Archive for September, 2011

Revisited: Blogging while jogging, and vice versa

September 16, 2011

Many great artists got their inspiration when they least expected it. John Lennon scribbled the lyrics to “A Day in the Life” on the back of an envelope after he woke up dreaming about them. Pablo Picasso began work on his masterpiece “Guernica” after a vigorous walk along the Seine. William Shakespeare was known to work out with weights and spend 30 minutes on an elliptical machine to clear his mind for wrighting plays.  

Hacks too can find exercise to be a stimulant to creativity. It’s often during my daily run that I come up with ideas for this blog. I’ll be loping along the sidewalk when — boom, out of nowhere — the idea occurs to me that it might be funny to write a history of the human foot, or about my plans to rob a liquor store.  

As soon as I get home, I’m quick to jot these nuggets down on a scratchpad I keep on my dresser (at least, I try to write them down, if I can find a piece of paper not already sodden with perspiration).  

I often think how much simpler it would be if I could just carry my netbook with me as I jog, and work simultaneously on my posting and my endurance. Then I think about how difficult it would be to type and watch for oncoming cars at the same time.  

So this weekend I tried the next best thing — dictating into a voice recorder as I ran, then transcribing the results when I got home. You, the reader, get to travel along with me at the moment this essay is first imagined. It’s like being in on the extraordinary moment of human conception, except without fallopian tubes.  

I hope you enjoy and, don’t forget, be sure to do at least 15 minutes of cool-down stretches when you’re done.  

Runnin’ down the road, tryin’ to loosen my load

OK, so this is an attempt to record what goes on during an average run through the neighborhood, starting out in front of my house, and here I go…  

And this doesn’t look foolish at all, that I’m talking to myself while I’m running. This is the route that I do pretty much every day. It’s about 3 in the afternoon so there aren’t a lot of people around to wonder why some guy’s running down the street holding a microphone to his face.

There’s utility construction going on in the neighborhood, being done by a contractor called “Trenchco.” Apparently they build trenches or dig trenches or maybe they just like trenches. We don’t know what they’re putting in the trenches but I hope it might be better-quality cable. There’s a bunch of workers up the hill. My wife keeps saying we should ask them what they’re doing, but I doubt they know.

It’s about 87 degrees out here, which is pretty warm for somebody my age to be running. I was known to run in temperatures as high as 100 degrees when I was younger. People know me around the city as the crazy guy who runs no matter what. I once ran in an icestorm, but then I fell down.  

More cars as I turn the corner onto the main road. People are looking at me, wondering what I’m doing, wondering why I’m talking to my hand while running in such heat. I think one should explain the other.  

There goes a red truck.

My wife is at home right now playing Wii Fit with my sister-in-law, so they probably have the more sensible exercise idea than what I’m doing. I’ve always been told I should carry ID when I got out for these runs and I never do, so if I ever drop off the face of the earth, you’ll know what happened. Hopefully somebody will find my body before the raccoons do.  

Passing some private homes on the right, and on the left is a new subdivision they started building right before the recession. They got about half the houses built and pretty much gave up. I think they’re townhomes, which is kind of like living in a real home from what I’m told.

Glad you can’t transcribe panting because that’s what you’d be reading right now. There is a little bit of a breeze as I get close to the top of the hill. The sky is pretty clear, some high clouds not doing much to block the sun. I try to keep my head down while I’m running. Every now and then I’ll find money or something. I found $20 the other day, just laying in a parking lot.

Wow, there goes a huge truck from a nearby paper tube company. “World’s leading manufacturer of paper tubes,” it says. Not sure who uses them but I guess you have to wrap your toilet paper around something.  

Passing some apartments on the right, and another newish subdivision on the left. It’s called “The Pines at India Hook,” located interestingly enough on India Hook Road. The apartments are called Village Station and it’s an “apartment community,” not just apartments. So I guess they can charge an extra $50 a month for that.

There’s an older house here on the right that’s now a law firm, I think. Tall, beautiful hardwood trees out front. I’d say oak or maple or — what’s that other kind of tree they have? — elm. Could be any of those.  

Off to my left is an older neighborhood with a “Dead End” sign. I don’t think that’s the name of the community though, I think it’s just a street sign. On my right is the Spring Arbor Alzheimer’s Care center and there are some folks sitting out on rocking chairs today because it’s so nice. I’ll try not to talk too loud so I don’t disturb the Alzheimer’s people. I don’t want any of them wandering up this way.

And now here’s Chandler Place, a so-called independent retirement living facility. I think that’s sort of like an old folk’s home, but with fewer safety rails. There are some “shoppes” up here on the end, one little restaurant we go to sometimes. I’m going to try to cross the street now and go back down the hill toward my neighborhood.  

So I’m headed back on the other side of the street, a nice white picket fence to my right. This is a pretty nice part of town. I figure the distance that I’m running is about 1.6 miles maybe. I used to do it every day, lately not so much because of the heat. I guess that’s a good excuse.  

From this spot I can peek into some private backyards … not much going on at this hour of the day. Every now and then I’ll witness an illicit affair.  

Coming up on the right is what used to be another rest home but is now taken over by a church that does day care. It’s called “Taking the City Ministry,” and the childcare is called “God’s Blessings Christian Childcare”. I think the kids are all inside right now. Not sure of the church’s denomination. “Taking the City Ministry” sounds pretty aggressive but I think they mean it more spiritually.

There’s a flag over there …  might be the South Carolina state flag. It’s all ripped and stuck in some trees, so it’s kinda hard to tell. Maybe the apartment community has their own government and it’s their flag.  

Hitting a downhill part now and going past a shady area and becoming a little less self-conscious about talking to myself while running. Every now and then somebody from work who lives around here will say they saw me running, and I’ll say “oh.”  

OK, coming up now past that half-built Village at India Hook — “single-level villas, no maintenance, clubhouse/fitness center, two car garages,” says the sign. They look like nice places. I think they still try to sell them on the weekends. They’ll put signs up like “move in today” or “agent on duty” but I don’t think they’re trying that hard.  

So this will count as my exercise for the day. I remember back in junior high the most they’d make us run would be 600 yards which, when I think about the marathons and 10Ks I’ve run since, seems like nothing now. But at that time they called it a “walk/run” because they knew we couldn’t run the whole 600 yards and in fact I could not, except one time I got tired of coming in last and sprinted the first 100 yards and was out in the lead and everybody said “hey, look at fat Davis go!” and then of course I ran out of gas and finished last.  

Somebody just waved at me from a passing vehicle. Doesn’t necessarily mean they know me, it just means that I’m in the South. Running  past a patch of woods. Every now and then I’ll see deer coming out of here. They’re gradually putting up more and more homes in this area so the deer either have to go somewhere else or figure out if they want to rent or buy.  

Going past Heathwood and Heathwood Forest. Looks like the same neighborhood to me. I’ve run back there on occasion and I think there was a woodsy part so I guess that was the forest. Should be “The Forest at Heathwood” though, shouldn’t it?  

Almost to the place where I normally stop. Still not much traffic out … it’s basically the middle of the afternoon and most decent people are working. I guess I’m indecent, as my tightly clinging sweaty T-shirt will testify. They’ve got some election signs out at some of the houses. These people seem to want Tailor for Judge. Yeah, it says “Carolyn Tailor for Judge” … I thought maybe it was somebody named Judge who was running to be elected Tailor.  

Going to have to cross back over the road now and watch for traffic. Here comes a car but I don’t think he’s going to hit me because of the hassle of accident and insurance reports.  

Alright, well, coming back to my neighborhood. Just beyond where I’m turning is the Westminster Church — there goes a motorcycle, by the way — and there’s a bus from the Christian school that’s associated with the church.  

Back in the neighborhood now, not so many cars. Do have some blind corners I have to watch for in this area and no sidewalk, so some care is required here.

Think I’m going to knock off now because I’m getting back in the area where the neighbors may wonder about me. These are people that are more likely to know where I live and leave notes in my mailbox telling me to stop talking to myself while I’m running, so I’ll be signing off.

NFL’s All-Funny-Name Team

September 15, 2011

It’ll be a while before the cream rises to the top of the National Football League and fans are able to name an All-Pro team for 2011.

In the interim, I’ve selected an all-star team based on players’ names and how funny and/or unusual they are.

Please enjoy this collection of the NFL’s All-Funny-Name Team.

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Sage Rosenfels, N.Y. Giants

Running backs — Tyler Clutts, Chicago Bears; Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens

Receivers — Michael Hoomanawanui, St. Louis Rams; Bear Pascoe, N.Y. Giants; Seyi Ajirotutu, Carolina Panthers

Offensive linemen — Ed Wang, Buffalo Bills; Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins; Guy Whimper, Jacksonville Jaguars; Gosder Cherilus, Detroit Lions; Uche Nwaneri, Jacksonville Jaguars 

DEFENSE

Defensive linemen — Frostee Rucker, Cincinnati Bengals; Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh Steelers; Leger Douzable, Jacksonville Jaguars; C.J. Ay You, St. Louis Rams

Linebackers — Kaluka Maiava, Cleveland Browns; Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins; Frank Zombo, Green Bay Packers

Defensive backs — Tom Zbikowski, Baltimore Ravens; Atari Bigby, Seattle Seahawks; Prince Amukamara, N.Y. Giants; Chimdi Chekwa, Oakland Raiders

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter — Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots

Kicker — Ryan Succop, Kansas City Chiefs

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Roddrick Muckelroy, Cincinnati Bengals
Domata Peko, Cincinnati Bengals
Ahtyba Rubin, Cleveland Browns
Willie Colon, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ikaika Alama-Francis, Miami Dolphins
Ras-I Dowling, New England Patriots
Ropati Pitoitua, N.Y. Jets
Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears
Maurice Morris, Detroit Lions
Vic So’oto, Green Bay Packers
Devin Aromashodu, Minnesota Vikings
Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys
Chris Snee, N.Y. Giants
Moise Fokou, Philadelphia Eagles
Oshiomogho Atogwe, Washington Redskins
Sav Rocca, Washington Redskins
John Chick, Jacksonville Jaguars
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
Elvis Dumervil, Denver Broncos
Sabby Piscitelli, Kansas City Chiefs
Jon Condo, Oakland Raiders
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
Legedu Naanee, Carolina Panthers
Jeremy Zuttah, Tampa Bay Bucs
Will Tukuafu, San Francisco 49ers

Guy Whimper. YOU want to tell him his name is funny?

Speech recognition, I say “go away”

September 14, 2011

My son and his friend Paul were playing video games in the living room as I prepared a late breakfast for myself. While the bacon sizzled, I searched the refrigerator for eggs I knew were in there somewhere.

“Daniel,” I called out to my son. “Have you seen the eggs box? Paul, can I get you something to drink?”

“Hey, what happened?” cried Paul. “My guy just froze up on screen.”

“Dad,” Daniel added. “You messed up our game.”

How did I do that? I’m standing way over here in the kitchen. They’re the ones clutching the Xbox controllers. I’m just trying to find the eggs box.

Ohhhh … I think I know what happened.

While most of my family’s interaction with the television is done via remote control (including the stuff I throw at the screen whenever a Real Housewife appears), Daniel has set up his game console so he can control certain aspects of its operation with voice commands. If he needs to step away from the zombie-killing on “Dead Island” to deal with concerns more pedestrian than the undead, he simply says “Xbox pause” and the game stops.

When I asked “have you seen the eggs box? Paul…”, the voice recognition software heard “Xbox pause” and halted the action.

Daniel also realized what had happened. He turned to the TV and said “Xbox play,” and the automaton slaughter resumed.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, man’s interaction with machinery has come about primarily by pushing buttons and pulling levers. Occasionally, a factory worker was able to halt his equipment by fatally falling into it, though technically that still involved physical contact with the controls.

Using your voice to issue commands is a relatively new development. Like many technological innovations, it was first conceived in the realm of science fiction. I still remember watching “Star Trek” in the 1960s, when Kirk or Spock or whatever Expendoid was cast that week for the specific purpose of being killed by Klingons saying “Computer! Bring me a ham sandwich” or “Computer! Save the universe.” And sure enough, the computer would do it.

Now, like the teleportation device that rockets people instantly through space or whatever innovation made it possible for second-rate sci-fi to promulgate into countless remakes, voice-recognition technology is part of our everyday lives.

Hands-free cellphones make it possible to apply makeup while driving. Cars themselves now respond to imperatives like “change the radio station” or “lower the AC.” You can order fast-food at a drive-through speakerbox, which activates robots inside to sneeze on your hamburger, drop it to the floor, bag it, and pass it through the window.

Like everything else introduced in the last 25 years (with the possible exception of my son), I don’t like it. It just seems fundamentally wrong that we speak to inanimate objects when we already have enough trouble talking to fellow humans. Machines should be controlled by interfaces like keyboards and touchpads. Humans should be controlled by verbal threats and menacing glances.

Chatting up the Xerox WorkCentre 5755 in an attempt to convince it to make 50 two-sided color copies is just too much effort. You have to ask how its family is doing and everything.

I’ve overcome initial reservations about the corollary of voice-recognition — employing keypads to interact with people. Fewer and fewer individuals are using face-to-face conversations or their smartphones to talk to loved ones. Texting, tweeting, instant-messaging and posting pictures of your drunken self on Facebook are now the preferred ways to communicate.

And I’m fine with that. In fact, I prefer it. Concise written messages — even those strewn with emoticons and misspelled into a wireless device — may take longer to key than the spoken word, but they last longer than our ephemeral grunts. “Conversations” held days ago are now fully documented, great news if you have a dispute with your wife about what you were supposed to get at the grocery store, not so great if you’ve been caught conspiring to commit murder-for-hire.

But I suspect my objections to voice-recognition interfaces are based more on what I perceive to be a threat to my livelihood. I make my living as a proofreader and typesetter for a printing company. After over 30 years in this and similar roles, I’ve become very good at my job, especially the typing part. I can key over 100 words per minute with 98% accuracy, according to the man-eating sea creatures at Typer Shark. Even charging hammerheads recoil before my onslaught of ampersands and semicolons.

If voice-detection technology is introduced in my workplace, my typing skills could become useless. Instead of spending the day covering my keyboard with a blur of digits, I’d be reduced to mouthing the words into an input device. Instead of zipping through some of my favorite words to type — “administration,” “facilities,” “constipation,” to name a few — in a matter of nanoseconds, I’d have to say each individual letter. Speaking “m-a-s-t-u-r-b-a-t-o-r-y” into a cone is nowhere near as fun as fingering it into a QWERTY keyboard faster than you can moan orgasmically.

And if there are dozens of fellow workers engaged in the same activity, the collective drone would be enough to knock you flat out. Though sore throats might be easier to treat than chronic carpal tunnel syndrome, you’d end the day vocally exhausted, unable to talk your car into starting.

So today I’m saying “Speech Recognition, Pause.” Take your high-tech audio analysis and consign it to the scrap heap of futuristic-but-ill-conceived ideas, along with jetpacks and rocket cars and Lady Gaga. When I call a customer service help line, I want to press the “O” key, not say “representative,” then say it again, then say it again.

Only when this scourge of needless modernity is eliminated from our lives will I be prepared to again say “Progress, Play.”

Hear me now, purveyors of pointless advancements: "Knock it off"

Bank of America tries radical recovery

September 13, 2011

Bank of America, the nation’s largest financial institution and currently struggling with uncertainty about its viability and a severe drop in its stock price, announced a radical recovery plan yesterday to get it back on sound footing.

The bank is confiscating all funds currently held by customers in checking and savings accounts.

“We’re sitting on these billions and billions of dollars that people have given us to ‘hold’ for them,” said bank spokesperson Nancy Townsend. “The economic reality is that we simply have to expropriate these funds so that our investors can collect their five-cent quarterly dividends.”

Townsend said the unprecedented step of seizing customers’ accounts was not done without careful consideration of the consequences.

“Frankly, we think many people won’t even notice,” Townsend said. “We’re putting play money in all our ATMs, so it’s not like people won’t be able to withdraw something.”

When asked how a corporate giant could simply take people’s savings in order to prop up its balance sheets, Townsend said “it’s not that hard, really.”

“You walk into the vault, you load up everybody’s cash into a big truck, then drive it to a secret location,” Townsend said. “Probably the hardest part will be making sure none of the cash falls out of the truck and into the road.”

Customer deposits, estimated at over $1 trillion, will go a long way toward shoring up investors’ confidence in the bank’s ability to cover losses related to its acquisitions of Countrywide Finance and Merrill Lynch.

Customers’ confidence may suffer, however, though Townsend noted that the bank’s “long-standing policy of not giving a fuck what average depositors think” will stand it in good stead in the coming weeks.

“We always got bad service ratings from our clients anyway,” Townsend said. “Stealing their money shouldn’t make it all that much worse than it already is.”

The bank dismissed concerns that legal challenges to the unauthorized appropriation of funds could eventually scuttle the plan. The company is subject to a patchwork of state regulations throughout the country, and many of these consider grand theft to be a punishable offense.

“That’s a deregulation issue that we’re trying to address in Congress right now,” Townsend said. “We feel the restrictions that government has put on private businesses — dictating, for example, that we can’t just confiscate money that isn’t ours — are holding us back. Free enterprise has to be truly free if this country is to recover from its downturn.”

Townsend was further pressed to explain how, even if stealing were legalized, that Bank of America could morally justify wiping out millions of bank accounts, leaving tens of millions of Americans penniless.

“Look,” she said. “People walk into our branches and hand over their cash. They may ask questions about interest rates and withdrawal fees and stuff like that, but they never ask that we don’t steal their money. If someone asks that we don’t do that, then we won’t do it. For them, at least.”

Is there going to be any way at all that people can keep their money?

“If they can quote us the serial numbers on the bills they deposited, then we’ll give those bills back,” Townsend said. “If all they can do to identify their money is offer vague descriptions like ‘it was green’ or ‘it had a bunch of stars on it,’ then we’ll have to turn those folks away.”

Reaction to the bank’s recovery plan was generally positive on Wall Street, with the stock surging some 6% in after-hours trading, though less enthusiasm could be heard from those who had their life savings wiped out.

“My checking, my savings, my investments, they’re all gone,” said customer Al Cumming, who tried to withdraw $50 in pocket money from a bank branch in suburban Charlotte, N.C. “It’s absolutely criminal what they’re doing.”

“Too bad for him,” Townsend said of the reaction. “Just as we’re too big to fail, so too are we too big to jail.”

Bank of America president Brian Moynihan (though it could just as easily be Conan O'Brien)

Oh, if only I could blink …

September 12, 2011

I was almost home after work Friday as I prepared to exit the interstate. I inched into the right lane and immediately had to slam on the brakes to avoid rear-ending the truck in front of me.

Farther ahead, I could see other cars swerving and skidding to rapidly slow down. About a quarter-mile up the road, leading the column of about two dozen vehicles like a mother duck leading her brood across a meadow, was a white minivan, flashers blinking as it chugged along at about 30 m.p.h.

The posted minimum speed on the interstate is 45 m.p.h. However, it seems there is an unwritten rule of the road that, as long as you turn on your flashers, you can get away with anything.

Parking in a handicapped spot? Okay, if you activate the emergency lights.

Stopped in the middle of your neighborhood to chat with a passing friend? Just make sure your rear-end lights are blinking.

Speeding to the hospital to deliver your cousin and his sprained ankle to the emergency room? No faster than 140, if you don’t mind — just be sure you have your flashers on.

Foiled Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was well aware of this loophole in traffic law. When he tried in 2009 to blow up his Pathfinder after filling it with explosives and abandoning it on Broadway, he was careful to activate the hazard lights. Police initially dismissed the threat because the flashers throbbed so rhythmically and vibrantly. However, when smoke began to pour from the passenger compartment, they called in the bomb squad and averted what would have been a major attack.

“But I had the flashers on,” Shahzad later testified during his trial on terror charges.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” responded federal judge Arthur Cox.

Cox almost threw out the case at that point, until prosecutors reminded him that the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, gave authorities extraordinary powers to halt car-bombers even if they had their blinkers on.

The folly of granting immunity to all kinds of offenses just because someone pushed a button on their dashboard is becoming more widely acknowledged. While I objected strenuously to the slow-poke minivan I encountered Friday, part of me wishes to see the concept not only maintained but expanded.

What if we could wear flashing lights on either hip which we could activate every time we found ourselves in a period of stress or uncertainty? We could warn those around us that we we’re momentarily unstable and should be given wide berth.

Think how marvelous it would be to easily publicize that we shouldn’t be approached while heading to the breakroom at work. To warn our child’s teacher that the parent conference they’ve requested will not erupt into a screaming match as long as they treat us gingerly. To urge those in front of us at Starbucks to make way and let us place our order first.

Some of this automotive-inspired technology is already entering general use. A few weeks back, I encountered one of those motorized shopping carts used by our inordinately massive citizens in the grocery store. The lady was attempting to make a three-point turn in the middle of the frozen food aisle. Whenever she threw the vehicle into reverse, a loud beep emanated from the chair.

As the maneuver progressed, other shoppers clogged the row waiting for the opportunity to pass. Most were polite enough to pretend to be looking for Hot Pockets while they waited. Eventually, the beeping stopped and the normal traffic flow was able to resume. The humongous fat lady didn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of explaining to all who waited that she deserved their sympathy and, if they wouldn’t mind, that pack of frozen french fries in our cart as well.

I’d like to propose some other ideas we can borrow from our Auto-American friends to use as we amble through our daily lives.

Spoilers — These aerodynamic devices on the back trunk of sports cars could also be affixed just above human butts, so that runners and fast walkers can maintain stability as they proceed. (I, for one, often fear my speedy jogging pace will lift me right off the pavement without the downforce provided by a spoiler.)

Turn signals — Sure, most drivers don’t use these properly to begin with, either ignoring them completely or leaving them on long after the urge to turn has passed. (I’m looking at you, grandma). But think how effective they’d be on the sidewalks of Manhattan, as a way for busy businesspeople and befuddled tourists to signal their intent to make a sharp right into the subway without being killed by a passing bike messenger.

Horn — If someone walking ahead of you isn’t moving fast enough, give them either a brief beep or a full-throated “ah-ooo-ga” to urge them out of the way. (I know what some of you will say: “Wouldn’t saying ‘excuse me’ be more polite?” To which I would respond: “Why does that shuffling quartet from Iowa who’s never seen anything taller than a grain elevator deserve civility?”)

Headlights — Only cars and cats have the ability to emit a high-beam light out their “eyes” to illuminate the way in front of them. Why couldn’t humans be surgically altered, perhaps as part of their annual eye exam, so that photons come shooting out of our face, allowing us to pee more effectively in the dark?

Grill — This idea already has foothold among the hip-hoppier portions of our population, and could rapidly be expanded to others. Have all your low-tech natural teeth pulled and replaced with a shiny metallic grill. This will save on dental bills as well as improve your visibility as you swerve in and out of pedestrian traffic.

Trunk — Again, we can turn to our urban friends — who have long trumpeted the value of “junk in the trunk” — for guidance on how to give us more storage capacity than pockets and purses could ever hope to offer. If we could hollow out our too-ample rumps and use the space to keep gum, cellphones, checkbooks, cash, tissue, cigarettes, etc., our hands become more free to open doors, adjust our shorts and attack innocent bystanders with knives.

Computer diagnostics — I’d love to have a “check intestines” light come on every time I over-ate, or a heart symbol illuminate on the end of my nose to indicate I might be in need of an angioplasty. Cars have it so easy; just hook them up to the computer in the service bay and you immediately know what’s wrong. Health care costs would plummet if a simple stop at Pep Boys might head off a major cardiac event.

I call on Detroit and the medical establishment to join forces in this effort to bring humanity “up to spec.” With our manufacturing sector in the doldrums as our healthcare system booms uncontrollably, maybe President Obama can include these ideas in his jobs push.

And if they need the help, I’d be happy to write the owner’s manual. As long as I can beep, honk, screech or flash while I’m doing it.

Revisited: When “C” stands for “change” at the convenience store

September 9, 2011

A warning light recently lit up on the dashboard of my car. It was a bearded “U” with an exclamation point in the middle. Either I needed to stop immediately for a game of horseshoes with Zach Galifianakis, or else there was something wrong with one of my tires. I looked at the owner’s manual and found out the indicator was indicating I might be having an issue with tire pressure.        

I’m old enough to remember that you used to be able to pull into a gas station and have the problem checked out by a certified attendant. Nowadays, there aren’t many true “gas stations” left, since virtually everyone pumps their own gas outside a convenience store. You could ask the semi-toothed cashier if they would “check your air,” but their response would probably involve trying to sell you a pine-scented freshener from their wide selection of aromatic danglers.        

The modern convenience store really does live up to its name. As you’re fueling your car, you can also do a quick bit of shopping for those essentials you didn’t realize you needed until you came across them in the brightly lit bustle of the “C-store.” It’s like a mini-Walmart, with the scent of spilled gasoline ably playing the role of store greeter.        

At a single stop, you can buy Beanie Weenies, roach spray, steel wool, toothpicks, frozen chimichangas, Earthquake brand high-gravity lager, gloves, Axe body spray, a mechanical pencil, pliers, something called “gum-out,” a can of boiled peanuts, satin roses, Sasquatch big sticks (an extremely cured meat product), hotdog buns, Lunchables, Bimbo colchones or cinnamon-roll-flavored cappuccino. In fact, you can buy all of these items at the same time, though the guy in line behind you will be muttering something in Spanish about “tu mama” to his fellow landscapers.        

You can also buy a 12-pack of Dr Pepper, that comes in a box that brags “now with new packaging.” (Soft drink companies have apparently given up on tweaking the formula of their sodas, and now concentrate instead on how to make the box more appealing).        

Well, that’s not the only thing with new packaging at the convenience store where I do most of my re-fueling and impulse buying. The shop itself is being transformed, from what used to be called a “Petro Express” into something the new signage calls a “Kangaroo Marathon.” (That’s a race I’d like to see.)

The corporation that owns all of these names is called The Pantry. It operates over 1,600 convenience stores throughout the Southeast and is currently in the midst of converting its 67 Charlotte-area outlets to the company’s flagship Kangaroo brand. Aside from the external signs, and the change from offering Texaco gas products to those of Marathon Oil, there will be some minor modifications inside.        

“It’s going to be different by store,” said chief financial officer Frank Paci. “Some of the stores got Petro Express wallpaper and things like that, so obviously that will change.”        

“We definitely think there is an opportunity to improve the yield of that business,” added CEO Terry Marks, none too helpfully. “It’s about pulling a thousand levers a little bit better. It’s not about pulling one or two big levers.”        

During a recent visit to my favorite Petro-cum-Kangaroo, the conversion process was kicking into high gear. Workers outside had blocked off several parking spaces so they could install a large new billboard over the entryway. Inside, at least a dozen cashiers were tripping over each other behind the counter, watching a trainer explain the new check-out terminals. Wallpaper was being stripped above the coffee machines, as customers at the self-serve struggled to avoid getting dried paste with their cream and sugar. Convenience was everywhere.    

I had to park creatively, off to the side near the kerosene pump, because the construction was taking up so much room in the parking lot. Inching past a guy teetering precariously above the automatic door, which was in a constantly rotating cycle of open and close and open and close, I managed to get inside the store. The lunch-time crush was in full swing. I maneuvered back to the iced drink dispensers while my son checked out refrigerated cases full of canned sodas. We agreed to meet back at the candy aisle before reconnoitering how to approach the growing line of people waiting to pay for their purchases.    

It was especially hot outside, so I decided to indulge in a Coke Slushy. Unfortunately, there were no Slushies to be found. Instead, the whirling mass of partially frozen liquid now had a sign labeling it as an “Icee.” What the heck is an “Icee“? I wondered. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the challenges of modern transformative change, much like that first day at work after the new global computer system was installed, except thirstier.   

I went to check on my son and found him shaking his head as he pondered the canned drink selection. It looked to me like all the familiar brands were represented, maybe just in a slightly different order. And yet Rob appeared confused and disoriented. What was the problem?   

“It’s the doors,” Rob said. “When this was a Petro Express, the handle was on the right. Now, it’s on the left.” He paused. “I … I don’t understand how to get in to the drinks.”   

Normally, this is where I might summon a manager for assistance. But I wasn’t sure that’s what they called them anymore. What if they were now called “shift captains”? Or “team leaders”? Or “Purveyors and Expediters of an Exquisite Customer Experience”?   

I saw an alcove nearby that had a water cooler, so Rob and I got our drinks there. Recessed just behind the fountain were what used to be called the “bathrooms,” but were now some exotic locale known as a “restroom.” Gone were the signs indicating which door was for men and which was for women. Now, they were only accepting “ladies” and “gentlemen.” I wasn’t sure I had the proper level of refinement to wash my hands in such splendor, so I just wiped them on my pants.   

We walked over to the candy section and managed to find what we were looking for: Airheads for Rob and M&M’s for me. The world had at least temporarily returned to its proper axis, so we took the opportunity to approach the cashiers.   

As I mentioned earlier, the store seemed way over-staffed. Usually, you’re lucky to find three people working in the entire site — one at the register, one outside on a smoke break, and one lying mortally wounded after the latest robbery attempt. To see a dozen workers hustling behind the counter was totally foreign, especially since they were now wearing orange vests instead of the customary red polo shirts of Petro. Finally, one of the ladies broke loose from the pack and prepared to serve us.   

“How are you today?” asked the woman whose nametag identified her as “Hello My Name Is Marilyn.”   

How am I today? What happened to the traditional greeting of “Can I help you?” And what have you done with my usual cashier, who I’ve come to know as “Welcome to Petro I’m Marilyn”?   

The trainer must have sensed my unease, as he stepped forward to help us complete the transaction. While he patiently walked Marilyn through the proper process steps — take the money, look at the money, enter the amount in the register, etc. — his tone calmed us as well. We got our change, we got our candy, and we got the heck out of Kangaroo before the whole store turned on its head.   

Later that night, I saw a TV commercial for Marathon Oil. Everyday, genuine Americans were pictured going about the business of their everyday, genuine lives. They rode horses, drove convertibles, splashed on a beach, laughed and romped. In the background, you could hear the Marathon theme song, presumably sung by the same cashiers I met earlier that day:   

We’re proud to stand on our own
We’re proud to be home grown
A familiar face and a name you know
C’MON!
   

We know you, we know your needs
We know what being a neighbor means
We got a reputation to uphold!
   

Can you hear it?
Fueling the American spirit!
No matter when, no matter where
Marathon will take you there!
   

I had been reassured. Despite all the differences I’d seen earlier that day, they still knew me, they still knew my needs, and they still wanted me to “c’mon” and join them in this exciting new way to buy gas and snack foods. Much like the kangaroo, I was now eager to jump at the chance and accept the challenge to change. 

Kangaroo is “hopping” to keep your business, and also to amortize a $21.3 million write-off associated with the decision to convert Charlotte-area stores
Keeping customers happy is a marathon, not a sprint

All a matter of taste

September 8, 2011

A few days ago, I was sitting innocently at my desk when a co-worker approached with an open bag of candy.

“Here, have one,” he said. “They have an interesting taste.”

It was still morning, and he correctly interpreted my pause as a sign of reluctance. I don’t eat candy in the morning, and probably haven’t since gorging on some long-ago Easter made me ill. In my book, candy is not a breakfast food. Nor is cold pizza, anything with chicken in it, nor anything chocolate.

“They’re good,” he persisted after a few moments.

No, they weren’t. They were “ginger candy,” sweet and chewy with a texture like a jelly bean. But the ginger flavor would’ve gone much better with sushi, about eight hours later in the day. At 9 in the morning, it repulsed.

“See?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Interesting.”

Much like the Holocaust, the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa and a Britney Spears concert are “interesting.”

Against my better judgment I had given in and tasted something someone was offering me. Usually, I don’t do this. I spend a lot of thought constructing exactly the taste I want to reside inside my mouth at any given time, and don’t appreciate capricious-if-well-intended efforts to change this delicate balance of flora and fauna.

When I first wake up, my mouth tastes awful, which I expect after a night of grinding my teeth into nubs. I’ll quickly brew a cup of coffee and savor this flavor, then follow up with a tooth-brushing that gives me enough minty freshness to present to the world.

At different points during the day, I’ll introduce other flavors: first, a blueberry muffin with more coffee at work, then perhaps a piece of fruit to cut through any lingering “morning mouth,” then — no sooner than 10 a.m., which I consider the earliest that carbonated beverages should be consumed — the stinging carbonation of a Pepsi.

Once my maw is fully awake, I can be as adventurous an eater as anyone. I enjoy spicy food, exotic food, healthy food and even near-foods such as Slim Jims and gum. (Interesting fact I learned watching “Top Chef” last night: there are no recipes that use chewing gum as an ingredient).

I’m certainly no Mike Holland, though. Mike was the childhood friend who lived down the street that I once accidentally cracked in the forehead with a baseball bat. (I don’t remember if this was before or after he began impressing other neighborhood boys with his willingness to lick anything. In retrospect, I’d guess it was after the blunt-force brain trauma.)

Mike once put a rock in his mouth. He’d let a dog lick his tongue. He would eat grass — and not just any grass, either, but lawns that had just been sprayed for chinch bugs. I don’t know if he grew up to be Andrew Zimmern, the “Bizarre Foods” host on TV’s Travel Channel who draws the line at eating human flesh, or simply died a painful poisoning death shortly after moving away. But Mike’s appetite sure was cool to a group of hard-boiled eight-year-olds.

I think of Mike sometimes. If alive, I’ll bet he’s happily married. Aside from the occasional co-worker who offers strange and unwanted foodstuffs, the biggest battle to resist that I face is when eating out with my wife.

Beth and I, after almost 30 years of marriage, have very similar tastes. When we go to a restaurant, even one with the most extensive menu imaginable, we’ll almost always want to order the same thing.

“Let me guess,” I said recently as we prepared to order at a Chinese restaurant. “Number 572?”

“Yep,” she said, “but I’d get it with brown rice, not white.”

Because I’ve always viewed suspiciously the older couples who look alike, eat alike, dress alike, etc., I refuse to order the exact same dish as Beth. She thinks this is silly. Even stupider, she contends, is that I’ll then order my second-favorite item on the menu, and refuse her offers to taste or split her meal.

It’s not that I’m afraid to eat after her. And it’s not that I want to avoid the “sharing charge” that so many restaurants have these days. It’s just that, once I’ve made up my mind what to order, my palate expects this and nothing more.

Ever pick up a can of motor oil thinking it was a thick chocolate milk shake and take a deep swig? If your brain thinks it’s a shake, then your taste buds tend to agree and the darn thing ends up tasting like a shake. Same thing is true with General Tso’s Chicken, except you (usually) don’t go into convulsions.

This perverse dining philosophy of mine didn’t serve me well during business trips I was frequently making a few years back to the Indian subcontinent. Eating room service or in the hotel restaurant wasn’t the problem; it was the one night I was invited into the home of a Sri Lankan co-worker for an authentic Sinhalese meal.

The custom for this kind of dinner is that large bowls of food are offered “family style,” allowing everyone to share. As long as proper utensils are used to divvy up the courses, I’m fine with this. The problem, however, is that THESE PEOPLE EAT WITH THEIR HANDS!

“Let us show you how to hold your fingers so that your hand makes a scoop,” said my helpful host, Ambalangoda Anuradhapura (or something like that).

Not wanting to be an ugly, nor a hungry, American, I played along.

“You’ll find that your skin adds a certain saltiness that enhances the flavor of the food,” he continued.

As long as it’s my skin and not yours, I thought, I can probably get through this.

Once I had steeled myself against the barbarism of it all, the evening was actually quite enjoyable. It was almost fun trying a primitive, Third-World custom. I wasn’t eating after these friendly Asians, I was eating simultaneously with them.

I don’t particularly remember what we had that night, except that it had way too many syllables and a vague coconut flavor. I do know, however, that the company and the fellowship were quite wonderful.

And this was the after-taste I had in my mouth as we bounced and jostled in our auto-rickshaw back to the hotel. Where I later became violently ill.

Britney: So tasteful

Congress reluctantly returns from summer break

September 7, 2011

Fresh off their summer recess, congresspeople returned to Washington this week with a mixture of enthusiasm for the new year and the usual spate of confusion following such a long layoff.

As might be expected, Tuesday’s first day was filled more with uncertainty than with getting down to work, as legislators struggled with new schedules, new subjects and becoming comfortable with new routines.

“It’s natural that there’s a bit of disorder on the first day,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “But by the end of this week, I feel confident we’ll be back to the same dysfunctional body we were before the recess.”

There are no new members in the returning 112th Congress. However, the five-week August vacation has always caused some rough patches, and this year’s return could be especially bumpy because so many freshmen Republicans were not especially bright to begin with.

“We planned on the first few weeks being remedial work, with lots of review,” said House sergeant-at-arms Bill Livingood. “It can be tough getting the guys back on task after they’ve spent the summer swimming, camping, playing stickball and such. I’m confident they’ll be back to square one by no later than Thanksgiving.”

Evidence of bewilderment was not hard to find Tuesday.

“I couldn’t find my new committee room,” complained Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). “I thought it was on the second floor but I couldn’t find the ‘up’ staircase, and a guy on the ‘down’ stairs gave me a noogie when I tried to get past him.

“It hurt,” he added. “I’m telling.”

Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) said he didn’t know representatives were going to be assigned new lockers over the break, and was disturbed to find that authorities had cut off his old combination lock and given the space to someone new.

“I had that combination memorized, too,” Berg said. “Now my mom is going to have to buy a new one, and she’s going to be mad.”

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said he brought the same supplies he did on the first day after the spring recess, but these turned out to be all wrong.

“Apparently, I have to have college-ruled notebook paper, not standard-ruled,” Price complained. “Also, I’m not sure I have enough crayons in the 24-pack that I bought. And to top it off, I got my compass confiscated at security because it was too pointy.”

On the other side of the Capitol, incoming senators were also wrestling with the after-effects of vacation.

“They gave me a new bill to read and, when I opened it up, there was a big wad of gum right in the middle of the enacting clause,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.). “As a good fiscal conservative, I didn’t want it to go to waste so I dug it out and started chewing on it rather than appropriating funds for a new piece. But I didn’t like it. Sour apple is not my favorite flavor.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who inherited a desk used earlier this year by Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, grumbled that graffiti carved into his hardwood desktop made it difficult for him to do his penmanship exercises.

“All over the top, there’s ‘I ♥ Sarah’ and ‘Mr. Mitchell M. Palin’,” Schumer told reporters. “He should get in trouble for that.”

As rough as it was in the morning of the first day, things got even worse when lunchtime arrived. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) forgot his lunch money, while Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) discovered a baloney sandwich in his lunchbox “even though my mom knows I hate baloney.”

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) complained that fellow Republican Reid Ribble of Colorado tried to cut in front of him in the lunch line “even though I told him ‘no butts.'” And the House’s only openly gay legislator, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), was confused about where to sit under the new boy-girl-boy-girl seating pattern mandated by reforms passed last year.

By the afternoon, though, some semblance of normality seemed to be returning. Several subcommittee meetings went off with barely a hitch, despite complaints from a handful of junior members that “the chairman hates me” or “I didn’t know that subject (commerce, manufacturing and trade) would be so hard.”

“You could tell by the end of the day that we’re already getting back to usual,” House sergeant Livingood said. “We were down to the petty stuff by then, stuff like ‘those super-committee guys (members of the joint select committee on deficit reduction named as part of the debt ceiling compromise) are so conceited.’

“I bet by the end of the week, we’ll be completely back to normal,” he continued. “And, of course, by ‘normal’ I mean totally out of touch with the American people, concerned only about their re-election and how much partisan bickering they can get into without being called into someone’s office.”

Reps. Chris Smith, left, and John Mica discuss legislation to ban cooties.

Labor Day inspires a new career path

September 6, 2011

What a great Labor Day that was!

I am so refreshed by the annual holiday meant to honor the American worker that I can hardly sit still. It felt good to have my labors acknowledged in the nationwide ceremonial grilling of meats, symbolizing the way the workforce has charred the yoke of robber-baron oppression, not enough that we’re free to be equal partners with our corporate overlords, but at least enough for us to enjoy a pleasant smoky smell.

Other Labor Day traditions further fueled goodwill toward my job. Watching the Muscular Dystrophy telethon without Jerry Lewis reminded me how decrepit you have to be to get fired these days. Putting away our whites for the summer represented how it’s time for angry Tea-Party Caucasians to get back in the closet with the eggshell pumps and seersucker suits. President Obama’s Labor Day speech inspired me greatly … it inspired me to turn the channel, but it inspired me nonetheless.

Now I’m back on the job and, for at least the first few hours, I have positive feelings toward my work. Then the coffeemaker runs dry and the person who took the last cup doesn’t make another pot.  Then a gaggle of coworkers launch into a spirited discussion of whether or not sex education is appropriate in public schools. Then I realize it’s almost a full three months till the next holiday at Thanksgiving.

And now, I’m doing actual work in my role as a financial proofreader. Our client has asked that a “2” in one of their documents be changed to a “4.” A typesetter deletes one number and adds the other, and it’s my duty to make sure this simple act was done correctly. Yes, I muse as I review the proof carefully, bringing 30 years experience to bear; that’s one fine-looking “4”. I approve the page, and almost immediately remember how empty my life has become.

This is not exactly the best economic climate for someone in their mid-50’s to consider a career change. I know there are way too many my age who would give their left arm for a chance to approve a “4” and get paid to do it. I should be happy in my drudgery.

But a spirit freed from the obligations of the workplace is a spirit that can be difficult to re-shackle, even if it was only for three days and large parts of two of those were spent cleaning the fireplace and doing laundry.

I’m going to do it, though. I’m going to get a new job. And I’m going to shoot for the top.

I’m going to be King of the World.

I’m not sure where you go to apply for such a position. I’ve checked on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, and it seems there’s little to be had in the field of global autocratic monarchy. I could go the LinkedIn route, and try to network with those who might have the potential to anoint me, but I’m not a very good schmoozer.

There’s a job fair this Thursday to hire 80 people to work at the new Walmart; the authority of The Greeter to send shoppers on a wild goose chase for tube socks is quite the power trip, yet I doubt the remuneration compares to the treasure chests overflowing with tribute that a King of the World would expect.

There’s definitely an opening for the position, though. Many men have fashioned themselves as “kings” over the last 50 years, yet few remain in 2011 to make the claim.

Elvis held the title for a while but he’s believed by most accounts to be dead. Michael Jackson picked up the mantle for a time in the ’80s and ’90s, then dropped it like a hot potato when he issued a royal decree calling for more Propofol. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio famously proclaimed himself KOTW in that scene on the bow of the Titanic, then mysteriously abdicated to become a man in an iron mask in his next role.

There are other kings out there but few who claim worldwide hegemony. Richard Petty was “The King” of NASCAR racing, yet that proved to be a pretty low-level reign, as confirmed by his attempt in 1996 to advance to the office of North Carolina secretary of state. The popular rock band Kings of Leon are just that — kings of guys named Leon but pretty much impotent over everybody else. “The King of Queens” and “King of the Hill” have been cancelled after years of ineffectual rule.

Even professional monarchs seem to shrink from the task of being all-powerful arbiter, looter of the royal treasury and worshipped demi-god. England hasn’t had a king in who-knows-how-long, opting instead for a series of queens, queen mums and princes out the ying-yang. Japan has one of the world’s last emperors, yet his ambition to rule the planet is dampened by ancestors whose reign included getting their homeland atomic-bombed.

And don’t tell me real kings from the Third World, like the heads of Lesotho, Swaziland and Bhutan, are ready to step up to the big time. Those countries could barely afford a crown.

I’m going to take the rather audacious path to supremacy of simply declaring myself King of the World. If anybody objects, just record your doubts on my Facebook page, and I’ll round you up for a life in prison as soon as I get around to it.

In the meantime, I’ll start issuing a series of edicts and fiats that will turn this sorry world of ours around and get us back on the right track. Most will be general in tone. (I’ll hire a top-notch staff with my fabulous riches to flesh these out; I’m a “vision guy” who will delegate implementation to various subordinates like Manager of the World and Administrative Assistant of the World). Every now and then I’ll dabble in specifics — for example, I’ll ban pedicures that include any kind of pattern or graphic, and insist on a revision to the tax code. Generally, I’ll be a kind and beneficent despot, enlightened for much of the time, except perhaps after a long weekend off.

Look for my rise to power in the coming days. I see little on the landscape that can stop me. I’ll print up some business cards, rent office space in the depressed strip mall not far from my house, and be ready for rulin’ by the end of the week.

Bow down before my authority! Cower in my presence! Avert your eyes when I talk to you, lest you be overcome by the brilliance of my appearance.

I think I’m going to like this job. (I assume it has Labor Day off. I’ll have to check the employee manual to be sure).

The past was filled with kings a-plenty; now, you'll just have me

Revisited: Headline goes here (hope it fits)

September 5, 2011

In between forcing the college president to resign and kicking off the streaking fad, I did a brief stint as layout editor at my college newspaper back in the seventies. Part of the job involved writing the headlines.

The task was challenging for two reasons. One, you actually had to read what the reporters had written, understanding every nuance of whatever issue they were covering before coming up with the all-purpose standby, “Meeting Held”. (Journalism’s most flexible headline — use it to cover everything from the crucifixion of Christ to man’s first steps on the moon).

Secondly, you had very precise parameters to work with in constructing a heading that would fit into the space allotted. There was a character count posted above my desk, telling how many letters I could use per column inch. Each lower-case letter counted as one character, except that the “m” and “w” counted as one-and-a-half, and the “f,” “l,” “i” and “t” counted as half letters.

Usually, we were extremely tight on space, and had to get very creative in our word choice. My proudest day in this position was when the Gay Student Union went to the state capitol to speak with legislators, and I got to use the word “flit” to describe their angry protest march down College Avenue. Likewise, I lived in dread of the day a story might cross the AP Wire reporting that “Wham-O Wows Moms” or “Woman’s Womb Meows”.

So I have some sympathy for modern-day newspaper editors as they go about this task. It’s tough enough to succinctly craft a headline that draws the reader in; plus, you have to worry about the fact that you’re probably going to get laid off next week.

The following is a brief sampling of headlines lifted (there’s another good headline word) from local newspapers in my area. Most of these examples hint at a story entirely different from what was being reported, a story that would’ve been far more interesting than what the reality turned out to be.

Player’s death makes words hard
Emergency personnel worked feverishly to pump air into his lungs, but still he refused to comment on what had happened to him.

Wisconsin looking for another stop
This heading hints at an exciting tale of how state officials are trying to locate a pipe organ component that admits pressurized air to the instrument, or perhaps how a small town is dealing with the theft of its single stop sign. Unfortunately, it was far less interesting: tourism officials are hoping to land a golf tournament on the PGA Men’s Tour.

Hootie and the Blowfish help to round up school supplies
It’s good to see they’ve found productive volunteer work ever since the concert bookings stopped coming.

Wanted: ‘People person’ for animal control post
The previous holder of the position, an “animal animal,” was too sympathetic to the wild tendencies of the captured creatures and allowed them to have parties and stay up way past their bedtime.

Host of cockfights too sick for prison
There are two possible meanings here: (1) a multitude (or “host”) of chicken-on-chicken bouts were judged too tasteless to be staged for the entertainment of convicts; or (2) an impresario of animal blood sports felt just fine while he was allowing poultry to be mutilated on his property, but now that he’s been sentenced for the crime, the thought of the whole gory sham makes him ill.

Money could be available as early as October
This could go a long way to preventing that much-feared double-dip recession.

John surgery advances
Plumbers are using medical techniques honed in the operating room to perform less-invasive repair on the stopped-up toilet.

Stabbing suspect wanted in Israel
The Israelis have such a difficult time dealing with life-and-death security matters and the constant threat of external terrorist attack or internal uprising from Palestinians. They would just die for the opportunity to solve a simple knifing case.

Ke$ha brings inner ‘Animal’ to ‘Today Show’
I just hope it’s a tapeworm and not some kind of exotic badger that she’s attempting to smuggle in a body cavity following her recent smash tour of South America.

Does language matter?
I’d say “yes” but then I’d be using language which would prejudice the whole discussion.

Mom’s beloved bike rolls on to daughter
The actual story was about a mother who was passing on to her college-bound daughter the old Schwinn they had ridden together for years. The only reason I learned that, however, is because I’d hoped there’d be a lurid description of a crush injury.

Two trapped men rescued from clothes dryer
Were they trapped in wet clothing and became much dryer after they were rescued from the sodden duds? Or – surely this can’t be the case — did the two of them become so entwined in the Maytag during whatever God-forsaken thing they were doing in there, and become somehow entrapped?

Man injured after he falls in front of bus
The ankle sprain would’ve healed on its own but the being-hit-by-a-bus part of the accident is not so easily treated.

N.C. State plan targets athletes who miss class
Football and basketball stars alike fondly recall the challenge of the collegiate classroom. Some, however, develop a deep depression once they’ve left their studies behind and land a multi-million dollar pro sports contract. So their alma mater is offering a counseling program to help those who simply can’t deal with the loss of scholarly studies on their own.

China to remember 1,200 killed in flood
They almost forgot, what with the landslide that killed 1,500, the typhoon that left tens of thousands homeless, and the earthquake that decimated an entire province. Someone in the government should write these things down, so they don’t have so much to remember.

Barbecue to be held
Be careful. It’s still pretty hot.