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The Non-Expert

Smoke and Mirrors

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. In this week’s installment we explain why the objects in passenger-side mirrors are closer than they appear: It could be something you ate.

Have a question? Need some questionably expert advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Why are objects in the mirror closer than they appear? What’s the point?

Answer: You sound as if you are in the midst of an existential crisis, and also as if you’re interested in mirrors. Let’s first concentrate on the mirrors. Was that a green bear?

Notice that the warning only appears upon the passenger-side mirror. That’s because it is a different kind of mirror than the driver-side one. The mirror nearest the driver is a “normal mirror” (yes, that is the proper term) with a flat surface, and so objects perceived within its frame appear just as they would to the naked eye. On the other side of the car, because of the distance from the driver, a flat mirror would not capture a wide enough angle of vision to be of any use, so some genius came up with the idea of using a convex mirror, which helps diminish the objects it reflects and allows a farther-reaching range of vision. Read: diminished objects, which, in the mirror, do not appear as close as they actually are in “real life” (if one can make such a distinction). Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Got it?

If only such words of caution were included in all aspects of life, for that flying Chevy Tahoe in the mirror isn’t the only thing closer than it appears (you might be wondering how it could hover any closer). In many cases, proximity is mere illusion. Take my right hand, for instance: As I wave it around in front of my face, creating the loveliest, shapeliest trails I’ve ever seen, it appears as though my arm is a magnificent coastal Redwood extending upward toward eternal blue heaven and for a brief moment I think to myself I shouldn’t have taken those microdots before coming into the office.

As to you’re other question—”What’s the point?”—I sort of have to agree with you. What IS the point if all we’re going to do is bite it in the end? In fact, let’s talk about death. Death, like so many cartoon Volkswagen Jettas in the passenger-side mirror, is always closer than it seems. No one is really thinking too much about death (except me, 24 hours a day). Along with taxes and probably HPV, it is one of life’s only certainties. Yet we ignore its presence willingly, almost idiotically. Then, all of a sudden, we’re dead. Hit by a flying dump truck, eaten by a green polar bear, or, God forbid, trampled by shrieking 14-year-old girls at a Gwen Stefani concert during the “Banana” song. So many options, and the fun thing about it—at least, the part I enjoy the most—is that, like the peak of a great hallucinogenic experience, you never quite know when death is going to occur. I know I’m not the first to suggest it, and that too often it’s a simpleton’s way of justifying living a reckless lifestyle, but it’s kind of true if you wanna split hairs about it. Ever wanted to punch a hole through your boss’s abdomen? Belly up to the bar, my friend. Now’s the time. I just took three of something called “Black Pyramid.”

If only such words of caution were included in all aspects of life, for that flying Chevy Tahoe in the mirror isn’t the only thing closer than it appears (you might be wondering how it could hover any closer). Once, I went with my family to a carnival in Swaziland. Except it wasn’t my family; it was Bob Vila and a bunch of cheerleaders who, for the purposes of this particular outing, were serving as surrogate family members. My sister’s name was Jamila, and she inflected everything she said as though it were a question. She would introduce herself to the mulleted carnies: “Hi? I’m Jamila?”

I remember the house of mirrors, in particular. You asked me about mirrors, so I’m telling you this story, OK? The house of mirrors cost four green tickets. It scared me at first, because it didn’t resemble a house so much as the southernmost terminal at the Long Beach Airport. The terminal was covered in mirrors. I remember “closer,” “farther,” “realer,” “greener,” and other such ephemeral perceptions ceasing to exist for a brief moment. There were only neutral feelings in my soul just then. There were only mirrors shaped like airplanes, and it was pretty badass.

You would like to judge me for that wouldn’t you? For temporarily eschewing reality with Bob Vila in Swaziland? Is it because you are jealous? What have you done in this lifetime? Take a good long look in the mirror (the normal kind) and really, really ask yourself. Because I’ll tell you, when you’re completely, nakedly honest about it and only stick to the stuff that really matters: You, like 99 percent of the human race, will be forced to answer, “nothing.” Even a celebrated mortal like Jonas Salk—who curbed disease and married a beautiful Canadian bear—even he, on his death bed in 1932, even HE couldn’t say he really lived. So some people don’t get polio and die of something else later? Whoopity-doo. So he wed the bear in the chartreuse magical forest? Snooze. I’m sorry, but unless you are doing something to truly reach people on a spiritual level, like playing bass in the Grateful Dead, you’re just another ember slowly fading in the fire of human existence. (Fuck, that’s good.)

What I’m saying is you need to strive. Strive for the great nirvana you are capable of attaining. You will get it if you try. Start with the man in the mirror. Touch him. He is right there with you.


Another bear.