Archive for November, 2010

Revisited: Thanksgiving comes early to the office

November 20, 2010

The turkey carcass sits mangled on the serving table, looking like the victim of a bear attack. The sweet potato casserole has been denuded of its marshmallow topping, but you could probably scrape a few more servings out of the corners of the pan if you tried. The stuffing is completely gone, serving its stated purpose of stuffing those who now lounge around the edges of this scene, barely moving except for the effort it takes to moan.

No, you haven’t been transported a week into the future by the magic of the blog. This is the scene I left behind at yesterday’s office celebration of Thanksgiving, a full seven days before most of us will commemorate the occasion.

The corporate calendar of holidays is not something most of us are aware of until we walk into work one dark January day and discover we’ve neglected to bring the green bagels for St. Patrick’s Day, which the outside world celebrates on March 17. Maybe I exaggerate a little, but not much. The government has imposed Monday observance of the more minor holidays like Presidents, Labor and Memorial days. Christmas and New Year’s are complicated by the fact that the days before them — the Eves — are in many ways more important than the actual holidays themselves. Many human resources departments have come up with the concept of a “floating” holiday for individuals to use in the religious observance of their choosing, such as Yom Kippur, Kwanzaa or Talk Like a Pirate Day. People in my mostly Christian office, for example, use their optional holiday for the day after Easter, prompting one observer to wonder if the “floating” had something to do with Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

I guess having the Thanksgiving potluck yesterday made some sense on a gut level, considering few of us would want to gorge like that two days in a row if it were scheduled for next Wednesday. The only opening left on the sign-up sheet when I got to it was “salad”, which seemed very un-Thanksgiving-like but worked for me since it was so easy to prepare (take one head of lettuce, rip to shreds, serves 20). Management was providing the ham and turkey, and everything else was being brought in by the staff, who would have a chance to dazzle coworkers with their best recipes, many of which involved green beans, cream soup and those crunchy onion things.

The sit-down time was scheduled for 11 a.m. so the organizers had the better part of the morning to set up the centerpieces, warm and then re-warm the hot dishes, and tempt us all with the smells of the season. This was to be an affair that combined our staff with workers from the front office, who we sometimes pass in the restrooms but about whom we know little else. As the serving time arrived, I was unfortunate enough to be just outside their offices when a manager called out for me to summon them. At first I was confused about who exactly he meant, and nearly beckoned the 200-plus temporary work crew from the warehouse. That would’ve been a horrible mistake, certain to result in stolen plastic cutlery and tiny, tiny portions for everyone. Still, I didn’t want to call for these front-office folks I didn’t know (“hey, it’s the guy from the bathroom – what’s he want?”) so I went to hide in my car for a few minutes.

I hoped this would have the added benefit of allowing me to miss the inevitable speech-giving and prayer that would precede the food consumption. But as the schedule started running behind, I made it just in time to hear the department head note that though these are difficult times, we still have much to be thankful for, followed by a brief blessing. Not being a currently practicing Christian myself, I’ve always felt awkward during this portion of the proceedings. It’s not because I take offense at having others’ religious beliefs imposed on me; rather, I’m bothered that I use the respectful silence to think of the sarcastic prayer I’d be tempted to offer if I’m ever called upon. Instead of beginning with “dear Jesus” or “holy Father”, the sacrilegious scamp in me wants to begin with a “good God” and then launch into several other James Brown references like papa’s brand new bag and how good I feel (so good). Fortunately for everyone, Edna does a nice reverent offering, and it’s finally time to chow down.

Office chairs were pulled up to the long row of covered work tables. After people worked their way down the buffet, carefully gauging the decreasing capacity of their Chinettes against the promise of what appeared further down the line, we were told to squeeze into a seat and begin the scheduled conviviality. The randomness and closeness of this seating arrangement, not to mention my very real fear of being injured by flying elbows, caused me to linger toward the end of the buffet line in the hope the table would be too full. I lucked out and was able to return instead to my work station to eat, where I got a kernel of corn stuck between “F7” and “F8” on my keyboard.

I genuinely enjoyed the food, as did everyone else. I was also able to enjoy the air of warmth and geniality in the room without actually having to get any of it on me. We didn’t have any holiday music piped through the intercom as we’ll do at Christmas — primarily I guess because there isn’t any, except for the less-than-festive “Turkey in the Straw” – but there was a certain atmosphere that for a moment almost made me give some actual thanks.

I managed to avoid overeating, which was good since I had a long drive home to navigate in the next hour and I didn’t want to sleep through it. Others in our department weren’t so lucky, as they staggered back to their desks to face another three hours of duty. The combination of turkey, heavy carbohydrates and the kind of workload you might expect at a financial services firm during the worst economic downturn in 70 years must’ve been as tough to handle as an Ambien/opium blend injected directly into your forehead.

At least there were no Detroit Lions to send them over the edge and into lethal coma.

Interview with a prince of a guy, part two

November 19, 2010

Yesterday, this blog posted the first part of an interview with Prince William, the future king of England. He was eager to establish an image for himself with the American public, now that he’s officially engaged to be married and looking forward to bigger things in the royalty business.

Today, we conclude that post with the second part of the interview.

DavisW’s Blog: Yes, when we left off, we were about to talk about your fiancée, Kate. How did you two meet?

Prince William: We were in the same history class at university. We had to work together for a report about King George VI and the role his stammer played in the Battle of Britain. Her view maintained that he had pro-German tendencies that kept him from mustering the Royal Air Force more quickly, while mine contended that he wanted to say that he hated Hitler, but just couldn’t get the words out. Her research was extremely thorough, straight out of the British Museum. I just asked my grandmother about him.

DB: So you’d say Kate was the better student of the two of you?

PW: If you mean did she go to class, did she do the assignments, did she take the exams, then, yes, she was a better student than me. Better than I? Sorry, I’m not really up on the Queen’s English. I really have no excuse, you know.

DB: So did the two of you hit it off immediately?

PW: No, no, she gave me the whole “just friends” treatment for the longest time. Every now and then I’d elbow her, give her a wink and ask “benefits?” but she kept thinking I was asking how she liked the welfare state. So we got to just liking each other as people before our first “horizontal hula,” about a year into the relationship.

DB: Is that when you knew for sure she’d be your future queen?

PW: I was hoping that was the case but we were careful not to rush things too much. I had to get over the whole thing about her being a commoner first. Royal blood was very important to me at that point, as long as I didn’t get any of it on my clothes.

DB: So you don’t mind that her father is a retired airline pilot and her mother a former flight attendant?

PW: Well, it was a little awkward the first time I met them. He stayed locked in this small room at the front of their house, and would only talk to his family over their intercom system. And even then, it was only to comment about land formations passing by outside the home, nothing at all personal. Her mother kept trying to sell me overpriced drinks and insisting that their sofa could be used as a flotation device in the event of a water landing. It was a little weird.

DB: Now, I understand they’ve made a fortune in their retirement years by selling party supplies on the internet…

PW: Yeah, “party supplies”, that’s what they call them. But the emails I keep getting from them say they’re “V!cod!n” and “A m B i E n” and they’re available without a prescription.

DB: And I haven’t read much about what kind of job Kate has now. What is she doing again?

PW: She’s a professional jeans-wearer.

DB: Professional? You can do that for a living?

PW: She can. Haven’t you seen the pictures on the internet?

DB: Yes. I see what you’re talking about.

PW: And those are her fat jeans, so you can understand why I’ve got this big stupid smile on my face.

DB: Do you think the two of you will continue working once you ascend to the throne?

PW: Well, I think we’ll pretty much have to, with this whole “Austerity Britain” thing going on. You saw where the Cameron government’s budget cuts are also affecting the money given to the royal household? I’m not sure we can get by on £23 million a year. I thought I could continue doing search-and-rescue helicopter piloting, maybe on a free-lance basis. And Kate could always take in ironing or do piecework in our home or something like that.

DB: And what about children?

PW: I suppose we could hire some to take care of the tedious hand-stitching, since she’ll be a little slow with that ginormous ring on her finger.

DB: No, I meant children for the two of you. You think you’ll be having some?

PW: Oh, tons, I’m sure. We still have that hemophilia gene running through my side of the family, so we’ll need to aim high even if we only want to end up with one or two.

DB: The whole British Empire is eagerly waiting for some new heirs. You think you might start your family soon?

PW: I don’t know, let me check. HEY, KATE, THIS GUY WANTS TO KNOW IF YOU WANT TO DO IT. [pause] NO, I THINK HE MEANS WITH ME. [pause] Well, she’s getting ready to wash her hair right now, though she said maybe later.

DB: So do you see yourself being a hands-on kind of king when you finally get the call?

PW: Well, I believe a good manager knows how to delegate authority, so I’m going to focus on the duties that have to be mine, and let others deal with the overseas trips and the meetings with prime ministers. That’ll let me focus on signing the palace employees’ timecards, scheduling their vacations, doing their annual reviews, real middle-management kinds of stuff. That’s my strength, I think.

DB: How about the throne-sitting. You’ll have to do that, right?

PW: I guess, if they make me. I’ve got real bad Restless Leg Syndrome so sitting still is not one of my strengths. Fortunately, I know where I can find some Ambien.

DB: Well, thanks again for taking time to talk with me, so I can introduce you to my readers here in the U.S. That was quite the coup for my blog, you know.

PW: Don’t say “coup,” if you don’t mind.

DB: Right. I understand. Thanks again, and hopefully I’ll see you around.

PW: Yeah, we’ll be sure to look you up if we ever make it to Rock Hill, South Carolina. I understand the Museum of York County has the world’s largest collection of stuffed African hooved mammals, and I’ve always been a sucker for hooved mammals, so you just might see me sometime. You have a spare couch or two if we need a place to stay?

DB: Sure. You’re welcome any time.

I believe a good manager knows how to delegate authority, so I can focus on signing the palace employees' timecards

 

An interview with the prince

November 18, 2010

On Tuesday, Great Britain’s heir to the throne, Prince William, announced he was engaged to be married. His bride-to-be, Kate Middleton, will be the first commoner in over 300 years to be married to the man who will one day be king. The news sent the royalty-obsessed Brits into spasms of joy, despite the fact that they continue to live in England.

The Prince has kept a relatively low profile as he has grown up. The son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana has led a relatively normal life, thanks in large part to his late mum. It was she who taught the boys to behave like average citizens, not like the inbred horsefaces they are destined to become.

The Prince has remained relatively unknown outside of Britain, but now he seems to be reaching out to establish an image for himself overseas. As part of that effort, he contacted the writer of this blog Wednesday with a request to be interviewed. I know — I’m as surprised as you are. But you don’t say “no” to the future King of England, so I said “yes” instead. What follows are the highlights from an hour-long online conservation I had with what seemed like a regular guy.

DavisW’s Blog: This is really quite the honor. I’m not sure how I should address you …

Prince William: Technically, my name is William Wales, though my friends call me “Prince Of”. They called me “Will” back at university, and quite a few other names behind my back. But it won’t be long, baby, before you can call me Billy England.

DB: Okay … Billy. What made you want to seek out a little-known American blogger to introduce yourself and your fiancée to the U.S.?

PW: I really relate to you Americans. I’m a bit of a rebel myself. One time, at St. Andrews, I was five minutes late to an economics class.

DB: That’s not much of a rebellion …

PW: Yeah, well, unfortunately it was the part where they cover how to use figurehead royalty to help restructure a European post-socialist economy. Have a feeling I could’ve used that one.

DB: So you’re talking online with me from, where? Buckingham Palace? Big Ben? The Beatles’ house?

PW: No, I’m at Kate’s flat right now. Just swung by to let the dog out and figured I could get this interview out of the way while I was … shit. Damn dog. BAD, QUEENIE, BAD DOG!

DB: Uh, we don’t like to use that kind of language here at DavisW’s Blog. Please keep it PG, if you don’t mind.

PW: Pardon. A bit tense with all the attention we’ve been getting. So sorry.

DB: Well, let’s talk about that if we can. You and Kate Middleton have announced your intentions to be married next year …

PW: Or the year after.

DB: … yes, or the year after. Why such the long engagement?

PW: The schedulers had to work us in between the 2012 London Olympics, another one of those silly jubilees in 2011, and the complete financial collapse of the United Kingdom later this year.

DB: That still seems like a long time to wait. It’s not related to the troubles you two had a few years ago when you separated for a while, is it?

PW: No, no, not at all. We’re very much in love and look forward to spending the rest of our lives together. (Did I say that right, honey?)

DB: Billy, you know that we’re texting this interview, and you can’t keep the audience from hearing something by typing it in parentheses.

PW: (Shit).

DB: Moving along, your fiancée seems like a lovely girl.

PW: First time we met, she was a little shy, with me being a prince and all. But I was like royally ready to tap that thang.

DB: Much has been made of the fact that you two have already lived together, and that she won’t be required to undergo a physical exam to confirm her virginity. Very modern — sounds like you’re dragging the Windsors into the 21st century. Do you plan to tweet during your wedding ceremony?

PW: Sorry, but I don’t use Twitter. It’s not that popular over here in England, what with our problems with the ethnic Twits and all. The only social network I’m active on is TotallyLinkedIn.

DB: How will your lives be different after the wedding?

PW: Well, hopefully, they’ll give us a palace so we can move out of this grotty flat. Horses and a carriage would be cool too, but not for everyday running around town. I’d like a Ford Edge for that. One with Bluetooth and a video camera instead of a rearview mirror.

DB: Do you get much say in how the ceremony will be staged? Does it have to be in a cathedral with thousands of dignitaries in attendance, or could you do it under a trellis, barefoot, on the beach if you wanted to?

PW: I’m the Prince, so I guess I could do whatever I wanted, as long as it didn’t require super powers. But I think I’m going to leave the details to all the gals. Grandmum might even stand untethered at the ceremony, she’s so stoked about this.

DB: And your father, he’s heavily involved too?

PW: What do you think? Last I heard, he said he’d try to make the wedding. There’s a whole story with him that I’m not sure I want to get into.

DB: It must be difficult to know he’s potentially standing between you and the throne…

PW: Well, you’ve hit it exactly on the head, haven’t you? My future career as head of an empire that spans the globe is pending the timely demise of both my father and my grandmother. Sounds like I’m going to be waiting around for a while, the way those two are going. I keep telling them they need to take up parasailing, but they’re not getting the hint.

DB: Sounds like an all-too-familiar situation. We have a lot of recent college graduates here in the States who are having trouble starting their careers. Some, probably like you, may even end up moving back in with their parents.

PW: You work so hard getting good grades in school — well, some people do, anyway — and you put in that mandatory face time in the military, and then you end up waiting like 50 years for the current line to finish dying.

DB: You do, however, have another job, is that right?

PW: Yeah, believe it or not, I’m a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot operating in the North Sea. You think a person lasts 50 years in a job like that?

DB: Let’s talk a little bit about Kate, if we can.

PW: I’d love to, but I see you’re about ready to run out of space. Why don’t we make this a two-parter?

DB: Why, yes. How very thoughtful of you to notice. We will continue the interview on Friday.

PW: Stay tuned, everybody.

Expanding uses of the coupon

November 17, 2010

One evening in 1803, Thomas Jefferson came home from his job as president of the United States with exciting news. He had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, a $15-million transaction in which France handed over nearly a million square miles of territory to his fledgling nation. All lands from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains would now be American.

“Soon we will span the continent,” Jefferson told his wife Martha. “Our manifest destiny to stretch from sea to sea has been set in motion by my presidency. We have purchased the future of America.”

“Did you use the coupon on the refrigerator?” a skeptical Martha asked. “Because, you know, Napoleon is having a special, and with any purchase over $10 million, they’ll throw in the French West Indies.”

“This is the best deal since we bought the island of Manhattan for $24,” Jefferson answered. “The size of our land has been doubled.”

“You didn’t use the coupon, did you?” Martha continued. “Oh, well.”

The coupon may not trace its origins quite that far back, but the hope of getting a better deal has always been with us. In mankind’s earliest history, hunters and gatherers would return to the cave with what they thought was an impressive array of roots, berries and elk chunks, only to have their pride deflated by the well-intentioned spouse who’d been hoping for a free order of tree bark as well.

Americans save billions of dollars a year with just a little foresight and a pair of scissors. The coupon (pronounced “kew-pahn” by the unwashed and “coo-pohn” by those of us with a continental flair) has made its way into our everyday retail buying habits. For almost every product or service you can name, there is the opportunity to save substantial amounts on your purchase by handing over a thin slip of printed paper with your cash.

To her credit, my wife does a fantastic job of watching out for bargains that benefit the bottom line of our family’s budget. The picture below shows just a part of our collection, hanging in plain sight on the refrigerator where only a blind moron such as me could miss them.

I frequently neglect to use these coupons despite repeated reminders. A silly sense of pride is part of this — I see myself casually accepting of any price announced by the cashier with the noble proclamation that I’m willing to pay “whatever the cost” — though it’s primarily a memory issue. I’m lucky to remember my car keys and my clothing before leaving the house on a buying errand.

I’m trying to do better. Even though the 1/20th of a cent in cash value doesn’t go as far today as it used to, it still pays to shop wisely. The image of the Coupon Queen hauling a file cabinet full of paperwork up to the checkout so she can save $3.67 is now little more than a stereotype. Even urbane men of the world are regularly seen these days pulling a wad of vouchers out of their finely tailored suits to save a few bucks on the business lunch that will seal the upcoming merger.

Keeping this in mind has helped me do a better job of using coupons. I’ve now become enough of a veteran bargain-hunter that I understand slight variations in how the coupon economy works. Once you’ve steeled yourself to the humiliation of a transaction that announces to the world how cheap you are, there are subtleties at work in different settings that are worth knowing.

The coupon is most commonplace in the supermarket. Some stores even have special double- or even triple-coupon Tuesdays, where essentially they pay you to cart their stuff away. It’s not at all unusual to see every one of your fellow shoppers racking up big savings, buying one and getting one free, earning a quarter off here and free bag-of-chips-they-don’t-even-like there as they stretch their grocery dollar to extraordinary lengths.

A casual attitude toward the coupon also exists in the fast-food industry. As long as you declare your intention at the drive-through speakerbox to use it (in addition to “I have a coupon,” also acceptable is “I had a suit on” and “I’d like some Grey Poupon”), they’ll often ring up your discount without even taking the thing from you. The deals are usually not that great, and often involve some leftover, failed promotional item, like the McSquid sandwich or the Whopper Super Extreme, an all-beef patty topped with battery acid.

It’s in finer dining establishments where things tend to get dicey. You’ll want to keep the coupon hidden until you’ve finished your meal, unless you want smaller portions and/or spittle in your salad. Produce the discount as you ask for your check, and have confidence in your right to use it. I usually say something like “I have this coupon I was hoping to use if it’s something you accept and you promise we’ll never meet again.” Beware of hidden details in the fine print that may disrupt your plans. My wife and I once had a coupon rejected because we tried to use it on Veteran’s Day Eve, because holidays were specifically excluded from the offer. (In the end, we were just happy to have found a reservation on a night as crowded with celebrating couples as Veteran’s Day Eve).

Finally, there are opportunities to use coupons to purchase services as well as goods. I’m frequently able to take advantage of an offer for $8.99 haircuts at Great Clips (regular price: $11). The good thing about this set-up is that you don’t pay until after the cut is done, and by then there’s not much your stylist can do to mess you up on purpose, short of holding you down and gluing your floor trimmings back onto your scalp. The bad thing, for me anyway, is that I usually feel so guilty about gypping a struggling single mom out of a few dollars that I leave an excessive tip that negates any savings.

Harking back to the Jeffersons, it seems the time is right to expand coupon usage to other kinds of transactions, like those involving the government. Maybe we consider additional incentives to sympathetic Afghan warlords to accompany their direct cash payments, maybe a coupon for half-off the latest ground-to-air missile technology. How about offering the Chinese a deal on Treasury bills, in which a piece of an American monument is thrown in for every $100 billion sold? They could be given Teddy Roosevelt’s eyebrow off of Mt. Rushmore and hardly anybody would notice. Or the Statue of Liberty’s exposed armpit, which could then be covered up with a Band-Aid. You could say she nicked herself shaving. It’d make her more human.

Regardless of what the nation chooses to do, I’ll keep trying to remember to use my coupons. Frugality and thrift are valuable traits in these bad economic times, and I shouldn’t be ashamed to show them. Our third president would’ve been wise to heed the encouragement of his wife. Imagine Martinique as our 51st state.

Fake News: New Congressmen doing it their way

November 16, 2010

WASHINGTON (Nov. 15) — Nearly 100 new members of Congress arrived on Capitol Hill this week for the first time since winning election, and immediately began the process of remaking the federal government into a slimmer and wackier version of its former self.

Freshman orientation sessions for the class of 2010 were meant to show newly minted representatives how to handle the basics of being a member of the House — where to live, how voting works, where the bathrooms and dining rooms are located, etc. But many of the Tea Party-inspired Republicans are already showing their extremely conservative tendencies and are resisting the conventional ideas of what it means to be a congressperson.

“We’re not about to listen to the Old Guard tell us how things work around here,” said Rep.-elect Tim Scott, R-S.C. “The people who elected us want to see a new way of governing, and we intend to start with the basics.”

Scott said he would set an example of fiscal restraint by foregoing an office in the Capitol complex and instead would set up shop in a trench he’s having dug in the lawn just outside.

“Fighting against the tax-and-spend status quo is going to be much like trench warfare, so it seemed appropriate that my office is in a ditch,” Scott said. “I’ve seen some good-sized rocks unearthed so far, and these will serve me well as furniture.”

Scott has hired a number of ousted Democratic congressmen who would otherwise be out of work to dig the trench for him.

“I need the work so I’m happy to do what I can,” said soon-to-be-former Rep. John Spratt. “We’re just hoping he doesn’t shoot us in the head when we’re done and kick our lifeless bodies into the trough. I don’t think this is a dig-your-own-grave scenario but you never know with these rebels.”

Rep.-elect Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., has objected to the elaborate food spreads put out by lobbyists at the various orientation events, and has vowed he will not accept any free meals. Instead, he intends to stand outside in the sun in hopes of generating enough chlorophyll to survive.

“If the evolutionists are right, I should be developing leaves and turning into a plant by supper time,” Kinzinger said. “If they aren’t, I trust in God to sustain me. This PowerBar and can of Red Bull I have here stand ready to be transformed into enough bread and fish and wine to last my entire first term.”

Rep.-elect Nan Hayworth, R-N.Y., was seen walking out in protest from a class on how the electronic voting system works on the House floor.

“I just don’t trust those sneaky electrons,” Hayworth said. “They have a pro-science, anti-faith bias, and I can just imagine them changing my vote on a key bit of legislation. I’ll be casting my votes the old-fashioned way: writing ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on a piece of paper and depositing it in that round bin on the floor right next to the speaker’s podium.”

When told by a reporter that she was referring to the trash can, she covered her ears and said she’s “had it with listening to the lamestream media.”

Rep.-elect Allen West, R-Fla., interrupted a page’s tour of the hallway outside the House chamber when West’s group was being shown where the restrooms were located.

“I intend to do the people’s business as I would do my own business, and it’s not in some fancy-shmancy bathroom with golden urinals and taxpayer’s money being used as toilet paper,” West said. “I’ll hold it in as long as I can, and then it’s adult diapers. If they’re good enough for my constituents, they’re good enough for me.”

Images for a Monday

November 15, 2010

What do you say when you walk into a vacant office at work, and find one of your coworkers hula-hooping inside?

This is the question I had to ask myself last week. We have a training room down the hall that’s rarely used, so people will occasionally duck in to make a personal phone call or steal a quiet moment of reflection. I needed to retrieve some training materials from the room, and opened the door to find a female employee gyrating in what she thought was privacy. We were both startled.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” I said lamely, though I wasn’t at all certain what I was sorry for, considering it was she who was doing the hooping.

“That’s okay,” she said. “I’m almost done.”

Incredibly, I believe she continued the exercise, though I had to look away (at least one of us had to be embarrassed) so I’m not sure.

I’m fine with people using the hula-hoop in a playground, a school yard, or even on their front lawn. And they don’t necessarily have to be kids, either. I’m open-minded enough to realize that there may be full-grown adults among us who also like to hula-hoop, as is their God-given right.

But there’s a time and a place for everything. And I’m not sure swinging your hips wildly while trying to keep a circular piece of plastic from inching to the ground is the right thing to be doing at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, standing between a whiteboard and an overhead projector at the office.

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A handmade roadside sign not far from my house advertises autumn lawn services. It’s a simple sign, containing the word “AERATION” in large type, a phone number, and in both the upper left and upper right corners, there’s an ichthys, more commonly known as a “Jesus fish.”

Certain businesses, especially here in the South, find it advantageous to advertise to potential customers that their belief in Christ will make them a more reliable plumber, contractor, gutter-cleaner, dog-walker, or whatever. So they include the outline of a fish in their ads.

I can see how many of the qualities espoused by the Christian church are valuable not only in the spiritual world but also in the world of commerce. Though, personally, I’d want to see a solid list of references rather than simply have a strong faith that they’re going to eventually return with my dog.

Aeration, as I understand it, is the process of gouging holes into the soil so that grass planted in the fall will grow better in the spring. I’m not sure how Christian aeration is different. Perhaps the lawn tractor is consecrated before the work begins. Maybe a holy chalice is used as a poking instrument. I certainly hope they don’t use the same post hole digger as is used to implant a cross, as I think grass seed needs only an inch or two.

I considered calling to ask for more details, but I can’t remember any of the phone number except the last four numbers, which spelled out the word “LIME”. My familiarity with the Bible is a little sketchy these days, though I do seem to recall that Christ’s favorite mixed drink was gin and tonic, so perhaps that’s the point of the lime reference.

In any event, in case it makes you think better of me as a blogger, consider this:

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They just put out the sign-up sheet at work for our annual Thanksgiving luncheon. Each year, on the Friday before the big holiday, management provides a turkey (fitting, somehow) and everybody else registers to bring a side dish.

I signed up for bagels. Do you think that’s kosher for Thanksgiving?

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Though I’m not much of a photographer, I understand the importance of adding a visual element to my posts. So when I wrote a piece last Wednesday about U-Scan self-checkout machines at the grocery store, I knew I’d need a picture.

I had a feeling, however, that taking photos in the supermarket is something you don’t do. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a group posing for a family portrait in the frozen-food aisle? Is it because most people don’t think it’s a nice enough setting, or is it that these large grocery chains have a corporate policy against still photography in their stores?

I didn’t want any trouble, but I felt I needed a picture of the machine I was writing about. So I’d have to shoot something surreptitiously.

I felt like every store employee had their eye on me as I maneuvered into position to take my shot. CIA agents doing reconnaissance work in Afghanistan aren’t as nervous as I was. I pulled the small digital camera out of my jacket, aiming in the general direction of my subject. I couldn’t afford to be concerned about framing or composition; holding the viewer up to where I could preview the picture would be too obvious, so I kept everything at waist level.

If focus were important to me, I’d be disappointed in the results. Since I was going instead for a more impressionistic portrayal, I was actually pretty happy with how it came out.

+++

Have you ever noticed how people in passing cars are so good-looking?

Whether you’re jogging down the street or barely missing a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle, you typically only get a brief view of other drivers and, for some reason, their facial features crystallize into a handsome image during that nanosecond of recognition.

Maybe my brain is editing out any apparent defects, leaving behind only movie stars and top models motoring through the streets of my small South Carolina town.

Organizers of beauty pageants would be wise to recognize this phenomenon. I’m envisioning some kind of drive-through Miss America competition.

+++

If a woman using a hula-hoop at work gives me pause, what am I to make of this picture?

I hope my production coordinator is simply trying to unjam a printer but, quite frankly, I fear for his life. It appears he’s being eaten by the legal-size paper tray.

Revisited: Live-blogging from a ditch near my house

November 14, 2010

My daily jog through the neighborhood takes me past a deep culvert just off one of the main roads heading into town. It’s not a drainage ditch or a creek bed; it’s more like a steep embankment probably built as part of the road construction. At this time of year, the thick grass lining the sides is dry and slick and matted and brown. It looks like a very slippery 30 feet from the sidewalk down to the deepest point.

It would be so cool if I fell in and couldn’t get out.

Maybe “cool” isn’t the right word, but it would be an interesting experience. You read occasionally about well-respected citizens who go out for a drive and are never heard from again, except perhaps 20 years later when their desiccated corpse is found by a utility crew. They veered off the road to avoid a deer and seemingly vanished from the planet. Every now and then they’ll survive on rainwater and gum for several days before gaining enough strength to haul their injured bodies up to the roadside. Then after all that, they get run over. Too bad, but it does make a great story. And the family is usually relieved to have some respectable resolution.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like down there in the ditch, pondering whether you’ll live or die, close enough to civilization to hear it passing by, and yet stuck in a world that is wild and primitive. If this ever happens to me and I happen to have my laptop along (and there’s a decent wi-fi hotspot within range), I’d love to live-blog about the experience.

It might go like this:

4:07 p.m. — Oops … oh no … sheesh … owww! … oof …

4:08 p.m. — Wha’ happened? What … ? Oh, shoot, my leg really hurts. Yow! Oh, hell, I don’t think I can get back up there. Oh, jeez …

4:13 p.m. — Well, that’s just great. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. I’m like an old LifeAlert commercial. Great. How am I going to get back up to the sidewalk? Ow, my leg really hurts … I think it might be broken. What am I going to do?

4:15 p.m. — OK, try not to panic. I can still hear cars going by so I can’t be stuck here long. If I can just pull myself up this bank, I can signal for help. Guess I’ll have to crawl … ouch! Wow, I’m really up the creek. Heh, heh, that’s funny. Maybe I could blog about this!

4:47 p.m. — I’ve tried just about every way I can think to get myself out of here, but I’m not having any luck. Surely another jogger or walker will be by soon — I’ll yell out to them and maybe they can call for help. If I can find one not wearing headphones, like that’ll happen.

5:13 p.m. — This is definitely becoming a cause for concern. It’s starting to get dark. I know my wife and son are starting to wonder about me by now, but I don’t think I told them which way I was running. I need to focus, I need to think clearly, I need to concentrate on my … hey look — a squirrel with one leg missing!

5:58 p.m. — Wow, this sure does put any other problems I might have in perspective. Worrying about that dental hygienist appointment next week isn’t such a priority any more, is it? I’m going to start throwing rocks at the cars.

6:04 p.m. — Somebody stopped! Hey … help! Help!

6:05 p.m. — No, no, I didn’t mean to hit your 350Z. I was just … Yes, sir, I know I’m too old to be throwing rocks, but if you could just … Mister! Don’t leave, please!

7:50 p.m. — What are people going to think about this? They’ll probably think I’ve left the country, that I’ve got a secret second family somewhere. Jeez, I’m lucky to have one that will put up with me.

8:46 p.m. — Man, I’m really starting to get cold. I remember seeing a glove lying over there. At least I can keep my left hand warm. And … a sock!

11:31 p.m. — Getting so sleepy … What am I going to do without my Ambien tonight?

6:14 a.m. — Wow, I can’t believe I’ve been here all night. Unbelievable.

6:58 a.m. — It sure is beautiful out here early in the morning. The air smells so clean. Really makes you appreciate how nature can be close to home, and yet still exotic and wild. I think it was Henry David Thoreau who said it best, while he spent two years living in the wilderness on Walden Pond. He was fond of saying … Hey — jogger! Down here! Down here! Help!

7:26 a.m. — At least it’s getting light enough to see. Maybe I can look around and find something to eat. Is that a can of potted meat product? Maybe there’s a little left inside … nope, just ants. How can they eat that stuff? Hey, there’s a mayonnaise packet and I think I saw — yes, a grape jam packet from Bojangles. I can make dip!

7:44 a.m. — I think I smell pineapple or coconut. Oh, shoot, it’s just a discarded air freshener. I’ll hang it from this tree branch. Might as well make it things home-y if I’m going to be here a while.

8:22 a.m. — So thirsty… If I take this old sippy cup lid, and stuff a bunch of cigarette filters in it, maybe I can strain some water from that puddle over there and get a drink.

11:14 a.m. — Starting to get dizzy. Sure wish I could find something real to eat. You know, this would make a really great weight-loss plan. I’m going to try to sell something like it on the Internet when I get out of here. Wonder if ditchdiet.com is taken?

3:44 p.m. — Must keep my mind alert. Maybe if I found something to read. Here’s a cash register receipt from the grocery store. Wonder what is “FL BKD BEAN HMSTYL”? Sounds good.

4:33 p.m. — Not sure I can last another night. Thoughts turning weird … wonder if that raccoon over there would be interested in joining me in a provisional government. Man and beast, together at last, creating a just and peaceful society. Or I could club him with this stick and eat him.

4:53 p.m. — Hey, doggie! Here, boy. Come here, boy. Yeah, you’re a good boy. Here, let me attach this grocery receipt to your collar and you go tell your owner that there’s an MVP customer stuck in a gully. There’s some rewards points in it for you if you’re a good boy. Maybe even a free half-gallon of milk.

5:06 p.m. — Officer, officer! Thank you so much for finding me. I’m rescued at last! Thank God! Please, call my wife immediately and tell her I’m okay. And if you get the chance later, please check out my blog — davisw.wordpress.com.

ditch6
THAT’S ME, OVER ON THE RIGHT

Revisited: I’ll circle the building only if I want to

November 13, 2010
Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind,
Do this, don’t do that,
Can’t you read the signs?

I don’t respond well to direct requests made by giant multinational corporations. For example, when the McDonald’s drive-through pre-recording asks me to “try our new Angus Third Pounder,” or the receipt implores me to “have a nice day,” I tend to resist. I have no problem following their subliminal requests to get fat and clog up my coronary arteries. I just don’t like the hard sell.

So when I drove into the newly redesigned Mickie D’s not far from my house several weeks ago, and saw that they were redirecting traffic to make the best use of their tiny piece of property, I wasn’t playing along. The entrance I chose was only a couple dozen feet from the speakerbox where you place your order, yet the sign next to the lane demanded that I “circle building to enter drive-thru.” At this time of the mid-afternoon, there were virtually no other cars in sight, so I swung my car around a small curb and went directly to the order board. I’ll show those corporate bigwigs who’s boss.

However, this past Saturday morning it was a lot busier when I stopped by to get my son an Egg McMuffin. Cars were already backed up almost to the front of the store, and it actually made sense to drive the short loop around to position myself in the proper sequence. (I’m not such an anti-establishment rebel that I’m going to avoid breathing just because “The Man” says that air is good for me.)

By the time I made the circle, a large pickup from a local sign company had come in the same entrance and angled directly to a position behind the car that would otherwise be in front of me. I pulled up tight in back of the same car, and it started to look like things could get tense. I know McDonald’s is no stranger to provoking explosions from the lower half of the body, but this potential eruption of emotions from the upper half was different.

I could see the face of the guy who was trying to cut me off. He was giving me the no-look defense, staring straight ahead to avoid eye contact. I adopted a strained facial expression that should have gotten his attention, but he continued to avoid turning in my direction.

So now I had to figure out if I should honk my horn at him. I made a quick assessment of where each of us stood in the two social hierarchies that most influence interaction among strangers. I was obviously superior on the socioeconomic scale, since he worked for a billboard company and I didn’t, but it was somewhat less clear that I could beat him up if it came to a physical confrontation. He was a good 15 or 20 years younger than I, and had a significant number of hardened tools in the back of his truck. I think I had a blanket and an old pair of work gloves in the trunk of my Civic, and maybe a box of cat litter, though unfortunately it wasn’t soiled.

He inched forward and I inched forward and we were rapidly running out of inches. Horn-honking was increasingly out of the question, since there was no escape if things turned ugly, unlike on the interstate where you can always cross the median and start driving wrong-way into oncoming traffic. I considered my other options, because increased grimacing didn’t seem to be working. There was the phone number of his home office plastered across the back panel of the truck, and I supposed I could call and complain to them. Though what were they going to do, fire him? He’d probably welcome the unemployment insurance, as opposed to teetering 60 feet off the ground and looking up at a giant Hugh Laurie face. I could complain to the McDonald’s management, except that they probably had surveillance video of that first time I violated their rules, and would likely be aghast at my hypocrisy, if they cared at all.

The two majestic bucks facing off in the forest for dominance over the herd had head-butted and reared and twisted their horns together, and it had become clear who had won, and who was going to have to settle for that homely doe with the bad teeth. I gathered up what was left of my dignity, gave in, and let him proceed to the ordering position. He asks for a dollar-menu egg biscuit and a large, no make that a medium, coffee. If he had added a side order of lichen, my defeat would’ve been total.

Now I look off to the right and here comes another intruder trying to wedge in front of me. This is a much younger woman, probably college-age, and she makes the mistake of catching my eye. This time, it’s a clear case that I’m the superior human being, so I assert myself immediately. I raise my index finger in the air next to my head, then move my hand in a rotating motion to indicate that she needs to circle the building before lining up to place her order. The look on her face is blank — she thinks I’m either signaling that she hit a home run, or I’m asking her if she has a lasso. I mouth “you have to go around” so now she’s convinced I’m a crazy menace and zips out of the way.

I place my own order without further incident and pay at the first window. The guy who butted is still in front of me, though there’s little left I can do, except maybe hope that they screw up his order. If it were one of those complicated ones — can I substitute a freshly killed groundling for the cheese?, for example — they might make him pull off to the side, and I can swoop past triumphantly and beat him to the exit. Instead, we both move swiftly through the last step and turn out of the parking lot and back into city traffic.

When I’m sure he’s far enough ahead that he can’t see me, I raise my fist in a sign of contempt.

drive
The scene of Saturday’s humiliation

An editorial: Time for totalitarianism

November 12, 2010

Much was made by some conservatives during recent elections of the fact that President Obama is actually a communist, a would-be dictator along the lines of Josef Stalin except with a better three-point shot.

While it might be true that the state apparatus has necessarily grown during his tenure as a response to the economic crisis, most regard this charge as an exaggeration. Bailouts and stimuli have worked to restart the economy but, at best, it’s only lumbering along. Liberals call for even more intervention, while the right wing counters with claims that the poor could learn better grooming techniques in unused prisons and that masturbation is a sin.

If an activist federal government is the answer to our current malaise, maybe we just haven’t taken it far enough. Instead of heeding calls to move to the political center, perhaps what is needed is even more control by the feds.

With this editorial, I’m calling for the institution of a complete and brutal autocracy here in the U.S. We’ve tried just about everything else; let’s give totalitarian tyranny a shot.

Total control of all aspects of society by the government has been attempted in the past with limited success. The French monarchs of the late 18th century tried it, but few people could take them seriously, what with their immense powdered wigs and totally gay wardrobes. Hitler eliminated the bad fashion sense and gave it another go in the 1940s, yet he too failed. Stalin in Russia and Mao in China staged purges and cultural revolutions to force their personality cults into every aspect of every citizen’s life, and ultimately all it got them was a lot of headaches.

So why might authoritarian rule suddenly be effective at rebuilding America’s fortunes and getting its people back to work? What is it that we have now that we didn’t have in the past that will suddenly make despotism a practical alternative to democracy?

The answer lies, as it usually does, in computers and online social networking.

Smart phones and Facebook and Twitter and interactive video gaming have given us the infrastructure that will make a dictatorial one-party state work more effectively than it ever could before. Mussolini had to stand on a balcony and rant for hours to get his point across to fascist Italy. President Obama would merely have to post a daily video on YouTube, maybe send out a few threatening tweets and organize the occasional flash mob to inject his agenda into every corner of our daily life.

Imagine, if you can, a utopian paradise where you didn’t have to make any personal decisions for yourself, where you were told what to eat for breakfast, how to get to work and when meet in the central square to worship our mighty leader. You don’t have to decide what shirt to wear today; there’s an email waiting each morning describing which jumpsuit is prescribed for that day. You don’t have to debate the merits of Burger King versus Wendy’s at lunch time; an order has already been placed by a government bureaucrat for your required combo meal. If you need to take a leak, simply consult the appropriate website (WhenToPee.gov) about your appointed schedule in the john.

And it could all be monitored with existing webcams, security cameras, Skype and the awesome new Kinect for Xbox 360.

Unemployment would be a thing of the past, as the government at all levels went on a hiring spree to find enough people to monitor everybody’s every move. Foreign threats would be neutralized when the likes of al-Qaida got an eyeful of what the all-powerful state does to crush its own citizenry. The baser elements of popular culture would be eliminated by fiat. Real Housewives are herded into federally run re-education compounds and entertainers like Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne are given new jobs in the propaganda ministry, writing dancebeat-heavy regulations on the operation of the heavy construction equipment.

True, there might be some opposition to my plan from the more libertarian elements in the new Republican congressional majority. I can imagine the objections they might raise to the perceived assault on certain basic liberties we’ve enjoyed for over two centuries. Too bad for them. They’ll all be rounded up and sent off to the gulag, where they can do all the complaining they want as long as they do it in solitary.

This might seem like a radical proposal to some, but I would counter that it’s the kind of fundamental change needed for desperate times. We might not like it when Big Brother is constantly borrowing our stuff and always getting to sit in the front seat and punching us in the shoulder and holding his hand two inches from our faces while claiming “I’m not touching you”. Yet deep down inside, we know he cares for us and will provide us everything we need, as long as we submit to his authority.

Now that we have the technology to put the total in totalitarianism, let’s give it a try.

Fake News: Dolphins and whales behind mystery

November 11, 2010

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 11) — Dolphins and whales are now believed to be behind the mysterious missile launch off the coast of southern California Monday night that sparked rumors of everything from a North Korean warning shot to an alien invasion.

That’s right. Dolphins and whales.

“We’ve long known that sea mammals such as these are highly intelligent creatures. We just didn’t know exactly how intelligent,” said marine biologist Laurence Bailey. “Apparently, they’ve developed a strategic nuclear strike force.”

The contrail captured by a TV news helicopter and flashed around the nation had been investigated by both Pentagon and national security officials, who were initially stumped as to the cause. It was only after a video was posted on YouTube late Wednesday claiming responsibility for the incident that officials acknowledged that dolphins and whales were behind the intercontinental ballistic missile firing.

“Hear us, America, and fear us too,” said an orca who identified himself as Osama bin-Willie, self-proclaimed leader of the so-called Cetacean Liberation Army. “We will no longer be patronized in the popular culture for our cuteness. We demand to be respected as the fierce ocean predators that we are. Oh, and also, stop messing up the environment.”

Shortly after the video was released, Navy submarines in the eastern Pacific spotted an elaborate military base on the seabed about 1,000 feet below the surface. Work crews of dolphins and whales swarmed about the site, maintaining launch silos and performing training exercises.

“We were going to release a hail of torpedoes and destroy the threat,” said Navy Adm. Andrew Ronald. “But they’re such appealing creatures, we just couldn’t do it. How could I tell my grandchildren I was involved in the massacre of hundreds of Flippers and Shamus?”

Bin-Willie, who spoke with reporters via satellite link from an undisclosed location early Thursday, responded “that is exactly my point. I’m a killer whale, for Christ’s sake. ‘Killer’ is right there in my name. How could you regard me as cute? How can you kidnap us from the wild and make us perform tricks throughout the greater Orlando area? We will not stand for this any longer.”

Bin-Willie said that if all performing dolphins and whales are not released by midnight Sunday, “a full-scale nuclear attack will be unleashed on the U.S.”

“Fwee, fwee,” he added.

It is now believed that dolphins and whales may also be involved in the incident that left a Carnival cruise ship crippled off the coast of Mexico following a mysterious fire and power outage earlier this week. Over 4,000 passengers and crew members aboard the Splendor were stranded for three days before being towed to San Diego.

“It appears that a suicide beluga intentionally thrust himself into the propulsion system of the ship, shorting out electricity and disabling the vessel,” said Al Hanson, a spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines. “They may have been planning to board the liner to seize control of hostages but couldn’t quite figure how to wriggle their slippery armless bodies up the side of the ship.”

“Yeah, we’re responsible for that one,” said bin-Willie. “You narrowly escaped our clutches. If we could clutch stuff.”

Bin-Willie said the ship seizure would’ve represented a protest against whale-watching and against the seafoods served on board. Even after power was lost and passengers had to resort to emergency food rations, “they continued to eat products like Spam and Pop-Tarts that are not certified ‘dolphin-safe’,” bin-Willie said.

“I’m not even sure Pop-Tarts are people-safe, but at least you get to choose what you put in your own maw,” he said. “In captivity, we have to eat mostly chum, with only the occasional trainer thrown in as a rare treat.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was working closely with President Obama to deal with the cetacean threat. Tuna producers like Star-Kist and Bumble Bee may be brought in as military contractors, and the Japanese fishing industry may also be enlisted as consultants.

“We will not be terrorized into submitting to the dolphins and the whales,” Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “We’re at least as smart as they are. Plus, we have hands, which should be a big advantage in the epic battle that lies before us.”