September 23, 2010

Farewell Ma Bell

A good proportion of our lives are spent doing things out of habit.  We do things "because that's the way they've always been done", or we realize that there are better ways to do things, but we just don't want to expend the time and effort to do them, even though they may be easier on us in the long run.

Take the land line telephone for example.

If you've been around as long as I have, this was as much a part of your home when you were growing up as the refrigerator, the oven and indoor plumbing.  It was either perched on a decorative table in your home's entry way, or hanging on the kitchen wall.  Maybe even both.  I even remember the type of telephone that we had (there really weren't any choices) and the phone number.


The phone was always there.  It was the first purchase I made when I moved away from home and into my first apartment.  And whenever Jan and I moved, it was on the short list of hook-ups right along with gas, water and electricity.

Then, about 20 years ago, we became aware of the growing popularity of these new-fangled gadgets called "cell phones".  Although they were pretty awkward and clunky, they were pretty cool, so we bought two "bag phones" for our cars and used them occasionally.  The service was expensive, and the connection was  spotty at best, but as with most new technology, it got better and less expensive.

In fact, the technology became so much better, that we began to use our cell phones more than our land line phone.

Realizations sometimes creep up on you ... slowly.  One day, about 5 years ago, I was paying our monthly bills and as I opened our AT&T envelope, the thought crossed my mind that it was really a useless expense.  Seventy-plus dollars a month for the privilege of being interrupted at least five times an evening by junk calls. But, as soon as I paid the bill, I promptly forgot about it until the next month.

After a while, it became annoying.  I started to ask the question "Why do I still have this phone?" And as I think about it, maybe it was just sentimentality.  One day I called AT&T to see if I could find a package to lower my bill, and lo-and-behold ... "Yes" said the customer service agent.  "Why, I see that you're not using many features of the package you have."  And so I negotiated another package, for thirty dollars a month.  However, when my next bill came, new charges and federal and state taxes added up to save me a whopping five dollars a month over the previous bill.  Well played AT&T ... well played.

Unbelievably, to me anyway, three more years went by with the same shopworn act being played out.  Rob gets phone bill, Rob pays phone bill, Rob gets steamed, Rob promptly forgets about phone bill until the next month. Repeat process ad infinitum.

Until last Monday.

Last Monday, I came home from work, called AT&T, sat on hold for one hour and 45 minutes ... and cancelled my phone service.  And as expected, there was much dramatic hand wringing on the part of the customer service agent.  "But sir, you've been with us since 1977!" This was followed by the "deal" ploy.  A lower rate package with coupons!  When this angle failed, it was time for the heavy guns ... fear.  Your cell phone won't work when the electricity is out (huh?).  911 won't be able to find you.  You'll lose your cell phone and then what will you do?  Huh? ... Huh?

But my mind was made up.  The customer service agent and I said our fond farewells and a 58 year old bond fell to the wayside.  I had joined the growing ranks of "The Others" ... those without land line telephone service.

On Tuesday afternoon, I came home and picked up the telephone.  And there was no dial tone.  I disconnected our three phones and placed them in a box in the basement, where I'll run across them again one day, stare at them for a second or two, and then deposit them in the trash.

As we turned in Tuesday night, Jan mentioned to me how nice it had been to go a whole evening without being interrupted by any trash phone calls.

And it was good.

September 22, 2010

Marketing Unpleasant Things

Tonight at 10:09 p.m. CST, Fall officially begins, and I don't know about you, but I'm going to stay up past my bedtime to celebrate it right.

Fall brings with it many cherished traditions.  College football, apple picking, carving pumpkins ... And getting a flu shot.

Jan is a big flu shot person.  She never misses one, come hell or high water.  On the other hand, I shun them like my mother's broiled liver surprise.  In past years, there has always been an anxiety linked to flu shot season, primarily because there never seemed to be enough vaccine available.  People would drive to the ends of the earth and wait in lines for hours for the privilege of being stuck in the arm with a needle.  And, as with Jan, they would go ahead and get the flu later on anyway, but always with the claim that "it would have been worse if I hadn't had my shot".

Bullshit indeed ...

This year, there's something a little different.  There is plenty of vaccine for everybody.  This is good for the public at large, but presents a problem for the vaccine maker.  How to get rid of all that damned vaccine and make some money off of it.  So, in case you haven't noticed, there are lots of new places you can get your flu shot.  Like drug stores and big box hardware establishments ... and even Walmart.

But, since you have so many places to choose from, all of the above places have to start being a little creative and actually market the product and service so that you will buy it from them, and not somebody else.  In one year, places that turned you away, now fight for your flu shot business.

Inevitably, some of these marketing efforts are a bit clumsy and bizarre in their execution.  This afternoon, I was in a large chain drug store, looking for a pack of razor blades (because 2 years on one blade is probably enough), when I saw the familiar table set up in an aisle manned by someone in nurses garb.

In front of the table was a sign indicating that you could get your flu shot right there, right then.  And they even had a poster mascot ...

LOL Indeed!

I smiled, but skittered away quickly.  While I was doing my razor blade hunting.  I wondered if they had a cute name for the mascot.  But I don't think they did.  If it were me, I'd name it "Stabby".

Imagine, a busy mother trying to get her kids to do what every kid in America has nightmares about ... getting a shot.  All she has to do is say "Hey kids ... want to go see Stabby?"  And of course the kids would fall all over themselves being first in line.

God, I should have been in advertising.

September 21, 2010

Amazing Inventions

Last Saturday night, I was lying on the floor watching a movie, when I became aware of noises from the house next door.  There was much clanking and grinding and hammering of metal going on, and as I looked out in the dark from my side window and noted that the time on the clock was 9:45 p.m., the first thought in my mind was ...

"What the fuck is Hillbilly Ron doing now?"

Ron has been my neighbor to the west for over ten years now.  And when he's not trying to shoot me full of arrows or scaring the shit out of me with bloody severed deer heads, he's immersed in scatter brained money making schemes.  These include, but are not limited to, bicycle and lawnmower repair, reclaiming used freezers and refrigerators and cornering the market on crappy kiddie lawn toys and structures.

I realize that you can't necessarily pick your neighbors, and I know it could have been worse, but every time Ron stumbles across his next sure thing money making scheme, I can feel the value of my home go down ten grand or so.  Imagine, if you will, a "For Sale" sign in my yard, and as prospective buyers pull up in my driveway, they see this to their right ...

You Thought I Was Kidding About The Refrigerators?

Anyway, back to Saturday night.  It was totally dark, so I couldn't make out what Ron was doing out in this driveway, but the noise went on until almost 11:00, when it mercifully ended.  Grateful that I would be able to go to sleep in peace, I forgot about it until Sunday morning, when I stepped outside and saw this ...


Yes, it appeared to be a tennis/volleyball/badminton net welded to a trailer.  And on closer inspection, it was exactly that.  The only thing I could think of was that Hillbilly Ron had decided to expand his empire and go into the "Rent-A-Tennis/Volleyball/Badminton Net For Your Party" business.  Although the logistics of playing any of the three games with a net welded to a metal trailer with numerous sharp edges would seem to be difficult, I'm sure Ron will highlight the X-TREME angle of his set-up from a marketing standpoint.

I don't know, maybe I'm just jealous of Ron's imagination and business savvy.  I just hope he doesn't keep this piece of shit parked in his driveway forever.


Update:  Much to my chagrin, I found out later in the day that the local high school was having their homecoming parade (on a Sunday afternoon?) that day and that this was a "float".  And this was exactly the way it was dragged through the streets with no embellishments whatsoever.  So, I may have been full of shit about his intentions, but he still gets an F+ for float making.

End of story.

September 19, 2010

The More I Know, The Stupider I Feel

First of all, let's get this out of the way.  "Stupider" is a word because I just looked it up in the dictionary, so for all of you spelling fanatics out there, just back off my shit.

Okay, now I'll start ... As I begin to near the point in life where I can only jokingly consider myself middle-aged, I'll admit there are times when I think I'm a pretty darned smart guy.  After all, I graduated public school and went to college; and while there managed to pass a few English classes, a handful of history courses and even one law class.  The fact that I did miserably in my chosen major of business doesn't matter anymore because my business career ended about 10 years ago and anything I do now is just for the money and not for the stupid notion of "job satisfaction" as some crazy people would have you believe.

I also think I'm smart because I'm still alive, even after that incident at the dog food plant where I mistakenly put my foot in the trash compactor they called "The Pulveriser" and it started to eat me and it was only dumb luck that I was able to pull my foot out of my boot and haul myself out of it's terrible maw. But even then I was smart because I was able to walk around the rest of the day with only one boot on and managed to fashion a shoe out of a cardboard box that nobody noticed except two people who asked me why I was wearing a cardboard box on my foot.

But, as often happens, just when I'm feeling really smart, something comes out of left field and makes me feel really stupid.  This happens a lot when I'm reading or watching television.  Several years ago, I started to see the phrase "Deux ex machina" pop up a lot in book and movie reviews.  My usual reaction when I see something like this is to take two seconds to reason it out, right or wrong, and move on.  In the case of this particular phrase, I just told myself that it was some sort of French/Italian pig latin that meant "two former machines".  And even though this made no real sense, it was more important that I finish the article than to fuck around finding out what it really meant.

Finally, I saw it so many times, that I looked it up.  "Deux ex machina:  A narrative ending in which an improbable event is used to resolve all problematic situations and bring the story to a generally happy ending."

Huh?  What the hell does that mean?  I couldn't wrap my mind around it, and it wasn't until I watched the movie "Dodgeball", that it made any sense.  In the movie, Vince Vaughn's character is going to lose his gym to Ben Stiller's evil character until a crate full of cash labeled Deux ex machina is wheeled out and Vince is able to pay off his mortgage, foiling Ben.

Having solved that nasty little mystery, I went on my merry way until several months later when I was watching the movie "Contact", which by the way would have been a pretty good picture if they had just left the first and last parts out.  Kind of like "Apocalypse Now" would have been pretty good if they had just cut out that last part with the Colonel Kurtz horseshit.

Anyway, in the movie, James Woods is asking Tatum O'Neal's lookalike (I can never remember her name) if she's ever heard of "Occam's Razor".  And again, just wanting to watch the rest of the film and not be bothered, I reasoned that Occam's Razor must be some kind of shaving device made out of a clam shell.  And I was happy ... until I saw the damned term again.

So I looked it up and sure enough, it was some fucking Latin phrase just like Deux ex machina.  Is it any surprise that Latin is a dead language?  I doubt the Latin's even understood it.  No wonder they switched to Spanish.  "Occam's Razor:  The simplest explanation of a theory is usually the one that makes the fewest assumptions".

Huh?  It's been months now, and I still haven't figured this one out.  This reminds me of my freshman year in high school when I mistakenly thought that math was not my enemy until the first day of Algebra class and I realized what the term "brain dead" truly meant.  I ended up transferring out of that and taking "General Math I and II", effectively keeping me from attending Princeton and having to settle for Southwest Missouri State College, where they still wouldn't let me in until I passed the math entrance exam which consisted of counting the number of pyramids on a line.  I aced that baby though.

Anyway, I still don't know what fucking Occam's Razor really means. There's an off-chance that if I watch "Dodgeball" again, there may be visual aid that helps me there also.

And Algebra ... maybe one for Algebra too.

September 18, 2010

Saturday Night Blues

As an easily irritated person, there's nothing quite as irritating as facing a rainy Saturday night without something decent to watch on television.  Ordinarily, we save this night to watch a new movie that comes in from Netflix on a regular basis.  However, on Thursday night, I discovered that my pick from last week was still laying on a table in the living room where I had placed it after viewing last Saturday night.  Not really wanting to watch "Coroline" for a second time, I threw it in the mail on Friday and resigned myself to being new-movie-less tonight.

We walked past a "Redbox" machine while we were grocery shopping this afternoon, but I wasn't in the mood to take the several minutes it would take to figure out how to use it.  I suppose I miss out on a lot of new experiences this way, but that's just the way it is.

So, I've scoped out a few oldies from my DVD library for tonight and have to figure out which one of these to settle on.  I haven't watched "Collateral" more than once or twice, but I've developed an aversion to Tom Cruise after watching "Valkyrie".  Besides, what's really better than the combination of John Woo in his prime, Nic Cage before he started to make bad role choices and an evil John Travolta?  "Face/Off" it is!

Put the popcorn on the stove Sadie ... 

September 14, 2010

Nothing To Say On Facebook

I have an account on facebook.  I don't know exactly when I started it but I do remember my best friend writing me with an invitation, and rather than be rude to her, I signed up, and for the longest time only had her as a "friend".  Then somehow, I made three other "friends", but that's been about it.

For a while, I was posting stuff every day, but after a time, I realized that three of the four friends knew what I was doing all the time anyway from e-mails and phone calls; and the fourth one didn't give a flying fuck what I did.  Then I started looking back at my posts and realized how pathetic and stupid I appeared, so I erased everything.  So, after two years, I have a total of one page.  This page is mostly my friends wishing me a happy birthday over two months ago.

I suppose I should make new friends, but when I sit down to think of who to invite, I remember that I'm basically anti-social and don't have any friends.  Facebook reminds me from time to time that my "friends" have lots more friends than I do and suggests friends that I can invite. These are in three categories:  the first are people that my "friends" are "friends" with, but I don't know them and am sure they would think I was some slimy creep if I contacted them.  The second group are people I went to high school with and this is out of the question because I still have horrible memories of high school and don't want to be reminded of them by contacting people who probably remember me as "that strange guy".  The third group are people I went to college with, but when I look at their names, I'm reminded that even though I did like college a lot, I don't know any of the people who facebook suggests, and again, I would look like "that strange guy".

So, fuck you facebook for taunting me about the fact that I don't have any friends and then suggesting people who are just going to turn down my invitations.

However, the other night I was staring at my facebook page and thinking that I ought to write something down, so I set my brain to whirring, but could only come up with "had a hamburger and potato chips for dinner ... yum!"  This was immediately removed.  Then I saw the "like" button, and thought there must be something I like, shouldn't there?

So I thought and thought.  And then I thought some more.  And from the deep regions of my brain, I remembered that I had kind of liked the Palms Hotel when when were in Las Vegas for one night last summer. We actually stayed at some dive down the street, but we did spend part of the evening there.  And for those of you who don't believe me, I have a picture ...

The Palms Is Out Of The Picture On The Right

Wait a minute, I must have a better picture than that. Here's one of Jan in front of the Palms billboard.  At least I think it's Jan, I had my glasses off ...

Is That You Dear?

Anyway, I hit the "like" button for the Palms on my facebook page, and now I have something besides my birthday greetings.  And besides it looks kind of cool and maybe people will think it's cool too because the Palms has a Playboy Club and Paris Hilton hangs out there snorting coke when she's not getting thrown out of the Wynn Hotel for snorting coke there.

But ... hold on.  Isn't the Playboy Club kind of lame now? And isn't Paris Hilton kind of "Paris Who?" anymore? Maybe my "like" button will make me look lame too. Oh shit, now I've done it.  I just tried erasing my "like" button and it won't erase.

Crap!  Now my facebook page makes me look like a loser!  I'll never get anymore "friends"...

Fuck you facebook.

September 09, 2010

I Have To Work On My Social Skills

Even though it's Thursday, this morning I was able to put on my "Overly Casual Friday" clothes, because today was the Divisional Company picnic at work.  And even though I'm only a contractor, I was pretty sure I was invited.  All week, people had been coming into my cube and asking me if I was going to the picnic, and I said would, even though I didn't believe it.

But, at about 12:30 this afternoon, with my stomach growling at me because I hadn't made a lunch to bring in, I decided to trek over to the appointed spot on the massive grounds of Giant Pharmaceutical House and see what was going on.

This is actually a new development for me, as I've always been painfully shy, and have made it a practice to avoid any type of awkward gatherings of unfamiliar people throughout my life.

So I drifted towards the crowd, got in the food line and selected a cold hamburger, cold bun and warm, runny cole slaw to put on my plate.

Then I mingled.

I spied the Filipino guy in my department, waved at him at started to walk over ... when he abruptly turned on his heels and walked the other direction.  Strike one.

Then I walked up to the dynamic trio of "Steroid Man, Silent Cubs Fan and Aging Frat Boy" and said "Hi!"  This was met with stony silence.  Strike Two.

I made eye contact with a woman who works near me and approached her.  And she immediately pulled out her cell phone and started punching buttons.  Strike Three.

Then an errant horseshoe whizzed by my head.

I stood there, munching on my cold burger and suddenly muttered to myself "Fuck this shit".  So I strode over to the freebies table, where they were giving out free t-shirts (I was low on t-shirts), brazenly collected two of them and went back to my office.

So, perhaps I do need to work on my social technique. Or maybe I just need to say "Fuck this shit" more often.

I kind of like the latter.

September 07, 2010

Maybe It Wasn't Such A Good Idea

Once in a while, I like to go back over some of my posts, ostensibly to see if my writing has improved any (it hasn't), but mostly to look up some people I have written about and to Google them to see if anything new has happened in their lives.

One of those people stood out, for obvious reasons.  At the time I first wrote about her, Sheyla Hershey had achieved the distinction of holding the record for the world's largest breasts.  Through a series of cosmetic procedures, doctors in South America (no one in the US would touch her) had managed to cram a full one gallon of silicone into each or her hooters.

Looking at her pictures, I wondered how the surgeon had managed to close her up, and imagined a scene much like in the movies where a person hurriedly tries to cram a full closet of clothes into a suitcase, invariably resorting to sitting on it while another person frantically tries to drive the latches home.  And maybe this was how it was done in the operating room.

Being me, my first thought on looking at her was "where the hell does she buy clothes to contain those things? Target?  The Gap?"  Also, they looked they would be very uncomfortable to lug around.

Maybe Lane Bryant?

But Ms Hershey seemed to enjoy her notoriety, and indeed, there are many places on the web that one can go to ogle her or find out about her latest activities.  She even has a page or two on facebook, along with a couple of imposters.

However, through reading updates, I learned that things hadn't been going so well for her recently.  It seems that this past July, she developed a very serious case of staph infection in each of her ta-ta's. Following her last surgery, where she achieved the world record breaking size of 38 KK, the incisions holding her together didn't hold, creating a condition called dehiscence, allowing the silicone bags to peek through and allowing infection to set in.

Doctors feared they would have to perform a mastectomy on Ms Hershey to save her, but through the wonders of medical science, they managed to get the gallon bags out of her and stem her infection. Interviewed by the local Fox News (fair and balanced) station, Sheyla expressed regrets at having been so vain as to endanger her health just to have the world's biggest boobs.  She said that even her son had pleaded with her to go back to a normal size.

This got me thinking ... According to her website, she's about 30 years old, which would put her son at 10 ... tops. Can you imagine the grief this poor kid got at school? Man, believe it or not, I used to be that age, and 9 and 10 year olds can be brutal when it comes to things of this nature.

Anyway, after almost dying from her boob size, you would think that Ms Hershey would have retired her crown and gone on with her smaller boobed life.

But as I think they say, champions are made and not born.  After her full recovery, Ms Hershey has decided to renew her assault on the world record by attempting to surpass her own record in the near future.  I, for one wish her luck in her effort.  Having checked out the competition, mainly by Googling "ENORMOUS BOOBS" with the child protection filter turned off, I'd say she has her work cut out for her.

September 06, 2010

Anxiety Day

Labor Day.  The official end of Summer, at least it's considered that in this part of the world.  A day to sleep late, relax, or have even have a picnic if the weather's nice.

To me, it just dredges up vaguely uncomfortable thoughts of times long passed.  You would think that after all these years, some memories would just gradually fade away.  That certain days or events would lose their meaning, or be replaced by newer, more pleasant ones.

Not so Labor Day, at least for me.  Labor Day means only one thing.  School starts tomorrow.

I never liked school.  Not one day of it.  From the first hour of kindergarten to the last minute of high school. I've tried to self-analyze, to figure out why I had such an aversion to school.  I believe I was an average student, maybe a little on the slow side.  Maybe that had something to do with it.  Perhaps I disliked it because I was forced to go.  That it wasn't my choice.

In any event, every Labor Day starts out the same.  I wake up, and in the 30 or so seconds it takes to shake the sleep off and it dawns on me just what day it is, the anxiety starts to build.  Slowly at first, and then reaching a ridiculous level just before I turn in for the night.

Oh, and somewhere in-between is the conversation with myself.  Telling myself that I haven't set foot inside a classroom for 36 years, that I don't have to go to school tomorrow.  But it never works, and after this long, I don't think it ever will.

I tell Jan that I'll be sitting on the front porch of some retirement home when I'm 90 years old, and I'll still loathe this day for the same, tired reason.

It's bad when someone else messes with your head.  But it's even worse when you mind-fuck yourself.

September 01, 2010

Thoughts On The First Day Of Fall

Yeah, that's right.  This is the first day of meteorological Fall.  And meteorological is the only way we roll in this house, so even though it's 100 degrees and 80 percent relative humidity outside, get out and party like it's 1999.  Besides, if you think about it, traditional Fall lasts all the way up until 3 days before Christmas, and who the fuck wants that?  So change your way of thinking and you can thank me on December 1st, when the first day of meteorological Winter is upon us.

Notable on this date in 1940, the German army under the artistic direction of the Kaiser crossed the Polish border, and the word Blitzkrieg (where are the kolachkes) was burned into the human lexicon.  There is something I have to admit here.  For most of my adult life, I was under the impression that Poland was west of Germany. About 10 years ago at a cocktail party, it was pointed out to me (with the use of visual aids), that Poland was actually east of Germany.  I was humiliated to say the least, and cursed my Junior High Geography teacher for spending more time emphasizing that South Dakota was not on top of North Dakota than he did showing us the location of Poland.

But as embarrassed as I was at the time, at least I didn't make the bonehead mistake that the producers of the 1969 blockbuster film "Kratatoa, East of Java" made, when half-way through production, someone pointed out to them that Krakatoa was actually west of Java. Fearing a marketing nightmare, the powers that be kept this fact hush-hush, and amazingly, no one in the viewing public figured it out until years later.

Are You Sure??

During my lunch break today, I stumbled across a shocking article in one of the local newspapers.  It seems that one of the large pharmaceutical houses in our area had run out a drug, of which they are the sole manufacturer,  called sodium thiopental.  Now, Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen may read this and say in unison, "Who gives a flying fuck?", but for needle happy prison executioners across the country, this is bad news because sodium thiopental is a major component in the "cocktail" that they mix up for lethal injections.

The Pharmaceutical House in question is not very keen on having it known that they produce such a substance and point out that using it to kill people is definitely "off label".  In fact, one company official contacted about the story effectively dodged the question by sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting "LaLaLaLaLa" at the top of his lungs.  Others though, did admit that they would replenish their stocks sometime next year, or whenever the stink blows over, whichever comes first.

So even though there are some unhappy prison officials out there right now, I'll bet there are more than a few death row inmates who will drift off to slumberland tonight with a little smile on their faces.