Friday, December 23, 2005

#194 Merry Chri$tma$

The worst aspect of the cyber-Christmas is christmaspam. The ancient Yule celebration from the Nordic lands that predates even the birth of Christ featured, among other things, like mistletoe and holly and the Solstice Evergreen (doesn’t sound as catchy as Christmas tree does it?) the butchering of a pig to sacrifice to the Norse goddess Freya. Yule be happy to know, that our modern version of the feast of Christmas ham has degenerated into the glut of Christmas spam.
People used to think the end of the catalogue business was here when the internet was created. No more bound books o’treats. The Christmas Wishbook was as yesterday as Michael Jackson’s nose. But merchants found out something interesting. Cyber didn’t mean less, it meant more. Think about it. If you’re shopping for something online you don’t just settle for a brief description of the object of your desire. No, you want a freakin book’s worth of info. Not only that, you want consumer ratings as well. And who in their right mind isn’t going to print out some part of the transaction from their home computer as physical proof. And what business that has retail outlets is not going to see the economy of using all those expensive pictures they took of their offerings and print them up in a catalogue format anyhow. So now, instead of one catalogue, you have a catalogue in your hand, a catalogue online, and reams of personal paper you’ve printed out to verify your transaction. Didn’t someone say simpler? And also now you’ve got, yep, double the junkmail next year—or triple if you bought from the same company online that you did at a retail outlet and you happened to have a minor variation in your name or address. The computer that spits out junkmail doesn’t distinguish between John Public and John Q. Public or even J. Quotidian Public. So if your clerk at the retail store typed in a different shorthand of your name the direct mail computer is going to assume there’s more that one willing buyer at your address. Which is why our family now gets four REI catalogues each year and my wife and daughter get Macy Catalogues up the ying-yang.
And, oh yeah, god forbid that you ever divorce and remarry. Cause you’ll keep getting junkmail in the name of your ex-spouse for the excruciating eternity it felt like you were married to her. And with all the computer cross-referencing of mailing lists you’ll likely get mail for her new spouse as well, and each of you will get catalogues based on whatever your newest lifestyle, cookie company or sport trend may be. I wonder if there’s some mailing list database program that kind of swaps address and zip code info-packets and does a recombinant DNA thing to mail out catalogues to new and unwary recipients in the commercial gene pool.
America, ya gotta love it.

#195 Light Touch

Xmas lights sure have changed since my day. The 1 to 2 inch bulb is still around but there’s a whole lot of other choices out there. Like one season mini-lites, so cheap and so unreliable, that in the act of taking them down you almost ensure they won’t work next year. Why is that by the way? You can take down a perfectly good set of lights, and no matter how carefully you pack them, come next Christmas there’ll be at least three strings where half the lights don’t work. And it’s never a whole string either, something you can say, oh well, 2.99, chuck it. No, half the string burns so beautifully that you can’t bear to toss it, so you spend the next half hour meticulously checking each bulb and going over the wire for that staple cut you know must be shorting the system. You even do your annual practical eyesight exam, not to mention dexterity test, as you fish out the tiny fuses from the plug end and replace them with the spares you so conscientiously saved last year.
And then there are the light ropes. And the bush lights, those bejeweled beauties that sparkle in the night like jewels on your daytime drab shrubbery. And, of course, who can forget curtain lights or icicle lights, all the rage a few years back and still a staple of gutter adornment everywhere. Every year a new fad seems to take hold in Christmas outdoor décor and curtain lights were a biggie in their time. The choices remain the same: All white, or all one color, or, my personal favorite, multi-colored. I’ve never been an all one color sort of guy. I’ve known those who would put nothing but blue ornaments on a tree and nothing but white lights. I don’t know. Christmas just doesn’t seem like an anal-retentive time of year to me. Yule logs and nativity animals and sloppy eggnog and fudge. Christmas is a time of merriment and abandon.
But there are those whose perfectly regimented white or single colored big bulb lights fixed precisely on their rooftops in straight and stiff attention seem to say order, order above all else. Peace on earth good will to men, okay, but everyone needs to get in line and take a number.
And then there’s the newest Christmas outdoor decoration fad. The inflatables. Big blowup Santas and Rudolphs and Snowmen in a globe. All thanks to little air compressors running all night long. I wish I could say silently. There’s nothing like going out for a neighborhood stroll, looking at the beautiful lights, and humming Xmas carols to the accompaniment of dozens of tiny humming motors.
So far, the gimmick manufacturers have offered up only generic Christmas symbols a la Frosty and Santa. But mark my words, nativity scenes are right around the puffy corner. There’s be a full blowup stable, sheep, and goats and, inflatable science being an imperfect art, there’ll be an odd-looking bloated Joseph, and Mary, looking unfortunately like a bachelors party companion. And, of course, in the true spirit of the season, an inflatable baby Jesus. Batteries not included, Holy Ghost sold separately.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

#198 Give-ting

The holidays are here, even the “Christmas only” advocates would have to grant that, and with them the challenge of what to get whom. Assuming that you actually give a gift or two this time of year the conundrum is always what have you given last year, what should you give them this year, how old is too old to relegate kids gifts to their own families, and what are actually the obligations of uncles and in-laws and other satellite relatives?
I’ve always been of the notion that immediate family takes precedence, but as I developed my own immediate family, then my former immediate family of parents and siblings was not as immediate, but still within a few moments. One of my brothers started to up the ante each year as he seemed to desire a war of affluence. For a while, I tried to keep up with his jonesing but then I got smart.
So I tried a few gift ideas you might find useful. My most favorite is food. Food of any sort—although mine is homemade fudge—is a great alternative. I fill out my fudge package with locally specialty-roasted coffee, jerky from a local butchery and smoked cheese from another local smokehouse. All these items are unobtainable anywhere else and they are good besides. Unique and tasty, how can you go wrong? You kept dollars away from the evil big-box stores and you got your family something un-exchangeable. And the biggest bonus of all, you can get them exactly the same thing next year because they won’t have any left. This one technique has made all my relatives happy and given me one more X on my Xmas list, right next to each of their names. And, truth be told, I think they appreciate me not trying to match their décor with some odd home item or add to their small and ultimately unused appliance clutter.
Another technique, should you have a more evil sense of holiday humor, is to take a box, fill it with packing peanuts, and then add some broken glass and nylon line. After Christmas, give that relative a call and ask how he or she liked the wind chimes you sent him or her. Chances are good you’ll get a “Oh they were so beautiful” response, as at that point it will finally dawn on them what you supposedly sent them. They will be for the most part tongue-tied; partly because of the revelation, but partly because they will be remembering and regretting all the nasty things they said about “crazy” you on Christmas morning when they opened the gift.
But my most favorite gift of all to send, especially to those relatives who never acknowledge any gifts you send, is a lovely box of thank-you cards. Again, a perfect gift because it’s something they can put to immediate use—and something they’ll need next year.
America, ya gotta love it.

#184 Marshrooms 2

“What is a marsh mallow anyhow?” I jested, and then said, “A question, like all great mysteries, for another day. Like where did we get the name fudge?”
I thought I was just making light of a made-up name. As if there was ever a mallow in a marsh to pick. I knew of course, that there was a mallow plant. I have one in my back yard that pokes its perennial head up each spring. So I go to the etymological dictionary after writing my last essay and, amazement upon amazement, there is a real botanical origin for the marshmallow. Back in the old days, they used to go into the salt marshes and harvest a plant called the marsh mallow—I kid you not—and from the root of that plant make a paste which yielded a sticky confection that they called marshmallow. At some point the whole process went through a Velveeta versus Cheddar transmogrification and the current corn syrup, sugar, gelatin thing we use now was born. Still, they list no reason why we don’t say marshmallow and instead say marshmellow.
On to fudge: My trusty etymological dictionary defines fudge “as an alteration of the Middle English “fadge.” Which means to make suit or fit. The traditional story traces fudge in this sense from a certain Captain Fudge who always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies. It seems there was a late 17th century Captain Fudge called Lying Fudge and perhaps his name influenced the form of fadge in the sense of ‘to contrive without necessary materials.’” No word as to whether he worked for Willy Wonka.
I assume that means that the confection I now labor carefully to make every holiday season in a precisely controlled manner from a specific list of ingredients originated from something someone threw together randomly once cause they didn’t have the right stuff handy.
Jerry-rigged candy as it were. How paradoxical. Because I know through countless attempt to make minute alterations to the variables that there is no carelessness allowed in the making of good fudge.
Words will turn on you like that. Like the other day I was driving by a Burger King. Their signboard out front was advertising the new “Swiss and Shroom” sandwich. I accepted the description for a split second before I came to a screeching stop. Wait a minute. Since when did “shroom” enter the common vocabulary as a name for every mushroom and since when did the name enter polite, non-drug culture conversation at all? Burger King touting “shrooms” for gosh sake. What’s next, the Taco Bell peyote chipotle burrito?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

#183 Marshrooms

The Holidays are upon us and with them the inevitable parade of dishes that only seem to appear, like magic, this time of year. Think about it. Do you really eat “stuffing” any other time of year? Without fail? Oh sure, sometime around spring you might stuff a Cornish game hen, but really, any regular time? No. Ah, Cornish game hens, the fun-size turkey. They’re really just the veal of the chicken world you know.
Or how about that Jello marshmallow berry thing everyone seems to trot out for the holiday table. Festive to be sure, and piquant and delicious. Seems like it would be perfectly appropriate for a Fourth of July picnic. Or how about candied yams or sweet potatoes? Don’t see those anywhere from January to October. The more I reflect on it, the more I see a bit of a pattern. Cause this is the time of year I also make million-dollar fudge. And what is a prime ingredient in every batch of fudge I make? About thirty full-size marshmallows. Ah hah! Now I see it. The reason we only have these dishes this time of year is because this is the time marshmallows are in season.
Try as they will, the powers that be in the food marketing world can’t get us to really use marshmallows until November and December. I know, I know, Rice Krispie treats are a year round delicacy. So chewy the only snap, crackle, and pop I hear is my jaw. So, too, one could say, is stovetop stuffing a year-round offering, but come on, that’s pretty much like lighting a firecracker in February. It’s not a sustainable economic trend. It’s kind of like tax cuts for the rich. Oh, at first it’s nice being able to buy a companion purebred shitzu for little FiFi, but after that it’s just one more wad to sit uselessly in the bank. Give that same 5,000 bucks to a homeless guy, he can afford a whole new cardboard mansion complete with a year’s supply of muscatel.
So anyhow, you don’t see a huge surge in the marshmallow market until the last part of November. Is that when, seriously, in ancient times, peasants ventured into the marsh to harvest mallows, like, perhaps, their look-alike culinary cousins, mushrooms? Because what is a marsh mallow anyhow? And why, oh why, did we think up that name to describe these elastic airy sugar bubbles?
A question, like all great mysteries, for another day. Like where did we get the name fudge? Or, in a what came first, the egg or the Cornish game hen sort of way, why it is that the only way to make pumpkin pie taste like pumpkin pie is to use pumpkin pie spice. To everything a season.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

#193 Signs of the Season 2

As the 20th Century progressed, it seems that everybody and their brother-in-law got on the “complain about the symbols of Christmas” bandwagon. The PC pagans wanted fewer Christian symbols in the schools, and the Christian Coalition wanted more. Santa Claus was tugged back and forth between the camps like a shotgun at a swap meet. One year he was Old Saint Nick, one year he was Old Man Winter. Cries of “can’t we all just get along” fell on intolerant ears like torture-induced confessions on the ears of the Inquisition. This, our most caring season, a time of family and community and gift-sharing, was being torn apart by the factions of fundamentalism and the fundamentals of factionalism.
Occasionally, a smart Jew would stand up and sing a funny Chanukah song, but even that holiday—or eight holidays—would be confusing, as from calendar to calendar Hanukkah started with either an “H” or a “Ch.”
A long time ago, it was the early seventies I think, I started saying Happy Holidays to everyone. Seasons Greetings sounded a little too archaic, like cards my Grandma had from the twenties. Plus, it was more inclusive. As I worked in retail then, and had no idea whether the customer I was waiting on was Jewish, Hindu, or Christian, it simply made good business sense to offend as few people as possible and yet include as many people as possible in the season’s spirits.
Of course, nowadays that’s not good enough for some Christians. Anything less than a full-on merry Christmas is thought to be a betrayal to the faith. After all, they say, it’s Christmas that’s the day we get off. True, Christmas is the national holiday. Jews don’t get to take off Hanukkah. Hindus don’t get Krishna day. Do they call that Krish-nas? No one gets to stay home on Kwanzaa. And most importantly, all the other faiths don’t have an after-Christmas sale.
But, I still say Happy Holidays. For one reason, like I said, because it’s more inclusive. Why not reach out to as many people as possible. Isn’t the spirit of goodwill what this season is all about? Lord knows this planet has too little compassion as it is. But secondly, because it’s an incredibly economical greeting. I don’t have to write out eight different holidays on my cards. I don’t have to worry who is what. I don’t have to say all the holidays to each and every person, and Thanksgiving and New Years are included in the whole holiday thing so I can start the season early and end it late. Which makes my festive season even longer than that whole month of Ramadan thing. And no fasting.
So even though, considering its pagan origin, calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree is more accurate, I’m okay with whatever. I’m okay with Merry Christmas. I’m okay with Merry X-mas too, and Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmokwanzikah. If you ask me, the most inclusive holiday symbol is the nativity scene. You got your first Christian—the baby Jesus. You got Arabs and Africans as represented by the three wise men. And everybody else there is Jewish. Is this a great symbol of world peace or what? So reach out to everyone with a Happy Holiday greeting and praise the lord that these days we’ve got past that whole “burn the heretic at the stake Spanish inquisition” thing and the term Christian Tolerance is no longer an oxymoron.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

#192 Signs of the Season

Many years ago there was a land called Europe. Okay it wasn’t called Europe back then, but bear with me. Anyhow, back in ancient Europe the pagans and druids would get together at certain times of the year to have festivals. Theirs was a life heavily influenced by the weather and such and so in spring they danced around the maypole and colored eggs and trapped bunnies for purposes of planting and fertility. Sound familiar? In the summer, around the summer solstice, they had a big blow-out trade festival. In the fall, they did the witch and goblin and harvest thing. Around the winter solstice, as the sun reached its lowest point in the northern European skies and the days got the shortest, and knowing that the shortest day meant that the sun was turning a corner cause the runners had come down from Stonehenge, they celebrated a festival of the new year. The sun is back! The sun is back! Everybody went out, cut down a tree, and decorated it with totems, heirlooms, and other signs of good luck, well-wishing, and mystical gobbledygook. They also celebrated the Old Year with the symbol of the Old Man Winter, with long hair and flowing white beard, who was dressed in fleece-lined clothing and big black boots and other winter paraphernalia, including, I’m pretty sure, a little bottle of brown liquid with ancient arcane runes that spelled out: “The pause that refreshes.”
All was the same in paganland for many centuries. Then the Christian movement arrived from the south and went about pacifying the northern heathens at the point of a Roman sword. They found these festivals already in place and in the spirit of “if you can’t beat em totally senseless then at least join em in a party,” gradually shifted the Christian celebratory calendar to make Christmas coincide with the winter solstice and Easter to coincide with the spring equinox. Halloween? How about if we put All Saints Day the morning after? Fair enough. The people were celebrating anyway, why not join the fun, marry into their families, and generally spread your word from every direction.
Fast-forward to the mid-twentieth century. My hometown, very Christian, teaches the tale of the nativity in school every Christmas. My Jewish friend is not included but hey, at least its not as bad as Easter. He’s like the only Jew anyone has ever met and in the spring is almost always held accountable on the playground for the death of Jesus. “Christ killer!” the bullies would shout out and then hang him from the coathooks in the hall in a vaguely cross-shaped orientation.
But at Christmastime, back in my church, which is arch-protestant, the pastor is actually none too happy that the word mass appears in the word Christmas as masses are what Catholics do and, he assures us ponderously, Catholics are the spawn of the devil. Meanwhile, the local all Christian school board is complaining to the teachers that Santa Claus is a pagan symbol and a symbol of the commercialization of Christmas and needs to be removed from the schoolroom lest the true Christian meaning of Christmas be diluted. A new milestone in America is passed. Complaining about symbols enters the holiday tradition. To be continued.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

#191 Hobo Cop

So I get this news item. Seems the Washington State Patrol is trying a new tactic to get non-seatbelt wearers, or seatbelt non-wearers, to pay attention. Now, before I go any further, let me state what I tell all my little troopers around the house. It may not be what you want, but it’s against the law. So if you’re caught breaking the law, it may be annoying and you may be angry, but after all it was you that broke the law in the first place.
Naturally, I’m all for civil disobedience and protest when laws are wrong. Otherwise, there’d still be separate race drinking fountains like there was before the sixties. But seatbelts have been proven time after time after time to save lives. Only occasionally does a drunk person ejected from a vehicle as it’s rolling down an embankment survive. The vast majority of them are snuffed and crumpled like a Barbie in the hands of a bully big brother.
So that’s what makes the furor over this supposedly dishonest tactic poignant. A cop poses as a homeless guy with a sign on a street corner. Dare I say it? Kind of a Hobo Cop. The sign says “Happy Holidays, Buckle Up.” Street level allows the bum trooper to see seat belt compliance. If a driver doesn’t pay attention and immediately buckle up the trooper-tramp radios ahead and his uniformed buddies pull over the offending motorist. In Spanaway, they wrote 30 tickets in four hours. Naturally, people are up in arms about being tricked. Even columnist Ken Schram waxed indignant (I was waxing my indignant the other day). He railed about how craven it was and how obviously nothing more than a moneymaking campaign. Yoo hoo. Ken. While tickets do make money they also charge money as a penalty to—offenders. Lawbreakers, as it were, or scofflaws as you so elegantly put it. And if in the process they happen to, like they did, arrest a few people for outstanding warrants, well, all the better.
Interesting, from the trooper’s point of view, was the fact that some people actually offered him money thinking he really was a homeless guy. And one incident was really bizarre. The trooper, remember, was dressed as a homeless guy with a sign that said “Happy Holidays Buckle Up.” A driver rolled down his window, hollered obscenities, and hurled a half-full can of pop at the trooper. The trooper gave him a littering ticket for 1,050 dollars. Side note about the troopers approach to life: The can of pop was half full, according to his report, not half empty. And now the trooper has a far better understanding of what it’s like to be generally vilified by the public at large. But I guess, on reflection, he didn’t need to dress like a homeless guy to get that. That same public is angry with him for enforcing laws that protect people from their own stupidity.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

#173 Screw the Math

I’m not sure corporate America is getting this whole math thing. Maybe the generation of CEOs now were raised on new math. Still, when I was raised on it, the concepts still related to the real world. Now I’m not so sure. Witness the subject of my recent essay, where a company promised something free in exchange for 4.99 in shipping. Now if I were to offer someone something free, it would be without any cost. Free means free, or complimentary, as the ad says. Free does not mean free-plus-shipping. I’m worried that along with our other core American values, we are devaluing the concept of free.
Recently a friend of mine found out he was part of a class action lawsuit against a certain home warehouse type store. As a result of the negotiated settlement, he was to receive five dollars. Seems straightforward enough. Nope. In order to get the five dollars he had to go to the store in question, make a qualified purchase of over fifteen dollars, and then the five dollars would be sent to him in the form of a rebate check. He also had the choice as a consumer to opt out of the settlement and do nothing. Perhaps we’re devaluing the concept of choice too.
What a rip off! As you can see, class action does not necessarily imply class act. All I can say is, this depot of home accouterments has a damn good team of lawyers. Because something is very wrong with this picture. Why should you have to buy something in order to get back what you were overcharged in the first place? The company should just send you a freaking check right out. They had your name. They sent you the card didn’t they? They’ll have to pay more mailing costs when they finally do send you the rebate check. Why should you have to buy something else from a company that, in effect, screwed you, and give them even more of your money in order to get back what they already screwed you out of? That would be like me going to a restaurant, being overcharged on my bill, and instead of them just giving me my money back having them give me a two for one coupon on my next purchase. So, basically, they stole money from me and now in order to get it back, I have to give them even more money to get back the money they stole from me in the first place. Considering they make fifty cents on every dollar I spend and a two-for-one means they break even, they still come out with the money they overcharged me free and clear.
Maybe these people do understand math.
America ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

#172 Express Contract

There’s a law in our state, maybe even put in by our governor when she was attorney general, that forbids companies from doing negative marketing. I’m sure that’s not the legal word for it but basically what it means is, that companies can’t send you a product out of the blue and then ask you to send it back or pay for it. This includes electronic product as well. The origin of the law was when TV cable companies increased your channel offerings and required you to opt out by sending them a card in order to avoid the latest upgrade and subsequent upcharge. So there you are minding your own business, and some big company sneaks in while you’re asleep and puts a horse in your living room and you have to get up, overcome inertia, corral the horse and lead it back to the company or you get charged for it. As our AG said: No way.
So now, in order to be charged, at some point you have to consent to the process before you receive the product. Which is what makes this American Express offer I got the other day that much more insidious. They are offering to send me, free, a day planner and a diary (and by free they mean plus five dollars for shipping costs, more about that later). In exchange for that they will also send me both items next year, unless I tell them not to when they send me a warning card, and I will then owe the full price of $20 and $18 respectively for the new planner and diary, and every year thereafter. That last part—what they will send me and how—is of course in really fine print. So next year I’m likely to throw away the warning card with all my other junk mail and suddenly find myself with an expensive planner charged to my American Express bill that I don’t remember asking for. But by sending in the reply to the free offer this year, I did. Cripes. I can’t even remember my wife’s birthday. You think I’m going to remember whether I ordered a freaking day planner a year ago? Like I say, tricky. They navigated around the prohibition, got me to “request” the day planner by agreeing to receive the free one, and as proof—well, that’s where the five dollars in shipping comes in. It doesn’t cost five dollars to ship a day planner. Hell, they can use book rate. And you have to ask yourself, if it really is a free offer why isn’t the shipping free too? Because they need a paper trail, that’s why. That shipping charge is proof of the contract between you and American express sleazoid marketing. Bet you didn’t plan on that. Welcome to caveat emptor, 21st century style.
America ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

#171 The Land of Con-fusion

I’m always jumping to confusions. I saw a bunch of kids the other day. They were frenetically exchanging riddles. Like: There’s a guy at the fork of a road. One way’s a cannibal village filled with liars, one way’s a nice honest village. The guy is from one of them. You can only ask him one question to find out which way to go safely. What’s the question? Or: There’s a perfectly equal hill. When a peacock lays an egg, which way will it roll? You know, that sort of thing. These kids are into it. I mean intense. The most intense riddling session I’ve ever seen. Turns out the kids are ADHD. And guess what they’re taking? Ritalin.
Speaking of riddles. Saw this bumper sticker the other day. This guy was driving a little economy car. And he appeared to be normal size. I mention that because his bumper sticker said: “I don’t need a big truck cause I AM big.” What do you suppose he means by that?
As I’m driving by this mortgage place I glance at the sign. I couldn’t believe what I think I saw so I drive back and confirm the name. Milestone Mortgage. But my subconscious must have been jumping way ahead into the whole long term mortgage obligation thing cause when I first drove by out of the corner of my eye I read it Millstone Mortgage.

The other day I was reading this book. It was one of those books where the author used quotes at the beginning of each chapter from other artists, poets and philosophers. This one was from Thomas Hobbes—no relation to Calvin—and it said (more or less) that it is easier and more eloquent to accuse than defend. Point being, I guess that when you point the finger of accusation at someone it takes fewer words and they’re more convincing. The attack moves like a swift boat right past the reasoning centers and straight to belief. When you try to defend yourself it always takes longer, is more muddied and you sound like a weak liar. Quicker to stab than heal, as it were. Thomas, incidentally, was from the 17th century. Long before Fox News.
So I hear this story on the news about cannibinoids, those strange chemicals that you find in pot. Turns out this scientist did a study and proved that cannibinoids—at least in rats—don’t destroy brain cells after all. They actually helped grew new ones. Other scientists are at a loss to figure out how all the evidence in humans seems to indicate the reverse; poor judgment, memory loss, bad choices in hairstyles. At this point it looks like they’re about to isolate the culprit. Turns out all the damage is caused by Snickers....
America ya gotta love it.

#168 Ad Time

I was minding my own business the other night and someone brought an advertisement to me. No, I wasn’t watching TV. I’ve learned to duck those. Nothing like a remote control to zap them from my life. Although, I must admit, the advertisers are getting tricky by colluding with the cable companies to make all ad breaks run at just the same time. I guess they hope, if you don’t see their whole ad, at least you’ll surf through part of it.
No, I was just sitting there reading and waiting for a pizza to be delivered. The doorbell rang; I went to pay the delivery boy, and was surprised to see he was over forty. So I wondered: Are cheap teenagers getting tough to find? That new Wal-Mart hire them all so now old guys gotta hump pizza? Anyhow, the delivery codger gives me the pizza and I take it back inside. As I open it, I notice something’s taped to the box. The tape is one of those computer spit-out things. I expect it to have my name and address on it, but no, it’s a mini-sneaky-contract that says if my check is dishonored I authorize an electronic debit/draft to my account for face value and legal state fees, order number blah blah blah, and then the date, which, for some reason, is two weeks later than it actually is that moment. Hmm. Nice touch. Except I didn’t sign anything and I got the supposed contract right here attached to my pepperoni with extra cheese.
That’s when I have my second revelation for the evening. The tape is holding two other things and upon perusal I notice that those two other things are advertisements. And they’re not for the pizza company. In fact, they are for two unrelated companies altogether. One of them is actually for a lube company.
What a great idea! For both the pizza company and the advertisers. Provide a new revenue stream for the pizza company, with virtually no additional cost to labor or materials—the client supplies the ad and you’re taping your bogus contract onto the pizza box anyhow—and provide the opportunity for the advertiser to hand deliver an ad right to a customer. No mailing costs, no ads lost cause they’re jumbled in with a jillion other direct mail pieces, no telephone “do not call” list, and a potential customer ready and eager to be vulnerable to you’re message.
Pizza? How about an ad for coke, or beer, or antacid treatments. Or toothpaste. Or hey, how about a lube job? Who doesn’t think of grease when they think of pizza?
America ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

#167 Columbus-oscopy

I was watching a baseball playoff game and noticed one of the player’s names was Somebody-or-other Colón. It sounded good, but then they put up one of those interesting graphics that they use on TV these days and I saw how it was spelled. C- o- l- o- n-, with one of those accent doohickeys over the second “o”.
Hmmm. That partially accounts for the pronunciation, Colón. Curious, I typed Colón into my google search field and up came a number of pages devoted to various Colóns. Most of the pages were in Spanish. Using a trick I learned when I was trying to find the meaning of an obscure French phrase, I then pressed the feature to the right of the google entry for pages that are in foreign languages that says “translate this page.” Which it did.
Interesting thing: In my earlier experience, I had gone to three online French/English dictionaries to translate an apparently obscure word and come up with nothing. I had google’s translating software do it and it came up right away. This google stuff is scary.
Anyhow, the translation for Colón is not what you might expect, like “outlet tube” or “digester” or “water extractor” or “fecal compactor.” It’s Columbus. Yep. The Spanish word for Columbus is Colón. Or as we like to pronounce it, colon.
Interesting. Forget about rewriting white patriarchal history. Forget all that stuff about Columbus not only making a mistake thinking he had reached India, but us perpetuating that nautical boneheadedry by calling the natives of this accidentally “discovered” land Indians, after the inhabitants of that country that old Colon missed by thousands of miles. We need to rethink some names here. The Columbia River for instance. It’s getting dirty enough to start calling it the Colon River. Anyone who’s ever been to Columbus, Ohio will no doubt embrace the notion of calling it Colon, Ohio. Columbia University? Well, Colon University has a certain resonance and I suppose they could specialize in bowel disorders. On the flip side, Will we go in for a Columbus-oscopy? And will it be okay to say Elvis died of an impacted Columbus? Our biggest dilemma, of course, will have to do with the October holiday that celebrates Columbus’ derring-do if not his navigating abilities. Are we now to call it Colon day? “We get the next Monday off, Mom. It’s Colon day. And we need to make a project this week about the end product of Colon’s impact on America.”
One good thing, Native Americans can now say the new world was rediscovered by Colon, and so it’s no surprise that the white man then did his dooty—all over them.
America ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

#166 The Bell Tolls

I was at Taco Bell last night. I know, it’s shameful, but even I have a craving to snarf down a big bell value burrito every now and then. I went through the drive-thru, and it took a long time. I should have paid attention to the signs. My first clue that things may be about to go wrong was that the microphone-speaker-stand-thing, where you place your order, appeared to have been recently run over by an angry monster truck. Perhaps one of those raised-way-up bronco busters caught its jacked-up rear end as it was backing out in I’m-sick-of-waiting-20-minutes-for-a-99-cent-burrito frustration. It was an omen. Or as they say south of the border: It was an omen. Hey, they talk the same in Portland as they do here...
Anyhow, I placed my order and then inched forward. Time passed. I watched my fingernails growing, and age spots forming on the back of my hand. Finally, I rounded the bend and caught sight of the drive-thru checkout window for the first time. The person three cars ahead of me was paying. But he was handing the checkout teenager a bankcard. Time passed. The teenager handed the car client a pin pad on a springy cord thing. The customer entered his pin. The pin pad went back into the Taco Bell window. More time passed. A wooly bear on the tree next to my car pupated. The car customer leaned out of his window and yelled something into the checkout window. The taco-teenager extended him the pin pad again. Repeat enter the pin sequence. Repeat give the pin pad back to taco-teen. Time passes. Butterfly squirms out of pupa. Consider backing up. Cars behind trapping me in narrow curb-confined lane. Teen-a-la-taco extends hand with bag of food and what appears to be cash. Customer takes same and drives off. Sequence repeats with next two cars. Compose will. Hear taco-teen ask lady ahead of me, who is now at window with pin pad, “Would you like any cash back?”
Aha! That’s the problem. Fast food joints should not try to be gosh darn banks. Here’s the plan. You want to pay with a debit card, go the hell inside. Use an on-premises ATM and pay the dang cashier in cash. That’s right, the drive-thru cashier should be just that, a CASH-ier. Drive-thru people are in a hurry. That’s why they’re in a drive-thru. If you came to do your personal banking you should get off your derrieres and hoof it inside. Where they have two lines and where frustrated customers can turn around and get out, rather than be trapped in a one-way drive-thru—because someone decided they’d not only get a burrito, but get some cash back, buy a money market certificate, and apply for a freakin mortgage. This is a fast food drive-thru. Get that! The bank drive-thru is across the street!
America ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

#164 Spit tune

So I’m watched more baseball than normal this season and I couldn’t help but notice that what used to be an occasional counterpoint to the lack of action had blossomed into a full blown institution in its own right. I’m talking about spitting. What is it about baseball and spitting? And I not just talking chaw-spitting. The AMA and public decency have pretty well banned that obnoxious habit from the airwaves. And I’d be willing to bet, judging from the beautiful greens at every field I’ve seen on TV, that the baseball groundskeepers unions had something to do with eliminating the spittoonarage as we. No yelly tobaccy patches anywhere that I could see.
No, I’m just talking regular spitting. And not even good spitting either, half the players and coaches I saw just kind of sprayed spittle and sputtered sputum out of their mouths like involuntary Bronx cheers or Danny Thomas spit takes—a total, mouth-emptying experience. It wasn’t a finely directed squirt of quid into a selected target, that kind of a designated spitter type of deal you used to see in the thirties. Forget about steroids, in the old days players knew how to spit.
Funny thing is, you don’t see all that spitting in other sports. Granted, it would be hard to pull off in basketball. You’d need lots of buckets. Cause one little wet spot on a basketball court is slick as, well, spit, and multi-million dollar players getting multi-million dollar injuries because one player slips in another’s lip dribbles is not gonna work. Football, while it’s outdoorsy enough to handle a little pucker precipitation, has another problem: helmet backsplash. Nothing curtails the urge to purge like the prospect of it bouncing right back in your eye.
Funny thing; I play racquetball. And me and all the guys I play with never seem to develop the urge to spit. We sweat, we grunt, we breathe hard, and generally work our heinies off. But none of us spits. If anything, we try to keep the fluid in cause we’re sweating so much of it out. Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe we don’t need to spit because we’re exercising. And not just standing around on the lawn.
Then again, we’re inside and we don’t have to catch, or hit, any long balls. Could be these baseball players are just using an old time mariner technique. They’re using their spit to gauge windage. Like a naval artillery gunner they’re spitting into the wind to help them measure the trajectory of that big shot. Except instead of hitting the enemy’s ship, they’re about to fire it into the left field bleachers.
A fine nautical tradition. As I’m sure is crotch-grabbing.
America ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

#163 Ultrasonic Pitbull

By now the furor over the appointment of Harriet what’s-her-face to the Supreme Court has died down. All the jokes have been made by the comics and pundits about appointing Michael Brown to the position instead and other references to top-level appointees in the current administration not necessarily having the credentials to stick their thumbs in their political plums. On such is not for me to comment. Though I have talked to any number of former attorneys who are now judges, who made the salient point that being a judge is a whole lot different from being an attorney. And perhaps a little experience in same is a good idea before being nominated to the highest judgeship in the land. I’m all for fresh blood and everything. But I still don’t want to be in a plane with a pilot on his first flight, or send my kid out with a brand new school bus driver.
However, if I were Harriet Meirs, I would question my boss’s characterization of me, when he nominated me to the highest office in the land, as a “pit bull in size six shoes.” Sexism with a capital S. I’d be thinking, is that a crack? Is he dissing on me? What’s that pit bull stuff? Is he implying I should get a new hairdo? Is he saying my smile looks like a growl? Is it a female dog reference? Cause I don’t take that stuff. “Biatch” is not in my vocabulary. Is it a slam on my sausage pack body type? And what is a female bull stuff anyhow? Shouldn’t that be cow, pit or otherwise? I got an idea, MISTER president. How about leaving out the whole dog and shoe size thing altogether. When you nominated John Roberts, did you call him a “rottweiler in size ten brogues?” Did you ever consider just using the word tenacious.
And then there was Katie Couric, fresh from her debacle as the lipstick-in-a-tool belt flibbertigibbet at habitat for humanity. This time she was having a breast exam on national TV. She was appropriately robed of course, and the cause was good; raising breast cancer awareness and demonstrating the importance of regular mammograms. Still, I think they didn’t need to actually show Katie’s exact personal mammogram. It’s not necessary for newspeople to reveal their intimate body parts, even in X-ray. We don’t all harbor some secret wish to see like Superman. And the image kind of looked like one of those ultrasound things anyhow. But in this instance instead of a fetus it was a very recognizable outline of a breast. I don’t know, but I’m not sure America is ready for a sonic boob. And I sure don’t want to open the door to Matt Lauer having a prostate exam on the air. That’s taking digital TV too far...
America ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

#162 Divan Intelligence

We were planning our dinner menus the other day. Normally we’re one of those families that plan what we’re going to eat the next week before we go shopping so we shop only once a week. Too easy, with our weak wills, ito go the store to just pick up one item during the week and end up buying six or seven impulse items as well. Hey, someone has to read the National Enquirer.
In any event, my wife said she’d like to make chicken divan. “Chicken on a couch?” I blurted out. And you know, that’s kind of what it is, chicken on a couch of broccoli, or at least a bed of same. My lovely and intelligent wife didn’t remember ever hearing the word “divan” to describe a couch. My sister chimed in, “Oh yeah, like a davenport.” Davenport was what my grandma used to call her couch.
Well, we began to talk and the ultimate end of our conversation was that my theory of uncomfortable words flew out the window. See I have this theory. The more uncomfortable a concept is to us, as in, say, something that is not a topic for polite conversation, the more words we have for it. That comes about because often a word first emerges as a euphemism for the uncomfortable concept or bodily function. Then it becomes associated with the function so intimately that it itself becomes too uncomfortable to say in front of the preacher, and so another word is invented, and so on. I don’t have to spell it out, but run through your mind all the words you know for the sex act, or going to the bathroom, or even your own posterior. Conversely, list the number of words you know for the act of sitting. Occasionally, a word migrates back into acceptability. Like, say, the word butt, with two Ts. For years, butt was banned on the airwaves, now every TV show, broadcast and cable, can’t get enough of it.
So, the theory-dashing result of the chicken divan conversation ended up thusly. There are at last count 15 words for the completely comfortable concept of couch. They are: lounge, couch, daybed, love seat, the afore-mentioned divan; davenport, sofa, hide-a-bed, chesterfield (not a couch to fall asleep on while smoking, by the way); then the really obscure ones, ottoman (I know, I thought it was just for your feet too,) settee, settle, dais; and then the really, really obscure ones, spoonholder (I kid you not) and squab. It makes you wonder. In what strange person’s mind did the equivalency of a place to sit and a small game bird first arise?
Great chicken divan, Hon, I’m just going to flake out on the squab and take a cat-nap...
America ya gotta love it.