Everyone knows about the six degrees of separation, or at least knows somebody who knows somebody who does.
To put it in its simplest terms — as opposed to the manner of the bubbly graphic above — it’s the theory that you know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody who is lucky enough to know me.
In this small and growing smaller world, only five people stand between us — usually tall ones who block the view.
While the six degrees of separation may be an accepted algorithm, I have found it holds truer in your big cities — your Tinsel Towns, your Windy Cities, your Big Apples — moreso than in places like the one I’m living now, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In Winston-Salem, there is only one degree of separation, if even that. More often it seems, there is no degree of separation.
Then again, as you’ll recall, I recently moved into the house where my parents lived when I was born. In doing so — returning to my birthplace after 40-some moves and 57 years of separation — quite possibly I altered the algorithms of my six degrees of separation beyond repair.
In any case, in Winston-Salem, everytime I go out I run into either somebody who knows me (and I only know about three people here, having moved away at age 1), or someone who knows my mother.
That translates into a degree of separation of zero, or one, at the very most two. Take my recently moved-in neighbor here in College Village. Her grandfather lives in the same retirement community as my mother. That same neighbor and the neighbor on my other side went to high school together, then ended up, after attending different colleges, two doors away from each other. The neighbor on my other side has a brother who used to date my neighbor four doors down.
A lot of great brains have wrapped themselves around the six degrees of separation, including actor Kevin Bacon, who some people think invented it. All he did though was come up with a game version, which he has since refocused on philanthropic purposes.
In actuality, the six degrees concept is even older than him.
Mathematicians, sociologists, and physicists alike have long been captivated with the field of “network theory,” which, contrary to what you might think, existed even before Facebook. In 1929, Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy published a volume of short stories titled Everything is Different, which included a story called “Chain-Links.” The story investigated and elaborated on his belief that the modern world was shrinking due to the increasing connectedness of human beings.
Since his time that connectivity has increased exponentially. With the advent of telephones, and advances in transportation, the world got smaller yet. And when the Internet came along, the world shrank, shrunk, shrinked a little more, as did correct use of grammar.
Indeed, thanks to the Internet, Facebook and the like, the world has become so small that I sometimes get claustrophobic. There’s a study that shows the degree of separation between two users of social networks such as Twitter averages 3.43, under an optimal algorithm.
Of course, that is why we are signing on to Facebook, and Twitter, and Linked In, and Genealogy.com and Match.com — to connect.
We humans — like dogs, who do it mostly by peeing — have an insatiable urge to connect. Whether it’s with old friends, dead relatives, new friends, potential business associates or hotties of the opposite sex, we want, and maybe we need, the linkage.
My personal belief is that — with all those websites that link us, at least superficially — we will all become so connected that something is going to short out. Either that, or we will all bore each other to death with details of last night’s dinner and how it was prepared.
What we often fail to realize, amid our quest for connections is that, when it comes to degrees of separation, sometimes more of them is better. Sometimes, having a hermit side to me, I get in a mood where six is not enough, where I would like twelve or fourteen of them instead.
If you’ve been following Travels With Ace, and our dispatches on resettling in North Carolina, you know that, while I’ve somewhat sequestered myself, I’ve also grown interested in reconnecting with my past, and exploring my family tree — both my father’s side and my mother’s.
Zonja Woestendiek is, or was, a German model who was also featured in a series of commercials for Volkswagen called, “Unpimp My Ride.”
Believe it or not, I once owned a Volkswagen — not a beetle, which makes the world seem even smaller, but a van with a pop-up roof, which makes the world seem larger, unless you are driving behind one.
Between exploring family trees and researching degrees of separation, I’ve been marveling at all the small world coincidences I’ve come across, especially in the past week since getting two teeth pulled.
They lived next door to each other, separated only by plaque in what, according to my dentist, was a deteriorating neighborhood.
The pain pills prescribed by the dentist, while blurring some things, have allowed me to focus clearly on others, like the six degrees of separation, and Zonja.
In researching the six degrees of separation, I came across something interesting — something I’m sure I have some connection with as well, given the similarity in names and other eery coincidences.
There is a Flemish television production company named Woestijnvis, that produces a show called “Man Bijt Hon,” or, in English, “Man Bites Dog.”
(My last name is Woestendiek, and, though I’m not biting much of anything these days, I do a dog website.)
The production company gots its name from a wrong answer provided by a contestant on the Flemish version of Wheel of Fortune, called Rad van Fortuin.
(I used to watch Wheel of Fortune all the time, and was very good at it.)
In the game, the following letters were showing: W _ _ S T _ _ N V _ S.
The correct answer would have been “WOESTIJNVOS,” or desert fox. But the contestant answered “WOESTIJNVIS,” or desert fish — humorous, to the Flemish at least, insofar as one rarely finds fish in the desert, or for that matter in dessert.
Anyway — stay with me now — on the show “Man Bijt Hond” there’s a weekly feature called Dossier Costers, in which a recent event of worldwide significance is linked to Gustaaf Costers, an ordinary Flemish citizen, in 6 steps.
I was able to find this episode on YouTube. It’s in a different language but — either because of my European roots or my Vicodin — it made perfect zippety-do-dah sense to me.
Let’s see if it does to you.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: algorithm, associates, chain links, claustrophobia, coincidences, connect, connecting, connections, connectivity, conspiracies, degrees of separation, dossier costers, facebook, family, family trees, flemish, friends, frigyes karinthy, gustaaf costers, internet, kevin bacon, linked, linked in, links, man bijt hon, man bites dog, networks, north carolina, ohmidog!, pain pills, past, peeing, rad van fortuin, relatives, shrinking, six degrees of separation, small world, social, social networks, twitter, unpimp my ride, vicodin, volkswagen, wheel of fortune, winston-salem, woestendiek, woestijnvis, woestijnvos, zonja woestendiek
A rolling stone gathers no moss. We’re not rolling stones anymore.
During our year of travel, Ace I and I gathered few things that we did not immediately consume – simply because, living out of a Jeep Liberty, the bulk of it being occupied by a big dog, there was no space for them (though we did get that cowboy hat).
Once we came to a stop – for now, at least, settling into the home I was born in 57 years ago – we have again fallen under the tyranny of stuff.
For nine months, free of stuff’s burden, we bounced around the country, going to a new town every day or two, and during that time accumulated virtually nothing except friends and stories. After that, during our month-long stops – dwelling in a trailer park in the Arizona desert, an unfurnished house in Baltimore and the basement of a mansion in North Carolina – we slowly started to get new things. Now that we plan to stay put, for six months or more, in Winston Salem – and have hauled the contents of my storage unit down south – we are inundated.
But there’s something else I’ve come to realize, sifting through my personal effects, about stuff: Inanimate as it may be, it has a life of its own, and it often goes on a journey of its own, down a path different than ours. That’s how I end up with your stuff, and you end up with my stuff.
I’m amazed at how much of “my stuff” wasn’t originally my stuff, at how perhaps even the majority of my belongings – furniture in particular – was handed down, recycled, procured through Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, or rescued from Dumpsters into which, in my view, it had been disposed of prematurely.
Our stuff, like people, like dogs, comes and goes from our lives. It moves on to the homes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers, via Goodwill, eBay or Craigslist (a good place to get stuff, just not dogs). It ends up, or so I like to think, where it’s most needed.
I told you last week about my mother’s desk, which became a home furnishing about the same time I did. It was in this house when I was born. I grew up with it in New York and, later, Texas. After my parents’ divorce, my mother kept it until she moved into a retirement community, and I hauled it up to Baltimore. Now, it has circled back to the first home it was ever in.
In my new place, the bed and coffee table I’m using are my cousin’s; the book I’m reading belongs to a Baltimore friend; the dining table I eat on was purchased, via Craigslist, from a local couple who started life together with it, but couldn’t take the fact that it only had three, not four, matching chairs. My clothes are in a dresser that I think once belonged to my father’s parents.
But most of my furniture — not counting that which came from Ikea or WalMart — came from my mother.
She revisited it all last week, coming over for dinner. My sofa, loveseat actually (though rarely used for that purpose, if you don’t count Ace), is one of two matching ones she had. When she moved into a retirement community, she only had room for one. The other went with me to Baltimore, but now sits in my new place, less than a mile away from its mate. In my place, too, are, among her former possessions, some marble egg-shaped bookends, a wingback chair and an old rocking chair she made a point of trying out one more time.
There’s also a large amount of stuff from my ex-girlfriend/still goodfriend, including five of her artworks, now prominently displayed. During my travels she kept some of my stuff. In my recent move, I got some of it back, left some with her, and took a few things she was looking to get rid of, including two bedside tables, some decorative pillows and this tray-like accessory that really pops, which I further like because the blue part reminds me of Ace’s tail.
I reclaimed my blender, for instance, but she kept my grill, my fire pit and, though I could never understand why she wanted it, a sad looking little platform I once built out of three pieces of plywood to make my computer monitor sit higher.
A few weeks ago, it became, with some slight modifications, a hutch for a group of new born bunnies found in her neighborhood.
Our stuff passes from parent to child, from brother to sister, from neighbor to neighbor, from friend to friend, and sometimes even makes it way from home office to animal kingdom.
About three months ago, I gave my friend Arnie in Baltimore my old, then in storage, bookcases. Just last week I sent him the hardware needed to put them together, found in the very last box I unpacked. The couple that moved into the Baltimore rowhouse I rented now has my entertainment center — solely because it was too darned heavy to move.
I guess we all go through life simultaneously shedding and gathering. I turn to Goodwill for both. It has lots of my stuff, and I have lots of their’s, because sometimes we part with stuff that, shortly thereafter, we find ourselves needing again. While staying for a month in an unfurnished rowhouse in Baltimore, I bought this lamp. If I sell it again, it will have to be for five dollars, because the price drawn on its silver base with black marker, I’ve found, is impossible to remove.
During my mother’s visit last week — and we’ll give you the full “reveal” of my new place next week – she also recognized a footstool that once belonged to her. It’s the only item that did not really fit in with my new color scheme — color schemes, though the phrase sounds nefarious, being another thing, like accessories that pop, I learned the importance of during my unfortunate addiction to HGTV.
My mother had re-covered the footstool decades ago with a shiny striped fabric of mauve and blue, so it would match a chair she had re-covered in the same material.
She agreed that, given my color scheme, I should re-cover it again.
“What’s underneath this cover?” I asked. She had no idea.
Removing a few tacks, I pulled it off to reveal the original cushion cover — a handmade needlepoint by her aunt “Tan,” whose grave we had visited and put flowers on the day before Easter.
At the time, not remembering her that well, I attempted to learn more about Tan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall. There’s a school named after her in Winston-Salem, but I could find little information about her on the Internet, as she died in 1983. Leaving a potted delphinium on her grave, I regretted that — even supplied some memories by my brother and my mother — I could reconnect with her only superficially.
It was a little eerie — her handiwork turning up in my house a week after I visited her grave. But it added a little more heritage to my new place, a link (real, not the Internet kind) to another family member, not to mention, though I’m no expert on it, what appears to be some damn good needlepoint.
And, in an added touch of serendipity, it matches my color scheme.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accessories, accumulate, accumulating, ace, animals, aunt, belongings, bookcases, color schemes, connections, craigslist, desk, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, dumpsters, family, footstool, furnishings, furniture, gathering, goodwill, hand me downs, home, junk, kathleen hall, life, loveseat, moss, moving, needlepoint, north carolina, path, pets, possessions, relatives, road trip, rocking chair, rolling stones, roots, serendipity, stuff, thrift stores, travels with ace
For all those who fret obsessively about dogs leaving environmentally damaging messes behind — not that it’s not a valid concern — here’s a story of a dog who’s helping clean up the messes we leave behind.
Sable, a discarded German shepherd mix adopted from an animal shelter, has been trained to sniff out illegal sewer connections, which dump billions of gallons of bacteria-filled water into rivers, lakes and streams each year, leading to closed beaches, contaminating fisheries and costing millions to clean up.
Scott Reynolds adopted Sable with the idea of training him to sniff out illegal sewer connections. Now, after a year of work in Michigan’s Kawkawlin River, Sable has earned enough praise to be top dog at Environmental Canine Services, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“In the mornings, he runs to the back room and looks to the hook where his harness is, as if to say, ‘Do we get to do this today?’ ” Reynolds said. “He loves to work.”
Sable is scheduled to do his thing next in Santa Barbara, California, then head to Maine next spring to help track pollution that has closed shellfish beds along the coast.
Sable sniffs water in drains and pipes — often buried in deep woods or under fallen trees — to detect illegal sewer connections. He barks when he smells raw sewage.
Sable also has his own website, sablethesniffer.com.
Sable has an 87% accuracy rate measured against lab results, Reynolds says.
Normally, municipalities send human employees to detect illegal sewer connections — a bit of a guessing game, and a process that requires lab tests that can take weeks.
The dog was turned over by owners who mistreated him, said Autumn Russell of Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary, near Grand Rapids. “No one had any idea of his potential,” she said.
Reynolds, who has trained other rescued dogs for search and rescue and narcotics detection, spent more than a year training Sable to sniff out waste, ammonia and detergents that signal illegal connections.
(Photo: By Robert Domm, courtesy of Environmental Canine Services)
Posted by jwoestendiek September 24th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: bacteria, connections, contamination, detection, dog, environment, environmental, environmental canine services, hookups, illegal, michigan, sable, scott reynolds, sewage, sewer, sniff, sniffer, sniffing