6/21): Call it delightful eccentricity or multiple personality disorder; the Twins are never boring. Your love of philanthropy and decorating will lead you to launch the “2012 ‘Other St. Helena’ Home Tour,” in which rich locals are invited to “Tour the Homes of Those Who Clean Yours,” benefiting affordable housing charities. Multitasking Geminis include Angelina Jolie, Robert Mondavi, Ted Kaczynski and Newt Gingrich.

• Cancer (6/22-7/22): Moody Crabs are emotional and loving one moment, then shrewd and cautious the next, becoming world leaders or serial killers. They include Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, George W. Bush and Lizzie Borden. Cancer is a moveable water sign, which explains why Cancerian Alan Galbraith understands it so well.

• Leo (7/23-8/22): A preening narcissist, the Lion is noted for grandiosity and need for the spotlight. You are also a natural leader, and in 2012 will inspire the Occupy St. Helena movement to boycott overpriced water, urging locals to flush, brush teeth and swim in cabernet, and turning the populace “Purple and Proud.” Lionized Leos include Julia Child, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Aunt Helena.

• Virgo (8/23-9/22): True, people snicker when calling you the Virgin, but it’s because your obsessive organization, compulsive cleanliness and preoccupation with perfection leave little room for temptation. In 2012, you will form the “Committee on Economic Development Committees” to determine whether the various organizations promoting local business exist, or have moved to Yountville. Well-known Virgos include Warren

Buffett, Michael Jackson, Queen Elizabeth I and Charlie Sheen.

• Libra (9/23-10/22): Symbolized by Scales of Justice, Libras are known for their impartial judgment, discriminating taste, and total inability to accept criticism. In 2012, while digging for water in your backyard, you will uncover a huge untapped oil reserve. The Chamber of Commerce will launch a “Drink While You Drill” campaign, attracting hordes of drunken wildcatters, and a few confused dentists, to the valley. Famous Libras include John Lennon, Richard III, Truman Capote and Thomas Keller.

 • Scorpio (10/23-11/21): The Scorpion may be charming and magnetic, but also compulsive and obsessive; it’s the sign most likely to become a stalker. In 2012, you will demand that all trees, even on private property, be topiaried or espaliered, resulting in your ascendancy to top the Tree Committee. Celebrated Scorpios include Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Bill Gates, Charles Manson and Mickey Mouse.

• Sagittarius (11/22-12/21): The freedom-loving Archer may be a bit ADD at times, but … ooh, look, a squirrel … they sure can be fun! In 2012, your honesty, optimism and new ideas will lead to your election to the City Council, but your honesty, optimism and new ideas will cause you to be recalled almost immediately. Spirited Sagittarians include Woody Allen, Jane Austen, Keith Richards and Herman Cain.

• Capricorn (12/22-1/19): The patient and prudent Goat is a peerless professional, but can also be a pessimistic buzz-killer. In 2012, you will persuade the city to develop a “Plan to Find the Missing General Plan” and a “Study to Determine Why We Ignore All Our Studies.” Practical Capricorns include Michelle Obama, Richard Nixon, Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

• Aquarius (1/20-2/18): The Water-Carrier may seem peculiar or eccentric to some, but original and visionary to others. In 2012, you will open a business in Alan’s former Main Street space that is so revolutionary and indescribable, the city can’t figure out how to deny the use permit. Inventive Aquarians include Thomas Edison, Michael Chiarello, Mike Thompson, Todd White, Jeff Warren and Sarah Palin.

• Pisces (2/19-3/20): The phrase “drinks like a fish” applies, although your wishy-washy reputation is unfair; you have firm feelings about vodka versus gin martinis. In 2012, famously flippery Piscean Mitt Romney will concurrently run for President as a Republican and Independent, and defeat himself. You will intend to vote but misplace the entire month of November. Notorious Pisceans include Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Johnny Cash, Ted Kennedy and me.

It should be noted that Mayan astrological calendars predict the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012. So let’s all party like it’s 1999!

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna Napa Valley, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist. Read more at laurarafaty.com.)