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The Zen of Long Lines

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Have you ever been really keyed up, in a huge hurry -- to see a movie, get on a plane, buy a Nintendo Wii -- only to find, after you round that last corner, that you're suddenly standing at the back of a huge, snaking line? To stop yourself from screaming or committing ritual Seppuku right there takes an enormous and immediate readjustment of your frame of mind -- you have to get into what I like to call Long Line Zen Mind. After all, I'm the kind of guy who refuses to be stuck in traffic on the freeway; once I crest the hill and see brakelights stretching out in front of me, I dive off the highway at the nearest exit -- even if I'm in the middle of the desert -- convinced that any misadventure I happen upon while forging my own path is preferable to being stuck in the mindless herd.

"In our everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered. "Why do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?" ["Why do I have to wait in this ^%$#ing line?"] In [Long Line Zen Mind], your mind and body have great power to accept [lines] as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable." *

To help us prepare, we meditate on lines longer than any we dare to dream we'll be ensnared in. Here are some of our favorites. Before we get started, though, what's the longest line you've ever waited in?

The Heathrow Airport Customs Screening Line, February, 2007

Line to Get Groceries in Russia, 1991
According to the folks at EnglishRussia, "Just fifteen years ago you couldn't just walk in the shop and buy what you need. Instead, you had to stand the longest line you've ever seen and as a regard you could buy not more than some limited amount of a limited choice food or other products. That was Russia in the beginning of the 90s - right after the collapse of USSR, when old Communistic supply system was already ruined but new, capitalistic, hasn't been built yet."

Turns out Russians were standing in long lines just during the 1917 transition into Communism, as well. Here's a sight: thousands of Russian citizens (all cheerily clad in black) waiting in line to buy bread, being watched over by trigger-happy Imperial Police.21bread.jpg

"Because we enjoy all aspects of life as an unfolding of big [lines], we do not care for any excessive joy. So we have imperturbable composure [in excessively long lines]."

Line to Buy Gas in Iraq
This line is more than three miles long. People literally spend all day getting gas in some parts of Iraq (in 117-degree heat), which must require an absolutely heroic amount of patience.

(Here's a better video of people waiting for gas in Iraq, but embedding was disabled so I couldn't post it.)

"Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of [long lines] anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life."

Line to Get into Japan's First Apple Store, 2003

"When you [wait in a long line], if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for [at least a four-hour wait]."

Line to Get into the Vatican Museum on a Saturday Morning
I like art, too. But not this much:

"For Zen students a [long line] is a treasure."

* Adapted (with slight alterations) from Zen Mind Beginner's Mind

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Paw Enforcement: A History of McGruff the Crime Dog
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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Jack Keil, executive creative director of the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency, was stuck in a Kansas City airport at three in the morning when he started thinking about Smokey Bear. Smokey was the furred face of forest fire prevention, an amiable creature who cautioned against the hazards of unattended campfires or errant cigarette butts. Everyone, it seemed, knew Smokey and heeded his words.

In 1979, Keil’s agency had been tasked with coming up with a campaign for the recently-instituted National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), a nonprofit organization looking to educate the public about crime prevention. If Keil could create a Smokey for their mission, he figured he would have a hit. He considered an elephant who could stamp out crime, or a rabbit who was hopping mad about illegal activity.

A dog seemed to fit. Dogs bit things, and the NCPC was looking to take a bite out of crime. Keil sketched a dog reminiscent of Snoopy with a Keystone Cop-style hat.

Back at the agency, people loved the idea but hated the dog. In a week’s time, the cartoon animal would morph into McGruff, the world-weary detective who has raised awareness about everything from kidnapping to drug abuse. While he no longer looked like Snoopy, he was about to become just as famous.

In 1979, the public service advertising nonprofit the Ad Council held a meeting to discuss American paranoia. Crime was a hot button issue, with sensational reports about drugs, home invasions, and murders taking up the covers of major media outlets like Newsweek and TIME. Surveys reported that citizens were concerned about crime rates and neighborhood safety. Respondents felt helpless to do anything, since more law enforcement meant increased taxes.

To combat public perception, the Ad Council wanted to commit to an advertising campaign that would act as a preventive measure. Crime could not be stopped, but the feeling was that it could be dented with more informed communities. Maybe a clean park would be less inviting to criminals; people might need to be reminded to lock their doors.

What people did not need was a lecture. So the council enlisted Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to organize a campaign that promoted awareness in the most gentle way possible. Keil's colleagues weighed in on his dog idea; someone suggested that the canine be modeled after J. Edgar Hoover, another saw a Superman-esque dog that would fly in to interrupt crime. Sherry Nemmers and Ray Krivascy offered an alternative take: a dog wearing a trench coat and smoking a cigar, modeled in part after Peter Falk’s performance as the rumpled TV detective Columbo.

Keil had designs on getting Falk to voice the animated character, but the actor’s methodical delivery wasn’t suited to 30-second commercials, so Keil did it himself. His scratchy voice lent an authoritarian tone, but wasn't over-the-top.

The agency ran a contest on the back of cereal boxes to name the dog. “Sherlock Bones” was the most common submission, but "McGruff"—which was suggested by a New Orleans police officer—won out.

Armed with a look, a voice, and a name, Nemmers arranged for a series of ads to run in the fall of 1980. In the spots, McGruff was superimposed over scenes of a burglary and children wary of being kidnapped by men in weather-beaten cars. He advised people to call the police if they spotted something suspicious—like strangers taking off with the neighbor’s television or sofa—and to keep their doors locked. He sat at a piano and sang “users are losers” in reference to drug-abusing adolescents. (The cigar had been scrapped.)

Most importantly, the NCPC—which had taken over responsibility for McGruff's message—wanted the ads to have what the industry dubbed “fulfillment.” At the end, McGruff would advise viewers to write to a post office box for a booklet on how to prevent crime in their neck of the woods.

A lot of people did just that. More than 30,000 booklets went out during the first few months the ads aired. McGruff’s laconic presence was beginning to take off.

By 1988, an estimated 99 percent of children ages six to 12 recognized McGruff, putting him in Ronald McDonald territory. He appeared on the ABC series Webster, in parades, and in thousands of personal appearances around the country, typically with a local police officer under the suit. (The appearances were not without danger: Some dogs apparently didn't like McGruff and could get aggressive at the sight of him.)

As McGruff aged into the 1990s, his appearances grew more sporadic. The NCPC began targeting guns and drugs and wasn’t sure the cartoon dog was a good fit, so his appearances were limited to the end of some ad spots. By the 2000s, law enforcement cutbacks meant fewer cops in costume, and a reduced awareness of the crime-fighting canine. When Keil retired, an Iowa cop named Steve Parker took over McGruff's voice duties.

McGruff is still in action today, aiding in the NCPC’s efforts to raise awareness of elder abuse, internet crimes, and identity theft. The organization estimates that more than 4000 McGruffs are in circulation, though at least one of them failed to live up to the mantle. In 2014, a McGruff performer named John Morales pled guilty to possession of more than 1000 marijuana plants and a grenade launcher. He’s serving 16 years in prison.

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Animals
Watch a Panda Caretaker Cuddle With Baby Pandas While Dressed Up Like a Panda
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iStock

Some people wear suits to work—but at one Chinese nature reserve, a handful of lucky employees get to wear panda suits.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the People's Daily released a video in July of animal caretakers cuddling with baby pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The keepers dress in fuzzy black-and-white costumes—a sartorial choice that's equal parts adorable and imperative to the pandas' future success in the wild.

Researchers raise the pandas in captivity with the goal of eventually releasing them into their natural habitat. But according to The Atlantic, human attachment can hamper the pandas' survival chances, plus it can be stressful for the bears to interact with people. To keep the animals calm while acclimating them to forest life, the caretakers disguise their humanness with costumes, and even mask their smell by smearing the suits with panda urine and feces. Meanwhile, other keepers sometimes conceal themselves by dressing up as trees.

Below, you can watch the camouflaged panda caretakers as they cuddle baby pandas:

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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