Wednesday, February 28, 2007

#462 Depravity

We were having one of those discussions around the office the other day about natural forces. You know, like death and taxes, and gravity and depravity. The consensus was that even if there isn’t original sin there certainly is enough current sin to go around. And people go out of their way to justify what they want to do already as being less than sin. As if some rules are now footnoted in the old Ten Commandments. I call it bachelor party morality. Like the “500 mile rule.” You got you’re your basic commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Hey. It’s got an asterisk. Follow the asterisk to the bottom of the moral page and it says, within 500 miles. Oh yeah. Sure. Travel was a little problematic in the days of the ancient Hebrews. After all, they spent forty years wandering around a desert it would have taken your average Bedouin two weeks to cross. Of course, the Hebrews were fresh from the navigator-deprived occupation of Egyptian slave and all. Plus, they were following their faith, which at that time was taking the form of a column of smoke or cloud or pillar of fire. So, you know, desert winds mean following clouds isn’t always the most direct route. So I can see how adultery committed beyond five hundred miles may have seemed like sleeping with someone in a different life. But today? Pick up the phone and you’re in Las Vegas in a few hours. And what happens in that desert is a lot different than what happened in the Sinai. Although I do think I saw a few golden calves when I was there. Or maybe it was golden-earringed bluehairs being led to the slaughter of their retirement money. I’m sure the husbands that went to early graves providing that retirement are happy watching from above as Agnes and Edna and Maybel keno there way to the catfood aisle. And bachelor parties. There’s a moral monstrosity. Let’s see. I’m committing myself to one woman for the rest of my life. I’ve sworn my undying love to her. I’ve asked her to marry me and share my life with me. But before I sign the actual contract I’m gonna party till the cows go home. Call up a stripper and a hooker and have one last fling before I tie the knot. What’s that all about? If you love her, you don’t want to mess around on her. What’s this one last chance nonsense? You had your last chance before you asked her to marry you. It was the asking-to-marry that was the real contract. Not some piece of paper, which with your bachelor nonsense you have prenuptially dishonored. At what point does the commitment start? When you tell her you love her. It’s like mardi gras, the big all-senses orgy before Lent. Uh oh, we’re gonna have to give things up to prove our faith. Let’s have one big satanic party before it hits. Yeah—I’m quitting smoking on New Years, so I’m gonna smoke a pack and a half on New Years Eve. Hope no Hebrews are following me.
America, ya gotta love it

#461 Depresso-bot

Some depression is triggered by the boomerang effect. Kind of like the caffeine withdrawal headache. Caffeine makes your blood vessels smaller and you blood run faster. Notches up your metabolism. Your system adapts. Take away the caffeine and blood vessels expand again. In the area of your cranium, that causes a headache. Some say there’s a bit of a boomerang effect with the mood elevation element of caffeine as well. What goes up must come down, spinning wheels spinning round, and all that blood sweat and tears stuff. The elation is countered by depression. Yin and yang, black and white—espresso and depresso. Speaking of depression, the super bowl is over. And with it the controversy over its many ads. The mystique of the super bowl ad has become huge. For the entire rest of the year remotes are poised in hand, ready to rub out a commercial from perception with the simple twitch of a thumb. But at the super bowl people actually tune in for the commercials. I was at a big party and when the game was on people were loud, raucous, and talking away merrily. But when the commercials came on people started shushing each other. Everyone stared raptly at the TV, savoring every nuance of Madison Avenue at its supposed best. After the game the post game analysis started. America rolled the super bowl experience around in its mouth like a jaded wine taster, sniffed, snorted and spit out the backwash. Chicago’s performance was a letdown or expected, Prince’s performance was great or he was a shadow of his former self. And this commercial or that scored big time or missed the field goal by inches. One of the commercials that was controversial was the depressed robot. In case you didn’t see it, it went like this. A line robot in a car factory misses screwing in a bolt. His human supervisor summarily fires him. He roams the streets, tries his luck in a series of dead end jobs, fails some more, ends up homeless and in despair and is finally shown on a bridge obviously ready to jump off and commit suicide. The scene changes and it’s all a bad robot dream. The most vocal reactions to the commercial came from the mental health professionals and the suicide prevention folk. Suicide is not funny, they said. What surprised me was that no one picked up the excruciating irony of the whole thing. That same tragedy: losing your high paying job, being forced to work two dead end jobs to make ends meet, scraping to pay your bills, losing all your savings to a medical emergency because you no longer have union benefits, finally ready to jump off a bridge in despair, all of these things were the same things that thousands and thousands of human workers faced when they were cast out in the street and replaced by, yep, the same type of robot depicted in this ad. Spinning wheels, spinning round. Watch out for the needle Sleeping Beauty.
America, ya gotta love it

#460 Drip Cake

So there was this story in the news. Seems this bar in New Mexico is putting talking urinal cakes in their men’s restroom. That’s right. The idea being that if the urinal cake reminds you not to drink and drive, that may be timely enough to be helpful. That and they get national news coverage for a wacky idea. Because it was all the rage on TV, in the newspaper, and on radio. Everyone was all a twitter over the talking urinal cakes. Being the empathetic fellow that I am, two things occurred to me. First, if I was the drunk in question, and at my first encounter with the urinal I was already three sheets to the wind, I’m imagining I would swear off drink forever. I mean, if you were plowed and a urinal starting talking to you, would that not qualify under the heading “harshing your buzz?” Paranoid fellow that I am, I’m already way too suspicious of the little camera thing that keeps track of my movements so it knows when to automatically flush. Add talking to the interactive scenario and we notched up the intrusiveness scale to “I’m not coming back to this place” levels. What next? Mechanical robot hands that reach out from the toilet and zip me up? So there I am and the urinal cake informs me that driving drunk is a bad idea. Fine. Then tell me if I actually am drunk. That’s what I thought the thing was when I first heard the story. I figured the chatty cake included some little chemical strip that detected blood alcohol, or urine alcohol in this case, and gave you a canned response based on your level of inebriation. Nope. The thing isn’t related to reality at all. It just sounds interactive. It’s like asking questions of the old Magic Eight Ball. It kept its answers vague enough it could have made a living as a telephone psychic. My other thought was: What was the inventor thinking when he decided to invent this? What the world really needs is a talking urinal cake? There’s a market niche waiting to be filled. And what was the guy doing when he thought of this? Standing at a urinal? Wishing it would talk to him? I’m sooooo lonely….But heck, as long as he’s opened up the market, I think we should whiz in and ramp up the spinoffs before word leaks out. Starbucks didn’t stop with coffee, they did chai and frappacinos. So head on entrepre-urine-eurs. How about instead of a urinal cake, we give a nod to health-conscious America and have a urinal bagel? Have ‘em for your home so you can help your little boy with advanced potty training. You got that whole target practice accuracy thing. Health Clubs could have urinal power bars that detected steroids and creatine. Coffee bars could have urinal biscotti. Just the thing for the caffeine urge and purge. Yeah I’ll have a grande drip please. Frankly I think it’s a good idea. We can fool a whole new generation. Urinal cakes always smell so nice-- pink peppermint and wintergreen-- but they always taste so terrible.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, February 23, 2007

#459 Dammac

I discussed the word tarmac recently and speculated that it came from a possible conjunction and contraction of the words tar macadam. I was right. Except I pronounced it wrong. I’ve always pronounced it mac-a-damn. It should be muh-kad-um. Macadam is the original English word for what we normally call pavement or asphalt. English as in England English. Turns out, tarmac is a name that was trademarked in 1903 and was in common use in England by 1919 as a replacement for runway. Tarmac as a trademark name was derived from the word tarmacadam,(inflect it like Armageddon) which was a pavement created by spraying tar over crushed stone. The Mac in tarmac and macadam had nothing to do with McDonald’s. It had to do with McAdam. Yep. The pavement pioneer John McAdam. He was this Scottish engineer who proposed the creation of roadbeds using various levels of crushed rock way back in 1822. He was, in fact, against the use of binding materials on that rock. The binding material, tar, which then got added to both the road and the name is something that would have upset him. In fact, he didn’t even approve of the use of rollers in road building. Maybe it was a carryover from how he hated waiting for his wife to get her hair ready. Or possibly he thought by making the crushed rocks of uniform enough size, they would hang together of their own accord passively and flatly. Kind of an ideal engineering sort of fetish. Who knows? The only people who understand engineers are other engineers. Fortunately for modern roadbuilders—and drivers—John died in 1836, but not before his crushed rock layering method was also awarded verb status, with the word macadamize. As in I macadamized, she will macadamize, and if that guy at the end of the bar macadamize at my girlfriend one more time I’m gonna hit him with a crushed rock. The idea of mixing tar with the crushed gravel started a lot later, in the 1880s, and so poor John had no say over part of his name being bound for eternity with the dread tar.
Had I known all this when I was walking across the tarmac to the plane in Mexico, I’m sure I would have been much more appreciative. Unfortunately, I was more concerned with the excruciating pain in my ears from the screaming pitch of the jet engines all revving up around me. I thought it was nice that all the runway workers appeared to have on ear protection. And I’m sure that the deafening silence in the plane for the first hour of the trip was normal. After all, we were all recovering from some serious vacationing. But I did think it a little odd that the flight attendants had to mime everything. I mean they were pretty good with the emergency exit demonstration but you haven’t lived till you’ve seen someone try to mime the question: “Would you like some peanuts?” No but I would like some McAdam’s scotch…
America, ya gotta love it

#458 Dive

Recently I took an airplane trip. And when I did there was one airport where I had to walk across an open area to the plane. I didn’t get to walk through one of those extendable covered bridge-like walkways that they call a “gate.” Airplane lingo is so cool. It’s kind of like nautical language. Those in the know can be really “in the know” by dropping nautical jargon in a condescending manner. What a landlubber would call a set of steps, nautical folk call a ladder. Bathrooms are heads and left and right are port and, I think, muscatel. Wait a minute, that’s homeless lingo. Airplane argot evolved much the same way I suppose. There were numerous things unique to airplanes and they applied words to them that made other jet-setters feel in with the in crowd. Never mind that now people are shuttled through like so many cattle on their way to the abattoir. And that the extendible tunnel airplane gate looks like nothing more than the final loading chute into boxcars destined for the slaughterhouse. Airplane travel reminds me of tubes. A spiral tube on the way up to the parking garage, a tube across the street on the way in to check-in, a bunch of low-ceilinged tubes in the terminal. (That’s what they should call the corral before the the cattle’s final boxcar, the terminal.) Another cattle line on the way to security. Then a walk through a small tube to get your daily dose of radiation while your carryon baggage gets x-rayed till your toothpaste tube glows. Then another tube to the waiting area, the extendable gate tube, and finally the plane itself, which can be described pretty accurately as a tube pinched on both ends with a couple of wings bolted on. When you get off, it’s all in reverse, except you get to watch your baggage shot out of another tube, looking like some tube on the way half digested it. So about the only place that looks at all open before you launch off into the glory and freedom of the wild blue yonder—in a tube— is the area where the plane sits. You never experience it directly unless you go to a small airport and when they tell you to walk across it to get to the plane, they call it by a special aeronautical name: the tarmac. Tarmac. Is that a made up word or what? Was it possible to use a word even vaguely related to its meaning or use? Couldn’t it be walkway, as opposed to where the planes take off, the runway? Or perhaps instead of the route the planes take in the air, the flight path, you could call this area the walk path. Nope, everything that’s not an actual runway is the tarmac. Mac. Like McDonalds designed the modern airport. I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say tarmac is a short form of tar macadam. Which is, I’m pretty sure is, um, asphalt. Pavement. Tarmac. It seems a little uninspired. I mean boatyards upgraded to marinas. How about aero-ina? Sounds kind of like a tube-shaped pasta.
America, ya gotta love it

#457 Divertisement

American culture is sometimes like a dead cat so mangy even the crows won’t pick at it. I was fortunate enough to receive a food gift at Christmas time. And doubly fortunate that it wasn’t perishable. It nice to get stuff that’s in sealed containers and has enough of a shelf life to take me past groundhogs day. And this was it was a Hickory Farms gift pack. Oh boy, I thought, as I’m sure did the thoughtful sender, Hickory farms smoked meat and cheeses. Tasty delicacies to snack on at the bowl of the super Sabbath—no trademark violated or implied. The one I got even had a kookie catchy name for its special assortment. It was called Ham-A-Rama. Which at first reminded me of the Hamma Hamma river on the Olympic Peninsula. But them when I said name Ham-A-Rama out loud it invoked the vision of a World Wide Wrestling event of some sort. Turns out the term Ham-A-Rama was less an advertisement than a divert-isement. It was meant to divert consumers from the reality of the foodstuffs arrayed so nicely in their bumpy green plastic molded nest. The first cheese that drew my eye was the Hickory Farms Havarti, or so it proclaimed in the boldest type. My one and three-quarters readers revealed the next line, which muttered, “pasteurized process cheese spread havarti type flavor.” Uh oh. From there it was, pasteurized process cheese spread with natural smoke flavor, pasteurized process cheese spread with onion, and a pasteurized process cheese spread called simply, “Cheddy”. I began to sense a theme. And interesting that the only cheese that proclaimed anything natural bragged about “natural” smoke flavor. Mmm boy, don’t want any of that artificial smoke. Heck no, were out at Hickory Farms all night long holding our pasteurized process cheese spread over a real fire. There were also some interesting little things nestled in the bottom of the box. They were called Hickory Farms smoked flavor “chubs.” Which were also, you guessed it, pasteurized process cheese spread, but with just “smoke” flavor and not “natural smoke” flavor. They were shaped like the classic Hickory Farms summer sausage, in that functional and somewhat Freudian shape that has that oh-so-appetizing name: the chub. Pass me a chub, Myrtle, I’ve got a hankering for Hickory Farms. The gift pack was rounded out with a classic triangular tin of ham, in a convenient 8-ounce mini-me size and the even more classic aforementioned original recipe summer sausage chub. Which had hickory smoke flavoring added. Apparently it’s more difficult to hold chubs over the fire than processed cheese spread. As I looked at the labels further I noticed that every flavor of processed cheese spread started with cheddar. I guess the original Hickory Farms is still there, they’ve just got more clever with rendering. The wheel turns, whether its life...or cheese.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

#456 Diverse Pulp

It’s actually a lot of fun watching things change and then change back. The other day I was at the supermarket, or perhaps it was the grocery store, or maybe it was a food-and-drug place, and I chanced to see some orange juice. The label on the orange juice that caught my eye said “More Pulp!” And it appeared to be bragging about it. Hmm. Didn’t they used to brag about less pulp? Seems like it was only a few years ago that orange juice companies were competing to be the “less pulp” alternative. Pulp was one of those words that was considered bad, like in pulp fiction, and somehow slightly disgusting. Wood pulp was the dregs, pulp fiction was harsh and classless, orange juice pulp was what was left in your squeezer after you were done, well, squeezing. Not now apparently. Perhaps they’ve discovered orange juice pulp is one of those things that has healthy benefits, like the skin of a potato or the peel of an apple—the outside part with all the vitamins, like the blackened crust on a barbequed steak or the top of a muffin. Anyhow. As I viewed the cartoned-up, refrigerated, fresh squeezed orange juice, I pondered two things. What does fresh squeezed mean since the pull date on most of the cartons was at least a week out, and two, how many different levels of pulp could you get? No pulp, light pulp, more pulp. It was like the fat varieties of milk. By the time I chose, none of them would be fresh. Really, this fresh squeezed thing has gotten out of control. When we were in Mexico every little café had fresh squeezed orange juice. One of them, I swear, was Tang. Mmm Mmm, fresh-squeezed tang. Now with added pulp. New Thought. The other day I typed my piece on a laptop and I must confess it threw me. The muted tapping noise of the laptop, and worse, the feel of the keys and their rigid geometrical and flattened two-dimensional layout was very weird indeed. The keys are bigger too and there aren’t those cool spaces between them that can collect arm hairs and Dorito crumbs. I guess that’s a good idea. Laptops are supposed to be lightweight. You wouldn’t want them building up a bunch of biscotti bits from the Wifi coffee house. I suppose for a touch typist the board is laid out perfectly, but to me the letters seem set too far up. Cause the resting area for your wrist is included at the base of the laptop. I’m used to the edge of the keys being right on the edge of the keyboard. The distance between my desk and the keyboard is a quarter inch from the spacebar. Right below the spacebar on the laptop is a little magic mouse area, with wrist resting on either side. Unfortunately, its slowing my typing down, and as I will never qualify as anything other than a fast hunt and pecker that isn’t a good thing for my typing output. Which is not a good change, cause it makes my self esteem feel like it’s been beat to a, um, pulp. Orange you glad I said that?
America, ya gotta love it

#455 Dollars and Sense

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. And as I get older it seems the pace or change is quicker than ever. I expect change. Change is the only constant in life, cause let’s face it, even death and taxes have changed over the years. But still, the rapidity with which things change today makes me wish I was walking to school uphill both ways like my parents did. A lady at a meeting I was at was speaking of an even older lady. She wanted to describe the lady as feisty, I guess, so she said the lady had snap in her garters. There was a definite age line in the room that could be defined by the knowledge among the members of what a garter was. And why describing a garter as having snap in it could be indicative of meaning in a metaphorical way. Garters are still sold, even with the advent of knitted sock elasticity and other textile triumphs. They even sell an item called a shirt garter, which is different than a sleeve garter in that you hook one end of it to your shirttails and the other end of it to your socks. It holds your shirt in and your socks up. No wrinkles around the waist and no wrinkles around your ankles. The stick to place up your rear is sold separately. Speaking of change. Right now I’m typing this essay on a laptop. But I’m having a little difficulty reconciling this process with the word typing. As there is no type present, particularly at the end of the metal arms that used to slam against platen and paper. Platen. There’s a word whose time is done. I wonder when Webster will discard it from the next edition. Ah change. And that most ubiquitous of modern realities, change back. Remember when banks trained us to use ATMs? Got us, in fact, to depend on them. Then they got all arrogant when they had us addicted and started charging us ATM fees. Well the wheel of commerce has turned. Now the banks are competing again. Free checking isn’t enough. So they’re offering free ATMs anywhere any time. Funny how they do that. Offer something free because it saved them all the cumbersome costs of hiring personnel and dealing with long lines during the few hours the banks were open. Self-service meant fewer labor costs for them. Then create a new revenue source by taking it away. And then recondition us to pay for what should be free. And then bring back the freeness as if they’re so generous. Condition us to expect less and then deliver more. Even though more should have been the baseline. Like this investment counselor I heard. He said the prognosticators were wrong. Last year they were predicting oil prices to be a hundred dollars a barrel. The reality, he said, is oil prices are now at 60. Um, sixty still seems like a lot more than forty. And sixty still caught the major US car manufacturers with their pants down again. When will they learn? Change is the only constant. And the only change-back the consumer really wants is at the pump.
America, ya gotta love it

#454 Diff-abled

I probably have some mental disease or something but I’m one of those people that gets caught up in the sounds of words or phrases. Like that condition where people report that they see sounds. Or that numbers have intrinsic colors. I think it’s called synesthesia. These people’s experience of the word crackle is like seeing a fire pop across the hearth. The sight of a waterfall triggers a cascade of notes in their brain. Franz Liszt was said to have had this disorder—or perhaps “different order” is more like it, though kind of cumbersome. How about diff-order? It’s quicker to say. Differently-abled instead of disabled is nice to but diff-abled would shorten up the conversation.
So sometimes I wonder at how little it takes to shift meaning. There’s the classic psychological test. A tester holds up two diagrams. One of them is spiky and angular the other one is rounded and curved. He then shows the testee two words—kiki and bobu. Nonsense words, not related to any true English words, and yet invariably, when asked to match the word to the diagram, people give the spiky picture the name kiki and the round figure gets the name bobu. Go figure. So I’m amazed when you take a word like congenial—with its shapes of sounds and positive and friendly association—and by shifting one sound—neee—end up with the word congeal. Now the blood is congealing around the cooling cut of meat. The curds are congealing in the whey. And a word that meant good times and togetherness, congenial, becomes congeal, essentially another word for clot. I have a good friend who as a child watched Mission Impossible on TV. Every time the tape played in the beginning of the show, she thought the guy telling Peter Graves the plan said “the secretary will disembowel all knowledge of your actions.” It makes a certain amount of sense. Particularly if you are dealing with a spy program where the possibility of torture if the people are caught is so strong. And in the sense the secretary is cutting the guts out of the knowledge in question and making it seem as if it never existed, it works. The Libby/Rove trial has been that way. The defense has tried to cut the guts out of the prosecutor’s case.
Or how about the word trifecta? Is it just me or does it sound like some sort of infection? I mentioned to my friend Kevin that trifecta sounded like a social disease. He said maybe a social disease that you get from a ménage a trois. And then there’s the doctor in town whose sign says cranio-sacral therapy. Puzzling. Cranio is Latin for head. Sacral is the section of the spine that plugs into the hips. Where barristas get tattooed. And carpenters put their pencils. Derriere. Their rear. So does a cranio-sacral therapist treat people with their heads up their—ask me no questions I’ll tell you no lies. But I will disembowel any knowledge of your diff-order.
America, ya gotta love it

#453 Drones

Either Marijuana is getting stronger or hippies are getting stupider. The other day I saw this guy on the street and he was trying to hook a pair of shoes over a telephone wire. All well and good. Except they were loafers. He seemed like the perfect candidate for a new job service I heard about lately. It’s this place you can go on the internet that hires you to do jobs too menial for a computer. Now follow me on this one. Remember when computers burst on American society and how it was much ballyhooed that they would save humans from the drudgery of meaningless tasks. That they would calculate all the prime numbers for us and do the tedious math equations that once blistered scientists’ fingers on slide rules. Flash forward to 2007. Seems there are plenty of jobs that computers aren’t good at. And reminding you that your books are late at the library in a throat cancer victim’s voice is just one of them. Things like face recognition and picking numbers out of background scenery—like, say, the address of your house in a surveillance picture taken because you made an oblique reference to blowing up the powers that be in a humor essay. These are tasks that computers simply suck at. And that human beings, even those stoned enough to try to hook a pair of loafers on a telephone wire, can manage quite well—all for less than the price of a Snickers. This website,, pays people pennies a task. Do enough of them and you can work your way up to the price of a Hostess Cupcake or a Twinkie. And it’s just the thing to while away the hours in a dark room reeking of petuli. The website isn’t saying but I ‘m guessing the human-computer drones are also capable of recognizing those squiggly bent numbers other websites are always using as spam filters or password protectors. Is this a great country or what? Spam companies hiring human drones to work around the limitations of computer pattern recognition so they can use computers to send you spam. And what do you want to bet some of that spam gets right back to the human drones. And that’s not all, seems that internet gaming is a big deal and more than just your stay-up-all-night geeks are involved in it. I hear that soon ESPN is going to be featuring online video game tournaments. No doubt sponsored by such geek-friendly brands as Doritos and Red Bull. But, since some worker bees actually have to live ordinary lives, they are hiring basement dwellers to play games all day long and all night too for them, to get them to the next level in their online games. Play through all the boring stuff and get the next talisman or weapon or power upgrade. So I ask again, is this a great country or what? Normal, thoughtful, decent, hardworking Americans hiring other people to play their games for them. Honey, I’m tired, could you have the kid down the street play my game for me? I gotta turn on the Superbowl.
America, ya gotta love it

#452 Dumbstuff

I’m holding in my hand a testimony to the persistence of American commerce. It’s an example of the proliferation, nay, the ubiquity of mailing lists. Now if you come from a family like me, whose marital circumstances have changed over the years, you know how sometimes you’ll get a piece of junkmail targeted at your old spouse. I was married to a woman who also had an ex-spouse and a couple of years into our marriage, we started receiving mail for our ex-spouses at our new address. Addresses where neither ex had ever lived. Then, when computers entered the fray, we would get mail where some of the ex-spouse’s names would be combined. I once got a letter with my current spouse’s ex-husband’s full name and my former spouse’s first name and my last name. The piece of mail I received the other day is even weirder. The address line begins with my first name. Then there’s a semi-colon, then my last wife’s maiden name, then her first name, then my last name. And here’s the kicker, it was delivered to the former address of my current house. That’s right, the post office changed the address of this house over 12 years ago. My last wife never lived at that address, maiden name, married name, or named-as-a-defendant-in-a-lawsuit name. But hey. The zip code on the address had the right 4 digit extension. The mass mailer who bought this butchered mailing list? An investment counselor who’s trying to tell me he’s an expert in how to spend my money. I’m hoping he’s not going to tell me I should invest in a mailing list. So, to totally change the subject, recently I flew a plane. We were on the tarmac for a while. Not, thank goodness, for 14 hours like those people pushing for an airline bill of rights. There’s commerce gone wrong. In order not to lose its place in the queue, an airline refused to move off the tarmac in the takeoff line and waited there for 14 hours. With customers pleading to be taken back to the gate. With toliets overflowing and children screaming and severe butt cramping kicking in from being crammed into one seatback-up tray-table-locked position for hours on end. And what’s weird is, no passenger decided to test the emergency slide. Personally, I was ready to pop the exit on the flight to Hawaii. More than 5 hours in any one confined space with a hundred other people and I’m psychological toast. So anyhow, when we were waiting on the tarmac the cabin attendant, formerly flight attendant, formerly steward or stewardess, told every one to “power down” their electronic devices. Now, I’m marginally okay with powering something up. Like firing up a motor. You supply a form of energy to something to make it active. I’m not okay with powering something down. You are not powering it at all. You are removing the power. You don’t power it down. You shut it off. Like we all wish we could do to the flow of junkmail.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

#451 Do Not

So it goes without saying that I’m a student of American culture. I like it when I see people challenge other people in subtle ways to see if they’re thinking. Like this lady whose car I saw the other day. She got me for a moment. She was driving a 2006 Volvo and it had a Dukakis for President bumper sticker. It took a little while to register. Dukakis ran for president way before 2006. And no one could even own a 2006 car period when the last election took place. Or possibly, the duke is gonna strap on his helmet, free Willie Horton and run again in 2008. Oh well, if I ever need to feel hopeful I can always turn to science. Like the scientist who recently came up with a method to caffeinate baked goods. Actually, his breakthrough was to develop caffeine that doesn’t leave a bitter taste. The adding-it-to-baked-goods is just a clever marketing tool. Saying you made a bitterless caffeine doesn’t real grab one. Saying you made a caffeinated doughnut screams wacky headline all across the media. Which it did. Every news service had stories on the breakthrough in doughnut technology. Jokes about one stop cop shops and college students cramming crullers while cramming for exams abounded. Krispy Kreme, the new corporate paradigm doughnut darling from a few years back, managed to get stale footage on the air of their fabulous jillion doughnut conveyor belts. Everyone wanted to talk about the hot doughnut. The frankenmeal of Red Bull and bearclaw in one product. Monster maple bars. Rock Star jelly rolls¾with sprinkles. Energy drink and sloth food rolled into one tantalizing pastry. Look for Starbucks to open up on every corner formerly owned by Dunkin Donuts. Bye bye biscotti, hello frappacino fritter. But that product, for all its breakthrough technology doesn’t hold a candle to another recent piece of American ingenuity. And if it did hold a candle to it there wouldn’t be any danger. Cause the new product is designed to neutralize that most obnoxious of human traits, flatulence. A company by the name of Under-Tec has unveiled a new line of “gas-eater” underpants. The airtight design and implanted charcoal filters allow the wearer to break wind without bystanders noticing. Blind deaf bystanders that is. I’m pretty sure the sub-woofin unders don’t come with sound baffles, so the only flatulence you’re saved embarrassment from are SBDs, and SBDs have always been tough to trace anyhow. Unless you’re in an intimate one on one couple situation and there’s no dog around. Personally I wonder if Under-Tec has solved the Depends syndrome. The crinkly giveaway noise one associates with adult diapers. Not to mention the extra bulk in the pants department. Woe to the incontinent that gets a playful pat on the derriere from a blue-haired hottie at the nursing home. Still, these undereaters could come in handy next time you have a caffeinated whole bean doughnut.
America, ya gotta love it

#450 Final Ending

All in all I’d have to say a colonoscopy is much less world shattering than people make it out to be. Going to the doctor is almost always privacy-invasive. And the notion of putting a tube in to an orifice usually engineered for moving things out is really no different than throwing up is to eating. When the scope-age was completed, they rolled me back into the prep/recovery room. As she hooked me back up to the blood pressure and pulse monitor, the nurse told me to release any of the air they’d blown into me that may be causing discomfort, then pulled the curtain shut and left. I squirmed for a bit in politeness then decided to add a baritone to the sounds of the Mornin’ butt-crackle choir I heard from the adjoining cubicles. After awhile, the nurse came back and told me the doctor would be in with instructions for both me and my driver. We are all supposed to have a driver as most of the folks opt for heavy sedation. And sedation seemed to require more air pumped in too, judging from the intensity of the wind instruments in the surrounding symphony. The doc did come in and hand me an instruction sheet for my recovery. He said since I hadn’t been sedated he could just tell me direct to drink fluids, don’t drive, and look for signs of blood in my stool. Not to worry, I thought smugly, I don’t have one stool in my entire house. The nurse came back in and I showed her my release sheet, which included four very nice pictures of the inside of my colon. Look, I said, they’re all arranged like pictures from a Woolworth’s booth. She smiled nicely, obviously humoring the slightly drugged patient, and obviously too young to have ever heard of, much less been in, a Woolworth’s. I tried again. This picture looks like punctuation I told her. She looked at the photo is question. See, I said, it’s just part of a colon. A semi-colon. She actually stifled a titter and hurried out. Like I said before, one laugh in that room and all hilarity would break loose. Darn tootin’, I called after her. Finally, they told me I could get dressed and led me into the room to meet my driver. She asked how things went, any special instructions, and I said yes, the doc said for the next hour I would be subject to explosive flatulence so stay away from open flames. That did it, my nurse and the receptionist, the only other people in the room, stared giggling till tears came to their eyes. I left smiling. I’d finally gotten the staff to lighten up. When I got home, I looked again at the recovery instruction sheet. I noted that the doctor was called a gastro–enter-ologist. Hmm, I thought, enter-ologist is right but I’d drop the Gastro. And worse, the recovery sheet had the oddest title. I mean, considering I was looking for unsightly drippage from the area of exploration. It said, “Discharge Instructions.” Eeww. I hope that takes care of itself.
America ya gotta love it.

#449 Fairview

My colonoscopy experience continued shortly after I was exposed to the flatating fellow patient. A nurse pushed the gurney I was on into the procedure room. The doctor was at his computer like the Wizard of Oz at his special effects desk and he looked up and asked how I was doing. I told him fine and if it was all the same to him, I was curious and would like to stay awake for the procedure. He said okay, we’ll just sedate you less, if it gets uncomfortable, we can always put you under. He then had me roll over onto my side and positioned one of the monitors so I would have a fair view of the proceedings. After the nurse slipped some light narcotics into my IV we were ready to proceed. Again, every effort was made to insure my dignity. The sedation nurse stayed on my side of the bed and the only nurse who was treated to a view of my derriere was his direct assistant. The actual deployment of the proctoscope was done by the doctor. I felt a little unusual sensation up my backside and then the view of my colon opened up on the screen like a bad version of Fantastic Voyage. Alas, no Raquel Welch in a tight white jumpsuit. Ah, I said to myself, inner peace. I’m finally gonna know myself inside and out The doctor asked what I thought and I said f-ass-cinating. He traveled pretty quickly on the way in. Having never driven this stretch of road, I was a little disoriented at first. Plus I could feel a cramping sensation when he blew in puffs of air to expand the colon in front of the camera. When we reached the end, he backed up much more slowly. Then as we journeyed in reverse through my colon he commented on some of the landmarks, the opening to the appendix, the cecum, where the small intestine connects, then back through to the rectum. I must admit, one of the drawbacks of being able to watch was my tendency to want to take control. I don’t know how many times I almost said, turn left here. Hold it, what’s that? No stop! Talk about a back seat driver. Back seat is right. In any event, we didn’t find one polyp. Not one. The doc had said in his pre-procedure interview that if he saw any he’d snip them on the spot and biopsy them later. And frankly, skeptic that I am with all things medical, one of the reasons I wanted to stay awake was to be there if and when such a polyp reared its ugly head. I didn’t want my bill to include a bunch of fantasy polyps harvested into my doc’s 401K. At the end the doc pulled out the scope, told me to roll over, and congratulated me on my great colon. I thanked him, and resisted the urge to shake hands. He looked a little tuckered. The Wizard of Oz persona was gone and he looked a lot more human. Proctologists are usually pretty optimistic people; after all, they spend their whole life looking up, but I’m sure that at the end of the day, they’re looking for a light at the end of the tunnel just like everyone else.
America ya gotta love it.

#448 Farrrrt

So as I said before, the colonoscopy people go out of their way to make the whole thing as pleasant as possible. Still, their senses of humor seemed a little lacking. My attitude towards life, especially during stressful times, is to keep things as light as possible, but I suppose I can understand how the staff was a little wary about being accused of cracking people up. In any event, when I first went into the prep room, the young female nurse who got me situated had on a little nametag that said Team Endoscopy. Oh no, I thought. These people have been to a retreat. They’re a team. Part of Team Endoscopy. Better, I suppose, than that water heater company the Rheem Team, but still. Team Endoscopy? Endoscopy’s tough to say. And why a team? It’s not like I’m gonna call them when the world’s in danger, like the Justice League or the A-Team. They all had matching smocks, and the curtains and the bedclothes matched their smocks too. I mean, the place was feng shui-ed to within an inch of its life. And way too cutesy. If I’d have seen stuffed animals anywhere like, say, smiling at me from the head of the endoscope, I was outta there. Anyhow, the nurse led me into a small area, drew a curtain around it, handed me a backless gown, told me to disrobe from the waist down, and slipped out a crack in the curtain. I first checked to see if I was wearing a robe, shrugged, and took off my shoes, socks, and pants. Then I slipped on the backless gown and employed my years of cook-apron-wearing to tie a behind-the-back knot in it. I settled into the bed and called for the nurse. She came in and took my blood pressure, started an IV, went out, drew the curtain, and left me to wait in dread. I heard someone being wheeled into the curtained cubicle next to mine. She complained of cramping and the nurse told her it was just from the air they had blown into her colon and she needed to let that go, there in the privacy of her own curtained cubicle. The Japanese once used charcoal hibachis to heat their houses and never died from carbon monoxide poisoning because their walls were made of paper. Not good for sound privacy but great for gas exchange. So it is with curtained cubicles. I could hear the gas exchange process taking place with the lady’s colon next door. And there appeared to be, I deduced, lots of air blown into a colon for the procedure I was about to undergo, as the lady in question appeared to have a lot to release. The pitch of the sound itself, since not normally experienced in polite company—and therefore mildly disconcerting—was bad enough, but the duration of the note was even worse. I was reminded of sitting at a railroad crossing and having to wait for a particularly long train to pass. Where was the caboose on this toot toot train? No wonder the staff was always working so hard to stay serious. One titter and the damn would burst into an all out giggle fest.
America ya gotta love it.

#447 Far In

I’m doing my best to describe the fun side of colonoscopies, because too many people avoid them. They are intimidated by the prospect. Through ignorance, they think it might be incredibly painful or worse, embarrassing. In fact, the doctors and nurses make every effort to make one feel protected and keep one’s exposure discreet. I have to say, during the entire process, the word that best describes all the personnel is polite. It’s kind of an interesting juxtaposition, everyone being incredibly polite while they place a tube with a camera on it deep up your backside. In any event, the process begins many days in advance. After your initial interview with the doctor one of his nurses gives a matter of fact and detailed analysis of what is to come and what your part will be in “making your colonoscopy experience as pleasant as possible.” That begins with modifying your diet and preparing your colon for viewing and inspection. The best way to do that is to make sure your bowel is clean. So beginning about the fifth day before the procedure, you are supposed to stop eating fibrous foods. Fiber, while apparently good as a normal colon cleanser, leaves matter, um, behind. This includes carrots, apples, nuts, and whole grains—which form a large part of my diet. “So you’re telling me,” I said to the nurse, “that I should start eating at McDonalds?” “Yep,” she said, “that stuff leaves nothing behind after the laxative.” “Certainly not any damaging nutrients,” I muttered, the prospect of the laxative figuring high in the horror stories I’d heard from friends. They gave me a little calendar checklist of instructions. But, guy like, I didn’t actually read it, so I ate carrots up till two days before the procedure and had nuts the night my starvation began. Starting two nights before the procedure, they ask you to consume at least 8 cups of liquid a day (which is like 3 beers.) Then it’s starvation time. From midnight on the day before the procedure, you are forbidden solid food. Clear liquids are the regimen, but that includes coffee, teas, jello, Gatorade, popsicles, broth, and I was pretty sure beer. As long as it’s not red. Apparently some red dyes leave traces in the colon which confuse the doctor into thinking it’s blood or polyps. Some red, may be okay but it’s easier to forbid all red than provide a detailed list no one will read. So no red beer. At about 6pm, now that you’re supposedly empty, you take your first dose of laxatives. Depending on the quickness of your particular system, a gastric geyser will shortly erupt from your back forty. Let’s just say it’s a miracle. Okay, it may not be wine but you feel like doing so. The 3 cups of water you took with your laxative suddenly changes into three gallons out of your gut. Now here is my most fundamental instruction. Planning where you are when the laxative hits is crucial. Never, I repeat never, has an exit strategy been more important.
America ya gotta love it.

#446 F-ass-cinating

I recently got a colonoscopy. In the interests of pubic awareness, I’d like to share some of the fascinating aspects of this amazing procedure. Now on the face of it, the prospect of having someone ram a tube and shine a light where the sun don’t shine seems a little daunting. And the price is one best bourn by an insurance company looking to avoid even higher costs if your neglect to do so leads to something like colon cancer. Colon cancer is a big killer, right up there at the top of cancer killers, and right up there at the top of causes of death overall. Yet in the last couple of years, there has been a decline in cancer deaths and much of that is attributable to far fewer deaths from colon cancer because of early colon screening. So as Katie Couric told America, colonoscopies are good things. And it’s a fun word to say. Colonoscopy. Sounds like something they could have some kind of Muppet do on Sesame Street. As one wag put it to his colonoscopy doctor, “Hmm, now I know how a Muppet feels.” The procedure starts out with a pre-interview with your Doctor. In-ter-view is appropriate since in-ter-view is what you’re going to get. He goes over your possible risks and side effects and informs you that in the course of the colonoscopy, if he does detect any polyps, he will harvest them at that time, biopsy them later and determine if they are malignant. Malignant is right. I’m not sure I grasp the concept of a benign polyp. The only polyps I’m prepared to deal with are a family matter, as my sister is married to someone named Paul and he has lips. This is also the time for you to check out your physician. This is, after all, the explorer that’s going where no man has gone before and believe me you’d much rather he have thinner fingers than phaser-clutching Captain Kirk. My gastroenterologist was a nice guy. He had the quiet competent demeanor of a professional bartender, a person who has spent his whole career dealing with a-holes. The doc said that I would need to follow a dietary regimen in the period preceding my procedure that would prepare my bowel for viewing. It’s interesting that he used the word “procedure” in such a matter of fact tone, to describe what many ancient human beings would consider to be the ultimate in bodily violation. I can see Og and Grog now, discussing the need for such a procedure. Og showing Grog a hollow branch and the somewhat personal point of access for same. And Grog afterwards being the first person in history with that erect posture and snippy attitude that makes people think he’s got a stick up his—ask me no questions I’ll tell you no lies. The other interesting thing about the conversation was the way we were discussing my bowel as if it were now an object in its own right. Like a work of art being dusted off in a museum, we were preparing my bowel for viewing. Yee Haw boys, we’re gussie-ing up my gut.
America ya gotta love it.

#445 Fed I.D. Theft

Recently I had to get a passport. I was leaving the country and even though it was only Mexico, the federal government in its infinite wisdom has decided all Americans traveling abroad should now have appropriate documentation. Correction. All Americans flying abroad. If you are traveling on land the rules are, as they say, emerging. The deadline for passport land traffic is maybe in 2009. This is founded on the well-known principle that terrorists are all wealthy jet set individuals that prefer airplane travel in their international wanderings to blow themselves up. 40 beautiful virgins or 40 white grapes in the afterlife are no incentive like a first class upgrade now. I for one am ready to wreak untold damage on the powers that be if only I don’t have to pay for a crappy meal in coach. That was a joke FBI. The passport foot traveler rules give credence to the notion that Homeland Security believes there isn’t a porous border with Mexico, there are no illegal aliens, and Elvis is actually the living Santa Claus. My own passport ordeal began at the post office, where I was instructed by a very helpful individual. He provided me with appropriate forms and told me if I needed my passport before eight weeks the federal government was prepared to accommodate me for a slight extra fee—around 60 dollars. As I was headed to Mexico in the use of this passport and as I had heard tales of how in Mexico if you wanted something done you greased the palms of the appropriate local official, this slimy federally-mandated graft seemed ironic. You are an American citizen of the United States of equal opportunity for all Americans, sir. And in order to get you a passport to prove that status we are ready to push you to the head of the line over all your peers if you are ready to offer a little extra financial inducement for our department of loyal civil servants. Money talks, everybody else into the slow line. Hmm. The post office had nothing to do with it but next Christmas maybe if you want to get to the head of the package shipping line you can wave a couple of extra bucks at the clerk behind the counter. Anyhow, I got all the paperwork done, had some dashing photos taken at Costco, then took them and my birth certificate back to the post office. “It’ll be 2 to 4 weeks,” the guy said “and you’ll get it all in the mail.” “Um,” I said “my passport and my birth certificate in the mail? Aren’t you worried about I.D. theft?” “Oh that doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “Can I have it come here for pickup?” “Only if we change the address on your passport to general delivery.” Just what I need, a passport that identifies me as a transient. I like this new Homeland Security. Passports and birth certificates sent together in the mail. Non-passported people walking across the border. Lucky there aren’t really that many people willing to blow themselves up.
America ya gotta love it.

#444 Free Holes

Much in life depends on expectation. After we’ve lived for a while we tend to order our world based on our past. We expect the present to conform to what we know already. So when I first encountered Mexico I had to interpret it based on what I knew already. I was cautious. I remember back in my junior high school Spanish class when I mistakenly assumed frijoles were some kind of bonus donut thing, free holes. Or the time someone told me that the word luge was pronounced loogie in Spanish. And that there was a Mexican luge team for the winter Olympics from Oaxaca. Oaxaca loogie. So when I was in Mexico I was always wondering and comparing. Cabo San Lucas has a Costco. Which on the face of it is pretty odd. I didn’t go but I’m not sure what I’d find there. I mean Cabo’s a place you can pick up ceramic mobiles for 5 bucks, or silver jewelry, whistles, and all manner of knickknacks on the street for pennies on the peso. What’s Costco gonna do? Offer you a discount on a shrink-wrapped three-pack of cheap trinkets? Tequila by the tub? And who benefits? There’s a double economy in Cabo—the tourist area where everything costs as much as the states and the area where the Mexican workers, who make the princely sum of 8 dollars a day, scratch out their frijoles and rice. I’m just guessing there aren’t as many big screen TVs as the Tumwater Costco. When we were driving out of town I saw a sign that said University of Tijuana. I was surprised. Tijuana is on the other end of the Baja peninsula. And the Baja peninsula is pretty long. That’s like expecting the University of San Diego to have a campus in Eureka. But I had to wonder, what’s the academic specialty of the University of Tijuana? Are they known for their seminal work in human donkey communications? Archeological interpretations of ancient tuck and roll upholstery? Somehow “University” doesn’t fit in my in my expectations of Tijuana as the quintessential border town. A week after I got back, I got the other end of the expectation thing. I went to the self-checkout line in Home Depot. I accidentally pressed Spanish instead of English when the opening screen came up. And the machine was so sensitive that I accidentally scanned my first item at the same time. I couldn’t get the machine to go back to English. So I went through the rest of the transaction in Spanish. The machine was rather loud in its Spanish prompt. Finally, I reached a point where the checker overseer had to help. I’d used a coupon and the machine was telling me in Spanish to wait for cashier assistance. I looked around with an enquiring look on my face and the cashier said in slow, loud and exaggerated English, Cou-pon? Cou-pon? I handed it to her and said Si. Who was I to shatter her world? She made me accidentally bilingual for a day. Funny thing though—the receipt was printed in English.
America ya gotta love it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

#443 Friendly Folks

I’m a little bit cranky. Ever since I got back from Mexico, my bed has been unmade. I don’t get it. I’ve been leaving 2 dollars on my pillow every day when I leave the house. It always worked at the place I stayed in Mexico. Oh well. Another thing that’s different: My tan. It’s fading. It was so nice too. I was in Mexico the week it snowed up here. 80-degree weather while my neighbors were enjoying 21 and less. It was pretty cool coming back to that lovely white snow. As if the whole world had been accessorized to complement my tan. There was actually a change in the weather down in Cabo. And it wasn’t just our disposition. Though it did seem the Mexican people wanted to guess the weather of your soul by the looks on your faces. Maybe it’s just the timeshare salespeople looking for an opening to initiate a conversation. They know that if they can at least start a conversation the chance of closing a sale is that much greater than if the prospect completely ignores them. So they’re always throwing out assertions to hook you. “Hey Senor, you guys look so romantic, would you like to talk about a condo?” “I’d like to,” I’d reply, “but she’s actually my lawyer.” This one lady that actually did sell us on going to a timeshare presentation started off her schpiel with an interesting observation. She looked at my companion and said: “She looks beautiful, and very happy.” Then she turned to me and said, “...and Senor looks very tired.” I’m not sure what that meant. Another day we were walking on the marina and this hawker calls out, “Hey you guys, are you married?” I called back, “Why, do we look unhappy?...” They seemed to want to put every one in a certain emotional weather forecast. “Hey lady,” one of them said to my companion. “Would you and your husband like a free trip?” My friend looked at me and I intervened. “I don’t know,” I told the guy, “I suppose we could call her husband and ask...” Poor hawkers, I heard a couple of them muttering, “Americano Funny Guy...” But the weather down there did surprise me in one way. Or not really a surprise I guess. I was raised in the desert and it’s definitely desert down there. There was an area around our hotel that was all sand and crushed rock. Everyday when I would walk by it would be pristine and freshly raked, like a Japanese garden. One night it rained. Everyone was amazed. Of the two days a winter it rains in Cabo, we were there for one of them. The next morning when I walked by the sandy area it was nearly a carpet of green. Desert weeds had sprouted in the night, as desert plants will do, taking advantage of the moisture opportunity. And it was funny, cause it must have confused all the groundskeepers at the hotel into thinking they were housekeepers or something. They kept talking about bedclothes. Not pillowcases or comforters either. They just kept saying sheet...sheet…
America ya gotta love it.