Thursday, November 30, 2006

#411 Card Bored

So I’m driving along the other day and I notice something odd on the street corner. For a minute, I think the elections are still on and the guy I’m watching is a candidate of some sort. Then I think, this must be some new and improved homeless guy, that he’s simply taken cardboard signs to a whole new level. Then my ancient brain, after cycling through all the familiar habitual alternatives, finally opens up enough to accept the one thing it’s most often not prepared to accept these days, the new. And different. One of the many perquisites of age is thinking you’ve seen it all. That you’ve got the whole world figured out and that nothing can surprise you. Not in this here world. The 21st century is the century of surprises, from Karl Rove finally kicking Rumsfeld to the curb to Ashley Simpson singing her own songs. So these guys on the corner were something new, proactive billboards. Moving, eye-catching, shouting, mobile, in-your-face billboards. They were holding up human-sized signs that just covered them enough so you didn’t have to make eye contact and personally connect with them and just small enough so they could hold them all day long. The signs appeared to be made out of that plastic corrugated stuff that is impervious to weather. Which was good. Except it was pretty windy and the signs were kind of acting like sails. The one guy I saw was chasing his in circles. Talk about trying a new tack to get your message out. I felt sorry for these folks. It was wet and windy and the rain was washing sideways in horizontal sheets. I mean, at least the hobos have a choice when the weather’s not fit for man nor beast. These poor people had to put on full raingear, hoods, boots and gloves and stand out in a Northwest November gale.
So being the ignorant guy that I am, I have to speculate about how they came to this extremity. Did they answer an ad? “Like working in the great outdoors? Tired of impersonal dehumanizing work flipping tacos? Able to hold things upright? Call 555-jobs-now. We’ll have you back on the street in no time.” And how thorough is the application process? Can you stand? Can you hold? Can you wave something? Do you have any political, religious, or psychological position to prevent you from looking like an idiot? And what’s the chances of career advancement? I mean, what do you put on your resume? Go getter, company person, looking to advance in a career of marketing and display. Can wave, wiggle, jump and appear enthusiastic in the worst weather. Available for political campaigns, one-day sales, store closings, and special, one-time-only, mattress inventory reduction events. Miming services for no additional charge.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

#409 Cringe

I recently had my first physical in about 22 years. It’s fun going in and having the nurses and staff look at you like you just fell off another planet just because you haven’t been in for every ache, pain, and sniffle. It’s not that I don’t have those things, it’s just that I figure doctors have more important things to do than hold my hand while my immune system does its stuff. Cause at the root of it all, I figure my immune system is kind of like the rest of my body. With adequate training, it will perform at optimum levels. They offered me two shots while I was there, a tetanus shot and a flu shot. I took them up on the tetanus shot since I live in an area that has horses and since my thin skin means I seem to get any number of cuts, nicks and scratches these days. Since I talk a lot in my profession, Tetanus is a real deal-breaker, lockjaw makes it tough to enunciate. I skipped the flu shot cause, what the hell, they have no idea what flu is really gonna hit this year and the one everybody’s afraid of, the pandemic bird flu, they have no shot for anyway. I figure if I keep my immune system fighting off the little crap on its own maybe when the big superbug comes down the line I’ll have half a chance. Lifting hundred pound weights may not help you clean and jerk a thousand pound piano but if one falls on you, you can at least hold if off you long enough to get out of the way. So after I get the tetanus shot they hand me an information sheet on the vaccine. It tells me what I should know about the vaccine, and what I should look for in the way of allergic reactions. Now, no offense to my medical office staff, but the principle of informed decision means I should have actually been given this handout before I agreed to take the vaccine. There was this great line in the handout that kind of summed the whole thing up. It said “a person who gets these diseases is much more likely to have severe complications than a person who gets the vaccine.” Well, yeah. A person who gets in a head-on car collision is more likely to suffer severe injury that the person who burns his hands over candles so he can’t drive. But I’m not volunteering for the Gordon Liddy treatment. It’s all about the chances of you getting the disease or not, ever, as opposed to definitely taking the vaccine and having a reaction. .03 people get a reaction to the vaccine. Reaction for people who never take the vaccine is .00. The final line on the handout kind of chilled me to the bone. Or maybe it was just the backless smock they had me put on. It said “In the event that you or your child have a serious reaction to the vaccine, a federal program has been created to help pay for the care of those who have been harmed.” Hmm. Someone actually determined there was need enough to create a costly bureaucratic federal program in a nation with no universal health care. Sounds perfectly safe to me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

#408 Caplets Crunch

Previously I talked about the odd product recall of a generic brand of acetaminophen. Seems bits of metal were found in a number of tablets. The number was small, only 200 tablets in a grand total of 70 million run through a metal detector, but still. I’m sure I’d rather not be that point 00007 percent that broke my crown when I was trying to cure a headache—even worse if I was taking the drug for a toothache to begin with. Some unanswered questions linger. You may remember the metal fragments found in the pills ranged from microdot size to pieces of wire a third of an inch long. So first, how did the metal get into the pills? Is there a big vat of dried drug that’s all caked up and ready for a crusher before it gets shaped into a pill? Did someone accidentally dump in a box of paper clips? If so, what were office supplies doing in a clean drug room? Presumably, the drugs that you and I ingest are not just lying around picking up microbes. It’s not like we cook our acetaminophen before eating. If submarine sandwich workers have to plastic glove their hands I’m thinking drug workers need to have the whole white outfit regalia. So again, from whence cometh the metal? Did one of the workers have an orthodontia problem? Just got fitted out in a Nerdstein 2000 around-the-head mega-retainer, elastic strap breaks, mouth metal flies out, there go 200 pills? Maybe. Maybe the metal came from the pill-making machine itself. Some of them have the pressure of an industrial vise. Maybe something broke loose, a washer or screw perhaps—or maybe one of its nuts got in the vise. The larger question to me is: Had this sort of thing happened before? Because what really made me wonder was when they said they had run over 70 million tablets through a metal detector. Just happened to have a metal detector lying around did they? Standard issue in a drug manufacturing plant? Or are industrial mishaps common there? Well, guess what, this same company has had problems before. Since 1993, according to FDA records, Perrigo Company has had at least 32 other product recalls in all its plants. The company wasn’t exactly sure where the current heavy metal pills came from. Maybe their Iron Butterfly plant in Mexico. Or their Metallica plant in China. Definitely not their Jethro Tull plant in the United Kingdom. Still, it’s apparent the company is not at the tippy-top of safety records. I’m thinking they need either better worker supervision, or a search-before-entering program at least as efficient as the airlines or rock concerts. They seem to already have the metal detectors. Maybe they could wand their employees as well. Because just last May they recalled 59,000 drug bottles contaminated with acrylic mirror particles. Yep, mirror. I don’t know about you, but the idea of someone powdering her nose while she makes my pain pills is enough to give me a head ache.
America, ya gotta love it.

#407 Crunch

There was an interesting story in the news last week. And it had to do with Tylenol. Actually, that was an interesting sidebar story. The main story had to do with contaminated generic acetaminophen, but Associated Press editors, for whatever reason, chose to run a photo of the generic acetaminophen in question with a very clear image of Tylenol in the background of the photo. Tylenol made a big flap of course, as they should, and newspapers that had run the AP photo across the country printed retraction and apology notices. Again, as they should. In this day of digital editing and pixilated smudging, there is no way Tylenol’s name should appear anywhere. If they can smudge out the brand name of a beer on a rapper’s sideways baseball cap in constant motion, they can manage to black out the brand name of Tylenol if, in fact, Tylenol had none of the issues of the generic brand in question. But it does kind of make you wonder. What was AP thinking? Is this another example of the liberal media? Are they trying to get back at Tylenol for supporting the last regime? Lord knows it caused a lot of headaches. Were they a major campaign contributor as a result? Or was AP simply assuming Americans need a little relational help? Did they think that saying acetaminophen just wouldn’t quite get the point across without a “you know, like Tylenol” visual reminder in the background? We’ll never know. The actual entity at fault was a company called Perrigo. And they market generic acetaminophen tablets under various brand names to Wal-Mart, CVS, Safeway and more than 120 major retailers, according to the FDA. I wonder if one of them is Western Family. The problem? Apparently, metal fragments were discovered in numerous pills. That’s right, metal fragments. They ranged in size from microdots to portions of wire one-third of an inch long. Youch! “I had this headache doc, and I took some acetaminophen and then all of a sudden while they were in my throat, I started hearing a radio station in my mouth.” “I’m not saying there was lots of metal in my acetaminophen but after my last dose for muscle aches I started singing ‘I wish I had a heart’.” “Yes Mr. Coast Guard officer sir. I tried to cure my headache, my compass went wacky, and we crashed into this reef.” “No sir, I am not a terrorist sir. No sir, search all the orifices you like, sir. I don’t know why I’m setting off the metal detector. But my headaches gone.” Actually, not that far fetched. The company found the metal fragments by, according to them, running over 70 million tablets through a metal detector and turning up 200 contaminated pills. Far less than your average proportion of rat hair. Personally, I think Perrigo missed an opportunity. They shouldn’t have recalled, they should have just re-signed. “Today only, for the same low price, new for women, acetaminophen with iron.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#406 Capitation

In my hometown of Olympia there’s this place on the main drag that the city uses to display banners. It’s quite the learning experience. The banners used to be for major events like Harbor Days or Arbor Days and it was good to see the pictures on the banners because that way I could figure out which festival to bring a tree to. It was also kind of a passive way to keep up on community events. There’s no way every semi-festival, read-a-thon, food drive and craft bazaar can get total exposure in all the other media so the over-the-street banner is a nice supplement. Or at least it was until the city realized what a social engineering goldmine it had on the end of its poles. So, a little while back, banners started to appear of a decidedly less-than-community-festival ilk. The city can certainly qualify as a non-profit so why shouldn’t they too use the public venue to advertise things for the public good? And as the traffic on the street in question is the densest in town, and as that same traffic often finds itself standing still, what better way to cram a message down the gridlocked throat of the semi-literate. So soon we were seeing signs about sharing the road with bicyclists, and helping the city with raking out storm drains during the falling-leave, street-flooding season. And occasionally we’d learn to give road-workers a brake, and get screened for cancer and stuff. And lately there’s this new banner. It’s kind of clever and it comes with visual aids. I think it’s important to have international graphics just in case the possible offenders haven’t yet mastered elementary English enough to get the message. Especially since the message has a pun in it, (that was the clever part) and the last thing foreign language speakers learn is how to pun in their adopted language. The banner is for an anti-tree topping campaign and the slogan says: “You can’t top a healthy tree.” Get it? Like you can’t do better than a healthy tree—you can’t top a healthy tree and you can’t cut the top off a healthy tree either. The follow-up line “and still have it stay healthy” is implied. But with the picture of a tree being brutally decapitated compared to the picture of a tree fully rounded with vegitile pulchritude you get the implication. Apparently all the power workers and asplundh folks out there know what they’re doing and so are exempt from this banner. The message here is, don’t just top your own tree, call an arborist. On one note, it’s nice to see government getting out of our bedroom and into our gardens where it belongs. On another, I’m not sure about the tag line on the banner in question. It says: “Prune Responsibly.” Right. Prune responsibly. I’ll add that to my wish list: World peace, feed the starving children, prune responsibly. Prune it? I’m still trying to figure out where to buy the stuff. What is this responsibly stuff? My friend tells me all the TV ads say he should drink it.
America, ya gotta love it.

#405 Crazy Talk

My life appears to be a magnet for irony these days. I just got a press release that said this organization is having a first annual event. Another flagrant violation of the first annual rule. There is no such thing as the first annual; it can’t be annual until it has happened at least once. The first event in possible series of like events is called the inaugural event. So if a new President comes into office his ball is not called the first annual ball, it’s called the inaugural ball. And if election night returns leave Republicans across the land asking what the hell happened to our Contract with America, the answer is, this appears to be the inauguration of a whole new era. The winds of change have blown. Interesting little historical aside: three of the congressman who were blown out of office in the recent anti-mandate election were swept in to office on the Republican anti-mandate gale of the nineties, when Clinton suddenly found himself with a different kind of congress and staring into the vortex of impropriety-peachment or sex-peachment, or whatever. And those same three congressman were swept into power on the strength of the now nearly forgotten “Contract with America,” Newt Gingrich’s two-fisted brainchild that was in all the photo-ops. Remember Newt and his neo-cons holding up that big oversized contract poster thingy that looked like a winning check from Publishers Clearinghouse? America responded to the promise of cleaner government, more accountability, fiscal restraint, less taxes and so on. A kajillion dollars in deficit later, an Enron scandal or two, a little Mark Foley and his e-book of pages, and the public finding out how lobbyists have Jack Abramoffed about every congressman, and the contract appears to have been about as good as a pyramid chain letter. But there was one other thing in the Contract with America worth noting: It was implied when the Republicans took over congress that one of the reasons they were given the chance was because the public was tired of the evil Democratic congress and its old, set-in-its-seniority power-broking ways. The Republicans talked loudly and often about term limits. Term limits would cut out the dead wood of congress. Term limits would surgically excise the cancer of special interests and I-scratched-your-back-now-you-have-to-scratch-mine layers of obligation that sent many a Mr. Smith fleeing from Washington. Of course, such crazy talk vanished once the seats in the seats of power developed a decidedly right cheek. So the ironic thing is that these three congressman that were swept out last Tuesday were swept in on the term limits promise. Guess what? They’d each served 12 years. Which is 6 terms in congressional dog years. I guess the public finally took that limit thing in its own hands. Another ironic thing was the name of the organization that sent me a news release on its first annual event. The Literacy Network.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

#404 Colloquialism

I was talking to a guy yesterday, American by anyone’s standards, a fine upstanding member of his community, involved in a service club. But he was born in Denmark. Having spent his formative years there, he missed out on all those sayings that kids learn by osmosis in their native language. Words we all take for granted, like tough, and bitchen and gnarly. Words that are sometimes known as idioms and sometimes as colloquialisms. A dialect, a bit of regional patter, a turn of phrase, the slimy organic undercoating that makes our language American and not the spot of tea, up and down staircase-littered, English from England. I say, knock me up after I go to the loo won’t you, and we’ll meet in the tube. The guy expressed a little regret that he didn’t know Americanisms as if he’d grown up here. I tried to reassure him by pointing out there’s only one letter of difference between idiom and idiot but he didn’t get it. I’m not sure I did either. Idioms can also be like professional jargon. I was at a meeting yesterday where some of the speakers were from the government. Just a little heads up. If you’re at a meeting where they have break-out sessions, and one of the sessions features speakers from different departments of the government, take a cup of joe. The secret to being a good government administrator must be to learn how to talk in the most circuitous manner possible so as always to be circling the fairly simple point at hand but never quite getting to it. One of the speakers was so long-winded the next long-windiest speaker actually tugged his coat to warn him he was out of time. And so oblivious that he acknowledged he was out of time and then spoke for another 5 minutes. One speaker said that bureaucratic jargon was clogging state publications so they were going to rectify the problem. We have this new computer program, he said, and it’s going to help us implement the simplification plan by plaintalking everything. He actually used the word plaintalk as if it was a single word and then he used it as a verb. Like he was cutting something or chopping something. He was plaintalking it. Probably uses that new Will Rogers software or perhaps Davy Crockett-checker. The guy wasn’t even aware he was using bureaucratic jargon when he used the word plaintalk like he did. But it was fun watching the guy act as if his department was doing something meaningful to help the public. And to act as if he was saving costs for everyone with this massive computer assisted overhaul of state publications, when all they really need are good editors. With all the newspapers closing down, there ought to be a couple available. Offer them a permanent job with medical benefits, throw in a stale Danish like they had in the newsroom every morning and the state could probably get ‘em, um, dirt cheap.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

#403 Carrot Take

As I’ve mentioned before, part of my eat-five-servings-of-vegetables-and-fruit a day regimen is to eat about three fingers of baby-peeled carrots. I’m not sure what that is in ounces but that’s how much of a ziplock sandwich bag the carrots fill up. Frankly, I have a hard time meeting the five servings quota. Maybe if I cut back on the carrots I could work in a Brussels sprout or two and get closer—not that I would ever subject my delicate palate to a Brussels sprout. Baby carrots are fine but baby cabbages suck. I have one of those tongues with a greater-than-normal quantity of bitter-oriented tastebuds so I’m more sensitive to the bitterness in certain foods and beverages. Can’t drink coffee without sugar, can’t eat grapefruits, can’t abide Brussels sprouts. I even have a hard time being around someone who likes Brussels sprouts. I wonder if E-Harmony dot com has that as one of their compatibility factors. Do you like Brussels sprouts? You do? He doesn’t. Next. It’s funny I would be so sensitive to bitter things. I’m not a bitter person. I’m not sure what I am. I’m not really an optimist. Too much world has beaten that out of me. And for a while I was gonna jump on the pessimism bandwagon but I was afraid it would break down. Maybe I’m a romantic. I like to believe things will be good, but I sort of know it’s a pipe dream. So that’s why I’m a little miffed at my carrots. They make up a huge portion of my daily diet. Half my lunch to be exact. My baggie full of carrots and my Braeburn apple and lunch is done. And since I only eat a breakfast bar/snack bar thingy for breakfast I can eat anything in any quantity I want for dinner. But by that time my stomach’s so shrunk I can’t eat too much of that anyhow. Where was I? Oh yeah, starving. And thinking about the inconsistency in taste in my little factory-milled carrots. I don’t remember carrots tasting so bad when I grew up. And these carrots I buy are organic carrots too. You’d think it would be pesticides that make a carrot bitter. But no. Apparently, it’s other carrots trying to extract nutrients from the some un-chemically fertilized soil. Cause about every fifth carrot in the population is bitter as a widow with a lapsed life insurance policy. And it’s that weird organic bitter too. Like someone let the horses loose in the carrot patch. And they’d been drinking too much coffee. The thing is, the package proclaims that each and every one of these delectable mini-peeled carrots is crunchy, sweet, and ready to eat. Well, as any baseball hitter will tell you, two out of three ain’t bad. What are you going to do? Take back every carrot that’s bitter. Hardly. They got you. As long as they keep the bad ones to a smallish percentage, most people will go right on buying them. Cause that’s life. There’s always bad stuff. The secret is to keep down the percentage. Hey. That’s it. Maybe I’m a percentage-ist.
America, ya gotta love it.

#402 Clue-Haul

So I chanced to use a U-Haul truck not too long ago. I’ll share a few things that might give you what I didn’t have—a clue. U-Haul uses the lowball, add-on approach to moving rental: Suck you in with a tiny price and then pile on enough accessories that you walk out feeling like your moving load has lightened considerably—notably in your pocketbook. First thing they do is make you wait in line in an area loaded with “necessary” moving accessories. Oh, you say, I could use a bundle of those. The “those” you’re looking at are boxes and the sign on them says $2.32, which seems pretty cheap, until a quick mental calculation reveals that 10 of them will run you about 25 bucks. Then there’s the professional mover’s plastic. That’s the stuff they wrap around appliances to keep the doors from opening and the lids from popping up. Also good for dresser drawers. Cause everyone knows flying dresser drawers can kill. Once you get to the counter, you wait more, as they take phone calls and wait for slowpoke customers to inspect their trucks before they take them out. Finally, you tell the clerk you want a no frills ten-foot truck—19.99. Sure, she says, gets a key, then scans your bankcard and bills you 100 bucks. “100 bucks?” You say. “Mileage estimate and miscellaneous,” she says. You look at the breakdown and sure enough, she’s estimated 34 bucks for mileage, at 69 cents a mile, and then tacked on an extra 50 for miscellaneous. She hands you a little inspection card while you’re still confused, tells you to go inspect your truck, which is just now pulling in to the pick up area. The sight of the truck finally within your grasp fogs your mind. You take the card and, having no idea what you’re inspecting for, and not asking because she’s on the phone again, you go out, look in the back, and then hurry back in and sign up. You drive off relieved. Later, while you’re moving you notice, hey, this truck has a hand truck. Then you see the hand truck has a zip-tie seal on its bracket and realize if you use it you lose it. 10 bucks that is. You leave it alone and lift more instead. The next day you return the truck, and as per agreement, you fill up it with gas. It was full when you got it. Actually, it was about three quarters full. When you fill it, the gauge goes an extra quarter inch past the “F.” No worries, you’ve been cautious on mileage, so you expect half the estimate to be returned. When you check in, the same gal looks over your truck. She lifts the rear door, reaches in, and easily pulls the zip-tie loose from the hand truck. She gives you this look like you tried to pull a fast one and fake her out by putting a broken one back in place. She nails you for 10 bucks. Of course you can’t complain, you inspected it before it went out right? Right. I guess this is what they mean by taking an adventure in moving. I just didn’t expect to take it up the miscellaneous.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

#401 Common Usage

I went to a luncheon meeting the other day. It included the normal salad and fruit. As this is November, the main entrĂ©e was turkey. In this case, hand-carved turkey roll—packed in the last millennium, sliced fresh for flavor. Nothing like the keen and palate-stimulating effervescence of fresh-sliced nitrates. As it was a festive holiday meal, it featured two, count ‘em, two, starches. Potatoes and stuffing. With my sourdough roll that made three. The mashed potatoes appeared to have little bits of ham in them but I hurried to counter the effects of too much protein by dousing them in gravy. Which, as anyone who has ever made gravy knows, is essentially fat and flour. Flour, in case you’re counting, is another starch. Thank goodness the melon chunks in the fruit plate were simple sugars. All those carbohydrates are enough to make a person nod off by the time the speaker comes up at the meeting.
When I woke up, this guy was droning on about the challenges faced by today’s community colleges. How because they are technical colleges they need more technology than your average school but because they are essentially junior colleges they don’t get the budget from the statehouse. How they don’t get the big college money from athletic revenues. Not to mention the huge amounts of money alumni organizations earn every year and contribute to their alma maters. It’s kind of a shame in a way. Take some up-and-coming young bio-entrepreneur. He gets his first two years of college out of the way on the cheap, then transfers to a university with an advanced degree program, invents something new and wonderful, like a rhinovirus blocker, makes a gajillion dollars, then bestows his university with a big chunk of tax-sheltered money. Poor old junior college, which got the process underway to begin with, gets lost in the dust of the past. Like some poor married schmuck who makes all kinds of sacrifices, in money, stress, and time to send his wife to college so she could increase her confidence, better herself, and they could improve their income and when she just about has it complete, out the door she goes. How do the Japanese put it? Sayonara sucker. Anyhow, the speaker spoke in bureaucratic jargon. He said his college was visioning for the future. Apparently, that’s a process where you create a vision. I’m not sure, I was a little drowsy. When asked about non-profit administrator training he replied they were “definitely under-producing non-profit administrators.” Makes something negative sound so positive, doesn’t it? I would have said they were not producing. He said they are under-producing. I like the spin. No, I’m not drunk officer, I’m under-producing sobriety.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

#398 Hobo Rider

So the other day I was driving around, sometimes staying home loses its appeal. As I guess was the case with the hobos I saw—sometimes called the homeless, although I would assert there’s a distinction. My definition of a hobo is someone who is homeless by choice. At some point, the lust for the open road fixed itself to his soul like a lamprey on a shark’s belly and he hasn’t been home since. Even if he’s tried. The problem with that wanderlust is when you do try to go home, sometimes there ain’t a home left. You’ve drunk yourself into your hobo oblivion and when you try to pick up the pieces of your life all the pieces have moved on. I bear no special fear or hate of hobos, I’m not hobophobic, but sometimes I’m in awe at their incredible resourcefulness as urban campers. It gets pretty rainy in Washington yet they always seem to have a fresh new cardboard sign. Some even with poetry. “Down on my luck, can you spare me a buck” is one of my favorites. I think I saw a British hobo the other day. His sign said: “Give me a crown and I’ll get out of town.” Maybe he was Canadian and had to hitchhike back north for some healthcare. I’m amazed at the ingenuity of the average bum. They seem to have adequate weather-specific clothing, an endless supply of cigarettes, or at least extra long butts, and if I’m not mistaken, that brown paper bag they keep pressing to their lips contains an energy drink of some sort. So really, if you ask are the necessities covered, it looks like they are. And if freedom is defined as covering the necessities but doing what you want, then I guess you could say they are free. Unless you mean free to walk into, say, the theatre or a restaurant and not be greeted by disapproving eyes. But they have appeared to solve at least one dilemma. Transporting their stuff without stealing a shopping cart. Shopping carts are unwieldy at best. Not to mention that police folk wonder if you legally acquired them. The solution? Skateboards. Yep. Drive downtown sometime and see how many older established bums are now darting around on skateboards. Ho-boarders. Probably lifted them from stoned, not-paying-attention teenage thrashers. And now they keep them with them every moment, lest one of their brethren of the road lift in turn. They use them to move their piled on belongings. Once the belongings are stashed they carry the board safely through the day with not much effort. And even take an occasional fun ride down the sidewalk. Happiness isn’t all booze. Yesterday this hobo rider came to a stop next to me, kicked up his board, caught it under his armpit, and took a pull from his bag in one smooth movement. I smiled in appreciation and gave him a thumbs up. He gave me a gap-toothed smile in return and slurred confidently, “I could do a 360 olley if I didn’t have this bum knee.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

#400 Cool-inary

I once was a cook in a restaurant. We were new in town so we were very interested in the reactions of our customers to our food. We had this one guy who came in about every lunch. He gobbled, literally gobbled, down his food, with loud, smacking, gustatory grunts of satisfaction. It was pretty obvious this guy liked what he was eating. Had another guy, he was pretty quiet. Took smaller bites, seemed to take more time chewing, looking off into space with what appeared to be an expression of appreciation, but it was hard to tell. Never actually ate the whole plate, but would always ask for a doggy bag. One time I asked him what he did with the leftovers. “I eat them later on,” he said, as if my question was a stupid as it sounded. “Your leftovers are almost as good as when the meal is fresh.” I guess you could call it a complement. But it was hard to get. It was a slightly more involved and considered opinion than, say, loudly emptying the plate inside of five minutes. So part of me was content to gratify the gobbler but part of me wanted to please the picky eater. What finally decided it was when I was out at another Italian restaurant one night doing some industrial spying. The plate of food I had in front of me, a combination of spaghetti and lasagna, was nasty to the nth degree, the sauce was burnt, the meat in it tasted half rancid and the noodles had gone past al dente somewhere in the previous decade of over-boiling they must have been subjected to. You’ll never guess who came into the restaurant. The gobbler. He ordered what appeared to be the same dish I had. And when it came to his table, reeking of too much oregano, he gobbled it down with all the grunts, lip smacks, and general hog slopping he did at my place. I’ve gone for the picky eaters ever since. Because I realized, if I want to be good at something, I need to be tested in a hotter crucible. To make another analogy: Banging out an iron sword is relatively easy. Forging steel is hard. Iron melts at a lower temperature and is easier to work with and mold to the desired shape. Steel is a lot harder to work but the results are so much more satisfying. Because steel lasts and lasts. It doesn’t chip, warp and lose its shape, it holds an edge, it doesn’t get rusty, and it doesn’t snap off just when you need it the most. So if I wanted to be good at cooking, I needed customers who would tell me the truth. I needed a critic, not a gobbler. And so the epicurean connoisseur that ate his food slowly and silently savored every bite became my best customer. I asked him once if he’d ever been to the restaurant where I had seen the gobbler wolfing down that horrible mess. He said once. He felt sick for a week afterwards. “At least they’re cheap,” I said. “Yeah,” he said. “I can get you a big heaping plate of cowpie. For free. But free cowpie is still¾cowpie. You get what you pay for.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

#399 High Fibe

They say that cleanliness is next to godliness. And so it can be said for the colon. Because regularity is next to godliness as well. People who are stove up exhibit all manner of strange personality characteristics. Perhaps because the toxins linger too long in the lower gut and get reabsorbed into the bloodstream and from there get deposited in liver, kidneys, pancreas, and endocrine glands. The main job of the large gut is to reabsorb the fluid component of what is loosely called chyme and transform the resulting semi-dehydrated mass into discrete lumps known as feces. But the survival of the feces depends on many factors that move it along to its eventual extrusion if not extinction. Or I should say the survival of the good health of the person doing the extruding. Notably, you need to move it along. If you don’t it’s like a shoe sitting in a puddle. Eventually its components break down and get dissolved into the solution. In the case of the gut, when that fluid gets reabsorbed all manner of biological consequences ensue. Of course I’m simplifying here. I’m not a doctor and if I was, I think I would choose another area than the colon in which to specialize. I got one of those internet joke lists the other day. This one purported to be from doctors who had conducted colonoscopies. The statements on the list were supposedly from patients undergoing the procedure. Which, as you may imagine, is intrusive to a large degree, since it involves shoving an instrument into a fairly private area. Having a doctor go spelunking in the cave of your gut is, to say the least, a lesson in intimacy. The comment on the list I most appreciated was the patient who muttered: “Now I know what a muppet feels like.” In any event, one of the secrets to good colon health is fiber. And that’s why each day I eat a bunch of another great invention, baby peeled carrots. At first I was amazed that they were able to train babies to do such a thing. After realizing that there wasn’t a pre-toddler child labor force in Bangladesh or somewhere, I was amazed they were able to find so many carrots that were baby size. The bag of carrots I have actually says mini-peeled carrots so other people must have made the same mental miscalculation. Then I realized this was an example of a more sophisticated technology. These carrots weren’t small to begin with, they were the equivalent of carrot lumber. That’s right, the same technology that fashions logs and boards and veneer in our venerable timber industry is being used, in miniature, to fashion tiny carrot logs. Like they got these H.O. scale mills, turning carrots on a lathe-like device and fashioning perfect little fiber-filled logs ready to be popped in your mouth, chewed up, run through the system and then reconfigured into their nearly original form. Don’t believe me? Type in carrot slash colon dot com and log on for more info.
America, ya gotta love it.

#397 Holy Water Batman!

When they look back from some distant time they probably won’t notice but one of the most significant things about the 21st century is available right now at your local Costco. No, I’m not talking about frozen pizza mini-quiches or six mattresses bundled in one shrink-wrapped package. I’m talking about bottled water. I have here in my hand a coupon and it’s actually from Fred Meyer. It’s one of those coupons the cash registers automatically spit out at the end of a transaction. Usually for something you’ve just bought and don’t plan to buy again for a while. You know, you just purchased the mega half-yearly size of Windex refill and out comes a coupon for it that expires next month. Anyhow, this coupon was for bottled water—apparently the Fred Meyer brand, as the name was First Choice water. First Choice water and Costco water and Western Family water all taste pretty much the same to me, which is not necessarily good, but far better then the chlorinated stuff currently coming out of my faucet. Don’t get me started on that. Cause the bad thing about chlorination at the faucet is it also means chlorination at the tube that leads into my refrigerator, which means chlorinated ice, which means that even if I do use bottled water for drinking I still have to cool it with poison ice. All because the city is worried about a few coliforms. Well you know what? Coliforms make a lot better tasting ice. Anyhow this coupon for bottled water at Fred Meyer was for a whole dollar off any 35-pack of water. So setting aside for a moment whether that meant 1, 2, or 4 bottles free, why would anyone produce anything in a 35-pack? I don’t know of any other product that comes prepackaged that isn’t divisible by two or four. You got your dozens, your six packs, your 24 to a case. Why 35? Our country is not built to survive on items packaged in multiples of 5. Like the classic observational humor: Why do hot dogs come in packs of 6 and buns come in packs of 8? Are the 2 extra buns are for people who just want to have a sauerkraut sandwich and hold the dog? But at least somewhere down the line, say at 24, you can even the whole thing out. 3 packs of buns and 4 packs of hot dogs and voila, everyone gets to do the tubesteak boogie. There is something incredibly un-American about packaging things in a group of 35. In fact, it sounds almost French. Maybe even Canadian. Like they’re tired of that whole American cultural hegemony thing and they’re not only going to print their labels in French and English instead of Spanish and English like us, they’re going to use whatever multiple they want when they package the stuff too. Take that America. We’ve got curling and tundra and Anne Murray. We’ll pack our water any dang way we want. And we’ll fill it with the amount of fluid we want too. So this time you can follow the liter.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

#396 Horror Help

I’m never much concerned about Halloween and all that spooky supernatural stuff. Reality has all the horrors anyone will ever need. And the most horrendous of them all is age. Forget about the living dead, it’s the living-still-living that’s really scary. For many men and women midlife hits around fifty. Funny, since most of us never live to be anywhere close to 100, so 50 is really post-mid-life. Some get a jump on things and start around 45. In this case the early bird doesn’t get the worm. Unless by worm you mean five extra years to be miserable. At fifty-four I’ve been tumbled through most of the mid-life crisis wave. Mid-life, like adolescence, should be one of those recognized phases of development you read about in all the parenting books. Unfortunately, there is no specific set of guidelines to help, only books that deal with the effects of mid-life—the wandering eye, the is-this-all-there-is, the I-just-want-to-be-young-again personality spurts caused by fluctuating hormone levels. Hormones for both males and females wildly oscillate during this period. Sex drives soar and plummet, hot flashes abound, and anger flares. The whole world starts to look like it’s conspiring against you to make you bitter, unhappy, and worst of all in my case, a constant grouser. The tendency is to chuck everything, throw out the baby, the bathwater, and the bathtub. What’s funny is that on the other end of the hormone fluctuation spectrum we have teenagers. And everyone knows that’s going to be a wild ride. But everyone who has ever had a teenager emerge into adulthood knows that they do come out of it and they are a lot easier to live with when they do. All of the books and counselors seem to agree that the best course through adolescence is to let your kids know you care, rein in their excesses with some judicious restrictions, and keep a firm and steady course yourself, lest your teenager sense weakness and do their best to drive a wedge into the family unit. Us oldsters face a similar path. Unfortunately, we don’t have any parents to say hold on, it’ll get better. So we rant and rail and challenge each other to see who can get highest on the mood swings before we jump off, and generally crush anything or anyone stupid enough to stand in front of our hormone steamroller. It’s too bad all the “self help” people, the psychologist equivalent of televangelists, don’t offer a praise God and an Amen to get us through. But no, the self-help industry is dependent on people needing help just like churches are dependent on sinners. And like some doctors, they can make a lot more money treating symptoms than offering a cure. Self-help authors would put themselves out of business if their advice were that good. And, horrors, they’d be thrust back into writing bosom-heaver romances. Whenever I look at a self-help book, I look up a bio on the author. Funny how few of them are happy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

#394 High Gene

There was this old scientist named Lamarck who had some theories about genetics. He believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Giraffes, he maintained, had longer necks because successive generations had stretched to reach the tallest leaves. Like me doing pushups every morning would somehow convey to my unborn son the proclivity to do pushups every morning. Come to think of it, my dad did pushups every morning. Hmm. In any event, along came Darwin’s natural selection and Lamarck’s theories were relegated to the scientific backwaters like Cosmopolis to Aberdeen. All the good wood went to the big Darwin harbor. But, what goes around comes around, or as scientists say, orbits happen. Because today a new science is emerging that may actually lend some legitimacy to Lamarck’s claims. It’s called epigenetics and it promises to be all the things genetics was not. Think for a minute. They talk about unraveling the human genome and the possibility for gene therapy but really, what are they gonna do? A lot of genetic diseases don’t show up till late in life. What’s the plan, take a gene out of your DNA when you’re forty years old? Not gonna happen. So if you’re stuck with the Alzheimer’s gene, tough luck, you might as well just forget about any therapy along with everything else. But epigenetics is a different matter. Turns out the kajillion genes we have aren’t all operating all the time. Some turn on at some times, some others. When a gene is turned on, or expressed as they say, it functions as its code dictates. But if it’s turned off it just sits dormant. Like a dandelion waiting to burst out the second you’ve cut your lawn. Gene expression is the real key to the genetic code. That’s why we don’t have anuses on our nipples or liver cells in our mouths. Uh. Liver. One method that makes gene expression happen is methylation. It’s your body’s way of turning genes on and off using methyl groups that lock up certain molecules so other molecules can’t get in and tell a gene it just needs to express itself if it wants to be true and free. Scientists took genetically fat white mice and through methyl group manipulation alone bred the next generation to be skinny and brown. No genes were removed or altered. Only methyl groups. And it lasted for four Lamarckian generations. But the great thing is, methyl groups mean that actually point-of-sale gene therapy is possible. If you know the map, you can actually go in and tell Gene X-243 to shut the heck up and voila, no more Parkinson’s. Of course, a good map is the thing. Medical science thought estrogen therapy was the key to menopausal osteoporosis too. It’s a natural selection, they said. Till that whole heart failure thing started dropping middle age women like flies. Now they say the key to preserving bone density is resistance training and, guess what, stretching. Lamarck, get set, go.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

#393 Haachoo!

Science works in mysterious ways. We all like to think the great innovations in technology and drugs came from patient, trial and error experimenting. The living proof of the scientific method: form a hypothesis based on quiet contemplation; devise an experiment to test the hypothesis; document the results; change one variable at a time in the experiment; arrive at either a confirmation or a rejection of your hypothesis. If a confirmation, devise another series of experiments and eventually propound a theory, which can be tested and duplicated by your scientific peers. Unfortunately, or perhaps I should say fortunately, that’s not the case. Fortunately, because most scientific breakthroughs involve fortune—as in good fortune, as in chance, as in serendipity. Serendipity, that random coming together of things that ends up being good, not the gel used by today’s Ryan Seacrist wannabees, that leaves their hair oh so perfectly tousled, Serendipity-doo. Like when penicillin was discovered in bread mold. The greatest antibiotic of the 20th century. The first great broad spectrum antibiotic. The first in a salvo of drugs that kept us one step ahead of the bacteria—for a while. Until we shot our antibiotic wad, untrained our immune systems, and the superbug swooped into the hospitals to be the single biggest cause of death. But bread mold, whodda thunk it? How many potential discoveries have I thrown out just because it thought it was rotting food? An early alchemist stored buckets of urine in his cellar, hoping it would turn into gold—if only because his neighbors paid him to get rid of it. Instead, it turned into a glowing goo that finally burst into flame. The element phosphorus had been discovered. Not to worry, phosphorus is only in urine is small quantities. A lot of distillation and dehydration is required for it to dry down to the point of bursting into flame. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to drink lots of water. The same guy that discovered penicillin, Alexander Fleming, also found an antibiotic enzyme in nasal mucus when he accidentally sneezed into a petri dish culture. Oops. His snot kept the microbes in the dish from proliferating. Apparently nasal mucus contains an antibiotic substance. Which problem explains why my shirtsleeves never get infected. But there’s that serendipity thing again. What are the chances that the guy who discovers an antibiotic in nasal mucus would be named Fleming. And in 1992 they did a drug trial on welsh miners. Miners as in diggers, not as in underage persons. Good too, because the drug was supposed to treat angina. Didn’t work too well. But the miners reported an interesting side effect. Or should I say front effect? Cause the drug was sildenafil citrate, now better known as Viagra. Hmm. Could be a great ad jingle. Was a miner, had angina, so his love she had to pine. But Viagra made him finer, so he would love Clementine.
America, ya gotta love it.

#392 Hair Tonight

So the biggest problem men face with today’s prescription prostate drugs is impotence. But as I said in an earlier article one possibly positive side effect is a more luxuriant head of hair, or at least some peach fuzz if you’re bald already. And an impressive head of hair can make a man feel special indeed. A full head of hair and a nice outfit and the guy can say, like the old joke, if I’m gonna be impotent I’m gonna look impotent. But really, there ought to be a better way. Does it have to be a tradeoff between nighttime trips to the toilet and no other nighttime jaunts at all? Oh that devil prostate, enlarging around the urethra and shutting off the flow. Damming the river upstream and reducing the outlet to a dribble. Like the mighty Colorado trickling into the Gulf of California. It’s probably no surprise that Viagra and Finisteride came out about the same time. The prostate drug is a near essential. Every man suffers from benign prostate enlargement the older they get. And American men are getting older. But American men are still pretty proud, so you can bet even if the frequency of their intimate encounters has been reduced to long term marriage maintenance levels, they still want to have the option to indulge. So naturally, reading of the impotence side effect, many men who would benefit from shrinkage, prostate that is, would forgo the benefits in order to avoid the drawbacks. Soft thinking, you say? Fuzzy logic? Not an argument that would stand up? You don’t know men and their obsession with the part of them that defines manhood. So, as I say, lucky, or perhaps a master stroke of marketing, that Viagra came along when it did and provided men a much needed back up plan up front. Now a man can take finisteride, propecia, proscar or nascar in peace and know, should the need arise, he’ll be equipped for the task at hand. But there is actually a natural alternative to lining the drug company’s pockets with testosterone money. It’s called saw palmetto. Sounds like a horror movie doesn’t it? Saw Palmetto 3! Saw palmetto is a plant native to the American southeast. It’s a small palm-like shrubbery that produces prolific amounts of fruit. The fruit is ground up and used to formulate a dietary supplement whose powers to reduce prostate enlargement are legendary. And according to recent scientific surveys, real as well. It’s good to get formulations that include both zinc and essential fatty acids as well. Some prostate issues may be caused by circulation problems and all men need the acids and zinc as they age anyhow. Some formulas also include pumpkin seed powder. I have no idea why. Halloween a big urination holiday for the natural herbal supplement crowd? In any event, unlike most drugs there are no known side effects. That’s right, you won’t have to fork over for Viagra just so you can go through the night without going. Talk about feeling relieved.
America, ya gotta love it.

#391 Hair Today

Testosterone is a bad mother—shut your mouth. It’s good for some things, strength, independence, going out into the woods alone to hunt game, going to the barcolounger to watch the game, but in excess it pretty much assures a shorter lifespan than those without much of it, for example women. Testosterone also causes two of the big problems that bedevil men in the later decades of their life—loss of hair and loss of prostate health. Benign Prostate Enlargement, which you would think would be called BPE, is in fact called BPH. Because scientifically it’s Benign Prostate Hypertrophy. Atrophy is a scientific word that means withering away. Hypertrophy is its opposite. It means overgrowth. Prostate tissues are quite susceptible to this, as males grow older. Also, as males grow older, there’s a problem known as male pattern baldness. And it too appears to be related to testosterone, or at least one of its precursor molecules, di-hydro-something-or-another. When the di-hydro-whatever molecule comes into contact with hair follicles it chokes them off and hair falls out. Therein lays the paradox. Too much testosterone, a sexual hormone whose primary function is to promote sexuality and propagate the species, turns deadly at about the time most men are: A) not interested in propagating any more babies anyhow or B) beginning to feel their mid-life crisis and wondering if they will ever again be able to court and win a lovely female companion now that they’re bald as a baby’s butt. And also paradoxically, the relative levels of the menopausal hormones in women means testosterone may account for their mid-life aberrations. When estrogen levels dip, testosterone levels in women—yes they produce testosterone too— are relatively higher, and that may result in an unexplained tendency to go out in to the woods and hunt game, if you know what I mean. Nudge nudge. Naturally, or perhaps unnaturally, modern science has rushed into fill the gap. One of the mega-pharmaceutical companies came up with a drug known as Finisteride now marketed as Propecia. It interrupts the production of testosterone. Its original purpose was to reduce prostate enlargement and make it easier for men to relieve themselves and stuff. Surprisingly, it also helped them grow back hair. I mean hair back. Back hair was a bad side effect. So now, it’s being marketed to prevent hair loss. Unfortunately, its other major side effect is impotence. That’s okay, they’ve made a deal with Viagra to bundle services. Not really. It is a little ironic though. The whole point of a full head of hair is to advertise virility. At least in popular wisdom. Actually the more virile and the more testosterone laden, the less hair you can expect. But men still want that full head of hair to look the leading man sex symbol in the movie. Even if they don’t get the action figure later.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

#390 Hard Time

I read the news today and, oh boy, the stories keep getting stranger and stranger. The headlines cried out “Drug Dealer, 81, Faces Prison Sentence.” And that’s a pretty serious deal, when you’re 81 just about any sentence could be a life sentence. There was a picture of the old guy too, full head of snow white hair, rumpled jeans, and what appeared to be a Members Only jacket. Remember those from the disco days? The perfect semi-dressy semi-casual short jacket that you could dress up or dress down. It went with jeans and it went smashingly with polyester slacks. Young studs from Humboldt to Hoboken sported them in discos, lounges, and bowling alleys. Then the old codgers started wearing them and never stopped. Get those low-rise under-the-protruding-gut polyester stretch jeans and a Members Only knock off and you’re set for the early bird buffet line. So it really wasn’t too much of surprise that Calvin Ott, the octogenarian drug dealer, had one on. What was surprising was the drugs he was busted for selling—Methamphetamine and Crack Cocaine. Cause I’m thinking, 81 may be old but if this guy’s been supplementing his income this way for his whole life, that means that in the sixties he was in his forties. And it wasn’t that unusual in those days to have a forty year old somewhere near the top of the marijuana supply chain. What is unusual was that he kept it up. Still, meth and crack, being lighter in weight and easier to fit in the many pockets of a Members Only coat, is a natural drug to deal for a slightly frail elderly gentleman. I mean, hefting around a kilo of pot would be pretty tough. And growing the stuff in your yard a little too labor intensive. Not to mention the problems with the neighbor kids. “Hey you kids….get out of my pot!!!” Speaking of kids. The guy got his sentence extended by two years cause he sold the meth within a thousand feet of a school bus stop. Let that be a lesson to all drug dealers out there, young and old. There isn’t anyplace in urban Lacey that isn’t within 1000 feet of a bus stop. Today’s mollycoddled kids don’t have to walk any distance any more. They ought to have a mandatory “give em a brake” type sign on school bus stops. “Convicted drug dealers face additional two years within a thousand feet of this sign.” The only way to be really safe is to do your drug deals next to the porn shop. You can be pretty sure they’ve measured that one out to the gnat’s derriere. It was kind of pathetic in a way though. The old codger had to wear headphones so he could hear his sentence. And he had failed to appear for an earlier hearing because he forgot. His lawyer said his defense was that the drug informants were mad at him and planted the drugs. I would have used the Alzheimer’s defense. You mean it’s illegal? Ignorance of the law may be no excuse. But absence of the brain cells to be ignorant in the first place?
America, ya gotta love it.

#389 Hulk and Bulk

I was reading this article about the year the sixties started. Calendrically it was 1960 or 1961,but culturally it was 1964. In 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated, ending the innocence of the furious fifties, and in 1964 the Beatles arrived on our shores, ushering in a decade of cultural frenzy. In 1964 the young, brash and talkative Cassius Clay beat a lumbering and listless Sonny Liston. In 1964 they introduced the Ford Mustang, giving sports cars to the masses, particularly young independent women, and in 1964 President Johnson called for and got the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed him to increase troops in Vietnam from 17,000 to 184,000 in the course of that year. The stage was set for a cultural upheaval of mind-boggling proportions. The effects are still felt today, not least by conservatives who bemoan the sixties as the time all those pesky civil rights laws got not only passed but enforced. The privileged status of white patriarchs for the first time seemed in real jeopardy. But that was then and this is now, and watch any congressional press conference and you’ll see the patriarchs are still firmly entrenched and sharing what appears to be the approved look. You know, silver hair, televangelist receding hairline pompadour, blue suit, blue and/or red tie, slightly bloated double-chinned face. I saw William Bennett on TV and was struck by how much he resembles Rush Limbaugh and by how much he resembles Carl Rove and by how much they all seem to resemble each other. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Every group ought to have an identifiable look, it just all seems so, well, overstuffed. Like God took a rib from a human being, added it to a Barcolounger and said, lo, I make for thee a helpmeet and I will call it, a Republican. But that’s not fair and balanced. There are plenty of overweight Democrats too. William Bennett could go toe to toe with Ted Kennedy and trade him paunch for paunch. Maybe it’s the congressional food service—food on the hill so laden with rubber-chickened calories that poor lawmakers have no choice but to make pork by the barrel. Maybe that’s what they mean by the layers of bureaucracy. Maybe when they go to those thousand-dollar a plate fundraising dinners they figure they need to eat their money’s worth. Fiscal conservatism does demand a basic philosophical commitment to frugality and thrift. The hard thing is, when you’re a lawmaker you have too many things happening at odd times to really settle into a schedule. And as everyone who has ever been on a diet knows, regularity it the key to sticking to the regimen. That’s why big politicos scare me. Cause diets and budgets are the same. Both require hard choices and both require fiber, moral and otherwise. Let’s hope they have the moral; the other they can get from that other sixties breakthrough, over-the-counter Metamucil.
America, ya gotta love it.

#388 Hold On

It probably doesn’t surprise you to find out I’m a packrat. Writer types often tend to be anal retentive and anal-retentive people by definition tend to hold on to things. Especially things no one else would ever want or need. I have friends that say they clear out stuff by periodically going through it, and if they haven’t used it for three years, toss it out or put it in the next garage sale. Kind of a household enema. And garage sales, being as they are kind of neighborhood knick-knack sewers, put the crud back in circulation. One person’s fecal matter is another person’s fertilizer. So the cycle of life goes. But I interrupt that fine process by holding on. And sometimes I hold on too long. Because the problem is that, once you hold on to something past that magic three years, it attains a certain gravitas just by virtue of its age in your life. It’s stay. Like an old watch. Or an old rock sitting on the bookshelf. You’re not absolutely sure where or when you got it but you’ve had it so long now you can’t bear to throw it away. My dear departed mother only threw away two things from my entire childhood, my baseball cards and my comic books. She reasoned, why hold on to these old things, they’ll never be worth anything. So out went my Duke Snyder rookie Brooklyn Dodgers card, my Sandy Kofax Angels card and who knows what else. Original issue of Spiderman? Out in the trash while I was at college. Who’da thunk my mom would go through a “clean out all the old crap and start over” phase. Women in their late forties can do the most unexpected things can’t they? But when I need to put things in perspective I think of the story of the pulley. Sometime during my college years, a roommate left behind a box of tools, screws, bolts and whatnot when he moved back east. You’re welcome to it, he said, it won’t fit in my baggage. As the box contained valuable tools I didn’t have, I took it, miscellaneous stuff and all. Among the items of lesser value in the box was a pulley. You know, a metal housing with a wheel inside that you can string cable or rope through and hook something else to it to slide it along. I carried that pulley with me for 20 years. From state to state and house to house. Finally I got a dog and needed to secure him in a fenceless back yard. I strung up a cable run and thought, hey, I can use that pulley. I dug it out of my now very large miscellaneous box and put it on the cable. Then I hooked up Sparky. He took off to the end of the run and kept on running. The pulley had broken. So much for best laid plans. The real irony was that I went right down to the hardware store and got a brand new pulley for only, get this, a quarter. So the philosophical question is this: Is the value of something because of the time you’ve spent with it, or do you spend more time with something because of it’s value? Got a quarter? I’ll flip a coin.
America, ya gotta love it.

#387 Hogwash

So I was thinking of hogwash the other day. It’s amazing how many porcine descriptive phrases we have in our language. Perhaps stemming from our early rural history. There were big battles on the open range between cows and sheep but just about everyone had pigs. And they were happy as a pig in a poke. Or wallowing like a pig in slop, or fast as a greased pig or possibly slipperier that a greased pig. I always wondered, who was greasing pigs and why? So as I was thinking about hogwash and how hard it is to make a silk purse out of a sows ear—that’s one I still don’t get—I thought of all the sleazy products and snake oil salesman I encountered as a youth. Like X-Ray glasses. Remember those? There was almost always an ad for them on the inside cover of comic books. You only had to send in some nearly unobtainable sum, like two dollars, and you could be the proud owner of a pair of glasses that would penetrate the secrets of all and sundry. Oh, the thrill of seeing through someone’s clothes or through walls and catching people in all kinds of compromising positions. As the glasses never seemed to be featured in Rainbow Pony and Veronica and Jughead comic books, I’m pretty sure the ads were directed at young males. And many the young male was disappointed when, after he hoed the neighbors weeds or collected empty pop bottles for their deposit, he sent off that hard earned money: Cause six weeks later—an eternity in kid years—back came these cheesy fall-apart spectacle things, which appeared to be fashioned from the bottoms of the coke bottles he had earlier taken in for deposit. And when you peered through them, all you could see were blurry outlines, everyone reduced to shadowing skeletal renderings with absolutely no salacious detail. A good lesson for every young person in the principle of caveat emptor. Which I believe means “cavity empty” as in the hole in your brain that led you to do such a stupid thing. But then again there are those in this world who do things first and only look for reasons later. Many times they actually survive to breed another generation. So I’m thinking the next generation is way too sophisticated to buy into that whole X-Ray glasses thing. Today’s kids know all about the dangers of X-Rays anyhow. How much cancer do you think Superman caused with his prying eyes? I’m thinking a new product. Something techno and believable that plays on kid’s desires for secret power. How about the reverse de-pixilator? Yeah, a computerized viewing window that de-pixilates those TV censor smudges. It reconstructs the naked flesh right before your eyes. And bonus, it sees right through the mottled glass of bathroom windows. The reverse de-pixilator unlocks secrets with the best of digital reconstructive software technology. And heck with comic books, you could email the misleading ad direct to techno kids. Using that other pork product—Spam.
America, ya gotta love it.

#386 Hotwire

Yesterday I changed my first circuit breaker. This guy who had been renting my house had put in a gas dryer and for no apparent reason had taken out the circuit breaker that serviced the electric dryer outlet. When the workers came over to install a new electric dryer, no power. So I looked at the hole and I looked at the other circuit breakers and asked myself that perfect Darwin List question, how hard can it be? If you haven’t heard of the Darwin list just Google it from any available computer. It’s a compendium of stories of misguided folks who’ve done all sorts of weird, stupid and deadly things. Many of them are probably urban myths but it’s a fun read anyhow. So being fully aware of how stupid the comment “how hard can it be” was and being just as aware that trained electricians die everyday, I resolved to give it a try. The first thing I did was go down to the hardware store and look at circuit breakers. The store I went to seemed to have a number of different brands but only a couple of types. I got one that looked like it might do the trick. It had a couple of snapping switch things like I remembered from dryer circuit breakers from other houses, and a place to stick in the wires and so on. I took it back to my house and realized that not all circuit breaker are alike. The breaker I was trying to put it had a different back end than the other ones that were in the stack. The old ones had kind of an angular notch on the backside that helped position it to snap into what I assumed to be the grounding tree in the middle of the box. Anyhow it was the wrong size. I was left with a dilemma. Take one of the other circuit breakers out and down to the store or figure out some way to draw a picture of an old one so I could compare its shape to a new one. And then I had an inspiration and a chagrin moment at the same time. I’ve railed for years now about cellphones and more recently cellphone cameras. Camera? It’s supposed to be a phone, dangit. What a needless piece of electronic gingerbread. What possible, real, honest to goodness, practical use could there be in having a camera in your phone? Well, guess what, if you take a picture of a circuit breaker in place you can then be spared the task of taking out the breaker or the embarrassment of not being able to draw one. So I whipped out my cellphone and snapped a picture. When you do it, my phone has this cool little shutter sound effect too. Nifty. I then took my phone down to an electrical supply store, un-flipped it, showed the counter guy the picture and voila—he didn’t have anything like it. The next day I took an old circuit breaker out, took it to a different place, they had what I needed, and as you can see and hear, my house and computer still have power. Not only that, I appear to have regained complete control of my nervous system. Did I mention that main power cutoff switch?
America, ya gotta love it.