Archive for July, 2010

Revisited: Saturday musings

July 31, 2010

At least they have a job

While it might be hard to feel sorry for anybody who still has a job these days, I can’t resist pitying the poor individuals whose duty it is to promote a business by holding a sign or wearing a costume while standing by the side of the road.

Both variations come with intrinsic humiliations. If you’re only holding a placard – usually on the corner near a store that’s going out of business – it may not be as stifling hot, but you’re open to the taunts of anyone you’ve ever known who happens to be driving by. If you’re wearing a cow costume outside a Chick-fil-A or a Little Caesar’s suit at the pizza shop, at least no one will be able to identify you, or the lifeless heap you leave behind after the heatstroke. You can’t even pass the time by checking your text messages without betraying your role (whoever heard of a first century Roman tyrant, much less a cow, carrying a cell phone?).

I saw the worst example yet the other day outside a bedding store near my home. Someone had cut three holes into a mattress and then paid an innocent teenager to stick his head and two forearms through the holes so he could wave and smile at oncoming traffic. He had become a profusely sweating Mr. Mattress, eager to publicize up to 40% off select bed sets. Store owners had provided a barstool to give him some measure of comfort, and to convince motorists he wasn’t being pilloried.

I stopped by later to take a picture of the unfortunate kid (don’t worry, I would’ve shot it from behind; I’m not that insensitive), but all that was left was the stool. Still photography wouldn’t have done the barbaric scene justice anyway. Only video could’ve shown how the urgent arm-waving made it appear less like he was a welcoming mascot, and more like he was being consumed by a pillow-top inner spring.

Probably not what he had in mind when he considered a career in advertising.

New Olympic event?

I’d like to propose a new track-and-field event for the 2012 Olympics: a 100-yard race in which you’re not allowed to move your arms. Tests would need to be conducted to determine whether rules should require runners to willfully hold their own upper limbs in check tight by their sides, or whether strong elastic strapping was permitted. I’m flexible on the subject, as long as they don’t move their arms.

Needling the wife

Jogging on the edge of a rough neighborhood recently, I looked down to see a discarded hypodermic needle lying in the road. Feeling like I needed to do something about it, I poked at it with my shoe. It seemed, though, that this wasn’t enough, that I needed also to inform an authority. But who?

When I arrived home a few minutes later, I told me wife about the hazard. We both agreed that calling 911 or even the police office was a bit of an over-reaction. She contended that the same city officials who cart off animal carcasses could deal with used drug paraphernalia, while I thought it would require somebody wearing a hazmat suit. This led to a spirited discussion of which would be worse – touching a dead possum or risking exposure to hepatitis.

We’ve been married for almost 27 years now, and I’m proud to say we still haven’t run out of things to talk about.

When roaming free may not be good

The health food supermarket where I occasionally do my blogging has a very nice specialty meat section, complete with signs pointing out the advantages of eating humanely-raised animals. One of the items they sell is “free-roaming lamb.” While I’ve heard of free-range chicken and pasture-raised cattle, I have a little trouble imagining how allowing young sheep to wander the countryside would improve their flavor. Seems like a lot of them would just end up tasting like whatever kind of pickup truck they were hit by.

Robotic gratitude

I drove my Honda Civic through the automated car wash not too long ago and was pleased to discover that they had improved the instructions for drivers using the service. After you enter your number on a keypad, you pull forward into the bay, positioning your vehicle precisely so that the pipes and spray hoses can work properly.

There’s a large digital sign containing four phrases, each with a bright red light bulb next to them. The top one says “pull forward,” the middle one reads “stop” and the third one says “back up.” Sensors detect if you’re in the right spot, and then you can inch forward or back to make the proper adjustment. Skilled driver that I am, I hit it right on the nose, then sat back and enjoyed the soothing pelt of water on the windows.

When I was done, the light next to the fourth phrase lit up. “Thank you,” it said. This was apparently my cue to leave, as well as the robot’s way of showing its gratitude for my patronage. I thought we hit a new low in business transactions when the dot-matrix “THANK YOU” at the bottom of your receipt served as your appreciation. I should’ve known that American enterprise could always go lower.

It takes a genius

Readers of the “Ask Marilyn” column in yesterday’s Parade Magazine witnessed further evidence that American’s general level of intelligence has sunk even further.

For those unfamiliar with the piece (typically, I wouldn’t admit reading Parade Magazine either), Marilyn Vos Savant parlayed her fame as holder of the world record for highest IQ into a weekly column answering readers’ most difficult question. Common queries are along the lines of “what is truth?” or “could the sun burn out tomorrow?”

Yesterday’s question was a little less challenging: “What makes islands float?”

Abusing the kindness of others

Anybody familiar with the Panera bakery chain knows how generous they are with their facilities. The free wi-fi, roomy tables and intense air-conditioning are a magnet to both people looking to conduct informal business meetings and those just interested in checking their Facebook pages.

Some of the business people, however, seem to be getting a little out of control. Hooking up your laptop for hours is one thing, but conducting job interviews, offering sales presentations and bringing a portable printer to set up at the adjoining table are simply taking unfair advantage. The shop nearest my work recently had their entire back room taken over for a sales meeting, complete with projection equipment and loud, annoying pep talks.

I fear it won’t be long before we encounter the human resources manager who chooses to take his downsizing announcement offsite. “I’m sorry to inform everyone that your positions have been eliminated effective this coming Friday,” he might announce. “Please accept this cinnamon crunch bagel as a sign of my condolence.”

Math 101 — no, make that 165

Spent $165 this weekend for two introductory mathematics books my son will be using during his freshman year at college this fall. While I’m confident he’ll do well in the course, I can’t help but have the feeling that I just failed some kind of basic math.

Website Review: Or maybe not

July 30, 2010

Sometimes, I don’t even know why I bother.  

I’ve tried to make it a habit in this daily blog to devote each Friday’s piece to some kind of review, usually a website review. I don’t feel much like making the effort this week because, frankly, readership is down and I’m growing a little discouraged.  

I’d like to think it’s just the dog days of summer, and that most of my readers are on fabulous vacations in Europe during which they’re patronizing our civilization’s great museums and monuments rather than noodling around on the Internet. But deep inside, I know the Louvre can’t hold a candle to funny cat videos and online poker. So it must be me.  

Most websites are stupid and dumb. There, I’ve fulfilled my commitment for this week.  

Normally, discovering a site like would give me fresh encouragement. For those of you who haven’t recently spent an hour waiting in a doctor’s office equipped with a television locked to the Home and Garden channel, Mister Steamy is a yellow rubber ball with holes in it. Some genius got the idea to take one of his children’s discarded baby toys, jab at it with a knife for a few minutes, fill it with water and then throw it in the dryer. By following these few easy steps, he’s now able avoid ironing his clothes and can use the extra time spending the millions of dollars this invention has brought him.  


Or, I could update everybody on the ineffectiveness of a service I wrote about last fall (see ). I spent my lunch break Thursday walking around the office park where I work, enjoying a warm summer breeze while studiously avoiding stepping on goose turds. When I got to the small lake near the back of the park, I discovered the source of said turds — a large flock of Canada Geese who supposedly aren’t there because the park management hired a company called GoGeese to keep these beasts in check.  

GoGeese uses its stable of Jack Russell terriers to chase the geese around the park. What most of us would consider an amusing Saturday diversion for our dogs has somehow become a full-fledged business plan for another lucky entrepreneur. Unfortunately, much like Mister Steamy, it’s not working and the geese are still there. And they’re wrinkled.

I tried to approach the flock to get a comment from the biggest bird in the group. He’d allow me to get close, then would usher his family just out of range. In one final attempt, I walked slowly toward the group before breaking into a full-on sprint trying to at least get close enough for a nice mug shot with my camera phone. The birds took flight just as I noticed a co-worker walking nearby, who was probably thinking I had accidentally left my lunch at home again and was trying to capture a handy alternative to my usual turkey on whole wheat.  


Instead of the website-inspired observations I might usually make, perhaps I’ll reference an interesting story from yesterday’s local newspaper:  

Mechanics found a cheeseburger in the gas tank of a Rock Hill woman’s car, police say.  

The 30-year-old told police she noticed her car was running “rugged” late last week, according to a Rock Hill police report. The car would stop running, and let her start it again only to cut off a few minutes later.  


A mechanic found a cheeseburger and a pickle inside the car’s gas tank, the report said. The lunch caused about $1,000 in damages to the car. It is not known how the sandwich got inside the vehicle’s tank.  

Or I could cite a story out of London, broadcast on NPR yesterday afternoon, in which a report encouraged doctors to stop calling their overweight patients “obese” and instead use the word “fat.” It was believed that pathetic tub-o-lards would respond better to a blunt assessment of their condition than they would hearing it couched in medical-sounding terms. Calling them fat would “subliminally” urge them to lose weight, just as calling them ugly might present a great business opportunity for the doctor next door who specializes in plastic surgery.  

In the interest of journalistic balance, NPR rounded up another interview subject they described as “morbidly obese” to hear which term she preferred. She said she liked “fat” better, not as much as she liked “plus-sized” but certainly better than anything modified by the word “morbidly.”  

(By the way, if she’s hungry, I know where she can find a cheeseburger or, if she can manage a brief sprint, a nice plump — excuse me, “fat” — goose.)  

Or maybe I’ll do what TV executives do in the summer when they know viewership is down: produce a reality show. Instead of posting a scripted humor piece, I could run an excerpt from a memo I had to write for my current project at work, in which I’m charged with soliciting suggestions for process improvement from my fellow workers. See if you’re entertained by this:  

Thanks to all of you for agreeing to participate as part of the Project Greenline core team. In the next week or two, I’ll be coming in during your normal work hours so we can spend some time discussing how best to coordinate our efforts among all shifts.  In the meantime, we’ve identified what might be some “low-hanging fruit,” changes to processes that might be seen as reasonably good ideas that can be easily implemented. Some of these have the potential of getting us moving quickly in a few areas, while we take more time to consider the “stickier” subjects. Please read through the attached list of bullet points and see what you think. If you need more details on a particular subject, let me know. We can talk about concerns or related ideas you might have when we get together in early July.

“Dancing With the Stars” it’s not, but at least I’m phoning it in with the best of them.

Scouting photos for the office display

July 29, 2010

In an effort to improve team morale in the office, we’ve dedicated a corkboard to the display of pictures of employees and their families. Photos can be from home or in the workplace, current or from years past.

I want to contribute to the effort and burnish my reputation as something of a super-man at the same time. I’ve narrowed my selection down to five photographs from my Swashbuckling Era, roughly 1971 until 1982. I’ve included these below, with captions, and ask your help in deciding which of the group is most appropriate for my desire to maintain a professional reputation.

During my brief stint in the majors (37 AB, 4 hits, .108 batting average, perfect attendance), I was lucky enough to get a game-winning, walk-off HBP (hit-by-a-pitch) to lead my Dodgers to a 5-4 win in a late-season 1972 contest against the rival Giants. This game was known more for the introduction of pie-in-the-face-to-the-hero than for quality play (each team committed 6 errors, and a declining Don Drysdale pitched 5-2/3 innings with his left hand constantly holding his toupee in place), and the tradition lives on famously in post-game interviews today. As you'll see in subsequent photos, this was my last encounter with shaving cream for a number of years.

In 1975, I turned inward to spirituality on a pilgrimage to Mecca, a small town in Georgia between Athens and Cairo. I used a converted glass-bottom boat to travel backwater swamps preaching my message of love, forgiveness and the value of pocket t-shirts (where you gonna keep a pen in a regular t-shirt, huh?) If you look closely, you'll see two hoses replenishing my onboard stock of Propofol, the same sedative that killed Michael Jackson but which, when mixed with laughing gas, creates a surprisingly pliant congregation.

By 1977, I had abandoned God and instead sought the pleasures of the sensual. This scene from the soft-core classic I Have Your Pizza Right Here, Ma'am; In My Pants, lives on today as the only pornographic title to contain a semicolon.

After extracting myself from the flesh trade, I embarked on a voyage of real-life exploration. In the piney woods of remote southwest Venezuela, I was the first to encounter and describe a new species of capybara, a large type of South American rodent. Here, I'm seen pointing at it, where it sits just off-camera. My only picture of the actual animal was sadly destroyed by an earthquake.

Ready to settle down by the time I got married in 1982, this photo is from our honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas. While everyone else is happily enjoying the skiff excursion to a private "out island," note the concern on my face. I'm worried that I don't, at that one brief moment in my life, have anything to worry about. I also had a snoot-full of Bacardi 151 rum, but that's beside the point. I was not asked to drive and, even if I were, I couldn't have found my way back to the Royal Caribbean's “Adequacy of the Seas.”

Taking a WikiLeak

July 28, 2010

The WikiLeaks dump of thousands of military documents detailing the everyday horrors of war in Afghanistan didn’t include a lot of important strategic information. It did give substantial insight into the frustrations and dangers being faced by our soldiers, fresh reasons to honor the awful sacrifice being made there by our fighting men and women.

To a lesser degree, we all face routine but terrifying tribulations as we go about our daily lives. You may not be worried about roadside bombs hampering your daily commute to work (unless you live in certain parts of New Jersey or Arizona). However, there are some truly frightful potholes, road-raged motorists and poorly engineered intersections, all of which contribute to a feeling of being embattled. At least we get to return home to our families every evening, a reassuring thought unless your mother-in-law has imposed Sharia law in your household to go along with her bland meatloaf and questionable choices for television viewing.

Like the Army brass that had been chronicling the minutiae of a million encounters with wartime dangers, I too have been keeping a journal of my daily battle to survive. I think it’s also worthy of a dump, though maybe not the digital kind. Regardless, what follows is an excerpt from a typical day. New York Times, help yourself.

  • Flossed teeth per American Dental Association prescribed 5 minutes, and was careful to use an up-and-down brushing motion rather than side-to-side. Regs suck. I refuse however to brush after every meal. Rather have every tooth fall out of my head than spend half the day on proper dental care. Doesn’t seem to hurt the Taliban.
  • Provisions prepared and packed into sack. Not too sure about expire date on the TF [tuna fish] and the CAC [Chips Ahoy cookies] are little but crumbs. So inconvene.
  • Almost to work when I hit security checkpoint that may be bogus. Bright red light swinging above street is local signal I can’t proceed till bald tattooed guy pulls up next to my car and gives threatening look. Last week had to pay off with carton of cigs here but today he lets me go. Sometimes, it’s just the uncertainty that gets you.
  • Finally arrive at forward position for today’s post. Email from local commander says I’m delinquent on required training for new expense report system, so first half of day will be wasted. As a child, dreamed of glory on the battlefield and all I get is reminder that corporate credit card can’t be used for personal purchases. Boss is such a mother-[redacted] cock-[redacted].
  • Heading out for coffee break. Thought I had more than quarter tank of gas. Insurgents from next office park draining petrol again?
  • On way back to post, I’m surrounded by 18-wheelers on all 4 sides. I go on High Alert, sensing possible ambush. Spill hot coffee on pants in the process. MEDIC!!
  • Fog of war leads to much mistaken identity. Friendly fire a constant concern. Coworker tells me about daughter’s dance recital and how darling she looked in rhinestone tiara, apparently mistaking me for someone who gives a shit.
  • Expense report training has given me a massive headache but meds in short supply on the front line. Company policy says aspirin can’t be provided for liability reasons, but they have no problems giving me a mouse where the right-click works only half the time.
  • My stint for today is almost done. ASS [assistant security secretary] needs me to sign some papers, while DICK [director of intelligence for corporate knowledge] says I may have to re-do training because server went down. MORON [manager of regulations on nightshift] needs proof I worked nights last week. AHOLE (the asshole who sits in my work station after I leave) complains about sesame seeds left in computer keyboard. I deserve combat pay for working with these idiots.
  • Wife radioed that she needs bread, milk and tampons so I’ll have to stop at commissary. Getting items scanned at the checkout, I see telltale traces of lasers, indicating I’m being targeted. I hit the floor and climb under shopping cart. Lady behind me complains I’m worse than shoppers who pay with checks. Short burst of automatic weapons fire takes care of her. Danger apparently past, I stand back up but am targeted again: this time to contribute a dollar to local leukemia victim.
  • Can’t jog tonight because of wimpy “ozone alert”. My buddies say screw it but after last physical revealed possible emphysema onset, I listen to weatherman Larry Sprinkle and instead do a few toe-touches in my bedroom.
  • Another day closes with a final indignity. Wife’s mother wants to watch Jay Leno because Robert Pattinson will be on. I thought we were fighting enemy over there so we wouldn’t have to fight them over here. Oh, well. At least January Jones is second guest. Talk about a reason to fight another day!

Fake News: YMCA goes MIA

July 27, 2010

CHICAGO (July 26) — In a rebranding move that stirred up its Christian faithful and simply confused everybody else, the YMCA has rolled out a new logo touting the organization as simply “the Y.”

Gone is the “MCA” that completed the full name of the Young Men’s Christian Association that had existed since its founding in 1844. The original charter of serving to develop a healthy spirit, mind and body remains, but the public relations experts who came up with the change hope to increase membership from a wider, more diverse community.

“We had narrowed ourselves into a pretty slender demographic,” said national spokesperson Tom Scribner. “There may be plenty of young, but only half of them are men, and then less than half of these are Christian. When we further require that they be a member of the 1960s soft-rock group The Association, we’ve just about eliminated everybody.”

“By just calling ourselves ‘the Y,’ we can accept almost anyone into our facilities,” Scribner said. “And if ‘Along Comes Mary,’ we’d be able to welcome her even if she were an old Jewish lady.”

Scribner described additional confusion that existed before the image update and name change. A competing group called the “SPCA” — believed to stand for the “Small Pets Christian Association” — was drawing off the existing membership of the Y, sometimes permanently.

“We had people who’d go to the SPCA for a workout and a schvitz in the steamroom, and they’d never be heard from again,” Scribner said. “Apparently, the SPCA workout consists of a 30-foot dog run where joggers are chained to a steel line, and their sauna uses fatal doses of carbon monoxide instead of steam. That’s not good.”

Scribner deflected criticism that came mostly from Southern branches of the organization, who complained that the move de-emphasized the Christian element. Also opposed to the change were roller rinks who feared they’d have to scrap one of their skaters’ favorite songs, “YMCA” by the Village People.

“We took the valuable input of these groups and considered it carefully,” Scribner said. “We told the National Roller Skating Association they could keep singing the song as it was written. But we had to be tougher on the Christians and make them promise never to mention or think about Jesus Christ while they’re in our facilities. Even if they drop a medicine ball on their foot, we’ll be requiring them to say something like ‘crap’ or ‘ouch’ instead of anything that invokes the name of the Lord.”

The shortening of corporate names to a catchy single letter has caught on among marketing experts looking to increase sales among young people. The United States of America, or as it was sometimes called “the U.S.A.,” recently requested fellow members of the United Nations to simply refer to it as “the U.” The Professional Society of Urologists, formerly the P.S.U., is now known as “the P.” A consulting firm brought in to update the image of the 101-year-old NAACP with a proposal to rename the civil rights organization “The N Word” had its suggestion rejected by the group’s membership.

Other firms that have tried this tactic have run into legal trouble with copyrights. The international jihadist terror organization known as al-Qaida was looking to transform itself into an edgy group that could draw young adventure-seekers into its ranks. The terrorists had already printed signage, T-shirts and promotional pens bearing the new name of “The Big Q,” when it was discovered that a radio station in Canton, Ohio, was already calling itself “The Big Q-96.” The station had won some preliminary legal battles but then was threatened with holy war, and decided to compromise by offering al-Qaida tickets in preferred seating for the upcoming Avenged Sevenfold concert featuring Five Finger Death Punch.

Life on the night shift

July 26, 2010

Observations from the late shift, after I spent a week working 8 p.m. till 4 a.m. in an ill-fated attempt to gather input from night workers on how to improve our production processes when all they want to talk about is how under-appreciated they are, how sleepy they are, and when are we going to do something about that guy who works in the corner and is always pissing people off:

  • Prepare to be sickened by your fellow workers and their choices for foods appropriate to the middle of the night. Since they’re already used to an evening schedule, they have no trouble at all eating pizza or popcorn or leftover fish at 3:30 in the morning. I tried to be a nice guy by bringing in a dozen Domino’s pizzas one night, ostensibly to encourage their participation in my suggestion-gathering project. My generosity yielded at least two proposals — one was my own, and involved never bringing that much garlic into your car if you ever expect to get rid of it; and the other was that I shouldn’t believe the new Domino’s advertising campaign, because their pizzas still taste like crap.
  • If you can hang on until about 2 in the morning without taking a break, you can accumulate your time for an hour-long power nap in your car. This is how most third-shifters spend their lunch period, and it’s surprising how few are found draped over their steering wheel with carbon monoxide poisoning the next morning. There are several important strategies to consider if you try this. Move your car away from the spots nearest the building entrance, so you don’t have co-workers pointing and laughing at your gaping, spittle-flecked maw. If you don’t want to lose that coveted parking space, simply encase your head in a paper bag, or sleep in the trunk. Tune your radio to the BBC World Service, so you can be soothed to sleep with English-accented reports on the European sovereign debt crisis. With our current heat wave, it was also essential to keep the car engine and air conditioner running throughout my nap. Be sure to place the transmission in park and set the brake, however. Due to my physically active sleep habits, I was tossing and turning and at one point, awakened to the gunning of the car motor when my foot slipped across the accelerator. You don’t want to wake up to find yourself barreling down the interstate with a bag draped over your face. This is certifiably unsafe.
  • Sleep masks, while effective at blocking out the daylight, work poorly for someone who, like me, is a restless sleeper. On successive attempts, I awoke with it draped over my head like a toupee, wrapped several times around my left ear and, most troubling of all, binding my throat to my genitals.
  • One afternoon, I awoke to find I had lost my pillowcase. I was pretty sure it was there when I went to bed around 6 a.m. but it was nowhere to be found seven hours later. I looked under the mattress, under the bed, in my pajamas — no sign of it. I did, however, have a disturbing fullness in my stomach, despite the fact I had snacked only lightly during the hours before I turned in. Fortunately, my wife revealed that she had laundered and failed to return the pillow case the previous evening, just in time for me to cancel the emergency intestinal surgery I had scheduled.
  • If you do find yourself with little appetite when you wake up, try my recipe for a wonderfully light beverage I call “Air Coffee”: Add two tablespoons of coffee in the filter; pour fresh water into a separate measuring cup; turn on the coffeemaker; then carry the water down the hall while you use the bathroom. When you return a few minutes later, you’ll enjoy the faint smell of slightly burned coffee, a hot but empty coffee pot, and the distinct feeling you emptied the wrong liquid into the toilet.
  • Realize that on third shift, the world is upside-down: today is tomorrow, breakfast is dinner, day is night, and the employee to your left is watching TV telephonically with her husband. If your loved one is up by the time you get home, you’ll talk about something that needs to be done “tomorrow” but you really mean “today.” Mondays begin at 11 p.m. and don’t end until after you wake up well into Tuesday. When people arrive for work at midnight, you say “good morning” and when they leave at 8 a.m. you say “good night.” You tell your supervisor that you really like your job and that the hours don’t bother you at all, when in fact you want to kill him.
  • The topic of sleep becomes an all-consuming obsession for those who don’t get much. You’ll hear stories about the time in 1984 when a particular individual slept for seven-and-a-half hours straight, or reports that someone once had a dream. Monday conversations usually consist of a recounting of when and where weekend sessions of slumber took place (“I had the best nap during my daughter’s valedictorian address,” reported one mom. “I’m told I caught an 18-pound catfish out on the lake Saturday,” said one man. “And I tend to believe it because of the way I smelled.”) Any sign of rain portends what they call “good sleeping weather,” which I guess means they can wake up in the morning and not bother with a shower if they’ve slept in the yard.
  • If nothing else, the lack of sleep makes for a wonderful set of excuses to be used in all kinds of occasions. After just a day or two of staying awake all night and struggling through a few uneven naps during the day, you can get away with virtually any error in judgment. Accidentally get engaged to a Palin? You were so tired that maybe you did, though you didn’t mean it. Chair the board of an oil-spilling energy company? Sorry, but you were so groggy you forget to consider basic safety regulations. Provoke a nuclear confrontation with North Korea? You didn’t think your argument at the corner market over getting the wrong change was going to escalate to quite that level.

Fortunately, there is assistance out there for those who have to work nights. A booklet titled “The ShiftWorkers Handbook,” published by the people at SyncroTech who espouse the patented ChronoCare approach to help the sleep-challenged, urges the frequent use of running two separate words together while keeping the second one capitalized as one method for managing your circadian rhythms. They also blame the arrival of indoor plumbing for the need for round-the-clock work, discuss “zeitgebers” as our body clock’s time cues that double as tasty German chocolate bars, how many people choose to work nights so they can hunt and fish during the day, and the need to be on guard for “penile tumescence” if you grab a quick catnap in public.

It also helps that the book is so useless and so boring that it’ll knock you right out.

Revisited: You can count on me

July 25, 2010

Today I am 55 years, 265 days old. (Hold the renditions of “Happy Birthday,” please). If I live to be what is generally considered the maximum human age of 113 years, my life is not even half over. If instead I live to reach the typical American white male life expectancy of 74 years, I’m about three-quarters done.

To look at it even more pessimistically, of all the good times I’ve lived – my wedding, the birth of my son, a cruise to Alaska, that time I got a free cookie – probably 90% of these are in the past. Of all the bad times still to be endured, a similarly high percentage is yet to come.

For someone who was never that interested in mathematics during my formal education, I sure can obsess about numbers. My wife used to get on me when I’d make a casual comment during the eleventh day of our two-week vacation that our holiday together was already 78.5% over. “Why can’t you just enjoy it instead of trying to quantify how much of it is left?” she’d ask, and I’d think “but calculating is half the fun.” Even though she had her undergraduate degree in math, she failed to appreciate how my observation was at least as joyous to me as the Napa Valley winery tour was to her.

The farthest I advanced in high school math was a course in intermediate algebra. I never had calculus nor trigonometry nor pertussis nor trychinosis nor any of those higher arithmetics. My love of numbers was more innate than anything that could be taught in a classroom. In the days before calculators, video games and cable television, I would be entertained for hours with self-invented dice games, keeping reams of paper records on how seven was a slightly more likely roll than six or eight. I even made up a baseball game that took as much as an hour to play, then another hour to calculate each imaginary player’s hitting and earned run averages. And I did this in the days before performance-enhancing steroids.

By the time I went off to college, I was finally beginning to entertain some other interests, particularly in individuals who had twice as many X chromosomes as I did. I wasn’t especially successful with the ladies in these days, though I did attempt to numerically prove the opposite. I kept a log of my dates with one woman I was pursuing in the belief that when I reached a certain quantity of hours-per-week that we’d officially be a couple. We hit something like 4.72 before it dawned on me that I had a car and she didn’t, that most of our “dates” were trips to the grocery store, and that the guy on the Bounty paper towel package had a better chance of getting to second base than I. (A double, by the way, is equivalent to rolling a ten in the baseball dice game).

The mathing of my life now continued into adulthood. I kept track on a daily basis of how many hours I logged at my first two part-time jobs, celebrating my entrance into the middle class when I finally broke through to $300 a week. When I took up jogging for health and relaxation in my thirties, I’d measure the route on my car’s odometer before running it, then record each day’s distance and translate that into a graph of weekly averages (fortunately, I had learned Excel by now). When I took my first business trip to India and saw that what I’d thought would be three weeks of adventure were instead going to be 516 hours of hellish heat and overcrowding, I’d figure updates each morning of how much time was left before my return home.

Reducing my life experience to so many digits might seem like a hollow exercise to some, though I’d actually consider my personal circumstances to be quite happy. I recognize that I’ve had my chance to “have fun,” and now it’s time for more mature satisfactions like contentment, a sense of accomplishment, and the continued ability to pee. Like anyone who’s facing down his late fifties while watching the transition of power and fortune pass to a new generation, I do have some regrets about what I didn’t get to do. I can count three things in particular.

One, I’ve never gotten to ride a motorcycle. I’ve enjoyed a lot of cycling in my time but the power generated by my admittedly well-toned thighs can’t approach what a Harley could produce. Perhaps it was the low-rent culture I associated with bikers that kept me away, or maybe it was the odds that I’d end up splattered against a tree that bothered me. In any case, I don’t own a black t-shirt anyway so it’s not going to happen at this late date.

Second, I regret that I’ve never been to Paris. I once spent a week in London and later enjoyed a beautiful morning in Frankfurt, yet these two European destinations can’t compare with romantic France. I was reminded of this once again Sunday as I watched the final stage of the Tour de France, marveling at the tree-lined beauty of the wide boulevards and realizing I could’ve blown the silly helmet off of every one of those guys if I only had a motorcycle.

Finally, I’m really sorry I never got a chance to take heroin. I know this is probably more self-destructive than it is recreational, but it seems like such a great way to relax. And think of the opportunities for charting weight loss! I’m a little queasy about the whole injection prospect, and snorting or smoking don’t strike me as especially sane alternatives. Maybe there are other ingestion options that would appeal to someone trying to keep up a professional appearance: applying black tar as a hair gel, or brushing my teeth with powdered moonrocks. I think I can handle the stupor, as it would fit right in with the glazed looks of others near my cubicle.

I know my odds of reaching these last three life goals are pretty long, and it’s probably best that they are. I had my chances as a younger man to live life on the edge, and it’s because I did such a poor job of it that I’m still here today, relatively enjoying what just became my twenty-eight million, nine hundred and twenty-seven thousand, eight hundred and fifth minute. When my number is finally up, I believe I’ll be able to count myself among the lucky.

Revisited: A taskmaster I’m not

July 24, 2010

I recently received an email from a higher-up at my company that seemed to suggest I’d be taking on an assignment. I don’t mind doing everyday work at the office but something akin to a project was alarming news, or could be if I found a way to make sense of the communication.

I was being “tasked” to act as a “resource” charged with producing a “deliverable” in an effort at improving our “validation.” As I waded through the dense corporate prose, I gradually got a vague idea of what I was to do.

The “validation” was designed to audit a process we have in place to audit our auditors, ridiculous perhaps to those not familiar with all the cross-checks we do in my field yet something I actually understood. Because I’m well past my reproductive peak, I knew the “deliverable” didn’t require me to bear live young but instead to return a written report. I guessed it was me who was being called the “resource,” which is one of the nicer complements I’d received at work in some time.

As for the “tasking,” I finally figured out that it meant I had to do something. I was okay with that, as I do a lot of things every day. I was just glad that it didn’t involve multi-tasking which, like many men of my generation, I’m not very good at. defines multi-tasking as “free background checks on tutors, online video tutoring, live learning.” No, wait, that’s the advertisement on Multi-tasking is the “concurrent or interleaved execution of two or more jobs by a single CPU,” though it’s also frequently applied to individuals who can do more than one thing at once, individuals who are typically young people or women people.

The example we’ve seen cited most often in the media over the last few months is the breast-pump/Blackberry scenario, in which high-powered female managers are able to successfully balance their family responsibilities with their careers. I think this situation is more symbolic than real, since even the sharpest executive can occasionally confuse a send button with an on-switch, which dismays the heck out of the customer service representative at your wireless provider who tries to help un-stick your keypad.

I realized a few days ago just how inept I was at multi-tasking when my wife called my cell phone while I was driving to a local fast-food restaurant. I answered the call just as I was pulling in to Wendy’s to order a 5-piece nuggets (no sauce), and listened intently as she asked if I needed anything at the grocery store. It took every last bit of concentration I could summon to avoid running over the speaker box and/or placing a takeout order for roll-on deodorant, a can of jungle-strength Off! and a refill on my Lipitor (no sauce).

I didn’t do much better the next day when she called me again while I was hiking along a busy highway from my workplace to a nearby diner. I needed to confirm an upcoming dental appointment, continue walking in a straight line, and avoid being hit by an oncoming tractor-trailer all at the same time. (And I’m not even counting relatively autonomic exercises like respiration, digestion and brain-stem activity.) I was careful, I was successful, and I was proud of myself.

Typically I do a better and more thorough job when I can line up a set of chores in sequential order. Take my morning routine, for example. I start the coffee brewing, remove the lunchmeat from the refrigerator, lay the bread out on a paper towel, remove the cat from the counter, rinse off some grapes, retrieve my briefcase from the hallway, pick out a couple of Oreos, dislodge the cat again, assemble the sandwich, select a breakfast bar from the cupboard, yell “no” at the cat, pour the coffee into a mug, brush the crumbs into the garbage, and put everything into the briefcase. My arms are flying about and the end-result might take a little longer to achieve than if I was able to combine some of my efforts, but at least I don’t open my satchel four hours later and have Tom jump out.

Maybe it’s the involvement of modern communications equipment that contributes to my befuddlement. Considering that I can barely look for the correct expressway off-ramp and listen to a radio at the same time, it’s not surprising that I have these difficulties. I like to say my brain is hard-wired differently, as if that high-tech analogy will deflect any perception that I’m simply an aging idiot. I think I’m pretty adept with computers and electronics for someone in their mid-50s, however I need to focus on the function at hand if I’m to avoid accidentally taking down the Southeast power grid when I only meant to send my son an instant message.

Fortunately, the validation project I was roped into was something I could complete on my own timetable and terms. I took two days “off-line,” as we call it when we head to the conference room for a mixture of spreadsheet compilation and laptop Scrabble, and assembled an impressive list of suggested revisions to our standard operating procedure. I redefined glossary terms, offered a few new practice exercises and assembled a nice choice of additional words into a professional-sounding collection.

I just hope the recipient of my deliverable reads the words in the order I submitted them. Otherwise, she’ll be as confused as I usually am.

Oops. Quotes may have been taken out of context

July 23, 2010

A careful examination of a book produced by the God of Abraham appears to reveal rampant racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and a tone of general intolerance among top officials in His Administration.

Only days after a right-wing blogger meticulously dissected a speech by a Department of Agriculture official to show that a few sentences taken out of context appeared racist,  a similar examination of book called “The Bible” shows a surprising contempt by the Creator for most of humanity.

The analysis of the book  looks not at the entire arc of the holy publication’s message.

“That would be way too hard and way too boring,” said Bart Andrewbreit, whose anti-religion blog first broke the story yesterday. “I thought people would get a truer sense of what’s being said here if I just used a few snapshots.”

What was released on the website was a painstaking edit of the book that forms the foundation for the Judeo-Christian faith. The snippets show not just hostility for the human race, but a sense of confusion and even occasional lunacy by the authors. The audience of the blessed narrative can be seen at several points to be cheering on the antagonism, resentment and outright aggression being spewed by the presenter.

Some of the highlights, recorded during perhaps a thousand years of ancient history by a variety of apostles, saints and men of God, can be read in the following outtakes.

“Your lamb shall be…goats.” Exodus

“Fat…fat…fat…fat…fatty….Moses.” Leviticus

“For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are…beasts.” Numbers

“Take careful heed to…act corruptly and…die.” Deuteronomy

“Jesus said…do not…be…a…flute player.” Matthew

“Jesus sat…on…Peter, James, John, and Andrew.” Mark

“Jesus…said to him…God…is…lame.” Luke

“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water…I…thirst.’ Jesus said to her…’No.’” John

“Now, Lord, look on the…feet. Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have…lied to me…They…are…unclean…and…a…shame…” Acts

“Are we … both Jews and Greeks?…Yes…certainly.” Romans

“God gave…neither…plants…nor…water…but…fire.” Corinthians

“If we live in…corruption…we…do…good.” Galatians

“For it is shameful to even speak of…your…wives.” Ephesians

“For we do not wrestle…God…but…I have sent…you for this very purpose.” Ephesians

“Jesus Christ… did not…do… things without complaining and disputing…Beware of dogs.” Colossians

“I saw … Man, clothed with a …  golden girdle. His hair was white as snow …  and His feet like fine brass, and … out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” Revelations

“Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight … with the sword of My mouth. …To him that overcometh will I give … a white stone. I know thy works, … Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because … that woman Jezebel. Behold, I will cast her into a bed… And I will kill her children with death.” Revelations

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.” Revelations

“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals?'” Revelations

“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe.'” Revelations

“And thus I saw the horses … and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. …For their power is in their mouth. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it up … and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.” Revelations

“Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: Also our couch is green.” Solomon

“My beloved … standeth behind our wall; He looketh in … the windows … Thy hair is as a flock of goats … Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes.” Solomon

When these clips were picked up the media, virtually all of humankind joined in a chorus of condemnation for the Almighty. He was asked to resign by His manager, who said the Office of the All-Powerful (OAP) had a zero tolerance policy toward hateful speech. God reluctantly complied with the request.

Later, after it was revealed that the quotes were taken out of context, and that the Bible actually represented a just and merciful guide to life and man’s relationship with his maker, God received an apology and was offered a new position in the department.

“Gee, I don’t know,” the Lord told Meredith Vierra on NBC’s Today Show. “They treated Me pretty shabby. It was shameful how fast everybody came down on Me so quickly before they could read the entire manuscript. I think I’m going to bask in the media spotlight for a few more days before I make My decision. Right now, I’m inclined to take early retirement.”

Fake News: The weird and otherwise

July 22, 2010

The news of the world and the news of the weird are getting more and more similar. It shouldn’t be much longer before we can combine both into single news stories, much like the following:


President Obama signed into law a sweeping expansion of federal financial regulation at a White House ceremony yesterday, before being briefly interrupted by the sight of a parasailing donkey flying high over the capital.

“Because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Obama said before signing the legislation. “There will be no more taxpayer-funded… Hey — is that a donkey?”

Sure enough, it was. Promoters from a Russian beach resort had attached the donkey to a speedboat in the Potomac River, then flew him high above Washington for about 45 minutes. Witnesses were horrified as the frightened donkey brayed in panic. And they weren’t too happy about how little the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will do to prevent banks from becoming too big to fail.

“We’ve done virtually nothing to prevent another big corporate bailout one or two years down the road,” said liberal commentator Allen McGrath. “The American people are much like that donkey — up in the air, helpless, and not too bright.”

The president defended the limited scope of the reform, noting that Republican opposition made more wide-ranging action politically impossible.

“These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” Obama said. “And no high-flying asses — I’m looking at you, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner — are going to keep this much-needed action from being implemented.”

The president added, “I can’t believe that’s a parasailing donkey I’m seeing right next to the Washington Monument. Incredible.”


The temporary cap keeping oil from flowing unchecked into gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana held its ground for a sixth day Wednesday, despite the arrest of a man charged with smuggling 18 rare apes under his clothing.

While at one end of the Gulf of Mexico, BP and the Coast Guard continued efforts to permanently seal the leaking well, in Mexico City Roberto Cabrera was busy explaining to authorities how the tiny titi monkeys had made it into his girdle.

“This is absolutely unprecedented,” Cabrera told customs police after his plane landed at the airport. “What are the odds that a deepwater drilling platform would explode, and that I’d have these monkeys in my Spanx, all in the same year?”

Mexican authorities were unmoved by the man’s claim that both events were symbolic of a world tumbling into chaos.

“The oil companies definitely showed neglect in their safety procedures, but at least there were some efforts at avoiding an environmental catastrophe,” said Mexico’s minister of internal affairs Alberto Lopez. “This guy had to have intentionally put those monkeys in his pants. It’s just not credible that they got there by accident.”


Troubled celebrities had good days and bad days this week.

In Los Angeles, Sandra Bullock successfully obtained a restraining order against a man accused of stalking her since 2003. But half a continent away, the Porky Pig mascot at Six Flags Great America was viciously attacked by two men.

Bullock took legal action when Thomas Weldon, a recently released psychiatric patient, showed up near her home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Oscar-winning actress was not harmed in that incident, which is more than can be said for the 24-year-old woman wearing the mascot costume.

Two off-duty employees from the park took a photo with Porky on Monday afternoon, and then punched the mascot in the head 10 to 15 times.

“That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m afraid of happening to me,” Bullock said when told of the Illinois incident. “There are a lot of crazy people out there.”

The Porky attackers told police they were inspired by the actress’s performance in “The Blind Side,” where her character adopts a troubled teenage boy who vaguely resembled the classic Looney Tunes character. But authorities weren’t buying it.

“These men had a grudge against a fellow employee, and viciously assaulted her in broad daylight,” said police spokesman William Perkins. “Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-That’s all there is to it.”


Fox News TV star Glenn Beck announced last weekend that he was suffering from macular dystrophy and could go blind within the year. But it won’t be soon enough to spare him the ugly scenes playing out before the Boulder City Council.

Leaders in the Colorado municipality recently heard a presentation from a citizen who stepped up to the microphone dressed only in his boxer shorts. The council will vote on new decorum rules in September that would ban undressing during meetings.

Beck began to cry Saturday during a speech in Salt Lake City on his “American Revival” tour, sobbing that “I know what my wife looks like, I know what my children look like, I know what color looks like, but I love to read.” He said his doctors told him the eye disorder could rob him of his ability to see. But he may have failed to consider the positive side of being sightless.

Boulder had already passed a law barring people from showing their genitals in public, but declined to outlaw topless females, despite complaints about a woman who gardens in a thong and gloves.

“Gardening — that involves a lot of squatting, doesn’t it?” Beck asked. “Yeesh. That’s not the America that I know and love.”


The Vatican is facing a firestorm of criticism following its decision to categorize sex abuse by priests as an offense equivalent to the ordination of women.

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s internal prosecutor, down-played the edict that defined both charges as “grave delicts,” a church crime that also included pedophilia, heresy, apostasy and schism.

“Attempted ordination of women is grave, but sexual abuse and pornography are more grave,” Scicluna said. “Believe me, you don’t want to know what we consider even gravier than these.”

Left unclear is how the Catholic Church would deal with two recent cases in the U.S. In Utah, a man is accused of violating a protective order because he allegedly sent letters to his estranged wife’s cat. And in New York, the famous Times Square street musician known as “The Naked Cowboy” is suing a fellow performer who bills herself as “The Naked Cowgirl.”

Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, issued a statement saying the church “through its long and constant teaching holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”

Observers speculate that by not specifically mentioning correspondence with household pets and litigation involving nearly nude, guitar-strumming cowpokes, the Vatican was leaving open the possibility these things were okay.

“The church needs to be more flexible to deal with the modern world,” said Christian Weisner, spokesman for a liberal Catholic reform movement. “The next thing you know, they’ll be condemning that Pennsylvania dog trapped in a hot car who honked the horn to alert his owner because the dog made too much noise. Jesus.”