Friday, December 23, 2005

#194 Merry Chri$tma$

The worst aspect of the cyber-Christmas is christmaspam. The ancient Yule celebration from the Nordic lands that predates even the birth of Christ featured, among other things, like mistletoe and holly and the Solstice Evergreen (doesn’t sound as catchy as Christmas tree does it?) the butchering of a pig to sacrifice to the Norse goddess Freya. Yule be happy to know, that our modern version of the feast of Christmas ham has degenerated into the glut of Christmas spam.
People used to think the end of the catalogue business was here when the internet was created. No more bound books o’treats. The Christmas Wishbook was as yesterday as Michael Jackson’s nose. But merchants found out something interesting. Cyber didn’t mean less, it meant more. Think about it. If you’re shopping for something online you don’t just settle for a brief description of the object of your desire. No, you want a freakin book’s worth of info. Not only that, you want consumer ratings as well. And who in their right mind isn’t going to print out some part of the transaction from their home computer as physical proof. And what business that has retail outlets is not going to see the economy of using all those expensive pictures they took of their offerings and print them up in a catalogue format anyhow. So now, instead of one catalogue, you have a catalogue in your hand, a catalogue online, and reams of personal paper you’ve printed out to verify your transaction. Didn’t someone say simpler? And also now you’ve got, yep, double the junkmail next year—or triple if you bought from the same company online that you did at a retail outlet and you happened to have a minor variation in your name or address. The computer that spits out junkmail doesn’t distinguish between John Public and John Q. Public or even J. Quotidian Public. So if your clerk at the retail store typed in a different shorthand of your name the direct mail computer is going to assume there’s more that one willing buyer at your address. Which is why our family now gets four REI catalogues each year and my wife and daughter get Macy Catalogues up the ying-yang.
And, oh yeah, god forbid that you ever divorce and remarry. Cause you’ll keep getting junkmail in the name of your ex-spouse for the excruciating eternity it felt like you were married to her. And with all the computer cross-referencing of mailing lists you’ll likely get mail for her new spouse as well, and each of you will get catalogues based on whatever your newest lifestyle, cookie company or sport trend may be. I wonder if there’s some mailing list database program that kind of swaps address and zip code info-packets and does a recombinant DNA thing to mail out catalogues to new and unwary recipients in the commercial gene pool.
America, ya gotta love it.

#195 Light Touch

Xmas lights sure have changed since my day. The 1 to 2 inch bulb is still around but there’s a whole lot of other choices out there. Like one season mini-lites, so cheap and so unreliable, that in the act of taking them down you almost ensure they won’t work next year. Why is that by the way? You can take down a perfectly good set of lights, and no matter how carefully you pack them, come next Christmas there’ll be at least three strings where half the lights don’t work. And it’s never a whole string either, something you can say, oh well, 2.99, chuck it. No, half the string burns so beautifully that you can’t bear to toss it, so you spend the next half hour meticulously checking each bulb and going over the wire for that staple cut you know must be shorting the system. You even do your annual practical eyesight exam, not to mention dexterity test, as you fish out the tiny fuses from the plug end and replace them with the spares you so conscientiously saved last year.
And then there are the light ropes. And the bush lights, those bejeweled beauties that sparkle in the night like jewels on your daytime drab shrubbery. And, of course, who can forget curtain lights or icicle lights, all the rage a few years back and still a staple of gutter adornment everywhere. Every year a new fad seems to take hold in Christmas outdoor décor and curtain lights were a biggie in their time. The choices remain the same: All white, or all one color, or, my personal favorite, multi-colored. I’ve never been an all one color sort of guy. I’ve known those who would put nothing but blue ornaments on a tree and nothing but white lights. I don’t know. Christmas just doesn’t seem like an anal-retentive time of year to me. Yule logs and nativity animals and sloppy eggnog and fudge. Christmas is a time of merriment and abandon.
But there are those whose perfectly regimented white or single colored big bulb lights fixed precisely on their rooftops in straight and stiff attention seem to say order, order above all else. Peace on earth good will to men, okay, but everyone needs to get in line and take a number.
And then there’s the newest Christmas outdoor decoration fad. The inflatables. Big blowup Santas and Rudolphs and Snowmen in a globe. All thanks to little air compressors running all night long. I wish I could say silently. There’s nothing like going out for a neighborhood stroll, looking at the beautiful lights, and humming Xmas carols to the accompaniment of dozens of tiny humming motors.
So far, the gimmick manufacturers have offered up only generic Christmas symbols a la Frosty and Santa. But mark my words, nativity scenes are right around the puffy corner. There’s be a full blowup stable, sheep, and goats and, inflatable science being an imperfect art, there’ll be an odd-looking bloated Joseph, and Mary, looking unfortunately like a bachelors party companion. And, of course, in the true spirit of the season, an inflatable baby Jesus. Batteries not included, Holy Ghost sold separately.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

#198 Give-ting

The holidays are here, even the “Christmas only” advocates would have to grant that, and with them the challenge of what to get whom. Assuming that you actually give a gift or two this time of year the conundrum is always what have you given last year, what should you give them this year, how old is too old to relegate kids gifts to their own families, and what are actually the obligations of uncles and in-laws and other satellite relatives?
I’ve always been of the notion that immediate family takes precedence, but as I developed my own immediate family, then my former immediate family of parents and siblings was not as immediate, but still within a few moments. One of my brothers started to up the ante each year as he seemed to desire a war of affluence. For a while, I tried to keep up with his jonesing but then I got smart.
So I tried a few gift ideas you might find useful. My most favorite is food. Food of any sort—although mine is homemade fudge—is a great alternative. I fill out my fudge package with locally specialty-roasted coffee, jerky from a local butchery and smoked cheese from another local smokehouse. All these items are unobtainable anywhere else and they are good besides. Unique and tasty, how can you go wrong? You kept dollars away from the evil big-box stores and you got your family something un-exchangeable. And the biggest bonus of all, you can get them exactly the same thing next year because they won’t have any left. This one technique has made all my relatives happy and given me one more X on my Xmas list, right next to each of their names. And, truth be told, I think they appreciate me not trying to match their décor with some odd home item or add to their small and ultimately unused appliance clutter.
Another technique, should you have a more evil sense of holiday humor, is to take a box, fill it with packing peanuts, and then add some broken glass and nylon line. After Christmas, give that relative a call and ask how he or she liked the wind chimes you sent him or her. Chances are good you’ll get a “Oh they were so beautiful” response, as at that point it will finally dawn on them what you supposedly sent them. They will be for the most part tongue-tied; partly because of the revelation, but partly because they will be remembering and regretting all the nasty things they said about “crazy” you on Christmas morning when they opened the gift.
But my most favorite gift of all to send, especially to those relatives who never acknowledge any gifts you send, is a lovely box of thank-you cards. Again, a perfect gift because it’s something they can put to immediate use—and something they’ll need next year.
America, ya gotta love it.

#184 Marshrooms 2

“What is a marsh mallow anyhow?” I jested, and then said, “A question, like all great mysteries, for another day. Like where did we get the name fudge?”
I thought I was just making light of a made-up name. As if there was ever a mallow in a marsh to pick. I knew of course, that there was a mallow plant. I have one in my back yard that pokes its perennial head up each spring. So I go to the etymological dictionary after writing my last essay and, amazement upon amazement, there is a real botanical origin for the marshmallow. Back in the old days, they used to go into the salt marshes and harvest a plant called the marsh mallow—I kid you not—and from the root of that plant make a paste which yielded a sticky confection that they called marshmallow. At some point the whole process went through a Velveeta versus Cheddar transmogrification and the current corn syrup, sugar, gelatin thing we use now was born. Still, they list no reason why we don’t say marshmallow and instead say marshmellow.
On to fudge: My trusty etymological dictionary defines fudge “as an alteration of the Middle English “fadge.” Which means to make suit or fit. The traditional story traces fudge in this sense from a certain Captain Fudge who always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies. It seems there was a late 17th century Captain Fudge called Lying Fudge and perhaps his name influenced the form of fadge in the sense of ‘to contrive without necessary materials.’” No word as to whether he worked for Willy Wonka.
I assume that means that the confection I now labor carefully to make every holiday season in a precisely controlled manner from a specific list of ingredients originated from something someone threw together randomly once cause they didn’t have the right stuff handy.
Jerry-rigged candy as it were. How paradoxical. Because I know through countless attempt to make minute alterations to the variables that there is no carelessness allowed in the making of good fudge.
Words will turn on you like that. Like the other day I was driving by a Burger King. Their signboard out front was advertising the new “Swiss and Shroom” sandwich. I accepted the description for a split second before I came to a screeching stop. Wait a minute. Since when did “shroom” enter the common vocabulary as a name for every mushroom and since when did the name enter polite, non-drug culture conversation at all? Burger King touting “shrooms” for gosh sake. What’s next, the Taco Bell peyote chipotle burrito?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

#183 Marshrooms

The Holidays are upon us and with them the inevitable parade of dishes that only seem to appear, like magic, this time of year. Think about it. Do you really eat “stuffing” any other time of year? Without fail? Oh sure, sometime around spring you might stuff a Cornish game hen, but really, any regular time? No. Ah, Cornish game hens, the fun-size turkey. They’re really just the veal of the chicken world you know.
Or how about that Jello marshmallow berry thing everyone seems to trot out for the holiday table. Festive to be sure, and piquant and delicious. Seems like it would be perfectly appropriate for a Fourth of July picnic. Or how about candied yams or sweet potatoes? Don’t see those anywhere from January to October. The more I reflect on it, the more I see a bit of a pattern. Cause this is the time of year I also make million-dollar fudge. And what is a prime ingredient in every batch of fudge I make? About thirty full-size marshmallows. Ah hah! Now I see it. The reason we only have these dishes this time of year is because this is the time marshmallows are in season.
Try as they will, the powers that be in the food marketing world can’t get us to really use marshmallows until November and December. I know, I know, Rice Krispie treats are a year round delicacy. So chewy the only snap, crackle, and pop I hear is my jaw. So, too, one could say, is stovetop stuffing a year-round offering, but come on, that’s pretty much like lighting a firecracker in February. It’s not a sustainable economic trend. It’s kind of like tax cuts for the rich. Oh, at first it’s nice being able to buy a companion purebred shitzu for little FiFi, but after that it’s just one more wad to sit uselessly in the bank. Give that same 5,000 bucks to a homeless guy, he can afford a whole new cardboard mansion complete with a year’s supply of muscatel.
So anyhow, you don’t see a huge surge in the marshmallow market until the last part of November. Is that when, seriously, in ancient times, peasants ventured into the marsh to harvest mallows, like, perhaps, their look-alike culinary cousins, mushrooms? Because what is a marsh mallow anyhow? And why, oh why, did we think up that name to describe these elastic airy sugar bubbles?
A question, like all great mysteries, for another day. Like where did we get the name fudge? Or, in a what came first, the egg or the Cornish game hen sort of way, why it is that the only way to make pumpkin pie taste like pumpkin pie is to use pumpkin pie spice. To everything a season.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

#193 Signs of the Season 2

As the 20th Century progressed, it seems that everybody and their brother-in-law got on the “complain about the symbols of Christmas” bandwagon. The PC pagans wanted fewer Christian symbols in the schools, and the Christian Coalition wanted more. Santa Claus was tugged back and forth between the camps like a shotgun at a swap meet. One year he was Old Saint Nick, one year he was Old Man Winter. Cries of “can’t we all just get along” fell on intolerant ears like torture-induced confessions on the ears of the Inquisition. This, our most caring season, a time of family and community and gift-sharing, was being torn apart by the factions of fundamentalism and the fundamentals of factionalism.
Occasionally, a smart Jew would stand up and sing a funny Chanukah song, but even that holiday—or eight holidays—would be confusing, as from calendar to calendar Hanukkah started with either an “H” or a “Ch.”
A long time ago, it was the early seventies I think, I started saying Happy Holidays to everyone. Seasons Greetings sounded a little too archaic, like cards my Grandma had from the twenties. Plus, it was more inclusive. As I worked in retail then, and had no idea whether the customer I was waiting on was Jewish, Hindu, or Christian, it simply made good business sense to offend as few people as possible and yet include as many people as possible in the season’s spirits.
Of course, nowadays that’s not good enough for some Christians. Anything less than a full-on merry Christmas is thought to be a betrayal to the faith. After all, they say, it’s Christmas that’s the day we get off. True, Christmas is the national holiday. Jews don’t get to take off Hanukkah. Hindus don’t get Krishna day. Do they call that Krish-nas? No one gets to stay home on Kwanzaa. And most importantly, all the other faiths don’t have an after-Christmas sale.
But, I still say Happy Holidays. For one reason, like I said, because it’s more inclusive. Why not reach out to as many people as possible. Isn’t the spirit of goodwill what this season is all about? Lord knows this planet has too little compassion as it is. But secondly, because it’s an incredibly economical greeting. I don’t have to write out eight different holidays on my cards. I don’t have to worry who is what. I don’t have to say all the holidays to each and every person, and Thanksgiving and New Years are included in the whole holiday thing so I can start the season early and end it late. Which makes my festive season even longer than that whole month of Ramadan thing. And no fasting.
So even though, considering its pagan origin, calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree is more accurate, I’m okay with whatever. I’m okay with Merry Christmas. I’m okay with Merry X-mas too, and Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmokwanzikah. If you ask me, the most inclusive holiday symbol is the nativity scene. You got your first Christian—the baby Jesus. You got Arabs and Africans as represented by the three wise men. And everybody else there is Jewish. Is this a great symbol of world peace or what? So reach out to everyone with a Happy Holiday greeting and praise the lord that these days we’ve got past that whole “burn the heretic at the stake Spanish inquisition” thing and the term Christian Tolerance is no longer an oxymoron.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

#192 Signs of the Season

Many years ago there was a land called Europe. Okay it wasn’t called Europe back then, but bear with me. Anyhow, back in ancient Europe the pagans and druids would get together at certain times of the year to have festivals. Theirs was a life heavily influenced by the weather and such and so in spring they danced around the maypole and colored eggs and trapped bunnies for purposes of planting and fertility. Sound familiar? In the summer, around the summer solstice, they had a big blow-out trade festival. In the fall, they did the witch and goblin and harvest thing. Around the winter solstice, as the sun reached its lowest point in the northern European skies and the days got the shortest, and knowing that the shortest day meant that the sun was turning a corner cause the runners had come down from Stonehenge, they celebrated a festival of the new year. The sun is back! The sun is back! Everybody went out, cut down a tree, and decorated it with totems, heirlooms, and other signs of good luck, well-wishing, and mystical gobbledygook. They also celebrated the Old Year with the symbol of the Old Man Winter, with long hair and flowing white beard, who was dressed in fleece-lined clothing and big black boots and other winter paraphernalia, including, I’m pretty sure, a little bottle of brown liquid with ancient arcane runes that spelled out: “The pause that refreshes.”
All was the same in paganland for many centuries. Then the Christian movement arrived from the south and went about pacifying the northern heathens at the point of a Roman sword. They found these festivals already in place and in the spirit of “if you can’t beat em totally senseless then at least join em in a party,” gradually shifted the Christian celebratory calendar to make Christmas coincide with the winter solstice and Easter to coincide with the spring equinox. Halloween? How about if we put All Saints Day the morning after? Fair enough. The people were celebrating anyway, why not join the fun, marry into their families, and generally spread your word from every direction.
Fast-forward to the mid-twentieth century. My hometown, very Christian, teaches the tale of the nativity in school every Christmas. My Jewish friend is not included but hey, at least its not as bad as Easter. He’s like the only Jew anyone has ever met and in the spring is almost always held accountable on the playground for the death of Jesus. “Christ killer!” the bullies would shout out and then hang him from the coathooks in the hall in a vaguely cross-shaped orientation.
But at Christmastime, back in my church, which is arch-protestant, the pastor is actually none too happy that the word mass appears in the word Christmas as masses are what Catholics do and, he assures us ponderously, Catholics are the spawn of the devil. Meanwhile, the local all Christian school board is complaining to the teachers that Santa Claus is a pagan symbol and a symbol of the commercialization of Christmas and needs to be removed from the schoolroom lest the true Christian meaning of Christmas be diluted. A new milestone in America is passed. Complaining about symbols enters the holiday tradition. To be continued.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

#191 Hobo Cop

So I get this news item. Seems the Washington State Patrol is trying a new tactic to get non-seatbelt wearers, or seatbelt non-wearers, to pay attention. Now, before I go any further, let me state what I tell all my little troopers around the house. It may not be what you want, but it’s against the law. So if you’re caught breaking the law, it may be annoying and you may be angry, but after all it was you that broke the law in the first place.
Naturally, I’m all for civil disobedience and protest when laws are wrong. Otherwise, there’d still be separate race drinking fountains like there was before the sixties. But seatbelts have been proven time after time after time to save lives. Only occasionally does a drunk person ejected from a vehicle as it’s rolling down an embankment survive. The vast majority of them are snuffed and crumpled like a Barbie in the hands of a bully big brother.
So that’s what makes the furor over this supposedly dishonest tactic poignant. A cop poses as a homeless guy with a sign on a street corner. Dare I say it? Kind of a Hobo Cop. The sign says “Happy Holidays, Buckle Up.” Street level allows the bum trooper to see seat belt compliance. If a driver doesn’t pay attention and immediately buckle up the trooper-tramp radios ahead and his uniformed buddies pull over the offending motorist. In Spanaway, they wrote 30 tickets in four hours. Naturally, people are up in arms about being tricked. Even columnist Ken Schram waxed indignant (I was waxing my indignant the other day). He railed about how craven it was and how obviously nothing more than a moneymaking campaign. Yoo hoo. Ken. While tickets do make money they also charge money as a penalty to—offenders. Lawbreakers, as it were, or scofflaws as you so elegantly put it. And if in the process they happen to, like they did, arrest a few people for outstanding warrants, well, all the better.
Interesting, from the trooper’s point of view, was the fact that some people actually offered him money thinking he really was a homeless guy. And one incident was really bizarre. The trooper, remember, was dressed as a homeless guy with a sign that said “Happy Holidays Buckle Up.” A driver rolled down his window, hollered obscenities, and hurled a half-full can of pop at the trooper. The trooper gave him a littering ticket for 1,050 dollars. Side note about the troopers approach to life: The can of pop was half full, according to his report, not half empty. And now the trooper has a far better understanding of what it’s like to be generally vilified by the public at large. But I guess, on reflection, he didn’t need to dress like a homeless guy to get that. That same public is angry with him for enforcing laws that protect people from their own stupidity.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

#173 Screw the Math

I’m not sure corporate America is getting this whole math thing. Maybe the generation of CEOs now were raised on new math. Still, when I was raised on it, the concepts still related to the real world. Now I’m not so sure. Witness the subject of my recent essay, where a company promised something free in exchange for 4.99 in shipping. Now if I were to offer someone something free, it would be without any cost. Free means free, or complimentary, as the ad says. Free does not mean free-plus-shipping. I’m worried that along with our other core American values, we are devaluing the concept of free.
Recently a friend of mine found out he was part of a class action lawsuit against a certain home warehouse type store. As a result of the negotiated settlement, he was to receive five dollars. Seems straightforward enough. Nope. In order to get the five dollars he had to go to the store in question, make a qualified purchase of over fifteen dollars, and then the five dollars would be sent to him in the form of a rebate check. He also had the choice as a consumer to opt out of the settlement and do nothing. Perhaps we’re devaluing the concept of choice too.
What a rip off! As you can see, class action does not necessarily imply class act. All I can say is, this depot of home accouterments has a damn good team of lawyers. Because something is very wrong with this picture. Why should you have to buy something in order to get back what you were overcharged in the first place? The company should just send you a freaking check right out. They had your name. They sent you the card didn’t they? They’ll have to pay more mailing costs when they finally do send you the rebate check. Why should you have to buy something else from a company that, in effect, screwed you, and give them even more of your money in order to get back what they already screwed you out of? That would be like me going to a restaurant, being overcharged on my bill, and instead of them just giving me my money back having them give me a two for one coupon on my next purchase. So, basically, they stole money from me and now in order to get it back, I have to give them even more money to get back the money they stole from me in the first place. Considering they make fifty cents on every dollar I spend and a two-for-one means they break even, they still come out with the money they overcharged me free and clear.
Maybe these people do understand math.
America ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

#172 Express Contract

There’s a law in our state, maybe even put in by our governor when she was attorney general, that forbids companies from doing negative marketing. I’m sure that’s not the legal word for it but basically what it means is, that companies can’t send you a product out of the blue and then ask you to send it back or pay for it. This includes electronic product as well. The origin of the law was when TV cable companies increased your channel offerings and required you to opt out by sending them a card in order to avoid the latest upgrade and subsequent upcharge. So there you are minding your own business, and some big company sneaks in while you’re asleep and puts a horse in your living room and you have to get up, overcome inertia, corral the horse and lead it back to the company or you get charged for it. As our AG said: No way.
So now, in order to be charged, at some point you have to consent to the process before you receive the product. Which is what makes this American Express offer I got the other day that much more insidious. They are offering to send me, free, a day planner and a diary (and by free they mean plus five dollars for shipping costs, more about that later). In exchange for that they will also send me both items next year, unless I tell them not to when they send me a warning card, and I will then owe the full price of $20 and $18 respectively for the new planner and diary, and every year thereafter. That last part—what they will send me and how—is of course in really fine print. So next year I’m likely to throw away the warning card with all my other junk mail and suddenly find myself with an expensive planner charged to my American Express bill that I don’t remember asking for. But by sending in the reply to the free offer this year, I did. Cripes. I can’t even remember my wife’s birthday. You think I’m going to remember whether I ordered a freaking day planner a year ago? Like I say, tricky. They navigated around the prohibition, got me to “request” the day planner by agreeing to receive the free one, and as proof—well, that’s where the five dollars in shipping comes in. It doesn’t cost five dollars to ship a day planner. Hell, they can use book rate. And you have to ask yourself, if it really is a free offer why isn’t the shipping free too? Because they need a paper trail, that’s why. That shipping charge is proof of the contract between you and American express sleazoid marketing. Bet you didn’t plan on that. Welcome to caveat emptor, 21st century style.
America ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

#171 The Land of Con-fusion

I’m always jumping to confusions. I saw a bunch of kids the other day. They were frenetically exchanging riddles. Like: There’s a guy at the fork of a road. One way’s a cannibal village filled with liars, one way’s a nice honest village. The guy is from one of them. You can only ask him one question to find out which way to go safely. What’s the question? Or: There’s a perfectly equal hill. When a peacock lays an egg, which way will it roll? You know, that sort of thing. These kids are into it. I mean intense. The most intense riddling session I’ve ever seen. Turns out the kids are ADHD. And guess what they’re taking? Ritalin.
Speaking of riddles. Saw this bumper sticker the other day. This guy was driving a little economy car. And he appeared to be normal size. I mention that because his bumper sticker said: “I don’t need a big truck cause I AM big.” What do you suppose he means by that?
As I’m driving by this mortgage place I glance at the sign. I couldn’t believe what I think I saw so I drive back and confirm the name. Milestone Mortgage. But my subconscious must have been jumping way ahead into the whole long term mortgage obligation thing cause when I first drove by out of the corner of my eye I read it Millstone Mortgage.

The other day I was reading this book. It was one of those books where the author used quotes at the beginning of each chapter from other artists, poets and philosophers. This one was from Thomas Hobbes—no relation to Calvin—and it said (more or less) that it is easier and more eloquent to accuse than defend. Point being, I guess that when you point the finger of accusation at someone it takes fewer words and they’re more convincing. The attack moves like a swift boat right past the reasoning centers and straight to belief. When you try to defend yourself it always takes longer, is more muddied and you sound like a weak liar. Quicker to stab than heal, as it were. Thomas, incidentally, was from the 17th century. Long before Fox News.
So I hear this story on the news about cannibinoids, those strange chemicals that you find in pot. Turns out this scientist did a study and proved that cannibinoids—at least in rats—don’t destroy brain cells after all. They actually helped grew new ones. Other scientists are at a loss to figure out how all the evidence in humans seems to indicate the reverse; poor judgment, memory loss, bad choices in hairstyles. At this point it looks like they’re about to isolate the culprit. Turns out all the damage is caused by Snickers....
America ya gotta love it.

#168 Ad Time

I was minding my own business the other night and someone brought an advertisement to me. No, I wasn’t watching TV. I’ve learned to duck those. Nothing like a remote control to zap them from my life. Although, I must admit, the advertisers are getting tricky by colluding with the cable companies to make all ad breaks run at just the same time. I guess they hope, if you don’t see their whole ad, at least you’ll surf through part of it.
No, I was just sitting there reading and waiting for a pizza to be delivered. The doorbell rang; I went to pay the delivery boy, and was surprised to see he was over forty. So I wondered: Are cheap teenagers getting tough to find? That new Wal-Mart hire them all so now old guys gotta hump pizza? Anyhow, the delivery codger gives me the pizza and I take it back inside. As I open it, I notice something’s taped to the box. The tape is one of those computer spit-out things. I expect it to have my name and address on it, but no, it’s a mini-sneaky-contract that says if my check is dishonored I authorize an electronic debit/draft to my account for face value and legal state fees, order number blah blah blah, and then the date, which, for some reason, is two weeks later than it actually is that moment. Hmm. Nice touch. Except I didn’t sign anything and I got the supposed contract right here attached to my pepperoni with extra cheese.
That’s when I have my second revelation for the evening. The tape is holding two other things and upon perusal I notice that those two other things are advertisements. And they’re not for the pizza company. In fact, they are for two unrelated companies altogether. One of them is actually for a lube company.
What a great idea! For both the pizza company and the advertisers. Provide a new revenue stream for the pizza company, with virtually no additional cost to labor or materials—the client supplies the ad and you’re taping your bogus contract onto the pizza box anyhow—and provide the opportunity for the advertiser to hand deliver an ad right to a customer. No mailing costs, no ads lost cause they’re jumbled in with a jillion other direct mail pieces, no telephone “do not call” list, and a potential customer ready and eager to be vulnerable to you’re message.
Pizza? How about an ad for coke, or beer, or antacid treatments. Or toothpaste. Or hey, how about a lube job? Who doesn’t think of grease when they think of pizza?
America ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

#167 Columbus-oscopy

I was watching a baseball playoff game and noticed one of the player’s names was Somebody-or-other Colón. It sounded good, but then they put up one of those interesting graphics that they use on TV these days and I saw how it was spelled. C- o- l- o- n-, with one of those accent doohickeys over the second “o”.
Hmmm. That partially accounts for the pronunciation, Colón. Curious, I typed Colón into my google search field and up came a number of pages devoted to various Colóns. Most of the pages were in Spanish. Using a trick I learned when I was trying to find the meaning of an obscure French phrase, I then pressed the feature to the right of the google entry for pages that are in foreign languages that says “translate this page.” Which it did.
Interesting thing: In my earlier experience, I had gone to three online French/English dictionaries to translate an apparently obscure word and come up with nothing. I had google’s translating software do it and it came up right away. This google stuff is scary.
Anyhow, the translation for Colón is not what you might expect, like “outlet tube” or “digester” or “water extractor” or “fecal compactor.” It’s Columbus. Yep. The Spanish word for Columbus is Colón. Or as we like to pronounce it, colon.
Interesting. Forget about rewriting white patriarchal history. Forget all that stuff about Columbus not only making a mistake thinking he had reached India, but us perpetuating that nautical boneheadedry by calling the natives of this accidentally “discovered” land Indians, after the inhabitants of that country that old Colon missed by thousands of miles. We need to rethink some names here. The Columbia River for instance. It’s getting dirty enough to start calling it the Colon River. Anyone who’s ever been to Columbus, Ohio will no doubt embrace the notion of calling it Colon, Ohio. Columbia University? Well, Colon University has a certain resonance and I suppose they could specialize in bowel disorders. On the flip side, Will we go in for a Columbus-oscopy? And will it be okay to say Elvis died of an impacted Columbus? Our biggest dilemma, of course, will have to do with the October holiday that celebrates Columbus’ derring-do if not his navigating abilities. Are we now to call it Colon day? “We get the next Monday off, Mom. It’s Colon day. And we need to make a project this week about the end product of Colon’s impact on America.”
One good thing, Native Americans can now say the new world was rediscovered by Colon, and so it’s no surprise that the white man then did his dooty—all over them.
America ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

#166 The Bell Tolls

I was at Taco Bell last night. I know, it’s shameful, but even I have a craving to snarf down a big bell value burrito every now and then. I went through the drive-thru, and it took a long time. I should have paid attention to the signs. My first clue that things may be about to go wrong was that the microphone-speaker-stand-thing, where you place your order, appeared to have been recently run over by an angry monster truck. Perhaps one of those raised-way-up bronco busters caught its jacked-up rear end as it was backing out in I’m-sick-of-waiting-20-minutes-for-a-99-cent-burrito frustration. It was an omen. Or as they say south of the border: It was an omen. Hey, they talk the same in Portland as they do here...
Anyhow, I placed my order and then inched forward. Time passed. I watched my fingernails growing, and age spots forming on the back of my hand. Finally, I rounded the bend and caught sight of the drive-thru checkout window for the first time. The person three cars ahead of me was paying. But he was handing the checkout teenager a bankcard. Time passed. The teenager handed the car client a pin pad on a springy cord thing. The customer entered his pin. The pin pad went back into the Taco Bell window. More time passed. A wooly bear on the tree next to my car pupated. The car customer leaned out of his window and yelled something into the checkout window. The taco-teenager extended him the pin pad again. Repeat enter the pin sequence. Repeat give the pin pad back to taco-teen. Time passes. Butterfly squirms out of pupa. Consider backing up. Cars behind trapping me in narrow curb-confined lane. Teen-a-la-taco extends hand with bag of food and what appears to be cash. Customer takes same and drives off. Sequence repeats with next two cars. Compose will. Hear taco-teen ask lady ahead of me, who is now at window with pin pad, “Would you like any cash back?”
Aha! That’s the problem. Fast food joints should not try to be gosh darn banks. Here’s the plan. You want to pay with a debit card, go the hell inside. Use an on-premises ATM and pay the dang cashier in cash. That’s right, the drive-thru cashier should be just that, a CASH-ier. Drive-thru people are in a hurry. That’s why they’re in a drive-thru. If you came to do your personal banking you should get off your derrieres and hoof it inside. Where they have two lines and where frustrated customers can turn around and get out, rather than be trapped in a one-way drive-thru—because someone decided they’d not only get a burrito, but get some cash back, buy a money market certificate, and apply for a freakin mortgage. This is a fast food drive-thru. Get that! The bank drive-thru is across the street!
America ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

#164 Spit tune

So I’m watched more baseball than normal this season and I couldn’t help but notice that what used to be an occasional counterpoint to the lack of action had blossomed into a full blown institution in its own right. I’m talking about spitting. What is it about baseball and spitting? And I not just talking chaw-spitting. The AMA and public decency have pretty well banned that obnoxious habit from the airwaves. And I’d be willing to bet, judging from the beautiful greens at every field I’ve seen on TV, that the baseball groundskeepers unions had something to do with eliminating the spittoonarage as we. No yelly tobaccy patches anywhere that I could see.
No, I’m just talking regular spitting. And not even good spitting either, half the players and coaches I saw just kind of sprayed spittle and sputtered sputum out of their mouths like involuntary Bronx cheers or Danny Thomas spit takes—a total, mouth-emptying experience. It wasn’t a finely directed squirt of quid into a selected target, that kind of a designated spitter type of deal you used to see in the thirties. Forget about steroids, in the old days players knew how to spit.
Funny thing is, you don’t see all that spitting in other sports. Granted, it would be hard to pull off in basketball. You’d need lots of buckets. Cause one little wet spot on a basketball court is slick as, well, spit, and multi-million dollar players getting multi-million dollar injuries because one player slips in another’s lip dribbles is not gonna work. Football, while it’s outdoorsy enough to handle a little pucker precipitation, has another problem: helmet backsplash. Nothing curtails the urge to purge like the prospect of it bouncing right back in your eye.
Funny thing; I play racquetball. And me and all the guys I play with never seem to develop the urge to spit. We sweat, we grunt, we breathe hard, and generally work our heinies off. But none of us spits. If anything, we try to keep the fluid in cause we’re sweating so much of it out. Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe we don’t need to spit because we’re exercising. And not just standing around on the lawn.
Then again, we’re inside and we don’t have to catch, or hit, any long balls. Could be these baseball players are just using an old time mariner technique. They’re using their spit to gauge windage. Like a naval artillery gunner they’re spitting into the wind to help them measure the trajectory of that big shot. Except instead of hitting the enemy’s ship, they’re about to fire it into the left field bleachers.
A fine nautical tradition. As I’m sure is crotch-grabbing.
America ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

#163 Ultrasonic Pitbull

By now the furor over the appointment of Harriet what’s-her-face to the Supreme Court has died down. All the jokes have been made by the comics and pundits about appointing Michael Brown to the position instead and other references to top-level appointees in the current administration not necessarily having the credentials to stick their thumbs in their political plums. On such is not for me to comment. Though I have talked to any number of former attorneys who are now judges, who made the salient point that being a judge is a whole lot different from being an attorney. And perhaps a little experience in same is a good idea before being nominated to the highest judgeship in the land. I’m all for fresh blood and everything. But I still don’t want to be in a plane with a pilot on his first flight, or send my kid out with a brand new school bus driver.
However, if I were Harriet Meirs, I would question my boss’s characterization of me, when he nominated me to the highest office in the land, as a “pit bull in size six shoes.” Sexism with a capital S. I’d be thinking, is that a crack? Is he dissing on me? What’s that pit bull stuff? Is he implying I should get a new hairdo? Is he saying my smile looks like a growl? Is it a female dog reference? Cause I don’t take that stuff. “Biatch” is not in my vocabulary. Is it a slam on my sausage pack body type? And what is a female bull stuff anyhow? Shouldn’t that be cow, pit or otherwise? I got an idea, MISTER president. How about leaving out the whole dog and shoe size thing altogether. When you nominated John Roberts, did you call him a “rottweiler in size ten brogues?” Did you ever consider just using the word tenacious.
And then there was Katie Couric, fresh from her debacle as the lipstick-in-a-tool belt flibbertigibbet at habitat for humanity. This time she was having a breast exam on national TV. She was appropriately robed of course, and the cause was good; raising breast cancer awareness and demonstrating the importance of regular mammograms. Still, I think they didn’t need to actually show Katie’s exact personal mammogram. It’s not necessary for newspeople to reveal their intimate body parts, even in X-ray. We don’t all harbor some secret wish to see like Superman. And the image kind of looked like one of those ultrasound things anyhow. But in this instance instead of a fetus it was a very recognizable outline of a breast. I don’t know, but I’m not sure America is ready for a sonic boob. And I sure don’t want to open the door to Matt Lauer having a prostate exam on the air. That’s taking digital TV too far...
America ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

#162 Divan Intelligence

We were planning our dinner menus the other day. Normally we’re one of those families that plan what we’re going to eat the next week before we go shopping so we shop only once a week. Too easy, with our weak wills, ito go the store to just pick up one item during the week and end up buying six or seven impulse items as well. Hey, someone has to read the National Enquirer.
In any event, my wife said she’d like to make chicken divan. “Chicken on a couch?” I blurted out. And you know, that’s kind of what it is, chicken on a couch of broccoli, or at least a bed of same. My lovely and intelligent wife didn’t remember ever hearing the word “divan” to describe a couch. My sister chimed in, “Oh yeah, like a davenport.” Davenport was what my grandma used to call her couch.
Well, we began to talk and the ultimate end of our conversation was that my theory of uncomfortable words flew out the window. See I have this theory. The more uncomfortable a concept is to us, as in, say, something that is not a topic for polite conversation, the more words we have for it. That comes about because often a word first emerges as a euphemism for the uncomfortable concept or bodily function. Then it becomes associated with the function so intimately that it itself becomes too uncomfortable to say in front of the preacher, and so another word is invented, and so on. I don’t have to spell it out, but run through your mind all the words you know for the sex act, or going to the bathroom, or even your own posterior. Conversely, list the number of words you know for the act of sitting. Occasionally, a word migrates back into acceptability. Like, say, the word butt, with two Ts. For years, butt was banned on the airwaves, now every TV show, broadcast and cable, can’t get enough of it.
So, the theory-dashing result of the chicken divan conversation ended up thusly. There are at last count 15 words for the completely comfortable concept of couch. They are: lounge, couch, daybed, love seat, the afore-mentioned divan; davenport, sofa, hide-a-bed, chesterfield (not a couch to fall asleep on while smoking, by the way); then the really obscure ones, ottoman (I know, I thought it was just for your feet too,) settee, settle, dais; and then the really, really obscure ones, spoonholder (I kid you not) and squab. It makes you wonder. In what strange person’s mind did the equivalency of a place to sit and a small game bird first arise?
Great chicken divan, Hon, I’m just going to flake out on the squab and take a cat-nap...
America ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

#161 Gussie

The other night one of us around the household got a little more dressed up than the others as we were about to go out to dinner. One of the not-so-dressed-up people then made sarcastic mention of the dressed-up one getting “all gussied up.” Naturally, being a student of that fine language we call English but should really go by the name American, or, if you are even more verbally anal, United States-ian, I wondered where the heck the word “gussied” came from. Perhaps it’s the whole phrase “gussied up” I should have wondered about, since you never hear of someone being gussied down or gussied sideways.
I went to an online slang dictionary and it was no help. “For shizzle” et al were included but old slang terms like “gussied up” and “that was hairy” and “twitchin” were sadly absent. I then went to an etymological dictionary to trace the origin of the term. No luck, can’t get an origin if they don’t even list the word. Ah, I thought, an orphan word. No origin, no slang family. So I checked the online dictionary and voila, there it was. The listing read: “gussied up; true origin unknown (what did I tell you) speculated to possibly relate to the earlier use of the term Gussie (derived from a proper name) for effeminate man.” Interesting, I thought, the first time I remember hearing the word, Minnie Pearl was holding forth at the Grand Old Opry about her sister getting all gussied up.
The online dictionary listed as synonyms for gussied up “tricked out” and “fancied up” and just plain “gussie.” Fancied up I get, but tricked out? That’s listed in my slang dictionary as a synonym for pimped out. So, “Man, why are you getting all gussied up?” has been replaced by “Dude, how come you’re so pimped out?”
Each of the synonyms was highlighted in the dictionary. That’s one great thing I like about online dictionaries, following word trails doesn’t involve hefting giant volumes and riffling potential paper-cut engendering pages. I clicked the link for gussie and discovered that gussie was an Australian term for an effeminate man and that it derived from Augustus. Augustus, as you may know, was the fellow who re-conquered Rome and half the known world and became its first emperor. Delicate fellow.
I X-ed out of my dictionary in disgust. Australian English is even worse than United states-ian
America ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

#160 401-OK

It was with a surprise of revelation that I looked at my 401(k) statement the other day―I was concerned directly about the stock market. Did I have enough energy stocks to reap some retirement profit from the recent price gouging? Did I have investments in the construction industry, and did they have contacts with the feds so they might get some of the carpet-bagging deals coming down the pike after Hurricane Katrina? Did I have enough diversification in my portfolio to include investment in the pharmaceutical industry, and did that include any companies that were working on a vaccine or treatment for the avian swine flu?
In short: Was I invested in the sour things that are happening now, in a craven and profitable enough way that my retirement later would be a little sweeter? Would I profit from other’s misfortune? And more importantly, would I profit from my own?
You see, as I pointed out before, where Karl Marx went wrong was not attributing to capitalism the ability to change. When capitalism—albeit unwillingly at the hands of the early unions— capitulated to the needs of workers and started paying them a decent wage, it discovered that it had also created a whole new class of consumers. And voila, capitalism thrived. It was Consumerism saved Capitalism from Communism. Which is why the mystical Consumer Confidence Index is one of the most paid-attention-to indices on Wall Street.
But the really elegant co-option and revolution-neutering of the working class by the Capitalist elite is the 401(k). Now, not only do workers have a better paycheck to spend their money, and have an interest in the performance of the company they work for, they have a direct vested interest in the performance of Wall Street as well. The young un-retired side of their brains gets upset about the oil companies reaming them with high pump prices. The other soon-to-be-retired side of their brain runs to their portfolio to see if they have any energy stocks. Talk about conflicted.
Gone are the days of rallying to the barricades, making common cause with the poor, joining together to lift everybody up and tearing down the corrupt and exploiting bourgeois money temples. Now, like me, much of the working class is working for a golden retirement, and has a little room in the money temple all its own.
What is it they say about chains of gold?
America ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

#159 Need a ride

Heard an interesting news story a while back. Seems a disabled individual stole a bus. Apparently, this dial-a-ride transit bus was called for a pick-up to a certain hospital or convalescent clinic. When the driver arrived, he went inside. At that point, a recent amputee got into the bus, leaving his wheelchair behind, and drove off. He was caught a little later after not too much ado. Perhaps busses have the mass transit equivalent of Onstar. Do they call it Onboard? Not that it wouldn’t be an easy APB. “Um, 1-Adam 12, we got a dial-a-ride transit bus that’s been misappropriated. What’s the new universal post-Katrina terror code on that? Ah hell, be on the look out for a large square unwieldy vehicle with horrible gas mileage covered with unsightly advertising billboards.” In fact, rumor has it that it was those ubiquitous busboards that both saved and perhaps caused the day. The signs on the side of the bus were described to the surrounding police jurisdictions. And helped apprehend the culprit. But what those signs said in the first place may have actually been the origin of the crime. They implored, for all to see: “Need a ride? Take the bus.”
Signs can get you into trouble. The other day I was showing some color copies to a friend of mine. He asked where I’d got them and I told him “Fed.”
“Fed,” he said, “What the hell is Fed?”
“It’s on Pacific Avenue,” I said, “Over by Albertson’s.”
“I don’t know anyplace called Fed.”
“Sure you do,” I insisted, “It’s the place that used to be Kinkos. They even say so.”
“If you mean Kinkos, why didn’t you say so?” I could see he was getting a little testy.
“Don’t get a little testy with me,” I said, “I told you, it’s called Fed now. I like to be accurate. But they’re also are trying to help nimrods like you caused they mention right in their sign that they’re the ex-Kinkos.”
“Their sign says they used to be Kinkos?”
“I guess,” I said sarcastically, “Ex-Kinkos means used to be Kinkos I’m guessing.”
“Then where’d you get the Fed thing?” he asked.
It was my turn to be a little testy. “The same dang sign.”
A light seemed to go off in his head. “I’m from Missouri,” he said, “Show me.”
So we got into my car and drove up Pacific. I pointed to the sign in triumph. “See,” I gloated. “Fed, and then they tell you right there. ex-Kinkos.”
“Um Funny Guy,” he said quietly, “I think you need to read the sign quicker. I believe it says: Fed-ex Kinkos.”
Oops. Time for a quick escape. Where’s a bus when you need one?
America ya gotta love it.

#158 Electioneers

The soon to be conducted all mail election in Thurston County offers a sad sidenote. Displaced election volunteers. If you’re like me, most of the times you’ve gone to vote in the last few years you’ve gone to your polling place. And that polling place is, inevitably, a church. It makes sense. Voting takes place on a Tuesday. Churches almost never have anything going on a Tuesday. As far as I know there are no “Second Day Adventists.” Or is that third? In any event, if you’re also like me, you’ve noticed that when you walk into that place to vote it always smells the same. Like a church. Any church, anywhere, they all have the church smell. Like the new car smell, you wonder if someone has a spray bottle somewhere and goes around spritzing church smell on all the carpets and pews. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the smell does actually emanate from the pews—certainly not an article of furniture you’re bound to encounter anywhere else. Or maybe it’s a conglomeration smell, like the smell of a tavern—that accumulated odor of decades of tobacco and stale beer and occasional urps—but in this case the combo of old lady perfume and pledge on the pews and damp mold on the hymnals. The semi-annual duty of democracy doesn’t seem to change it much, no matter who comes in reeking of what in their endeavor to exercise the franchise. Truth is, I think it may be that no one has ever had the gall to pass gas in these hallowed halls, and it is the absence of residual odor rather than its presence that lends a church its unique angelic aroma.
In any event, what are we going to do with the election volunteers, the old ladies and gents that help us when we vote? Who is going to peel off the “I Voted” sticker? Who is going to check my signature against the one in the book? Who is going to rip off my ballot stub afterwards? And, more importantly, what are these people going to do to replace this wonderful diversion?
I have this vision of elderly ladies not getting the memo and showing up on the first Tuesday in November to a deserted church. They sit there and they sit there, their lavender cachets and scented blue hair emanating that old people’s smell, which mingles effortlessly into the aforementioned atmosphere of the church, like a soul ascending into heaven. They have nothing to do. They chatter about grandchildren. They break out their crochet hooks. They trade yarns about elections passed. One of them mentions souvenirs and another, inspired, digs into her voluminous purse, and amongst the discarded tissues, cellophane butterscotch candy wrappers and nearly empty rouge tins, she finds and reveals, to the oohs and ahhs of her cronies, a bag of old chads, dimpled, bulging, and yes formerly hanging. For everything, there is a season.
America ya gotta love it.

#157 Distraction

Read a story the other day. It was about a call center that was helping victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In one way it was good. It was an experienced call center, used to handling thousands of calls daily dealing with software compatibility problems with a major computer operating system. The bad thing was; it was based; in you guessed it; India.
I’m all for making the world a smaller place and reaching out to non-English speaking peoples the world over. But I do think in emergency situations where a good grasp of the vernacular can make the difference between life and death, and a possibly higher insurance claim, that speaking with someone who knows American English as a first language may come in handy.
Case in point: Recently a young lady ran in to my car. She had taken a little bit of a shortcut across a painted traffic island instead of going up to the corner of said island and taking a full right turn. It wasn’t an easy distinction to describe—a painted traffic island versus say, a curb or something. It required an ability to communicate the distinction to someone else in a way that was convincing. She cut across, she took a short cut, she made a bee-line instead of turning her car at right angles. Hell, even the policeman on the scene didn’t get it at first. And he saw the positions of the cars. He viewed the painted traffic island as flat and therefore cut across-able. I had to remind him that if it’s painted on the pavement, it’s just like it’s ten feet tall. You ain’t supposed to cut across it.
Anyhow. Later, on the phone, my insurance adjuster sounded as if he was from Cambodia. Worse, his accent made it difficult to communicate with me. At one point during the taped deposition, he asked if at the time of the accident there had been any destruction. Well yeah, I replied, I already told you, to my left front quarter panel. “The destruction of your left front quarter panel caused the accident?” he asked. No, I replied, the destruction was caused by the accident. It took us a while to sort it out. “No,” he asked, “destruction, was there any destruction?” I finally figured out that he was saying distraction. It’s going to be a long insurance claim.
I feel for the poor victims of the hurricanes, who already have enough BS to deal with because their weasel-ly insurance companies are even now trying to deny claims by saying it’s flood damage not hurricane damage. I hope they don’t have their claims denied because the adjuster decides there ruined homes are only an example of the distraction caused by the hurricane.
America ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

#156, Half-baked

The other night I was watching Andy Rooney. Like all columnists, I aspire to sit in the shadow of Andy Rooney’s eyebrows someday. Andy only has about a minute or two to harp on one idea. But I found out in this particular episode that he’s just like me. He’s found that essay writing is kind of like cooking. He ends up with a lot of half-baked ideas, leftover ideas and ideas that just can’t quite make a whole main course. His column that day purged a few of them.
Who am I to do differently?
First, in the leftover department: I was talking the other day about Americas shortcutting their communication by—instead of talking—wearing wristbands and bumper stickers and magnetic emblems. What I forgot to say was some marketer should come up with a combo thing. You could buy a “personalized” sentiment package. A wristband, two magnetic ribbons for your car and a flag for your porch all in one full meal deal.
Leftovers are never as good.
And how about your half-baked? The other day I was marveling at the smallness of the Ipod Nano and remarking to my friend, too bad they couldn’t combine that with a cellphone so you’d have one less thing to carry. I mean face it. With his company phone, his personal blackberry, his Ipod and his Mini-gameboy the average wired youth is starting to have a utility belt worthy of Batman. Holy pants sag Robin! Anyhow, next day there’s a commercial for I-tunes on your cellphone.
Heard from a visitor from the other side that Rock-in-Roll heaven has had to go the same way as MTV. They opened up a rap section. Hip Hop and heaven. Oh yeah... The Big Bopper and the Notorious B.I.G.; Tupac Shakur and Buddy Holly; Ritchie Valens and P. Diddy. Oh that’s right, P. Diddy’s not dead yet, he just put his P to rest.
Lastly—and this dish I can’t even bring up to temperature—the governor of the state of Alabama, in a response to the call by President Bush to conserve fuel resources, has decided to cancel two days of school, figuring that the amount saved on busses alone, much less private transport of Alabama munchkins to and fro, will go far towards easing the state energy crisis. There’s your long term thinking for you. Talk about the dumbing down of America. Since when has educating anyone ever been immediately bottom line accountable? Education is an investment in the future. One of these kids might get the inspiration in those two days to invent the first efficient solar battery or something. And who’s gonna pay for the kids childcare during the unplanned holiday? Should the parents stay home and conserve fuel too? Hell, let’s just shut down the whole state. Maybe the governor should replace his limo with a civic hybrid.
It’s enough to send Andy Rooney to curmudgeon heaven.
America ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

#155, Katie Courage

Oh Katie. I thought I knew ye. But I guess not. The other night I saw a news clip of Katie Couric, of Today show fame. She was apparently helping Habitat for Humanity construct prefab buildings for the Hurricane victims. That’s when the story went desperately, insidiously wrong.
Katie, not Kathryn not Kate, Couric, as everyone knows, is a former cheerleader turned serious newscaster slash talk show host. Capable of fluff or tough. Katie has been there for us through thick and thin, through all the tumults of the last 15 years. She held our hand during Di’s demise, she sat it in shock and awe during 9-11, she took us where no TV camera has gone before when she had a colonoscopy on the air to promote colon cancer awareness. That, my friends, is taking one for the team. In short, Katie is no puff muffin. She is the real thing; someone for women everywhere to aspire to.
So why did she have to do this? Apparently, the producers have decided the Today Show needs a lighter tone. Perhaps they’re worried that Good Morning America is snapping at their heels and are trying to soften Katie’s image. Here’s what I saw. The camera cuts to Katie Couric. Matt Lauer appears to be in the studio. Katie is at some place where they are building stuff. She is adorned in work clothes—Donna Karin makes work clothes doesn’t she?—and a large carpenters tool belt. She is hefting a battery-powered drill. She says: “Someone’s crazy. They should know better than to turn me loose around tools. Like this drill... at least I think it’s a drill. Tee hee.”
That’s right. Tee. Hee. The next shot shows her digging into her tool belt. “I got everything I need,” she says, “a screwdriver (she pulls out a screwdriver) some pliers, (she pulls out a pair of pliers) and most important, my compact and lipstick” (she pulls out compact and lipstick with a flourish.) Oh. My. God. I’m just a bubble-headed former cheerleader after all. Every one knows when you’re out saving humanity you can’t live without your make up. Not that sacrifice...
Way to go, Katie. You just set back the women’s movement about 45 years. Since when does a story about helping the needy require a reference to personal grooming, for pete’s sake? You know what? It’s okay to be inept with tools. It’s okay to poke fun at yourself. But it’s downright crazy, Katie, to act as if face-decorating implements have any place in your tool belt, especially when you’re supposed to be using those tools to help humanity.
Good Morning—
America, ya gotta love it.

#154, Excuse me I flattered

I always wonder about words, and when I don’t have an etymological dictionary handy, I sometimes wonder and wander a little far. I heard this preacher on TV the other day talking about being redeemed and I thought: Coupon. Are members of his flock coupons? Did someone promised to honor them or buy them back? And if you are a coupon, are you redeemable in other faiths, or just your own? Is the First Baptist coupon honored at the First Methodist church? Do the Catholics take you at communion, but only while supplies last? Can you be both a Buddhist and a Christian or are you not valid with any other offers?
Turns out the Latin meaning of redeem is “to buy back.” At some point in early Christendom, the idea emerged that Christ did, in fact, buy back your everlasting soul with his sacrificial blood. Fair enough. At no point were or are you an actual coupon. That whole redemption thing didn’t come up till the first supermarket. Like I said, I need to keep a dictionary close.
Because I was led in a similar direction the other day by the similarity between the first syllables in the words “flattery” and “flatulence.” Flattery, as we all know, is the empty praise heaped upon someone by someone else intent on getting something from them. A coupon perhaps. Flatulence is also empty, in the sense of solids. It is the scientific name for the act of passing air.
Passing air. How genteel. Sounds like a wanna be star quarterback doesn’t it? Going through the motions without actually having a ball in his hand to hurl. The fact that a sour note on a wind instrument is also spoken of as going “flat” seemed to clinch the case. Wind instrument--sour note, flattery--hot air, flatulence--, well, heck, fill in your own blanks. Bottom line, flattery and flatulence both involve hot air. And the origins of each are suspicious, or at least not socially honorable.
Wrong again. The word flatulence comes from flatus, which comes from the Latin flatus, meaning “breaking wind.” Nothing mysterious about that. Dead languages know no subtlety. The word flattery, it turns out, derives from the old French flatter, meaning to caress with one’s hand. Softly, with deference, gentleness and respect.
Still, I’m not that far off. Flattery is verbal caressing to puff up someone else’s vanity. And that puffing, I assume, must eventually find an outlet...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

#153 Talk out of the Box

I noticed something the other day. Two rednecks were talking about Afghanistan of all things; carpet bombing the Taliban or something. When they said jihad it sounded a lot like yeehaw. Interesting that that sort of balls-out-mad-dash-to-destruction thing would evoke in entirely different languages the same sounding syllables.
Which is one good reason why inventors of artificial speech-recognition devices are continually frustrated: The human mind is capable of appreciating the nuances of English spoken with a Dutch accent and English spoken with a Bronx accent but your average computer just doesn’t have the processing capacity. Even when it comes to sight, computers have a struggle. Look at the word-spelling recognition things websites have installed to prevent splogging in comments pages and what not. A curvy, bloated, sixties, version of the key word is perfectly recognizable to you and me but it’s enough to make a computer freak out.
Which is what I did the other day when I went shopping for a vacuum: I was at one of the big box stores and when I went up to the various vacuum display models one of the boxes had a button on it that said “press here.” Always one to take direction, I pressed where indicated. The box started to talk. That’s right, some dinky little computer chip started to try to sell me on the virtues of this particular vacuum. Being a salesman myself, I was shocked, I was appalled, I was worried that my profession would never be the same. Sales is, and always has been, the last bastion of the think-on-your-feet, unstructured, take-the-chances-that-are-offered, independent communicator. A job that will never, ever, be outsourced. Who would have thought a computer chip, an amplification device, and a box could come so close? Big Box stores are tiring of hiring minimum wage help. Now they’ve got robots. The robot did a pretty good job to. It itemized the differences in its vacuum from the competition, it even threw in a little humor as the artificial vigorously vacuuming noise in the virtual background appeared to run over a small shitzu, “Oops,” the pseudo salesman intoned, “Thank goodness for the screen guard on the beater bar.” I was ready to buy. But I had one question, about where I could find bags afterwards. No soap. The box couldn’t answer. It just started its schpiel over, and over, and over. Frankly I’d rather watch the Home Shopping Network. A prime example of how live salespeople, even when you know they’re presentation is canned, can still sell the socks off a catalogue.
So look out robots. YeeHaw.
America, ya gotta love it.

#152 Festooning

Is it just me, or does it seem like no one talks anymore? I know that sounds odd, here in the age of right-wing talk, and over-the-top shock-jock radio, but that’s not really talk. That’s just planned pontification. Entertainers purposely pricking the anger pustules of pimple-brained people. The reason they say “ditto head” is because there ain’t much else between the ears of those folks. Mindless agreeing with someone is no testimony to the wit and wisdom of the oxycontin-enhanced person agreed with, only to the ovine qualities of the agreer. When the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top there’s usually a reason.
What I mean is the tendency of one and all to festoon one’s opinion on vehicle or person. For instance, you got your ribbons on the car. Now I often agree with the sentiments expressed by said ribbons, but really, it’s kind of getting out of hand. The idea back when was to have a little handmade ribbon pinned to one’s chest. Then the magnetic sheet manufacturers got involved and started manufacturing what are essentially magnetic pictures of a ribbon. See, the first ribbon was a symbol of the sentiment. Now the second picture of the ribbon is a symbol of the symbol of the sentiment. It’s all about ease of message delivery, don’t you know: I support whatever, and I’m sticking a magnet to my car to prove it. Again, the sentiment is good, but the work that went into expressing it is minimal. Unless you count buffing the ribbon shadow out of the paint when you trade in your car. Perhaps if every dollar spent on one of these magnets went to support the cause in question that would be a step towards real support. But I worry that the support one feels in one’s heart is being exploited by the people manufacturing the sentimental representation. American business sometimes picks a tawdry road to profit.
Or how about the newest sentimental support accessory: The thick rubber band bracelet. Yellow for testicular cancer, pink for breast cancer, rainbow for strength in the face of adversity generally. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a support-the-troops camouflage wristband in production as we speak.
Used to be you could get a take on folks by the clothes they wore; blue collar, white collar, hemp collar-and-dreadlocks. Nowadays, with the gap-i-fication of fashion, and the mindless gab-ification of cellphone-disconnected people generally, all we’re left with is thick rubber wristbands.
No one talks any more. Our beliefs are on our wrists and on the back ends of our SUVs. I hope one day we’ll have ribbon that says simply: Communicate.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

#151 Rummy

I was going to a rendezvous with someone and I was a little nervous. I decided I would act nonchalant and it occurred to me: What the heck is all this French stuff? Why “rendezvous” when “meeting” would have done equally well? And what the heck is non-chalant? Does that mean when you are concerned you are chalant? I’m chalant about your welfare. Susie’s grades slipping has me acting chalant. Its English synonym, “indifferent” is even worse. If I’m indifferent about a situation and that means I’m relatively unconcerned, then if I really am interested in the same situation, am I different to it? She told me she loved me but I was different. Hmmm.
I saw an interesting invitation the other day. At the end of it, it said “RSVP Please.” Always a pet peeve of mine. My one quarter of high school French rears its ugly head every now and then and winces. RSVP means “respondez s’il vous plait.” Which is French, roughly, for respond please. “S’il vous plait” sort of means “if you please.” So when someone says “RSVP please” they are saying “respond if you please please.” Oops. Normally, I expect to see that on invitations from people who don’t know better. All well and good, we Americans bend language to our needs, for shizzle, not the other way around. But this invitation came from St Martin’s University. Not only, mind you, a university, but one steeped in a Catholic and presumably Latin tradition. French kind of has a, ahem, Latin origin. Maybe they just really wanted me to reply. Respond Please PLEASE...
I’m never sure if anybody has any idea what words mean. Frankly, it all makes me a little rummy sometimes. The other day I was driving behind this big gas-guzzling truck. It was about four stories tall and had giant tires on it. Its body was streamlined of course, but by the time the owner had got done tricking it out, there were so many fuel-inefficient un-streamlines on it that I’m sure it lost an extra mile or two a gallon. Anyhow, it had a vanity license plate which said “Overtaxed.” Now, granted I’m a blithering idiot sometimes. But if I felt overtaxed I probably wouldn’t pay extra for my license plate. I mean, didn’t the whole Eyeman tax revolt start with voting down higher license fees?
Maybe my problem is, I’m just too different sometimes...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

#150 Earl’s Hot Meal

America is a land of shortcuts. Especially when it comes to names. I once had a French Teacher who bemoaned the tendency of Americans to always give each other nicknames. Robert becomes Bob or Bobby, Samuel becomes Sam or Sammy, Charles becomes Chuck. Maybe that was what he hated the worst, all of us whippersnappers calling his then president and legendary war hero, Chuck De Gualle. He said in France everyone got their full name, no diminutives, thank you, much too informal and lacking in respect.
So it is in our language generally. We don’t leave an acronym alone for long before it becomes the word itself. Personal Identification number, P-I-N-, became “pin” in no time, and Vehicle identification numbers, VINs, weren’t far behind. Cellular Telephone quickly devolved to Cell, Television to TV. Even the venerable Microwave oven, actually invented before the TV, went through a brief nominal stint as a Radar Range, employing the old time acronym (what I call an acro-nism) of Radio Detection and Ranging, “Radar,” in a different time and range altogether.
So why is it our great land of nicknaming and computer geek slacking has not come up with a suitable nickname and or acronym for URL or HTML. URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. People type in URLs all the time. Web address is an alternative phrase, but cumbersome. Website is okay, but really, URL is perfectly fine as a word. It has a vowel, it has a couple of consonants. Let’s just pronounce the dang thing. How about Earl? It’ll have a flavor of nobility. Type in the “earl” for the “Queen” concert and get a good head “count.” What’s the “earl” for the “Dukes” of Hazard website? Yeah, that’ll work.
But what about H.T.M.L? HyperText Markup Language. Ain’t nobody came up with a workable short-form for it. Do you know HTML people say, or I learned HTML so I could really fix my website up good. HTML. Hmmm, quite a linguistic challenge. Normally in times like this, a user will supply missing vowels to create a pronounceable word that still includes the major consonants. Like the initials YHVH, the Hebrew symbols for the inexpressible name of the Lord, became Yahweh and then Jehovah. So let’s see, HTML. How about Hotmail? Oh yeah, already taken. Okay, HatMall. No sounds like a superstore. How about Hitmole? Ahh, sounds like a rodent gangster. Or Hut mile. No, sounds too much like a training march. I got it, Hot MEAL. Perfect, everybody likes a hot meal. Especially Earl...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

#170 Tough Luck

It was one of those cold mornings. You know, kind of clammy and kind of foggy. It was the opposite of that statement: Yeah it’s hot but it’s a dry heat. Cause it was cold, but it was a wet cold. There’s nothing like a fall Washington morning to really chill you to the bone. It feels like the cold is just seeping in, deep into your core, like some freezing lineament that paralyzes your muscles and leaves your flesh goose-pimpling like a plucked turkey.
I stood there shivering at the street edge, looking for an address, and noticed this guy standing at the bus stop, lightly dressed, apparently none the worse for the weather.
“Cold, huh?” I said. He just shrugged his shoulders. I envied him the ability to move. “You must be pretty tough,” I said, pulling my coat a little tighter. He shrugged again. The possibility that he was an off-duty mime skittered across my mind. “Got a tough job?”
“No,” he finally replied, “I work for the state.”
“Raised in Alaska?”
“Nah, I’m just a smoker.”
Oh yeah, that explains it. Vestibule toughness. Year after year, exposed to the scorn of his fellow workers, the inconvenience of going outside, and the ravages of the weather—the blistering heat and the freezing cold and all the Washington wet in between—you just gotta develop a tough skin.
“What do you think of the new law?” I asked. Washington newest initiative-law calls for smokers to be outdoors and at least 25 feet from any bus shelter, building entrance or air intake vent.
He shrugged again. “You know what,” he said. “I don’t suppose it makes a damn bit of difference whether I‘m wet, cold, and freezing in a vestibule or under a tree. But what I aim to do is blow so much smoke up the underside of my soaked umbrella that when I bring it back inside the whole damn office will smell like a wet ashtray. And next session they’ll have to pass an “anti-umbrella” bill. And then I’ll blow it into my coat, and next session they’ll have to pass and “anti-coat” bill and then a “must take a quick shower” bill and then a “must wear a deodorizer around my neck” bill. And you know what? They’ll still let buses and cars full of sanctimonious, hypocritical, do-gooders belch all their crap into the air.”
Just then, as if to punctuate his tirade, the bus pulled up, belching clouds of “bio”-diesel exhaust. As the lightly-clad smoker ascended the steps I couldn’t help but notice the buses’ exhaust billowing through the foggy air and, as if by cosmic karma magic, find its way right into the intake vent of the building nearby. America ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

#148 Comb and earring

A lot of how we interpret the world has to do with how we perceive it. And a lot of how we perceive the world has to do with how we interpret it. That is what we call prejudice. We have pre-judged reality to fit our expectations. You know what I mean. If you expect to see a certain thing, or your mind is so inclined, you may actually think a lump of covers is a corpse in your bed, or a cloud is a dragon. The man-in-the-moon, widely seen by many in western culture, is, in fact, more like a shrimp-in-the-moon when you see it full. Especially in the early hours right after dawn. Or if you’re from Asia. There is a pretty strong body of psychological evidence that supports the notion that our brains try to recognize faces from the least stimulus. Try staring at mottled wallpaper some time or heavily textured plaster. It’s amazing the number of almost eyes, noses and mouths that come together to look like almost faces.
And I’m not on drugs when I say that either, or when I saw it. We used to recognize druggies in the restaurant I worked in the Seventies. Seventies pot smokers were pretty blatant. The first surge of rebellion was over and pot culture had settled into that blasé “That Seventies Show” indifference about pot. In the restaurant where I worked, we could always tell the pot smokers cause they were the ones trying to order a plate of snickers and gravy. Always a little suspicious.
My perception was put to the test the other day. I heard this Papa Murphy ad on the radio. It talked about every pizza coming with a bake and serve tray. Of course the announcer was talking kind of fast and to me it sounded like a bacon serve tray. And I thought what’s that? Some layering thing like Emeril does on the food channel? Lay down a couple of strips of bacon and cook the pizza over them for extra flavor? Or some Canadian bacon pineapple upside down pizza deal? My mind was prejudiced when I heard the ad. I wanted to hear bacon, they said “bake and.” Close enough.
Kind of like the interesting reporting of the news we saw during the Katrina aftermath. Poor black people were looting and poor white people were looting. And newspapers and TV broadcasts had identical photos of all the poor and desperate people trying to get supplies during the flood. Granted, some of the supplies included big screen TVs. But almost without exception the captions and the announcers said the black people were looting and the white people were commandeering.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

#147 Floaters

As news comes done the pike about another hurricane, this one perhaps stronger than the last, it makes me stop and wonder if this whole global warming thing is getting out of hand. The ice caps are melting, the hurricanes are strengthening and getting more frequent, the smog is thickening and the ozone hole is expanding. Perhaps we should take another look at that Kyoto protocol thing we opted out of. The big reason America chose to bow out of Kyoto, other than the horrid prospect of letting someone else actually have a say in or national destiny, was that the costs to business would be too great.
Maybe I’m the dimwit so many people like to call me but, isn’t the cost to business of having your shoreline factories swept into oblivion kind of high too? Isn’t relocating your shipping and manufacturing centers a hundred miles inland a big chunk out of your debit column? How is having to throw up a levee around New York going to build up the bottom line of the financial district? Roads underwater? No problem, we’ll just build interstate commerce trucks with taller tires.
Better insulate those power transmitters while we’re at it. The Northeast power grid may not function quite as well with its coastal sections shorting out. Hell, they could have brown-outs all the way to the Great Lakes, and I’m just talking about power.
And how about cellphone transmission? Cell towers need power and if the main supply is cut off and the emergency back-up generators are swamped by water, cellphones don’t work.
One of the biggest lessons we can take from hurricane Katrina is what happens when floodwaters swamp everything in sight. Our based-on-dry-land infrastructure collapses and bobs to the top like a floater in a cesspool.
People may disagree about why, but sea levels are rising. The other night the president was talking about shipping mobile homes as housing to the hurricane-stricken gulf area. My first thought was, oh yeah, they’ll hold up real good come next hurricane. Like a trailer park in a Kansas tornado. But then, I thought: Wait a minute. He may have something here. It’s the foundation that gets us in trouble. Mobile homes don’t have any. If some entrepreneur could invent a floatation collar for the bottoms, they could just ride out the storm on the top of the waves. Floating mobile homes, yeah, that’s it, they could call them “flo-bile homes.” U.S. ingenuity will get us out of this crisis yet. Global warming? Flobile homes.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 07, 2005

#145 H-E-Double Whammy

Recently, when Hurricane Katrina cut is path of destruction across the South, one of the areas most affected was the Bi-lux-i area of Mississippi. I learned a few things. I learned that Biloxi was pronounced Bi-lux-I and not Bi-lox-i. And I relearned that to locals Louisiana is Looziana.
I also learned that a huge part of the economy of the fair state of Mississippi is Casinos. And that those casinos are on barges. I’m sure you all remember scenes of giant building-size barges swept up on shore. They were so complete, at first you thought they were on a foundation in the parking lots where they ended up. Then you realized they were on a barge.
Naturally, being from the casinos-strewn-all-over-the-place Northwest, I wondered why all the casinos in Mississip’ had to be floaters. Turns out some arcane law had an even more obscure loophole. The way I understand it, and don’t sue me if I’m wrong here, the law allows gambling, but only if it’s not on the land of Mississippi. It has to be in the water, a la riverboat gambling. Rather than change the law, something difficult to do in the heartland of the Christian Coalition, the cynical legislators of said god-fearing country expanded the concept of riverboat to include giant football stadium-sized buildings floating on barges, slightly off shore—connected only by concrete footpaths, paved bridges and whatnot. The pseudo-sanctity of the land of Mississippi was preserved and, more importantly, the economy of said land was enriched by the heathen lucre-worshipping water people.
Word now from Mississippi is that new casinos will be built. This time, gosh darnit, on land. Maybe even not on the hurricane-prone coast. Turns out the state economy is more important than legal hypocrisy. It’s about time. I mean who were they trying to kid? Gigantic Barges for pete’s sake. Yoo Hoo! It was still gambling. It’s either a sin or it isn’t. I don’t think God was fooled by that whole water thing. The Ten Commandments aren’t waived just cause you’re SCUBA diving.
Reminds me of this devout Mormon fellow I used to work with. Whenever he was angry he’d say: “Oh, H-E-Double toothpicks!” I said to him Don, you think god isn’t sharp enough to get what you mean?” Let’s see, all-knowing, all-powerful, ruler of the universe. I can hear the lord now: “There he goes again with that that double toothpick thing, I wonder what he’s talking about?”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

#144 High-phenation

America is about to face a crisis. And it will happen to the next generation, when it will reach epidemic proportions. It is, arguably, one of the most difficult social diseases to come down the pike in a long time. I’m talking about AHD: Accumulative Hyphenation Disorder. That’s right, second or third generation hyphenated names.
Parents, think of your kids. Decide on a freaking name. Take his name, take her name, but please, please don’t hyphenate. And friends and relatives, put in your two cents worth too. Cause friends don’t let friends hyphenate. Tell them no. Explain to them the social stigma, the societal scorn, and most importantly, the inconvenience of always spelling out a cumbersome hyphenated name. It’s the next generation that will pay.
On the face of it, hyphenation is an attractive prospect. Your checking account has both names, most of your legal documents can remain the same and if you get a divorce, you just split the names apart again. They’ll be kind of like a new coffee. De-hyphenated. But that’s short tem thinking. Suppose, even though hyphenated name marriages are 50% more doomed to failure than non-hyphenated ones, suppose you manage to stay together, and have kids. The kids will most likely have your hyphenated name. Forget for a moment the horrendous numbers of man-hours teachers, administrators, employers, and the kids themselves will have to devote to laboriously spelling out the name. Forget the endless questions your kid will have to answer about family heritage and marriage dynamics. Forget all the jokes about Ellen Bursten marrying Peter Boyle and becoming Ellen Bursten-Boyle, What happens when your kid is old enough to marry and he or she meets someone with a family upbringing just like his or hers. And they’re hyphenators too.
Formerly, his name was Tom Smith-Blumberg. Her name was Jennifer Torand-Goldfarb. When they hyphenate too, their new name will be Smith-Blumberg-Torand-Goldfarb. Sounds like a frickin lawyers’ office. Or an accounting firm. And now, what’s their kid gonna do? On the first day of school, always missing out on the first recess cause he’s still spelling his name on the blackboard? Running out of space on employment and loan applications? Spending his whole life ordering oversize checks?
Stop the cycle. Quit ruining people lives. The institution of marriage is too important. Break the hyphen now.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

#143 AFL-CEO

The Marxist revolution never happened. Ordinary workers never rose up and overcame their capitalist masters, shook off their Walmart chains and took over the means of production. Why? Because they became consumers. Round about the thirties, when unions first came to full strength, the capitalist powers-that-be were forced to acknowledge a new paradigm. Hey, if we pay these guys more instead of keeping then hungry and poor, they might turn out to be consumers of the exact same widgets they’re making. Hungry and poor mean revolutionary. So the key capitalist survival adaptation—and that’s where Marx went way wrong, capitalism is nothing if not adaptable—was to make the worker the consumer and pay him or her enough so they felt they had a vested interest in the success of the capitalist economy as a whole. But just barely enough.
A well fed, mostly, and well-entertained populace is less likely to take to the streets in a we-got-nothing-left-to-lose general strike that could cripple the economy. Enter the next strokes of capitalist brilliance, the NFL and Hungry Man dinners. And beer. Lots of beer.
Somewhere along the way, the capitalist class, of which the worker was now a willing participant, also found a way to blame the Dominatrix Bureaucracy for everything cruel about life, and high taxes as her lashing whip. So it wasn’t pork barrel projects for their districts that congressmen could blame for high taxes but the evil bureaucracy, and it wasn’t gouging gas companies that were responsible for three dollar a gallon gas it was the gas tax. Witness the recent attempt to remove the tax to give the poor consumer relief at the pump and let the poor little old oil companies make their “tiny” dollop of obscene profit.
I recently got a mailer from my two local state legislators. Turns out every program they voted against that cost tax dollars was a bad, other party, tax-and-spend, unnecessary, business-killing act. Every program my legislators voted for that cost tax dollars was an economic stimulus act designed to build business so they could turn around and give poor people a hand, not a hand out. Politics is a very oral enterprise. High in the necessary skill set is the ability to toot your own horn. Right up there with blowing smoke.
Workers of the world unite, football’s back and so is Bud Light.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

#169 Trick or Bum

Halloween was interesting this year. Some of the kids forsook the normal notions of All Hallows Eve—the princesses and witches and goblins—and instead appeared to be dressed in more topical gear. These are the kids that dressed up much at all. Every year you kind of expect a certain amount of popular culture offerings, your Batmen and Spidermen and Cruellas Deville. But this year most of the costumes seemed rather last-minute and lackadaisical. It was the parents accompanying the kids who were really decked out. “Come on kid, get your begging done, we got a party to go to at nine.” Really. Halloween seems to have been taken over by adults and each year their costumes get more elaborate and more costly. And it’s not just here. Nationwide, Halloween spending is second only to Christmas. Unfortunately, its not little Billy and Susie that are reaping the benefits. It’s their parents. It’s as if the first generation raised to the refrain of “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys-R-Us kid” took it seriously. And heck, even Billy and Susie’s candy size has shrunk—from “mini” to “snack” to the current “fun” size. Fun appears to be a relative term. Halloween candies have shrunk faster than a budget surplus.
In any event, the haphazard costumes of the youngsters and the elaborate excesses of the elders notwithstanding, there wasn’t a lot of creativity out there this year. Ya seen one bloody hacked-up goblin you seen ‘em all, if you know what I’m saying. But I did have a couple of kids come to the door who I thought were pretty clever. They were dressed as bums. Kind of your classic bum stereotype look, too; smudged-on three-day-growth of beard, red nose from too much drinking, battered hats, tattered clothes, expensive substantial shoes. I was pretty impressed. Who made your costumes? I asked. We did, they said. Obviously, they had spent more than one minute waiting at off ramps observing the real thing. What really capped off the outfits though was that when I opened the door to their bell ringing, instead of the chorus of kids voices I was accustomed to, they held up cardboard signs. One of them said: “Trick or Treat.” The other one said: “Will work for candy.”
I think I’ll tell my favorite freeway bum about it. Next year I could give him a mask with the face of little kid. And then he could hold up a similar sign at the off ramp. I’m thinking even a fun size piece of candy would be appreciated.
America ya gotta love it.

#142 Pawnee

Every now and then, I encounter something so strange I gotta share it. Like when I was driving down the street the other day and I passed this pawn shop. It had a sign on the front that said “Back to School Sale” Hello! Since when does a pawnshop worry about back to school? Uh oh, its school time, don’t forget your used stereos, pawned rings and big banded watches.
But perhaps it’s a reflection of society in general. In the investment business, they talk of non-correlative stocks, stocks that go counter to the economic trend, and stocks that do well when other stocks are sucking. Kind of like now. If your portfolio is heavy in energy stocks, most notably oil, especially on the retail end, then you are one happy camper. If your stocks are in the trucking industry, forget it. It’s time to see if you can pawn a couple of 18-wheelers.
And so it is that pawn shops proliferate in times of economic woe. And so does the newest aberration in the “can’t pay it, figure out a way to borrow it” economy we have today, the cash advance store. The last line of defense for the “have-nots” or at least the “don’t-have-too-muches” is the pawnshop and/or cash advance store.
Used to be, you couldn’t charge incredibly high interest for a loan. There were laws against it. They called it usury. But laws were made to be circumvented by the people that pay off the lawmakers. The banks are no help. Truth be told, more than one bank has its sticky little fingers in the usury game. It makes sense that the traditional banks have a vested interest in charging such high check bouncing fees that the cash advance places can say, legitimately, that they are saving you money. Acquiring a high fee cash advance is cheaper than bouncing a check. Forget for a moment that revolving fees on the same 500-dollar not-paid-back-yet increment can amount to 50% interest. That stills leaves 50% to live on, or pay that car bill, or dare I say it, fill up that tank of gas so you can drive your old beater to your minimum wage greeter job. Of course, the head honchos of the big banks who own hidden interest in the cash advance places will tell you poor people are poor because they’re lazy. Yeah lazy, that’s it. Both parents working, each of them with multiple part-time minimum wage jobs because the big chains won’t let em work full time. Saving costs on that whole benefit thing, don’t you know, makes the company more attractive to shareholders. Be sure to lick the cream of your paw, fat cat. “Oh those poor people, they are so stinky. Don’t they sell deodorant at pawnshops? Hand me some cake, Marie.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

#141 Wonderwhere

My sister came up the stairs last night laughing. She had a copy of Westways Magazine in her hand. As she wiped the tears from her eyes she handed it to me and pointed out this ad. The ad was for One- Der-Wear, spelled o-n-e-, as in the numeral. My first thought was, it was a product quality claim built into the name, a branding thing, like “we’re number one.” My second thought, less noble, was it was a new adult diaper, but light-weight and geared towards just urinary incontinence, and not untimely bowel discharge. Hence, again, the reference to the number one.
It was neither. The product is for one time underwear use. Not use it or lose it, but Use it and lose it. But unlike those nylon try-on socks that they used to have at shoe stores before they invented the all season flip-flop, these were all cotton. Kind of like those skimpy saggy panties they force gals to wear to try on bikinis. A good idea really―though I’ve never had too, the idea of being the second or third person to try on a thong bikini is a little unsettling.
The claims in the ad rang out. “One hundred percent cotton disposable underwear.” “They eliminate the hassle of traveling with dirty underwear forever.” Oh yes, one of my biggest hassles when traveling is carting around that bushel of dirty underwear. Oh the strain! And clever how they worked the word eliminate into the ad copy. The next line says why: “Great for”—in bullet points—“Traveling, Exercising, Camping, Emergencies.” Ah, Qwai Chang, but how do you know when the emergency will hit? Slip on a pair before you try that ethnic restaurant in a foreign city?
Then there was the obligatory testimonial line: “The chore of washing your knickers in the hotel sink is a thing of the past thanks to OneDerWear” from Arthur Frommer. No offense, but an English guy who washes his “knickers” in the sink is not who I usually take advice from. I’m not entirely sure what knickers are but you can bet there’s no more fresh produce washing in any hotel sinks in my future. OneDerWear is available for men in two styles: brief and boxer brief. Briefs are tighty-whiteys, Boxer briefs are, in effect, baggy-saggys. A box of five is just 9.99. Okay. So I take a ten-day trip. In the old days, I would take five pair, wash them on route and bring back five pair. Now I can take 10 pair, making my baggage bulgier at the beginning, throw them away and use the empty space to bring back a memento. Fantastic. Next time I go to Maui I’ll be able to bring back those souvenir Hawaiian print boxers.
America, ya gotta love it.