Friday, April 29, 2005

#21 SAG

I’m sending a card to my brother the other day and it mentions VCRs and DVDs and so on. It says if he’s expecting those things for his birthday he’s SOL. And I want to comment to him on those letter combos and I think I should use the word acronym. But I look it up to be sure. My older brother's a stickler for usage and grammar and all that there stuff. No, it turns out—at least according to my dictionaries—that the correct word is abbreviation. Unless you can make something that sounds like a word out of the abbreviation. Like Radar for Radio Detecting And Ranging or WAC for Women’s Army Corps. ATM doesn’t count, but a PIN does. SUV doesn’t count, but its VIN does.
So get to the point, Funny Guy. I’m about to NOD off here, you say. Well the point is, I think I found a new acronym. The SAG. Oh no, you sigh, another rant about lazy America. Sort of. It’s about my personal laziness. Now I go back and forth on this laziness thing. The other day as I was putting a stamp on a letter I grumbled to myself about how we live in such a lazy society we don’t even have to lick our own stamps anymore. Two seconds later, because I wasn’t using one of those new envelopes with the press and stick strip I got a paper cut on my tongue. Be careful what you bitch for, as my mom used to say.
No, the SAG I’m talking about is one we all encounter nearly every day in this computer age and I’d be willing to bet less then one tenth of one percent of us has every read all the way through: The Software Acceptance AGreement. S.A.G. You know what I’m talking about. The legal gobbledeegoop you have to go through before you can download new software. You always have to check one of two little choices—I accept or I don’t—before the “next” button is enabled and you can get on with downloading the newest whizbang program that’ll get your computer running as fast as it did when you first bought it; before it was more loaded down with cookies than a daytime TV watcher. Of course, you have no way of knowing whether this new program—purportedly offered to you for free to make your computing experience that much more lovely—is not itself loaded to the cyber-gills with software designed to take you over, slow you down, trip you and roll your personal internet habits down the hill of commercial exploitation. And you sure as heck don’t want to read this daunting 20 page Software Acceptance AGreement to find out what the heck it is you’re accepting. So a little whine escapes from your lips, your shoulders droop and your whole psyche collapses. You’re beaten. They’ve won. They probably already have your entire life in their database anyhow. Good acronym though. It’s what my spirits do whenever I see one of those agreements. They SAG.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

#20 Loofah me tender

So the other day I’m showering at my gym. You know, my health and fitness club. Normally while I’m in the shower, I keep to myself, but my club has one of those old fashioned showers—is it old-fashion or old-fashioned?—anyhow, one of those kind of steamy rooms with no partitions that has six nozzles and just enough space between them to allow for minimal elbow room. I’m not saying it’s cramped but, it’s lucky it’s in a health club and not an overeaters anonymous cause there wouldn’t be enough room for too many opera singers if you know what I mean. 250 plus a little, okay, but 310-ers, forget it. Because of that, it’s not unheard of to get a little bounce-off from the guy next to you if the water’s hitting him a little hard. Adds a whole new dimension to the term backsplash. So I tend to go to one of the corners when they’re available and avoid the center nozzle. Not that I’m paranoid about the hopefully uncontaminated droplets bouncing off the backs of sweaty athletes, but, you never know who’s been on what weight bench where. Anyhow, like I say, I’m minding my own business And I turn around after I wash the soap out of my eyes and I’m greeted with a surprising tableau. A fellow across the way is soaping up a Loofah. Well, to be fair it wasn’t a real Loofah. It was one of those new-fangled—is it new-fangle or new-fangled?—jobbies that looks like someone tied a bunch of handi-wipes together with a strip of nylon. They make great lather, I know because my wife has one in our home shower. I, for one, am old-fashioned enough to make my own lather and don’t resort to such shortcuts. And, as I’ve said before, the soap dispenser in my gym now squirts out foamy stuff so why bring in one of those Loofah-likes anyhow? But what strikes me is how far we’ve come. I remember the time when bringing a washcloth in to the gym shower was considered something of an affectation. Real men didn’t use a washcloth. You just used soap and your hands for gosh sake. And you did so quickly, no lingering. Soap up. Rinse off. And none of that shampoo stuff in your hair either. Use soap dammit, it’s good enough. Heck, it was even considered a little effeminate to have the water too darn hot.
I noticed something else as I blinked back the water from my eyes. The man was reaching for a bottle on the little soap shelf by his nozzle. I could barely make out the label. It said “gentle exfoliating rub.” Ohmygosh. I guess there’s a first for everything. But I never thought I’d take a shower at a gym and see someone exfoliating. Back in the day we used to use Lava. Volcanic pumice rubbed off dead skin pretty dang good. Heck, it even killed some skin and then rubbed it off. You’d come out of the shower pink as a newborn monkey. I guess I’m not ready for men to exfoliate. I’m still comfortable with the term scrub. America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

#19 Ad-jectives

Hand-crafted and home-baked pizza. These are the words that were deeply intoned from my radio as I drove home last evening. Sounds good, I thought, I’m hungry, I think I’ll pick one up. And then the significance of the phrase trickled into the dark recesses of my brain. Wait a minute. Hand-crafted is all well and good, but home-baked means I gotta cook it. No way! In case you haven’t noticed, the deep recesses of my brain is where my primitive caveman-slash-teenager lives. And he’s one lazy son-of-a-gun. But boy, they made that pizza sound good. And that seems to be the Madison Avenue trend these days. The 21st century is all about more words, not fewer. “Hand-crafted home-baked” has replaced “take-n-bake.”
I saw another example of this at my local gym. Excuse me, health and fitness center. I go in the shower and they have these dispensers on the wall the squirt out liquid soap. Not any more. Now they squirt out “Luxury Foam Hair and Body Wash.” I was amazed. I mean, I go to a cheap club, and this stuff sounded pretty hoity-toity to me. Luxury Foam Hair and Body Wash. I thought maybe I’d wandered into the ladies shower by mistake. A quick glance at the visible plumbing indicated that I was indeed in the men’s shower but I still felt a little shiver. I quickly figured out why. It took so long to read the dang dispenser, I’d run out of hot water. I told you my club was cheap.
I don’t know about you, but instead of visiting a health and fitness center with Luxury Foam Hair and Body Wash, I’d rather go to a gym with soap—if it meant I could have more hot water. I’d even take plain water, it wouldn’t have to be super-heated spring-fed cold-filtered gently-softened mineral-enhanced water either. Just plain old warm wet stuff.
Those quicker than me have no doubt realized right away what’s hiding in the phrase Luxury Foam Hair and Body Wash: The word “foam.” Foam, as the astute among you know, is mostly air. Luxury foam is even more air. More air means less soap. And therefore less money for my dear old club to fork over to the supplier.
Like I say, cheap.
But there’s another reason the luxury foam seemed a little absurd. I mean, my lazy inner self may balk at baking his own pizza, but really, I’m in a gym for gosh sake. I can certainly expend enough effort to make my own lather.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

#18 Nouble Degative

I admit it, I’m easily confused. I’m either always looking too deep to see the plain-as-the-nose-on-my-face obvious or I bounce off the surface like a lady bug on a hot skillet. So I get this thing in the mail for one of the banks the other day. And it’s encouraging me to triple mortgage my house with an incredibly low interest rate that they promise is absolutely permanent, but which I know from personal experience is really only as temporary as a mayfly coyote date. I once had a gal from a large financial institution, when the rate was raised on a consolidation loan I was stupid enough to take out, explain to me that “fixed” didn’t really mean fixed as in permanent, it meant fixed as in fixed until they decided to raise it with 30 days notice to the entire class of people that they promised the fixed rate to. I said: “I get it. You mean 'fixed' as in carnival midway game fixed.” End of conversation.
Anyhow it’s been getting pretty hard for financial institutions lately; rates just keep getting lower and it’s harder and harder to attract borrowers to refi again and again. So they’ve been reduced to taking up that bewildering claim that the car dealers make. They’re going to lend you money at “zero percent” interest. 0% interest. What am I missing here? Even writing 0% interest seems like a waste of ink. Zero-hundredths of zero. Hey, “no interest” is okay with me. It’s far more convincing and much less mathematical. I don’t have to figure anything out. No means no. Not zero-hundredths of no. Frankly, it makes me suspicious. I think maybe they’re trying to confuse me with that semi-double negative thing. Like that old slogan “nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.” It leaves me worrying about it too long. And when I worry I have bad feelings. And when I have bad feelings I don’t like the company. And when I don’t like the company I pitch their stuff in the trash. Just a little warning corporate America: Remember the consumer KISS of death. Keep it Simple Stupid... or else.
So here’s what the mailer said: “Save with a Prime Rate + 0% APR!” Now they’ve really done it. They’ve coupled 0%, a concept I’m already suspicious of, and joined it to APR, which we all know, but none of us can figure out why, is always different than the “Nominal” interest rate. By different I of course mean higher. This I gotta see. If the APR of nothing turns out to be more than nothing, as I’m sure it will, then mathematics as we know it has gone to voodoo land. Because in this universe anything times nothing equals nothing. Or as the great Billy Preston once put it: nothing from nothing leaves nothing. Which, need I say, is exactly how much money I intend to borrow from this bank.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

#17 Waz-Dot?

So I’m on my computer the other day, and I decide to check out this website a friend told me about. The website is for the Washington Department of Transportation; WSDOT for short. Or as I like to say, WazDot? Cause they’ve got these cool webcams strung up all over that let you see traffic in various parts of the state. And those images are live on your computer. WazDot? Looks like one of the new Caddies. WazDot? I think it's a fuel truck on fire.
We are becoming so dependent on computers for the weirdest things. It's pretty sad that one of the new miracles of the 21st century is our ability to cyber-torment ourselves with vicarious images of being stuck in traffic all over the state. All from the comfort of our own home. Now there’s progress for you. I don’t know about you, but I like nothing more on a Sunday morning than firing up the computer and finding some place in the state where I can pretend I’m stuck in traffic.
Here’s why the images seem weird to me, and the morning news shows on TV that also use them.
ONE. Their only conceivable purpose is to keep me home. I'm not going to have the image updated enough from the time I leave my living room till the time my car makes it to the freeway for it to be any damn good except as a bad memory.
TWO. I do not have a TV in my car, and if I did, it’s likely watching it would provoke a WSDOT image similar to the ones I see on my computer.
THREE. That’s why I listen to traffic reports on the radio. Even when I do that, it’s usually not timely enough to take an alternate route to my destination, or if it is everyone else is on that same alternate route so who the heck cares.
FOUR. There are no alternate routes of the I-5 corridor in Washington State.
FIVE. Dense traffic around the Puyallup cut-off, the Gig Harbor turnoff and the S-curves is where I normally catch up on my reading.
And SIX. The WSDOT images are so grainy I feel like I’m watching a fifties porno flick. I keep expecting a beehive-coiffed nudie to flounce by in fishnet nylons, high heels and not much else. Now that would screw up traffic.
If you want to have some ironic fun though, do go to the website. It’s See if what happened to me at work happens to you. On the right hand side of the home page you’ll see a link to the accountability section. At work when I clicked on the link I got an error message that said: “This page could not found.” Oops. Nothing more comforting than knowing accountability can’t be found in all of the Washington State Department of Transportation. Probably been privatized or something. In all fairness though, my computer at home found the page just fine. And I found something else. The text was pretty boring. So I went back to the pictures and managed to determine I’m not going out today. Maybe I’ll go to and find a picture of some rock I can crawl under.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

#16 Idiot on Board

So I’m driving along the other day and I’m about to turn right—I got the green—and this car cuts in front of me. Apparently, they were turning left onto the same road I was attempting to use. Okay. I contain my anger. I’d step aside to let someone through a door first. There’s too little graciousness in this world as far as I’m concerned. Besides, if they’re in that big a hurry and that rude there’ll be an edge of carpet somewhere in cosmic karma land that’ll trip em up sooner or later. But this car is something else. She—I say she because I got enough of a glimpse to render a feminine result to my baseline gender query about crappy drivers—is barreling though traffic like a demon possessed. Or its modern equivalent, a heavy user of Sudafed derivatives. She’s cutting in and out of lanes, coming up too quickly to stoplights and the rear ends of other vehicles and slamming on her brakes, and generally driving with the wanton disregard of others that would easily get her shot on a Southern California freeway. Road rage lightening rod, this tweeker is. We both get on the freeway and the chase continues. I say chase because for all her erratic maneuverings, she always makes the wrong lane choices and ends up like all the other hotshot, hot dog, hot pile of donkey dung drivers I’ve ever seen, no further ahead than if she had stayed in one lane and cooled it. We pull off the same ramp and I get a little closer. The couple of cars between us turn off and soon I get near enough to see that there’s a little head bobbing in the back seat. There’s also what looks like the white ergonomic framework of one of those new-fangled child seats. The bobbing head looks male to me, and seems to be bouncing all over the length and breadth of the presumed back seat, and occasionally bending over his sibling’s restraint device. There, I’m sure, to torment the immobilized and harnessed one with standard big brother torture. And of course to flaunt his death-defying freedom.
At this point we’re stalled in a parking lot and my attention is drawn to the puff of smoke emerging from the driver’s window. Somehow I’m not surprised. I look over the car. It’s dirty, a piece of molding is sticking up from one window frame, the right rear taillight has red-colored tape in place of a lens and on the left hand side of the dented bumper, covered with grime, is a familiar diamond-shaped yellow sticker that says “Baby On Board.” I go from road rage to parent rage in 5 milliseconds. The dirty car I can live with. And hey, not everyone can afford a new taillight. But the combination of the smoking in the car and the crazy, rotten driving and she has the effrontery to ask me to be responsible for the safety of her child? She has the unmitigated gall to tell me to be a better and more cautious and more considerate driver? Oh Heck. Why not. I guess her kids need every break they can get.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

#15 Seeds of Discontent

So I’m going through my mail the other day, and pitching everything that even remotely resembles junk mail, and I break precedent by not automatically throwing away something that has a Postage-paid permit number in the upper right corner instead of a stamp. Partly, I think, because it’s from my health care insurance company—you never know if you may have some outstanding test results, or maybe everybody’s premium is going down, Ha ha—and partly because I feel some little lump inside the envelope. Only it’s not really an envelope in the classic sense. It’s a folded piece of heavy paper with a gummed seal on the bottom holding the open edges together. My curiosity aroused, I shake the “envelope” and it makes this noise like an anemic rattlesnake. The possibilities quickly run through my brain: miniature maraca? tiny rattle announcing new well-care for babies? clotted anthrax powder? Hmm. Not being a US Senator, and having no interest in fanning the flames of fear now singeing the civil rights of this country, I open up the envelope incautiously, and get nice little paper cut for my efforts. What is revealed inside the envelope is a little packet of seeds. Carrot if it matters. The envelope is now not an envelope but an unfolded piece of heavy paper that in its current configuration looks like a greeting card. The area above the fold says “Happy New Year.” The script in the bottom half next to the seeds says thank you for letting us serve you, and that they appreciate the trust we placed in them (like I had a choice) and then goes on to proclaim their resolution for 2005. I quote: “To sow more seeds for transforming health care—semi-colon—a more sane, compassionate and rational system. We look forward to growing with you in 2005. Sincerely, blah blah blah, CEO, blah blah Health Care Company.” And then lots of white space. I mention the white space because I want you to know that they had lots of room to say more. But chose not to. Notably, they had the choice to put the word “into” into the area occupied by the semi-colon in their not quite grammatically correct plea for sanity in healthcare. Our resolution: To sow more seeds for transforming healthcare into a more sane, compassionate and rational system, reads a lot more unequivocally to me than: Our resolution: To sow more seeds for transforming healthcare; a more sane, compassionate and rational system. I mean, if you mean “into,” say “into.” Type both phrases into your computer and see what grammar-check has to say if you have any doubts. Maybe I’m just a little more sensitive because on my grammar-check I also have BS check. But I was relieved they were just trying to trick me into thinking they were compassionate. At first I’d thought, what with the carrot seeds and all, that they were taking away my vision care.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

#14 Enlarged to Show Disclaimers

So I’m staring at my Dorito bag the other day. Salsa Verde flavor in case you’re interested, and I’m looking at the picture of the chips on it. They look pretty good. So I’m crunching away enjoying Frito Lays' greatest artificial taste sensation and I notice the writing underneath the picture of the chips and it says “Enlarged to show texture.” Duh, Like I really expected the chips I was about to eat to be six inches tall.
Then I thought. No. Did somebody actually sue somebody cause they had their lives ruined and their dreams shattered by the actual two-inch size of a Dorito? Was their expectation of future income totally upset because they were plunged into a prolonged, untreatable and debilitating depression that left them disabled and downright destroyed? Is this what America has come to? Disclaimers on Doritos? Or is Frito-Lay just not taking any chances?
Now I’m not one of those people who think trial lawyers should be wiped off this earth. The next time a doctor accidentally cuts off one of my appendages I’m going right to my nearest legal beagle and hire him to gnaw that careless sucker to the financial bone. But I do think it’s a little crazy to sue a snack food for putting a large picture of their product on its packaging for gosh sake. I mean, let’s use some common sense here. When I see a billboard with a two-story Tic Tac on it, I’m pretty sure when I buy the actual product I won’t need a crane to lift it into my mouth.
The same with Hamburger Helper and Campbell’s Soups and other prepared products. I really don’t need you to tell me the picture on the can or box is a “serving suggestion.” I’m old enough to know that you don’t open up a can and out pops a three-course meal with silverware, napkin, and fresh-cut flower in a vase. I’m just expecting the soup. I’ll provide the bowl, without the help of a law suit thank you very much.
I actually saw a newspaper ad the other day for roast beef some supermarket had on sale. There was a lovely picture of a dripping roast, savory brown on the outside and red and succulent in the middle. A few roasted potatoes were arranged around its edges. There was a sprig of parsley or two and a small salad in a bowl. I believe there was a little cornucopia in the distance with an onion and a variety of seasonal squashes and some provocatively semi-shucked ears of corn. The copy said “Beef Sirloin Roast, X.99 a pound.” And underneath the picture the now ubiquitous “serving suggestion.”
You mean I don’t get the squash? I’m crushed. I’ve lost all faith in mankind. I’ll never be able to shop in an untrustworthy supermarket again. ...Call my lawyer!
America, ya gotta love it.

#13 Popper-Upper

Among the people I’d like to remove forcibly from this earth is the guy who invented the computer code that brought us pop-ups. My teeth grate when I even think the word. What used to be a wonderful experience, settling down in front of the computer and doing some mild knowledge surfing, has been forever ruined by those dastardly electronic devils that suddenly appear in front of whatever it is I want to see like an annoying hyperactive child in the front row at the movie theatre. Now I’m condemned to spending five minutes cycling through the two spyware cleansing programs and updating the three pop-up blockers I have on my computer just to enjoy one uninterrupted ten minute session of etymology research. Did you know the word “hooters” refers to owls?
Some people call pop-ups the junk mail of the internet, but, sorry, I don’t remember the last time my junk mail reached out of my mail box, grabbed me by the neck and forced me to read it. Pop-ups are the worst form of advertising. And don’t say they are like TV ads. TV ads at least travel in packs, and the program you wish to view has predictable periods of uninterrupted pleasure. Pop-ups are like a fly buzzing in front of your face. Or a June bug in your mouth when you’re riding your motorcycle. You want to swat them, and you sure don’t want to swallow them.
Given their universal lack of appeal, you gotta wonder why any company would use them to advertise a product. I for one, have never, and will never, patronize any place or purchase any product that uses pop-ups to get my attention. I don’t think I’m alone. So what’s the appeal? Are there really folks out there surfing the net who get a pop-up for free organ enhancement or guaranteed hair replacement and say: “Hey, where do I enter my credit card info, mother's maiden name and social security number? No problem. I mean, if these people popped up on my computer they must be legit, right?”
If so, then it’s those dufusses that are driving this engine of commerce and it’s them that we need to find a way to eliminate from our gene pool. Or maybe we can just make sure it’s only their computers that get the pop-ups in the first place. That’s it. That’s a good unregulated capitalist solution. Do it at the point of sale. Compaq’s new Impressario—with organ enhancement and trips to Vegas. Get the streamlined Dell Dimension—and lose 30 pounds in 30 days, guaranteed. 0% down and no payments for a year.
Trust me.
America, ya gotta love it.

#12 Cheesecake

Read a news story the other day. Apparently Sara Lee Company, originally well know for its desserts, notably a frozen cheesecake that almost simulated the look and feel of the real thing, has got into a bit of financial trouble. Which is to say the stock analysts view their company structure as less than optimum to make it attractive to investors. So Sara Lee is divesting itself of certain subsidiaries. In this case the Hanes and Playtex brands. Funny how a few years back the wizards of Wall Street felt that any self-respecting company worth its artificial stock price wasn’t anything unless it was on its way to becoming a huge super-conglomerate. Little, efficient, labor-friendly, pension-rich companies were being gobbled up willie-nillie in corporate America's Qwest for world com-, I mean dom-ination. The new fat cats trimmed out all the excess operating costs—like retirement plans, health insurance, more than minimum wages—and using, they said, the economy of scale made the companies mean, lean and investor desirable. So we found companies like Beatrice Foods getting into plumbing of all things, and Philip-Morris, first known for the manufacture of coffin nails, diversifying itself in food companies like Nabisco and Kraft. So the same company that sells you dinner, like Oscar Meyer wieners, or snacks, like Triscuits, Ritz crackers or Planters Peanuts, can also sell you that after-meal kicker, the cigarrette. Perhaps if they worked even further down the food chain (or is that drain) and acquired, say, Metamucil, they could position themselves for a takeover of Beatrice foods and the whole indoor plumbing thing.
But that was then. As anyone who watches Wall Street knows, it’s not who you know, but who’s CEO you know. The newest crop has changed strategies. Today’s company-jumping MBA’s and mega-managers are all about divesting to make a company more profitable. Get rid of the unproductive appendages and strip a company down to its dynamic core. Translation, we sucked all the moneyjuice out of those subsidiaries we gobbled up, now lets spit the husks back into the trash heap of American commerce. Hmm, what a surprise, get rid of all your expensive experienced workers that care about your company cause they supposedly make your company less profitable and lo and behold the $3 a hour illegal is so unreliable and inefficient he makes your company—less profitable. Whoops. Divest Divest. Quick before the stockholders catch on. Somebody get me my golden parachute. Send my resume to Enron.
The pendulum swings. Capitalists, God bless them, forget that labor is not just a cost; it’s also a way to make their company more productive and therefore more profitable.
Personally, though, I’m going to miss all those sexy Hanes and Playtex commercials that Sara Lee used to produce. There was something real fitting about Sara Lee doing cheesecake ads.
America, ya gotta love it.

#11 Hallmark Holidaze

As I write this it’s the end of February and the stores are scrambling. Late February is the inter-tidal zone between the last dying gasp of winter gift giving—Valentines Day—and the commercial promise of spring offered by Easter. Unfortunately the date of Easter, which is governed by some arcane blending of pagan fooferaa and early Christian astronomy is none too dependable for shelf stocking purposes. My local Supermarket is a case in point. Two of the seasonal aisles already have Easter candy. Being a fresh candy buff, I can’t see stocking up yet. Peeps, for all their endearing qualities, do have a limited shelf life. And the pink and lavender foil wrapping on the egg-shaped chocolate can only be trusted so far to perform the hermetical sealing necessary for this choco-lytes taste buds.
So I cast about for something more current and what do I spy but the newest in hallmark holiday offerings: St. Patrick’s Day gift ideas. Yep, cards, candy, and notions. Plastic snakes, angry dashboard saints, lucky charms, and a little bit o’ blarney don’t-you-know. Makes me want to whack someone with a shillelagh. There’s a word to choke your spellchecker.
Now call me unsentimental but are we so hard up for excuses to celebrate that we have to elevate a holiday chiefly known for changing the color of beer to national hallmark status? I mean, I like to quaff a few with the best of them, and need I say, some of my best friends are Irish, but a whole section in the supermarket? Why doesn’t a more important event just past merit at least equal attention? Where, pray tell, were the President’s Day cards? I see a vast untapped potential there. Frustrated card writers, looking for a new pool of doggerel, would have the likes of Nixon, Lincoln and Jefferson to rhyme with.

If it’s a warm wind and not a draft
then you can be sure it came from Taft.

To my darling on Prez Day instead of a flower
I’ll tell you the story of Eisenhower.

Stuff like that. I tell you it would give the card and notion industry a shot in the arm at the end of February. And candies too, You could revive the Reagan Jelly Beans, and Chocolate coins with presidents faces on them. This last Prez day it was pretty pathetic. The only thing out was half-priced Valentine merchandise. “Oh, that’s romantic,” said my wife, “Buy your valentine stuff at half-price a year ahead.” “Hey,” I replied, “That is romantic. It means you love her so much you’re certain you’ll still be with her next year.”
She just muttered something about the relationship being as stale as the candy. Ouch.
America, ya gotta love it.

#10 Waiters Creepers and Cutters

Ah, parking. That quintessentially American enterprise second only to driving itself. Fully fifty percent of all road rage can be traced directly to the battle-zone of the parking lot. I for one forgo the battle. Call me a parking lot pacifist. I plant my vehicle somewhere on the perimeter of the zone and smile all the way into the store as I watch silent curses and furious hand gestures fly behind tinted driver’s windows. When it comes to being cut off in a parking lot, we are a nation of quite effective mimes.
For parking lot warriors the ultimate goal is to land that perfect slot right next to the front door of the target store. A social anthropologist would tell us that there are essentially four types of combatants: The circlers, the waiters, the cutters and the creepers. Jeepers. The waiters are the worst. They’ll plant themselves in the driving lane of the parking lot and wait for a slot to open up, however remote the chance may be. If they see a couple approaching, cart loaded with kids and pampers and a hundred pounds of assorted whatnot, the waiters will sit there while the harried parents unload all their groceries, put the squirming kids in their respective child seats, drink the last of their smoothies and put away their cart. All the while ignoring that a new parking slot has opened up three cars down. I actually enjoy it when a cutter comes along from the other direction and swoops in to take the long-coveted space.
Oh yeah, cutters. The various dings on the bumpers and fenders of their often decrepit vehicles testifies to the need to keep your distance from same. ‘Nuff said.
Then there are the creepers. They hope something will open up if only they can go slow enough. Apparently, their life demands some form of progress. But the difference between a waiter and a creeper is like the difference between a clam and a snail. They’re both icky balls of jelly as far as I’m concerned. Woe to the person who accidentally finds himself behind a creeper. That illusion of movement traps you, but the lane is still blocked and the time is still wasted.
The circlers, on the other hand, seem to have settled for the roulette wheel of life philosophy. They have a lot of time on there hands—and one presumes—gas in their tank. The most amusing form of circler is the one at your local health club. They circle the parking lot endlessly until a space opens up in the first rank of slots. Ironic, since the purpose of their visit to the club is to exercise.
And, um, isn’t that what walking is?
America, ya gotta love it.

#9 Do the Math

So I’m driving down the road the other day and this bus pulls in front of me. It’s one of the big yellow school ones. And I notice a sign on the bumper, since at that moment the bumper is 3 inches from my own (this “don’t interfere with busses law” has even the part-time school mom bus drivers a little cocky). The sign says: “Illegal to pass, $327 fine.” Or 357, or 377 or something like that. The point is, it’s not an even figure, like say, 350 or 400. And I had to ask: Why? Litter fines are the same way, 188 dollars for littering. Again, I ask plaintively: Why? It makes no sense that I can figure. I’m guessing the legislature or the Highway Patrol or someone sits down and says “X” infraction is “Y” bad, let’s nail ‘em for “Z” dollars. Does someone else come along and say well it’s not that bad, give em a 17% discount? I mean, I would think that since you’re setting fines you could just set them wherever the heck you wanted. Round up to the next hundred for gosh sake. If nothing else, you may even increase the deterrent factor. 400 dollars is a heck of a lot more meaningful to me than 377. Not to mention the math factor. When I go through a roadway construction zone and the sign says: “fines double in work zones” I get so confused with the math I nearly do crash. Let’s see, 2 times a $188 litter fine is, um... Okay, double a $377 bus-passing fine is, um... It’s just too confusing.
It’s like our drinking limit. Point 0 8 percent. How the heck is any drunk going to be able to figure out what that is? 100th of .08. Which is like 8 hundredths already. 100th of 8 hundredths. Right. Just say 4 beers. Or 2 wines, or whatever. Maybe the bigger people get cheated a bit and you have lots more short skinny drunks on the road but it’ll all even out.
And another thing. Psychological. It’s not a very good idea to have a sticker on the back of a school bus that says “passing is illegal.” Think of another word. Don’t we want our school kids to like the idea of passing.
America, ya gotta love it.

#8 DVD Diversion

So I’m driving down the street the other day. And a weird blue light is shining through the back window of this mini-van ahead of me. It flashes erratically, and it’s got some color variation, and it seems to be positioned in about the same place as the driver’s rear-view mirror. As it flares and ebbs I think, dude, I better stay back a bit, this guy’s firing up a bong whiles he’s driving. Well, we pull to a stoplight and the little square of light resolves itself into a flopping orange fish. Nemo. Wo, I think in relief, it’s one of those new-fangled DVD players. I see the silhouettes of a couple of kids in the back seat.
Just then, a commercial comes on my radio from a car company. A lady is talking about how her kids are always asking questions and how the questions lead to other questions like why is the sky blue and why does Saturn have rings and what is a black hole and such like. Then the lady says she discovered that when her kids are watching movies they don’t ask questions, and then she says she bought her current car because it has a DVD player and her kids can watch movies. “No more questions,” she says with a self-satisfied tone. The car company announcer then suggests this as yet another reason to buy its product.
And that my friends, is, in a nutshell, what is wrong with our great country today. Parents are looking for ways to NOT talk to their kids. Curiosity is the most normal thing in the world in a child. And an open channel of communication is what every parent should establish as the ultimate default position in their relationship with their children. Cause when those kids get to be teenagers, believe me, it won’t be Nemo that’s diverting their attention. And psychedelic fish will be the least of your worries. Ask Kip Kinkle’s folks. I don’t want to get preachy here but for gosh sakes cherish those moments of wonder and curiosity. And capitalize on them to deepen your bonds with your kid, even when it does get a little exasperating. DVD shouldn’t mean Di-Vert Dumbheads. Cause dumbheads they will certainly be, if you ignore them now.
America, ya gotta love it.

#7 Surfin' USA

So I’m watching TV the other night. And I’m doing what every red-blooded patriotic all-American male is doing. Channel surfing. And I stop for a moment on this program because all I see at first is this bevy of bulbous beige bellies. Oh no, I think, another expose on overweight America. I shift guiltily in my barcolounger, and as the leather makes that un-sticking noise that can only come from the peeling away of sweaty gelid thighs, I get a better hold on my remote and start to surf away. That’s when it dawns on me. I hit the mute button while I think it over. And of course hit is too strong a word. Hitting something would burn off more calories, all I really have to do is press a little button. All the work that TV watchers of earlier generations had to do when they changed a channel is taken care of by an invisible beam of infrared light. That’s right. That’s America’s dirty weight gain secret. It’s resting in the palm of my sweaty hand. The remote control. I press a button on the side of my barco and it shifts itself to upright, giving me a gentle assist to a vertical position. Even my loving chair is conspiring against me.
When you look at crowd pictures from the fifties compared to crowd pictures from today it’s immediately apparent that America is suffering from an epidemic of obesity. But are we really eating that much more? Heck no, we’re doing that much less. And doing less in little ways that add up to fewer burned calories. Think of it. It’s the little things. We used to dial a phone. Took a lot more energy that pressing buttons. We used to crank down the windows in our car. We used to fan ourselves in the summertime, actually push a lawn mower, hoe the weeds instead of spraying poison. When was the last time you got out of your car to open the garage door? Or stood at your sink and did a batch of dishes. Or, god forbid, actually cooked your food and cleaned up afterwards rather that swinging through the drive-thru and picking up a lo-cal burrito. It doesn’t matter how lo-cal your food is if you don’t find ways to burn the dang stuff off. People in the fifties didn’t jog. They got up off their couches and changed the channel. And they sure as heck didn’t kid themselves they were really doing something by calling it surfing. I don’t know about you, but last time I paddled out into the waves, climbed up onto my board, and spend my last ounce of energy keeping my balance riding the big one, I don’t remember taking my remote.
America, ya gotta love it.

#6 Pharmo-co-op

So is it just me or is the entire pharmaceutical industry ganging up on us? Seems like every other commercial on TV these days is about telling us to ask our doctor about one drug or another. It’s an interesting approach. We are being recruited by the drug companies to shill for them. We’ve been made deputy snake oil salesman. Fact is, there are so many drugs out there that it’s no longer good enough for the drug reps to take a doctor out to lunch, drinks and a massage to get him to pedal their most recent concoction. Oh no. With the whirl of a new batch of drugs every day and the constant re-spinning of old drugs for off-brand uses it’s enough to give a doctor vertigo, nausea, and the vapors. The snake oil business has come a long way.
So the rest of us poor suffering schmucks are treated to a nightly round of commercials instructing us to ask our doctors if this drug or that is right for us. And the underlying message seems to be: hector the darn physician until he caves in and gives it to you. Now that’s marketing.
The commercials are scary sometimes, though. When the FDA-mandated list of side effects comes on you kinda wonder. A drug purported to cure acid reflux causes gas, bloating and diarrhea. Seems to me you’re just moving the problem down the line. I saw one the other day for an ingestible drug that cures nail fungus. The catch is it may cause liver failure. Hmm. Let’s see, liver failure and death, or green toenails. Tough choice. But I gotta admit, cynical old me got hooked the other day. I saw this great commercial about running through a field of flowers, and enjoying a river rafting trip, and taking the grandkids to school with a big smile on my face. It looked wonderful. When the commercial told me to ask my doctor about it, I resolved to do just that the next day. My doctor only smiled. “Well sir,” he said, “I’d like to help. But I’m not sure you need estrogen replacement.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#5 The Gift that keeps on Giving

So the other day it’s Valentine’s day. It’s so romantic. Kisses and hugs everywhere. The day for lovers. Unless, of course, you happened to be a certain group of gangsters in Chicago in 1929, who got a different kiss-off entirely.
Valentine’s day has emerged as a major spending holiday across this fine land of ours. A shot in the retail arm after the post-Christmas doldrums and before the spring merchandise hits the store and gets everyone all-a-twitter shopping for their Easter bonnets. And, with more and more people buying into the mass merchandise offerings available, unfortunately Valentine’s day has also emerged as a major threat to wildlife and the environment. Putting aside for a moment the endless trees meeting their untimely doom so that pithy and saccharine phrases may be inked on their pulped, pressed and dioxin-bleached remains. And not mentioning the tons of algal-bloom-inducing and stream-choking fertilizers needed to grow all those pretty cut and soon-to-be-dying flowers gracing the abodes of snugglebuns from here to the Love Canal. And not daring to point out the gallons of insecticides also used to keep those flowers so pretty, spreading through the environment causing untold havoc to the genetic pools of every species from the regal eagle to the asthmatic biped.
No, as if that weren’t enough to contend with, today’s gift-challenged Valentonian need only enter the supermarket for a lovely and environmentally permanent gift alternative. The Mylar balloon. Yep, Mylar. Aluminum and plastic. What groaning planet could ask for more? Completely non-biodegradable. And oh so cute. You can put printing on it. Indelible dyes are so wonderful for the waste-stream. You can even perch a Mylar balloon on a stick or, if you really want to proclaim a love that the whole world can see and that keeps on giving, you can inflate it with helium and have an errant breeze waft it into the sky. If it makes it past the power lines without browning out a major metropolis, it’s likely your love messenger will soar to the upper atmosphere, where it will freeze and crack open, then plummet to the sea to be gobbled up by an unwary dolphin or marlin, there to lodge painfully in it’s digestive tract until our finny friend dies of acute starvation. Hmmm.
I think I’ll just send my lover a six pack ring this year. And because I really love her? I’ll dip it in mercury first.
America, ya gotta love it.

#4 Toasted

So I'm watching TV the other night. And like every good American out there I'm thumbing through the channels the minute the commercials start and I notice for the first time that every channel I turn to also has a commercial going. Never one to accept the truth when a conspiracy theory will do just fine, I think: Those dirty Fat Cats. They're making me watch commercials whether I like it or not. I mize well be back in the fifties with three fuzzy channels and a dial clear across the room. I mean, I felt so helpless.
But not as helpless as advertisers must feel. They've been given an opportunity by this time slot conspiracy but it's still an awfully big challenge. They know people are still thumbing their remotes during the break. The challenge: How to catch someone's attention in a split second.
And by "split" I mean a tiny moment of time indeed. The speed of light being 186,000 miles a second that little infrared beam from your remote can make it across the room pretty darn quick.
Perhaps that explains the new Quizno's commercial that debuted during the last Superbowl. You know the one: The little baby with the superimposed Johnny Quest lips who renders adult judgements on food quality. What I'm saying is: Something made me stop channel changing and settle on this commercial. My first thought was, grotesque. I was reminded of nothing more than that Chucky character from those bad "Childs Play" horror movies. Hey. That's my idea of a good snack: One touted by a frightening munchkin with a penchant for something toasty. Needless to say, my thumb hit the remote and fled for its life. But I guess it worked. I still remember it, me and my friends are still talking about it, and I'm sure that someday my nightmares will be less frequent. I guess my subconscious recalls that what finally supposedly killed Chucky in one movie was that he got burned up in some old house. Get toasty indeed.
America, ya gotta love it.

#3 Cell-volution

What is it about the cell phone that it has evolved to be the great communication teat of America? Seriously, I think they are absolutely remarkable tools. If you’re stranded on the freeway or Jason is chasing you around the house after your electricity has gone out, there’s nothing better. But why did we go from that to having this constant cyber-attachment permanently glued to the sides of our heads? Forget for a moment all the times SuperMom in her urban assault vehicle has almost run you down while she chats with her bunco sisters and almost veers into your lane. Or the real estate salesman who has no better place to close a deal than when you’re at the end of an off-ramp and he’s coming up behind you at 70 plus. No, I’m talking about the indoor abusers. The ones who prowl the video outlets and the grocery stores and need to talk to whoever it is back home about what movie to pick or what snack food to buy. What did these people do before when they didn’t have an electronic apron string to hang onto when they ventured into the wilds of the supermarket? How did they manage to negotiate the tricky million-dollar decision of white bread or wheat bread before they had a lifeline to the expert on the other end of the phone?
I was behind one guy at the store the other day and he was saying into his little mouthpiece: “What do you think, Slim Jims or jerky? Which would be better, Nacho Cheese or Ranch?”
I thought, what a loser. Then the guy holds up a can of Pringles to the window and says “What about this?”
This guy at the pump island outside said something into his phone. I’m no lip reader but it looked like the word “dude.” Then he gave the guy inside a thumbs up. Cellphones and mime. Communication evolves.
America, ya gotta love it.

#2 All for One

So I’m standing in this store the other day, minding my own business, shopping for something I used to be able to buy but somehow can’t even find now because they went and changed the darn packaging. What is it with this endless quest in this great country of ours to reshape the familiar into some new permutation? Don’t the great marketing muckety-mucks realize we all recognize things using a variety of strategies? Like we recognize people from a distance by the way they walk, or in a dark room by a trace of their scent.
Specifically, I’m looking for a Three Musketeers bar. In the past, even when it went from its old white waxpaper wrapper to its present shiny foil one, I’ve still been able to pick it out of the mix of its candy compadres. The visually challenged amongst us will appreciate this. Even in a dimly lit all-night convenience store; even in the mental fog and less than perfect visual acuity engendered by one too many libations, one could always pick out a dear old Three Musketeers by its distinctive shape―shorter and stouter than the rest of the carbo-criminals in the diet-busting line up. You could pick out a Three Musketeers quicker than you could say Artos, Demos, and whoever that drunk one was.
I finally found one. Guess what? It’s now shaped the same as a Snickers and a Milky Way. And I just want to scream as I pull out my few remaining hairs and say: It’s all about SHAPE Madison Avenue! Shape is important. You wouldn’t expect people to buy a square roll of Necco Wafers, or M&Ms fashioned into tetrahedrons―whatever the heck a tetrahedron is. Or how would you ever explain to the love of your life that the familiar Hersheys Kisses you get for her at Valentine’s Day now come as cubes? I don’t think so.
Shorter and stouter is fine Mr. Madison Avenue anorexic model lover. Three Musketeers were beautiful just the way they were.
America, ya gotta love it.

#1 Slow Writer

So I’m standing in the checkout line the other day. I’m at the grocery store and I’m experiencing that get-this-thing-done-on-to-the-next-thing mentality we all have driving us to an early grave in this great land of ours. And I notice the line’s a little slower than usual. Oh no, I think, the gal paying for her groceries has got her wallet out and is proudly showing the checker pictures of her loving grandchildren and the checker is wasting another second of my precious life giving the lady the obligatory “They’re so cute” schpiel. But no, I’m mistaken. The lady is starting to write a check. STARTING. You guessed it; she’s been standing there ogling the latest plethora of tabloid cleavages while her groceries have made their way across the scan-o-matic and only now is she tuning in enough to the task at hand to start writing her check. Not just filling in the total in the appropriate blank now that the checker is done. The lady is just now starting to write her check! And I think, WHAT IS IT about some people that they can’t plan ahead? You know at some point you’ll be paying. You know that at some point you’ll have to write a check. There’s a little table and a pen in front of you. Connect the mental dots for gosh sake! It’s not like planning how much to save for your retirement. It’s a check for your groceries. You do it every DANG WEEK. (SIGH)
Can’t we make people like that wear a special hat or something? I’m getting so tired of always picking the wrong checkout line.
America, ya gotta love it.