Monthly Archives: February 2002

An Outstanding Article

Outstanding, fantastic, amazing, absolutely, excellent.

The current trend in everyday conversation is to use large words—grand, or rather, grandiose words. “Outstanding” is the new “good,” “amazing!” is the new “okay,” and “Huge!” is the new “big.”

I was in a restaurant in DC last weekend, and everything I asked for was “fantastic,” every request received the same enthusiastic reply: “Absolutely!”

Me: How’s the salmon?

Server: Fantastic!!

Me: Does it come with rice?

Server: Absolutely!!

Would a “good” and a “yes” have been sufficient? Absolutely!

Yesterday, I overheard this conversation at the so-called high-tech firm where I work:

Dude: Hey, dude.

Other Dude: Hey, dude.

Dude: Hey, dude, this is brilliant, Johnny put the picture of the beer bottle on his home page.

Other Dude: Outstanding. Very, very outstanding.

I have a pretty good mind for imagining all types of possibilities. I’ve been to an implausibly high number of websites and homepages. And I’ve seen all types of beer bottles. I cannot, however, imagine any picture of any beer bottle being outstanding, and definitely not very, very outstanding. I don’t even know what very, very outstanding means. It seems to be so far outstanding as to be back “in-sitting.” The last thing I had outstanding was a library book late fee.

For this big-big trend, I blame Starbucks, OldBananaNavyGap, and the S.U.V.Why the S.U.V? I just like to blame the S.U.V. for everything. Oddly enough, it truly can be blamed for everything. Outstanding. Here are machines that make no sense, cost too much, harm the very air we breathe, and yet we flock to them like junkies to the junk. In fact, when moths see other moths rush to the light of the flame only to burn themselves to death, they say, “look, they fly just like Americans to theS.U.V.” But we keep buying these machines that simply guzzle gas and then complain that gas is too expensive. Gas prices are outrageous. Those prices are mind-bogglingly despicable.

S.U.V.s have such names as the Denali, the Tundra, the Dakotas, the Sierras. They are named for the very things that they are killing with unregulated emissions. If I wanted to market a new S.U.V., I would make it enormously wasteful, tremendously dangerous, and have it get one mile to the gallon; then, I’d call it the Rainforest. You probably won’t ever need to drive to the top  of a 145-foot tall tree, but isn’t it nice to know that in a few years all the trees will be destroyed. Boy, Man, Dude, that’s very outstanding. The Rainforest S.U.V. is gonna sell like globally-warmed hotcakes.

The other way to name an S.U.V. is oversized, disproportionate, and inappropriate. Does one really lead an Expedition by going to the grocery store? Is it really a Path Finder if it’s following a 4-lane toll road? Is it really a Rodeo if it has air shocks and an anti-vibration suspension? How is it that an Xterra never touches the terra?

The S.U.V. is therefore partly to blame for the current fixation of needing everything to be bigger than it needs to be, and our obsession to make everything seem even bigger, better, more exciting, more invigorating, more electrifying, more elucidating than it ever could possibly be.

Starbucks is to blame, too, because Starbucks did away with the small sized drink. The smallest coffee you can order at a Starbucks is a Tall. Tall would seem to indicate that there was a short, medium, and Tall, with Tall being the largest. But at Starbucks, Tall is small. Grande, which is both Italian and Spanish for large, is medium.

Likewise, at your local 7-Eleven you cannot buy a small either, as your choices are Big Gulp, Super Big Gulp, and Extreme Big Gulp. Could there possibly ever be anything bigger than extreme? Absolutely.

OldBananaNavyGap also did away with the small. As in, you cannot buy anything from the self-proclaimed-hip-clothing-chain-stores that is a “small.” My father is an average-sized man. He hasn’t gained weight (or height, for that matter) for the past 30 years. Ergo, his size remains the same. But his tee-shirt size has gone from Small/Medium to Medium to Large to Extra Large. I was in the OldBananaNavyGap a few days ago and the guy with the headset running the khaki shack and tee-shirt rack said “We have all sizes man, extra large, extra-extra large, and extra-extra-extra large.

Wow, XXXLarge. That’s huge. That’s bigger than huge. That’s gigantic. That’s immensely mammoth. That’s massively, enormously gargantuan. But does it fit? Absolutely.

Upon reflection, the reason for all this colossal-speak is clear. We are bored with our fantastic wonderful lives. We want the next-next thing now. Now! We want, no, we need, the new-new things while it’s still new-new-new. And that new-new-new thing needs to be awesome. Absolutely electrifyingly incredibly stupendous. Man! Dude! Awesome!

We want others to think that we still care, that we can still be delighted, that we know what’s great and that that’s everything. When deep inside we know it can’t be. Everything can’t be great. Hence, we live in a world where extreme is ordinary, where radical is quotidian; exceptional is pedestrian. And to not be overly delighted by the mundane is appalling. It’s horrific. And, Dude, that’s Heinous.

I mean, come on, a beer bottle on a home page. Big deal? No, no big deal. But to admit that would be to admit the feebleness of our well-planned perfect, energized world. All we have is a beer bottle on a home page, a running joke that probably wasn’t funny the first time, a world where nothing shocks us, not because nothing is shocking but because its un-cool to be shocked, a world where all we can hope for is a chance to drive the New Dodge Ozone.

I’m no scientist and my methods of proof leave a little to be desired, or a lot, or an immensity. And to be honest, I guess I’d rather live in a world where people were overly excited than overly depressed. We all could feel like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest trying to muster enthusiasm to watch the World Series from the drugged and depressed inmates. Instead, we’re more like an Albert Camus or a Franz Kafka on speed, slipping into a realm where reality loses its meaning because of the language of the very people who populate it. Myself included. Oh, categorically. Indubitably. Relentlessly.

But really, it’s all so fantastically unreal. It’s outrageous, man. I’m an average-sized guy but I wear an extra-large tee-shirt. I go into a burger joint, order a large or rather jumbo-sized burger and then biggie-size that, and then super-size that. I see cars too big to be on the street being replaced by cars that are too huge to be on the street. And all the while I hear everyone everywhere tell everyone everywhere how amazing it all is. Outstanding. Marvelous. Stellar. Fantastic.

Listen to the voices around you. Listen to your own voice. It’s not seeping in; it’s pervasive. There is nothing on the news that is good or bad; there are only things that are Wonderful, or Devastating, or in Crisis, or a Tragedy. Even the weather is going to be Beautiful, or Horrible, Torrential, Overwhelming. When’s the last time someone was overwhelmed by a rising barometer? Listen the next time that someone asks you comething and you agree, because when you could simply say “yes,” instead you will say, “Absolutely,” or “Without Doubt,” or “Oh, yeah, unquestionably—absolutely without doubt.”

Have people just forgotten what it’s like to be OK? Simply OK with what they have and who they are? Try this experiment: Do someone a favor, for no apparent reason. They will either be mad at you, I mean, furious (which is another phenomenon—unexplainable—see the Cuckoo’s Nest example above), or they will thank you as if you saved their baby from a burning building.

Them: Thank you so much. That was soooo nice. That was soooo wonderful, sooo amazing. Thank you soooo, soooo, soooo much.

You: Don’t mention it. It’s just a cup of coffee.

Them: It’s just amazing. This is outstanding. (Then they’ll turn their back, or answer their mobile phone.)

You: But…?

If everything is outstanding, if everything is the most amazing thing ever, is anything ever amazing at all? Absolutely.