Wednesday, August 31, 2005

#95 Checking the Mail

I just got done doing what I never had to do 20 years ago, shredding my junkmail. Progress. If there’s one thing wrong with the 21st century, it’s bankcard company junkmail. They’ve used junkmail to help bring about a new spin on electronic checking. Apparently, if they send you some notice that you’re not aware you’re getting in midst of the reams of junkmail they send out, companies can now electronically access your bank account when you send them a check. You don’t have the float anymore during the time it takes for a check to clear from back in bankcard-offshore-haven-New-Jersey and your own local bank. Fair enough, I guess, after all you should have the money in your bank if you’re gonna write the dang check.
Many of the bankcard companies used the same strategy to eliminate or shorten the grace period on purchases. Used to be, you had a full 30 days from the time you got your bill till interest started to accrue on your purchase. Now you get 20 days from the date of purchase. It’s actually possible to start owing interest before you even get a bill. Now that’s progress. And, of course, another big change is that it’s no longer possible—thanks to one of those acts of congress we’re always hearing about—for a personal bankruptcy to exempt you from paying your bankcard bill. Joe’s hardware store, local businessman down the street, can get screwed out of the bill you owe him but Megabuck-Citichase-Banka-Master-Express can collect every last nickel. Joe needs a better lobbyist. In my dictionary by the way, the word “congress” is also defined as a sexual union. So it’s no wonder acts of congress often end up screwing somebody.
So tell me this, Qwai Chang. Why is it that with identity theft on the rise; with a huge recent scandal about bankcard records being hacked into at a master computer clearing house bill center—compromising untold identity and privacy records—with not a day going by that someone doesn’t report a rifled mailbox; with the bankcard companies so afraid of bankruptcies that they get a law passed to protect them; that the idiots keep sending bankcard offers in the mail? And worse, that every third one contains preprinted checks with your name on them that any yahoo could take in and pass through the in-training teller that all minimum wage paying mega-banks always have?
What’s wrong with this picture? You don’t want me to spend too much, but you send me offers for a bankcard in my name, my wife’s name, my ex-wife’s name, my dog’s name and a feminized version of my own name. You’re afraid of identity theft, yet you send me freaking blank checks through the mail. And worse, the envelopes always say “important offer open now” so any dimwit could tell they’re worth stealing, and even worser, I don’t even know the dang things are coming, like, say, my own box of regular checks—which, by the way, I pick up at my bank—so my identity, my bankcard balance and my credit rating are totally exposed to theft. Personally, I think the bankcard companies must own some major stock in companies that manufacture shredders. I can’t remember the last time I put a whole piece of junkmail into the trash
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

#94 Wurst is Best

One of those old sayings that we still use like “there’s nothing more certain that death and taxes” is about sausages. Specifically, anybody who cares about laws and sausages shouldn’t watch either of them being made. Sausages, as we all know, but choose to forget, are made from lips and sphincters. So are laws. And whether your congressman is a lip or a sphincter depends on whether you voted for him or not. We all know anything created by a committee is liable to be less than optimum to each of the members on the committee. Benjamin Franklin, in his address to the constitutional convention shortly after its final vote on the final version of the constitution said he wasn’t pleased with it, but because of that he thought it was most likely a very good document. Meaning of course that the spirit of compromise keeps the extremes from getting too extreme. Always important to remember that the extreme left is totalitarian communism and the extreme right is totalitarian Nazism. I’ll take that soft gooey center any day of the week. And you know what, sometimes sausages are really tasty. But sometimes they’re head cheese.
So it’s always interesting to me when folks try to come up with better ways of doing stuff. Like the “top two” primary we’ll have here next election. Maybe. It’ll be interesting to see if the public is served better by not having a minority voice get through the primary. Voting is tricky. And when you start to mess with it, you could be asking for trouble.
Recently we had this chowderfest in Olympia. One of the awards was for Chef’s Choice. 12 restaurants were participating in the event. The public voted on the overall winner. One vote per person like normal elections. But each of the restaurants was allowed to vote for three choices among their competition for the Chef’s Choice award. Funny thing happened, the winner of the Chef’s Choice award wasn’t even in the running for the people’s award. Why? Is the public palate that screwed up? No. The principle behind voting is that we all vote in our self-interest and therefore the final result reflects the majority opinion. But not when you get three votes, and business competition enters the fray. Then you have competitive instinct versus truth. I wonder which is going to win. If I’m a businessman and I have three votes, I’m going to vote for myself first and my two worst competitors for second and third, figuring that the worst guy can’t possibly get enough to win but sure as hell the best won’t beat me either. Problem is, if everyone else does the same thing then the restaurant with the most second place votes will win. Because everyone picked the worst restaurant as their second choice, it will have the most overall points. So the worst wins. Worst, by the way, with a slightly different spelling, is what the Germans call sausage.
And what is it you don’t want to see made? Oh yeah, sausage. And perhaps new election laws...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

#93 Banana-bana-bo-blame

So I was talking to this car salesman the other day. And what surprised me was he was spouting off his political opinions. To hear him tell it, all liberals were spawn of Satan. It surprised me cause rule one in sales is to keep your religious and political opinions out of the process. The two subjects where people most often disagree have no place in bars or saleslots. And I was surprised even more because he was kind of an old codger. So when he was done blaming the liberals for the new 4-cent gas tax and ignoring the 30-cent gas price hike we had last summer that apparently had no liberal origin I asked him how long he’d been with Chrysler. “30 years,” he said. “Oh,” I remarked, “you must have worked there when Chrysler was on the ropes.” “Yeah,” he spit, “That Carter had the economy in such shambles Chrysler almost went under.”
I let it lie because I only vaguely recalled that Carter was the president that actually bailed out Chrysler. I went home and looked it up and sure enough, that’s what happened. Even though Carter personally felt that Chrysler’s failure to rise to the competitive challenge of the Japanese auto industry by making too many fuel inefficient cars should result in the same destruction by capitalist market forces that killed Nash and Rambler, industry lobbyists, union lobbyists and his economic advisors prevailed and the big three stayed three and Lee Iacocca became a candidate for president because he engineered Chrysler’s recovery. Next time I go bankrupt and have all my debts forgiven I hope to get billions of dollars in government loan guarantees to engineer my recovery too. I mean, that’s what capitalism’s all about right, no government intervention...
So it was doubly ironic that this poor embittered car salesman owed his job to the man he hated the most, Jimmy Carter. But like all people, he was very adept at making the facts fit his belief. When I was in the investment business, they called the improvement of the stock market in the eighties “the Reagan Years” and the even larger stock market and total economic surge in the nineties, “the nineties.”
If you would like to make sure you’re on the same historical interpretation page as my friend the Chrysler salesman, it goes like this: The terrible economy of stagflation of the Nixon years was the fault of the Democrat-controlled congress. The hyper-inflation years of Gerald Ford were the result of the failed economic policies of the Democratic congress. The economic malaise of the Carter years was the fault of Carter. The deep recession of Reagan’s first years in office was the Democratic congress again, the brief surge in the stock market in the eighties was due to the enlightened economic policies of Reagan, the resulting recession during the first Bush years was the Democratic congress again. The resurgence and boom of the nineties initiated by the first 2 years of the Clinton administration policies were the result of the next 6 years of Republican domination in congress. These last few years of economic disaster, when Republicans have controlled both the White House and Congress, have been the result of “factors.” A factor, by the way, is a fact that can’t be bent to fit a belief.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 26, 2005

#92 Outrage-sourcing

We are such lemmings. Day after day, year after year, I’m led further and further into despair as I see how people cling to their prejudices and continue to blame the easy target for their woes. It was once said, hundreds of years ago, that there are only two things one can depend on in life, death and taxes. Back then, reasonable people shrugged their shoulders and went on about their business. Of course you can depend on death. None of us gets out of here alive. And of course you can depend on taxes. No society and/or government could exist without them. If you don’t think that’s true try getting a bunch of your neighbors together to repair that pothole in the road in front of your house. Better yet, try enlisting their aid to build a road in the first place.
So it has been a wonderful tactic of one of our political parties to frame every question of public policy as a “the government is trying to tax you to death” question. Meanwhile completely steering us lemmings away from asking why it is that some people are making huge amounts of money hand over fist and others are barely scraping by. The scrapers must be lazy, of course. I mean just because both of you parents are working and you each have two jobs and you have to drive around in an old gas hog cause you can’t afford a fuel efficient Civic and you don’t have health insurance because each of your part-time employers keeps you under 20 hours a week while they weave their golden parachutes and you live in mortal fear of a major health crises that could wipe out what little savings you have and totally max out your credit card which you can’t declare bankruptcy on any more cause the congress just passed a law protecting the bankcard companies from frivolous health-crises-engendered bankruptcies but if you’re Kmart you can still go belly-up any time you want and reorganize and pay one cent on the dollar for your debts and go on borrowing till you’re blue light special in the face. Yep. You poor people are lazy. And I’m working real hard holding on to the pile my grandfather actually earned two generations ago.
So I was a little baffled by this car salesman I ran into yesterday who was outraged because the democratic legislature in our state put a four cent a gallon tax on gasoline to help pay for fixing our crumbling highway infrastructure. And he was mighty miffed let me tell you. He actually turned a little purple. I can afford it, he proclaimed, but my kids aren’t as well off as I am. How dare the legislature raise taxes four cents a gallon. Um, I said quietly, I agree that high gas prices disproportionately hurt the poor. But I guess I understand the four cents. Who made gas prices go up 30 cents a gallon last summer? He suddenly became that rarest of beasts, a silent car salesman. Cause you know, where is the outrage? 30 cents a gallon last summer, 25 cents a gallon this last winter, who knows how much higher it will go this summer, did we get any new roads out of that deal? Did any ordinary American get anything whatsoever other than an emptier pocket and more hardship? It’s pretty easy to jump on the bandwagon and bitch about how the government is screwing us. But next time the bandwagon is sunk to the axles in a pothole maybe we ought to question the driver. Look him in the eye man, and say dude, whose side are you really on?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

#91 A Joyful Noise

So the other day I’m reading this newspaper article. And it’s talking about the reporter playing this new video game and how realistic the graphics are and stuff. Realistic graphics. It’s always seemed like a strange quest to me. Make cartoons look more and more like the real thing. Dumb. The more they’re like cartoons the more we can let our fantasies roam and still keep in mind they’re only cartoons. I mean seriously, how many child psychologists and social workers would be up in arms about “Grand Theft Auto” if it was the Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote? And though things like Grand Theft look realistic to you and normal me, the kids are only concerned about how the figures depicted in these games respond to their joystick. The figures could be stick figures for all they care as long as the response to the button push or the toggle touch was instantaneous.
And I’m sure I won’t make any parent friends when I say this, but using a remote game control is a hell of a lot different than pointing a real gun—even if your control connects you to a video image of a real gun. One of my sons is a paintballer and he can tell you, his online paintball is a lot different than his real world paintball. For one thing, when he throws his clothes in after the video version, it doesn’t screw up a load of laundry.
Kip Kinkle didn’t come from video games, any more than he came from Elvis’s rock music or Benny Goodman’s hot licorice stick jazz.
But anyhow, off my soapbox here. What got me thinking was the word joystick. From whence came this particular Freudian vocabulary addition? What was the alternative to the word joystick that was superseded? What was it that made joystick stick? All new words have to elbow out other contender words for describing the same thing. Like the term mouse pad beat out the term mouse mat. So I grabbed my dictionary. By chance I happened to notice the publication date of this reliable old tome of mine; 1975. Uh oh. That explains why I couldn’t find the word shizzle the other day. I didn’t hold out much hope for joystick either. I mean, 1975 was the day of disco, the day of “Space Invaders” and even “Pong” was yet to be.
But I was surprised. The word “joystick” was there and its definition was “control stick of an airplane.” Oh ho! So it was a top gun kind of thing. Wild testosterone-fused flyboys soaring through high-G loop-de-loops and barrel rolls and holding on to their joysticks for dear life. It was joystick long before there was ever a pimple-faced teenager yanking it around interacting with a world of realistic cartoons. Now where did that whole mouse thing come from?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

#90 Down for the Count

Recently the Republican Party filed suit against the State of Washington to prevent the new state “top two” primary system from going into effect. The Democrats, in a rare act of bi-partisanship, filed a sympathy brief, or whatever it’s called. In the political chicken battle of who would sue first and get the most possible public scorn, the Republicans blinked first. As an independent―or what Rush Limbaugh would call “spineless” because my thoughts don’t always run in lockstep with his―I think it’s ironic that the party who is always shouting the loudest about our democracy being taken over by trial lawyers and activist judges should be the one that keeps filing suits in our state about things having to do with elections. Um, do you want the courts to settle disputes or not?
Now don’t get me wrong here. I think it was a travesty that so many dead felons managed to vote in the last gubernatorial election, which, by the way, was also a general election. Although I’ve always believed in extending the franchise as much as possible, I do think being able to breathe should be a prerequisite to being allowed to express your opinion at the polls. And as far as why the live felons voted illegally, I mean, come on, they’re felons for gosh sake. They like to break the law and mess with the powers that be. Do you think they think that voting illegally is gonna blow their probation or something? But seriously, if you were an ex-felon, would you be likely to vote, even illegally, for the ex-attorney general that sent you up the river in the first place? If I was the opposition I’d be thinking, hell, I only got as close as I did because the felons were on my side. And look at the other results that came out of the totals from the same ballots: state and national offices that went overwhelmingly Democrat; Kerry, and Murray and all the state legislative offices, it really does kinda indicate that something unusual must have got Rossi as close as he ended up getting.
So anyhow, the “top two” primary being sued against is a result of our old primary being decided unconstitutional. Both big political parties were involved in that as well, it’s a long story, and this isn’t the place for it. It forced us to have a party declaration sort of primary this last year and nobody liked that either. So the legislature put in Plan B, which is that all the candidates—red, blue, pink and purple—appear on the same primary ballot and the two candidates with the top vote count get to go on to the regular election. On the surface, it seems pretty fair, but in reality, if someone from a minority party, like say, Republicans in King County, wants to get to the general election, it won’t happen. That also means that big chunks of outside money can’t be brought in to bolster them in the last few weeks before the general election either. Which means that last minute dirty tricks campaigns, which have succeeded in placing dark horses through the finish line more than once, will no longer be possible. Cause the dark horse will have already been put out to pasture back in the primary. And that’s bad for politics. And if it’s bad for politics it must be bad for the country, right?
America, ya gotta love it.

#89 Oregon Donor

I heard this story about World War II. It happened in Oregon. The Japanese sent a bunch of incendiary balloons up and some of them landed on the beach in Oregon. Pretty rough stuff. Um, Japanese Intelligence must have been pretty good back then. I mean, what were they intending to do? Oregon has no tactical military targets whatsoever. Were the Japanese trying to cripple our wartime myrtlewood industry? Or wipe out Tillamook cheese capacity. What an evil, evil psychological campaign. Deprive our brave boys of the finest cheese in the Pacific Rim. And judging by the campaigns success, I’m betting the Japanese War planners were a little chagrinned that they’d caved into to the propane balloon lobby and sent their nuclear physicists packing.
Also in Oregon around that time, a US Navy ship accidentally launched a missile or a mortar round in the direction of shore and wiped out a bowling alley. Naturally, everybody was quite upset when the bowling alley was destroyed by an attempted missile strike. But they were even more upset when the Navy tried to pick up the spare.
I was thinking of Oregon the other day. Seems the Austin Cooper Company has come up with an interesting version of their popular Mini. It comes customized to look a little like a dragster/funny car. For a while the Austin Cooper Company was thinking of calling it the “Funny-Mini” or the “Mini-Funny.” But then some wag decided that to make the accessory package look more complete, they’d add parachutes to the back end just like a real dragster. Then some other marketing wag, noting the parachutes, thought it would be a good idea to call the car the “D.B. Cooper.” That, my friend, is marketing.
D.B. may have survived if he’d landed in any state other than Oregon. Oregon seems to attract misfortune. Can you say Paul Allen’s Trail Blazers? And yet Oregonians are always so arrogant to us Washingtonians. It goes way back. One of our original settlers in Washington, George Washington Bush, was a Free Black Man back in the days of the Oregon Territory. He and Michael T. Simmons headed North to Olympia because the Oregonians threatened to take George, confiscate all his belongings, and tie him to a post and whip him if he didn’t clear out within 24 hours. Fortunately for the future Washington State, when he got here, he put together the best-producing farm in the area and fed countless settlers who were, both figuratively and literally, at trails end. George helped them get on their feet, get settled and make Washington the great place it is today. So, personally, I don’t know why when they use our roads to come up and shop in our great and diverse metropolitan areas, and visit our stunning scenery, that Oregonians don’t have to donate the sales tax that supports the infrastructure from which they are benefiting. When we go down there, we have to donate an extra non-resident surcharge to stay in their state parks. So fair is fair, if they can figure out a way to come here without using our roads then they can shop tax free all they like. Otherwise, our tax coffers should benefit from Oregon Donors too.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

#88 Snoose-Chewing Smoothie

So from time to time I go to radio remotes. That’s when a radio station sets up at a remote location and broadcasts from it. Usually, it’s a business that’s trying to get out the word on a new opening or a remodeling or a new product or something. Sometimes the remote is from a community festival. I like the excitement. It’s pretty fun to see what is being featured that week, new businesses that I’m curious about have usually put out the red carpet, and there’s lots of giveaways and freebies (I’m not sure what the difference between a giveaway and a freebie is, but I think it might be that one of them is easier to fling)
So I was at one recently and I chanced to overhear a couple of the employees of the establishment that was sponsoring the remote talking between themselves. One of them said: “Man this is the busiest I’ve ever seen this place.” The other one said: “Yeah I was skeptical about this thing. The last time we had a remote here it was put on by that defunct country station and all we had show up were 6 snoose-chewing rednecks, and all they did was order smoothies and left.
And it got me thinking. What flavor of smoothie goes best with chaw? "Hey pilgrim, hows about you shake me up one of them Copenhagen smoothies?"
Cause I’m thinking raspberry or guava are not your typical chaw-compatible tastes. Of course that’s assuming anyone with a cheekful of cud can taste anything anyhow. That reminds me... I was real young when I heard my first Skoal commercial. And I really didn’t grasp the concept of chewing tobacco. The only tobacco I’d ever tasted had been when I was four years old, and expecting one of my uncle’s camels to be like the candy cigarettes we all ate, I was really, horribly, surprised by the taste when I bit into it. To complicate things for my young mind, my mom always referred to the human buttocks as cheeks. So when I heard the phrase “just a pinch between your cheek and gums” naturally I assumed chaw was some sort of round clip or clothespin or something, maybe meant to help you grow an inch. Hey I was a kid.
And it didn’t help that some people call chewing tobacco chaw or cud or twist or plug or dip and others call it snuff or snoose, even though they never put it in their nose. Near as I can tell, a wad is a wad is a wad. Smelly, gross, and pretty ugly in an open trashcan.
But what I really wonder is: Used to be that another name for a lounge lizard, a gigolo and a “ladies man” was a smoothie. As in the phrase, she was escorted by a Broadway smoothie. When did a lounge lizard become a popular drink? Yes, I’ll have your lime lothario please, no, make that a lingonberry lecher. And, if you don’t mind, could you blend in the fluid from this spittoon?
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

#87 Continuing Ed-Vacation

It’s summertime. Time for the American horde to go on its annual vacation rampage as six flags of peace and profit are raised at amusement nations across the country. Time to fire up the RVs, fifth-wheelers, and reconverted busses, pile in the jet-skis, ATV’s and mountain bikes, strap on the kayaks, dinghies and surfboards and strap on a Thule pod or two full of extra changes of underwear. America’s on the move and we’re taking our crap with us.
Of course, you all know that the chief reason for an RV that costs more than a house is because with an RV you can take your own toilet with you wherever you go. No more dark motel bathrooms with purposely anemic lighting to blind you to the encrusted filth in the corners, no more cockroaches skittering across the floor in counterpoint while you’re performing Beethoven’s most common movement, no more raspy toilet paper chafing your nether regions, tenderized by multiple miles of marathon sitting. You’ve got your own toilet in your own RV, dammit.
Funny thing, it doesn’t matter when I manage to squeeze out that paltry week or two of my vacation, wherever I go I always seem to run into at least one of my kid’s teachers. It’s like they have the whole summer off or something. Oh yeah.
So, I ask you, why do teachers have planning days? Why not plan your school year during the two and a half months you have off during the summer? Kids have too many breaks during the school year as it is. And it’s screwing up education. I say add those 9 planning days onto the summer break, skip the new extra winter break, have two weeks at Christmas and one week at Easter and have full days every other day for the rest of the year. For one good reason; so the freaking kids can settle into a routine of study and not have to be interrupted every third Tuesday by a day off, or a half-day off, or a SIP, or a TIP, or whatever. Studies have shown that kids spend the first month of every school year catching up on what they forgot from the last month of the last school year. Partly because during the last month they didn’t do anything except daydream about summer and partly because a lot of their teachers skipped out early themselves to beat the crowds at the resorts and the substitute squad came in to show films and slides of their trips to Death Valley. Studies also show that smaller interruptions or vacations reflect the same anticipation/need-for-review cycle. So before every little break, you have kids anticipating the time off and daydreaming, and after every break you have catch-up time to pick up where you left off. Say you have a day off on Wednesday. Monday’s shot because it’s review of last Friday. Tuesday’s shot because of anticipation of Wednesday being off. Wednesday’s off. Thursday’s shot because of review of Tuesday and Friday’s shot because of anticipation of being off the weekend. Is this any way to educate? So tell me, how many months did it take to think up this plan?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

#86 Rude 2

Just so you have some background here. I’ve raised kids. Three to be exact. And for a lot of the time I was a single dad of one of them. I realize how hard it is to juggle schedules. I realize how tough it is to shift from the exigencies of work to the necessities of parenting. I’ve railed like everyone about the inconveniences thrust upon us by our school system. Which starts its day too late and ends it too early to be the cheap daycare they always complain that they are not anyhow. Who schedule half days during conference weeks, ostensibly so parents can come in conveniently. The reality is, it’s even more inconvenient to come in during work hours, regular jobs not be as time flexible as the teaching profession. How about if the teachers stayed late one week a trimester? And who can forget planning days, those little extra days off that slip in every now and then for no apparent reason. I have yet to have a job in my entire 40 years of working that gave me a day off the routine for “planning.” Much less two and a half months off every summer. Or even two and half months every summer to pursue my continuing education credits. Any continuing education I’ve been able to get has been early in the morning, late at night, and on weekends.
So I understand how hard it is to be a parent and how hard it is to attend everything your kid is involved in at school. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible to be everywhere and do everything that each of your kids needs. So you have to prioritize. What’s more important, this basketball game or that band concert? This awards ceremony or that tennis match? My basic strategy is, rarity wins. If one of my kids has four more basketball games this season and the other one has a once a year recognition ceremony, the once a year thing wins.
So that’s why I was irritated as hell last night at a baccalaureate ceremony I went to. Baccalaureate ceremonies happen once in your kid’s entire 12 years. And the high school seniors were there putting it on the line showcasing their talents. Music, singing, fluting, drumming, you name it. Every person in the place was attentive and warm and supportive. Except one. One had to ruin it for all the rest. Minority ruled. Cause one person brought a squalling kid. A squalling kid is worse than a rude cellphone, because you can’t turn them off. There’s no mute button. And duct tape just isn’t considered socially appropriate any more. I have and will have no sympathy for these people. Find a sitter or stay home. You have no right to ruin an entire evening for everyone else. Or even to force people to be understanding. You have no excuses. It is the epitome of selfishness to proclaim that because you want to see your kid you will ruin the experience for every other kid and parent. Why? Because you couldn’t get a sitter. I’m thinking the speakers at the baccalaureate, who were telling the kids about the meaning of life, should have added: Oh, and by the way, the world is full of selfish idiots.
America, ya gotta love it.

#85 Drive-by Shots

I get a big load of human nature every time I go out driving. I tend to observe interesting variations on the human theme. Maybe its because I once took a class called field biology. We would go on field trips out to the desert and my instructor would point things out through the window of our carryall van along the way. I learned to distinguish between an agave and a yucca—even without flowers—at 50 yards.
So I get these little drive-by shots at the human condition. Sometimes they make me cry. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they make me wonder. Sometimes they make me I ended up in the same species.
So I wondered the other day when I went driving by one of our local casinos. I had just visited said casino a few days before and had walked all the way through it, looking for the manager one of the kind security people had speculated may be on the premises. There was a lounge and a bar and a grill and a buffet and a restaurant and a deli and a coffee bar. And there was the gaming area which paid for everything else, including contributions to just about every tribal and charity event in town. And more than anything else, there was the overwhelming atmosphere of cigarette smoke. I’m sure the casino had invested big bucks in air filtration and recirculation systems but to no avail. The insistence and persistence of the smoke smell, especially to an ex-smoker like myself was incredible. My upper lip started to feel warm, my nose clogged up, my eyes commenced to watering, and my throat got scratchy. I felt like I was stuck behind an LA bus.
Anyhow, as I was driving past this same casino a few days later, I noticed something odd outside on the porch behind the kitchen. Four guys dressed like cooks. Smoking. At first it didn’t register. I get so used to seeing smokers smoking out on the back porch of restaurants and in the entryways of state buildings. Then it hit me. Wait a minute. This is a casino, on an Indian reservation. Truth be told it was a nice day. I guess everybody likes a little fresh air.
The other vagabond vignette I glimpsed in my travels that day made me chuckle even more. As you’ve no doubt noticed, certain hobo types stake out certain areas of beseechment. Begging is like any other area of employment, it comes with certain requirements, qualifications and development of technique. This fellow is one of the hyper-hobo types. He energetically strolls back and forth in his tapping territory, handling his pan with more enthusiasm than most. So I was amused when he turned around and I read the back of his T-Shirt. It said: “Buck The System.” A noble aspiration. And one, by all appearances, that was working out pretty well.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

#84 At-tired

One of the unexpected consequences of our designer society is what happens to perfectly good designer clothes once there fashion life has passed, even though their wear life still has quite a few more years. Now, I used to work in the men’s fashion industry, and I would be the first to proclaim that all menswear needs to come with an expiration date. Most men will wear a favorite article of clothing till the threads are barer than their scalps. But maybe the most effective strategy, instead of a freshness dating system, like old milk, would be to use a tread depth indicator, like tires, to let men know it was time for a change—or at least a rotation. They could call it a thread depth indicator. It’s barely likely that men may respond to this, being far more conscientious about auto accessories than fashion.
Anyhow, the big problem with fashion fashion is the other way. Things that are too fashionable need to be discarded too quickly. It’s a small step from “I want this year’s Air Jordan to I want this month’s Air Jordan. And if I’m going to plaster Tommy Hilfiger across my butt I want this season’s Tommy thank-you-very-much. All of which explains why the other day, as I was driving past an off-ramp, I saw this hobo all decked out in a perfectly good FILA jacket. My first thought was he was a former soccer player who had fallen on hard times. You think being an ex-basketball player is bad. Try landing a job doing TV color commentary for soccer.
But no, he was a legitimate hobo. His puffy red nose and generally scraggly hair style, not to mention the bottle-shaped brown paper bag he was clutching, pretty much indicated he was a classic King of the Road. And clashed just a bit with his one article of designer attire. The whole effect looked a little at-tired as it were.
In the radio biz we sometimes talk about the dangers of newspaper ads—your business name is out there so bold and fresh and crispy when it’s first printed, but so badly soiled at the bottom of a bird cage. Or we point out to clients how buying a billboard usually means their name is going to be displayed where billboards are, and therefore associated with the dingiest and most industrially ugly sections of town. Or, if they buy the back of a bus, it means their potential clients will connect their name with a noseful of stinky bus belchings.
I’m thinking the same thing is happening here. Tommy, Calvin, and Gloria are all being indecorously draped on drunks, derelicts and ne’er-do-wells, their fine designer names forever associated with the dregs of society. From upper class to underclass to not-even-showing-up-for-class, all in one season. Woe to the would-be fashionista who appears at a soiree in yesterday’s Tommy, only to be confronted by a panhandler parading the same designer’s duds. She’ll wish she had one in the car when he says: “Spare Change?”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

#83 Out of Touch

I admit I’m a little cranky about folks who spend too much time on their cellphones. I’ve tried to understand, really I have. But I’ve always been something of a loner and the thought of spending so much of my precious private time on the phone has all the appeal of grapefruit juice on a paper cut. But some people just can’t be out of touch. Maybe it’s a reflection of how truly lonely folks in our society are, that they feel they have to constantly be sucking on an electronic teat lest they be cast adrift in the churning sea of 21st century indifference. The existential angst suffered by folks of the last half of the twentieth century has been replaced by the pseudo-connectedness of the cyber-ized cellphone. You can call people from anywhere at anytime, or if silence is a necessity, say you’re taking a final and Professor Numbnuts isn’t looking , you can text message your friends and keep the warm fuzzy companionship alive. Not to mention get the answer on how Herbert Hoover’s disastrous heightening of protective tariffs really entrenched the depression of the 1930s.
So the cell phone revolution’s contradictory effects have been to bring some of us together, friend, family, in-network extended family, and drive some of us apart, people who are annoyed by people who need to be together so damn much they force us to eavesdrop on their boring and insipid lives. Because really, with fully 90 percent of all cellphone calls being made up of completely useless information and idle chit-chat, the rest of us are subjected to a constant barrage of low level noise pollution we’d really rather do without. Why is it, by the way, that cellphone users seem to be completely oblivious of how loudly they’re talking about Aunt Mabel’s gallstone removal, but suddenly get all conspiratorial and quiet when they start talking about their latest tummy tuck?
I’m convinced that part of the problem is technological. I’ve yet to hear a cellphone that matched a land line in clarity of audio reception. Every time I’ve ever used a cellphone, I’ve had to strain at the earpiece to distinguish what it is the person on the other side of the cell waves is saying. And so naturally, like we all do when we’re talking to someone we can’t quite hear, or who acts a little deaf themselves, or appears to be speaking a foreign language, we start to yell at them. The person on the other end may be hearing me fine, but if I can’t hear them it’s like some atavistic reversion to being on the other side of a distant canyon. I holler. I used to tease my grandmother because she would always shout into her standard issue Ma Bell black bakelite phone. “I can hear you Grandma,” I’d yell back over the din, “You don’t have a phone with a crank any more.”
“But I do have a grandson who is too cranky,” she’d fire back.
America, ya gotta love it.

#82 Obnoxious Oughts

They used to come up with great phrases for previous decades in history, like “the Roaring Twenties” and “The Dirty Thirties” and “The Nifty Fifties.” This decade’s a little harder. Especially since we have to think up a name for the span of ten years itself. The “zeros” don’t work, and it’s not the “teens” yet. How about dusting off an old word for zero? “Oughts.” Yeah, I like it. Then car dealers could offer “ought-percent financing.”
And we could call this decade “The Obnoxious Oughts.” Cause future historians will surely conclude that the biggest engines of cultural commerce were two very obnoxious things in particular, the cellphone and Viagra.
The cellphone is a slam-dunk for obnoxiousness. We’ve all experienced, on freeways, in theaters, and in churches, the annoying consequences of allowing people to be in communication with each other at any moment. Some people just can’t be out of touch. But wake up. I’ll grant, when cellphones were new, that you could forget you had one when you went into the movie house or the church. But the message is out there. Turn the damn things off. The other night at one of my kid’s music concerts at the high school, the conductor wasted three minutes reminding people nicely to turn off their damn phones. And these were presumably parents who came to see their own kids play. Although I’ve been to enough of these things to note that if it’s multiple groups playing, and the current group playing doesn’t include their kid, those same rude parents talk to each other even without phones. So maybe obnoxiousness doesn’t require electronic assistance. Guns don’t kill people, as they say, though they sure make it easier for some idiot to do so.
Our other cultural obnox-ification comes from that little blue pill, Viagra. Granted, it solved a problem. But it created a whole new one. No, I’m not talking about recent reports that taking Viagra makes you go blind. What research came up with this by the way? And has that research stood up to rigorous analysis? Or was it supplied from the International Order of Fifth Grade Schoolmarms? Cause it seems to me they used to warn us that something else associated with that area made you go blind as well. Is there a blindness center down there that science has yet to uncover? But that’s not the new problem I’m talking about. No, the problem is that Viagra created a whole new genre of advertisements I really wasn’t quite ready for in the middle of the Superbowl. Please. Give me a flash of Janet Jackson before I have to sit there, my mouth full of popcorn, and listen to another ad about “lasting quality” and “being ready when you are.” Sheesh. You’d think I had nothing better to do than have sex all the time. I got phone calls to answer you know...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

#81 Rude-i-bagos

Is it just me or is the world getting ruder? I know I’m getting older. I know I’m getting more cranky. But it seems like back in the day people had a little more common courtesy. They said please and thank you. They didn’t have to be reminded fifty jillion times to turn off their cellphones in the theatre. What I’m talking about is oblivious rudeness. The “the whole world is here just for my benefit” rudeness. The “I’m just drifting through life doing my own thing” rudeness. Or even the “My car’s bigger than yours so you’ll just have to wait” rudeness.
I’ll take the last one first. I’m trying to get out of the parking lot after grocery shopping the other day. And just about when I’m getting to the end of one of the parking aisles, a big truck starts to turn in to the same aisle I haven’t actually reached the end of yet. I say starts to turn in because the guy didn’t actually make it. He had misjudged and started his turn too late. The parking lot aisle seemed to be wide enough. But then again, he was driving an extended-cab long-bed high-suspension monster truck. One of those brobdingnagian behemoths that hulk over ordinary cars like King Kong over Fay Wray. And fit on a city street about as well. Now, I’m willing to accept that he may need this monster to tow a fifty-foot horse trailer or something, but does he really need to pilot it to the store to pick up a couple of six-packs and a bag of chips? Isn’t there some dinghy he can lower from his land yacht to run into the shallows and take on supplies?
But he wasn’t as bad as the lady that got me upset in the first place. This gal was the epitome of indifference to her fellow man. She came walking up with her cart towards me. I had seen this slot next to what turned out to be the driver’s side of her car. Although I had the opportunity to cut in front of her and slide into the slot, I waited courteously and patiently for her. She turned into the empty slot with her cart and her child. And proceeded to park her cart in the middle of the slot and open both her car doors on that side wide. She then slowly unloaded her groceries. I confess I uttered an expletive of exasperation that contained four letters. I then backed up four slots and parked my car. As I walked by she was putting her cart between her car and the one behind her. The cart collection cage was after all, a whole twenty feet away. I tried but failed to catch her eye. She seemed to be in what I can only characterize as a medicated vegetative state. Thank god for small favors. A few minutes later and I might have encountered her on the open road.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

#80 Fruit Buzz

So I’m listening to this commercial the other day. Those of you who have listened to this column before may make the comment; he sure listens to a lot of commercials. Well yeah! Don’t we all. I once read a statistic that by the age of five, kids have been exposed to about fifty thousand ad messages, all telling them to consume, consume, consume. Whereas they had only been subjected to about a five thousand cultural messages from their parents, like which fork to use and how to cuss out that annoying driver who cut you off cause she was gabbing on her cellphone.
So commercials really do define our culture, and since what I do is write about our culture, inevitably I write and rant about our commercials. Like this whole “fruit buzz” thing.
Now let me just say from the start that as a person who appreciates both the power of advertising and the art of persuasion, I think McDonalds sets the bar. It’s no surprise children recognize Ronald McDonald more than they recognize George Washington. And you might as well completely dispense with any notion that today’s elementary schoolers will appreciate the nuances of the administration of James K. Polk. Such are the vicissitudes of manifest destiny.
Anyhow, Mickey D’s manages to redefine itself more often than Madonna in its endless quest to be on the forefront of American consumerism and for a huge organization, they do a damn good job. Usually when a company gets that overblown and bloated we end up with things like Windows ME and IBM Selectrics.
So I was intrigued the other day when I heard this commercial for a new Mc-Product. It’s the fruit and walnut salad that the anti-supersize-me factions within the McDonald’s politburo have nominated to capture the healthy set. And the ads are really great. They feature people talking highly of other people. When questioned about this unusual good behavior the complimenter claims to be seeing the world through rose-colored glasses because she’s having a fruit buzz from one of McDonald’s new salads. The message here is very Christian. Love thy neighbor as thyself, judge not lest you be judged, live and let live—but only if you have a McDonald’s salad. Jesus never had it so good. If only instead of 5 loaves and 2 fishes he’d had some walnuts grapes and apples. Dude.
One thing unsettles me though. So far, all the commercials I’ve heard feature only one gender having and feeling the positive effects of this fruit buzz: Women. The presumption from Mc-higher-ups seems to be men are stuck with being carnivores. Big Macs and Quarter Pounders, an occasional McNugget for concentrated additives, and we’re ready to pick up our remote and watch the other meat-eaters tear off each other’s heads at the Superbowl. What gives? This is the 21st century Mickey D. Sexism is as yesterday as a Mc-DLT. I know lots of men that would enjoy a fruit buzz too. Not, need I say, that there’s anything wrong with that.
America, ya gotta love it.

#79 Cart-man

America is becoming cart-ified. Everywhere I turn these days, people are wheeling stuff around. Backpacks everywhere are morphing into extendible-handled caster-bottomed carts. The message seems to be, if you can’t wheel it you shouldn’t own it. I saw this guy downtown. Had a laptop-holder computer sack. It was a cart Had wheels, had a handle. Another guy came up to his table in the wireless node coffee shop. He had a cart too. His was bigger. More black nylon more zippers. Bigger laptop. Methinks a little competition was going on. The first guy did have a smaller monitor screen. Maybe he was suffering from screen-us envy.
I’m a little worried though. The other day I was looking a picture of a World War II GI about to embark for France. He had a small wool blanket for a bedroll and a trenching tool for latrine digging in a special pouch on his back, and one of those big green canvas duffel bags with everything else slung over one shoulder. For you young folk the duffel bag was about 10 to 12 inches in diameter and 3 to 4 feet long. Basically it was a giant stuff sack. And that’s what you did. Stuffed your stuff in. That was then this is now, where, let’s face it, we don’t live in a country where such everyday exercise is a common thing. I was briefly heartened in the 80s and 90s when schools everywhere curtailed their locker availability because of vandalism and drug smuggling and stuff and forced the kids to lug around all their books in knapsacks. Okay backpacks. When my kid complained, I said, hey, a little backpacking is good exercise indeed. But my hope was quashed as the backpack backlash set in, when some kids complained of lower back pain and their parents rushed to sue the schools for chiropractic and percodan bills.
So now all the backpacks have handles and wheels. And instead of a fit country on its toes, we have a country that fit for nothing but to tow. Tow it to school, tow it to the store. Make sure you buy the casters that don’t mark the floors. You’ll still get back pain, but it’ll be that twisty sharp back pain from trying to yank your pseudocart through a tight spot between parked cars. But at least we don’t even have to lift the damn things as high as the curb. Cause luckily, the city sidewalks all have those ramps at street intersections now that were put in for the handicapped. They make it real easy to roll a cart over. And hell, I guess being terminally lazy is a handicap of sorts.
I was at the health club the other day. And yep, one of the people coming into the health club had a brand spanking new workout bag. It was like the one I keep my racquet in and workout clothes and balls and suchlike—and sling over my shoulder. Not so this health club member. Hers had a handle. And wheels. She had rolled it all the way in from her car. Which need I say, she had parked as close as possible to the entrance. She warmly greeted her personal trainer. He looked down at her bag, assessed her sag, and I swear I heard the sound effect in his mind going: ka-ching. This cart thing will keep him rolling—in the dough.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

#78 Deja-Too

I was reminded the other day of one of the old Star Wars movies. The sequels to the current prequels. I think it was episode 4 or possibly 5. Anyhow, I thought of the planet Tattooine. I always thought they said Tattoo-ie in the movie, but then, DMX Dolby Master Digital Sound wasn’t around twenty-five years ago.
I digress. The reason I was reminded of Tattooine was because I was in downtown Olympia, and it seemed like every other denizen of that milieu was sporting some sort of design on their flesh. Perhaps, I mused to myself, I have died and gone to Tattooine.
I, for one, have never been inclined to permanently pattern my flesh. I guess because I remember acid-washed parachute pants. Five years ago I would have used the example “polyester bell bottoms” but those are back in style so the point would have been as diluted as a wine cooler. But the point is, fashions change. If I tattooed that short cartoon guy with red-beard and giant six guns on my biceps, or Tweetybird on my left nipple, then sure as heck Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would come back in style and my tattoo would be as passé as yesterday’s bean sprout omelet.
But I have a friend who is far more fearless when it comes to such things and I noticed the other day, while I was admiring the new artwork on his forearm, that today’s tattoos employ a variety of color. The old blackish that fades to blue has gone by the wayside in favor of a rainbow of ink tones worthy of an Adobe Photoshop color wheel. Oh, there are traditionalists and self-hobbyists that stick to the tried and true black and blue. And there are the vacillating non-committalists who stick to pricking with henna. But the true artists of the needle have introduced Technicolor to their fleshy canvas.
And good thing too, because let’s face it, to some, getting new tattoos is an addiction. It’s the endorphin rush they get when that tiny needle vibrates into their flesh that brings them back just as much as the picture left behind. But herein lies the problem. At some point you run out of skin. What’s an addict to do? Some have tried to eat more. Expand their body and their canvas. Unfortunately, that expansion is like the inflation of a balloon. You just end up stretching the patterns you have. All you can really do then is fill in a little.
But not with today’s color palette. Cause there’s one ink mix that can make you a tattoo addict for all your born days. Flesh color. And it doesn’t matter what flesh color you are. A modern tattooist can use a paint chip analyzer computer program and come up with the perfect color match, wet or dry. Then if you don’t like an old tattoo, you don’t have to pay for expensive lasers. Heck no, you can tattoo on a blank spot and start over. Endorphins here we come. Mark my words, someday soon you’ll be driving downtown and you’ll see a neon sign over a dark-windowed shop. Your mind will register tattoos. But then you’ll notice it’s spelled T-A-T-T-W-O-S. Bob’s Tat-twos, for all your re-tattooing needs. What goes around comes around.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 05, 2005

#111 For Shuttle

When I watched the shuttle take off after so many delays, I was understandably apprehensive. The launch had been cleared even though no one had found the source of a faulty sensor reading that had been troubling it for weeks. The expert conclusion was the equivalent of: Well probably doesn’t matter anyway, might as well launch. Now, I understand the sentiment. I’ve expressed it myself from time to time, like when I wasn’t sure of a word spelling and sent off an email anyhow or when I didn’t have a minor ingredient in a cake I was baking. But you’d think that the country would be behind erring on the side of caution given the fate of the last shuttle and its fiery reentry. Due to the loss, I might add, of a seemingly inconsequential piece of tile damaged by an equally insubstantial piece of insulation.
It’s probably just me, but I think a temperature sensor is a notch up the scale in consequentiality from a piece of insulation. So what’s the big hurry? Where’s the fire NASA? It’s been a couple of years. The space station guys are doing okay with Russian assistance. What piece of science is so important that wondering about the effects of zero gravity on it can’t wait till we fix a sensor? Do the super-materials industries really need the zero-gravity nano-formulation you promised them back when this shuttle program was being pitched to congress?
It’s not that hard to figure out. There’s only one thing that could get our super cameras lofted in the air so urgently despite the safety concerns engendered in the wake of Columbia’s cataclysm. The shadow shuttle. Yep, our super-secret shuttle spy missions. It’s been two and a half years since we lofted a camera capable of picking out pimples on the bald spot of Osama’s head. And it’s high time we got a look at what’s shaking down in camel country. Deep canyons and jutting rocks are hell on little robot camera drones but the super-overhead view of the shuttle is perfect, especially in a land of no trees.
So NASA was understandably unhappy when a review of the new launch indicated that something flew off the shuttle again. And a little bit relieved that that something wasn’t one of the many new monitoring cameras they installed. That would have been too much to take. Real time damage-monitoring camera falls off, damages shuttle. Yikes. Instead it was another chunk of, you guessed it, insulation. It was two chunks actually, and one of them was from the area where Columbia’s insulation failed and so was an area that had especially been concentrated on for fixing, with new design, new insulation, and apparently someone who had sniffed too many fumes from his hot glue gun. One other thing: The chunk damaged a piece of tile. At this point NASA is saying they don’t think it’ll be a problem. Too bad it didn’t take out that faulty sensor instead.
One good thing about the launch, though. I finally figured out why they launch in Florida and land in California. When I saw those solid rockets fire up and those big black billowing clouds shoot out it was obvious. They can’t launch in California ‘cause they’d never pass the emission standards.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

#108 Fair and Balanced

So I was writing about Lakefair the other day. And I’m tapping merrily along and something horrible happens. See, I’m a miserable typist. You’d think after all my years as a writer, I’d be able to settle down into the classic QWERTY touch-typist consistency, but I still look at the keyboard, and run my hands and fingers every which way over it in a quest for letters, oftentimes crossing over to hit a shift key and or find the q, z, or tildy. Thank god for computer editing.
Anyhow, as a consequence of this mad chaotic scramble of fingers across the keyboard I am often looking down as I compose a particularly inspired passage. Sometimes I’ll get a whole paragraph along before I even look up at the screen. (If I need to correct any spelling I can do it later, and I just don’t want to interrupt the flow by looking up.) Only occasionally does this mean that I’ve spelled a word so badly that even I can‘t figure out from the context what it means.
Unfortunately, I’ve had this weird computer hiccup. What happens is, a pop-up tries to come into my computer across the cable modem (always on, always vulnerable) and somehow in the process of trying to get through my two firewalls and my three pop-up stoppers the thing doesn’t end up being an actual pop-up. But it does cause a blank page to occupy my screen. The page is not completely blank. In fact, it says “this page cannot be displayed” because the internet site to which it wants to be connected was blocked—mostly—by my pop-up stopper. The really big problem is, now anything I am or have been typing into my Word program didn’t get there. And because I had my head down looking at the keyboard while I dashed off the last inspired passage those sentences didn’t make it into my document. So I finally look up, realize what has happened, curse profusely, X out the pop-up fossil, and try to figure out what I need to retype. Fortunately, I’ve been married for many years and have, as a result, developed the capacity to instantly replay the last four sentences of a conversation when called upon to prove that I haven’t been ignoring my spouse. I was too listening honey... Certain primal survival instincts come in real handy even when dealing with modern computers.
All of which is to say, I left out a couple of Lakefair Observations the other day. One was that I went to the Democrat Booth for one of the Demo burgers they have year after year. They’re not like demo burgers at Costco though, you have to pay for them. They were really crowded and had a bunch of people working there. Funny thing, only 2 percent of them was dead felons. I then went over to the Republican booth. Not many customers. Of course it may have been because they only had one thing on the menu: Sour grapes. Which was even worse, cause last year they had something different. Republicans, here’s a tip if you want more biz: don’t change your menu year after year. Find a favorite junk food and stick with it. A couple of years ago it was French Fries, then last year it was Freedom Fries. Who can keep up?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

#106 Mystery of the One Ball

Among the many mysteries I find mysterious in this world—like why is phonetics spelled with a “ph”—is the whole Tour de France thing. I admit that I don’t watch it fanatically. Though I know intellectually that it takes huge feats of stamina and strategy it still pretty much looks like a bunch of clowns in funny costumes riding around town before the circus. I mean really, with those misshapen helmets and that tight spandex clothing in bizarre colors I wonder why I never hear a honky horn when they go fast around a turn.
And fast they do go. The problem is, none of us has any idea how fast, as the cameras are always filming them relative to the pellaton, which is moving just about as fast. As any physics teacher will tell you, in order to perceive speed you have to compare the speeding item to a fixed object. Not only that, half the camera shots are taken from these crazy yahoo camera jockeys perched on the back of motorcycles, which swing in and out of the poor bicyclists with such wild abandon that I’m surprised we don’t see more crashes of man and machine. And how hard it must be, struggling up one of the mountain stages, when the air is thin enough already and you’re pouring every last ounce of your energy into moving your bike up this steep climb, and you’re sucking air big time because you need every drop of precious oxygen you can get to fuel your screaming muscles and gasping lungs, and some idiot camera guy on a motorcycle comes by and hovers right in front of you belching exhaust into your face. All the more kudos to Lance Armstrong for continually hacking it out at the front of the pack. I’m surprised he doesn’t get carbon monoxide induced lung cancer to add to everything else.
I’m never sure how they score the Tour de France. Lance was always ahead by quite a bit but he never seemed to win any stages. At least the ones I watched. I was listening to a news story the other day and they were saying how after a number of stages he was ahead by 38 seconds. Now that’s a tight lead. How hard is it on your psyche when after six hundred miles you’re only ahead by 38 seconds? “Um gee, I was hoping for 39 at this stage. I sure am glad I shaved my legs.”
I tease local athletes who go to the trouble of shaving their legs and smoothing off their wind profile with the latest synthetic bike clothing. That stuff’s so thin you might as well be wearing a transparent Speedo for all the modesty you’re left with. Really, at local level competition a few extra leg hairs are probably not going to be the defining difference between victory and defeat. But with Lance and the boys, absolutely. Every little ounce counts. So it begs the question, if in fact the weight of your accumulated leg hair can make that nanosecond of difference in the photo finish, then what about other body parts. Leg hairs, earlobes, nostril hairs, eyebrows, appendixes?
Oh nuts. Who knows? I only know if they start shaving off their eyebrows, they’ll really start to look like clowns...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

#105 Miami CPA

Sometimes life seems like your wheel came off the track in the carwash of hell. Nothing makes sense, there’s foam everywhere, and you keep getting slapped by giant strips of cloth. “What’s it all about?” you cry. A deep voice resonates from the behind the torrent of soapy water. “You should have ordered the hot wax...”
So life must seem to the key person in a recent news story. Now, like President Bush’s press secretary Scott McClellan, it is not my policy to comment on an ongoing ethics investigation—unless I can get an unchallenged statement in for my side—but the story in the paper about a lady who allegedly embezzled over 900 thousand dollars from a dental clinic over the last three years simply begs for a remark.
And not for the ordinary reasons, disgust over violating trust or amazement that the business was so successful 300k a year went relatively unnoticed. Jeez, in my business we recognize a missing paper clip. Of course, we all have wildly exuberant personalities. You wouldn’t expect that sort of thing from an accountant. Unless you worked for Arthur Andersen. And hey, I thought after the Enron scandal, accountants had to take an ethics course as part of their continuing education credits. Apparently not bilking a healthy dental clinic wasn’t included in the curriculum. “Don’t fleece em? Oh, I thought they said don’t floss em.”
Anyhow. There were two things about the story that really struck me. The alleged embezzler apparently lived a flagrantly extravagant lifestyle. She even had a license plate on her car that said Envy Us. A lot of people think that was the ultimate in arrogance, in thumbing her nose at society at large, to live off the stolen earnings of two hard-working dentists by skimming the profits like so much plaque removal, and then to flaunt it with a plaque of her own. Envy us. I don’t think so. Envy is a sin. Right up there with Stealing.
The other thing was that the depth of her transgression was finally uncovered by a specialist in the arcane world of embezzlement crimes. The paper called him a Forensic Accountant. I love it. No longer an investigator. No longer an auditor. A forensic accountant. I see a new TV show on the horizon: “Who counts the beans that the bean counters don’t count? It’s Miami CPA. Crime Perceiving Accountants.”
“I think we have a problem here Ma’am, there’s something missing from the debit column.”
“Just one last that a period OR A DECIMAL POINT???”
“You thought you’d trick me Miss Envy Us, but I found out where you used FIFO instead of LIFO. Now it’s LIFO imprisonment for you...”
In a final irony that even I couldn’t have made up, the Envy Us license plate was just reported stolen from the bumper of the BMW. Not to worry though, authorities assure us the car owner will be learning how to make her own real soon.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

#103 Free Expression

Some things are interesting. It’s interesting how two W’s, as in WWII, invoke so much awe and respect, but when you say just W—one or two—you get a more mixed response. W’s are always tricky. Like the big question posed to me by a friend: Why do we say double-u when it almost always looks like a double “V” ?
My kid’s ability to pick up on the latest technological gadgetry is interesting. Or master the most recent automobile-oriented video game. We call the violence and destruction in Grand Theft Auto “car”-nage dude. That’s why it’s so amazing when I get a call late at night, from my son’s cellphone—the one he can do all the text and picture and electronic wizardry with—and he needs me to get out of bed, get dressed and come out to a distant road somewhere. Cause he doesn’t know how to change a freaking flat tire. What the hell are they teaching kids in schools these days? There ought to be a separate section on the WASL and the SAT that deals with how to deal with the events of ordinary life. Changing flat tires. Putting on chains. Checking your oil BEFORE the oil light comes on. Addressing a gol-darn envelope for Pete’s sake. Cleaning a spilled Coke so there isn’t a huge tacky spot in the middle of the kitchen floor. Sorry. When you have a teenager, the lunatics are not only in charge of the asylum, they’re dressed like foxes and headed for the henhouse.
Lakefair was interesting this year. They had some changes. No vendor booths on Percival Landing. The state and city spent all this money making high-tech, stylized, pedestrian islands and crossings to make Water street flow better across Fifth and Fourth and into Percival Landing but no, no Lakefair stuff over that way. Hey, this isn’t Budd Inlet Fair buddy. This is LAKE Fair. Interestingly, one of the areas of Lakefair that used to head over that direction was the beer garden. You could pop back a few brewskys and then just mosey across low traffic little Fifth Street and you were right in the park and ready to chuck your cookies on the loop-de-loop. Now the beer garden is in a different place. Three blocks away. In the parking lot of the Greyhound bus station. Ambience? Interesting. It IS more convenient for our Lakefair visitors from Aberdeen and Hoquiam, but now the poor drunks have to dodge traffic on Capitol Way, the busiest street in town. Should make the parade more interesting though...
I had a friend who was at Lakefair giving out coupons for his business. A Lakefair official came up to him and told him to stop. I’m just passing out coupons, my friend replied. Then you’ll have to go over to the “Free Expression” area, the Lakefair guy said. Not to quibble with a duly appointed representative of the fair but, if its confined to an area, how is it free? Interesting...
America, ya gotta love it.