Friday, July 29, 2005

#77 Idiot Sticks

There’s lots of extra things poking up out of the ground lately. Idiot Sticks, I call them. They seem to help some of us in various ways, oftentimes for our own good, even if we persist in insisting on our stupidity. Like the flat yellow posts sticking up all over, I guess identifying all our gas lines. What’s that all about? Do you really mean to tell me there isn’t a database somewhere that tells us where we have potentially explosive gas lines, that includes a detailed drawing that plots them out to the last gnat’s derriere? Do we really need to stick four-feet tall, six-inch wide, bright yellow pieces of plastic all over the landscape? And really, post 9-11 like we are, wouldn’t it be better, not only to skip the plastic markers, but have that map locked up in a secure place? I would figure Terrorist 101 would be the last course any virgins-in-heaven-seeking suicide-teenager would have to take if blowing up gas pipes was in the homework. “Oh ho, these stupid Americans, they make it so easy for us. Let us across the border if we’re not Mexican and then show us where all the gas pipes are just so they can make digging a little easier for their construction people. Allah, ya gotta love it.
And what’s with all these barrels on the front edges of jersey barriers? They recently finished a new stretch of freeway near me. And they trucked in all these nearly grown tress and bushes and flowers and bark and stuff. A good bunch of money went down on landscaping. Pretty beautiful actually, and not cheap. Then they arrange a half dozen ugly yellow barrels in front of the jersey barriers at the off ramp. Wouldn’t want some idiot to t-bone himself cause he’s trying to cut in front of someone and whip into the off ramp too late. Oh no. This is the age of anti-Darwinism. We gotta save these poor bastards from themselves.
Like at the railroad crossings: The prime example of idiot sticks. How far we’ve come. Used to be blinking red lights. Then they got the gates that swung down when a train is coming. Not good enough. Some idiots would cut into the opposite lane, wind through the gap in the gates on either side of the track, swing into the wrong lane briefly on the other side and shoot off, reveling in their dance with death. So now, for about a hundred feet on either side of the tracks, the center of the roadway has a bunch of these three-foot unsightly plastic sticks sticking up, the threat of plastic apparently meant to discourage the yahoos from their feats of daring-do, as they play chicken with the iron horse. The funny thing is, half the plastic sticks are bent or busted. Don’t suppose some four-wheel-drive, high-suspension, monster mudding truck had anything to do with it? Seems like lots of those trucks have little emblems on the back with a big fish eating a smaller fish. The smaller fish says Darwin on it. I guess Darwin was wrong. In humans at least. Cause idiots almost never get killed before they’ve had a chance to reproduce.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

#76 Three Fools

I admit I’m oblivious sometimes. Okay, stupid. I get all caught up on what I think I heard and respond accordingly, only to find out that I hadn’t heard what I thought I heard at all and understood it even less. Like this guy at a meeting the other night. Well, it wasn’t really a meeting, it was one of those schmoozfests we all have to go to the pursuit of our professions. You know the type, buffet table with tepid snacks, 2 kinds of light beer, wine in a box, and what I call prom punch—the kind with 7-Up and ice cream in it
People had sort of clotted together in little conversational lumps and as I approached one of them, this guy was talking about skiing. Someone said something in my other ear at the same time and all I heard the first guy say was telemark something. At that point, one of those uncomfortable silences blared out, so, intrepid idiot that I am, I rushed into the social gap with a “How do you do that? Do you take a cellphone with a preprogrammed list or what? Everyone looked at me like I was a total buffoon. Uh oh. From social gap to social gaffe in three seconds flat. “Um,” I tried to explain, “You said you were a telemarketing skier right?”
“Telemark skier,” he said coldly, his voice sharp enough to carve the tightest turn.
I was left with only one response: “Are those meatballs over there?” Then, as I’m sure Emily Post would suggest, I beat feet.
I try not to say the wrong things. I really do. The other day my dear wife asked me that dread question and I thought I had it headed off. She came out wearing an outfit. “Does this make me look fat?” she asked.
“No,” I said (I’m not a complete dummy).
She changed anyway then came out and said: “Does this make me look fat?”
I said: “Not as fat as the last one.” Doh! When will I learn? Stick to the script, funny guy. Don’t try to ad lib. Just a little pointer boys. If your wife asks you if you’re having an affair the correct answer is not: “I wish.” Some conversations have no room for broad irony, or subtle sarcasm. As Nancy Reagan said: Just say No.
Still, I’d rather be a dufus and admit my mistakes now and then than be one of those macho guys that can’t ever drop their belligerent attitude—as if every interaction in life has to be viewed as a fight from which there can only emerge one victor. I was looking at this guy’s car the other day and there was a big dent in his front bumper. “What happened there,” I kidded, “run into a telemarketer?”
“Nah,” he said. “This guy stopped in front of me real quick and I slammed into him.”
“Bummer,” I said, knowing that in our state the person in the rear still gets the ticket.
“Ah, no problem” he postured, puffing out his chest and swaggering a little, “you should have seen what I did to his trailer hitch.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

#75 Ms. Junior

It was back in the eighties, when Wall Street went through its first spasm of plundering pension funds, eviscerating old companies and throwing all their experienced workers out into the street. Oh, excuse me, when Wall Street first went through its downsizing and restructuring strategies to make companies leaner. Oh, excuse me again, when the single best and lasting industry on the American economic landscape was born, the golden parachute industry.
Anyhow, it was back then that Rush Limbaugh had yet to invent the term feminazi for any behavior that he didn’t understand in women. Given Rush’s popularity in junior high and high school, that probably included quite a lot of un-understanded things. One of which is that treating women as fellow equal human beings shouldn’t be such a stretch for certain threatened macho types. It’s okay for men and women to be cranky; one of them doesn’t have to be a bitch.
It was back then our language was going through changes to reflect this equality. “Chairman” became “Chairperson.” “Men Working” signs changed to “People Working” and then simply to “Workers.” The word “mailman” presented a different problem, although the spelling was clear, the sound was a double dose of masculinity, containing both the syllables “mail” and “man.” “Mail-person” just didn’t work. “Personperson” sounded really funky, so everyone finally settled on “postal carrier.” The reverse was true with “stewardess.” People kept try to change it to “stewarder,” instead of just eliminating the female suffix and reducing it to “steward.” Everyone eventually became “flight attendants.” In spite of the sound problem, some words maintained their original use. “Hemorrhoids,” at first in danger of being delineated into “hem-orrhoid” and “her-orrhoids,” or worse, swollen into “person-orrhoids,” dodged the socially sensitive bullet. I use the term “socially sensitive” because the once non-value laden term “politically correct” is now used by some to sneer at any change that seems inconvenient or annoying to the conservative status quo.
But one word seems to have escaped it all: “Junior.” Yep, Junior, as in the former bitchy baseball baby we had in Seattle. As in, Junior High school. As in, Lieutenant, Junior Grade. As in, she’s my junior accountant. Seems pretty gender unspecific in these contexts. So why, when a woman is named Mary, and her daughter is also named Mary, do you never hear anyone calling the younger one “Mary Jr.”? Why do you never see the designation Mary Jr. on checks or legal documents or wedding announcements? Like John F. Walker Jr. is marrying Mary Bush, Jr. at St. Mike’s Cathedral.
And another thing, you had your Pope John Paul and you’ll have your Pope John Paul the Third. Why didn’t we call Pope John Paul the Second, Pope John Paul Jr.?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

#74 Spellchucker

One of the many daily annoyances we now face is the damage to our language wreaked by blind reliance on spellcheck. As one example, when I just typed in the word “wreaked,” I didn’t put in the “W” at the beginning of the word. Spellcheck caught it all right, but it only gave me alternatives to the incorrect spelling that started with “R.” If I didn’t know better, I could have picked reeked, r-e-e-k-e-d, and ended up with a word that meant stunk. “One of the many annoyances we now face is the damage to our language stunk by blind reliance on spellcheck.” Hmm.
And it happens everyday. And it makes it through more than one editor. Another example if you need one, I just typed in thorough instead of through and spellcheck didn’t catch it; nor did its green-squiggly-annoying-brother, grammercheck.
Speaking of odd things in spellcheck: Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the word barista. You’d think Bill Gates and Howard Schultz would be able to get together on this one. Seattle is the expensive coffee capital of the freaking world. You could at least put the word for coffee jockey in your gul durn Redmond spellchecker, Mr. Gates, Sir.
Anyhow, here’s two egregious examples of spellcheck stupidity. I have in front of me a Triple-A magazine. It advertises various packages I could purchase if I wanted to go on a Triple-A getaway. Unfortunately, I can only afford a Double-A getaway, but I don’t want to spend all my vacation time with ex-drunks. In the middle of the magazine is an ad for trips to Mexico and the Caribbean. They are billed as rejuvenating destinations. “Rejuvinating” is spelled with an “I” after the “V” rather than the correct “E” after the “V.” I wondered how a national magazine could possibly have escaped an appropriate editing correction. Then I saw why. “Rejuvenating” was in a smaller font, but it was all in caps. Spellcheck doesn’t work when your words are all in capitals unless you specifically enable it to do so. Don’t ask me why, I’m not a mega-billionaire, so how the heck would I know.
Two: I’m looking at an ad that has now come through our local Val-Pack at least three times. It’s a coupon for cigarettes. It’s actually a pretty good ad as these things go. Unfortunately it got spellchecked. The headline come-on says: “Wanted, Cost Conscience Smokers.” Yes, I said Conscience. As in: I can’t in good conscience recommend you use this word, sir. What they meant, of course, was conscious, as in, I’m awake enough to notice this word is not being used properly. Or as in: I was conscious of the error and since I had no conscience I let it slip by and made everybody look stupid. Where they screwed up here was in trying to get hoity-toity. They should have just said: Wanted, Cheap Smokers. Or better yet, Wanted Good Editors...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

#73 Side Effects

I once went to see a lecture by a noted science fiction author. He pointed out that the euphemism “side effect” was exactly that. If I take a drug to cure a headache and it also thins my blood, we say the blood-thinning is a side effect because it wasn’t intended. But if I take a drug to thin my blood and lower my risk of heart attack and that same drug happens to cure my headache, then the side effect is the headache cure, right? The drug actually exists, by the way, it’s called aspirin. Truth is, all of a drug’s effects are effects of taking the drug, whether we want them or not.
Which brings me to a corollary of the law of effects and side effects: The law of cascading side effects. Or perhaps I should call it the theory of cumulative side effects. Let’s say I got drunk. The next morning I have a hangover. A hangover is a “side effect” of getting drunk. I take an aspirin to cure the headache and my stomach bleeds. The stomach bleeding is a “side effect” of taking the aspirin. I take an ulcer medication to cure the stomach bleeding, the ulcer medication causes diarrhea. I get dehydrated from the diarrhea so I have to have a vodka tonic. And so on, and so on, and Scooby dooby dooby.
Say I’m depressed. Not really clinically depressed. Maybe I’m depressed because the Yankees beat the Mariners, or my dog died. Or maybe I’m simply feeling down because it’s two o’clock in the afternoon and my psycho-chemicals are rebounding from all that caffeine I drank like a good Americano this morning. Nonetheless, I hear so much about depression in TV commercials that I’m convinced its chronic and persistent nature—everyday at 2:00, Mariners are always losing—indicates it’s the real thing, and tomorrow maybe I won’t be able to get out of bed. I tell one of my doctors at the HMO. He just got a load of “Happy-Zac” from one of the giant drug companies and he tells me to try a handful. I do, but I develop some bloating and heartburn. Back at the HMO my PA suggests a new drug for acid reflux, which I dutifully take, but hey, then for no apparent reason my joints start to ache. Back to Doctor One, who informs me that the other drug mega-giant has a new arthritis pill using Coxx inhibitors that knocks that pain right out, and it does, except now I start to get this little fluttering sensation in my chest and then one day it feels like someone is stepping on my heart. Back at the HMO again where Doctor Two, who is filling in for Doctor One and the PA, who are filling out a foursome at the drug rep’s golf tournament, deduces my problem may be high blood pressure. He suggests I take another drug to control my cholesterol, but be sure to let him know if my muscles start to ache cause that’s a side effect that could indicate my liver is failing. Liver failure? That’s what my dog died of.
Now I am depressed.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

#72 Cowgirl Up

I’m the first to admit I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to some things. I saw this truck the other day. It appeared that the owner was female. And that she wanted to communicate a certain attitude to the rest of the world. When I’ve said in the past that cars rendered people mute I didn’t mean that cars themselves were uncommunicative. Far from it, people like to use their cars as personal billboards for all sorts of politics, religion, and buying preferences. Funny thing about bumper stickers and decals. The more strident the message, the more tinted the glass.
This gal’s truck was no exception. On the upper left of the back window was the term “Cowgirl Up.” Meaning, possibly, it’s her turn at the plate? Her turn to shine? She’s up on the horse and ready to ride? Anyhow, the pictures underneath got me confused. Not each picture mind you, they were pretty clear, but the combination of the two. The picture on the left—I say pictures but they were actually those cartoon renditions of little brats that do stuff to other things—and the stuff they do is usually urinary. The fad started with a male cartoon who looked a lot like Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, and he was depicted in the act of urinating on various things the owner of the vehicle didn’t like. Usually Ford trucks had a cartoon Calvin clone peeing on Chevrolet and vice versa. This gal’s rendition had two cowgirls squatting down and apparently urinating on a phrase that said “Import Cars.” The bodily function in question appeared to be somewhat magical as the cartoon females in question appeared to have their cartoon trousers firmly in place and not around their cartoon knees or anything. Magical perhaps, messy for sure. Of course, it was a cartoon side view, so it’s entirely possible the cartoon maidens were wearing cartoon chaps.
On the right side of the darkly-tinted window was Cartoon Calvin, but he wasn’t peeing, he was knelt in front of a large white cross, praying. I prayed for understanding myself. From all I could tell this car was owned by a cowgirl proto-feminist who hated import cars, who was also a Christian.
As I’ve said before, I’m can be an ignoramous. But it seems like when I was going to church when I was a kid, the whole point of Christianity was not just in praying for forgiveness for yourself, but in forgiving your enemies as well. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” says it pretty clearly, and as far as I’m aware, the entire remainder of the Lords Prayer fails to mention the notion of peeing on anyone or anything. In my church, the idea of peeing on anything in public was considered, if not an outright sin, at least highly inappropriate. And the idea of putting a depiction of said act on the back of a truck window, where every impressionable child could see it, was worth an extra helping of brimstone come judgment day. But what do I know, churches are so specialized these days. Could be a Cowgirl Pee and Pray Service going on out there right now.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

#71 Road Skills

I believe that one of the many reasons for 21st century road rage is the essential dumbness of our cars and trucks. And by dumb I don’t mean stupid, I mean mute. The casual polite words that get us past people who are, say, blocking the aisle at a supermarket are largely impossible to use on the road. It’s really hard to swing around a slower driver and say: “Excuse me.” Or clear our throats meaningfully when the person ahead is not moving, even though the traffic light has changed. Worse, if we’ve committed some traffic transgression, it’s really tough to say, “Oops, sorry, I screwed up.” We’re pretty much limited to shrugging our shoulders, throwing our hands up in the air and mouthing the words I’m sorry as visibly as we can. When the guy we accidentally cut off comes up alongside us, honks his horn and makes threatening gestures with his cell phone the temptation is to use the first move we learned in Mime 101. You know the one I’m talking about—universal sign language—middle finger firmly extended. Of course, that’s when he presses another button on his cellphone, but instead of it unfolding into a camera it changes into a small Glock. So there we are again, road rage. All because we can’t communicate.
My suggestion is a simple one. And I’m hoping it won’t be long before some techo-preneur invents the damn thing and gets it on the market. I mean really, you’d think in the day of the aforementioned cell and camera phones, text messaging, Blackberrys and Onstar navigation, that someone could come up with an LED message strip for our cars. You know, kind of like the ad bars you see crawling around the buildings in big cites. Or like the casino and car dealer’s diamond vision billboards on the freeway. We need something like that for our cars. It could be on the rear end, a little higher than the bumpers, where we currently put our magnetic ribbons. Or even a complete wraparound strip so we could communicate from the side too. When the message is in the front, the computer could reverse the image so your target could read it in his rear-view mirror.
Yeah, great idea. A lot of messages could be pre-set for ordinary everyday road mess-ups. If you cut someone off accidentally, you could hit the “I’m sorry” button, and a big “I’m Sorry” with a pathetic-faced emoticon would flash over your rear bumper. If someone lets you in in a crowded merge lane, you could press the “Thank You” button and a big “Thank You” with exclamation points and smiley faces would pop up. You’d also have the capability to text message custom communiqués. Like “Way to go dufus, you made me spill my coffee.” or “Get off the phone and drive numbnuts!” or “Excuse me, are your turn signals broke or are you just a complete idiot!?” or “Slow down when you get on the off ramp, not while you’re still on the freeway you stupid fool!” or “Eat me!” or “Screw you, buddy!” or “Screw you too!” or “Your mother wears army boots!”
Wait a minute... I see a little potential for road rage coming back. Maybe it’s better that when it comes to communication, we should actually limit our road skills. Maybe fewer road skills will lead to fewer road kills.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

#70 Miscellaneous Musings

I’m cursed with one of those minds that sees the world through a twisted lens. The odd thing is, I don’t have to think about it much, reality just seems to skew on the way in.
When everybody started talking about who was to be the next Pope with the death of Pope John Paul, I thought, Pope George-Ringo? Sorry, Lord, it was a natural. When there were reports of some of the competing cardinals trash-talking each other in the succession conclave, I thought, oh great, a papal smear campaign. There was even a mention of a Latin American pope possibility and one of my friends talked about the pope-mobile being customized in the manner popularized by Hispanic auto artists; lowered and chromed and what-not. Great, I replied. People will be pope-ing their ride.
Part of my curse is due to my having picked up and retained all kinds of weird old words in the course of my life. Recently there was a local scandal involving money and the organizer of the Procession of the Species parade event. My first thought was, hmm, how coincidental. Specie is an old term for money. An inquiry into the suspicious money trail would be just that, a question about the procession of the species. It’s hard enough to be a punster. Being an obscure reference punster is the kiss of death.
Do you ever wonder if political pollsters, when trying to figure out how to question a particular target demo-graphic, also try to figure out a particular republo-graphic? If you are not quite in the center enough politically to be an independent, are you a demo-can or a republic-crat?
The other day I was opening my bills. When it tried to open the envelope from Pacific Disposal, my trash company, I noticed that the envelope flap was on the bottom. They hadn’t just put the bill in upside down, the addresses and everything were lined up perfectly with the cellophane windows on the front side. I finally figured out why. When you open the bottom of the envelope you have to dump out its contents. Get it? Trash company? Dump?
Speaking of Dumping. Does anybody really know why Steer manure and Cow manure are different? Do they have different effects on your lawn because of different residual traces of growth hormones and antibiotics? My, your lawn is really green, Fred, is it the steer-oids or the tetracycline?
I was driving near Yelm the other day and I saw one of those signs that tell you who cleaned up that particular section of roadway. The sign said this section of highway sponsored by the John Birch Society, Yelm Chapter. Do you think they hated cleaning up the parts of the road that curved to the left?
And riddle me this Batman: Why, if the point is to be noticed, do panhandlers always seem to wear camouflage clothing?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

#69 You’re Hired

As I’ve said before, America loves a competition. And I guess that explains why so many of today’s TV shows feature a group of strangers, fiercely pitted against one another, in a grab for that brass ring. The question is, do we like seeing the final final person win or do we just really like seeing the other people fail. Do we want to save the sinner; or do we actually relish the idea of him going to hell?
There’s a lot of negativity in the show “The Apprentice.” America loves it when Old Donald snarls out his patented “You’re Fired.” Too bad. You’d think, given the job market and the never-ending threat of outsourcing, most of America would prefer to hear the phrase “You’re Hired.” I’ve noticed lately though, that even old Mr. Combover has been a little more gentile in his dismissals, prefacing them with long expositions as to why and how and etc. Looks like even the Donald isn’t immune from wrongful termination lawsuits.
“Survivor,” the uber-game show and the first of the reality TV genre to really strike it big, devotes a large part of each show to the voting process by which member after member of the smelly unpaid cast is removed from the show by their backstabbing former friends. At least you can’t say they are removed unceremoniously. What with the parchment ballots, the extinguishing torches, and the eery chanting and music, you’d think the Pope and various shamans were on the production staff.
“American Idol” involves the public one step further. We can actually participate in a competitor’s demise. No longer do we just have to sit at home and hate one of the smarmy contestants for their hair or the whine in their voice or their snotty attitude. We can vote those suckers off and send ‘em packing right back to their conniving stage moms.
I’m sorry to say it but I have yet to see “The Great Race”. I like the idea. Races were, after all, one of the original competitions. Running away from wooly mammoths was a great original survivor skill, and living to see another day was far more prized than immunity from your teammates’ votes.
There’s a new show I just heard about. “The Cut” or “Making the Cut” or something like that. TV is always so great when it comes to originality. As a great man once said: Creativity is great but plagiarism is quicker. Not only that, but as everyone knows, reality shows are pretty low on cast budgets.
Anyhow, the new show features a bunch of aspiring designers competing for the honor to work with Tommy Hilfiger. Go figger. Gee, it sounds a little like, um, the Apprentice. Cripes. Why don’t they just have Tommy and Donald compete for worst middle-aged man’s hairdo? It promises to be quite a good show though. Word has it that at the end of the show, Tommy and his winning Protégé will be launching a new line of clothes, to be modeled by none other than Mick Jagger. It’ll be called “Over the Hilfiger.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

#98 Commitment

I’m one of those people who has to be careful what he does because when I do do, I do it over the top. Commitment has never been my problem, so I have to curtail my activities on the involvement end. Don’t get involved and you don’t have to get committed.
A lot of organizing my life has been developing the ability to say no. But still, I figure if you’re going to do something, you ought to go all out. Lance Armstrong takes that maxim to the limit, and his multiple tour de forces in the Tour de France show what he can do, even if he is a little lopsided around the bicycle set.
So when it comes to the fashion amongst today’s young to get a piercing, I’m a little ambivalent. I don’t think any form of permanent mutilation is a good idea. Mutilation for fashion seems even more suspect (two words: parachute pants). Still, it’s not much of a philosophical leap from an earlobe ring to an eyebrow stud. So I say this with the appropriate misgivings. If you’re going to stick a stud in your nose, get a freaking big one. Those tiny ass little things don’t cut it. I saw one on this girl the other day and I thought, what the heck is that? It looked like a whitehead. Now that’s attractive. Piercing your booger factory is bad enough. Putting a teeny tiny stud in it that looks like a proto-pimple is ten times worse. I’m all for the age of technological wonder-alloys replacing body parts. But I don’t think the world is ready for an artificial zit.
And how about those Seattle SuperSonics? Did they commit to Nate McMillan? Apparently not. Nate is moving to Portland cause he got a better offer. Seattle says by offering him 30 million over the next five years he would have been one of the top paid five coaches in the NBA. Coaches don’t have a salary cap by the way. 30 mill seems like a lot. Still, just the day before, the Sonics signed Ray Allen back on for an 85 million contract over the next five years. Not to quibble or anything, but I would think the psychological dynamic of team discipline gets harder when the players make more than the coaches. I mean, next time Nate and Ray are standing next to each other at the salary urinal, which one of them do you think is going to win the paystub match? It’s pretty tough when the middle manager makes less than the widget maker. And the widget maker knows it.
Not that sports in this great land of ours have ever been a true reflection of life. I mean the situation in Seattle is all the more strange because the highest paid official in Washington state is not the Governor, whose responsibilities weigh heavy and whose thoughts and plans and actions affect deeply and on every level the cares, the concerns, and the quality of life of millions of state residents. No, the highest paid official in the state of Washington is the coach of the University of Washington Huskies. Makes you long for a different form of commitment doesn’t it? Lock me up Lord...
America, ya gotta love it.

#68 Attack of the Killer Strawberries

The other day I was helping my bride unpack groceries. Well, unpack some of them; we had a lot of loose items from Costco that require no bag shucking. We long ago learned to turn down the seemingly innocent request from the Costco clerk to provide us with a box or boxes with our market booty. Come trash day, it was just one more three-dimensional piece of cardboard I had to reduce to two, and I got really tired of putting out large, empty, flattened cartons of Summers Eve for my recycling guy to wonder about. Besides, much as I like Costco, I think they should do their own dang recycling.
So, one of the loose items was a carton of strawberries. I looked at it suspiciously. It was late February at the time and I didn’t remember from my boyhood days in the California desert whether strawberries ripened this time of year, so I thought I’d try to determine the South American quasi-democracy of origin of said fruit. I was surprised. It said Imperial Valley California. How do you like that? I thought. The Imperial Valley, widely know as the figurative armpit of California, and they already had strawberries in late February. I looked at the fruit through the clear plastic of its clamshell container. They were gigantic! This genetic engineering has come a long frickin way. All those bad atomic radiation gigantic grasshopper B-movies from the fifties flashed through my brain in one chittering nano-second. Headlines spiraled in and slapped down on the newsdesk of my mental cinema: “Elderly grandmother chokes on gargantuan fruit!” “Colossal Strawberries rule the world.” “Look at the size of that smoothie!”
I shook my head and put down the box. Wait a minute, my subconscious chimed in; weren’t you just looking through a plastic clamshell? I looked at the container again. Sure enough, the plastic clamshell container was there all right, but it was nestled in a cardboard box. Oh my god! This is much, much worse than giant bees, grasshoppers, carrot aliens and the blob combined. It’s... Its... Overpackaging! We’ve found another way to add more crap to the waste stream. I mean here you have these genetically engineered strawberries. Not, as you might expect, genetically engineered for taste, no, that would be too logical, why waste all that dangerous science on something as ephemeral as flavor? They’re genetically engineered to survive the trip to the grocer’s shelf. I mean, these things may look impressive but they’re as hard as country western girl friend’s heart. You could play hackysack with these things and still take em to the table. Hell, you couldn’t bruise one of these things in a soccer game, mom. So then you wrap it in a plastic clamshell for its shipment to the stores and then, so you won’t damage the plastic clamshell, you enclose it in stackable open-topped cardboard boxes for transshipment across the state. Kinda thoughtful in a way. Use all that oil and energy to make the plastic, cut down all those trees and dump all those dioxins from paper processing in the environment to make the cardboard, all to deliver a genetically-engineered, gigantic, bright red, enticing piece of fruit to my table. And it has no flavor. Is this a great country or what?
America, ya gotta love it.

#67 Wiped

I was at an Albertsons Supermarket the other day and I was quite impressed because they had something I personally found very nice. Disinfectant wipes. So what’s the big deal, you say? Lots of supermarkets have disinfectant wipes. Yeah, but these wipes were right where I needed them. By the shopping carts. And they were ready to use—on the handles of the shopping carts. And they were free.
Has this ever happened to you? You go to yank a shopping cart out of its nested buddies and you can see that there’s trash in the one you’re grabbing for—even though that’s difficult cause it’s hard to tell with all the metal crosshatching which cart is which in the nest. Not wanting to add trash collection and deposit to your list of things to do this weekend, you slide over to the next column and grab a clean cart. Or so you think. About the time you get your second hand on the cart of choice you realize with a little shiver of revulsion that someone has left a little handle surprise for you. You’ve gripped something unknown and sticky, and a little bit slimy on the underside of the cart’s handle. You’re even more disgusted because you’ve specifically avoided the carts that have cup-holders—so it probably not an old latte you fingers are now running through—and also avoided the carts with the child seats, so it’s a far bet whatever it is that’s slickery under your digits is of adult or other origin.
Visions of dive-bombing seagulls and nose-picking nerds flash through your brain as you fight the urge to disengage your hands and see something even worse. These are hands that will soon be picking out produce. Squeezing and testing apples and mangos and peaches and pears. Fruit that you now swear you will always wash vigorously in the future before ever, ever eating it.
These are hands that may wish to take a sample dip of chips and salsa from the deli area. These are hands that may soon accept the cube of cheese proffered by the market-testing gal at the end of aisle F-3.
You push forward and look around helplessly for the cleverly hidden “not for use by the public” public restrooms. Meanwhile the slimy stuff appears to be getting a might more tacky. Hardening up under your palms and promising to glue them to the handle if something isn’t done soon.
That’s when you see salvation. The greeter guy. Just as you reach him he turns away to help a little old lady, who’s struggling to push her cart over the lip of the rug at the automatic door.
You’re desperate. You’re eyes take on that doe-in-the-headlights look of fear and panic and total terror. Then they clear. You’ve spied something beautiful, something wonderful, something sublime in its simplicity and perfect form. Something so completely and absolutely useful for your current need that it’s like a gift from heaven. A disinfectant wipe. Is this a great country or what?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

#66 Gifting

From time to time, just to keep up on how much the world has changed, I look up things like etiquette and anniversary gifts. I like to be right on top of the current rage when I give someone a gift. I’m glad to see avocado-colored appliances are back in. I can finally get rid of the toasters I made a killing on in close out bins in the seventies. What goes around comes around.
I’m one of those people who likes to give gifts. And I also like to say it just that way. When I was in the investment business, advisors were always talking to their clients about doing some gifting. Sorry. You can do some giving. You can give a gift. I don’t believe in gifting. Maybe its just me. But I’m driving a car. I’m not car-ring.
Anyhow, a brief glance at the new versus traditional suggested gift ideas for anniversaries was interesting. First of all, I noticed the list favors gift giving in the early years. It includes categories every year up through year 15, perhaps to indicate your greater need for a reward for staying together when you’re both still marketable, then starts skipping in blasé increments of five: 15th 20th, 25th, etc. all the way up to 60, where you score diamonds from all your friends. Okay, your friends are dead.
Many of the suggested gifts on the traditional list seem to indicate a time when some things were valued more than they are today. The traditional suggested gift category for the first anniversary is paper. Perhaps to help start a fire. Or to suggest the bride write to mother every now and then. Today’s first year anniversary suggestion is clocks. As in alarm, as in get to work, earn some money, and move out on your own you lazy kids. Traditional year two was cotton. Today it’s china. Good. I’m not really into fancy dishes, but I’d have had a hard time smiling and thanking someone for a wad of cotton balls. Thanks Aunt Myrtle, every time we absorb we’ll think of you. Old fourth anniversary calls for fruit/flowers, today’s fourth is appliances. Good call. While it takes fruit to make a smoothie, a blender can also be used for margaritas. Seventh was wool or copper, today it’s desk sets. Message here seems to be, then or now, you don’t want to invest too much around seven-year-itch time. Wool, copper, desk sets—make sure the gift can travel well to either side of the divorce courtroom. The eleventh is kind of curious; again reflecting the relative value of things at different times. The new suggestion for the eleventh anniversary is jewelry. The traditional suggestion was steel. Hard to find a good piece of steel back then. Golly shucks, we was just out of the bronze age when this here list was made up. Can’t wait to the 13th anniversary when we get corn cobs for the privy. Tenth is intriguing. Traditional was tin. The new one is leather. Leather huh? I think someone’s marriage just got a new lease on life. Growl. Happy anniversary, Baby.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

#65 Junkspam

The biggest move in advertising these days is the attempt to advertise just to you. That’s right you, I’m talking to you. Broadcast advertising has only one effective medium left, the one you, and I mean you, are currently listening to. Radio has always had the benefit of being closer to a person than any other ad medium. We talk before we read, so print ads always have that extra layer of impersonality that’s hard to remove. Every layer makes the wall between advertiser and advertisee just a little thicker. TV? It’s true its images are lively, but they’re across the room, and nothing can ever be as lively or as personal as your own imagination. You know the feeling. You’ve read a book, they’ve finally put it on the screen, and all the characters look and sound wrong because they’re not like you imagined.
All of which explains why supermarkets are all getting into line to offer rewards cards, club cards and frequent shopper cards. That and computers that use them to spy on everything you buy. Rewards cards pay you money because the megacorp-megamarket saves that money on advertising. They no longer have to send a junk mail—excuse me—direct mail piece to anybody and everybody. They can send one directly to you, the shopper they already have; that’s already been proven to be a megacorp-megamarket shopper because you have their card. On one note that’s positive. I’m always complaining about cutting down trees to make junk mail. But I still don’t like the idea of mailbox spam, whether it comes from my megamart or not. Here’s an idea: Give me a freaking coupon next time I come in. Have your happy-dappy greeter slip me a 50% off on “mac and cheese” while he’s offering me a cart. Save the stamp and pay him a living wage.
Likewise, make the power companies and the bankcard companies stop stuffing my bill envelopes with offers to buy everything from real cubic zirconium to timeshares in Rwanda. There’s nothing I hate more than having to paw through four pages of extraneous nonsense just so I can find something I don’t want to pay anyhow. And stop adding gosh-darn extra flappage to the return envelope too. I don’t want to have to rip off an ad for a cheesy tennis bracelet just so I can get room for my tongue to do its appropriate licking and sealing. And really, what are the chances I’m going to buy a piece of jewelry, sight unseen, because I saw an ad for it on the flap of my garbage bill for pete’s sake?
I admit it. Sales and advertising can be tough some times. I know lots of salesman that kid themselves they’re out there selling when they’re just BS-ing with people they already know. But really, you can’t keep fishing in the same pond forever. There’s a big difference between treating your existing customers well to cement their loyalty and squeezing them till the turnip screams. Preaching to the choir may be more fun, but it’s the sinners that need the message. Send them some freaking junk mail.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

#64 Depends

If someone from the renaissance was suddenly snatched up in a time warp and ended up here in the 21st century, you can bet they’d be bewildered indeed. Motion pictures love to deal with this subject, but most of the time they fixate on the larger technological advances in our culture. Leonardo Da Vinci, say, would be really impressed by aero-planes and loco-motives and auto-mobiles. Maybe. I think old Leo would be totally blown away by our “notions.” Yep, notions. As in cards and notions. As in the stuff drug stores started carrying back in the five-and-dime days because drugs alone weren’t sufficient to maintain the bottom line. Had to add a cotton ball or two to give the customers something to shop for and keep them happy while they were waiting for their prescriptions.
I think Leonardo would have a cow the first time he walked though a grocery store and went down the absorption aisle. You know the aisle I’m talking about; it’s always right next to hair products and shaving needs and right before pet supplies. Did I say grocery store?
I would hazard a guess that someone from the 16th century would be mystified by the 21st century’s obsession with body fluids and the absorption thereof. But, let’s face it, we literally run the cradle-to-grave gamut when it comes to keeping dry in our nether regions. You start with Huggies and Pampers, the Coke and Pepsi of the diaper world. The Lords of landfill filling. The storied inventors of the first synthetic throwaway poopookahkah holders. From there a 21st century child advances to “pull-ups” or their generic equivalent. The just-in-case diaper. A back up for the backside, as it were. When adolescence hits, the fairer gender finds itself with a different problem, but, never fear, the wonders of technology and science have been put at their disposal as well. Eventually the cycle ends where it started, with the diaper, but not before a lighter version, kind of a geriatric pull-up, is passed through. Then, of course, it’s the full on Depends adult diaper, for those whose biological machinery has worn out and can’t keep the gaskets sealed any longer.
Leonardo, spending a little time with our culture, would no doubt note that as our population has aged it has spent more and more time and energy obsessing about the twin evils of senior living, constipation and incontinence. You either can’t go or you go too much. Stove up or blown out. And he would invent a solution. An adult diaper permeated with a chemical laxative to relieve constipation. When the diaper is worn, body heat triggers the release of laxative chemical vapor directly into the area of contention. The diaper is then already in place to catch any undue or sudden release.
Genius that he is, you can bet Leonardo would even come up with a great advertising slogan: “With depends like this who needs enemas.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, July 08, 2005

#63 Luv is all you need

So if you reverse the meaning of the word fat by changing the ‘f’ to a ‘ph’ what other words could we do the same to to benefit humanity? I mean, it seems a clever linguistic solution to a whole host of challenging situations. I know I’ve often been strapped for the converse of a word. If I could just slap a ph on all the f-words in my vocabulary and make it mean the opposite, I’d be one ph-orlorn camper. The only real difficulty would be in pronouncing it in such a way that the listener could discern the subtle difference between the f and the ph. I suggest just the hint of a breath between the f and the rest of the word. Imagine you’re almost pronouncing the h. Let’s see. Fisher. Ph-isher. Okay. I think I got it. Fickle lovers would be ph-ickle lovers if they always remained true. If you wanted to go backward instead of forward you could go ph-orward. The person that came in last at the race would be ph-irst. If someone was boring you instead of fascinating you could tell them they were ph-astinating. With any luck they might not catch on. You could have all kinds of ph-un. Still, you’d have to be careful. I’m guessing you couldn’t use a certain F-word and spell it with a PH and get away with it over the airwaves, whether it was the F-CC or the PH-CC that shut you down.
Speaking of weird spellings. One of my high school kids is going through that whole dating thing. Remember? When we used the term Luv, spelled L-U-V, instead of love l-o-v-e, to signify that our relationships were not at the ultimate level yet. At least that’s what my girlfriends always told me. The way I understood it, you could “l-u-v” luv someone and still go out with other people. Or at least she could. If she l-u-v’d you, and you really l-u-v’d her, you were supposed to patiently wait for her to go through her fling and not actually date anyone else. See, it was like a spelling test. You’d wait for a spell, and if she didn’t come back she must have only l-u-v’d you after all. L-u-v was kind of more than friendship but less than total commitment. Kind of an open marriage sort of thing, but for teenagers that were fickle with a capital F.
Guess what? They still do it today. If you can believe it, even after a generation of Phil Donahues and Doctor Phils, Montels and Oprahs, Jennys and Jerrys, kids still use each other in their stunted emotional ways. They manipulate relationships to have freedom when they want it and how they want it. And they do their conniving best to keep the other member of their sacred couple off the market and tied to the nose ring of affection. Luv, luv, luv.
Where did the term come from? Good question. Maybe it’s not a bad spelling of love after all. Maybe its an acronym. We have SUVs. That stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. What could LUV mean? How about: Love, User Version?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

#62 Scootchability

Words fascinate me. I guess because they are one of the great rulers by which we measure our changing culture. Slang in particular gives us a window into what was happening at any given time. “Nine-eleven” has shifted in our language from mere digits to a description of a watershed moment, as in “before nine-eleven”, and a comparison, as in, “It was as bad as nine-eleven” or “It scared me more than nine-eleven.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite made the complete transition. It still has regional or perhaps cognitive variability. Some people still say, “It hasn’t been like this since before nine-one-one,” or “That’s as bad as nine-one-one man.” An interesting case of an accidental similarity—9-11 the date and 9-1-1 the call for help—lodging in the consciousness as a exact match.
Some words break big but never quite linger on shore for long before they’re swept back into oblivion. As you may have noticed, no one gets “jiggy” anymore. I was never quite sure what getting “jiggy” was. Or even what one did to denote jiggy-ness. “Getting down” was something I could kind of understand, although getting down with something or someone was different than getting down on someone.
The word “Fat” now apparently changes meaning if one uses a “ph” instead of an “f.” Fair enough. Spelling is a good way to distinguish meaning. And it’s not used enough if you asked me. How can any foreigner appreciate the difference between read as in bead and read as in dead? Same with lead and lead (the metal). Or how about Polish the ethnicity and polish the shining ingredient? Spelled the same. I have a little bottle of liquid in my bathroom cabinet that an eastern European would think was invented by a Russian tsar. It says Polish Remover. I still remember when the Mariners were having a bad year and the fans all had T-shirts that said Refuse to Lose. Refuse the attitude and refuse the trash are spelled the same. Non-fans like me persisted in reading the T-shirt ref-use to lose.
So if you want to call someone something nice by calling them phat with a ph that’s fine. Just make sure you have pen and paper handy to clarify before the slap comes your way. Or maybe you could just text message the compliment to be safe.
I have a new word. Scootchability. The other day I went to Google maps. “Google maps” is a cool new thing. When you go to Google maps dot com, your computer will suddenly become a satellite window on the world. Type in any address or landmark. Say, the Space Needle. A map will appear. Change from the map to the satellite image. Then zoom in. See that mole on the baby’s butt? Well, it’s not that close. But what’s really cool is when you want to move up or down or left or right, the image follows effortlessly. The older versions of this technology were really slow as you’d wait for the new maps to load. They didn’t have near the Scootchability. With this program and a broadband connection it’s nearly seamless. You can scootch left and right and north and south. You can scootch all over the world. And that’s the skinny on how phat that is, dude.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

#61 Happy Pants

Ducks don’t wear pants. One of the many lessons I’ve learned from Disney over the years. I read this article on Disney’s fiftieth anniversary in a magazine. As kind of a fiftieth anniversary tie-in it listed fifty reasons to love Disney. Get it? Fiftieth? Fifty? I don’t know where they come up with these kooky ideas.
Disney and I have had a love-hate relationship over the years. Probably stems from the time I was ripped out of the grip of my mother’s hand when we were crossing over the bridge from Fantasyland to Frontierland and I spent the next forty minutes being swept around in the tide of the Fourth of July sea of humanity like a baby lion in a wildebeest stampede. I was as scared and confused as Bambi in a forest fire. Being only four years old and having already been exposed to enough Disney movies to associate the very name Disney with losing a parent you can imagine I was scared indeed. It was not a good day for me as I recall. Puking after my older brother got the Mad Hatter’s teacups spinning too quick, getting the one piece of gum in all of Disneyland stuck to the bottom of my new mouse-eared shoes—which incidentally were too big and had raised a Jumbo blister by abandonment time—and then being lost in a huge forest of adult knees. I’m surprised I turned out normal.
So as I’m reading some of the fifty reasons to love Disney I’m a little skeptical. Some are okay. Mainstreet is #1. Thrill rides are #5. But #7 is a little esoteric: “‘An ever-optimistic global spirit’, the park has long urged visitors to imagine a more peaceful planet, a message repeated over and over in ‘it’s a small world’.” That’s that John Lennon song isn’t it? Nah... Excuse my cynicism but “It’s a small world” is chiefly notable for having inserted that insipid song into my brain so deeply that I still can’t get it out. My parents used to force us to go on that eternal ride every summer. Not because they liked it but because it was the longest ride indoors and it had air conditioning. A great relief from the 100-degree southern California sun. The ride and its annoying repetitive song didn’t make me wish for world peace, it made me wish for world peace and quiet.
Reading the article, I got the feeling that even the writer was having a hard time coming up with fifty reasons. Listing as #34, the theme- decorated trash cans, is a bit of a stretch, and as #35, the re-creation of Walt’s pre-Disneyland Burbank office was even more obscure. It was never worth an “A” much less an “E-ticket” (#12 by the way). Reasons #21-27 are the seven dwarfs. That’s padding the list, and then the article only mentions three of them by name. Even the paid hack Disney writer can’t remember all seven. But who cares. As Disney knew, you don’t have to make sense to be happy.
Still, riddle me this. Why is Mickey’s friend Goofy—a dog—able to talk and gets to wear clothes, and Mickey’s friend Pluto—a dog—not able to talk and has to run around naked? And what’s with Snow White and those antique clothes, stark white face, and jet black hair? Is she like the original Goth Chick, or what?
America, ya gotta love it.

#60 Stalking the Rat

My sister and brother-in-law were up visiting and they left behind this AAA magazine. She works for AAA and so gets the magazine a couple of weeks ahead of the general public. Boy, big organizations sure hand out the perks these days don’t they? In the magazine is an article on Disneyland. Seems they’re celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year. I’m not enthused. Maybe because every fifth year since their 25th they’ve been hyping a major anniversary. After 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45, 50 is just a bit of a yawner. But I admire Disneyland, if only for the exquisite psychology of mind control they’ve developed over the years. Namely, how do you make people wait in 2-hour lines, ride only six rides in the course of a twelve hour day, deal with squalling kids and cranky relatives, sun-burned necks and upset tummies, eat incredibly expensive food with no place to sit down while you do so, stumble back to a car that’s impossible to find in a 500-acre parking lot, struggle through southern California freeway traffic both coming and going and still manage to call yourself the “Happiest Place on Earth?” It’s no wonder one of their iconic characters is The Mad Hatter. And another is a figure known, simply, as Goofy.
Seriously though, the next time you’re at an airport or post office and you’re confronted with that serpentine pseudo-path created by movable stanchions and extended cloth tape, you can thank Disney. They found out early on that if you’re in a long line, you stay way more patient if you think you’re making progress. Making it to the next pole or the next switchback becomes just as important, and nearly as rewarding, as making it to the actual ride. Also, Disney discovered if you can load a lot of people on the ride at once, so the line advances in clumps, temporary empty zones will open up as the line redistributes. You get this exhilarating feeling when you rush forward. It’s almost like a ride itself. Disney also realized that if people are waiting in line a long time you have to give them something to look at. So their famous attention to detail was born.
To that end, Disney scatters through the park costumed versions of the whole group of interesting characters they’ve invented or co-opted over the years, to the delight of children of all ages. “Children of All Ages,” by the way, is a Disney invention. I’m looking at a picture of Pluto on the magazine. Pluto is Mickey the Rats’ dog. Hey, if you’re going to make a rat lovable and human, he’s gotta have a dog. Funny, the thought of giant rats with dogs always gives me nightmares. Anyhow, in this picture a six-foot-tall Pluto is standing next to a little girl on Main Street in Disneyland. His orange plush costume is nearly perfect in every detail, complete to the license tag hanging from his neck. “Pluto,” it says, “if found please return to Mickey Mouse.” How nice, and how socially responsible. All pets should be licensed, ergo, Pluto should have a license.
So where, pray tell, is his spay/neuter tag? The last thing we need is a bunch of six-foot-tall, orange plush, walking-on-their-hind-legs, dogs running around on the streets. That would not make my earth a happy place.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, July 01, 2005

#59 Famous Potatoes

I’m driving along the other day, and I chance to find myself behind a car from one of our neighboring states. It’s a state that I know to be fabulously blessed with stunning, soaring mountain vistas, winding rivers with surging rapids, heart-stoppingly beautiful canyons and mountain lakes crisp and clean as a—well—as a mountain lake. Their license plate? It said “Famous Potatoes.” How a-peeling. Sure can tell the environmentalists aren’t in control of the legislature in Idaho.
Now I know we wouldn’t want the people in charge of actually making the license plates be in charge of the sayings on em. “Arizona, Oldest Territorial Prison” or “New York, Remember Attica” would probably be tough to sport on the back of your Lexus, but who does control what it says on the license plate in any given state? Some of them sure read like slogans from the State Chambers of Commerce. A state’s major scenic items don’t ever seem to get past second base, much less make it to the plate. Oh there are occasional glimmers of hope. Here in Washington we do have “Evergreen State,” somehow or another Boeing State or Bill Gate’s Backyard fell off the list. And North Dakota has “Peace Garden State.” Not bad for a flat expanse of nothingness. At least they tried. Wyoming’s plate has no slogan at all. Pretty sad. But I guess it’s better than “Wyoming: Empty of all Hope.”
But, like Idaho, there are lots of agricultural product state license plates. Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland.” I’ll be sure to bring my gas mask. Georgia is “The Peach State.” Hmm, and I heard it was the pits. Kansas is “The Wheat State.” Iowa is “The Corn State.” All the major grains being taken, Nebraska elected to be “The Cornhusker State.” There’s an time-honored and economically elite financial base to aspire too. Cornhusking. How about Nebraska, “Poised on the Precipice of Economic Doom”?
Some of the Eastern states take a different tack. They use their license plates to badger people. Maryland cautions “Drive Carefully.” North Carolina nags “Drive Safely.” Ohio asks “Seat Belts Fastened?” I don’t know about you, but if every car I drove behind in the course of a day asked me if my seat belts were fastened it would literally drive me crazy.
California goes for generalities. It’s “The Golden State.” Nevada for specifics. It’s “The Silver State.” New Jersey simply begs the question. It says it’s “The Garden State.” Garden of Pollution? Garden of Landfills? Garden of Toxic Death? South Carolina, land of Peanuts and Tobacco, calls itself “The Iodine State.” Gee, too bad North Carolina isn’t the “scratched my knee” state. One state just seems to be begging. Oklahoma implores, “Visit.” Please.
Only one state comes closest to saying what it really means: Arkansas, “Opportunity Land.” As in, Arkansas: Lower Business Taxes.
America, ya gotta love it.