Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Some are confused by Black Friday

November 25, 2011

The wave of fresh converts to evangelical Christianity appears to contain many who are confused about certain details of this, their first holiday season.

“I’m still learning my way around,” admitted Sonya Bennett. “I mean, I believe in Jesus and all that stuff; I’m just a little hazy on the reasons for some of these celebrations.”

Much of the bewilderment is becoming apparent during today’s so-called “Black Friday.” Large numbers of newly minted Christians showed up at post-Thanksgiving sales at Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers, thinking they were observing the day Jesus was crucified at Calgary.

“I guess I was thinking of — what is it? — Good Friday,” said Heather Thompson. “I thought Black Friday was the day the altar was draped in black cloth, and a somber service acknowledged our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for mankind. Turns out, it’s more about low, low prices.”

Thompson said many of her friends were also confused about the day. She said she felt that the Church of Christ, of which she became a member earlier this year, and the nation’s retail sector were “just asking” for there to be such widespread misunderstanding.

“I mean, think about it: Good Friday marks an occasion when something bad happened, and Black Friday marks a good day, a day of door-busting bargains. That’s just plain screwy,” Thompson said. “You’d think it would be the other way around. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one expecting up to 60% off the cost of my salvation.”

Bennett, a recent convert to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, said the church calendar at first didn’t make sense to her. She said she had time to meditate and reflect on her faith while waiting in line from midnight till 4 a.m. outside the Valley Hills Mall in Seattle.

“I finally puzzled through it,” Bennett said. “It just wasn’t possible that Jesus was crucified in late November, then born in late December, and then ascended into heaven in March or April. I know He can do some amazing things, but this just seemed totally whack.”

Similar puzzlement was expected during next week’s “Cyber Monday,” which has become the day on which close to a third of on-line Christmas gift sales are made. Either that, or it’s something to do with Simon Peter, or maybe the Immaculate Conception, or maybe Zhu Zhu pets.

“The one that always messes me up is Maundy Thursday,” said Oscar Bennett, who joined the Southern Baptist denomination in February. “I mean, is it a Monday or is it a Thursday? I’m all for talking in tongues, but come on. How can we have effective outreach to non-believers with this kind of double-talk?”

Raymond Price, a new member of the fundamentalist Mercy Schmercy Catholic Church in suburban Atlanta, defended Christianity’s elaborate calendar as something that novices should study and become comfortable with.

“It’s really not that complicated when you put your mind to it,” Price said. “Ash Wednesday is the day we remember volcano victims. Palm Sunday celebrates the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem in triumph after inventing the handheld personal digital assistant. Corpus Christi, in mid-June, marks the beginning of beach season on the south Texas coast.”

Price said his personal favorite day on the liturgical calendar was Ruby Tuesday.

“Any day that honors both the Rolling Stones and the Seaside Sensations combo platter is truly a holy day in my book,” Price said. “Ruby Tuesday — Fresh Taste, Fresh Price.”

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A look at the turkey

November 23, 2011

As part of my occasional series titled “Lives of the Dead,” today’s post will look at the turkey.

This fabled American bird takes its place at the table with the likes of Christopher Columbus, Caesar Augustus, St. Patrick and Martin Luther as subjects of a DavisW’s blog profile. Not dead as a species but with plenty of specific casualties by this time tomorrow, the turkey becomes the first to be a living topic in this space. Let’s take a brief look at its history before we examine its innards over pumpkin pie and coffee at dinner Thursday.

In a way, it’s fitting the turkey be granted this exceptional treatment. As much as his species is appreciated as both a symbol of gratitude and a meat product, there have been no individual turkeys to rise above the rest and distinguish themselves. Other animals at least have had animated anthropomorphs to speak out on their behalf — Donald Duck, Porky Pigg, Sylvester the Cat, Fernando Lamas, the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). There’s never been a single famous turkey.

It’s probably due in part to what’s come to be known in zoology circles as the “K Factor”. The K Factor is that rule which says any animal with a “K” in its name is automatically funny and disrespected. Your monkeys, your donkeys, your yaks and your kangaroos all suffer from this syndrome and can’t get anyone to take them seriously. We laugh at the poor dumb turkey even as we enjoy his succulent thighs simply because it’s fun to say anything that rhymes with “jerky” or “quirky”.

The turkey first came to the attention of an increasingly hungry Western Civilization when 16th-century Europeans exploring America encountered a bird similar to their familiar guineafowl. Since their larger poultry were imported into continental markets through Central Europe from Turkey, they thought of calling the wild Meleagris gallopavo a “Serbian” but eventually settled instead on “turkey”. (That’s why we also get the word “grease” from Greece, and the word “chili” from Chile).

The wild turkey can weigh up to 100 pounds and has a wingspan of almost six feet. They can fly for short distances, mainly when they’re being pursued by predators. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of their beak which, when combined with their huge breasts, make them resemble actress Pamela Anderson. (You can tell the two apart because the birds have too much sense to go anywhere near Kid Rock). They also have another protuberance growing off the top of their beaks and dangling off to the side called a “snood”. Links to recipes for these appendages, including the famous Wattle Supreme and the underappreciated Stewed Snood, will follow this article.

There’s a fairly extensive fossil record of the early turkeys, starting from the Miocene Epoch over 20 million years ago. Ancient remains have been found throughout the Western Hemisphere and, when they are, inevitably the wishbone is broken in two. The Aztecs called the creature huexolotl, and it was associated with their “trickster god” Tezcatlipoca when it wasn’t being killed and eaten. (Even then, the turkey was laughed at. Aztecs would’ve told each other “that wacky huexolotl and his pal Tezcatlipoca are at it again” if they could’ve pronounced either of the words.)

It’s only been in the last century or so that turkeys became a popular form of poultry. Though it’s likely the meat was served at the first Thanksgiving attended by the Pilgrims and the Indians, that’s probably only because they kept running around the food preparation area. It was actually too expensive to become a staple at holiday meals until just recently. Before World War II, goose or beef was more likely to comprise the common holiday dinner.

When the wild turkey was domesticated, its life became both easier and harder. Today’s birds could live to be ten years old if they weren’t slaughtered at about 16 weeks. They grow up on a factory farm, bred to have magnificent white feathers to make their carcasses more appealing. The male is the tom, the female is the hen, and the baby is a poult, though they don’t spend near enough time together as a family. Mature toms are too large to “achieve natural fertilization,” as Wikipedia delicately puts it, so their semen is manually collected and hens are inseminated artificially. Neither much care for this arrangement, but what are they going to do? Break out on their own and find a nice apartment they could afford on a turkey salary?

Turkeys are popularly believed to be unintelligent. Claims are made that during a rainstorm, they’ll look up at the falling precipitation until they drown. Recent research has shown, however, that many aren’t simply stupid but instead suffer from a genetic nervous disorder known as “tetanic torticollar spasms” that causes them to look skyward. Like human parents embarrassed by the poor performance of their offspring, turkey parents can point to a disorder similar to ADHD as the reason their brats are running around like madmen, toppling lamps and unable to stay focused for more than a few moments.

The turkey is now solidly a part of American lore, especially at this time of the year. Schoolchildren trace outstretched hands to create likenesses of the animal for fall craft projects. Coworkers abandon casual conversation in the breakroom and opt instead to gobble at each other. The turkey lobby brings one lucky tom to Washington so it can receive the traditional presidential pardon, though in an attempt to be seen as moving toward the political center after recent election losses, President Obama is considering slitting its throat this year.

By Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, all we really care about is how to prepare the bird for dinner. Available in the market as either fresh or frozen, the meat typically requires several hours baking or roasting in the oven to become fully cooked. A recent trend has seen the rise of a new method, deep-frying the turkey in an outdoor vat of hot oil for 45 minutes or until the entire set-up explodes and is next seen on YouTube under the title “Butterball goes fireball.”

Ultimately, the dish is surrounded by cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, and whatever that awful casserole is that your sister-in-law keeps bringing year after year. Extended families come together to share an all-too-brief moment of togetherness before heading back to their separate lives watching televised images of Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions facing their own slaughter. Soon, the notorious “tryptophan coma” descends on the gathering like a cloud of carbon monoxide until participants awake to find themselves waiting in line for Walmart to open at 2 in the morning.

As we pause during the next 24 hours to give thanks for all the bounty we share, let’s not forget to express appreciation to the noble turkey for his contribution. If Ben Franklin had his way, the creature would be our national bird, seen all over our money and other national emblems instead of all over our shirts and tablecloths. And we’d be eating bald eagles for dinner, arguing over who gets the bald spot rather than who gets the drumstick.

I’ve had deep-fried eagle before and, trust me, it’s not something you’d want to eat.

Note: To read more about Lives of the Dead, please visit the following posts:

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/happy-columbus-day-sort-of/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/lives-of-the-dead-augustus-father-of-august/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/lives-of-the-dead-st-patrick/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/lives-of-the-dead-martin-luther/

He’d say “Happy Thanksgiving,” but the snood keeps getting in the way

Thanksgiving comes early in the office

November 22, 2011

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 several days into the future by the magic of the blog. This is the scene I left behind at yesterday’s office celebration of Thanksgiving, long 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 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 made 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 a lingering downturn 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.

All ready for the office reorganization

November 21, 2011

My boss asked to see me in her office Friday. This is far from an everyday request so – considering the state of the economy and particularly concerns about the so-called “jobless recovery” we’re experiencing in which the unemployment rate still hovers near 10% and new job creation is at a virtual standstill – I was, like, freaking out.

A manager who wants to discuss potentially bad news with an underling is at a distinct advantage if they play their cards right. In this environment, the employee automatically assumes the worst is about to happen. Anything less than a pink slip, a box to collect your personal effects and a security-guard-escorted walk to the parking lot becomes welcome news.

If they put enough drama into the meeting, closing the door behind you as you enter and remaining grim-faced as you settle into your chair, you’ll accept almost anything else they have to say with enthusiasm.

“Dave, I’ve called you in here today to discuss some new directions we see your career here taking,” they can say.

“New directions,” you hear. As in, make a left as you leave the building, then a right at the second light, and you’ll see the unemployment office on the left? you wonder.

“We’ve got some new duties we want you to add to your current skill set,” they can continue.

“New duties,” you hear. A sign of hope?

“We need someone to scrub the floor of the men’s room each day using only their tongue,” they can offer. “And we think you’re just the man for the job.”

“I still have a job!” you think. Relief floods your mind. “That sounds like something I can handle,” you answer. “I’m all salivated up and ready to go. When can I start?”

So when my boss started talking about the reorganization our department is about to undertake, and how it will affect the hours I work and the place where I sit, I was more than happy to listen respectfully and nod my head in an affirmative motion at all the right places. I was not losing my job after all. That was what they call in the corporate world my “key takeaway.”

But now that I’ve had a few days to think about what she said, in the context of not having to trade my comfortable suburban house for a homeless shelter, I have some concerns about a few of these changes.

I’m not going to have to get used to a new chair, am I?

We all have the same type of chairs in my office, but after several years of use, not all of the features still work on every chair. I need more than just a flat horizontal surface to place my can. I need a certain level of lumbar support. I don’t like the armrests to be so high as to interfere with my typing, or too low to provide rest for my arms when I’m reading. The wheels need to work properly so I can scoot to the coffeemaker with a single thrust of my legs.

What about mousepads? Can we keep the ones we currently have?

I like the kind that has the little mound of gel you can rest your wrist on. I don’t like the kind that advertises Office Depot or the pharmaceutical industry’s latest anti-depressant. My wrist tends to get tired after a long day of clicking and dragging, and I’m not sure I can put in a full eight hours with a weary forearm.

The carousel of supplies at my current desk is organized just as I like it. Can I take it with me to my new desk?

A few years ago, in the throes of another reorganization that saw us sticking labels on everything that didn’t move, the different storage slots on my carousel got signs for what goes into each area: “staple remover” reads one, “red pens and pencils” reads another, “black/blue pens” reads a third. This seemed silly at the time, but I’ve grown used to it since then. When I’m through using a rubber band or a paper clip, I want to know where it should be returned to. These labels are the lifeblood of my sanity, and my whole worldview will be affected if I don’t know where to put the medium-sized sticky notes when I’m through with them.

Will I have a stapler and scissors at my new desk?

Right now, I don’t have ready access to these seemingly essential tools of office work. I don’t know whether we just have a shortage, or whether there might be some safety issue involved. I feel I’ve demonstrated a level of responsibility during my 30-plus years with the company to show I can be trusted to handle sharp instruments. If there is some training involved in how to properly attach one piece of paper to another, I’d be eager to learn. I believe learning is a lifelong pursuit and am always eager to gain new skills.

Can I be positioned directly beneath an air-conditioning vent?

Most people in my office seem to be suffering a chronic hypothermia that requires them to constantly fiddle with the thermostat until the room becomes a sauna. I’m originally from Miami, and grew up there in the days before air-conditioning. I appreciate a nice draft as welcome refreshment. You can even put me near the door if you want to; it’ll make it that much easier to slip out five minutes early at the end of the day.

Please don’t make me sit next to Kelly. Please. I beg of you. Have some basic human compassion.

Kelly is our office loudmouth. She chatters endlessly about every detail of her personal life. I don’t want to constantly be hearing about how her son has done at soccer practice, how she has a new cat, how her husband is going back to school again instead of getting a job, how she has this lump on her side that she needs to get checked out. If I want to know these things, I’ll sign up for her online newsletter.

Finally, I need both a recycling bin and a trash can at my new desk.

I’ll often work through lunch, eating a sandwich at my work station. When I’m done, I’ll usually save the Zip-Lock bag I packed it in, unless it’s been stained by mayonnaise dripping out the side of my turkey sandwich. When this happens, I’d like to be able to throw it away without getting up. I don’t want to put it into recycling, because that would destroy the Earth.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: Don’t make me share a desk with Edwin on second shift.

Edwin is notorious for eating three-fourths of an onion-packed Subway sandwich and tossing the rest in his desk-side garbage can instead of — as we were specifically instructed in an email dated September 27, 2003 — putting any smelly trash in the breakroom receptacle. The maintenance people usually empty the office trash cans at mid-morning, so whoever shares a desk with Edwin has to smell old onions for half the day. This, I will not abide.

Somebody in management needs to have a talk with Edwin. Let him think he’s getting the ax, and he’ll be more than grateful to stop putting his onions in the regular trash.

Turkey time at the office

November 18, 2011

The food for the office Thanksgiving luncheon was all set up and ready to be eaten. Workers summoned for the feast from different departments stood about awkwardly, hungry but mindful of the need to wait for some kind of “GO!” command.

First, the district manager had a few words to say. He welcomed the 50 or so white-collar staffers, and spoke of an old tradition that he greatly admired. He’d heard of a family that asked everyone in attendance at their holiday dinners to talk briefly of something they were thankful for in the past year.

A few sidelong glances were exchanged among the famished professionals — “at this rate, we’re never going to eat” seemed to be the unspoken consensus. The manager sensed the crowd’s reluctance to talk about home and family matters at work.

“Anybody have anything they’d like to share?” he asked.

There was some lame muttering from the back about being thankful for friends. Another person said they had suffered a lot in the last year while recovering from a serious motorcycle accident, then realized this wasn’t much of a reason for thanks and instead turned it into a “deep gratitude” that another accident hasn’t happened again.

I felt embarrassed by the silence and sorry for the well-intentioned manager, and almost spoke up myself. I was going to say I was just thankful to have a job in these difficult times, then realized it might prompt him to wonder “why is he still working here?” and decided to hold my tongue. When it became apparent that no one else was going to speak — unless we wanted to ask the people ringing our phones off the hook while the receptionist was away microwaving the green bean casserole — he moved on.

After a pause, he again looked around the room and asked if anybody wanted to say “a word” before we began eating.

Were this any other region of the country besides the South, the word people might’ve offered would be something like “c’mon” or “let’s go, already.” Down here, though, “a word,” especially when requested immediately prior to the consumption of food, means a prayer. Finally someone accepted the challenge, and asked everyone to bow their heads. I used the opportunity to study what a nice pair of running shoes the person next to me recently purchased, and how well their color coordinated with the office carpet.

The prayer (prayist?) proceeded through an acknowledgement of the usual litany of Christian superheroes. He thanked an unseen timekeeper who granted us the opportunity to join together. He gave a brief preview of the available entrees, specifically mentioning both turkey and ham. He said he did all this “in Jesus’ name” (though I bet he’d be resuming his usual role as Bobby in just a minute), then everybody said “amen.”

I’m really glad that I, an agnostic, have never been forced to deliver an impromptu invocation at a company function. I’ve had years of Lutheran training and could probably recall a doxology or two if pressed. I think I could fake my way through it.

Actually, I’ve been known to invoke the various names of the Almighty and His Posse on numerous occasions throughout the average workday. I’m not sure how good a prayer it would make, but I could improvise something like the following.

Good God
I can’t believe the last person to use the copier didn’t hit the reset button when they were through.
Now I have 50 copies when I only wanted two.
And they left blue paper in the legal tray.
Christ Almighty
Those people on the night shift have been using our creamer again.
And doesn’t that guy over in Legal realize that you’re supposed to pay to be in the coffee fund?
Mary, Mother of God
Why have these maintenance people vacuuming while I’m on this important call?
They now wear portable motors and bags on their backs.
I wish those were jetpacks and they’d fly the hell away.
Sweet Jesus
I’m out of sticky notes again.
And I think someone slid a different chair over here, because this one just doesn’t feel right.
Is there no respect for personal property in this place?
Holy Cow
They’re cranking up the thermostat again even though it’s already 150 degrees in here.
These women need to ditch the sleeveless tops already or else bring their Snuggies to work.
God Damn It
It looks like there’s another network outage coming in five minutes.
Tech says it’ll only take about thirty seconds, but by the time you have to restart and bring all your programs back up, you might as well call it a day.
They’re probably doing some upgrade that blocks even more websites.
Jesus H. Christ
Those new paper towels in the men’s room are so thin, they’re practically toilet paper.
I’m sure it’s cheaper than the old stuff, but don’t they realize we’re using twice as much?
I am sick of tiny disintegrated shreds of saturated paper sticking to my hands.
God Almighty, what is wrong with these people?

 

Sweet Lord

Watching too many TV commercials

November 17, 2011

Open with exterior shot of long white limo driving down a country road. Graphic points to car’s “blacked-out windows”.

Announcer overdub: “A lot of people don’t think food companies are honest about the source of their ingredients.”

Cut to interior shot of focus group sitting around a conference room table. Facilitator asks: “Do you think Domino’s wants you to know where their ingredients come from?”

Hispanic woman: “You should be able to know.”

Anglo woman: “Yeah. With Domino’s you assume the worst, so it would be reassuring to at least believe the ingredients are carbon-based.”

Black man: “I don’t know about that crust, man. Kinda reminds me of chipboard.”

Walls of conference room fall away.

Asian man: “Oh, my god. It’s an earthquake! The building is collapsing! Hand me that pizza so its rock-hard shell can protect my head from falling debris!”

Collapsing walls reveal exterior shot of expansive paper mill. Focus group surprised to find it’s now inside a large warehouse. Safety-helmeted plant worker approaches group and speaks:

“No, it’s not chipboard. Domino’s crust is made of only the finest corrugated cardboard, formed right here in this mill from virgin stands of California hardwood.”

Hispanic woman: “What’s that horrible smell?”

Worker: “That’s the smell of raw wood pulp being boiled and processed to make the grade-A cardboard that forms the base of our famous pizza.”

Black man: “So that’s how I can now order two medium-sized two-topping pizzas for only $5.99 each. You save on production costs by cooking the packaging right into the pie.”

Worker: “That’s right. By eliminating the box and building the pizza out of triple-laminated paper products, we save you money while also offering you the best quality possible.”

Announcer overdub: “Be sure to visit behindthepizza.com to see what else we’re baking into our product that you wish you didn’t know.”

Anglo woman: “I had a friend who worked at a Domino’s once. She said it’s not what’s behind the pizza you should worry about, it’s what’s behind the ovens, behind the counter, in the bathroom, under the fingernails of the workers. But seeing this paper mill somehow makes me feel better. Or at least light-headed. What are those chemicals I’m smelling, anyway?”

Asian man: “I always thought Domino’s was only slightly better than the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the subsequent world war that killed over 60 million people. My opinion of them is now much higher, considering the paycheck I’ll be getting for this commercial.”

Announced overdub: “Order your all-natural Domino’s pizza today.”

Small disclaimer type at bottom of screen: “Not responsible if delivery man slays your family. Our drivers carry less than $20 in change and make less than $15 per day. Must purchase at least 50 pizzas to receive advertised price. Must specifically ask for ‘limited time offer’ and use a cartoonish high-pitched squeak to place your order. Prices, participation, delivery area and charges may vary. We reserve the right to substitute a picture of a pizza for a real pizza.”

Possible alternate ending for release later in current advertising campaign: Focus group questions quality of meat toppings, and conference room walls fall away to reveal a slaughterhouse. Panicked cows cry out as they’re stunned before butchering. Focus group participants comment favorably on freshness of meat. “You can almost taste the blood,” one says. “Or is that the tomato sauce?”

+++

Fed up with partisan bickering among the nation’s three branches of government, Americans appear ready to install a new regime headed by the three most prominent insurance pitchmen currently on commercial television.

An all-powerful triumverate consisting of Progressive’s “Flo,” Nationwide’s “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World,” and State Farm’s “Vaguely Mexican-Looking Guy Outside a Coffee Shop” has agreed to rule the land with a sympathetic but iron fist.

“I’m ready for any change at all that will get the Republicans and Democrats out of Washington,” said Alyce Jones of Chicago. “Those insurance folks offer a goofy sincerity that seems right for these troubling times.”

“The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World has really come into his own since being lured out of his backwoods cabin and back into insurance sales,” said Rob Fallon of Las Vegas. “He’s convinced me that Nationwide wants to know everything about me so they can tailor a product that meets my needs. Have you seen the one where he’s dealing with a lady named ‘Pam,’ and he offers to change the name of the company to ‘Nationpam’? That’s the type of can-do spirit we need if we’re ever to convince the Chinese to allow their currency to float on the open market.”

“Like a good neighbor, that Mexican-looking guy is there, always hanging outside of cafes and introducing people to State Farm agents,” said Ronald Henderson of Atlanta. “He puts a real friendly face on the problem of illegal immigration. I’d rather see him outside a Starbucks than offering to do day labor outside a Home Depot.”

The trio would govern by fiat, announcing a new round of federal laws several times an hour on all the major networks. Viewers who don’t follow their every command will be banished to a world where modern insurance products don’t exist, and yet people somehow survive by simply being careful about how they live their lives.

Tentative plans call for Flo to head up the nation’s judiciary as a one-person replacement for the Supreme Court. The World’s Greatest Spokesperson will replace both houses of Congress, and the Mexican guy will become the nation’s first Hispanic president.

“Flo’s perky haircut and headband will look just darling accented by judicial robes,” said Jones. “And the Nationwide Guy, with that signature blue rotary phone hanging from his hip, should be able to reach across the aisle in both the House and Senate to compromise with himself. I’m finally excited about the direction our nation is headed.”

“I think the new president is hunky,” said Phyllis Lee of Oklahoma City. “That could carry some real weight in the START Treaty negotiations with the Russians.”

Cancelling the Gutter Guy

November 16, 2011

Sometimes, voicemail can be a blessing. Other times, it only delays the inevitable.

Yesterday morning I had to call and cancel an appointment with a pushy salesman trying to get me to buy new gutters for my house. Under the mistaken impression that his firm would simply clean my gutters rather than propose a whole new installation, I made this poor man drive all the way from Charlotte to Rock Hill last week. I dashed his planned two-hour sales pitch about 15 minutes in, when I had decided that I (and he) urgently needed to be someplace else.

To peel him off of me, I had to promise he could come back when I’d be better prepared to carve out a good eighth of my waking hours to learn about the advantages of Guardian Gutters (or perhaps it was Gutter Guardians). Now, only hours from the appointed time, I was going to back out.

I called his office and listened carefully to their voicemail options, as it seems they had changed recently. Patience paid off when I learned that option 6 was to cancel a sales presentation. It looked like my rejection could be done automatically.

Unfortunately, after a few rings on the other end of the line, a machine belonging to “Ed Reynolds” picked up and claimed he was out of the office but would return my call when he returned. I didn’t dare simply leave a message and hope that my salesman, some non-Ed Reynolds guy whose name I think was Mike Something, would get word in time to abort his 2 p.m. appointment. So I hung up and re-dialed the main number.

This time, I chose option 2, to speak with an office manager. I mentally rehearsed the reasons I would give for ditching a perfectly serviceable gutter guy on such late notice:

• My aunt’s recently diagnosed hair cancer looked like it was spreading to her eyebrows and mustache, and family had been advised to prepare for the worst, plus
• I was expecting an urgent call from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, plus
• I damaged my hearing at a Mannheim Steamroller concert and couldn’t hear a word he was saying, plus
• It’s pretty hectic so close to the holidays, maybe we can reschedule after the new year.

The office manager was all business regarding my request and, to my relief, she didn’t demand an explanation. She did press for a January meeting, and I agreed, but didn’t settle on a year. When they do call back to remind me of that perceived commitment, I’ll deny all knowledge of gutters, eaves, fascia and soffits, and will adamantly insist that roofing in general is all a big hoax.

I did, however, want to make sure that the salesman was absolutely, positively not coming. I didn’t fancy the thought of again having to resist his sales superpowers and escort him off my property at the same time.

“You’ve definitely got the right appointment cancelled?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “You’re in Rock Hill, on Brookshadow Drive. The 2 p.m.”

That’s the one. I thanked her for her time, apologized for the inconvenience, and ended up pretty confident that the salesman wouldn’t return that afternoon.

I got off early from work so I could be home in time to lock all the doors, draw all the curtains and hide under the covers of my bed until at least 3:30. Just in case.

From this angle, the gutters don’t look that bad after all.

Wallowing in the gutters

November 15, 2011

I am not what you would call “handy.” I do have hands — two, I’m proud to say — but I use them primarily for eating, typing and pointing at ugly people, not for do-it-yourself jobs around the house. My idea of a home-improvement project is buying a big-screen TV or spraying a room with air freshener.

Somehow, I’ve still managed to be a homeowner for most of my adult life without having the structure collapse around me. I’ve accomplished this through a strategic combination of not caring when the small stuff breaks, and hiring a contractor to take care of the bigger repairs.

If the sliding glass door is permanently stuck or the lights don’t work above the vanity, I can adapt to the small inconvenience. The tile on the floor of our half-bath is warping from shower seepage that may eventually rot the flooring, but who can name the day I’ll slide nude and lathered into the crawlspace beneath our home? We might all be living under North Korean rule by the time, which would make a hole in my bathroom floor pale by comparison.

As long as the embarrassing demise of my residence is happening in private, I can look the other way. But when it is taking place outside in public view, there are certain covenants in our subdivision’s homeowners association agreement that require me to give a shit.

I’ve had to deal with two of these issues in recent weeks. First, a windstorm sheared a backyard hardwood in half, dropping about 25 feet of lumber into a stand of shrubs. We called a tree service to offer an estimate of what it would take to fix. In just a few minutes, the tree guy told us he could cut down the rest of the trunk and haul everything away for $350. He made it sound so simple that we hired him on the spot, and within a few days the tree was gone. Once again, we were in compliance with the provision that commercial logging of old-growth timber should be kept to a minimum in Brookshadow Acres.

While we were outside and looking up, we also noticed that the gutters meant to collect rainwater from our roof had become packed full of fallen autumn leaves. I could scale a ladder and waste a perfectly good Saturday afternoon digging decayed biomass out of the trough, or I could pay someone to do it. Much as I might enjoy the satisfaction of going elbow-deep into a 30-yard tube of acorns, mud and squirrel remains, I’d rather hire some poor bastard who does this for a living.

I noticed that our next-door neighbor recently had some gutter maintenance done on his home by a company called Guardian Gutters. I took down the phone number and set up an appointment for the next day to meet with a gutter professional.

Mike arrived promptly at 2 p.m. and barged into our sunroom with the breezy confidence of a well-polished salesman. He admired our decor, repeated my name frequently to show that he had remembered it, admired the decor again and remarked that — imagine the coincidence! — his wife was also named Beth. He had already launched into his carefully practiced sales pitch when I reminded him that the gutters were affixed to the exterior of the house, something you’d think a pro would know. I ushered him back outside, where I felt it’d be easier for me to run away if things got out of hand.

We stood shivering in a cold breeze as he began his presentation. The modern roof is the culmination of eons of trial-and-error by ancestors looking for the ideal way to shelter themselves from the elements, he said. Early dwellings were often covered only with twigs or animal hides, and did a poor job of protecting residents. The caves of the Neanderthal provided better protection, but since the collapse of the grotto bubble with the recession of 1 million B.C., these were generally outside the price range of most primitive families.

“If you look right up under here,” he directed, “you’ll see this long panel of wood stretching the length of your house. This is called the ‘eaves.’ Attached to the eaves is a strip that we call the ‘fascia,’ and it’s behind here that poor gutter work can lead to trouble.”

“And you can fix that?” I interrupted. “You can clean those things out for me?”

“Well, no,” he chuckled. “These gutters you currently have are going to require constant maintenance. We sell a far superior product called the Guardian Gutter, and we’re the only contractor in the area that offers this patented technology.”

While I had originally been interested only in having my gutter cleaned, I’d be open to the idea of getting a replacement that would free me from fascia-related worry. But I was getting cold, and he was getting nowhere near the bottom line of what his company’s work might cost me.

“If you notice that small bit of separation right there along the edge, you can see why the French aristocracy first used gutters in the early 18th century,” he continued. “Now, if we walk around to the front of the house…”

“Look,” I interrupted. “I’m kind of interested in wrapping this up pretty quickly. Is there any way you could hit just the high points for me in about 10 or 15 minutes?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “I want to make sure you and your wife understand fully the value we offer with our product. We can finish this exterior inspection in probably 20 to 30 minutes, but then I’ll need another hour or so inside to lay out all the options we’re prepared to offer you.”

“Can you at least just tell me the price before we go any further?” I pressed.

“No, I can’t really do that without you knowing our features thoroughly,” he said. “If I told you right now that it would cost — say, $8,000 — you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all that your money would buy.”

Eight thousand dollars? I thought in italic. I’m not paying that kind of money to make sure rainwater is corralled down a drain spout unencumbered by putrefied leaves. I had obviously gotten in over my head, and needed to explain to this guy that I wasn’t prepared to make such a big investment, neither in thousands of dollars nor in hours of study about the history of modern roof drainage.

I would just have to explain that I misunderstood what his company offered, thank him for his time, and send him on his way.

“I’m sorry, we had an emergency visit to the hospital last night and I’m still a little distracted,” I lied. “My daughter was diagnosed with an immune-deficiency disorder, and I’m not going to be able to allow you in the house. Sorry.”

A salesman of this caliber, however, was not about to take “no” for an answer.

“Perhaps I could return at a more convenient time,” he offered. “While you’re thinking it over, let me show you this list of satisfied customers in the area. We have pages of names and phone numbers in here, and I would encourage you to call several of these folks to hear for yourself how they feel Guardian Gutters have made all the difference for them.”

“Okay, okay,” I relented. “Maybe we could have you back next week. Maybe Carla’s immunity will have returned by then, God willing.”

“Great,” he said, and dialed his home office to officially set up another appointment for 2 p.m. Monday.

Be sure to read tomorrow’s post, in which I describe how I call and cancel the appointment at the last minute.

My clogged gutter: A shame I may have to live with

Cleaning out some old pictures

November 14, 2011

I’m told our home computer is getting too full, that it has memory problems. Since I can relate to both of these issues on a personal level, I told my wife and son — the two resident computer experts in my home — that I’d do what I can to help.

I haven’t noticed any performance concerns myself. I looked behind the monitor to see if any bits or gigs had overflowed out the back and, unless they look exactly like common household dust or small dead spiders, I didn’t see anything. I have noticed a slight bulging in the tower but attribute that to the Reuben sandwich I accidentally inserted into CD-writer slot when I got confused at lunch one day.

Response times still seem quick enough for the programs I use, even a little too fast sometimes: I barely have enough time to feel triumphant about laying down a “VULVA” in Scrabble before my computer opponent counters with a “QUIXOTIC”. Not only am I suddenly down 87 points, but I’m reminded of my own quixotic quest for the vulva.

As far as I can tell, the system’s memory is fine. I tell it to save a file in subfolder “STUFF” inside subfolder “BLOG” inside subfolder “DAVIS” inside subfolder “MY DOCUMENTS”, and it’s I who can’t remember where to find it, not the computer.

Beth said she needed to “de-frag” or “de-frog” or “de-something” the system to consolidate files and free up more storage capacity. I told her to go for it, as long as she wore one of those bomb suits like in The Hurt Locker in case shrapnel suddenly erupted from the keyboard. Or frogs.

What I could do to help, I was told, was to get rid of all the photos I’ve taken over the past two years for use in my blog. There were also some other pictures that might be worth saving that I could offload onto a “thumb drive,” though somebody’s going to have to tell me which slot I need to stick my thumb in to make this happen.

It was kind of fun going through all the pictures I’ve collected. Many can be easily deleted, as soon as I figure out what I was thinking when I took a picture of a featureless patch of grass. Others represent fond memories of family life: a wedding picture of me and my wife, my son’s graduation from elementary school, the time our cat thought it would be fun to go for a swim in the toilet. Still others are from my business trips overseas.

There were a few I felt deserved one more chance in the light of day before they were consigned to the trash bin icon of history. And so, I present those here.

Then I right-click and I select “delete.”
 
This is a bunch of garbage. You might immediately recognize the soiled mattress and the rolled-up carpet, but it takes a discerning eye to pick out the broken office chair in the back. Why I would take a picture of garbage, I don’t recall.
 
That’s me, enjoying a 2007 vacation to New York City. You can tell what a wonderful time I’m having by the crossed arms and the sidelong grimace. When the city workers to my left finishes painting the fire hydrant, he’ll begin work on my gigantic walking shorts.
 
This is the office where I worked in Sri Lanka training a team of outsource proofreaders. I still recall my first lesson with this group of eager young office workers: “DOITRIGHTTHE” is four separate words, not one.
 
This is a mountain bike my wife won in a drawing. We thought it was a regular bike, so we don’t use it, except to take up space in our sunroom. I’d like to donate it to some deserving youngster who lives in a mountainous region — perhaps in wartorn Afghanistan — but I have no idea how to do that. I suppose I could sell it on eBay, but I don’t know how to do that either.
 
During one trip to an Asian nation that will remain anonymous, I encountered this sign in the men’s room. Note the mortification on the face of the worker who peed himself, and the stern condemnation from the supervisor who points out his error. It’s management techniques like these that have catapulted the powerhouse economies of the East right past the U.S.
 
In Hong Kong, a street vendor of meats and meat byproducts proudly displays his inventory. “How are the pig colons today?” I ask. “Only average,” he replies. “The elk diaphragm, however, is most excellent.” In the end, I opted instead to vomit on a side street.
 
Speaking of disgusting masses of sagging flesh, enjoy this world’s worst self-portrait as I wade in the waters of Subic Bay, near Manila. Moments after this shot was taken, we were hit by a simultaneous volcano and civil insurrection.

Trying to figure out the new cell phone

November 11, 2011

Often, I’ll write about being flummoxed by new technology.

When I first started this blog over three years ago, I wrote that one of the slots on the side of my laptop must be malfunctioning because twenties were not flowing out, like is supposed to happen when you have a blog.

When I discovered Wikipedia, I thought it was an online shopping site. I tried to buy three Christmas presents for my uncles there: Flucindole, a never-marketed antipsychotic drug; an Australian Wood Duck; and a Chartered Economic Analyst (ChEA).

I’ve told of the time I mistakenly recited my fast-food order into a trash can that I thought was the speakerbox interface to the order-taker.

“Ha, ha,” as we say in the humor business. “Very funny.”

Today, that is not my theme, although you’d think it would be considering that I bought a new cell phone on Monday. Today, I get to describe my mastery over at least a small sliver of the Digital World.

My old phone was so ancient that Motorola was still a respected producer of handheld sets at the time it was made. I had the Razr, a state-of-the-art device for about a month back in 2005. It had all the latest features, including a camera, internet access and text messaging. Some telecommunications analysts were even reporting you could make phone calls on it.

What I fell in love with was the text messaging. No more phone calls. No more “Hi, how are you?”, “Fine, how are you?”, “Fine. How’s the wife and kids?”, “They’re fine. How about your family?”. Now, telephonic communication could be done in a direct, efficient, soulless manner.

And the bonus was, you got to typeset. I love typesetting, as my 35-year career in the business can attest. Now I could do it anywhere.

The problem with the Razr is that it has one of those old-fashioned keypads with three or four letters to a key, so to type something like the word “feces,” you had to punch different buttons 35 times, complete with occasional pauses. I might like typing and I might like the word “feces,” but that amount of time and effort was ridiculous. The more I got into text messaging, the more I realized I needed one of those slide-out QWERTY keyboards.

When we went to the local wireless provider, my wife and son helped me consider the dozens of sets on display. My primary criteria were that my new phone have a user-friendly keyboard and be less than $100, after mail-in rebate, with a two-year contract renewal, today only. Because I have a heavy swipe finger, I also would’ve chosen to avoid touch-screen technology if that were possible, but apparently it is not.

We settled pretty quickly on the Pantech Ease. Pantech is a South Korean company that has a long tradition in the telecommunications industry, going back to at least April. The Ease is one of their most popular models.

I cracked open both the phone and the Quick Start Guide as soon as I got home, and started noodling around with the features. A certain long-tenured female in my family believed that I should read the 200-page User Guide cover-to-cover (including the last half, which was upside down and written in Spanish) to figure out how it worked. I made a different choice, and basically just started pushing random buttons.

I looked occasionally at the one-sheet overview and for some reason, a certain phrase caught my eye.

“Ease is about options. You can get quick access to the features you need in easy-to-use, easy-to-read Easy Mode,” read one paragraph. My son noticed all these “easy” references too, and made a succinct observation.

“What you’ve got there, Dad, is one step up from a Jitterbug,” he said. I think he’s probably right.

Reading further, we saw other clues that confirmed this suspicion. In a segment on mobile email, the sample address is “silverfox2″. The Cool Tools section describes how to use the “pill reminder,” a kind of alarm to prompt you to remember your heart medicine. This feature even comes with a “snooze feature” to give you an extra 15 minutes in case you’ve already passed out from your bout with angina. A box describing the available accessories called the Velcro belt-attached carrying case “fashionable.”

That doesn’t mean it didn’t take me a while to master the Ease’s rather limited offerings. I’ve spent the last 24 hours puzzling through the different screens and have figured out how to send a text, how to text a picture, how to shoot video and how to send an email from my phone to my office. With an attachment. I think that’s pretty impressive.

My studies haven’t come without some trial and error. I wanted to see if I could receive video, so I asked my son to make a short film of what our three cats were up to yesterday morning and send it to me at work. It came through loud and clear. Too loud, in fact, as I couldn’t find the volume button and when I did it wasn’t very responsive.

“Kitty, kitty, kitty,” rang a high-pitched chant audible throughout the department.

“What’s that?” snapped Regina over in customer service. “There better not be a cat in here.”

When I woke up at 4 a.m. earlier that morning to get ready for work, I grabbed the phone from my dresser and apparently hit the “Say A Command” button on the side of the device.

“Say a command,” instructed a woman’s voice in a stern but friendly tone.

I was only half awake during all this after maybe five hours sleep, and you can probably imagine how aback I was taken with this middle-of-the-night directive. I thought I was caught in the midst of some S&M-themed dream. Fortunately, the Ease’s voice-recognition software didn’t know what to make of the command “Wuh? Huh? Shit! Ouch!” as I stumbled through the dark. I’ll have to come back to this feature later.

I really think I’m going to like this cell phone. There’s still a lot to be learned, so I am starting to make my way through the large User Guide. I’ve already learned you can toggle over from the Easy Mode home screen to an Advanced Mode display with three pages of apps icons if you want to attempt things like mobile social net, mobile banking and mobile web. Frankly, though, I have enough trouble doing those things standing still.

The only thing I miss so far about my old Motorola Razr was the resounding metallic thunk it made when you were done with your telecommunications business. It made me feel important and plugged-in to the larger world. People standing nearby would look admiringly at me, whispering to their friends “Hey, that guy’s got a cell phone!”

Sliding the QWERTY keyboard soundlessly back into position after firing off a text doesn’t draw anybody’s attention. But maybe, if I keep studying hard, I’ll find there’s a feature to record everyday sounds, and I can capture the sound of my slammin’ Razr for use as a ringtone.

Out with the old …
… In with the new