Friday, October 28, 2005

#141 Wonderwhere

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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

#137 The Toll of Humanity

As I was driving off the freeway the other day, I saw my favorite homeless guy at the end of the off-ramp. I’ve never actually given him any money, for a variety of reasons. One of which is that he doesn’t take debit cards. I asked him once and he shook his head sadly, completely aware of what an opportunity that would offer him if he did and sorrowful that the cashless society was rendering his ancient profession obsolete.
I surprised him one day when I reached out at the stoplight and offered him an orange. He was staring straight ahead in that meditative zombie state I remember from working booths at convention centers, an expression plastered on your face, but your thoughts a thousand miles away. He took the orange and thanked me, silently acknowledging that it wouldn’t go far towards satisfying his booze habit, but when I said you couldn’t have too much vitamin C, he agreed wholeheartedly. “I try to get it whenever I can,” he croaked out, his voice fractured not by emotion but by 40 years of cigarettes, mad dog, and madder weather.
One day I pulled to a stop next to him, my window down in the heat, and asked if he was enjoying the sun. He replied, “Its glorious,” then, “too bad you gotta wear that tie.”
“That’s part of being in harness,” I said.
“Yep I know” he smiled, “that’s why I’m a bum.”
He confirmed what I already knew; he was not homeless in the traditional sense. He was a BBC. Bum By Choice.
So, me being me, I thought about his marketing difficulties. If I was a bum, what would I do to increase my income on a daily outing? Aggressive panhandling doesn’t cut it, it only works temporarily and then you end up getting rounded up by the man. Pathetic signs have a limited success because they have the same limitations as all static advertising in an on-the-move world: Your message has to be both effective and short if you’re going to impact your target demographic. Plus, the message has to result in an instant decision by your client to turn over cash. Having people stopped at the light on an off-ramp may seem like an opportunity but really, they’re closed up their cars, their radios are blaring, and it’s easy for them to look the other way. Cardboard signs and dour looks are easy to ignore.
Or people are frozen in indecision because they just don’t know how much. You know how it is; you never know what to tip the guy at the airport. Worst of all, if they do decide, how are they supposed to give it to you? Hand it over? To your dirty smelly hands? Some people just can’t stand the prospect of contact with any other human beings, they’re afraid your homelessness will rub off on them or something. Big untapped market there.
My solution? Hobo toll booths. Or at least buckets. Set up a little hobo wishing well or bum bin and encourage people to toss change from their cars. Clap your hands when they make a bucket. Yell out “Two Points!” Make the whole thing fun. At the end of the day, trundle everything over to the supermarket, use the change sorter and ka-ching, you’ve made some serious cash.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

#134 Theatre Love

There’s a new theatre that recently opened in our fine city. And there are some interesting things about it. Over the last few years the company that owns the new theatre acquired both of the other theaters in town, on both the Westside and the Eastside. The company closed down the two old cinemas on the night of the new theatre’s opening. Talk about a captive audience. The old ones had 4 and 8 screens respectively and the new one has 16 so there is room to grow. One of the old theatres is slated to be reborn as a church. It will make some interesting Sunday mornings to the patrons of the bars clustered around the site of the former theatre/now house of worship. One of the taverns is really, really, close. I’d say your average late night drunken denizen of that pub would probably be able to make it from barstool to pew in only 12 steps.
I wonder if the new church will try to hold eight services simultaneously on eight different screen areas or gut the whole thing and make one giant amphitheatre to the lord. And it’ll be interesting to see the environs that were once the scene of so much “R” Rated sex and carnage host the heavenly-aspiring souls as they do penance in the same seats they used to do petting in. No word yet on the disposition of the popcorn concession. They may keep it as a temptation to swell their youth group ranks. And as for the timeless conundrum between goobers and raisinets, I suspect peckish parishioners will be asking themselves, WWJC—What Would Jesus choose.
At the new theatre, though, a different problem will exist for parents. You see, the new theatre has been advertising all its modern amenities: 46 foot screens, stadium seating so every one has a good seat—unless Lurch happens to show up and plop down in front of you—rocking chair loge seats. No reserved area in the back, mind you, for a higher ticket price, like when I was growing up, no, every seat is a loge seat. Last time I experienced that was at the Winter Olympics. I had a loge seat in the lodge before I got on my luge.
And something else. Pay attention parents. The armrests. They have cupholders. And they move up as well. Not only do I see some potential for slapstick in upcoming movies—moving armrest, cupholder, cup full of coke. What’s worse is the theater is advertising this as a way to make two formerly separated seats into one LOVE-seat. I see the potential for some extremely heavy teen petting sessions. And some downright naughty necking too. Are we going to have to set up a rating system for the seats as well as the movies? I’m sorry kids, these seats are rated “R,” restricted, no one under eighteen is allowed a movable armrest without a parent present.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

#133 Speakerphone

I’ve never done well with speakerphones. My problem is I’m too quick to get into a conversation. I admit it’s a failing. Comes from being raised in a large and vocal family. Kind of like two of my other bad traits: I eat too quickly and reach across the table. Even though I came from a poor family, and even though I was the runt of the litter, I still had to compete for the choicest cuts of meatloaf. My parents both worked in a time when most kids had only one parent in the work force. Perhaps that’s why I have little sympathy for the rich people myth that poor people are poor because they’re lazy.
Anyhow, around our dinner table, it was eat quick or go hungry and it was talk quick or go unheard―or sometimes just get talked down. My older brother particularly, one and a half years my senior, would flash his winning smile to my dad, slide me a sidelong sneer, and then launch into whatever academic tit-bit he thought would impress all and sundry. My dad would respond with warmth and pride. When I tried to pipe up, old brother would elbow me in the shoulder and keep impressing. I learned to be both quick of tongue and quick of wit. Not to mention developing an elbow-resistant callous on my upper arm. Bringing on laughter silenced my older brother and for one brief moment, all the attention of the family universe was centered on me.
I guess that helps to explain my lifelong disdain for cellphones, even though the phones themselves have been around just a short portion of my life. It’s the interruption factor. Remember when speakerphones first came out? People would say you’re on speakerphone, and you’d start to talk and cut off your conversational partner or they’d cut you off because your voices couldn’t occupy the same electron pathway at the same time. Regular telephones have a wire for the incoming message going to the earpiece and a wire for the outgoing message coming from the microphone. Speakerphones, I guess because of feedback or something, don’t. An incoming word cuts off an outgoing word and vice versa. So you have to wait for the other guy to stop talking before you start. And every conversation begins to sound like dialogue in a movie or a bad episode of Dragnet. Not like the easy flowing speech of ordinary face-to-face, talk-over-under-and-through-your-partner conversation. Cellphones share the same disability. And that accounts for how they cause stilted speech and misunderstandings. Problem is, you can’t really tell when the guy on the other end starts to cut into what you’re saying. He doesn’t hear what you just said but you don’t know it because you keep talking. You just assume he got all of what you said.
So all I’m saying is. Let’s make sure that red phone in the oval office stays a landline. At least until we decide to sacrifice enough bandwidth so an incoming signal and an outgoing signal can be close enough to hit the same two phones but separate enough to get the whole conversation. Language and culture barriers are tough enough. Let’s not add cellphone crossover cutoff to the mix.
America, ya gotta love it.

#132 Mouseshoe

A friend of mine wrote me after one of my recent essays talking about the public parks in our area that are inaccessible by land. One of those inaccessible parks is the Odd Fellows Park. My friend, who has so much body art I sometimes call him Louvre, asked if I thought he could get into Odd Fellows Park. Naturally, I replied, you’d be a shoe in.
So where the heck does that term come from? Shoe in. Don’t tell me it was some arcane ritual to guarantee a spot at something. Like a professional fighter used to throw his hat in the ring. Or was that bullfighters? And was that before or after they took off their gloves and got down to business. Taking off your gloves to get busy predates professional boxing doesn’t it? So throwing your hat in the ring means you’re engaged, but throwing your towel in the ring means you give up. When does one put a shoe in?
Or is it a horse term? Like the horse threw a shoe. Funny, when a horse throws a shoe, unlike a person throwing a horseshoe, you never hear of him getting a ringer, but a horse that’s better than people expect, is a ringer. And if you’re exactly like him you’re a dead ringer. So, in the Middle Ages, were twins the only ones pulling the bell rope in cathedrals, and did they often have accidents? I’m sorry Monsignor, Timmy got the bell rope caught around his neck. The ways of the lord are mysterious. I am so sorry; Tell Tommy his brother’s a dead ringer.
It’s no wonder I have to pussyfoot around some words and give them the old soft shoe when it come to things like what the term shoe-in means. I thought it was like a Birkenstock hippie protest thing. Yeah, we’re against Nike sweatshops, so we’re having a shoe-in.
And it’s no wonder I have trouble understanding why modern words end up the way they do. Like mouse. No one has yet given me a convincing explanation of how the term “mouse” evolved to describe the pointer thingy we all use. “Because of its shape” is the best etymology dictionaries can come up with. Right. Maybe in the old days when it had a cord sticking out like a tail, but now? The ergonomic wonder prosthetic computer interface that I now hold, with its finger-nesting molded clickers and imbedded scroll-wheel, not to mention its laser guidance optical motion detector, doesn’t look a bit like a furry rodent. If you ask me, this is the thing we should be calling a palm pilot.
And the word splog? I find it hard to even say it. I was just getting used to blog, then they developed spam for blogs and called them splogs. If you did it to someone else you were splogging someone, or if it was done to you, you’d been splogged. Sounds uncomfortably like flogging to me. And it kind of resonates in a verbal sense. Somebody whipped my butt on my blog with spam.
I like to settle his hash.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

#131 Splogging

Recently I was looking at my blog. If you’ve ever wondered what a blog is, well, essentially it’s whatever you want. Blog is short for web-log. In the parlance of the computer world, where electronic mail gets shortened to email, and instant messaging someone gets shortened to IM-ing someone, it’s no surprise that Web-log would get shortened to blog. I mean, what’s the alternative, “Webl”?
I’ve touched before on how words evolve and how what seems an obvious choice sometimes gets pushed aside because the public favors the feel of the other word on the tongue or ear. Like some linguistic battle between Beta and VHS, better doesn’t always win. Mouse Mat was a great verbal contender for the things under our mouses, or should I say mice, but pad won out despite its feminine hygiene connotations. Its promise of comfort somehow resonated with the sensibilities of people, while “mat” must have conjured up notions of sweaty, wrestling types.
“Spam” was another one of those computer age creations. Usenet geeks took a perfectly good word for a wonderful spiced ham concoction whose epicurean delights are near legendary, and applied it to Internet junk mail. Why? Is junkmail succulent and smoky? Is junkmail created from the delicately flavored specialty meats of presumably porcine origin? Can you fry junkmail in bacon grease, slap it on a wonder bun, and slather it with yellow mustard and piquant ketchup for a treat to die for? No. I shall say no more.
Anyhow, “blogs” are easily updateable mini-websites where if you are an obsessive writer like me, you can post the daily drivel that drizzles from your brain for all the world to see and say, “so that’s what they mean by yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dogs eye.”
On my blog I chanced to notice some comments on one of my essays. Blogs have comments sections so strangers can agree or disagree with your custard. I found out then that if you enable anonymous comments, all hell breaks loose. And it breaks loose with something called a splog. A splog is spam on a blog. Two made-up words joined to make another made-up word that actually describes a new and terrible thing. Someone posts a comment on your blog, says it’s great, then goes on to describe a product or opportunity to lose weight or make a jillion dollars and then asks you to visit his website, which is a blog for say, mentholated diapers or something. Search crawlers being focused on things like hit-counts and links and comment entries, suddenly the whole Internet is at risk of splogs bringing down its google-ized search-ranking edifice.
Another example of advertising stuffing the cracks. Maybe that’s where that spam word came from. When there’s no room for a whole chunk of meat, you can always cram in some spam.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

#130 Access-a-boat

Recently my relatives and I were out driving around looking for houses. In case you haven’t noticed, the price on the average home has increased about 100,000 dollars in the last year. Lucky we’re not having a housing bubble. I read somewhere that about a third of all new houses sold are on interest only loans. Hmm. Seems to me an interest-only loan is pretty much the same thing as renting from the bank.
Houses that were further from the city center tended to cost more. I suppose because it takes someone well-heeled enough to have the time to commute the distance, have the car to commute the distance and have the money for gas for the car to commute the distance. Still, some of the nicest homes in outlying areas had Civics and Hyundais and what not in the driveway. When my brother-law pointed out the apparent paradox, I said the cars probably belonged to the help.
So while we had the map out in our estate exploration adventure we decided to stop in at a few parks here and there, let my new-to-the-area relatives sample some of the fine natural opportunities in this great community. We did Priest Point and Burfoot, where they were amazed that forests actually went down to the water. Where they used to live, from their house the forest was an hour’s drive in one direction and the beach was an hour’s drive in the opposite direction. Never will the twig find the tide. Does anyone go barefoot to Burfoot by the way? And if so, do they not put much stock in a name?
But there were some parks we couldn’t get to; Odd Fellows Park and Indian Road Park to be exact. These parks were only accessible by boat. A little research when I returned confirmed that indeed, there are numerous such parks in the great state of Washington. Understandably, we were miffed. The parks were on the map. The borders of those parks, according to the map, extended to public roads, paved, pothole-free and with signs of recent shoulder mowing. But when we got there, no way to get in, no identifying placard, and surly residents with “Private Road” “Dead End Street” and “No Outlet” signs dangling from their shotguns. So how is it that in this great ADA country of ours, where a business can’t open its doors without a wheelchair ramp and handrails in the can, where you can’t throw an outdoor event without a triple-wide handicap port-a-potty; how is it that we can have a state, county or federal park that is only accessible by boat? A little economic discrimination if you ask me. I can understand if it’s an island. Or something stuck out on a remote peninsula where there aren’t any roads anyhow. But in suburban Olympia? So my ADA question is, since we boatless people are obviously suffering from an economic handicap, when’s the state gonna buy us a Bayliner? Great question, I think I’ll pursue it. People’ll be saying to me: “Those are expensive clothes Funny Guy, where you get em?”
And I’ll say: “This old thing? I call it my class action suit.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

#129 Flinger

I happened to spy an interesting tableau when I got stopped by a traffic light. Four people who obviously worked for the city were doing some landscaping. Or perhaps the term landscaping maintenance is more accurate One fellow was engaged in the heavy duty lawn mowing. He probably had seniority, which meant that it was his responsible position to ride on the riding lawn mower. The next guy on the civil service totem pole was decked out in a giant backpack thingy, from which extended a big hose with a nozzle on it. His job appeared to be to sweep off both the sidewalk and the grass with his air nozzle. I felt a little sorry for the guy. First off, the pack he was shouldering looked like with only a little tinkering it could have lifted him in the air like jetpack robocops from the future. This sucker was big. And noisy. Even over the sound of my car stereo blasting, the thumping of the hip-hop guy’s chopped Civic to my left and the real estate guy yelling on his cellphone right in front of me, I could hear the leaf blower. The jetpack guy had on those bright orange earplugs. I hate those things. Specifically I hate running into used ones under the pillow when I first go to bed in a motel room.
So there was the lead-scaper riding the mower and number two was lugging the blower chasing down his cut grass and every time lead-scaper would come back for another pass, number two’s grass would blow back at him cause of the lawnmower’s propwash. Blower boy was making some progress though, because he had managed to blow up a pile of clippings to landscaper number three. She was the shoveler-slash-flinger. She had a big shovel with which she was picking up the cut grass and a big trashcan in front of her wherein she was flinging said shovelsful. Sort of. The trashcan was about a foot too far from the terminal range of her fling. The whole time I sat at the light she didn’t manage to get one complete shovelful into the trashcan. If she had only stopped shoveling for a second, walked over three feet, and dragged the can back in her direction, she would have had a shot at it. As it was, blower boy would return every minute or so and air-herd the clippings back in the direction of her pile, which would grow again, and then she would spread it to the wind again, and etc. I felt like I was at a mental hospital watching a patient endlessly pick the same imaginary crumb from the front of her shirt. The last figure in this tableau was actually standing by the trashcan in question. He gazed off into the distance, quietly contemplating the cigarette he was drawing on, the magnificence of nature, and the minutes to his next legally-mandated break period. He could have moved the trashcan back towards flinger lady, but no. He was the supervisor. Don’t let that orange vest fool you, this guy had spent considerable energy floating to the top of the bureaucratic cesspool. Still, I guess we’re making progress. With all the recent budget cuts, at least there’s only one guy standing around doing nothing. But I’m thinking we haven’t gone far enough. One push mower with a grass catcher could wipe out two positions and save a ton of money on gas.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

#128 Fair Concert

Went to a concert not too long ago. It was at the Southwest Washington Fair—in Chehalis. The price of the concert tickets included fair admission. In this case kind of like a free undercoating when you buy a car. I confess, having two weeks before been to the Clarke County Fair, I was pretty much done in regarding penned pigs and giant dahlias. So I actually didn’t pursue the agricultural display offerings the 4-h-ers and the FFA-sters put out. You seen one pig you about seen em all, is my admittedly jaded feeling. They’re cute and all, but chances are I’ll be seeing them next in the bacon pile at Costco so I think maybe I shouldn’t get emotionally attached in any way.
But I gotta say; If I thought I was gonna be avoiding pigs by not going to the barns I had another think coming. I’ve never seen more two-legged ones in my life. Now maybe it was just because it was dinner hour. And a Friday night. Heck we arrived early so we cold plunge off the high diet dive into the deep-fried calorie pool ourselves. But some of these folks really needed a lifeguard. One corn dog, a slice of pizza and half a funnel cake did me in. But these people were lugging around paper jumbo boats of ribs and twisty fries, juggling hot buttered ears of corn and chili dogs, and dangling a hand-dipped ice cream bar from one pinky. Perhaps my sense of alarm was heightened by the fact that I was wearing light-colored clothing and every one brushing against me in the crowd was festooned with something that was melting, dripping or slathered in mustard.
And, of course, there were only three places to sit scattered through all of food row. Still, we managed to emerge from the crusty carnage relatively unscathed, give or take a sweat mark from a couple of overzealous yahoos on their way to the elephant ear hut. They had that slack-jawed look on their faces that was either the result of too much inbreeding or the permanent confusion engendered by constantly having to make the difficult wardrobe choice of Nascar T-shirt or Harley T-shirt.
Anyhow, when the concert began, there were still folk lugging in steaming paper trays of food. Apparently, it was to be a dinner concert, as the places to sit and eat were so few and far between it was worth the price of a golden circle ticket just to get a seat. Golden, by the way, it was not. The chairs were gray-painted aluminum, stolen, perhaps, from the firehall pancake breakfast, and the venue itself was definitely square. As were most of its paying patrons. Many of them had not even heard of the feature band, The Turtles, those who had were expecting maybe just an hours worth of Happy Together and Eleanor, and the kids kept tugging their mom’s overalls and asking which one was Donatello. You could kind of tell they weren’t into it. During the last song, which the band made the mistake of announcing as such, a couple of rustic couples actually got up, crossed in front of everybody between the stage and the crowd, and headed out—presumably to beat the rush to the parking lot. Or maybe they were worried the funnel cake booth was about to close...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

#127 Crazy Cow

There was a news story came off the wires a little while back. Seems the Russians had a dilemma. Now I’m no expert on things Russian. The only thorough examination of their culture I’ve made is in comparing the different brands of their dressing that are available. And, once Ranch dressing came out, good American that I am, I left French and Russian moldering on the shelves. I always thought it was odd that Russian dressing was essentially composed of mayonnaise, a French concoction, and chili sauce, a Spanish addition to European cuisine. Was it meant to be some international workers paradise dressing co-opted from the commie parties of France and Spain? Probably not. More likely a name invented by Kraft, like the name “Ranch” when buttermilk dressing no longer sounded catchy enough.
I digress.
In any event, our not-doing-so-well-in-the-shiftingly-corrupt-capitalist-department maybe-we-were-better-off-with-a-reliably-corrupt-totalitarian-system friends across the oceans have a big problem on their hands. Cow Feed.
One thing I do know about Russia is its agriculture mafia isn’t doing as well as its Pirate CD and Missing Nuclear Warhead mafias. Harvests have never been a very certain thing in tumultuous Russia. If it isn’t the wind, snow, and rain it’s a revolution or war or failed commune policy. And, gosh darn it, forced labor just never seems to come up with the same kind of crop as tender loving farming does. Could you imagine the service we’d get in our farmer’s market if every one was forced to work there? Or our Walmarts? Wait a minute...
Competition does make things more service oriented. Back in the Ma Bell days, you couldn’t get new service for weeks. Now just walk through the cellphone company gauntlet at the mall and you’ll come out literally littered with minutes.
So the problem the Roosekies faced was real. 40 tons of contaminated feed. Seems that when the fodder was harvested from the corn and sunflower fields no one noticed there was a fair percentage of marijuana plants distributed among them, like green beads within the cornrows. The big combines came by, harvested it all into the same mechanical maw, and out popped some major bricks of weed, dude—Georgian Gold, Grass of the Steppes, Ural Gonna Like this. So what if you got a little cornstalk and sunflower shafts mixed in. Most sixties’ pot bales were cut with more than a few handsful of hay.
But no. Passing up a good agricultural mafia opportunity, the powers that be decided to feed all forty tons to the hungry cattle for which it was originally intended. So apparently, they won’t have to worry about mad cow disease anymore, just wasted cow disease. And as a wit quicker than I put it, Russia’s really gonna have to beef up their brownie production...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

#126 Love Hallmark Style

One of the places we’ve become less personal in recent years is in the card industry. Yet we seem more personal than ever. A trip through your local Hallmark will confirm there’s a card for every occasion. From the bar mitzvah of your half-Chinese cousin to the death of your aunt’s shit-zu. Hidden in all this variety is the inescapable reality that we shop for cards and don’t in fact make them ourselves. So to some degree, the message we impart to our loved ones is: I care enough to buy the very best canned sentiment I can discover.
Now I’m not saying that folks don’t look long and hard for just the right card. I myself have sent many a minute to its ultimate wasted oblivion reading and reading someone else’s idea of what I’m supposed to feel. From schmaltzy to corny to downright absurd, I’ve navigated the worst verse and the most horrible doggerel in my attempt to fulfill the artificial cultural imperative placed on us by the card industry.
Because really, try making your own card these days. Load it with all the personal sentiment and frilly decoration you can. Like as not, Aunt Lulabelle will sniff a little snort of derision. Her body language will indicate in no uncertain terms that she thinks homemade is cheap. Perhaps that’s why Americans retreated to the safety of surrogate sentiment. If aunty doesn’t like the card, well, hell, you didn’t write it, so at least one level of responsibility is avoided.
For a while, when everyone was a flutter with the newness of email and the internet, E-cards were all the rage. Websites abounded featuring free cards that you could pick out and email to your loved ones. Some of them just sent a link. The loved one couldn’t even just open the e-card, they had to go to a website and perform some rigamarole to download the pseudo-sentiment. So the recipient was treated to a double slap in the face, the indignity of a card that wasn’t a card—try storing an animated e-card in your special bundle of love letters—and the inconvenience of fetching the damn thing yourself. It would be like me calling my wife and telling her to pick up a Valentine card for herself on the way home. And spare no expense, honey.
But the card folk won. Seems like even though e-cards are only a slight degree of indifference more than store cards, the American public still treasures something they can hold. Along with special expensive wrapping. Paper that goes from shelf to present to landfill all in one gift frenzy.
My Brother-in-law and sister do it right. Come special whatever day they visit a card shop together. The giver picks out and reads aloud the cards he or she thinks most applies to the other. They laugh, they kiss, they cry. They make the experience personal. And then they put the money they saved into a special place and use it later to go somewhere—together.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

#125 Cell-ad Greens

When you stop to think about it, the evidence is our culture is getting more and more impersonal. Cellphones, those wonderful instruments that were supposed to bring people together, actually drive humanity apart. Don’t think so? Next time a cellphone caller walks by you on the street shouting to some bar-disabled callee on the other end tell me how you feel. Especially if his shouting interrupts a conversation you’re having with a live human being right there.
Or the next time someone walks into your store or office and they are gesticulating madly and talking at thin air, remember that these days, chances are they’re not a crazy schizophrenic on the loose. Look for a little microphone dangling from their ear before calling the boys with the long-armed white coats.
Schizo-phones, as I call them, are among the most disconcerting of today’s cell-profane society. Especially the new version, the smaller than a Star Trek communicator that actually perches on someone’s ear. You know, the one with that annoying blue light. I keep thinking I should rush down the aisle for a good deal on something. At least it’s that cool blue that you see on tricked-out car bumpers, excuse me, pimped-out car bumpers. The blue that says class, style and wealth. No cheesy cheap yellow light for these cell-folk, cool blue is where it’s at.
But they still look like a cross between a traffic cop and a mime on hallucinogens when they start handsfree talking to their friends while they’re shopping or walking or whatever. I used to think walking down the street with a friend, each of you talking on your respective cellphones to someone else, was the epitome of disconnected connectedness. But at least you could see that the other guy was talking. His hand to his ear was a dead giveaway. But now, with cords, antenna, and microphones hidden under hair, every third cell-gal looks like the bag lady on the corner, shouting alternating streams of profanity and pitiful imprecations at all and sundry.
It’s lucky the men’s hair fashion tends to buzzcuts. We can see the hardware on their noggins, unless they wear a helmet or one of those oversized half-cocked baseball caps all the teams retail. Have I mentioned lately how odd it is that basketball teams put their names on baseball caps? Don’t get me started.
Here’s what I predict. We are about to see the age of the free cellphone. Recognizing that a good part of America spends a great deal of every day on their phone, advertising mavens will conceive the idea of a subsidized phone network—paid for entirely by advertising. You’ll be able to talk any number of minutes, at any time, completely for free, in exchange for listening to a brief ad message each time you dial a number and at periodic intervals through your conversation. No one will force this option on you, but you will be able to elect it in exchange for free phone service.
You’re thinking about it aren’t you?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

#124 Disconnect the Fox

So not too long ago I was watching television. My remote finger stopped twitching round about channel 13, our local FOX Entertainment channel. They were talking about having a Married With Children reunion show. You may remember that Married With Children was considered by some to be quite groundbreaking in its time, dealing, as it did, with the subjects of sex and infidelity and maturing teenage boys. If fact, the show was much condemned by social conservatives and the religious right as an example of how low American culture has stooped in its endless demonic quest for titillation. By this time the twin scandals of embezzling Jim and Tammy Faye Baker and hotel-retreating Jimmy Swaggert had faded from the collective holier than thou-ness of the Christian Coalition. We are nothing if not a forgiving nation.
The teaser for Married With Children over, I watched a couple of promos for upcoming Malcolm in the Middle and Simpson episodes and then put my thumb into drive and coasted up the channels. I landed on Fox News which, as luck would have it, was having a panel discussion with Pat Buchanan and Ralph Reed about the shameless morality of our times and how Bill Clinton and the licentious liberals have slid us all down the slippery slope of immorality. Especially those Hollywood harridans of hell.
At this point the magnet in my brain started pointing to irony. And I began to think that Rupert Murdoch, Australian entrepreneur and egoist extraordinaire, had a deeper plan for America. Perhaps nothing less than the total breakdown of our society through a new civil war, this one based on the differing versions of morality exemplified by the two channels I just talked about. Fox Entertainment and Fox News, Rupert’s Revenge, the last attack of the British Empire against the upstart Colonies. Am I the only one who sees this disconnect between the owner of the two networks and the content of the two networks. Fox News criticizes directly all the over-the-top cheap thrills of Fox Entertainment. And Fox Entertainment indirectly pricks holes in the inflated balloons of morality that the hypocritical Fox Newsies puff up; Buchanan with his draft-dodging bum knee that kept him out of Vietnam but doesn’t seem to affect his daily jog; O’Reilly with his out of court settle the sexism lawsuit, Ralph Reed with his coterie of sinning preachers. Subjects the Simpsons love to lampoon.
You have to wonder, if left to itself without the extreme, flamboyant, shocking, scandalous, underwear-laundering foisted on the American public by Rupert Murdoch, if indeed TV today might not be a more genteel place. If Rupert wasn’t there to push the limits of taste and broadcast the near obscene and then there to loudly criticize the broadcast that he himself put on the air, what would our boring middle of the road American lives be like?
Can you say peaceful?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

#123 One for the Road

Some people use the term paradigm shift to describe a time when a culture seems to suddenly come down on a different side of a given social equation than it once did. We start to see the world through different eyes. In 1950 it didn’t bother very many white people that in the South and many places in the North it was the norm for drinking fountains and bathrooms to be segregated. Your average Joe and Jane simply didn’t question the notion that a black man and a white man couldn’t share the same stream of water jetting from a faucet. Today, no one, except perhaps a few famous potato holdouts, can believe it ever happened. That’s how far we’ve come.
My favorite scene from the movie “Forest Gump” is when he is a child and being examined by a doctor. Throughout the physical, the doctor has a cigarette dangling from his lips and Forest and his mother are enveloped in a cloud of blue smoke. Doctors actually appeared in commercials back then and recommended certain brands as being less harsh than others. You don’t see a lot of that today.
I saw a rerun of Laugh-in the other day. In the late sixties it was the first show to use quick cuts and one-liners to flash between jokes. It was groundbreaking. It was also sexist as hell. The American culture was in the throes of a paradigm shift at that moment and the notion that women are or could be equal and that they’d actually have the effrontery to demand to be treated seriously was dismissed with many a “bless her pretty little head” patronizing jibe.
This last shift is still convulsing. I know lots of fellows to whom the notion that women are just plain equal, no second thoughts about it, is strange. And their retro-idiotic spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, is a prime example of how tenacious a prejudice can be and how tolerated a prejudice can be if its swathed in funny buzz-words like femi-nazi. Oh, but they’re so obnoxious about it. I wonder, was Martin Luther King a afro-nazi because he asserted and insisted on the equality of African-Americans? It goes without saying that there’s no need to assert a right, obnoxiously or otherwise, if everyone takes it for granted. Of course, I wouldn’t expect fuzzy-thinking Rush to grasp such obvious subtleties. He thinks taking oxycontin illegally is better than taking illegal heroin because, after all, oxycontin is a prescription drug—even though he acquired it illegally and used it in an illegal manner. A car is a legal mode of transportation too, but driving a stolen one will get you sent to jail. Even if you had your housekeeper steal it for you.
Cultural paradigms are like language. Some people, when they learn a foreign language, are always translating it in their brain into English. When you’re really fluent in a foreign language you actually think in it. Anti-sexism isn’t quite a paradigm shift yet, it’s more of a mono-digm shift.
I heard another one of those shift indicators in an old movie the other day. Two guys were drinking in a bar and getting ready to leave. The bartender asked: “How about one for the road?”
Don’t hear that much anymore...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

#122 CaZinos

Back before blogs, frustrated writers self-published things called fanzines. Fanzines were publications devoted to a given theme or celebrity and featured articles about the various minutiae and trivia of said institution or personage.
So there would be various fanzines that a person could order about say, the group Styx, or reams of “Trivial Pursuit” research about the inspirational precursors for Austin Powers, like the esoteric information that Dr Evil’s female lieutenant, Frau Farbissina, was based on Colonel Rosa Klebb of From Russia with Love and that Colonel Klebb was played by an actress named Lotta Lenye who was married to Kurt Weill, who wrote the song Mac the Knife that Bobby Darin brought to fame. And that the song Mac the Knife was about a gruesome mass murderer and was living proof that lyrics are completely disconnected for music in the popular mind and that Tipper Gore shouldn’t have been all that concerned about Prince and little Nicky and her daughter, because years later none other than McDonalds used the Mac the Knife song as a theme for one of its promotions and as far as I know, except for cows, no mass murder was committed as a result. Unless you count multiple cardiac infarctions from fast food cholesterol. Mac Attack indeed.
Anyhow, I’m surprised there isn’t a fanzine devoted to casinos. Kind of a CaZino publication. Casinos have certainly penetrated popular culture, and have certainly developed a trivial pool of knowledge of their own.
Like, did you know, that all casino slot machine and payout bells are tuned to middle C or at least a note that is always harmonious with C. Truth or fiction? I don’t know, but like most folk wisdom or urban legend it rings positive. If you owned a casino and had all those bells and whistles going, you’d understand real quick that discord would drive people out. Even a musical ninny can detect a bad note in a high school symphony. The casino experience is meant to lull one into spending money. The shortest route to the buffet is across the casino floor, why not stop and put in a few quarters on the way? You could win the price of lunch. Want a drink? They’re cheap when you’re gambling. Cocktails have always had an incredible profit margin, why not sacrifice some of it to deaden your patron’s gambling inhibitions?
And casinos have become the go-to place for aging stars to once again shake their respective bootys across the stage. And the venues are paying more and the shows are getting better. Again, the point is to get you in the vicinity of the casino. There to crumble under the psychological pressure of the excitement of flashing lights, dinging bells and pre-recorded unsourceable hoots and hollers of winning.
And I must say, I particularly enjoy it when a guy is re-selling last minute tickets at a casino rock show. The name scalper is just too ironic. Go get em. My Indian blood warhoops with joy. Fleece em, scalp em, and give em a roaring hangover headache when they wake up in their nice little house built on the land their ancestors stole from my people so long ago. Can I interest you in a firecracker?
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

#121 Zero Clue

I gotta admit, sometimes I have no clue about human beings. Or, to use the common parlance, I have zero clue. The other day as I was leaving work I spied this truck across the street. It was one of those big panel trucks, the kind that function great as mobile billboards. The painting on the truck said: Home Oxygen services, Home Respiratory Aid and Respiratory Therapy. I envisioned seniors sitting in wheelchairs with oxygen tubes sticking in their noses. The driver got out of the truck, went around to the front, glanced at his watch, then reached into his front shirt pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes, shook one out and proceeded to fire up.
I wondered how many people in a given day he saw suffering from the ravages of lung cancer and emphysema. Then wondered again at the ability of the human mind to justify a given habit with the simple phrase, it won’t happen to me.
When I was at the Clark County Fair it was kind of interesting. There were people of all shapes and sizes. Fairs tend to bring out a wide sampling of humanity. Some of which also appeared to have zero clue. At the food barn there was a booth selling German sandwiches of some sort. They look like some kind of pita folded over big chunks of meat. The booth had a name, presumably of the family that owned it. It was a German name and it was spelled d-o-n-e-r. But it was written kind of frilly and there was one of those tipped over colon things over the “O” which I believe is called an umlaut. The overall effect made you read the first syllable of the name not as done but as don. Needless to say, the sign Donner family foods seemed a little, shall we say, unappetizing, to history buffs like myself. Um, do you have a salad?
Later, at the concert, they had the head of the fair make some announcements before Styx came on. One that indicated that maybe he had zero clue was when he thanked everybody for showing up for the breakfast that morning. Response, the guy said incredulously, was overwhelming. They even had to cut the line off at eleven o’clock, the first time they’d ever had to do that for this free event. Thanks again for your support. Hell yes. I’ll support lots of things if it doesn’t cost anything and I get a free breakfast out of the deal. I’m surprised he was so surprised. Maybe next year he can change the fair’s theme to: “We Put the Moo in Mooch.”
During the Styx concert, some avid fans—female—started throwing things up on stage. They were panties. As the band members retrieved them, they would then toss guitar picks in the general direction of the panty providers. Occasionally, the panty person would emerge from the scuffle for the not-so-accurately-thrown-pick victorious, and it’s no secret they squealed with delight at being so honored by the band. No offense, but what are panties going for these days? I have zero clue. But I would imagine even a used pair could fetch more than a guitar pick. Look what I got on eBay honey...
America, ya gotta love it.

#120 Roids

The headlines are all ablaze with allegations and counter allegations of steroid use by all sorts of sports figures. Football players have taken steroids, basketball players have taken steroids, and now the final bastion of everything that is good and true in America, baseball, has been befouled with the testicular squeezings of bovine misfortune—Baseball players take steroids. The news is horrifying. The news is shocking. What will the poor youth of America, raised to honor the records of the mighty batsman of yore, steeped in the tradition of the Mantles and the Ruths and the Barry Bondsmen, what will the tender unsullied children of this great land of ours think?
My second child said it best: Yo duh...
As any high school wrestler will tell you, the pressure to enhance muscle weight and tone at the expense of other bodily tissues is old, old indeed. I remember when just before a match we would wrap ourselves in impermeable nylon suits and take a few turns around the track in hundred-degree weather to sweat off the pounds necessary to make weight. The closer you could get to optimum weight the more power you could theoretically bring to the mat. I never had much to worry about, I was all bones at that age, and if I couldn’t give my opponent a muscle bruise from having him grab me too quick on a take down I was pretty much doomed to no more than a depressing collection of escape points anyhow.
But today’s high school workout rooms are different and if it isn’t the coaches that suggest a friendly supplement doctor, it’s the parents, who want their kids to relive their glory days for them. Hey, it’s only for a few years, if they don’t get the big scholarship well hell, their liver will probably recover. And, sad truth is, when all your opponents have crowded up to the steroid bar all the other bars of performance get raised right out of reach unless you’re pricking yourself with the same concoctions.
What I hate the most though, is that they took a perfectly good word that used to refer to anal swellings and applied it to hormone injections. When I first heard that Baseball was infested with ‘roids, I thought, jeez, no kidding. I would figure that would be more of a problem with Nascar drivers. And a baseball player with ‘roids sliding into home, well, I don’t want to think about it.
That does answer one mystery, though. I was at the club the other day and one of the personal trainers was flexing his glutes at another trainer. The second trainer, with a practiced eye, was assessing the conformation of something about the first trainer’s posterior. “Nice definition,” he said, “and great vascularity.” There was a question in his voice.
“Roids,” the first one said.
You can imagine my mystification.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

#119 Fried Green Twinkies

So I was at the Clark County fair a while back. I had a good reason; my family and I were going to a Styx concert. We arrived early for I’m not sure what reason, I guess because the price of the concert ticket included fair admission and it seemed like such a waste to pass up a free trip to the fair. Yeah right.
Naturally, the kids peeled off right away, teenagers have no business with adults in public, and we were left to our own devices to amuse ourselves for the three hours before the concert started. So it was off to the pig barn. Nothing more amusing than spending some quality time with our nearest cultural neighbor on the food chain. Pigs and humans have a lot in common. Not just police humans either, I mean the family nature and the omnivorous-ness and the tendency to waller in squalor. These pigs were none too perty. Hairy, but the hair was sparse. And hanging lankly like it did against their bright pink flesh, the word chemo patient came to mind.
There were only two pigs in the entire pig barn. The rest of the space was occupied by cattle. I don’t know if it was meant to be some 4-H version of humor—to trap the urban masses into asking what type of pig had horns and a big fly-swatting tail—or if indeed Clark County is just more dairy and less bacon, but one thing’s for sure: Putting the livestock barn only a few feet from the food concession barn seemed a little cruel even by raise-a-pet-pig, win-a-ribbon, sell-him-to-a-butcher, 4-H standards.
The smell of bacon burgers and hot dogs wafting from the fair food concessions had all the animals looking mighty alert, let me tell you. You gotta wonder if animals, with their keen sense of smell, can pick out the sweet/smoky odor of one of their rendered friends being griddled to culinary perfection.
Anyhow, the smell was too much, so after a quick trip to the rooster hut we made a beeline for that very same food area, there to stuff ourselves on onion beef burgers, chicken strips, corn dogs and oh yeah, emu jerky. Nature, thy bounty. If you think that’s odd, well hey, if you’re gonna eat it, you got to be able to look it full in the face first.
As we emerged from the food barn we noticed one of the carny food booths selling elephant ears. And something else. The newest in fair food this year: Deep-fried Twinkies. I kid you not. Operating on the principle that if it’s good normal, it’ll be that much better if it’s slathered in batter and deep-fried, fair folk have gone completely over the edge of cardiac sensibility. Hell, this is the fair dammit, I ain’t at the health club. Oh look, they gone done deep-fried a Twinkie, Maybell. I have died and gone to heaven. I’m as happy as a pig in slop.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

#118 Which White

It may be that the end of civilization as we know it will come about because we all go crazy and have our brains implode from having to process too many choices. A walk through any supermarket has become a path fraught with fear. Fear of not making the right choice, fear of having too many choices, fear of not being up on the latest research that tells you this week whether the products you thought were okay are now unsafe in some way or the unsafe products are now okay—Try the new, bacon only, Atkins modification, Southeast BBQ beach diet.
Like the other day. I needed toothpaste. Ordinarily not a problem. My experience in consumerism over the last forty-plus years tells me that sooner or later product osmosis prevails. Industrial espionage, plagiarism, and downright rip-offs mean that if a product is popular because of some magic ingredient, soon all products in that genre will have it.
So my basic philosophy of product picking is: whatever’s cheapest. Grab the damn thing with the lowest price and get on with your life.
Unfortunately, I had picked one of those days when everything was the same low price. Except for Toms of Maine and one other hippie toothpaste crafted from the chemical clay of aloe, gingko biloba and baking soda, every single tube, pump, and gel was the same sticker. Great, I thought. Now even the toothpaste companies have got into the employee discount frenzy.
So I was forced to actually read the packaging on the various toothpastes. And I discovered something. I now have to decide how white I want my teeth to be. Crest, as one example, had whitening, extra whitening, dual action whitening, whitening expressions and multicare whitening. They also had sensitive, cavity protection, tartar removing, baking soda, herbal, citrus, scope, and various mint flavors—Cool mint, regular mint, and fresh mint. Oh, and something I’m totally unsure of, a formula called rejuvenating, which remineralizes, refeshes and restores your teeth. Who would have thought the fountain of youth was in aisle 3-b?
Still, as if the bewildering choices of flavors of mint isn’t enough to drive me to Frances Farmer land, I’m left with the quandary of which white is the white for me. I mean, whitening is okay and I’m a little intrigued by “dual action” whitening. Sounds really impressionistic somehow, like Bob Ross is going to start daubing my mouth with a special brush. But extra whitening? If I wanted my teeth white, would I even consider regular whitening when extra whitening was available. “No, just regular white please, if my smile’s too luminescent I could blind people.”
Of course the big question is this: Are they really all just the same damn concoction anyhow? Cause I don’t think there’s a federal board somewhere examining toothpaste formulas. “Proctor and Gamble, we’re going to fine you. You’ve got more whitening in the tube than you promised.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

#117 PSA Holes

They never seem to have public broadcasting campaigns for the stuff that really affects me. They’ve got a public service ad out now that talks about “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed,” and another one that says “Don’t get a ticket, leave more space,” but there isn’t one for cellphone pedestrians—if you ask me, our newest and most problematic road hazard. Using a cell phone is a good thing. Using one when you’re a pedestrian and having that use affect your judgment as to when it’s safe to cross the street, is not. When I write about nearly creaming some idiot cause she walked right in front of me while she was chatting on the phone, understand it’s not you and your phone usage I’m talking about, just the moron I nearly ran over. Problem is, it’s assumed that the driver is at fault in a pedestrian accident. So even though cell-phoid Annie is chatting up a blue streak and crossing against the light, the red streak she leaves under your bumper is your fault. We need a radio ad campaign for that. Something on the order of: “Dumb as a cow? Get creamed.”
The current campaign on the air about “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed” I find a little unsettling. It features a heartfelt testimonial by a lady who lost her daughter to a drunk driver. I really feel for the woman. Drunk driver homicides should be treated like any other homicide, and prosecuted accordingly. None of this involuntary manslaughter stuff. Nobody held a gun to the drunk’s head and forced him to get blotto. Nothing involuntary about it. But then the commercial in question brackets the heartfelt plea with this “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed” song. Surrounding a wrenching testimonial with what is essentially a bad pun is too jarring for me. Puns have their place, this isn’t one of them.
But it’s better than the other PSA out there now about preventing little snaky automobile drivers from causing accidents with poor helpless friendly old big trucks. The song talks about little guys cutting the big guys off. Leave ‘em plenty of room and all that. I agree. Big rigs can’t stop on a dime. Still, it seems to me more than once I have been the cuttee and/or the near-crushee as a methed-up longhauler has nearly crashed my ass to the guardrail. So though I appreciate the friendly reminder Traffic Safety Commission, let’s also target an ad campaign to the pot that’s calling the kettle black. And let’s come up with a more memorable slogan while we’re at it. The current catch phrase for this don’t cut off campaign is “Don’t get a ticket, Leave more space.” Not nearly as catchy as the seatbelt enforcement campaign, Click it or Ticket. Or the equally effective private oil change campaign, Lube it or Lose it. A campaign embraced by sophomoric folks from here to Sigmund Freud High School. “Don’t get a ticket, Leave more space” just doesn’t quite resonate. Was the creative department on vacation? Are the state’s coffers so empty we can’t afford a good ad agency consultant? How about: “Aggressive Driving? Aggressive Enforcement.” Or “Not enough space? We’ll get in your face.”
America, ya gotta love it.