Friday, July 27, 2007

#568 Plastuck Cork

The other day I was opening up a bottle of wine. I reflected on how good I was getting at it and, before my brain had a chance to turn down some maudlin cul-de-sac of must-be-drinking-too-much worries, I congratulated myself on my developing skill at not breaking corks.
Which got me to looking at the cork in my hand. It was then that I noticed it was plastic.
Not just plastic though. Plastic printed on in such a way as to make it look like real cork.
To an ordinary wine drinker like me, the idea of going to all the elaborate trouble of camouflaging a cork seems pointless. It’s like putting a colorful pattern on the cotton in a vitamin bottle.
Who cares?
So I asked around and here’s the hearsay I’ve been able to gather.
Seems cork is a little rare. Wine bottle cork comes from the bark of a type of Spanish oak tree and world demand is driving up the price.
As long as a few oenophile snobs were the only people consuming wine, no problem. But ever since health nuts started recommending wine for everything from heart disease to weight loss to erectile dysfunction it’s been getting harder and harder to keep the cork in the bottle.
So the wine industry has been experimenting. Because it’s really a matter of survival.
Bottle sealing is a delicate enterprise. The wrong material expands too much and you can’t get the cork out. Other stuff shrinks and the bottle ends up having its seal breeched. On the plus side, plastic does minimize the possibility of “corking” where in rare circumstances the tree cork itself contaminates the wine.
But it turns out the best method out there for consistently providing a perfect wine bottle seal is¾hold on to your snooty noses¾ the screw cap.
Yep, proven protector of cheap muscatel and Mad Dog. And as every street wino can tell you, nothing like a screw cap can preserve the freshness and power, nay the insouciance, of a bold, muscular, and fortified wine.
Confirmation of one of my best mottos: When you want a survival tip, ask a bum.
America ya gotta love it

#567 Private Holidays

So not too long ago it was Independence Day—both for our country and for me personally.
I was struck by two things. First, how interesting it is that my personal holiday and the country’s holiday coincided and second, how deficient our holiday system is when it comes to addressing emotional states.
Think about it. We got your Christmas and your New Years. They may cause loneliness but they don’t celebrate it.
We got St. Patrick’s Day for drinkers, and Mothers Day and Fathers Day for forced sentiment. But they don’t really address a person’s personal emotional needs.
Thanksgiving kind of does. You feel thankful.
Then there’s Valentines Day, when touchy-feely, lovey-dovey people either flourish or bask in the depression of feeling, unwanted, unloved, and rejected.
Other than that, no real emotional-state type holidays. I’m thinking we’ve come along way here in psychological 21st century America—maybe we should start addressing it. Celebrate the differences as it were.
Like instead of, or in addition to, Independence Day, we have Co-Dependence Day. Light off a firecracker for neediness.
“I’m sorry, would you like to light it?” “No, you.” “No, that’s okay, I want you to do it.” “Did you bring any matches?” “No, I thought you wanted to.” “I left them in the kitchen where you could see them because I thought you wanted to be the one who did the caretaking today.” “That’s what I thought you wanted...” “That’s what I said, but what I meant was I wanted you to be able to do it...”
The great thing about Co-Dependence day is, it would be a lot quieter because we’d never get one firecracker lit.
Or how about OC day. You could have hand-washing parties and when it’s time to go home the host would simply ask everybody if they remembered to lock their house earlier.
Or here’s one you could roll in to an Earth Day celebration. Have talks about global warming at both ends of the earth. Call it Bi-Polar Day.
You could either have one hell of a celebration or ultimate self-inflicted carnage.
Self-inflicted carnage. Like what our cultural planetary bi-polar actions are already.
America ya gotta love it

#566 Prostration

So when the heat wave hit I knew I was in trouble.
The house I live in is circa 1979, with that era’s heavy at the time but light by today’s standards insulation.
But it’s had improvements.
A previous overheated tenant went on a ceiling fan installation binge in one his frenzied, possibly meth-inspired work sessions. So every room in the house sports a “Kareem Flat-top Maker 2000” many-bladed decorative monstrosity.
The problem is, which way to turn the fans when it gets hot. Some say in winter you should set them so they rotate counter-clockwise. That’s if you’re looking up at the ceiling underneath the fan.
This pushes warm air down. As it’s 95 degrees in the house, I’m thinking a couple of degrees warmer on the ceiling is not what I want at gut level.
So I tried switching the fan’s direction to clockwise, which is supposed to suck colder air up, and I hoped either blow the hot air out the windows or suck cold air in from outside.
Neither one of which appeared to happen.
And the colder air on the floor, which was, oh, I don’t know, 93 degrees, did little to ease my suffering.
All that did appear to happen was that some air was moving around. Which wasn’t entirely bad, as my skimpily-clad body was coated with a layer of mansweat that acted as a fine evaporative cooling interface when the blowing air wafted across it.
Great, I’m a walking swamp cooler.
Talk about a self-esteem builder.
I did notice when I had the fans set to draw air up that there was not as much sideways current. Perhaps the key is to leave the air blowing down, but turn it to high speed in the summer.
Because really, drawing the air up has limited utility. Where is it to go? It’s not like an exhaust fan in a bathroom. It doesn’t vent to the open air.
So it only ends up circulating the hot air that’s already there. And as my friend Rick pointed out, pretty much making my house function like a convection oven.
Which may explain why I’m feeling cooked quicker.
America ya gotta love it

#565 Plate of CellCrow

Okay. I’m about to go back on years of tirades.
I think cellphones and driving aren’t such a bad idea.
I know, I know. This from a person who was first to complain about rude cellphoners and has kept up a consistent data stream of criticism ever since.
But I changed my mind.
It seems to me, the folks who got out there early are getting better at it now. And the rest of us, who dismissed the technology and were only reluctantly drug into the 21st century by the demands of business and road emergencies, are getting better too.
Because humans adapt.
We struggle for a while with a new level of speed and technology but then we incorporate it and adjust.
Remember when you got your first new computer with Windows after that old clunker—the one that you had to boot up with numerous 5 1/2 inch floppies to even install a word program? Remember how fast your new computer seemed?
And how slow you think it was now.
You adapted.
I remember reading how people were freaked out when the first automobiles achieved the hell-bent speed of 25 miles an hour. No one could control that, they said.
We adapted.
The truth is, there’s a lot of down time on the roads these days. Traffic jams—admittedly some still caused by cellphone accidents—make it even worse, so there’s no choice but to get on your cellphone and do some business or catch up with family and friends.
We learned how to juggle fast food back in the sixties. Driving with Big Macs and Taco Bell burritos—not to mention juggling paper cups of Coke without lids and without cupholders.
But we adapted.
We braved the onslaught of Starbucks on the road and learned how to juggle lattes and frappacinos without getting frap on our lap.
And now here we are. Adapting to cellphoning and driving.
But hey. I still think other electronic things on the road are a bad idea.
Like the next generation—Generation Text. Instant messaging and yes, even uploading road-trip updates to Myspace.
From the actual road.
America ya gotta love it

#564 Poisoned China

Parents. Hold your kids’ ears or push the button and change the channel for two minutes. We’re about to talk about a delicate subject.
A subject I personally find far more offensive than, oh, I don’t know, the military using tax dollars to develop a gay bomb.
The execution in question was by China and it was of their former head of quality control for food and stuff.
You may recall there have been a number of scares lately. There was pet food tainted with melamine. Melamine? Didn’t they used to make dishware out of that?
There was diethylene glycol used in toothpaste—which by the way, is legal in China in small amounts. They say there’s no proof that small amounts are harmful.
And since diethylene glycol is normally used as antifreeze you don’t have to worry about your mouth boiling over.
There have been reports of people dying in Panama because diethylene glycol was used in medicines and passed off as harmless glycerin. And there have been other scares of toxic fish, juice containing unsafe amounts of additives, and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint.
They’re so much more chewable that way.
Basically, there has been little or no control of safety, and the guy in charge of it was convicted of taking massive bribes to ignore any controls they did have.
So they executed him.
China has a different notion of white-collar crime.
See, because it wasn’t just bribes and lies. It was bribes and lies that caused other people to die.
And, not incidentally, make China look bad in the eyes of the world marketplace.
But as I read about all this I said to myself, I can’t believe anybody would eat food that came all the way from China anyhow. I mean, I eat Chinese food all the time, but it’s manufactured in a place I trust. Milwaukee.
Then I chanced to read the plastic wrapper on the Smarties bubblegum I was currently chewing. They were made in, guess what, China.
Smarties? Little tart innocent Smarties?
Hmm. You know, diethylene glycol is kind of sweet and melamine is a little sour…
America ya gotta love it

Friday, July 20, 2007

#563 Person Man

I have occasion to use Microsoft Word a lot.
So it’s probably no surprise that I encounter spellcheck and grammarcheck more often than your average bear.
Most times, I agree with grammarcheck. Except I think it’s a little aggressive about whether the passive voice is used.
But lately, since I use older words for things, it’s really begun to annoy me. Because it seems like grammarcheck has also become PC check.
At first, I thought it was an anomaly. I typed in “chairman” and a green squiggly line appeared under it. I clicked on the line and it suggested alternatives. Namely, “chairperson” and “chair.”
Personally, I refuse to call someone a piece of furniture in lieu of specifying his or her gender. “Chairman” and “chairwoman” are fine with me. At least they’re chair people.
Then I typed in “fireman.” Same thing, green squiggly line— suggestion, “firefighter.”
“Stewardess” sent up the green squiggly flag, but steward slipped through unsquiggled. Hmm. Yesterday’s news on that one. Slobobian Chauvinist Airways is the only one who still uses anything but “flight attendant.”
“Police officer” very naturally was suggested for “policeman.”
“Mailman” became “mail carrier.” I like the postal service’s “letter carrier” better. “Mail carrier” sounds like you’re the unwitting transmitter of the male disease.
And, really, going with how things sound, Mailman really ought to devolve twice, from “mailman” to “mailperson” to “personperson.”
But what really got me going was when I typed in the word “caveman” and up came a squiggly line. The alternative offered was “cave dweller.” I had used the phrase “back in caveman days,” when the PC squiggler attacked.
Point of style. Using the phrase “back in cave dweller days” would have been cumbersome and confusing. Language is, first and foremost, a means to communicate.
Confusion is not up there in language’s primary goals.
“Man” and “men” used as generic suffixes and prefixes totally emasculates those words as used in other contexts.
It’s man as in Mankind. I’d like that to be one small step for the next grammarcheck.
All this lingual hand wringing, by the way, for the only western language that doesn’t genderize its articles.
America ya gotta love it

Thursday, July 19, 2007

#562 Ports

I’m getting so I like made-up words. I used to resist the forward march of language, but no more, for shizzle.
Because where language erodes in one area, it flourishes in another. Where some old words wear down like a patch of dead grass turning into the neighborhood’s loose dog trail, other new words spring up and flaunt their fecundity like a vegetile pride of dandelions.
Like the new words we all know and love, “Spork” and “skort.” Compound words in a non-traditional sense. Two words put together to convey items that actually are—two things put together.
The derivation of “skort” is pretty easy to understand. It’s a composite of skirt and short. If you are to meld those two words, you only have two real choices, “skort” and “shirt.”
Having a garment that is a combination of a skirt and shorts and calling it a shirt—not so good.
The other word, “spork,” is more problematic. Your two combo choices of spoon and fork are “spork” and “foon.”
Unfortunately, for some deep-set instinctive language reason probably dating back to caveman days, “foon” does not sound like an implement with which to eat.
It sounds like the back half of an idiot, as in buffoon. Don’t be such a ‘foon.
So, not wanting to be a foon, spork it is.
I propose a new term. There is a type of pant out today—a long short, or possibly a short long.
Women are wearing them, and in their case, the old term capris is alive and functional.
But guys are wearing them too, and with them, the term capris sounds a little foofy.
And the cumbersome “guy capris” is just that, some cumber.
So I propose we use the wordmeld again. The only problem is which.
They are a pant and they are a short, so “port”? Port sounds like someone left a nautical barn door open.
But shant sounds cool.
And shant is available because it’s an old word that died off a long time ago, unless you’re sporting an English accent.
I say, I shan’t be wearing my capris today.
America ya gotta love it

#559 Predictions

A few years ago, I predicted in this column that the next biggest business to invest in would be tattoo removal.
Since you get a tattoo by pricking your skin, should I have said: I predict they’ll want to be de-pricked?
Because a recent magazine article reports that surveys show 17% of people with tattoos now say they regret they are stuck with their decision to inject permanent ink into their skin.
The removal industry is pumping, with names like Dr. Tattoff, Tat2BeGone and Tattoo MD.
I didn’t predict this though: Some tattoo places are now pricking in the original tattoos with a removal-friendly ink. It’s designed to disappear after just one laser treatment instead of the eight it usually takes which costs thousands of dollars.
They also have an interesting name for the phenomenon. As one removal guy put it, “ your life changes from young to middle-aged to older, from single to married to divorced, you get tattoo regret.”
I like it. Sounds like a disease. Are you suffering from T.R.? Tattoo Regret? Call “See the Light” laser removal today.
Speaking of diseases and something I didn’t predict.
Just when you thought you’d heard the worst about herpes and its growing prevalence in the human population, it’s jumped species.
That’s right, that pesky little virus responsible for chicken pox, shingles, and genital blisters has also killed an elephant. A recent elephant death in a zoo was attributed to a strain of the herpes family.
Wow. Somehow the notion of someone carrying around a disease that can drop an elephant is amazing.
Even more amazing, that same virus is the cause of massive coral die-offs. They took samples of dying coral on reefs and it was loaded with human herpes viruses. Seems swimmers touching coral spread the virus and it goes wild.
Kind of like swine flu and monkey ebola does with us.
The fact that reefs are normally in tropical vacationland, herpes is stress-activated, and those places are usually honeymoon locations, seals the deal.
Hello herpes, goodbye coral. Wish you were here.
Hmm. I wonder if you had a tattoo that was a picture of a coral…
America ya gotta love it

#561 Pillaging Bears

Not too long ago I was reading an article in National Geographic. Animals are really neat.
It was a big article on Grizzly bears. I love it when bears grizzle.
They are dangerous animals to be sure. Last year in Yellowstone they killed one person and injured six more. They did the same the year before that.
One of the rangers put it in perspective though. He said it was "...only half as bad as the other large mammal in the park. The horse."

But back to bears. These beasts are smart beasts indeed. A scientist once stunned one to tag and equip it with a radio thingy. While the bear was sedated, they examined it's mouth. Turned out he had an abscessed tooth.
Also turned out the bear had stuffed that area of his mouth with willow bark. Willow bark is a great natural source for salicylic acid, otherwise known as aspirin.
Which brings to mind a couple of questions. If bears are that smart, how do they handle the radio tagging issue socially? "Hey Smokey, nice ear tag, into piercing? What's next? A tattoo?"
"What's with the neck radio Teddy, cellphone acting up?"
"Hey Mamma Bear. If you weren't spending all your time dumpster diving, your cub wouldn't have more needle pricks than a lab rat."
Which is another question. If a bear is smart enough to seek out and remember willow bark as an analgesic, wouldn't certain bears actually go out of their way to "accidentally" get tranquilized.
Kind of just hang out in scientific survey areas hoping for a little downer dart to mainline them in the rump?
Junkie bears, sallow faced and hollow eyed, ambling into the sights of some earnest intern doing an ursine population count, and who now is an unwitting pawn in the desperate game of Jellystone Park drug trafficking.
"See you later Boo Boo. Old Yogi's gonna make tracks down to the survey area for a little shot in the bear-ierre."
Smarter than your average bear....?

America ya gotta love it

#560 Pointed Stilts

To certain folk in Olympia, the prospect of a seven-story building next to their beloved waterfront sends shivers of doom running up their spines. I'm not sure why.
It's not as if leatherback turtles use the area to deposit eggs or anything.
These folk have mounted a "Don't Wall off the Waterfront" campaign to enlist public support to allow no building over three stories within a half-mile radius of the boardwalk.
I don't know about you. But if I'm standing on the street, I can't see the waterfront through a one-story building.

The city council wants more income diversity downtown. They have already provided tax incentives for the construction of three-story low income housing a block away from the aforementioned beautiful boardwalk. It follows that appropriate incentives for high-income housing should be provided as well.
Contrary to the reasoning of the Wall Off the Waterfront people, hereinafter referred to as the Off-the-Wallers, those buildings did not erect any more of a wall than any building, taller or otherwise. There are still streets, and a radical new urban innovation the Off-the-Wallers may not be aware of, something called "sidewalks," that lead to the waterfront.
If you only load the downtown residential scale with low or even no-income folk, then stores, restaurants, coffee houses and theatres, and yes, even the beloved waterfront, will be deserted by folks favoring more diversity.
If you only have panhandlers, whom will they panhandle from?
As I sat grousing at the short-sighted and stilted reasoning of the Off-the-Wallers, I had an inspiration.
We should be thinking stilted.
As in "stilts."
Like I said, I can't see through a one-story building any better than a seven-story one. But I could see quite well if you built that seven-story building on stilts.
Yeah. That's it. Design and construct the building so open beams support the upper structure, but at street level you can see right through them to the waterfront.
And incidentally, that now empty space could also be used for another rare commodity in our downtown mix, parking.
Interesting point of information. I wrote this essay in June of 2002.
Some things never change.
America ya gotta love it

Friday, July 13, 2007

#558 Points Deduction

A woman is suing a funeral home for cremating her husband without her consent and in the process also incinerating his prosthetic leg.
She is suing for unprofessionalism, distress, and what not. Plus she won’t get back her damage deposit on the limb.
It is unfortunate. I had a dear friend whose father died shortly after expensive hip replacement surgery. The artificial hip was an off-the-shelf model and retailed for nearly 10,000 dollars.
Probably worth at least 5,000 on Ebay.
That could have helped offset the cost of the funeral. And the deceased dude isn’t going to be worrying about a little limp in heaven.
Do they have artificial hips in heaven? I know my Father’s house has many mansions and all that, but does the flesh-to-soul transubstantiation process bring along pacemakers and artificial joints and stuff?
I envision this kind of Star Trek transporter thing with people appearing in heaven one soul cell at a time, gradually taking shape in their new ideal form. And unnatural stuff dropping out on the floor-plate like loose change in a carnival ride.
And what about someone else’s transplanted organs? Do they make the trip with you to heaven or do they get sent back to the original owner?
The guy whose kidney you’re sporting, that went to you after he died in an automobile accident where he drunkenly wiped out a busload of kids. Whisk that urine strainer off to hell.
And your previously angelified original, that’s been waiting for you in heaven for a couple of decades, pops back in.
I’m hoping current trends continue and we all take this heaven thing really, really, seriously. Then maybe banks, in their effort to lend more and more money, would let us like take a second mortgage on our mansion in heaven.
And if we did, maybe we could depreciate it for tax purposes. You know, find another way to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
I mean, I know the current administration is being more inclusive of Christianity in government and all. Banking can’t be far behind.
Maybe this is a way to tap into the value of some real estate with a really heavenly view.
America ya gotta love it

#557 Polester

So the other day I’m driving down the street and I see this sign posted in the window of a dance studio.
It says, “Pole Dancing Lessons.”
I was stunned.
I mean, this has got to be a bit of a niche marketing campaign. How many ordinary folks are going to decide they want to look like that G.I. Jane woman married to that “That 70s Show” guy?
Is that the reasoning? Women who want to attract the likes of Ashton Kutcher and this is how to do it?
The truth is, if I was on a first date with a woman and went to her house and there was a pole in it, I’m thinking I’d be thinking: run for your life.
Or if we were at a dance club and my date started doing gyrations that appeared to indicate that she was going to start spinning around poles and such, I’m not sure there would be a date 2.
God forbid we should accidentally wander near the tetherball section of a playground while she was feeling a little demonstrative.
And I don’t know what I would do if I was married and my wife came home and asked where we could install a pole for practicing her new dance lessons. What would we tell the kids?
Billy, Susie, run upstairs, Mom’s going to be doing her, um, aerobics.
I figure pole dancing lessons would attract a fairly specialized customer base. So maybe I got it all wrong.
Maybe it’s my problem in assuming.
Maybe it’s not pole as in stripper people at all, maybe it’s pole as in people from Poland.
And Pole dancing is Polish folk dancing. People twirling around scarves and stomping on kielbasas and things. A little oom pah pah in the background, if you know what I mean.
I was telling all this to my son and he said he’d actually heard that pole dancing was catching on. In fact, everyone claimed it was quite a good workout.
“Yeah,” I said, “and lots of people claim to read Playboy for the articles…”
America ya gotta love it

#556 Torrential Reign

I get hung up on words. That’s partly because I like the sound of them, and partly because I understand how important it is to communication that people try to mean what they say and say what they mean.
So I thought it was interesting the other day when I got one of those spams about male enhancement drugs and the product they advertised was Cialis. Except it wasn’t just straight Cialis. It was something called Cialis soft tabs. Somehow, I think they’re missing the point.
My love of words may be why I love living in the Northwest. Where but in the Northwest can you get such a colorful and rich vocabulary of atmospheric aberrations?
Most notably, of course, having to do with rain.
If the Eskimos have 1000 words for snow, we certainly aren’t too far behind with our descriptions of rain. There’s mist, rain, patters and cloudbursts. There’s sunbreaks and partly cloudy and partly sunny.
We can’t seem to get away from showers. We all need showers. It is one of my most confusing weather reports though: Rain at times with occasional showers.
A lot of redundancy there.
The very fact that it is occasional makes it a shower. But how does that differ from rain that only happens “at times”?
There’s “downpours” when a squall blows through on the freeway and empties buckets of cats, dogs, and chickens so quickly you feel like you’re driving in a carwash. Torrential rain. Cloudburst. Skydump.
Then there’s fog. Yes fog. Fog qualifies as precipitation to the extremely moisture sensitive.
And my two favorites. Drizzle and sprinkles. I love it when it’s drizzling or sprinkling.
“Sprinkling” sounds like the sky is tinkling or something.
“Drizzling” makes me think of Emeril the TV chef with his food processor. Slowly drizzling in the olive oil so his sauce won’t separate.
I love this forecast: “We expect a mostly sunny day with intermittent clouds and some light drizzle.”
It’s like some sort of garnish or condiment. Or something they ask you at Starbucks with your macchiato.
Would you like drizzle with that?
No, but could you put some sprinkles on my whip?
America ya gotta love it

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

#555 Tiptoe Through the Minefield

The Freedom of Information act is a cool thing.
I always get a kick out of reading about just-released documents that detail the really wacky things our government does.
Take the US Army.
Turns out at one point they seriously considered a “gay” bomb that would incapacitate enemy troops by getting them to have sex with one another. The plan was to drop a powerful aphrodisiac on the enemy, turn them all gay, and then attack while they were in the throes of carnal abandon.
Or possibly the military heads took their stereotyping theory further and predicted the enemy would be so busy, um, decorating they’d be unable to mount a counter attack. Cause, you know, that counter would look a lot nicer with granite and a handcrafted tile backsplash.
Gay groups reacted to this news angrily, insulted at the notion that being gay somehow means you can’t keep your mind on the job at hand.
Whether you are an army guy, a construction worker, a policeman, or even an Indian chief.
Which is to say, gay people use the YMCA to exercise just like everyone else.
It’s interesting that the US army would assume a powerful enough aphrodisiac would turn men on to other men.
My guess would be the bombed troops would be able to control it after, say, the first binge.
Then the unbombed troops would be facing angry, coyote-date enemies full of rage, disgust, and the will to get it all over with.
Not that they’d necessarily be disgusted with gayness. But waking up with ugly and bad-breathed Sparky in the communications tent may be just the thing to tip someone over the edge into suicide bonsai land.
If the military were smart, they’d develop a “domesticated male” bomb to use on the enemy. A chemical concoction that simulates the lassitude men get after years of marriage.
That makes them want nothing more than to ignore the honey-do list and tip back in the recliner to watch the game.
War? Who cares?
The Mariners are on.
Aren’t those new uniforms cute?
America ya gotta love it

#554 Totinos WiFi

It always amazes me how many radio frequencies are out there. And how every day we are subjected to bombardment from same.
I think it’s making us crazy.
I was looking at an FCC bandwidth poster and it’s incredible how many frequencies are constantly coursing through our bodies. It kind of makes you wonder.
Ever notice how quiet it is when the power goes out? Part of that is the absence of the 60-cycle hum, which is the ambient noise produced by power lines.
No power, no hum. No hum in your ears and no radiation shooting through your cells, possibly damaging DNA and creating a host of modern ailments like hypertension, ADHD, and peanut allergies.
Those things you never heard about before the advent of ubiquitous power lines and radio broadcasts.
The newest radio frequency on the scene is WiFi. WiFi allows strangers to harvest the info on the internet from any location close to a WiFi node.
WiFi broadcasts at almost exactly the same frequency as your microwave. Don’t believe it? Next time you’re in the supermarket coffee shop and your laptop malfunctions and starts setting off nearby popcorn bags drop me an email.
I wonder about the superhero Daredevil. Daredevil is a Marvel Comic book hero who is blind but whose secret power is that he navigates by radar. Microwaves.
I always worried that he would stand out in a crowd, even if he was in his secret identity, because he would be setting off popcorn bags and accidentally killing people with pacemakers.
Now he could totally disable a coffee shop with WiFi interference as well.
Espresso heads from B&B to Starbucks kicked off the internet in the middle of vital research projects and MySpace ego uploads.
But here’s a cool thing. Since WiFi and microwave ovens are on the same frequency, an enterprising young vandal-nerd could have some serious fun.
They could hack into someone else’s microwave and wreak havoc. Dude, you could, like, drive by someone’s house and blow up their pizza.
What’s the frequency, Kenneth?
America ya gotta love it

#553 Trademarked

Branding is interesting. The idea is to fix something so firmly in a person’s mind it’s permanent.
Like it’s seared into your flesh with a hot iron.
But in your brain.
McDonald’s “I’m lovin it” campaign is coming close after a kajillion repetitions.
It’s Golden Arches are in our DNA.
Coke and Pepsi’s logos are unmistakable and more recognizable to most children than stop signs. That’s what every maker of every product and every owner of every business aspires to. Instant recognition of their name, slogan or product.
So you can believe that they are very careful when they first name a product. They want it to be friendly, accessible and most of all memorable. Catchy. Maybe even a little clever.
Nemo the clownfish did well. Woody the Toy Story cowboy rose to fame quickly but then wilted as soon as Shrek the ogre out-weirded him.
And take the Big Mac.
There’s a name for a sandwich that caught on. Almost as many people know the Big Mac as know Coke. (And the Big Mac is only snorted when someone tells a well-timed joke.)
People even know how it’s constructed. Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onion on a sesame seed bun. Marketing genius. The first time a whole recipe branded itself on the American consciousness.
Except the generic, no relation, Mac and Cheese.
Maybe that’s why McDonalds took a turn into unknown territory. They named a sandwich after its composition. Heck with cutesy names. Heck with branding something with the McLabel convention.
The McDLT took a nose dive into hamburger oblivion and the Big Mac glistens on its shiny grease-coated pedestal of ideal name recognition, let’s name the new sandwich the, I know, “Quarter Pounder with Cheese.”
A weight and an accessory.
Quarter pound what? Pattie, of course, but we don’t need to mention it. The hamburger is assumed. And quarter pound? Perfect. Sounds so much more hefty than 3 ounces.
Again, genius. Who’d have thought you could have a successful branding campaign with a food item by naming it after its weight.
It’s the fast food paradigm in a nutshell.
Flavor is secondary.
America ya gotta love it

#552 Tension

Sometimes the world catches up with you. Sometimes the world passes you by.
I noticed that in a couple of ways recently. I was reading this book. And for the most part it was written as if it could have been happening in the present day.
All the current events matched up well enough, and since the author made no attempt to be right on top of the political news, everything in the story seemed like it was now.
Except for one cultural reference.
Because a good part of the dramatic tension in the book was created by people not being able to call each other every second on the phone.
That’s right, the book was written before cellphones became ubiquitous.
So every time the author needed to increase the tension in the plot and advance the suspense, he only had to create a situation where the principles were temporarily out of touch.
And it kept bugging the heck out of me because my brain kept saying, just call him on your cell, just call her on your cell. I had to keep reminding myself that the book was written in 1994.
Which meant that I kept not suspending disbelief, or I un-suspended disbelief, or I suspended believing, or whatever.
It ruined the book.
Which now really upsets me, because it means that the cellphone, the culprit for so many car accidents and incidental rudenesses in our society, from interrupting movies to blasphemizing sermons, is now also tarnishing literature written before the mid-nineties.
Oh well. I had the same problem with Huckleberry Finn.
Raft done the river? Why don’t you just take a bus?
Life passes people by. Like this guy I saw the other day.
He was coming out of a tanning parlor, his skin glowing with that UV radiance you can only get from a fake and bake, and as he put on his cowboy hat and sauntered in his boots over to his big truck with duellies on it, I noticed something else. His truck had a big window sticker that was a vinyl rendition of the confederate flag.
And I think: What’s wrong with this picture? This guy wants his skin to be darker...?
America ya gotta love it

#551 Twisted Surprises

I think I’m getting old. I can’t handle all the surprises in this twisted world.
There’s a new commercial out by McDonalds in which two gentleman who have the youthful voices one would expect to address one another with the appellation “dude” are conversing on the relative merits of a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
The set-up is that no decision in life is as difficult as choosing between these two culinary icons.
One of the “dudes” extols the virtues of each. Slavering praise on the wholesome grease-dripping goodness of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and then turning his presumably additive-mutated tastebuds to the joys of a Big Mac.
At which point in the commercial he says, “And besides, nothing eats like a Big Mac”.
That’s right. He uses the word “eats” like verb, but not like the verb we usually use it as. Not a subject eats an object. But an eating comparison.
You can say nothing tastes like a Big Mac or nothing lingers like a Big Mac in your gut. But nothing “eats” like a Big Mac?
Nothing sounds worse.
I was also surprised when I went by a graduation the other day and I saw all these cars in the parking lot with paint on their windows. One of the car windows intended to say 2007 graduates.
Except graduates was spelled g-r-a-d-u-a-t-s. No final “E” in graduate.
As if they didn’t want to confuse it with the identically spelled but different sounding long A’d graduate.
Us 2007 gradu-ats didn’t have to pass the WASL.
Then there was this assault on my surprise-weary consciousness.
I was sitting with a friend at a coffee shop and this big Hummer stops at a light out front. It’s pulling a long cargo trailer.
My friend says, “Look! I didn’t think it was true, the name on the car says Hummer Hybrid.”
“Wow,” I said. “A Hummer hybrid. Of course in this case hybrid means gas and diesel.”
“You think?” he said.
“Either that,” I paused for comedic effect, “or the trailer is for holding all the batteries.”
He wasn’t surprised.
America ya gotta love it

#550 Two Seconds

Well, it’s here.
The two-second commercial
Much ballyhooed in the industry. Much skepticized by potential advertisers.
Clear Channel, the giant radio/billboard conglomerate, is offering the two-second commercial. That’s right, two seconds—no product claims, no catchy jingles, no positioning, just two seconds.
One of the first ones is this: “Iced coffee at McDonalds.” Short and sweet.
No, that’s iced mocha at McDonalds.
Anyhow, they are meant to be inserted between songs, in space formerly reserved for pure programming. There’s something guaranteed to please commercial-weary listeners.
I predict they won’t catch on. Why? Because “Bob’s Doorknobs” will never make it with two-second commercials if “McClatchy Door Latches” is there first.
Commercials are about defining your business in relation to your competition—getting out your unique message, and most importantly, announcing to the world that you’re not only in business, but doing a specific type of business that your potential customer wants to hear about.
Can’t do that in two-seconds. Even with one of those fast-talking ginsu knife guys.
What you can do in two seconds is trade on the reputation you’ve built in the past with a lot of 30 and 60 second commercials. Frequency builds response, as they say, or repetition builds reputation.
The fact that McDonalds has been hamburgering home their message for the last six decades makes it possible for them to merely suggest iced coffee next to their name and be successful.
Bob’s Doorknobs has to take the long road for the next fifty years, achieve national fame, have a franchise on every corner, and possibly construct a play area in his shops with little carton renditions of Doorknob-themed characters.
Mister Knobby and Uncle Unhinged. Sheriff Strikeplate and Slim Jimmy the evil lockpicker. Then Ol’ Doorknob Bob needs to think up a catchy music signature, make sure all his buildings feature the golden doorknobs, and have a doorknob clown with a house for kids recovering from serious illnesses.
Then, and only then, can Bob’s Doorknobs afford to buy a two-second commercial without wasting every cent he spends on it.
And that’s the long and short of it.
America ya gotta love it

#549 Tuck and Tote

A failed relationship or two ago, I was emptying my pockets.
And emptying.
And emptying.
My then girlfriend came into the room with a superior look and threw her purse on the floor.
The next day before I went to work, I reversed the process.
I loaded and loaded and loaded. Comb. Business card wallet. Regular wallet. Checkbook, calendar, keys. Change, folding money. My then girlfriend dashed into the room, picked up her purse, and asked if I was ready to go in a tone that indicated she had been so for the last hour.
I was still looking on my dresser making sure I hadn’t forgotten to load something. Bullets, pistol…
I think I’m going to write a new self-improvement relationship book like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”
Except I’ll call it, “Men have Pockets, Women have Purses.”
Because it really does seem to be a heriditary thing.
When was the last time you saw a woman with her pockets full? When was the last time you saw a woman that had pockets?
Live functioning pockets, not stitched-down decorative ones on jeans so tight you can make out the outline of her tattoo underneath.
I think it all goes back to those caveman times when men had to strap on a couple of weapons for the hunt, so they would be lean and streamlined and could slip through the snags of the forest without encumbrance.
When they killed the game, they could haul it back in one piece. Or in its own skin, scraped and butchered at the site of the kill—all the inedible chunks left behind for the scavengers to wish they had a recipe for sausage.
Women, meanwhile, needed a basket or bag. Gathering berries may not be as dramatic as bringing down a slow squirrel but carrying them is a real chore with just your hands. A few meals worth requires a pouch of some sort.
So pockets and purses were born.
And we have our wild ancestors to thank at the next rock concert when women leave their purses in the car.
And men try to find a little more room in their bulging pockets for a lipstick.
America ya gotta love it