Monday, March 19, 2007

The Jurassic Butterfly Effect

Technically, the butterfly effect describes an outcome or process that is highly sensitive to initial conditions.

Metaphorically, it's been sold as a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia and causing a tornado here in the United States.

(Actually, there's also a pretty decent movie titled The Butterfly Effect, starring that mimbo Ashton Kutcher.)

The Jurassic Butterfly Effect is when one of your older relatives or friends does one little stupid or idiosyncratic thing that spirals into a much larger drama or crisis.

Take this weekend for example. I have been trying for years to persuade my parents to do numerous life-enhancing, labor-saving things: get an electronic transponder to pay auto tolls, get broadband internet (that took years), actually turn their cell phones on, get caller ID, get call-waiting,...

For a while now, I have been trying to get my parents to ante up the $9 per month for a DVR. They won't even contemplate it because, "The cable bill is already too high". That's it. There's not even a superficial consideration of weighing the tiny cost versus the considerable benefits.

So Friday, the weather forecast couldn't have been clearer. Massachusetts was going to have a lot of snow then it would turn to sleet and ice late at night and continue through the early morning. So twice that night, I went out and shoveled/snowplowed my driveway. Regular snow is easy to manage; icy snow is not.

Meanwhile, my father is sitting at his house watching the NCAA basketball games. Without a DVR, he was disinclined to step away from the TV and make a dent in his snow-filled driveway. The games ended around midnight, so he went to bed.

It just so happens that I had to drive out to my parents' house the next day. So after I spend all of ten minutes pushing the residual icy slush off my driveway, I ventured out to see my folks. As I pull up, I find my father at the end of his very large, unshoveled driveway.

CaptiousNut - Dad, why aren't you using the snowblower?

Dad - It broke.

CaptiousNut - How did it break?

Dad - [incoherent mumbling]

CaptiousNut - HOW DID IT BREAK?

Dad - [more incoherent mumbling]

I looked down, there was at least a foot of snow clear across his driveway; there was an inch of ice on top of it; and of course there were a couple of feet of compacted snow at the edge from the city's street snowplow. The snowblower broke because my father tried to use it on a mound of slushy, compacted, and ice-crusted snow.

My Dad has lived in this horrible state for over sixty years. He knows the drill. You clear the snow when it's light and fluffy - before the wet stuff. Wet snow of that magnitude is a disaster even when it doesn't break a snowblower. It's so heavy that each scoop of the shovel can only handle 6 inches of depth; it's really hard to throw the white stuff; AND the snow annoyingly sticks to the shovel. One has to bang it against a tree or something to release the slush.

So after clearing my own driveway (albeit the night before) and trekking the 50 miles out to my parents' house, I had to spend almost two hours helping my father dig out their extremely large driveway in my sneakers. My fragile back was shot two minutes into the drudgery.

In this case, the butterfly wing-flap is the boneheaded DVR cheapness. Not only would a mere $9 per month have enhanced their television viewing, it would have spared the $700 snowblower, not to mention both my physical and mental health (the real tornado).

My otherwise wonderful parents also have to bear in mind that the next time I am bringing their grandchildren out for a visit, if it snows the night before, I'll probably find some excuse to cancel the trip.

The Jurassic Butterfly Effect is a brilliant societal insight (if I do say so myself). I doubt there's ever been a meeting within my peerage, where the conversation hasn't turned to a narrative starting with, "You wouldn't believe what my Moronic parents did the other day..." Conforming to the theory, one little snowball always sets off an avalanche of inanity. During these sessions, nods of empathy abound; and most definitely someone will succeed in one-upping the story with a yarn of their own.

Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish could also pass as a title befitting this post but I prefer the fossil bashing angle.

My most recent indictment of the jurassic, Marginalizing Reflexive 'Old Coots', was a big driver of web traffic to my site.

I may have found my elusive niche!


Tax Shelter said...

I can't believe you didn't try to hire someone to clear the drive way instead. I bet you could have hired some kid for $40.

CaptiousNut said...

I actually like shoveling snow. It's good exercise and a rare winter opportunity to get out of the house.

My complaint is more about parental pathology.

Don't be so sure about finding kids who want to work. In Central Massachusetts, yes you could find them. But out here in Chestnut Hill, teenagers want $15 an hour (or more) just to babysit. American youth has come a long way from fighting for that one neighborhood paper route.

Don Riley said...

That's hilarious....sounds just like my parents