Friday, February 3, 2006

Smiling Alone

If there's one book that was referenced more than any other during my career as a polical science student at Northwestern, it was most certainly Robert Putnam's „Bowling Alone“, a theory-based case study of American society and the recent decline of „social capital“ which exists in the form of social organizations, PTAs, quilting societies and...bowling nights. The idea is that the more people hung out, the more social ties they had, and these social ties functioned as a sort of currency...they could find jobs more easily, had help in times of need, were happier, healthier, and generally „richer.“

Really the only reason I've been thinking about this book is because the phrase „Smiling Alone“ has been running through my head because, well, that's what I've been doing (more explanation soon) and, well, it sounds like the book title. But as I think about it more and more, I realize that Putnam's description of the lone bowler in a nearly empty neighborhood bowling alley as a well-adapted metaphor for much of my lonesome smiling activities. Engaging in an activity that's usually done in the presence of others, where continual smiling/bowling is supported by the group, where laughing and cheering is encouraged, group bowling/smiling is even a good first date activity!...the big difference is that bowling is a lot louder and requires a lot more skill. But wait, smiling alone is more infectious, more a cause of general cheer than that lonesome bowler. At least in my experience...

The number one cause of solitary simpering, at least in my case, is the presence of cute, goofy, funny-looking, sleeping, or even completely normal looking dogs or babies on the train. The subway is just such an apersonal atmosphere, but the dogs and babies don't know the rules yet! They stare you down, lick your feet, giggle, eat things off the subway floor, and generally break all the (oh so german) rules of subway personal-space etiquitte. Another related cause is people making faces, jingling keys, talking to, babywaving, petting, playing with or otherwise communicating with these furry/juvenile creaturtes, especially when the respective parents/owners don't seem very happy about it. Also related to the baby theme, especially grin-provoking are small children using what to me seem like absurdly complicated grammatical structures: seperable prefix verbs, subjunctive clauses, genitive possession, all in German! The mother toungue is a marvelous thing.

And then there are those instances that are just too notable to not react to. Those times where you think, I wish there was someone else here who could understand the irony/absurdity/hilarity/tragedy of this situation. There was the time that I found myself with my entire unterwasserhockey equipment, most notably with my flippers and snorkel poking out of my bag, sitting next to a man carrying his surfboard on the subway, in January. There was the man in complete bavarian dress talking on a payphone in Marienplatz. And then there are the people who make you smile because you're making up stories about them in your head to try to understand their behavior, like maybe the crazy businessman who threw the entire contents of his briefcase into the fish fountain and slowly watched them sink just gave up all his worldly possessions and is moving to the Canary Islands. And then there are the little things: funny advertisements, silly hats, people speaking english next to me who think i can't understand, cool houses, views of the alps, congregations of birds floating on lake starnberg, sunrises, sunsets, perfect songs, and of course, there's the smiling alone that comes from thinking of a particularly sappy romantic moment that gets you smiling inspite of yourself.

All I can say is, smiling alone turns out to be an excellent solitary activity, but you won't find me in a bowling alley without at least a couple of other people, namely so no one notices that i only use the 8 pound balls... Mini golf however, I might be able to tolerate solo. Now, i'm off to listen to some Lyle Lovett...

This calls for some blatantly teenagerey internet behavior:
:-) ;-) =) :-P

there, now i'm not alone :-D

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