Archive for March, 2010

There’s a party goin’ on around here

March 31, 2010

It’s been a long time since I enjoyed myself at a party. The last one was probably decades ago, when I was dressed in little more than a diaper, propped in front of a few candles, drooling and babbling incoherently while my friends crawled on the floor and tried to lick the cat.

That was in college. Since then, I’ve never really been a big fan of the party scene, mainly because I’ve never been a big fan of socializing with people, and people always seem to be injecting themselves into parties, except the ones you see advertised on late-night TV that occur on the other end of a $1.95-a-minute telephone line. I hear they use GPS ladies for those (“Turn left in 500 feet. Ooh, that feels so good”).

The college parties really were the best, because they were back in the seventies, when free drugs and free love were all over the place, except in whatever room I happened to be inhabiting. In the dorm, a party was just a bunch of guys and a Friday night, and the success of the bash could only be judged the next day, as we recounted to each other what was the last thing we remembered. (After one event featuring the notorious MD 20/20, a fortified wine also known as “Mad Dog,” the last thing I remembered was a second-grade spelling bee). I wasn’t much for fraternity parties, though I did crash one undercover as “Ed Mims,” son of an astronaut training for his flight to Jupiter.

Once I left Tallahassee and moved to the Carolinas, most of the diminishing number of parties I was invited to involved co-workers, either mine or those of my wife. Both were awkward, though it actually turned out to be an advantage not knowing any of the people from Beth’s office. At least I could commiserate with the other spouses as we discussed what a great sound engineer Phil Tristam was on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and admired the cover art over and over again.

It was at one of these events that a winsome young lady approached me and asked if wanted to “shag.” She was talking about a beach-music step that is the official State Dance of South Carolina. (We barely have a functioning State Education System but we do have a State Dance.) I thought she wanted me to accompany her to a nearby driving range to chase down golf balls.

Now, it’s 2010, I’m 56 years old, and the only people who want me to show up at their social engagement are either staging a reunion or recently passed away. I usually manage to avoid the funerals with the excuse that my suit is at the cleaners and my only other black clothing has a decal of Ozzy Osbourne on it. The reunions have been coming fast and furious lately, though since most require a flight out of town I can simply curse the unfairness of the terrorist watch list in my regrets RSVP. But one was staged within driving distance this past Sunday, and I found myself reluctantly going.

Again, it was a group of old friends from my wife’s newspaper days. These were people I had known for almost 30 years, even if that acquaintance had only comprised maybe four total hours together, unless you count the occasional random encounter at the grocery store where you slip behind the dairy case because you can’t remember their names. We were to gather at the townhouse home of the hostess, and the theme of the evening was to be soup. She’d stir up several pots of minestrone, chili and some kind of creamy green stuff, provide the wine and the salads, and we’d each bring our own soup spoons and bowls. How kicky! What fun!

We arrived a few minutes late and as I climbed the front steps, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought through what my policy was to be on hugging. It was definitely inappropriate for the men I knew would be involved, but for the ladies, I sensed it was going to be required. Fortunately, we first met our hostess for the evening in her slightly cramped kitchen, and she was positioned on the other side of an island from me. It may not have been as large as Hispaniola, but it was big enough to keep us physically separated.

We chatted briefly in the kitchen while we collected our wine, complimented her on the fine uptown neighborhood, then admired the hardwood flooring of her living room and how many vaguely familiar people were standing on it. Gradually, we worked our way into this small group of maybe 15 people, exchanging squeals and cries of “how long has it been?” and reminders of who we are. Familiar old stories were recounted, and the laughter became more and more effortless as the alcohol took effect. We had to rein in the giggles a bit when talk inevitably turned to who had cancer and who had strokes, but otherwise I was soon so at ease that I almost fell down some stairs.

When another round of soup was introduced (“Woo-hoo! It’s chowder!”), the original groupings broke up and I found myself trapped on a couch next to a man I’ll call “Joe,” since that was his name. I knew Joe was a smoker and would soon have to excuse himself to the balcony, so I summoned my patience and listened intently as Joe told how he had just returned from a cruise in the Caribbean, and it was one of those unfortunate outings where the entire ship came down with a stomach norovirus. Joe told a lively story, right down to the watery sea spray he simulated with his sputum. I actually felt the same nausea he was describing by the time he was finished and back out on the deck, smoking like a smokestack.

During a lull in the soup, one of the basketball fans asked if anyone knew the outcome of that evening’s Duke-Baylor game. A younger crowd would’ve been able to track every dribble via their wireless devices and, though most everyone in this aging group had cell phones, most sadly used them as cell phones. So did I, as I called up my 18-year-old son and asked him to check for the score online. Within moments, I was proudly able to announce that Duke had won, according to Daniel’s internet connections, and everyone marveled at the technology that allowed a barren shell like me to have a son.

We had been advised in the invitation to ask the hostess about her ballroom dancing, and it was rapidly approaching the point in the evening (almost 8:30) where we’d soon be dozing off, so we were led downstairs to watch a video performance of Rhonda shaking her elderly thang. She had enrolled in one of those courses where fawning young male instructors taught you a few stiff steps, then gyrated madly about while you marched around smiling, occasionally raising your arms into the air and eventually being hoisted skyward by the bare-chested threesome. It was very entertaining for all the wrong reasons but the small audience that had gathered around the screen put on a good show and offered Rhonda enthusiastic congratulations.

By now, the soup was spent, the video was watched and the stories had all been told, so somebody yawned and virtually the entire room took the cue and started making their exits. I think everyone, including me, genuinely had a good time, though our definition of such had certainly changed since those days in the early eighties when we once gathered out by the dam to share several bottles of bourbon under the open sky.

Both times had earnest fellowship — something not easily come by these days — and both had alcohol, so they each qualified as parties in the technical sense. So what if this time, the dancing was all pre-recorded?

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Fake International News, from Afghanistan, Iraq and the Vatican

March 30, 2010

Obama touches down in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan (March 28) — President Obama’s visit Sunday to this war-torn nation was as brief as it was surprising, with Air Force One flying in just low enough for the commander-in-chief to get in a few moments with U.S. troops and Afghan officials.

During a quick meeting with Army forces at Bagram air base, the president was dangled out an open cargo door by Secret Service agents as his 747 flew low over the runway. His hand momentarily swiped the tarmac as he hung from his ankles, declaring “it’s good to be here on the ground at the front lines of America’s fight against terrorism” before being pulled back to safety. His plane then made a second similar pass, this time allowing the chief executive to “high-five” a squad of honor guards as he roared past at 250 m.p.h., injuring 12.

Then it was on to the presidential palace in downtown Kabul where the low-flying leader of the Free World toyed playfully with the scarf of President Hamid Karzai, yanking it from his neck and spinning him like a top as Obama jetted just above the rooftops. Karzai said he appreciated the vote of confidence from the American people, even though he thought he may have hurt his neck a little.

The presidential party then returned again for a final pass over the strife-torn nation, with Air Force One lowering its air-to-air refueling line and dousing the countryside with Gatorade, celebrating the civilized world’s imminent victory over the Taliban insurgents.

Church reveals punishment

THE VATICAN (March 29) — The Catholic Church continued to insist Monday that its leadership had acted appropriately in punishing priests who were accused of sexual misconduct with children while the Pope Benedict XVI was still a proto-pope.

Despite documents that seemed to indicate the accused offenders were merely re-assigned to new parishes, a spokesman for the pontiff insisted severe penalties were handed out by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

“‘No TV For a Week’ read the subject line of one of the memos,” said Bishop Carlo Menotti. “That should tell you right there how seriously these charges were taken.”

Menotti said other punishments included restricting the priests to an all-host diet, removing their rights to sell confessional videotapes to TMZ, making them hold hot censers in their hands instead of swinging the ceremonial incense burners from a chain, and forcing them to “pray harder.” (That last mandate may have actually backfired as several of the rogue clergymen are known to have “preyed harder” on young boys following their hearings.)

The future pope was also reported to have warned the straying priests that instead of going to heaven in their next life that they’d only make it about halfway, to the asteroid known as “944 Hidalgo” just beyond Jupiter. Cardinal Ratzinger told them the distant body still contained celestial choirs and eternal bliss, but they’d also have to share the rocky planetoid with “icky girls.”

Democracy? Only kidding

BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 29) — Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki, responding to results that showed his party slightly behind in a nationwide race for parliamentary seats, said yesterday he’s “beginning to think this whole democracy thing is a bit overrated.”

“Sure, it sounded good to the rest of the world that we were letting people vote,” Malaki said. “And all those peasants showing off their ink-stained fingers, they were really cute. But if free and fair elections are going to remove me from power — well, we just can’t have that.”

Malaki’s State of Law party had won only 89 seats in preliminary results while opponent Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya party had 91. Malaki immediately took to the airwaves saying he would fight to hang onto his post.

“It’s often said that democratic institutions and sausage-making are very similar enterprises, but you have to remember we’re talking about Iraqi sausage here,” Malaki told a group of visiting diplomats. “It’s called ‘basturma’ and it consists of wind-dried camel, goat and water buffalo compressed under the saddle of a Turkic horseman riding through the steppes of Central Asia. These aren’t your polite caucus meetings in Iowa; this stuff is hard-core.”

Malaki was reminded by one envoy that the U.S. had expended billions of dollars and thousand of American lives to re-build his nation, but he countered “oh, I suppose you’re going to hold that over my head for the next five years. You people need to get over yourselves. You have to remember, we’re crazy over here.”

Thoughts for a springtime Monday

March 29, 2010

We recently completed a three-month long “waist reduction challenge” at my work, designed to encourage employees to lose weight and get healthy for the new year. I didn’t participate, but I’m hearing some good results reported by several of my coworkers: one of them lost a pound while another gained only two.    

I declined to be involved, primarily because I don’t care to have my weight reported on a bi-weekly basis to my supervisor. My upcoming performance review is going to be bad enough as it is without me having to hear “You’re not quite the team player we’d like you to be and, in addition, you’re a tubby.”    

The whole office celebrated the end of the challenge period on Friday with Peppermint Patty brownies and big boxes of donuts.     

+++    

I posted a piece a few months back about the variety of periodicals available on top of the commode tank in the men’s room at my office. (See https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/people-who-need-people/ if you give a crap). These are generally a mix of popular culture magazines with a few higher-brow offerings like National Geographic and Mental Floss thrown in, fairly reflective of what you might expect in the white-collar workplace.    

A week or so back, this bathroom was closed for cleaning, so I had to venture into the warehouse and use the blue-collar facilities. They’re equally clean, differing little from my usual haunt except for the curious framed sign next to the mirror warning associates not to put their feet on the wall. (Such a move would never even occur to me, so of course I had to try it. Wanted to get the full working-class experience during my visit).    

The magazine I found in this part of the building was something called Dirt Sports. At first, I thought it was about Extreme Gardening, but then read the subhead describing it as “the voice of off-road motorsports.” Apparently, driving car-like vehicles through the woods and swamps can be an intentional thing, and it’s been picked up by rural folk after the high-society crowd failed to show interest in Ted Kennedy’s seminal rally at Chappaquiddick in 1969.    

This holiday edition of the magazine featured a section on finding the “perfect holiday gift for your favorite member of the dirt sports nation.” I don’t have a favorite member of this group, unless you count the earthworm I declined to run over with my lawn mower last week, but I was still curious about some of the suggestions.    

At the top of the line was the Dunkel Ultimate Luxury Hauler, a modified Ford F750 truck with a 300 HP diesel engine and a remote-controlled tilting flatbed that can haul 8,000 pounds of “off-road exotica.” It sleeps six, seats 10, and could probably crush dozens. 

For the more economy-minded shopper, there was the Miller Arcstation, a blue metal worktable described as perfect for home welders. 

This last offering actually holds some appeal to me. I’m not exactly handy around the house, so when I have to fix a loose hinge or replace a hard-to-reach light bulb, I’d like the work to stay done for a while, and welding just might be the option for me. Maybe it’d also work on this lose crown I’ve been meaning to see the dentist about.    

Thank you, Dirt Sports magazine.    

+++    

Ever since coming off the Ambien a few weeks back, I’m able to remember my dreams again. I had a curious one the other night I thought was worth recounting.    

My mother and I were taking her car to a car wash, and planned to wait at a coffee shop while the work was done. We couldn’t find the cafe, so decided instead to go to Winn-Dixie, a now-bankrupt grocery store that used to be popular in the South. When we went for the car, the place had burned down, destroying our vehicle in the process. I don’t know how she planned to get home, but suddenly there was my father, atop a motorcycle and offering me a ride.    

“But I don’t have a helmet,” I said. He pointed out that equally effective for safety purposes was wearing a plain, old-fashioned hand-saw on your head. You simply bend the metallic part to the curvature of your skull and tape it to your cheeks.    

I wasn’t too sure about this but, since he was my father, I trusted him. We roared off down a beachfront road with me hanging on for dear life, the saw attached to my head.    

A few nights later, I also had a dream about boils.    

+++    

Someone in the lunchroom the other day said they’d finally learned how to get “screaming video” onto their desktop computer. Arrghh!    

I can't believe they meant STREAMING video

+++    

The temps I trained a few months ago are still working on third shift. However, there seems to be a topic I forgot to cover: I neglected to tell them they aren’t supposed to sleep at their desks.    

I shudder to think of the other things I didn’t cover that they shouldn’t be doing — plotting insurrection against foreign governments, developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), painting their nails, using distributed denial-of-service attacks to bring down Pentagon computers, etc.    

I’ve gone back through all the training material I covered, as approved by our central office, and nowhere in the various processes and procedures so otherwise thoroughly documented could I find anything about staying awake while you’re collecting your paycheck. So since it wasn’t covered, the ladies are making up their own rules. One has even brought along a blanket and pillow, and seems thoroughly comfortable sprawled in the office chair in front of her terminal for several hours a night.    

I think, though, we’re going to draw the line when she pulls out the sleep mask.    

+++    

As I write this on a dreary Sunday afternoon, I’m starting to believe that the ancient Christians who made this day the weekly sabbath chose Sunday so they could fervently pray that the next day wouldn’t be Monday.    

They’d spent their one day of rest celebrating the glory of God, praising his righteous Kingdom to come here on earth, and thanking Him for sending His only son Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Lord. And they probably threw in occasional requests that, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could tomorrow possibly dawn as Saturday or even Friday? “We’d even take Judgment Day rather than going back to the fields and the mines on a Monday,” I imagine some of them implored. And yet it never happened.    

But these were people of supreme faith, so they’d try again every week, and now we have Sunday as our traditional day of prayer and worship.

Christ, I can’t believe it’s Monday already.

Revisited: Guantanamo air disaster

March 28, 2010

A jumbo jet carrying all the detainees who had been housed at Guantanamo Bay for the past seven years crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff earlier this morning.

How intriguingly unfortunate. So theoretically sad.

At this point, there appears to be only a handful of survivors, including most of the crew who apparently opened their emergency parachutes upon impact to use as flotation devices. The pilot, six crew members and 11 guards were picked up shortly after the crash by a Coast Guard rescue vessel that just happened to be in the area.

It is believed that all the prisoners died in the crash.

“This is just an awful, awful tragedy,” said Defense Department spokesperson Ron Kilgore. “We felt like we were making real progress in resolving these cases, and then for this to happen, it’s just a terrible thing.”

The prisoners, taken in for alleged war crimes during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been in legal limbo for some time. The Obama Administration had already pledged to close the prison at the naval station on the eastern tip of Cuba within a year, but it was still uncertain where the detainees would go. Most were regarded as too dangerous to set free, there were few countries willing to take them, and a growing outcry in the U.S. made relocation to domestic prisons problematic.

“Frankly, we have no idea what we’re going to do with these guys,” said an unnamed source at the State Department as recently as last week. “There really seems to be no good solutions.”

The cause of the crash is unknown at this point, but one investigator speculated that a build-up of ice on some Canada geese which crashed through the engine may have severed hydraulic lines that then caused an oxygen tank in the cargo hold to explode. He also noted that one of the prisoners could’ve been wearing a sandal bomb and another could’ve had a 3-ounce bottle of inflammable liquid, or possibly mouthwash.

Officials offered various accounts of why all 378 prisoners had boarded the flight. One said they were “just giving them a break from the same old routine by flying them around the island on a sight-seeing trip.” Another insider said they had been assigned work duty to clean the interior of the jet when it accidentally took off, while a third spoke of a trip to Disney World “paying them back for all the torture and hardships and stuff.”

Administration press officer Jason Seals said a full investigation of the crash would take place, just as soon as the economy had revived and a proper study could be funded.

“It’s kind of funny how it worked out, if you think about it,” said Seals. “On one hand, it’s an unimaginable loss of life that will haunt us for a long time, but on the other, we didn’t know what we were going to do with them anyway, so that’s the positive side.”

“Like they say, ‘shit happens,’” Seals concluded.

Revisited: It was just one of those days

March 27, 2010

I had one of those days late last week. I’d say it was a bad day, except that in this difficult age – with poverty and recession and war and the CW network – it’s hard to complain about a series of mishaps from which you emerge with your health and livelihood still intact. The tens of thousands of people being laid off today will have a bad day. The 150,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a bad day. Abraham Lincoln had a bad day when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. I merely had one of those days where you look up at that kitty in the “Hang in There, Baby” poster, let out a deep sigh, then rip the poster from the wall and tear it into a thousand pieces.

My ordeal was not a morning-to-midnight event but rather a 24-hour span that began around 3 p.m. Wednesday. I was just about finished with my daily treadmill session at the Y when I looked into the hallway. I saw a flesh-colored torso, sheared off at the hips and with the top of its skull blown away, lying on a rapidly moving gurney. My God, had there been some horrible elliptical machine accident? I rushed to the door to learn more, only to get a clearer look at what turned out to be a nude though otherwise unharmed “Resusci-Annie” figure. Annie, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a mannequin modified for use in CPR training. She’s supposed to be missing her legs and cranium. All she really needs to perform her function is a chest you can press your hands into and a gaping mouth, not unlike Jessica Simpson.

After my workout, I usually stop by my favorite café to do a little blogging before heading home for dinner. I was barely settled into my favorite spot when my cell phone rang. Only a very few people have my cell number, and fewer still like me enough to call it, so I was a little surprised. It turned out to be my boss from work. A take-home project I had agreed to start on two days ago was finally ready to begin and – oh, by the way, the deadline is still tomorrow morning. I was being asked to proofread and edit a 200-page Form 20-F. For those of you unfamiliar with financial filings, a 20-F is one of your least interesting reads, not quite on the skull-crushing level of a Schedule 14A but at least as bad as a Form 6-K or a Dan Brown novel. So my fate for the next eight hours was sealed.

I abandoned my writing and rushed home to begin work, and was probably driving a little too fast past the dog-walkers and assisted-livers from the nearby rest home strolling through my subdivision. I didn’t hit anybody but apparently came close enough to one neighbor just before wheeling into my driveway. “Hey,” he called out, “do you think you can drive a little slower through the neighborhood?” His tone was perfectly even and polite, and he made an entirely reasonable request. This annoyed me even more, yet how could I respond as negatively as I felt here in front of my own home? I mumbled a weak “yeah” and hurried into the house, fuming with irrational anger. By the time I figured out that the person I was mad at was me, he and his dog had already moved off into the darkness. No apology was possible.

I plunged into my project hoping it would distract me from my bone-headed motoring. The document described a Swiss manufacturer of farming and construction equipment. Their market was a challenging one in light of the global economic downturn yet their management team had been prudent with expenses except for this one $385 million credit swap default agreement, the first tranche of which was due in 2013, blah, blah, blah. We tend to think that staying awake, being a mental state rather than a physical one, is something we can control if we only have enough will power. But I’m here to tell you that the functioning brain is no competition for European-made bulldozers and threshers. I gave the document my best cursory glance and headed off to bed around 11:30.

At about 1:30 a.m., my telephone rang. It was Elaine from the office. “Can you come in early this morning?” she asked. I felt like saying “I already come in early,” since my normal arrival time is 5 a.m., but I knew that wasn’t the answer she was looking for. I stumbled out of bed and into the general direction of work.

In between the other projects that were waiting for me when I arrived around 3, I had to send off the results of my previous night’s work. We have some very sophisticated communications equipment in my office, including two digital scanners (DSP) that would capture my marks and upload them to the client. I would create a PDF on the DSP using OCR and the OGF. The perhaps-unfamiliar acronym here is the last one, which stands for Old Guy Frustrator. This is the mechanism – installed especially for me — that pulled too many pages through the first time, caused a jam the second time, and ultimately rendered a file with a thick vertical line down the middle of the copy. When I re-fed the pages into the second machine, I got basically the same results except this time the copy was too light. (Apparently the OGF is networked). In frustration, I messaged the people getting the proof that somewhere in the six files they had received, they’d be able to see all my edits somewhere.

As the workday wound toward a close, I had one last chore: call my health insurance provider and make sure some upcoming surgery was pre-approved. I had to listen carefully to the voicemail message because my available options had recently changed. (Imagine that!) When I finally got through to a human, she proved very helpful in explaining to me it would take just a few moments to call up my information because the computers were a little slow this afternoon. (Again, imagine that!) She was soon able to determine that I was talking to the “completely wrong” department, and transferred me over to someone else. A very pleasant musical hold – T. Pain, if I’m not mistaken – soon ended and I found myself discussing the merits of a system that had designated my surgeon as “out of network,” roughly the same status as sword-wielding barbarian. I was told a further review would be necessary before he could be accepted, then I was given a case number and told to call back in eight to ten business days. Assuming I was still alive.

Twenty-four hours had now passed since my frightening encounter with Resusci-Annie, and I was glad at last to call it a “day.”

Website Review: Exterminators.com

March 26, 2010

They call it “pest control,” as if managing vermin populations was somehow within man’s power. If only their influence were restrained, we could reason with and civilize the insects and rodents. Maybe if we just allow the roaches to have a legislature, they can become a more responsible segment of our society. Let’s have a town-hall meeting for the ants. How about allowing referendum initiatives to be introduced by silverfish?

I used to work in my company’s quality control department, so I know a little about “control” in this context. As a manager of inspections, I had to make sure we kept our quality under control, so that not too much of it got out there and spoiled the customers. We needed to use it up in small pieces at a time, so we didn’t run out. To control was to restrict, to limit, to preserve.

Pest control companies aren’t really interested in containing or manipulating pests. They’re in business to wipe them out, killing them in the worst possible way, with chemical weapons of mass destruction. These exterminators arrive at a home or business with singular intent. No bug or rat (nor possibly even infant or cat) will remain standing when their ethnic cleansing is through. At best, the victims will be lying on their backs, legs flailing against the sky, white bootie paws twitching spastically.

Maybe if they had proper representation, they could at least lobby for a more merciful way to die. I’m imagining row after tiny row of cross-shaped gurneys, where invertebrates are administered lethal injections only after all judicial appeals have been exhausted.

As you can tell, I don’t know much about the pest control business. I aimed to learn more in research for this week’s Website Review, at a domain called thebiggreenk.com, internet home of Killingsworth Pest Control. (Killingsworth.com was already taken by an online murder-for-hire operation).

The home page displays basic introductory information, including a picture and audio clip from owners Mike and Debbie. They both smile broadly into the camera, Mike’s arm around Debbie’s shoulders, looking much friendlier than any of the Hitler photos I recall from history, except maybe that one where he’s playing with his dog.

The copy talks about how loathsomely infected your home probably is, how their customer service is second to none, how they train their employees “not only in the science of pest control but also on the science of people.” Sort of like Josef Mengele and his heinous medical experiments on living subjects, I’m guessing. They’re also expanding into lawn care service (Mike and Debbie, not the Nazis).

The first pull-down subject addresses the core of Killingsworth’s business, termite control. We learn that over half a million American homes will suffer major damage from wood-eating pests this year alone, and that repairs will cost $1.5 billion. The K-Men will come to your home and do a “FREE INSPECTION,” which will doubtless uncover frightening issues requiring immediate payments to the all-knowing exterminator. They realize you’re not going to know enough about the bowels of your home’s foundation to offer any resistance — they could tell you that Danny Bonaduce was living down there, partying up a storm with his termite friends, and you’d have to believe them. Fortunately, annual contracts costing only $30 a month are available

Problems with other types of pests are described in a separate section. Here we see the laundry list of creatures who could be gnawing away on your family at this very moment: millipedes, clovermites, earwigs, springtails, fleas, bed bugs. In the South, these can be active not only in the spring and summer months but also during warm days in the winter, so you might want to consider one of Killingsworth’s year-round packages. Be especially careful to watch for these beasts in obvious places like the kitchen, where they feast on your crumbs, but also in your bathroom, where plentiful moisture and odors can trigger spontaneous generation, creating creepy-crawlies that could emerge from your toilet at inopportune times.

There’s a section on mold remediation, another subject you didn’t even know existed that merits sleepless nights of anxiety once you think about it. They want to “make sure your crawlspace is as healthy as the rest of your house” using expensive installations like the E-Z Breathe Ventilation System, their new Dry-Ice Blasting technology and their “Premier Crawlspace program that offers a guaranty against future fungal growth.” I wonder if I can get a contract on my toenails.

Included under “Lawn Care” are a couple of package offers on mosquito control or, as they cutely label it, “mosKuito” control. (This recurring “K” motif reminds one of a certain organization of hate that also patrolled the South for many years). Another $30 a month gets you a nine-month deal to have your shrubs fogged and larvacide applied to standing water and gutters, so that unborn mosquitoes are also eliminated. Baby Killers!

The company has a special section on its web page devoted to mascot “Mr. K,” a Jack Russell terrier mix who has been trained to detect the scent of termites and bed bugs. Mr. K spent over 400 hours at the Florida Canine Academy which trains dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs, money and weapons as well as termites and mold. He is the founding president of the Canine Accelerant Detection Association as well as the International Termite Detector Dog Association. No, wait, that’s his trainer, Bill. Bill has appeared on several televised segments on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, and travels on promotional tours to community events around the country, putting on demonstrations for children and sniffing their crotches. No, wait, that’s Mr. K. (I think the fumes are starting to get to me).

A pulldown called the “Learning Center” helps educate consumers on how to identify common pests they may encounter in the middle of a dark, dark night as they stumble about their filth-encrusted homes. We find out about the three types of cockroaches — their size, shape and identifying markings, their ability to fly (yes) and presence of antennae (yes), and how many kinds of bacteria, parasitic worms and human pathogens they’re capable of spreading (33, six and seven, respectively). There are also portraits of flies, beetles, moths and pillbugs with brief profiles of each. We learn that the powderpost beetle “enjoys flying” among its hobbies, and that the merchant grain beetle “likes to attack cereal, cake mixes and macaroni.” There are some supposedly reassuring facts as well, including a debunking of the myth that earwigs will “crawl into sleeping people’s ears and eat their brains at night.” For some reason, knowing that doesn’t put me at any particular ease.

Finally, I’ll cite some of the customer testimonials under the “Why Choose Killingsworth” section. Lois writes “I had a problem under my house with mice nests all under the insulation which they had pushed it all to where it was hanging down, a lot was pushed out on the ground.” Killingsworth workers were able to decipher what she was talking about and fix the problem. Vince praises the two specialists who came to his home: “I learned a great deal about insects and other varmints … (technician) Matt was in motion the entire time spraying.” Sounds like Matt may have been experiencing some side-effects from the chemicals. Darlene notes that her inspector, Phil, took time out during his visit to carry a water jug to her goats and, on perhaps the most peculiar rating scale ever, gives Phil “on a scale of one to six, he’s an 8!” She liked him at least until her goats started drinking the water.

All things considered, thebiggreenk.com is a very informative and helpful website, quick to respond and containing very few bugs (not surprisingly). I learned much about the pitfalls of home ownership and maintenance, and how my biggest investment could be gradually eaten away by unseen forces whose existence I was barely even aware of. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve learned more about how exterminators prey on our ignorance, and will soon be studying how I can get a contract to keep them away from my house.

Let me look again at that Killingsworth.com site.

Fake News: Stupidity at home and abroad

March 25, 2010

Style is the key to Mideast peace

TEL AVIV, Israel (March 24) — After decades of conflict in the Mideast, most recently characterized by disputes surrounding expanded Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, a solution may be surfacing from an unlikely source — Home and Garden TV.

The cable network’s resident architect and home design expert Miles van de Choate says it’s the drab, post-modern styling of new houses being constructed on the West Bank that’s at the heart of Palestinian protests. A renewed cycle of building in east Jerusalem has led to increasing tensions between Israel and the U.S., in addition to bringing the region to the brink of a third Intifada.

“They’re boxy, boxy, boxy,” said van de Choate of the newest settlements. “There wouldn’t be any of that hideous Arab-Israeli violence if both sides had a greater appreciation of fashionable design. I think with a little panache in these new communities, everyone could forgive a half-century of animosity and war.”

Van de Choate suggested that greater use of Southwestern architectural techniques would work well in the parched lands near the Dead Sea where much of the conflict has taken place. Mostly ultra-Orthodox and right-wing Jews have greatly complicated peace efforts in the region by moving onto land that would otherwise be part of a two-state solution, but van de Choate claims that “smart, elegant homes will trump deeply rooted cultural hatred any day of the week.”

The stylist, host of HGTV’s From My House to Yours and Making the Most of Your Refugee Camp, said the clean lines, natural materials and rustic furnishings seen in traditional adobe structures in the American Southwest would cause “even the most bitter rock-throwing anti-Zionist to abandon his objections to expansion of the Jewish homeland into areas clearly off-limits under the 1979 Camp David accords.”

“Just imagine the feel of cool tiles beneath your feet during winter evenings wrapped in Navaho blankets by the fire,” van de Choate said. “It’s a vision of paradise to rival even the wildest dreams of a suicide bomber.”

Bart and his thick skull

WASHINGTON (March 23) — Congressman Bart Stupid (D-Mich.), whose weekend demand for an anti-abortion statement to accompany the healthcare reform bill, is said to be pleased with President Obama’s plan to issue an executive order reaffirming what everybody else already knows.

Stupid led a small group of pro-life Democrats to call for additional language against abortion besides a clear ban already in the bill, long-standing regulations in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of the controversial procedure, numerous state regulations, and a severe shortage of abortion of doctors nationwide.

“We just wanted to make absolutely, positively, absolutely sure that there are no pro-choice provisions in this or any other bill,” Stupid said. “We had the same language inserted into the bill bailing out Detroit automakers and in the funding of the troop surge in Afghanistan, so we thought it was needed here too.”

Despite decades-long support of women’s rights by the Supreme Court and widespread backing for choice in every opinion poll, Stupid said he’d continue his campaign to overturn any chance that abortion will finally be accepted by die-hard zealots. He’s sponsoring a bill currently making its way through committee that would outlaw all abortions for men “in case that Asian guy I saw on The Today Show who keeps getting pregnant ever decides against going to full-term delivery, however the hell that’s supposed to work.”

Stupid said he’d continue his fight to include anti-abortion language in every form of communication imaginable, including phone bills, automobile owners’ manuals, internal company e-mails, and Bazooka Joe bubble gum jokes.

“I wrote one of those last ones myself,” Stupid said. “Check it out: ‘Why did the little moron tiptoe past the medicine cabinet? Because he didn’t want to wake the sleeping pills. Just say no to RU-486!'”

I’m “going” — to get rich

March 24, 2010

At a time when many people are happy to have one job, I have two. My primary career is a typical 9-to-5 office job, consisting mostly of financial document analysis with a little online Scrabble and tardiness thrown in for laughs. My newer vocation began about two years ago, when boredom with the daily grind and a desire for a little extra cash spurred me to become a large lab animal.  

A local medical research outfit was looking for volunteers in a study it was doing. There was a vaccine already in widespread use among patients age 60 and older, and research was being done to see if it would be equally effective for a slightly younger population. At age 55, I was intrigued by the opportunity to be considered “slightly younger” at anything, and by the token payment that would be made to participants. I had to show up at their office in south Charlotte for a brief exam and interview, receive a next-to-painless injection, and for my effort I’d be compensated $120, and an additional $10 a month for answering a series of follow-up questions on the phone.  

I forget now what the disease was that I’d be vaccinated against. I think it was “Shingles” or “Pringles” or something like that. If I received the real medicine, which went to only half the participants in the double-blind study, I’d likely avoid developing either a painful skin rash, or breath that reaked of “pizzalicious” flavor and fingers stained with grease.  

During that first interview, I was careful to ask several probing questions, including whether I’d be probed, and whether “double-blind” meant that I’d be losing sight in both eyes (I wouldn’t, which was good; that’d be worth way more than $180). In return, they quizzed me about my health history, whether I’d ever had any headaches and for how long I’ve been having them. I said I thought everybody had headaches at least occasionally, and I’ve been having them for as long as I could remember, which didn’t sound good, but they took me anyway.  

The rest of the test was pretty uneventful. I never experienced any negative side-effects, except one time when the automated phone-in system malfunctioned and called me a “loser”. I received a cool ten-spot every month for six months, which I unwisely invested in the subprime mortgage derivatives market, and never got any “ingle”-related symptoms.  

Then, a few days ago, I got an e-mail at my work asking if I might be interested in participating in a new study for the same research firm. “Dear Davis,” it read, “we just wanted to let you know that we have a new study for nocturia, which is waking at least two times a night to go to the bathroom. If you’re interested in more information, please call.”  

Though the e-mail warned that this investigation would be more labor-intensive, requiring ten visits over three months and a long-term follow-up, I figured I’d easily qualify. I was indeed an over-50 non-smoker without diabetes and I did indeed sometimes need to “go” during the night, often to the bathroom though occasionally to a play.  

I sent a copy of the correspondence to the printer next to my desk which, to my horror, began spitting out obviously unrelated pages as soon as I pressed the “print” button. Two co-workers had picked this inopportune time to actually do some work, and now my shameful case of “nocturia” would be mixed in with the management compensation summaries they needed to read. It’s outrageous enough to learn that the CEO of Comcast pulled down $15 million in stock options alone in 2009, but to then learn that he also had to pee in his sleep would be simply too much information.  

I quickly jumped up and huddled menacingly over the printer, successfully screening off the ladies waiting to retrieve their report. I’m already widely regarded as the weird guy in the office, and I didn’t need any confirming documentation going into widespread release.  

A few days later I called the number to learn some of the details. I said I was a little concerned about having to make that many on-site visits considering that I’m working some long hours during our current busy season. When she heard that I worked at a real job, unlike most other 50-somethings who were long ago down-sized and now urinate for a living, she agreed that this might not be the test for me.  

“You’d have to collect all your urine for a 48-hour period to begin the study,” she said. “I’m not sure how that’d work in your office.”  

I, on the other hand, am quite sure how that would work, and it would be not well. I thanked her for her time and asked her to keep me in mind for future research, preferably any projects that didn’t involve the collection of secretions or emissions.  

After the call, though, I wondered if there might’ve been a way to make this work. Is it possible to collect all your liquid waste in a discreet vessel and, at the same time, effectively determine the opening price of an initial public offering? Or is urinating into a discarded two-liter Mountain Dew bottle while standing at your desk not what they mean by “public offering”?  

I consulted with a fellow middle-aged male who helped me bat around some ideas for how we could do our job and do our business at the same time. He suggested employing the little-used blue recycling bins that everyone has under their desks after a well-intended “green initiative” the company started a few years back. While it’s true that blue and yellow do combine to make green, I’m not sure that’s quite the kind of recycling our corporate masters had in mind. Though it might be possible to eliminate while remaining seated at your work station, the slightly distracted, blissed-out look on your face would reveal to any onlookers that you were enjoying a discussion of shareholder proposals way too much.  

I wondered about using a thermos. Andy said that’d be too small for 48 hours’ worth and, besides, I don’t think you’d really want to keep it warm. How about if you wore a non-descript backpack throughout the day, and filled it with balloons? “I figured for Casual Friday, I’d dress like I used to look back in high school,” you could say. Or maybe doing something blatantly obvious would be counter-intuitive — like one of those “beer hats” with jars attached to a construction helmet and tubes running down into your groin. I guess you’d need a pump, though, to get the liquid uphill. I’d have to run that plan by a fluid dynamics engineer.  

In the end, we agreed that none of these options were likely practical, and finally gave up hope of getting a vaccine that would guarantee we’d never pee again.  

(Wait — how about using a Pringles can?!)  

The sign says "Color Paper Only," but surely a little urine won't hurt

Fake News: Health-care reform brings a new era

March 23, 2010

With Sunday night’s passage by Congress of the most sweeping piece of  social legislation in decades, America awoke Monday morning to a new day. Health care reform had become the law of the land, and socialism had become our new way of life.

When the alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. in America’s house, the nation leaned over and mashed the snooze button.

“This new system is going to be great,” the people muttered as they rolled over and went back to sleep. “‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ My ability right now is zilch, so I’m going back to sleep. This socialism stuff is going to be so cool.”

The U.S. slumbered peacefully until almost 8 a.m., when the utopian ideal of people working together for the collective welfare of society suddenly morphed into an age of totalitarianism. The phone rang and America’s boss was on the other end, and he was mad.

“WHERE ARE YOU?” the overseer shouted threateningly. “You need to be in this office and you need to be here NOW!”

The nation hopped out of bed and gathered up its clothes. Well, it muttered to itself as the coffee brewed, you have to make compromises sometimes for the greater good. Life isn’t suddenly going to become some type of paradise.

When America arrived at work, it found that the office had been rearranged over the weekend. Gone was its modest but comfortable cubicle near the window. In its place was a so-called “open floor plan” where all the actuaries would be huddled together in one cramped corner. The totalitarian state unveiled only 45 minutes ago had now become full-blown Stalinism, with the workers confined to their gulag.

As the people settled into their daily routine, they momentarily forgot about the new and oppressive environment. Guard towers may have replaced water coolers, but there was still the matter of completing the PowerPoint presentation in time for that 10 a.m. meeting with the new client from Italy.

When America walked into the conference room, the client was already waiting, his face pinched, his arms crossed, his gaze aimed dismissively down his Roman nose. The age of fascism had arrived.

“You must make my deadline of April 3rd!” the client shouted. “All within this date, nothing outside this date, nothing against this date!”

After the meeting, the nation got a chance to catch up on a few e-mails and sneak a quick look at Facebook. Noon wasn’t far off by now, and America’s stomach started to grumble as it thought about what kind of lunch might be available under such a radically new system of government. It didn’t have to wonder long as its supervisor arrived and announced the whole department would be going out together.

“We’re going to that new Ethiopian restaurant across town,” he proclaimed. “And because it’s such a nice day, we’re going to walk.”

And so began the era of Maoism — a forced Long March that would end with a cultural revolution consisting of a washcloth-like sourdough flatbread and a berbere-flavored stew.

By the time the meal was finished and a dyspeptic nation limped back to the office, it was becoming increasingly clear that America had changed for the worse. As the actuaries entered the lobby of their office building, fellow workers from the finance department had gathered around the railing of the second floor, angling their arms skyward as they waved a greeting.

“Seig Heil!” they sang in unison, and the age of Nazism was upon the land.

Back at its desk, the afternoon unfolded uneventfully for America. There was time to work on its performance review and several routine phone calls to answer before the 3 o’clock seminar being staged by the quality improvement consultant.

Walking into the small training room, the nation and its co-workers were pleased to find a large-screen TV monitor at the front of the room. The consultant was wearing funny horn-rimmed glasses and a fake moustache, and written on the whiteboard was the phrase “Laughter = Creativity”. As the group settled into their chairs, the screen flickered to life and the Marx Brothers’ classic film “A Night at the Opera” began.

Just as opponents of health care reform had warned, America was now living under a Marxist regime.

The movie took up the rest of the afternoon and was followed by a brief discussion session of how it would impact the way new ideas could bubble up through the corporation, and how improved quality didn’t have to be expensive.

The consultant summed up the afternoon’s activities: “The workers of this seminar have nothing to lose but their chains,” he said. “Workers of the sixth floor, unite! Unite to come up with a way to cut costs in each of your departments by 10%.”

It was now close to 6 p.m. and a tired nation headed home from work. America was hungry again, but didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on dinner, so it stopped at Burger King.

The cycle of tyranny was now complete — the United States had been transformed from the most vibrant democracy in the history of the world into an icon of monarchism.

On top of everything else, the Whopper Junior must have turned because the nation got a really bad stomach ache. But at least it had universal health care and could afford to get it taken care of.

Monday thoughts (some in italic)

March 22, 2010

I can understand being too lazy to read a necessarily large and thorough health care reform bill, or to dim-witted to understand summaries of it. But for opponents of the effort to carry signs reading “NO to health care” — I hope their own personal physicians don’t take them literally.

+++

The sign at the Arby’s drive-thru reads “We gladly accept bills up to $20.” I believe they’ll also accept larger bills, but won’t be able to use quite as positive an adverb about it. My research reveals that they’ll reluctantly accept fifties, wistfully accept hundreds, skeptically accept two-hundred-dollar bills (good thing, since that denomination doesn’t exist), hypothetically accept $500 bills, impishly accept thousands and ironically accept the rare $5,000 bill. That’s what I like: a multinational corporation with attitude.

+++

“KSM” is both the federal government’s shorthand name for terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the name of a power pop all-girl teen rock group from Los Angeles. See if you can tell the difference between the Man …

and the Band…

Lead singer is Shelby Cobra (The Man or The Band?)

Principal architect of the 9/11 attacks (The Man or The Band?)

Waterboarded over 70 times (The Man or The Band?) Remember: answer what actually happened, not what should’ve happened.

Mentored by the Go-Gos (The Man or The Band?)

Opening act for American Idol winner David Archuletta (The Man or The Band?)

Involved in the Bali nightclub bombings (The Man or The Band?) Careful — could be a trick question.

Pleaded guilty to mass murder (The Man or The Band?)

Described by critics as “spunky” and leading examples of “girl-ska-punk”. (The Man or The Band?)

+++

I always feel that if I’d been just a little gentler flipping the on-switch that the light bulb on the lamp would not have burned out. Is it possible to feel too responsible for your actions in life?

+++

Fun phrases and their possible definitions from the world of corporate news releases:

“Expansion of our footprint” — We’re starting to put on a little weight.

“We leverage multi-shore outsourcing expertise” — We own see-saws and other playground equipment at beaches around the world.

“We employ a suite of internet-based capabilities” — We have a whole room-full of workers shopping on eBay.

“As an integrated provider of solutions, we drive innovation” — We use both African-American and Caucasian employees to blend dangerous chemicals. Many of them own hybrid cars.

“Customer-facing applications” — We’ve learned to look at our clients.

“A 24-7 360-degree resource” — The football game had to be called in the third quarter when it got too hot.

+++

I drove up to the ATM at my bank the other day and confronted two separate lines of cars — one row had three vehicles, the other had a single auto from which a man my age (late fifties) had stepped out. He was hunched over, peering into the machine, with a card in his hand and a quizzical look on his face.

My instincts told me to choose the longer line, since those people had remained in their cars and appeared ready to make smooth and quick transactions at their machine. But I thought, no, that’s being prejudicial toward my own kind, and I shouldn’t assume a lack of hair corresponds to a lack of ability to interact with modern technology.

I pulled into the line only to regret it immediately; a woman had now emerged from the passenger seat of the older man’s car and was also looking at the ATM. The older couple was apparently trying to figure out how to apply for a modified home equity loan using a secondary residence as collateral, and couldn’t tell which slot they were to yell their questions into. Meanwhile, the other line proceeded nicely.

The man soon returned to the driver’s seat while the woman began rifling through her purse. When the car’s brake lights came on, I had hope that he was going to drive off without her, allowing me to nudge forward — not actually striking her with my vehicle, but offering a helpful bit of direction on how she should get the hell out of the line. The man pulled about a foot forward, then again climbed out of the car. Apparently, they needed a little more elbow room to transact their business. The man removed his jacket.

He looked pretty handy and I half-expected him to pull out a tool kit to try and force access to his passbook account. Neither of them looked in my direction, which was a good thing, as this was about the time I started shaking my fist. I pulled into reverse, moved across to the now-vacant other lane, and quickly finished my withdrawal.

Stupid people like me!

+++

The Methodist church near my home advertised the topic of Sunday’s sermon on the sign out front: “Jesus and the Smiley Face.”

At first, I figured the message would be predictable: Jesus recognized that life was difficult, that it wasn’t always easy to do the right thing, that doing things which make you happy may not be in the interest of God’s greater glory. There was no place on Calvary’s Cross for a round yellow head grinning ear to ear.

But then, I realized how the Lord’s message is frequently a nuanced one, and there are many layers of meaning in various commandments. (For example, “love thy neighbor” means not only to care for their souls and their well-being, but also to loan them your leaf blower and occasionally engage in secret sex with their wife). Maybe this is in line with that gospel of prosperity and joy I’ve been hearing about. Maybe Jesus does want us to be happy, and display that glee through a big, sloppy smirk.

Not that I’m going to spend a Sunday in church to find out.