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Entries in Banal Series (22)


Banal Series #22, Legal Briefs

These screeds of legalese describe, in painstaking detail, the factors, circumstances, evidence, and purpose of a case. They lay out a game plan, a set of wants and needs, and perhaps most egregiously, they present a narrative of a person or thing in question.

These narratives paint a somewhat disembodied picture of a crime or tort. A person’s actions are depicted as specimen; they no longer describe personality, and become deprived of subtle nuances that make a person unique. They may frame, depending upon the side of the author of the brief, the person or thing in a positive or negative light, but they ultimately lack certain detail. Legal briefs abstract what is known into digestible morsels – actions described in tone and timbre congruent with the case, congruent with the intent of the counsel. The person in a brief becomes a defining crime or tortfeasance – culpability or lack of culpability, the intonation. They are no longer people; they are simply an action tied to a crime or a lawsuit.

The briefs are constructed with precedent in mind. Flanks of leatherbound texts of caselaw, showed conspicuously in commercials and websites of firms, inform the legal brief as it is scribed. The specificity of the brief – the details of what happened, Kantian considerations of intent, and who or what was harmed and at what cost – are written adhering to those precedents. In essence, the legal brief ties itself to a body of work filling shelves and libraries across the nation and even world. Borrowing from John Stewart Mill, the person described in a legal brief becomes a sort of utilitarian means to an end – regardless of the side of the counsel. In that vein, the question of intentionality, in a Kantian sense becomes oddly contradicted, because Kant himself saw it as wrong to use a person as a means to an end at all.

The briefs are then pored over, in writing, and in reading, by countless attorneys, law clerks, law students, and paralegals – creating a sort of cloistered community, and accounting for thousands of billable hours. Further abstracting the initial impetus of the narrative – that person in question is alienated nearly beyond recognition, as they now represent a written document, and, more pointedly, a monetary number.


Banal Series #21: Office Cubicles 

Yes, few things register on the banality scale with greater resonance of dullness than office cubicles. The font of office related humor for at least a decade and a half; these corrals of commerce keep America moving. Workers drone on, amid the geometric certitude, as feudal workers in a small plot of land within a larger tract. An office chair, swiveling and cushioned can twirl the worker, as he observes three walls of fabric covered partition. Noises are muffled in this anechoic box, as the taps of keyboards, and the brill of phones become distant hums. Someone may even broadcast a radioed loop of soft rock hits from the 80’s, at a reasonable volume.

Work humor, and “work appropriate” musings are honed and disseminated from within the confines of these walls. The cubicle becomes the wellspring of things such as “I Can Has Cheezburger?” and other internet memes that defy explanation but deny resistance to participation in and propagation. Emails of various humor and ilk are forwarded to fellow cubicle workers. Perhaps in a cubicle across the room. Maybe across the country. Or even the globe. This is a collective practice, as eight hours of a day, or forty hours of a week are whittled away, and the promising maw of weekend with the exacting swath of lawncare, and nesting oriented purchases with a significant other await.

People have gone on to draft satirical screenplays, deftly capturing the numbing pall of those walls of some burlap like or carpet-esque fabric. The stifling banal struggle of millions of office workers, trudging day after day. Calendars gradually sheaving off like leaves in autumn. Monotony, and officespeak in saccharine tinges. Cultish hits like Office Space and even Fight Club come to mind. In the furling curl of the dotcom wave of the late nineties; arguably the golden age of all things banal, many such narratives captured this ineffable zeitgeist.

At an average height of just over five feet, the cubicle posits an odd paradox of panopticism mixed with a deceptive dash of privacy. This conflation of “public” and “private” spheres is indelibly embedded in the workplace via the cubicle. Now “your” business is “our” business. We have the illusion of the private; much like a social network page gives one the illusion of an autonomous forum for airing laundry to a select scroll of “friends”. These lines are eroded and accreted upon, until they fold into a new thing unto themselves. All this collective chatter is glommed up in the amoeba of the office. They can be, and sometimes are used against the individual, for betterment of the group.

Arguably, in the mid 1960’s,when the cubicle concept was first introduced, it was seen as a gargantuan improvement from the cavernous rooms filled with unwalled desks, typists and clerks hammering away. Cigarette smoke looming overhead as a palpable miasma. The harried speech. Rude jangles of phones, naked on flanks and columns of desks, and cacophony of conversations therein – evocative of a grade school lunch room. Gruff steps on linoleum and wood. A day in the office more than likely rattled in the workers’ heads like rivet guns.

The cubicle, though banal, is at least not grating on the nerves.


Banal Series #20 Casual Dining Restaurants

Invariably, the doors are oaken, with heavy brass fixtures worn to an opaque sheen – speaking of the untold thousands who have prowed through on their pilgrimage. On a packed weekend night, a throng may congregate in and out and around those doors with beacons in hand – waiting to be paged – telling them a seat has opened, and they can now partake.

They’re always deemed in the possessive, these restaurants. O’Charley’s, Bennigan’s. Friday’s. Applebee’s. Chili’s. They are owned. By you. By “them”. By us. They are familiar. We are the Bennigan. The Friday. We are the Chili. We are here, and now we are part of this thing.

The décor on the walls speaks of that familiarity. The archaic sports memorabilia. Culled perhaps from hundreds of local garage sales. Homey, though antiquated equipment. From a farm, maybe. A kitchen several generations in the past. An old boot. Gimcracks that might do well as game tokens from some lost Monopoly board, strewn and tacked diagonally and cattywampus along the transoms and walls. These patinaed artifacts anchor the casual restaurant, erected overnight on the outlot of a stripmall in exurbia. They give a tangible “realness” to what rakes at the senses as completely fabricated.

The bar area, more often than not, is central to the design, creating a rectangular focal point. Drinks and merriment can be had here. Your real friends, in case you didn’t know, are there, waiting. The high backed chairs around the bar area are observational perches for patrons to observe the comings and goings of what are construed as familiar faces. This ubiquitous establishment foisted as a local haunt. A solo acoustic cover musician might belt out renditions of Stone Temple Pilots, or Nirvana on a slow weeknight from a corner of the bar area, adding to the ambiance.

Casual dining restaurants echo nostalgically, if not falsely, about some more “pure” and “idyllic” time. The neighborhood pub or grill or inn of yore. The place where communities mythically congregated to engage, regroup, and relish. The casual dining phenomenon is not of coincidence; it follows congruously, the tendril like promulgation of suburb, office park, and mall. It is a needed simulation of authenticity – a sought after destination in a bland sea of banality.


Banal Series #19: Books as Display Accents in Furniture Stores

Furniture stores unfold labyrinthine, in pods of wonder and possibility. Clutches of fat brown leather chairs and sofas around oversized coffee tables. Dining room sets in various heights and designs. Office bundles. A desk, a secretary. A swivel chair in tucked upholstery fit for an oil magnate. Shelves of deep stained oaks, and bare pines hewn in rustic slats. They all sit, waiting, with desperate and aging salesmen combing and roving, clutching tie and clipboard. Customers are here, and they are browsing.

The unsung of this breed are the books fashioned as display accents. They sit, perched in neat pyramids. Dust jackets removed, and their hard bound (always hard bound, never soft) spines speak of titles in muted whites and golds. Embossed in mild ferrules, often describing best sellers, or lesser knowns of bygone times. Reader’s Digest collections tend to be favorites of the furniture store display. They are, inherently, from the past, and often doffed in simple ostentations evoking vague ideas of The Classics, and of five foot shelves. The spines of these bear titles (usually in threes) of novels long forgotten and unheard of in the vernacular. These Reader’s Digest tomes are more than likely purchased in bulk from a second hand store, or culled from a relative’s attic. They look serious. Next to those might be a jacketless copy of a hardbound John Grisham novel. Maybe a Michael Crichton work.

Books in furniture stores, however, are not to be disturbed. They are meant to appear within these menageries of potential furniture for one’s home, as an accent of authenticity. Of something real, and tangible. To give the illusion of context, and meaning. Oddly, nothing will upset the stasis of the furniture store more than taking off shoes, making oneself comfortable and cracking open one of these unread books.


Banal Series #18 Food Courts at Shopping Malls

The food court area of a shopping mall offers shoppers respite – hauling bags through throngs of people – a place to engage in a sensible, and ultimately, convenient meal. There are choices here. The hungry cue up in front of neon marquees and sneeze guard sconced counters. A veritable polyglot of types and styles of food are offered. This is, after all, within the confines of a modern shopping mall: a bastion of, and well vetted steward of the most ubiquitous of banal things.

A visitor to a mall food court knows, precisely, what to expect.

The vendors: well known chains, tropified and prepackaged, are fixed constants at the food court. The variable comes down to a composite of personal moods and tastes, compounded by a fluctuating algorithm of line lengths. Once the choice is made, trays, familiar to the consumer from approximately twelve years of school aged usage, are carried to the seating area. Chairs around tables of various size and length, and booths framed by planter boxes filled with artificial plants pock the food court in a tessellated fractal. The entirety of the area is shrouded in the cacophonous din of hundreds of wills interacting in dozens of conversations.

Logistically, the food court sits as an out of the way pocket of mall traffic. A sort of architectural fistula of rest and regrouping.


Banal Series # 17, Industrial Parks 

Industrial parks, the bastions of light manufacture dotted throughout exurbia in modern America, allow the pragmatic value of goods production to be coupled with the soothing banality of the uniform cul-de-sac. Front offices, buttressed by well maintained blacktop parking lots, and framed by a front facing floor to ceiling window shrouded in a flank of Venetian blinds, act as simple waiting areas. Salesmen, prospective customers, consultants, and curious applicants can enjoy the simple comfort of the waiting area, and can find solace through the receptionist, who will, in fact, see to it that the visitor is addressed.

The rear of the building serves as the shipping and receiving area. Great loading docks, padded with bumpers fashioned out of used tire components, accommodate the heaving comings and goings of trucks. The workers, more than likely, have also carved out a niche in the form of a wooden picnic table for smoke breaks and lunch on good weather days. This space, it is understood, is to remain unmolested, yet safely keep out of sight.

The industrial area, neatly kept behind the scrim of the front office, contains the heart of the actual construction and packaging of whatever widget being produced. The interior is filled with mazes of shelves, conveyors, tables and wires, all for the manufacture of this “thing” or these “things” and visitors to the industrial park, as an implicit understanding, are treated to a tour, hardhatted or not, of the production area.


Banal Series #16, Graffiti In A Restroom Stall 

Public restroom stalls function as primitive message boards, defacto galleries of outsider art, and dissemination devices of purple and forbidden information.

A scribble might read: “For a good time call…” giving the reader in the intimate confines of this environ, within this very public space, purpose. A jaded ex, probably, would like the person using the facility to call. Ask about this “good time” to be had. Or perhaps the author had an intention of a slightly more altruistic bend. To share information with his fellow man. Good times, it seems, are good for humanity.

Crude scrawlings done up as codified monikers also grace these walls. Fashioned as a “tag,” these drawings become a recurring “logo,” or design signifying that the artist has graced these walls, and encourages the seated audience member to look for this logo elsewhere. Outsider artists become anonymous legends.

Conversations occur. Acting as a message center more basic and primordial than the most primitive websites and blogs, the restroom stall engages the reader in a dialogue. A quote is produced: “God is dead,” ~ Nietzsche, to which someone responded with: “Nietzsche is dead,” ~ God.

Weighty issues find themselves here, in this banal place, spun and carved. Apocryphal or not, the discussion continues. A reader, pants down, might pull a pen from their breast pocket, and post a response. To be read by some anonymous audience member. He may return, at a later time, after a later meal, to read subsequent comments. He may not return, but rest in knowing he has contributed to the greater knowledge of mankind. Such conversation is one of the fundamental bases of society, and the restroom stall continues to be an unsung bastion of culture.


Banal Series # 15, Eulogizing the Pay Phone

Pay phones – what used to be a destined mode of useful communication has devolved into lonesome effigies of some forgotten point on this exponential curve of electronic media. They stand, those sad pay phones, in stoic silence. Outside run down convenience stores. On a rusted steel post near a gas station. Ensconced, somewhat permanently, into a wall of cement and sedimentary rock laden with prehistoric fossils. The pay phone seems at home in such context.

The jingle of their ringer and the dull clatter of their handsets upon the solid thud of the chromed cradle are but memories. They were once the central feature of mobile communication. A presumed amenity in any area of automobile use, or perambulation, or travel; they could be found on nearly every city block. Of certain importance, they once upon a time often had booths erected for their containment and ease of use. Superhero mythology was fashioned to include their seeming ubiquity. The Everyman of Clark Kent transformed into Superman in such a booth – as this Everyman ducked into its confines under duress of urgency, and emerged superhuman. Pay phones were once the go to device for 20th Century man’s urgent matters. A call home. A loved one. An arrival in a strange town. A taxi. An array of goods and services listed in the often companioned phone book; bound in plastic sheaves, and tethered to the base of the pay phone stand by way of steel cable. Sometimes pages were torn out. Sometimes the entire steel cable was ripped from the base, leaving only a bundle of sharp frays.

The pay phone still sits, rusting, gleaming the chromed lock plate framed into the cast metal housing. Waiting to be used. Or at least referred to as a viable device. Or to even be noticed. Perhaps by a motorist sitting at a red light, talking on his cell phone.


Banal Series # 14, Hotel Lobbies

Hotel lobbies, like much of the fare associated with hotels and travel, denote waiting. The lobby, in this instance, is mutely decorated to feel familiar. To feel as is the traveler has been here before. Ah yes, at some opaque time in the past, he has strewn shoulder bags on the chest high counter, and signed papers. A quick glance at the fabricated living room set quells his nerves. The fountain, flanked by artificial plants further soothes the frazzled guest.

He can see a freestanding placard, in front of an open door to the left, telling him of a hotel restaurant. “Please wait to be seated,” the sign says. He will wait. And while he’s at it, he might waft down to the hotel bar. Have a drink, and a laugh. Maybe strike up a conversation with a local, or a fellow traveler. Make a friendship, which, garbled through the hyperbole of alcohol, will seem timeless, and to be understood as permanent. Napkins may be written upon. A sporting event may or may not flicker banally overhead.

The desk of the lobby frames his transit from restaurant to bar, and back to room. He might ponder having a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs splayed around the gargantuan coffee table. Take off his Florsheims. Read a James Patterson novel. This thought is momentary, and fleeting, and inherent to the design of the hotel lobby.


Banal Series # 13 Movie Theater Food

The moviegoer, having recently purchased tickets for a film of what might qualify as banal, or at least semi banal, is now faced with the very real and very tangible crisis of movie theater food. The dizzying carpet in tessellated patterns evocative of a casino, or a black light poster purchased from a novelty store, is mashed in mosaics and decoupage of popcorn and gummy treats. The proximity surrounding the snack and food area is fouled with a sickly sweet miasma: butter, and sugar, and nitrates, and sloth. An arcade in an enclave to the left of the snack area burbles and thuds as games utter promises to possible users. These phenomena impact the moviegoer at subconscious and unconscious levels. He is aware, yet unaware that he is aware. The entirety of this state of affairs registers, somewhere deep within.

He’ll just get in line here, behind two families, and a teenage couple embarking upon a fairly recent relationship. The glass case aglow in fluorescent awe displays candies. Candies in rectangular boxes which; to the naked and untrained eye give the appearance of actually more candy. The moviegoer is untrained, and he seems to be eyeing that box of Swedish Fish. Two trapezoidal aquariums behind the counter, to the right of the register churn and bubble ominous red and orange liquids. A great vat of popcorn, spewing in a yellow mountain inside a glass box showcases the food area. This is the benchmark of moviegoer food. The familiar sound of dulled popping emanates from a metallic disc at the top of the case, as kernels burst into white puffs and fall onto the pile. A yellow light warms the display.

Signage on the back wall tells of prices. Prices that should, in a less monopolistic setting, be competed and haggled out of existence. But not here. The moviegoer will have a mammoth tub of popcorn, with extra butter, please. Of course, he will also need an extra large beverage to wash it down. And the Swedish Fish. How about some Ju Ju Bees? He hasn’t seen those in a while. He places his order. He watches as a teenage worker fills his glorious tub with scoops of yellowed puffs. Another sputters some of the red fluid into a large plastic cup. One box of Swedish Fish and Ju Ju Bees each are placed on the glass counter with a faint rattle. The total: $26.47, with tax. The moviegoer does not question this, and numbly hands the cashier his debit card.

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