I’ve been noticing lately an enormous spike in the frequency of occurrence of the word ‘random’. In news articles, on television. Politically--- it is becoming a catch-all, an excuse-word—a generic non-response when the speaker chooses not to incriminate himself with details. ‘Some random restaurant’ he had lunch in…’some random man on the street’ he’d canvassed. And of course, in an election year, we are given more than our daily fill of ‘random’ polls and surveys, implying a non-effort to non-target any one group or strata. Which also implies that each sampled opinion has an absolutely equal opportunity to be solicited. Like lotto numbers; although anyone who has studied gambling odds is well aware that all numbers, however random, are not exactly created equally on the board of chance. In fact, a recent UK survey shows the number ‘38’ appears in the National Lottery with nearly 50% greater frequency than the number 20. Figure that one out.
But most of all, in daily, colloquial conversation, random seems maybe to be replacing the obsolescing word ‘dude’. My son uses it on the cellphone when I attempt to ascertain his whereabouts. He is in some random store, or on some random street-corner. When I ask him who he is taking to 'some' party, the quick response is some random girl, on either side of which is the implied ‘none of your f—ing business’.
A man shoving his way onto a rush-hour 4 train today asked one of the people crammed halfway into the doorway to get his random-ass on the f---ing train. Ah, I thought. This man is acquainted with my son.
And it’s not as though this is a new concept. Many cab-drivers in New York City seem to select the random route between two points. The IRS apparently uses random selection rather than probability to verify our tax returns. Apparently to the detriment of us poor tax-paying slobs because we pay the salaries of the IRS auditors who do not always come up with money which justifies their efforts. But according to the papers today, a rather conspicuous and successful restaurateur had failed to pay a massive tax bill and was randomly ignored until another government employee was paid with additional tax money to investigate this rather huge and blatant evasion. And ironically, while pocketing his payroll and sales taxes, along with under-reported profits he was also pocketing generous small-business post-9/11 grants which were being given out a bit too randomly.
In several recent mass-murder scenarios, the gunmen shot at apparently random victims whose families now find themselves overwhelmed with the horrific, tragic and unspeakably random sentence of grief for the holidays.
Regarding our upcoming elections, one wonders whether the same polled random selection of the population will actually vote, and whether they will vote deliberately and with intelligence or will be unaquainted with many candidates because they were busy watching reruns of ‘Tila Tequila—A Shot at Love’ and will merely hit random levers in the booth because one or two names sound familiar.
At random moments during the day, I find myself terrified by the prospect of not only random errors in the electoral process which will irreversibly affect the course of history, but also random incidents which might catastrophically affect our world. Hurricane Katrina destroyed my friend’s home in New Orleans, while on either side, the houses seemed miraculously or randomly undamaged. One begins to wonder.
And mathematically, we are told that patterns that seem random because they are more complex than the average brain can comprehend, are actually pseudorandom.
I love this word and can imagine it becoming the new ‘rad’ which I secretly suspect is some abbreviated form of random.
In fact, as I see it, the epidemic of apathy and entitlement in America has created a new culture which, rather than seeking responsibility for such phenomena as weather or poverty or cancer, is now putting them into the rather innocent white dress of random.
Could it be a conspiracy? I just opened a book I was sent to review and noted ironically it was published by Random House. Is that why I found it insipid and not worth reading? Will I awaken and find New York City has been renamed City of Random? Sounds more credible than Duane Reade. Less ‘calculated’.
So as I see it, random is the new whiteface, the new cover-up for calculated and intentionally premeditated, pseudorandom acts for which no one wants to take responsibility in this new society of the Entitled-but-all-too-often-Clueless. Perhaps George Bush should have had his boys out looking for Weapons of Random Destruction in Iran. Maybe we should amend our prayer-books to ask God’s protection from not just the evil and unfortunate, but random acts of the universe.
And before long, expect the next person who serves you your Big Mac or Starbucks venti to be wearing a nametag that says ‘Random’. Totally.