Friday, September 30, 2005

#116 Cultshaa

Culture is a funny word. It can mean all the ingredients of our society, like cell phones, SUVs, the food channel, and the Red and Green show. Or it can mean those who are steeped in sophistication. They are said to possess culture, or are, simply, more cultured. Kinda depends, I would guess, on what culture you’re talking about. A cowboy in a four-wheel-drive pickup with duellies and a big net on the back instead of a tailgate would certainly be a shining example of redneck culture.
I guess when they say someone is un-cultured they’re talking about hoity-toity culture. Emily Post and Miss Manners and all that. Not that we couldn’t use a lot more manners here in the 21st.
My son had a girl friend that lacked culture. My first clue was when we took her to a restaurant and immediately she started looking around at the walls for the menu. And I’m not saying the gum-popping per se isn’t a good thing culture-wise but it does get annoying as constant punctuation in sentences such as: Like, you know, I’m like, you know, like, like, and your dad’s like, you know, sooo rude, man.
Culture’s also what may be deduced from things that may eventually become archeological artifacts. In the year 2525 a sign of twenty-first century culture dug from the Olympia biohazard zone will most likely be the desiccated remains of a latte cup, in a cupholder, in a rusted Humvee...
I viewed such the other day. I was downtown at Percival Landing at the new Port of Olympia observation tower area. There was a little kiosk on a post thingie that had a plastic bag dispenser on it. Great. Baggies for bums. Heck, I thought, baggies are getting real expensive, maybe I’ll kaip a few. Turned out these were for dog poop. And they were opaque blue. Clear won’t do for poo. A clear bag of poo might put the restaurant patrons over at Anthony’s off their feed. Oh look, Buffy, that young man’s got a big steaming bag of poo. Pass the calamari please.
What was most interesting about this—other than we put biodegradable dog poop in non-biodegradable bags and cart them to the airless compress of the landfills, and that those bags are manufactured from our dwinding petroleum resources—was the directions on the dispenser. There for all to see, children, adults and visiting Japanese tourists alike, was a four-part, graphic, international picture manual of how to pick up poo. Take off bag, stick hand in bag, pick up poo, turn bag inside out with poo now on inside, remove hand now on out side, twist vigorously and deposit in first available container. Beautiful. In Japan, I hear, their culture is different. They have a paper bag with a scoopy lip that then folds over like a expensive coffee bag and gets thrown in a biodegradable location.
Paper seems like the way to go to me. Easier to set on fire on someone’s porch. Oops, there’s my hick culture showing again.
America, ya gotta love it.

#115 Deco-People

Understand that when I start going off on things I’m not talking about moderate stuff. When I make remarks about, say, nails—as in fancy finger—I’m not talking about the occasional digit decorator, I’m talking about the serial offender, and the incautious applier. I saw this lady the other day. She was bending over a client applying nails, a cloth mask on her face, and she was obviously about eight months pregnant. Sorry lady, I know it’s your job and everything, but whatever dangerous stuff is in nail shellac, your fetus ain’t gonna be protected from it by a piece of cloth.
Hair and nails are dead protein. Remnants really, that your body has co-opted to act as an insulation barrier. What with clothes and hats and AC and all we don’t need as much of it anymore, so it’s only natural that our breeding has led us to hold more beautiful the less hairy these days. Fuzzy is only cuddly on teddy bears.
So why is it that some people spend so much time doing their nails anyhow? And why are they often the same people who say they have no time to go to the gym. Here’s a suggestion. Take the time and money you spend every week on your dead protein and apply it to your live stuff. An extra hour of exercise a week, all other things being equal, will eventually lead you down the path of svelte-ness. Isn’t that better than little flowers painted on your toenails?
Yes, but it ain’t a quick beauty fix. We in America like our change right now. Take a diet pill, pay for 20 foils, take steroids for muscles, fake and bake a tan. Oh hell, that’s perty, apply a layer of toxic chemicals to my claws.
The quest for beauty is as old as civilization, maybe older, and the tendency to decorate the form is in the most primitive of cultures. Tattoos, pierced lips, and painted extremities all have their day. Nails are no exception. But in this busy, bustling, not-enough-time-to-stop-and-smell-the-coffee society, I’m personally more attracted to a woman who doesn’t spend a lot of time having her nails done. Too much time on her hands, I think. Literally. But that’s okay, nail painters are usually not attracted to practical, unromantic, no-time-for-a-princess me either. Nature finds a balance.
But just when you think you’ve heard it all, our get-a-life culture comes up with another extreme. Combining the spray-on tan fad with the artistic abilities of air-brush painters, certain areas are now offering spray-on muscle definition. That’s right, you can have a six-pack sprayed on to your flabby gut. Using spray tan, toning and airbrush shadowing technique, you too can have a marvelous midriff, ripped deltoids and delicately bulging biceps. Is this a great country or what?
Yeah, Mitzi, I’ll have the perm and the foils, oh, and the flags on my nails―and have Raul tone up my belly. Oh, heck, let’s just spring for the whole Shania special...
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

#114 Data Heavy, That’s My Brother

My Bother-in-law, I mean Brother-in-law, and I were having a discussion the other day. It was about wide-screen versus full-screen. He maintained that full-screen was better because it filled up all the black space on the TV. I maintained that wide-screen was better cause after a while your brain ignores the black and the benefit was you got to see what was happening at the edges of movies. If two people were talking on either side of the screen, the image didn’t have to keep shifting back and forth unless that was what the director intended in the first place. We were watching the movie the Perfect Storm at the time. “But I like a bigger image,” he protested.
“It’s not the size of the boat,” I replied, “it’s the motion of the ocean.”
“Maybe you just need a bigger TV,” he muttered. Still, I continued to assert that you get more for your money with wide screen. The over-all image may be smaller but the movie itself is wider.
That got us on another track: Cellphones. He thinks I should stop being the last holdout from the 20th century and get a cellphone. I said what was supposed to be something that freed people was in fact confining them. When you have a cellphone, people expect you to carry it and when you carry it, people expect you to have it on. Ordinary polite people, who would never think of calling you at home at odd hours, do so every minute of every day if you have a cell phone. You can’t just drive off somewhere or go to the supermarket and get away from it all. You’re always findable and always reachable and if you’re not it’s because you rudely turned off your phone, not that they rudely called you in the middle of your lunch break. So, in fact, you’re even less free than you were before you had it. No wonder people have shortened the name to just plain cell. Call me on my cell. Call me at my cell is more like it.
Anyhow, I was digging through a pile of papers in this bowl we have in our kitchen area looking for a phone number. “You know,” he said, “you could put all those numbers in your cellphone—if you had one.” I looked at the pile of papers in my hand. “I don’t think they’d fit,” I said. But that got me thinking. If you add numbers into your cellphone, does it make it heavier? You have more data there than you did before. Electrons may be light but they’re not completely weightless. Is one of the reasons they keep making the outsides lighter and sleeker because the insides of cellphones are getting so full and heavy? And how about those picture phones? Get a wad of photos in em and these things have got to be bulging at the seams. That might explain why all the young people’s pants sag down so much; their cellphones are getting too heavy. And that probably happens with your regular computer too. It doesn’t start to run slower because it’s getting clogged up. When you pack in all that internet data it’s like packing in too many calories. Your computer just gets overweight. Computers go slow cause they’re fat.
Talk about wide screen. Your computer’s getting chubby, dude, you need to put it on a data diet. Go to Richard e-Simmons dot com today.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

#113 V.I.Pee

I went to this Mark Knopfler concert at Chateau Ste Michelle. If you’re a winery and want to sell a lot of wine at full retail get yourself an empty field and whore it out to a rock promoter. There were thousands of people at this thing, and every single one of them had at least one bottle of purchased-on-the-premises wine. The first place I’ve been in a long, long time in Washington where fancy bottled water and latte cups didn’t outnumber every other drink.
Of course drinking eventually leads one to the available post-drinking deposit facilities. They were clustered 60 strong in one area. No chance of a potential Woodstock here, this venue had the excremental needs of their constituency foreseen, for shizzle. Or is that for whizzle? And these were some deluxe port-a-potties too. Made by the company Honey Bucket. I’m always a little wary going into a small lightweight enclosed facility with the name “Honey Bucket” painted on the outside. First off, it’s like a calling a fat guy “Tiny” or a ax-murderer “Babe,” the sweet scent of honey is most likely not on the olfactory program. But there’s also the sneaking notion that at some point bears are going to learn how to read and being trapped in a honey bucket while it’s batted around by a frustrated and angry ursine is not my idea of a dignified demise. In any event, the number seemed to be adequate and the quality of said buckets o’ honey was tip top. Sometimes when you‘re out in the woods and the forest service has decided to dig a hole and put a box with a wooden seat over it as a backcountry latrine you find you actually appreciate the flies encrusted on the seat as a semi-sanitary barrier between what’s underneath them and your backpack-chafed derriere. Somehow a living, breathing fly seems preferable to a nameless odiferous splotch of questionable origin.
Not so here. These port-a-loos were clean to the extreme. The seats were PVC clean, the toilet paper was just like home, and little urinals were hung on the inner wall to help prevent the wine drunken rock yahoos from spraying on the queen’s throne. They even had little hand purifier dispensers, and the door lock was elbow-ergonomic to keep those hands clean.
From the outside when the door was locked an indicator showed red. When the door was unlocked, and the loo presumably un-occupied, the indicator showed green. Unfortunately wine consumption makes some people forgetful and/or clumsy. Can you say caught with your pants down? There is no perfect system when humans enter the equation.
When the concert was over of course the excretory area was swamped, and heel-hopping leg-crossing peepee patrons were clustered in the middle of the two banks of outhouses ready to pounce when a door opened in a fine game of musical potty-chairs. Or pottery lottery. Talk about trial by elimination.
Of course, the dignitaries had their own facilities. Behind the lighting tent and on top of the hill, they had outhouses with the initials V. I. P. stenciled on them. Funny, didn’t see any V. I. BM. ones.
America, ya gotta love it.

#112 Pigball

We were talking around the station the other day. Bobby was waxing philosophical about the “Stitch and Pitch” night our local baseball heroes were putting on. He seemed convinced that this sort of promotion thing wasn’t going on at Yankee Stadium. Because THEY HAVE A TEAM! See, the theory is this, with winning teams, people go to the baseball park to WATCH BASEBALL! Now, I’m no baseball fan. I know, and I don’t particularly like apple pie of hot dogs either, but the folks I know who are, are real fans. They stick with the team through thick and thin— mostly thin—and so are entitled to get a little testy when it comes to talking about the Mariners. By the way, apparently our most recent ex-Mariner star, Bret Boone, is not doing so well at his new location, adding new meaning to the term out in the boonies.
Anyhow, when you make a lot of money it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can’t play baseball. It only seems that way. Maybe it’s true that the Yankees have been able to buy their championship teams, but every time they don’t win the World Series it’s pretty clear to me that high salary or no, you still got to know what to do with that little round thingy. Baseball is like any other field of employment. People rise to their level of incompetence. That’s why I like watching minor league baseball, the guys still hustle on and off the field. Plus, you not only get more action, the tickets are cheaper, so what’s not to like? And you gotta love a team that’s named after a mountain and a beer.
Still, “Pitch and Stitch,” wherein people come to the game and knit while whiling away the innings, seems like a lot better enterprise than one I heard of the other day. The Puyallup Police force is having a fundraiser called Paint a Cop. Kind of a spin-off of the old Pig Bowl football routine. This one encourages you to field a paintball team and compete with the Puyallup Police Paintball team. For charity of course. What’s wrong with this picture? First of all I hope they’re good. One of my sons is into paintball and it ain’t no crawl-through-the-woods sniper sort of sport anymore. It’s scramble and dash. Squirt out from behind barriers and snap shoot. Pop up suddenly and rain a blistering stream of paintballs on your enemy. It is for kids, and young adults who don’t mind having their upper torso covered with welts. No Kevlar vests in this game. And some of these kids are dead shots too—from the hip, from the shoulder, on the run—and the new guns they have spray like ouzis on crank. I hope the police team has been practicing, cause if one of these teenage teams wants to enter the fray they’ll lend up looking like Van Gogh’s cleaning rag.
But what really bothers me is the message. Paintball guns are— and look like—guns. Is it really a good idea to encourage people to fire weapons at the police? I mean, video games like Grand Theft Auto are bad enough. Do we want to get teenagers out in the real world and start shooting down cops?
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

#139 Harbor Daze 2

Harbor Days is interesting. Part of the constant schizoid nature of Olympia’s self-identity. We think of ourselves as the state capitol and figure pomp and circumstance is part of our heritage but we also know that the government’s really only here about four to six months a year and come summertime there’s a big stretch of water that borders our fair burg. So one of our community festivals celebrates the downtown Capitol reflection lake—Lakefair—and one of them celebrates the Puget Sound—Harbor Days. When I first heard about Harbor Days I had a garbled radio so I showed up with a tree to plant. Oops.
Among its many attractions, Harbor Days has the tugboat races and if you’ve never seen ‘em, you’re in for a treat. Let’s just say NASCAR it’s not. Or any car. Actually, it’s kind of like going to a taffy pull. Or watching paint dry. The perfect race for the geriatric set. Too bad the deck boards are so warped at Percival Landing that the wheelchair crowd get their dentures shaken loose every time they’re foolish enough to roll along the boardwalk. Percival Landing is named after this Percival guy who was one of the original dredge-a-channel boosters of the burgeoning frontier swampland that was to become Olympia. His co-pioneer, a certain Sylvester, was the cat who dug the downtown scene, dude. And his downtown park perfectly epitomizes the urban-slash-Capitol side of Olympia’s bi-polar destiny.
I saw an interesting booth at Harbor days this year. As at any summer festival, the booth entrepreneurs come out, hawking everything from tie-died aprons to homemade engine lubricant. Shitzu massage folk have their chairs scattered all over. Those places scare me. I’m never sure if a little hairy dog is gonna run across my back or what. This one booth was weird. Cause they were selling animal furs. They had one wolf hide on display and my brother-in-law was feeling it. The metal pierced maiden manning the booth asked: “Doesn’t that look nice?” My brother-in-law replied: “It probably looked better on the wolf.” She stiffened, obviously prepared for a PETA tirade. And truth be told, I wondered where the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals booth was this year. Olympia is nothing if not involved in the rights of all living things. But the lady at the booth was clever. She shifted the blame to the forest killers, the automobile industry, and everything else environmentalists love to hate. She said the wolf had been run over by a big logging truck. How clever. Blame the planet rapers but harvest the pelt anyhow. The first environmentally correct furrier. A perfect example of Darwinian entrepreneurship. Another business niche discovered and filled. And another hairy problem solved…
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

#138 Harbor Daze 1

So we’re down at Harbor Days. Another community festival. My relatives from California can’t believe how many of these things we have in Olympia. Well, I always respond, you have more freeways down there. Sitting in the same cluster of cars for 3 hours on the way to work is kind of like community, huh? I’ve actually had my fill of fair food for the season but the thing I really like about community festivals is the people watching. Humanity in all its infinite variations continues to redefine the borders of normal. I guess that’s what I like most about these affairs. Looking at the clothes people wear, the food people eat, the way they handle their children and their pets.
Like this one lady: she was walking her little dog along the boardwalk. If you haven’t been down to Percival Landing lately let me tell you, the boardwalk is starting to weather. That ravages of the sea air are more than a match for any treated wood and it’s getting pretty hard to walk without an occasional trip or stumble. Plus, if you are unfortunate enough to have either a walker or a pair of crutches watch out. The points of your ambulatory aid will go through the decking like a stiletto heel on sidewalk grate. So it’s none too easy for pets. This lady had one of those little stewing dogs, the kind with tiny feet, and it was having a hard time keeping up. Now these little critters are neurotic enough. My brother-in-law calls ‘em vibrators, I guess because most of the time when you see ‘em poking out from a fold of their owner’s flesh their little bug eyes are darting back and forth and their whole body is vibrating with fear and tension like a hummingbird on meth. Why is it the bigger the person the smaller the dog?
The lady finally tired of extricating her little lapdog—in her case quarter-lap dog—from the spaces in the planking. But instead of wasting all that energy bending down to pick the pet up, she simply yanked on the leash. Its neck collar tightened a bit, and then up came the dog like a YoYo. The woman then nestled the quivering ball of furred jittery jelly in her arms and clomped on down to the elephant ear booth—as far as I could tell, in no imminent danger of slipping through the cracks. Normal is as normal does I always say.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

#110 Blisterpack

The other day I was opening a new something. You might have thought it was an expensive piece of technology, the way they had it encased in impenetrable, impermeable, and impregnable plastic. But no, it was a showerhead. Why does everything have to be sheathed in form-fitting plastic these days? Maybe some 21st century Nostradamus already has the future figured out and has staked his descendents claim in landfills across the nation cause if current trends continue those puppies are going to be mighty darn full of non-biodegradable plastic. Plastic, as I’m sure you are aware, is a petroleum product. So what do you think is going to happen after all our S.U.HumVees are done burning up all the readily available oil? Well, first we’ll go to petroleum shales, then we’ll mine coal tars— then we’ll have to mine and recycle discarded plastic. And the containers that once held motor oil will be rendered to oil themselves. Maybe by then some scientific genius will have invented a Humvee with its own trash-compactor plastic-melter petroleum-renderer built right in, and we’ll be able to head to the landfill fueling station and shovel up a full tank.
When that day of reckoning comes, I hope the remnants of blisterpacks are the first to burn. I have ripped more hangnails and torn more wrist ligaments trying to open these scourges of creation than I ever did trying to slip the seal on a cardboard box. And for what? Is it really that easy to line every item up in a package in little wells and then fuse a counterbubble top piece into place so that no one without bolt cutters can open the damn thing? I guess maybe I can see an elaborate electronic device that retails for over a hundred bucks. Sure, create some special packaging that will keep its components shock-absorbed and scratch-proofed within their little plastic bubble nests. It kind of works for eggs in egg cartons so why not give it a go on an Ipod? But a freaking showerhead? A recyclable cardboard box and some non-cfc biodegradable packing peanuts and I’m good, bro.
I went down to city hall the other day to pick up my free water saving kits. They had about a hundred showerheads loose in a big cardboard box, floating in a pool of packing peanuts. I took a couple home and put them on. They worked good, so I got the new showerhead I’d purchased and its blisterpack shrapnel, stuffed the mess into a shopping bag and took it back to the supermarket.
They opened the sack, saw the showerhead, the plumbers tape, the Chinese instructions, the bulbous plastic remnants and the one tiny corner of paper that I managed to save when I was mutilating the blisterpack open. They gave me back my money. Why? Cause that little piece of paper had the Universal Product Code on it. So now this item, perfectly good mind you, will sit in a jumbled return bin till it really is damaged, the company that made it will take it back, and the whole damn thing; product, product code and pernicious plastic product packaging, will go into the landfill. Investing in our future petroleum needs.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

#109 Psycho-somatic

Mind over matter. That’s what they say. The power of the mind to cloud even your perception. There’s an old chestnut to the effect that we don’t form beliefs based on facts, we find facts to support our beliefs. So if you believe the current war is “taking it to the enemy” you’ll always believe that and if you believe the current war is “making us more enemies” you’ll always believe that as well. No amount of wimpy little facts will ever dissuade you from the power of your belief.
Anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of the mind or the power of the imagination? Now be honest, I’m going to say the word headlice. How long does it take you to scratch your head? Ever been in the same room with someone who yawned? How long did it take you to yawn? Do you feel like yawning right now? That’s okay, I have that effect on a lot of people.
Belief is a powerful thing. Carl Rove knows that. Carl’s basic campaign strategy is to refer to his candidate in post-victorious terms, conveying the belief that he has already won. By capturing the momentum, or even the appearance of momentum, he knows that lots of people will want to jump on the bandwagon. And make it their bandwagon. The power of belief. Mind over matter regardless of consequences. What’s the price of preventing gay marriage in America? At last count, it was about 50 cents a gallon.
Gay marriage ain’t that big of a deal. As one wag put it, if you’re against the notion of gay sex you ought to be in favor of gay marriage. Everyone knows the best way to stop sex in a relationship is to get married.
The macho mystique tends in the same direction. Suffering is okay if you have a goal. Steroids help. Quick results make the sacrifice seem worth it. Can anyone say Atkins diet? But the motivation is the belief. I saw at sign at the health club the other day, it said: “If you’re here at 7 am with a hangover you’re a Mitchum Man.” Message: Drink yourself sick then come in and work it all off. Burn the candle at both ends. Get big muscles and a short temper. Cut someone off on the freeway and send em into oncoming traffic. You only live once, right?
Sometimes it takes a different perspective to open your eyes. For years, I’ve made a career of seeing road signs in different ways than other people. But I’m as blind as anyone else. My visiting relatives were the first to point out that “Boulevard Road” was a might redundant. Why didn’t they call it “Street Avenue” or “Cul-de-sac Lane?” The other day I drove by a place I’ve driven by a thousand times before and I finally noticed that the name Rusty’s Autobody may conjure up the wrong image. And at Lakefair recently they had a karaoke contest. They didn’t have the song one kid wanted so he asked if he could do acappella karaoke. Excuse me. There’s no such thing. While acappella is singing without music, karaoke is music to which you add singing. Like my friend Bobby said. You might as well ask for well-done sushi. I believe he’s right...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

#107 Truckin

I was driving down the road the other day and I noticed I was surrounded by trucks. And I noticed something after I noticed that. They are everywhere. It’s strange how when you finally tune in to something, that’s all you see. Like when the carmakers introduce some new color, like puce. All of sudden every third car seems to be puce. I’m coming to believe that life is less the capacity for noticing things then the capacity for ignoring things. There’s so damn much crap out there the only way to make it through is to screen out as much extraneous bull manure as possible. Or steer manure if you want greener lawns...
Anyhow, there are a lot of dang trucks on the road these days. And they’re big suckers. I’m thinking that whole “America” thing may just have to be revised. “Truckland” sums it up better. The funny thing is, just about every one of them has the cargo area empty. Or is that the box? Or the bed? It’s a box when it’s a long or a short box but it’s a bed when you put a fancy liner on it. If it’s a SUV-slash-truck hybrid adult transformer vehicle like the Chevy Avalanche, it’s a cargo box. Always a good idea to name a vehicle after a rolling, out of control mass that kills people. Something to live up to and all.
So what are we hauling America? What is it that propels us to drive a heavy vehicle that gets rotten gas mileage and poor rear-end traction cause its always half empty? Or is it half full? Is it not some cultural pride that makes us all flaunt our big manly trucks but instead a boundless sense of optimism that proclaims to everyone that I’m not half-empty, I’m half full? Or perhaps it’s a mute reaching out for companionship. Some 21st century mating ritual for the shotgun rider of your dreams. Please, fill me up, complete me. My cargo box is open—for you—and I’ve got a new bedliner, and if you like, I’ll put a decal of a cartoon guy peeing on something you hate, like Chevy’s or Fords or those Damn Yankees. Too bad the new trucks all have bucket seats—sacrificing snuggle-ablity for something much more important: Room for a cupholder.
So tell me this: Who invented the term dually? And more importantly, how is it spelled? I confess, coming from a sheltered all car upbringing, whenever I heard the word dually I just screened it out as something truck people said. I really didn’t have time in my life to add one more esoteric term to my vocabulary. So when I was finally challenged to, because this lady was directing me to find this guy and she said you’ll recognize his truck it’s the brown one with duallys, I was able to figure it out when I spied the vehicle and its double-wheeled rear end configuration. Better traction for pulling that fifth-wheeler I’m guessing. But how do you spell it? D-o-o-l-e-y, like Tom Dooley the legendary cowboy or D-u-a-l-l-y as in dual wheels. Or d-u-l-y as in, his license was duly revoked cause he got a dui cause they found ten empty cases in his cargo box after the tailgate party.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

#104 Hairway Robbery

So I’m watching TV, broadcast not cable, and this commercial comes on. At first, I think the guy in it is George Lucas, or Tommy Hilfiger. He’s got one of those aging-designer sort of looks to him. Eyes pulled back a little more than you’d expect, skin stretched just a little too tight across his cheekbones, and of course the obligatory black beard shot with gray grown just long enough to disguise his receding chin line. Or is that his enlarging turkey neck? It turns out it’s Paul Mitchell. And at first I don’t pay attention to what he’s saying because I didn’t know there actually IS a Paul Mitchell. I thought he was one of those mythical characters, like Tommy Bahama or Uncle Ben.
Anyhow, when I finally focused on the commercial message, Paul was doing a mock interview type thing. He was telling someone off-camera that if they ever saw one of his products in a drug store it was counterfeit. That he had worked really hard on his special formulations and wanted the public to know that he would only sell them through licensed hair care professionals and the public shouldn’t be fooled by these counterfeit or highjacked and diverted products they find at certain big retailers that are known to hire greeters.
Wow, I thought, counterfeit haircare products. Starving people in Africa and homeless tsunami victims flashed through my ironic brain. Paying national TV advertising dollars to tell his clients that they’d better watch out for pseudo-gel seemed the height of false pride. Or something. Talk about a bad hair day. I mean, is the industry so not overwhelmed with every nuance of hair care product, from Fructis to Sassoon, from White Rain to Suave, that a counterfeiter would have a chance in hair hell of making a dime in the process? Real counterfeiters, who know the difficulty of putting even a fake product on the market, realize that if you’re going to counterfeit something, it probably shouldn’t be one dollar bills. If the market is saturated with a product, or the cost of producing the product exceeds the likely profit you’ll make, then... Well, let’s just say counterfeiting a Van Gogh is a better idea than putting out a fake happy face sticker.
So it was a little odd to see the real Paul Mitchell going on and on about someone trying to foist a fake Paul Mitchell on the market. Many would say the prices he charges for his products are highway robbery anyhow. And as for licensed haircare professionals being the only ones capable of dispensing his special formulations. I mean, really. It’s not like being a pharmacist, where one bad drug interaction could cause liver failure, death or even gastric bloating and diarrhea. This is hair goop for god’s sake. So you might actually get a little frizzy. Your coif may look like a fright wig, but that doesn’t mean you’ve been hurt enough to really be scared.
Still, it was a sort of inverse left-handed advertising approach that may actually be effective. This is Paul Mitchell and I just thought you’d like to know, my product’s so good, people want it bad enough to steal it.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

#102 Techno-escalation

Life is a series of unintended consequences. At least that’s the law of technological advance. All the great discoveries; penicillin, electric lights, artificial sweeteners, came about by accident when someone was working on something else. And people are always putting something designed for one thing into off-brand uses. And I’m not just talking about filling up Evian bottles with tap water, I mean real stuff, like drifting a chopped Honda down a mountain road cause ski season was too short this year.
That brings up another point: It is our young folks who often push the envelope of our technology. That and the internet porno industry, which, by the way, gave us streaming video, jpeg, and always-on web cams. Okay, maybe not jpeg, but some kind of upload digital thing.
Young folks see the cool new uses long before us befuddled oldsters do. Digital camera cellphones were sending unflattering, low-angle pictures of teachers to buddies across the room long before the teacher caught on there was even a picture-taking-thingy on the phone. Snapping a weird picture of an adult as you hand him the cellphone to answer a supposedly important call is more fun than we ever had with a dorm payphone, shaving cream in the earpiece and oblivious dorm monitors.
So it’s no wonder kids caught on to text messaging and alternative three-letter alphabet spelling and parsing, digital picturing, mastering the whole emoticon language, and downloading ringtones before their mentally ungainly parents even figured out how to get through the blister pack on their unit in the family phone package.
Don’t even get me started on blister packs....
Our youngin’s go blithely through life figuring out ways to tweak technology to cut even more corners. Gotta hand to ‘em though. They’ve taken the battle to the mega-exploiters. I don’t know if you’ve been to a amusement park lately. But it’s become the norm to emerge from a thrill ride and be greeted by a bevy of pictures on video screens arrayed across the top of a booth. The pictures are of you and your fellow riders, snapped while you weren’t aware, during a particularly exciting and usually unflattering segment of the ride in question. Confronted by this monstrosity, it’s then up to you to shell out 12 bucks for a permanent reminder of your indiscretion. Okay a souvenir picture of your fun-fun happytime. A triumph of modern technology. Snap a digital picture and if the mark doesn’t want to pay for a printout then send its electrons back to magnetic limbo. No cost to be recovered until the sale is already made. Well, the kids have one -upped the shills in the escalating techno-war. They go by and take a picture on their cellphone of the picture on the display screen. Lasting memory, no cost. Dude.
The law of unintended consequences prevails. But then again, that’s kind of what having a kid in the first place is all about.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

#140 Fuel Daze

I drove by this one gas station the other day and for the third time that day they were changing the prices. Guess what? It was going up. It’s getting pretty bad when even the conservative radio hacks are calling for price controls. It makes me worry when the political block that hoisted GW to power is saying “enough is enough already.” The effects of overly-heightened fuel costs to the economy at large will be staggering. There was a big price-fixing scandal involving the milk industry a few years back. And it was pretty bad. Turns out the American consumer was paying way more for milk than they needed to. All because the major players in the dairy industry were moo-ving up prices by making secret agreements in a cheesy manor. Skimming the cream from the American family budget was bad then, but nothing like the oil industry’s excesses today. Because you don’t use milk to fuel an 18-wheeler and a huge portion of our nation’s commerce depends on trucking. Figure in extra transportation costs and our internet catalogue society is gonna go bits-up quick.
Now I never aspired to work in a gas station-slash-convenience store. My mom always told me not to work in places with a height gage on the exit door. But recently there was a report that the most hated job in America is the guy who changes the prices on the signboards at the gas station. Some attendants have been hit by flying eggs and fruit. One poor schmuck got pelted with a empty plastic oil container. Symbolism or just plain littering? I feel sorry for those guys. It’s a classic example of shoot the messenger. The gas station guy isn’t the one who’s doing the gouging. It’s the fat cats on the other side of the supposedly crippled refineries, or the supposedly frustrated oil industry that can’t plunder the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, wreak untold environmental havoc and still only get a 3-month supply of oil even when it sucks it dry. Who’s pelting them?
It’s getting bad. The other day I put in my card at the pump to get gas and the little printer printed out a whole new credit application. Banks have given up on home improvement loans and are pitching SUV fill-up loans. The “Cash Advance” shops on every corner are changing their names to “Gas Advance.” All because—this time—Hurricane Katrina wiped out the South. It’s nice to know capitalism still has a golden heart. I mean, I’d hate to see anyone making a craven, horrible, cynical, indecent profit off this tragedy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, September 09, 2005

#101 Nerd Names

You never hear the name Enid any more. Or Gussie or Gertrude. I’m guessing you wouldn’t hear a lot of Edgar either if it wasn’t for a certain Hispanic baseball player whose parents perhaps had a German friend anxious to emigrate to a Latin American country after WWII. Anyhow, times being what they are, names are focused more on the Jennifers, Jessicas, Jerods and Jacobs than they are on the Gussies and Gertrudes. Howards and Harolds have also fallen out of favor. I don’t think it’s because with each decade we focus on a different section of the alphabet, after all, back in Adam’s time, there wasn’t any biblical mention of Archibald or Algernon. It’s just fashion.
So you wonder how if you take one pretty nerdy name, like say, Merle, and add another one, like say, Norman, you end up with a line of designer beauty products. Either name taken in and of itself promises that that individual had more than one wedgie in his teenage past. Lets face it, country outlaws to the side, the name Merle left many a unpopular teenage boy haggard from the exhaustion of running away from the hazing gang. And Norman? Forget proud French and English ancestry. The Norman Kings and the Norman coast don’t hold a candle to Norman the nosepicker when it comes to nerdliness.
So how is it that Merle Norman became such a successful line of cosmetics? Well, partly through salesmanship and Tupperware-style marketing in its early years. And partly through adhering to the two-first-name strategy for American designer success. As In Paul Mitchell. You got your Paul and you got your Mitchell. Evoking Your Peter Paul and Mary, and your Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Folk and Motor City Soul, could your hair be any more beautiful? Or how about Ralph Lauren? Ralph was another one of those teenage millstone names. Depending on your locale, and the size of your high school’s bowling team, it could be an asset or a liability. Lauren? Well, let’s just say Lauren was a little too “French” for most of the football torture squad. But Ralph Lauren together—that’s a different story. It was probably all those junior high years with his high water pants pulled up to his armpits that convinced old Ralphy that America was ready to pay a hundred bucks for a pair of holey jeans. And history was made.
So you got to wonder: Bill Gates, if he’d only had a second first name, what kind of clothes would we be wearing today? Would they develop sudden holes that he’d then send us patches for, or when he fixed the defect, charge us for a whole new set of pants? And what’s the deal with Paul Allen anyhow? Having a hand in designing the Experience Music project building was a start, but if he really wants to live up to his names, I’m thinking a line of sports-inspired clothing would be right up his alley. Or maybe he could just design a strategy for the Trailblazers that would involve winning...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

#100 On-scar

I hear this ad and it’s describing how this person who was locked out her car was saved by calling Onstar and Onstar control center pushed some button and let her in. Seems like a great deal on the face of it. I mean really, for a mere 20 bucks a month or so, you can have the piece of mind of knowing that if something should go wrong, some prisoner at the other end of the phone can push a little button and unlock your car or give you directions to a difficult location. That prisoner thing is just a guess by the way. Based on a sardonic response one of the attendants made one night to a person I know who was lost. “Sorry to bother you so late,” my friend said. “Oh I got lots of time to kill,” the attendant replied.
I’m just little worried by that. What’s to keep prisoners from randomly or intentionally opening door locks for their friends on the outside. I would think a well-equipped Cadillac Escalade might be fine pickins for a clandestine car burglary ring. Sure, the Onstar system would find the car if it was stolen, but what about if you just steal something out of the car?
So aside from hiring prisoners, how has Onstar benefitted humanity? I don’t know. Remember what they first said about the cellphone? How it was a great technological innovation because if you had a crash on the freeway you could call home and get rescued? Now everybody and the yaya yaya sisterhood are out on the freeways gabbing with each other when they should be paying attention to the road. Yackety yack, don’t slam into my back. Hell, now cellphones cause more freeway crashes then they were originally meant to help with. It’s lucky your brand new shock-resistant crash-proof cellphone survives so you can call about the crash that you had because you were talking on your crash-proof cellphone.
And what about the poor emergency locksmiths? There were quite a few mom and pop roadside assistance shops out there whose sole livelihood was helping people who locked themselves out of their car. Anyone with a pocket full of keys and a slim jim could make a passable living getting pre-Alzheimer folks back into their vehicles. By the way, is the opposite of an Alzheimer a wisenheimer?
See, I think it’s just another opportunity for lazy Americans to not take responsibility for their actions. If you always get a second chance why make any effort on the first chance? If I know I can always call to get into my car, why bother to carry a key? And if I’m paying for the service anyhow, I might as well use it, right? I mean, how often do you change your sheets at home? Every night?
But you expect your hotel to. If this thing catches on, our prisoners are going to be pretty damn busy. I mean, how many people do you know that only use their cellphones when they break down on the freeway any more? Soon people are going to be forgetting their keys on purpose just so they can impress their friends by calling Onstar.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

#99 Trouble Brewing

So I’m driving around the other day, and like most of the time when I’m out on the road, I notice things. The first thing I notice is that there’s a new building along Highway 101. It’s beautiful. Red brick with a pointed roof over a cupola type thing. And I remark to myself, looks like the old brewery. Tumwater, you may recall, was pretty much put on the map by the old Olympia Brewery—the one way down by the lake. And in recent years, Tumwater city hall, the new Tumwater fire department, and just about every building that wants to be Tumwater-anian has followed that architectural archetype and tried to evoke the nostalgic warmth of that golden bygone era of wobbly-lynching and horsecrap in the streets by constructing modern buildings into brewery look-alikes. Funny thing is, no one will buy the actual old brewery, which is even now sitting in decaying decrepitude in the heart of old Tumwater. Much cheaper to build a new building than renovate one that, as of this date, has survived flood, wind, and three major earthquakes. Too bad the city leaders can’t slap an architectural copyright tax on all the new buildings to fund a makeover for their aging inspiration.
While on that same road, I was treated to another blast from the past: A ‘59 Caddie. It’s hard to believe that our nation’s automotive hubris ever got that swollen. This thing was about 5 blocks long. And its fins stretched up about three stories. I’ve never a seen a car take up that much road. Looked like it had a lot of trunk space though. If the designers had been smart, they would have used the space inside those fins as backup gas tanks. Even at 35 cents a gallon, it must have taken a fair chunk of change to gas that thing up. I don’t think they got more than 10 miles a gallon. I thought to myself, boy how did we ever get that stupid? Then it occurred to me. 45 years from now guys like me will be saying the same things about Humvees. Hell, I say it now. Funny how in the past, they thought that to make a car look like a car of the future, you had to streamline it and slap on huge sweeping fins, but how the direct descendant of that same automotive excess, here in the future, is an chunky, armored-plated, big square box. From land yacht to urban assault vehicle.
If this keeps up, and all the fossil fuels get guzzled, I know exactly what the vehicle of our future will look like. It’ll run on renewable agricultural resources and its only emissions will be natural gas and occasional solid deposits that can be recycled to grow more of its fuel. Most versions will run on one horsepower, but richer people will no doubt be able to afford six horsepower. Some will run on dried grass stalks but higher performance versions will require oats and possibly even corn. Strangely, some of the new transportation devices will be called Pintos, though any explosion engendered by hitting them in the rear end will most likely not be flammable. And the future descendent of the ‘59 Caddy and the Hummer? That’ll be called a Clydesdale.
America, ya gotta love it.

#135 Nerd-a-potty

I saw something funny the other day. Not gut-blasting funny. Not even chortling funny. When, by the way, does a chortle escalate into a guffaw? Is there some physiological connection to humor? Maybe how far down the laugh starts indicates how funny something is? If it’s not that funny it’s kind of a snicker in the nose or a teehee in the mouth. Then it increases—going down the body—to a throat and neck-involved chortle. Then a diaphragm-engaged guffaw and finally something so gut-blasting funny you have to change your underwear.
Well, this thing wasn’t quite that funny. It was funny in a way like all my pieces are funny: Kind of an airy, cerebral, ironic, not-funny kind of funny. Rest assured, when you listen to Funny Guy on the Prowl your underwear is safe.
This van was driving down the highway. It was an older maxi-van, possibly with wings, and it appeared to be filled with bright orange-clad people. No, they weren’t clowns. My second guess was convicts. The whole thing looked like one of those prison road crews that most states have to be litter-picker-uppers. Then I remembered. During the summer in our state, we use honor students to do our litter-picker-upping. I mean, how else you gonna teach bookworms the value of dodging traffic? Can’t spend your whole life with your nose in a book Poindexter. Just kidding, my-child-is-an-honor-student-bumper-sticker parents. That was irony. I think it’s stupid to expose young people to the risk of idiot drivers, especially when libraries are closing on Sundays for lack of staff. Convicts on the roads, kids in the libraries. Case closed.
Be that as it may, I felt sorry for these kids. I mean, I was nerd, and I remember how self-conscious I felt at that age about anything—other than my class clowning—that drew attention to me. So here the poor schmucks are forced to dress in florescent day-glo orange jumpsuits, looking like some “Glamour Don’t” cross between a drunken duck hunter and Ronald McDonald on acid. Then they have to traipse around in front of god and everybody on the freaking freeway, picking up trash. Now that’s attention.
But it doesn’t stop there. Perched on the back of the van, on one of those little forklift tailgates they use for handicap vehicles, was a—you guessed it—portapotty. Apparently, to be lowered to the ground at some freeway shoulder location and to be used by said day-glo nerds when the time came to answer the call of nature.
Again, bad enough, going wee-wee or poo-poo while the wake from giant 18-wheelers whooshes by hard enough to tip you over is none too wonderful, but even worse, safety-conscious Department of Ecology has crowned the top of the Honey Bucket with a rotating strobe light like the road department puts on hazard signs.
Now I’m thinking, if I’m so shy I stand along the back wall during an entire high school dance, am I going to be happy to do my business on the side of the freeway in a freaking portapotty with a whirling yellow strobe light on top? NOT funny…
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

#136 The Long Arc of the Law

A disturbing story came across the wires the other day. No, not the all mail election here in Thurston County. That’s how that news item came over the wire this year: Thurston county has decided to conduct an all mail election. Okay if you’re reading it. The difference in spelling between M-a-i-l and M-a-l-e is pretty obvious. But if you’re a D J reading it and a listener hearing it, well, let’s just say radio stations got a lot of calls about suffrage that day.
This story was about a urinating prison guard. Specifically, a prison guard from one of our neighboring cities who got into a fracas in the bar zone of Olympia and was incarcerated as a result. While he was in a holding cell, he unlimbered something other than his sidearm and proceeded to spray a computer, monitor, fax machine, and other hardware. Perhaps an example of the eternal struggle between Laptops and PCs.
An error in judgment to be sure; perhaps precipitated by too many brewskies, both on the psychological and physical level. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances. Perhaps there were no facilities in the holding cell. Perhaps the corrections officer was nearsighted and had lost his glasses in the earlier scuffle. Perhaps to his fuzzy-visioned eyes the computer in question—could it have been one of those streamlined IMAC things—looked like a thundermug and even though he was, according to the article, a few feet away, his admittedly compromised judging capabilities, with perhaps a burst of urgency and/or pride, estimated that he could bridge the gap. The long arc of the law, as it were.
We only know for sure that the computer was damaged and that the whole system, now contaminated with bodily fluids, must, by state mandate, be replaced. And that’s a shame. File corruption, viruses, pop-ups and spam are bad enough. To have to replace your computer because someone has contaminated it with bodily fluids, I don’t think even Norton has come up with that kind of total PC protection. But they will by the next update. “In this ever-changing, dynamic, fluid, computer universe there is only one total PC (and PP) protection. Trust Norton.”
I feel sorry for this guy. The place where he works? Let’s just say they didn’t shower him with accolades. As you might imagine his prison employers used this as an excuse to let him go. His protests that he was, after all, in a holding cell fell on deaf ears. It was how he didn’t hold it that was the issue. And the issue was the issue as well.
If he does any hard time for this e-pis-ode he’ll be in hot water too. Imagine if you will, what it would be like to be cooped up in the same prison with the inmates you formerly guarded. I don’t care how drunk I get, that thought alone would be sobering. I wonder if he’ll run into that dental embezzler.
“What ya in for?”
“Embezzling a dentist office. How ‘bout you?”
“Urinating on a computer.”
“Think this’ll count against that three strikes you’re out thing, cause I already got a “Give em a Brake” and a “Click it or Ticket” on my record...”
“That’s nothing. Try a ‘Hose it, you Blows it’...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

#97 Ooh ooh that spell

Today’s culture needs a stick up. "Laid back" rears its ugly head too often. Take email for instance. Somewhere along the way, I think it was when internet start-up companies and their brash slacker CEOs ruled the world, the internet and chatroom culture emerged with this ethos that said grammar and spelling were no longer important. Forget about capitalizing the first word of the sentence. But capitalize everything if you are shouting. Spelling? Who the hell cares, just get your idea across and throw in an emoticon. It became more important to arrange a colon and a parenthesis into a sideways happy face than make sure you weren’t "defiantly" agreeing with something rather than "definitely" agreeing with something. Paradoxically, at the same time a whole subset of word processing programs e-merged—get it, E-merged—that attempted to correct not only spelling, but grammar and diction issues in a document, like when I still get little green squiggly lines that when I click on them say the last sentence was too darn wordy. Imagine.
And para-paradoxically, spelling became even more important and the necessity for rendering a word exactly even more urgent when it came to typing a URL into your browser’s search box. The URL “Get the lead out dot com” better be spelled l-e-a-d or your surf to that exercise site might wash you up on the stairway to heaven.
Worse, legitimate spelling of company names led you to their website, but misspellings of the same names were often domains co-opted by the porno industry. How many marriages were broken up when the wife checked the family computer’s internet history and found a bunch of porno sites listed? “Hey honey, I’m just a bad speller.” He’s in for a bad spell indeed.
Maybe bad spelling just reflects our society’s proclivity for bad thinking. I just heard a public service announcement on the radio. Our local libraries are going to be closed on Sundays this summer. Now there’s a great idea. Wouldn’t want any kids to use their free time in a gol-durn library when they could be out badly spelling graffiti. Why would libraries be closed on Sunday? Staffing issues, I guess. I heard another announcement that kind of tied in. It was from the Department of Ecology. They were warning motorists not to hit the litter-picker-upper crews out on the freeways this summer. Turns out the crews are made up of “A” students that actually competed for the minimum wage positions. The spokesperson from Ecology was saying how it was their first priority that the kids be safe. I got an idea—you want ‘em safe, have ‘em work in the freaking library. How about putting the damn convicts on the road crews? Not to be cruel or anything but we can afford to lose a couple of them. “A” students are fairly rare. And not to stereotype or anything but, sometimes a little klutzy. I’d rather have them learning the duodecimal system than being a gooey-mess-victim on the side of the road. That’s just plain foolish with a capital PH.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

#96 Challenge This

So there I am in the grocery store the other day. And I’ve just slipped by the greeter on my way out. My little grocery store has apparently decided that the only thing between them and Walmart oblivion is to get a greeter of their own. Like value shoppers give a crap where their merchandise is made or how much a place pays its employees or whether or not they keep them under the minimum hours necessary to qualify for health benefits. It’s all about saving two cents on a Chinese dohickey damn it. And the greeter. Walmart has happy greeters, ergo the world is a happy place.
Anyhow, for the most part, greeters are unidirectional, so if you time it just right, you may be able to get out without having him give you his pseudo-sincere “thanks for shopping at Super-mega-value-mart.” What is a “mart” anyway?
When I emerged into the vestibule, or as I like to call it, the cart corral, I was poised for battle. It’s normally at this high traffic area that I have to dodge over-zealous teenage bagboy cart stackers, frantic moms with their whiny kids who refuse to be buckled into the gaily-tricked-out kiddy carts, and shuffling oldsters whose lives have become so meaningless and insubstantial they can’t even trip the electric eye on the automatic door opener. Just outside the doors, there was a small card table with a coven of those most scary creatures any shopper has to face, Girl Scouts selling cookies. I sidled over to my right, hoping to time my exit so one of the oldsters would run interference.
That’s when I noticed one of the most inspirational scenes I’ve seen in a long time. A fellow in a motorized wheelchair with one of those little toggle things on the armrest—joysticks I guess they’re called—was leaning slightly forward and instructing one of the bag boys. “No,” he said, “there are two more.” The two of which he was speaking were stuffed animals. He already had six of them in his lap. The machine his chair was parked next to was one of those rip-off challenge machines where you feed in a quarter or two and manipulate a joystick to move a little grabbing hook crane thingy over a pile of stuffed animals, dip it down to grab, lift it up again and drop it in the prize hole. I’ve tried it and it’s a bitch. This guy in the wheel chair had piled up eight of them. Bitchin.
It was a testimony to the resiliency of the humanity. They say blind people can smell better, deaf people can taste more, and a deaf dumb blind kid can sure play a mean pinball. Well I’m here to tell you, Mister Wheelchair Guy could sure wield a mean joystick. Joy indeed. This guy’s going: "Winning stuffed animals with a toy sky hook? No problem. I just used my real joystick to get me across four curbs, a bumpy median, and six lanes of rush hour traffic."
I will never scorn the term “differently abled” again.
America, ya gotta love it.