After two years of back-and-forths my apartment building’s WhatsApp group was christened Us And Them. This may be a linguistically unkind interpretation of the authentic name (Ngii z’ Knist) in the language of the country of my exile. Certain people in my apartment building take issue with insects and spiders. We are again approaching that time of the year. Typically, the dominant threads in the group chat are about the sluggings and stabbings in certain parts of town (far away from where our building is), a police car that may have been seen (from a top apartment on the east side of the building) trundling by in a street in yet another part of town, and the recurring troubles with the car lift, which succeeds in trapping a car and the people in them like a giant mouse trap at least twice a week. But now the focus is on bugs.
A married couple kicked off the exchange, canvassing for the rehire of Jan The Spider Man (“Jan”, spelled “Jiiain”, is a man’s name in the country of my exile). I had so far been unaware of this Jan The Spider Man’s existence. I gathered that his lethal trade had been engaged last year as well. As far as I could make out from the chat, Jan (or Jiiain) sprays; I don’t know where, with what or how many times, but he sprays and the little critters die. Quite some residents signed up at the local currency equivalent of $ 75 per apartment. One apartment texted it was too expensive and that they would deal with it differently; no specifics were provided. But an ecologically woke person objected, arguing (I’m paring down the argument to a simple syllogism; in reality it was so elaborate, it required three separate posts): (i) that insects and spiders are in a place in the food chain that has birds above them; (ii) meaning that birds eat bugs; (iii) ergo, that if bugs die, birds die. (Birds are where the food chain ends in the country of my exile, so it doesn’t get worse than that). The female of the married couple doubled down, claiming she suffers from arachnophobia so bad it prevents her from leaving the apartment if a tiny spider is between her and the front door. She added that Jan The Spider Man uses biobased, biodegradable poison. So would the ecologically concerned person kindly shut the fuck up – a pathology was going on here! Shutting the fuck up was what that person did, more than kindly: it took another two turns in the chat for her to cringingly express her politically correct apologies. Who would want to be noticeable for gainsaying a mentally imbalanced person? For suggesting that the earth’s ecology outranks a crazy person’s pathology?
Although I’m in Us And Them, I never contribute a single message. Nor do I contribute to discussions and decision making in the owner’s association. I’m totally uninvolved with anything going on in the resident’s group, except when the value of my apartment is at stake. Then, eschewing all debate, not saying one word, I blindly use my blocking vote, which I have because I’m in an apartment that is twice the size and four times the market value of the next biggest apartment. To monitor developments relevant to my apartment is the only reason I’m in the chat. Reading the exchange I was amazed at the bared-faced fallacy of the arachnophobic woman’s reasoning, and the other woman’s immediate resignation to it. Would biobased poison accumulating in a bird’s organs be less toxic to the bird than any old-school poison? Does it matter that once a bird has succumbed, the poison inside it will be nicely broken down to environmentally innocuous substances – together with the bird’s carcass? In other words, should not the question have been what “biobased” and “biodegradable” mean in terms of the danger that the poison poses to birds? After all, it does kill the bugs, or that is the promise Jan The Spider Man is holding out.
But of course, I hold my tongue.
The blatant lack of capacity for logical reasoning reminded me of my AVEDA hairdresser, who once pointed out to me that AVEDA products are “90%” organic (botanical), i.e. non-synthetic, therefore harmless to hair and follicles. I tried to explain, first, that a chemical substance can do harm regardless of whether it is organic or botanical or synthetic, second, that toxicity thresholds are not relative but absolute and that if an AVEDA hair masque contained a mere 1 ‰ (one per mille) of something that, in that relatively tiny amount, is harmful to my hair or skin or follicles, then the remaining 999 ‰ of components are entirely irrelevant to the consequences. But this was something I could not get across. I put a pin in it and surrendered to the delicious if unnatural smell of the AVEDA scalp and hair treatment instead, blissfully aware that I could afford the best of permanent wigs if it ever came to that.
Rather than crusading against daftness and stupidity I play WORDLE. I play it with my friend with the loft on Union Square (NYC). We play it with an 8-hour time difference. That is how much I’m ahead in time. The game refreshes daily at midnight. I send proof of having solved the puzzle by WhatsApp – just the grid, not the words – and, mostly shortly after midnight NY time, when I’m preparing for the day, my friend sends the sequence of the words that led her to the solution, following which I send her mine. I’m not content if I need more than three attempts to solve the puzzle. At 99% wins my guess distribution is 1 at (1), 4 at (2), 30 at (3), 35 at (4), 27 at (5), 5 at (6). I tell my friend I’m in competition with myself. I think I’m in fact competing against her, which is silly, because her vocabulary and linguistic skills in English are a hundred times better than mine. But of course, I have command of Nioob Lob, the language of the country of my exile. My friend doesn’t. I will always win on points.