Outdoor Furniture, Hot Tubs, Pool tables and Barstools
It's springtime, or nearly so, so of course Girlygirl and I are thinking fine thoughts about outdoor furniture. We re-did our back porch with nice screens and stuff last summer (and added a deck), but by the time that was done, we just couldn't get it together to buy a nice table and chairs for it (the whole purpose of the screened part was dining, so we're really messing things up not having anyplace good to sit and, well, dine--to top it off, I upped the ante at Christmas by giving Girlygirl a lovely oil lamp to provide light for our as-yet-unseated alfresco comesting).
We came close, we really did. Well, we came close to coming close. Two or three times we looked at outdoor furniture stores when we were out doing something else. I noticed something mystifying about all the places we stopped in: Apparently, there's some sort of connection between the buyers of outdoor furniture and buyers of hot tubs, pool tables, and barstools. OK--hot tubs I get. They might even be justifiable as outdoor furniture. Barstools? Well, they're furniture, arguably even specialty furniture. Pool tables, though? You got me. The hot tub connection doesn't work--we're not talking about that kind of pool. They're only barely tables, in the furniture sense of the word. I don't know what it is about these items that puts them in the same class, but it seems to be an industry standard.* Maybe they're just all items that seem like must-haves in your big new starter-mansion (a plague upon the DC suburban areas), but later turn out to be pretty much ignored and kept under vinyl covers. Perhaps this is actually a plan by the Vinyl Cover Council to create a market for their products?
Anyhoo, we never did find a table that worked for us. We're in kind of a bind, see, because we need a 36-inch table--any bigger and we won't be able to sit at the table, which kind of ruins the dining vibe. Apparently, we are very out of fashion--huge and uselessly tiny are the only sizes on offer these days. Huge kind of makes sense, considering the size of the great outdoors**, but useless for us, as we'd like to limit our interaction with said outdoors a bit during meals. We've got a nice big deck to go out on for the blood feast of the yard bugs, if we so desire, but while eating, we're content to leave the mosquitos on the other side of the screen, clanking their tiny cups against the wires and screaming for another helping of our precious bodily fluids. This means we have to find a table that'll fit in a relatively, um, conservatively-sized space. Also, it turns out that choosing dining chairs is like choosing your flatware when registering for your wedding loot--you never thought you had an opinion about them, but now you realize you utterly loathe and despise most of what's on offer. Plus, everyone wants arms on their chairs apparently. We like dining chairs without arms--it's easier to deal with our cramped little space if you don't have to push your chair so far back to get out of it.
So we wandered gamely around the places, fending off advances from salesmen who either looked like George Hamilton*** or old Gil from the Simpsons--I can hardly imagine a worse sales job, unless you're also the owner of the joint and are reaping the massive tax write-off from the totally dead business. We found a table here and there that looked OK, but was a) too large, b) too small, or c) thousands of dollars, and chairs that fit pretty much the same criteria. In the only places we found both a table we liked and chairs we liked, they were each only available as parts of sets. No mix and match. Fuckers. Do they want to sell furniture or not? We eventually retired for the winter unfulfilled (outdoor furniture-wise).
We've already made a couple of half-assed attempts this year, but have pretty much decided that I'll just build us a table out of quality 2X4 wood (it actually looks pretty OK, if you plane it square), and we'll worry about chairs after that. It's a sub-standard option, mostly because I have a tendency to take quite a long time getting stuff like that finished, but it'll be less than $900. This is what we get driven to sometimes.
I just thought of a possible other theory on why these stores so often combine outdoor furniture, pool tables, hot tubs and barstools. When you go to one of these joints, you're pretty much guaranteed to wind up frustrated in your search for whatever you went there for, so you end up saying, "Fuck it. We'll never find what we want. Let's just sit out in the yard more/hang out in the basement more/soak away this frustration and rage/get drunk, instead of what we came in for." Obviously, in this scenario the barstools are only there for suggestion--you're not supposed to actually buy any.
*It's possible to find some of these items sold in concert with other things--hot tubs are often sold with other kinds of pools and/or heat-and-water-oriented devices like saunas. Barstools are often sold along with regular furniture and, amazingly enough, bars. Pool tables, though, I think are strictly sold in the company of barstools, don't ask me why, and outdoor furniture, if it's not being sold along with screws and fertilizer at a home center, is definitely the near-exclusive province of the Hot Aqua Billiards cabal.
**Little known fact: It's the great outdoors because of how big it is, not how truly great it is. Like the Grand Canyon--it's nice and all, but mostly it's grand in an old-fashionedy way, like big.
***Super Cool: I couldn't remember George Hamilton's last name, so I asked Google to find me george "amazing tan". Bingo!
I just wanted to send a shout out to whoever it is that's using an AOL account to visit my poor little blog on a semi-regular basis (via bookmark, no less)!* Thanks for playing. Yeah, I know that kind of gives away how few visitors I actually get, but hey--you've gotta start somewhere, and if I'm friendly, maybe he or she will bring a pal around next time.
I apologize for the irregular posting this week--I've been in the throes of one of my regular, and semi-frequent, bursts of mind-numbing busywork, putting a host of new images and copy up on our company website to coincide with another mailing of our catalog. With my mind all numb like that, and with my nether regions in a similar state**, it's hard to get it up for writing an essay.
Essay. I'm an essayist. That's it--not blogger, but essayist. Now I just have to figure out what to call the website where one posts one's essays. Given my opposition to making nouns into verbs, I've got my work cut out for me.
Anyway, things are heading back to normal, and it won't be long until I've hired an assistant to saddle with the truly stultifying tasks like image processing and cutting-and-pasting copy. Hopefully I'll be back with a new essay tomorrow, or at least Monday.
*Ain't stats servers wunnerful?
**It's amazing how still I sit when I'm doing that kind of plug-and-chug work, and it makes my ass (and today for some reason, other near-seat equipment) really tired and beat-up-feeling. Some unfortunate confluence of trousers and underwear seems to be exacerbating the problem, but it's always an issue when prepping for a new catalog drop. That and monitor psychosis--the computer equivalent of a thousand yard stare, only your eyes are fixed on a point about 24 inches away.
Yeah, I know. It's not a funny title at all. Not even obscure. I don't know what's up with me today. Frankly, you're lucky I could come up with a theme at all, even this old saw. Still, one must play the "my tens of readers will turn away in disgust if I don't update regularly, so it's OK to foist off some second-rate crap (as opposed to the usual first-rate crap) on them, just to keep things fresh" game.
Girlygirl got me Tivo for Christmas. I hadn't really thought I wanted one, exactly, but I admit that the idea had crossed my mind a time or two. See, I love motorcycle roadracing, but thanks to the mouth-breathing NASCAR morons out there, it's only on a very few channels, and there's usually no set time for it to be on. It's just the situation for Tivo, since you can just ask it to go find the racing and record it, whenever it's on. So anyway, I thought one might be nice, and it made for a great surprise at Xmas.
Now, of course, we're Tivo junkies. Unlike other Tivo junkies, though, it's rare that we stray outside our chosen range of programming. We are weird people, and we record* the following: Southpark, Farscape, Good Eats, woodworking shows, motorcycle racing, rally car racing and bicycle racing. We occasionally go nuts and just go through the list of movies and record a few of those, most of which are accounted to be truly great movies, which we allow to languish on the drive, taking up space, until one or the other of us watches part of one, gets bored, and deletes it.
Otherwise, it's all fart jokes, tung oil and European racing, all the time**.
I'm pretty sure that other Tivo users record an entirely different range of things. Things on channels that have other programs on them you'd like to see, for instance. If you're recording Friends, you can be damn sure there are going to be ads for a bunch of other programs during the course of the show. When you record things off, say, the Speed Network, you (well, Girlygirl and I anyway) pretty much never see anything else you're interested in on the promos. We spend a lot of time during the "fast forward time" remarking, "Why would anybody want to watch that retarded show?" We are not NASCAR fans, and we already have the Tivo keeping an eye out for Rally and Motorbikes. There's pretty much nothing else on that channel. The same thing goes for DIY, Food Network and Sci-Fi. We watch what we watch, and hate everything else.
So anyway, somehow the freedom of Tivo has resulted mostly in us watching an ever-narrowing range of programming. We always have a Tivo item to watch instead of flipping channels (which destroyeth my soul), but Tivo never brings us anything new. We're totally insulated from anything but Tivo-recorded programs. It frees us from the already-limited tyranny and "you must watch" frenzy of network TV, but it's also turning us into racing weirdos. We like it, but since most people have no fucking idea what "rally" means (in a non-political sense), we can't really share too much with our friends and relatives. Check out Oinkment (Girlygirl's vastly superior blog), a few entries ago to see what our Euro-oriented racing obsessions have wrought.
Last night, though, we watched something new!*** And I have this to say about that: If HBO goes any farther with naming shows for their true content, nobody's gonna want to watch any of their original programming. We taped Deadwood, and as a show title, truer words were never spoken****.
I read something in the paper that complained that there was a lot of cursing. There certainly was. "Fuck" and its derivatives were used in pretty much every form I could think of (with the possible exception of calling some messed-up thing, "fucky"), and "cocksucker" came up every, oh, fifth word of so in the first 10 minutes of dialogue in the town of Deadwood. But I think the real reason it seemed like so much swearing was that there wasn't anything else to notice. I've watched a number of episodes of Sex in the City, and there's often just as much swearing--especially if sailor-mouth Kim Catrall is on screen--but at least there's something more happening. Not this show. It's boring. Flat-out boring. I never thought murderousness, swearing and conniving could be so tired, but there you have it.
On top of its boringness, there were a number of things that just didn't make sense, and not in a Twin Peaks kind of way. More in a "any comment from the White House these days" kind of way. One of the stars of the show, and the man most saddled with tired, even crippled lines to deliver, is Ian McShane. He's been in tons of UK programs, and is, I believe, Irish. At the very least, he has a British accent. In this show, he's completely dropped said accent. He sounds as American as anyone else on the show, if a bit more newscaster-y. I'm fine with that--it's set in the US, after all. But what troubled me was that early on, someone points out how he has an English accent. Weird, because he doesn't. It's as if McShane didn't cooperate with original plans to make his character British, and they didn't bother to re-write the script to accommodate his refusal to keep his accent. And it's not like they thought he wouldn't be understood with a proper accent--there's an Irish fellow in the show (who goes off to meet his maker, so he won't be back) whose Irish accent is nearly impenetrable. This was not the only thing that didn't really make sense, or that seemed stupid, but it's emblematic.
It was enough to make me glad that Tivo doesn't bring me new stuff like that too often. Knowing how crappy Deadwood was made it much easier to preempt recording of it with more important and accustomed fare like The Road to the Tour (about the lead-up to the Tour De France), and the Tour of Flanders. I think I heard the Tivo give a little sigh when I changed the recording lineup.
*I say "record," or even in my weaker moments, "tape." I categorically refuse to make a verb out of a noun and "tivo" things. I fucking hate the verbization of nouns. I don't Xerox things, I copy them. For that matter, I copy them using a copier, which may or may not be a Xerox. I am a pedant. We're like that.
**Southpark, woodworking and racing are by far the most commonly recorded things.
***Clumsy seques are us!
****Personally, and flying in the face of conventional wisdom, I also think that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was meant as a warning to the first viewers, and as a continuing caveat to current fans of the show.
I was pretty surprised to see it put so frankly, but I think it's refreshing. Presumably most of this fear is being felt by Laura, Columba, and maybe even Barbara. Brother Neil is single these days, so I can't even begin to list the people who might catch this new virus from him.
I've been working at the same company for 6 years and change now. This is unique for me, both in the fact that I've been here so long, and also in the fact that I'd like to stay some more. I really like it here, and want to do my bit to help the company grow long-term. I sort of expect that I'll retire from here one day*.
I've been here longer than all but 6 people, a list that includes the top 4 executives in the company. We now have something like 30 employees--I think it was 12 when I started. Trouble is, I'm the only person out of those 6 who hasn't been promoted--even once--in all that time. People who started after me who were hired in at the same level as I was have even moved on--one's a VP now, which is two promotions to my zipperoo.
I don't think I'm out of favor here--they pay me a hell of a lot of money, in on all the bonuses, lots of real power and influence, only answerable to my division head and the President, etc.--but something's plainly amiss. I know for a fact that this VP person doesn't turn out better quality work, or a larger quantity of it. We work together a lot, and the amount of time I have to spend correcting assumptions and the number of times I see my own comments repeated (and she's welcome to them--it's not like I'm claiming copyrights) leads me to believe that she's definitely not offering the company more than I am. Maybe less, even, but I like her, so I'm not going to go there.
So what's the issue? Why am I not being thought of when promotions roll around? I figure there are a couple of things. First, because I'm in IT and Web stuff, nobody knows what I do, and I can't even explain most of it to them. IT also means that it's not uncommon for me to have to crawl around under people's desks, and to jump up and help them fix their computers when they break down. This doesn't exactly inspire fear in one's inferiors if nothing you do is more important than curling up under their workstation and jiggling plugs at the drop of a hat.
More than just the inscrutable nature of my work, or even the fact that I'm the go-to guy any time something new needs to be explored (DVD authoring, videoconferencing, etc.), which leaves me with an impossibly wide purview, I believe there's an image issue. Back when I started, I definitely traded, at least in part, on "cool factor." This was basically a company full of women, except for the President and the only VP at the time. I came in--I had been in a band, I had copper-colored hair (at one point early on it was magenta), and I interviewed in my motorcycle leathers because that's what I wore traveling to and from my other job and I didn't want to arouse suspicion. To the truly ordinary folks here, I was COOL. I wasn't any cooler than anyone else I hung around with--much less so in most cases--but from the suburban side, I was an alien being.
Cool factor can get you pretty far in a basically square town like DC. The motorcycles and the hair are pretty much what I'm remembered for everywhere I've ever worked. I went to a reunion of sorts at my last workplace recently, and all the partners remembered me and my bikes and stuff, but none remembered just what I did in the art department, and one thought I'd only left the company only a year before (try 5, dickster).
Since about a year into the job here, though, I've given up on the hair dye--it's just boring now, and I'm grooving on the impending salt and pepper--and I've worn a collared shirt of some kind probably 11 days out of 12. Yeah, I wear black jeans every day, and casual shoes, but I dress pretty nicely, or at least anonymously. I walk to work, don't play in a band, don't race bikes, don't do anything notorious. I've become as boring and non-controversial as anyone here. But I have a sneaking suspicion that what management really loved about me once is now a problem. People still think of the hair and the bikes and the music thing whenever they see me. If you get the company Prez drinking, it comes right up. These associations are OK for managers, but not for Directors or VPs, I think. There's not much I can do about that, though.
So what am I gonna do? How am I going to move myself up the ranks? I can't really work any harder or better than I do, and since I've been told, in so many words, that I'm never allowed to quit or die, I think I can assume that people are more than satisfied with my performance.
I decided last night I'll go for cosmetics. I hate the idea, but I don't have any better ones. Wanna be an executive? Gotta act like one. Gotta look like one.
So today I started on my assault. I've put off every immediate demand on my time today. Executives can't just drop their important work with no warning.
I'm not going to crawl around under anyone's desk anymore. We have a service contractor for PC work. From now on, if something needs to be fixed, and it's not the server, and I can't fix it with two emails to the user (90% of requests anyway), I'm calling the Geeks. People can wait the 2-4 hours. Executives only make things happen. They don't actually DO the things.
From now on, every piece of information that I previously would disseminate via email will be attached as a Word document or Excel file. Emails are impermanent and seem dashed-off. Word documents have more cachet--they look better--and they're like getting a photo in a Christmas card. You can pitch the card on December 26 no problem, but you're always leery of throwing away a photo of someone's kids. Executives send short emails with long attachments that you're afraid to throw away.
I'm going to clean off my desk today, and keep it as spotless as possible. Executives don't have piles of unfiled papers--they create papers for other people to file.
32 oz. Baja Fresh cup with built-in straw and lid? Gone. Gotta have a glass, or maybe straight from the bottle (which I'll refill from the office cooler--I'm not a fucking idiot). Executives do not drink from oversized sippy cups. They do not re-use things unless they need to be washed in a dishwasher.
I will decorate my office, but not my computer monitor. I will ask for a better chair. Executives like their offices as much as their homes, but they distrust and do not appreciate their computers. They stay in their chairs and make other people come to them, so they need good ones.
And finally, though I hate the idea because I think it stupid and even more superficial than the rest of it, I'm not wearing jeans anymore. I don't need to change the shirts I wear--the sloppiest I get is a polo shirt--but it's slacks for me, and no sneakers. Jeans and sneakers on Fridays, just to throw the rest of the week into sharper relief. Executives don't look like they need a promotion. Executives look like they enjoy ironing in the morning.
The results of just half a day of my hard drive to the middle, my surge of superficiality, my "not selling out--buying in?" I changed a daily report that was three lines on an email (plus short two-sentence analysis) to something that's basically the same thing in an Excel file (so they'll get the same file, over and over again, with one more day's stats on it) and no commentary. So far three top executives have applauded the change, even though it's more work for them to open it and it actually has less value because of the lack of interpretation. I also wore chinos (old-ass chinos, with some stains, it turns out) and less-casual shoes today (same old shirt style), and the two tippy-top guys teased me in the hall about "who's the new guy" and "do you have a job interview?"
Now that I know what it takes to get noticed "in that way" around here, it almost makes me think I wouldn't want to work here if I'd known in advance.**
All you drones out there: Do you think the key to being an executive is looking like the boss, spending a lot of time on piddly shit that makes more work for everyone else and means less, and never having time to spend--only time to waste? Do you think that even the best and most even-handed of them are slaves to the business school mentality and conformist attitudes? Do you think that to get ahead you're going to have to sacrifice your hard-won alternative appearance or hipster style?
I think you may be on to something.
*I'm really only working so I can retire anyway, so the sooner the better. Realistically, I know I'll be working for many more years, but you gotta have goals.
**I'll stay, of course. This really is the best place I've ever worked, even with the apparently stupid ideas about what makes an executive. Swinging health plan, good pay and raises, tons of vacation, bonuses, company-sponsored happy hours and parties, relaxed atmosphere (I'll never have to wear a tie), decent, intelligent staff, respect (if not promotion)--this place has it all. Or at least more of it than anywhere else I've been. I've been around--I've seen the grass on the other side, and there's a pile of dogshit right over by flowers.
I May Not Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like
This post was going to be about a couple of fugly additions to downtown Silly String (Silver Spring, for you squares)—the mural on the side of the Discovery headquarters, and the mural outside our local Whole Foods market. They (especially the Whole Foods one) have a great kinship with another mural that's been for years on a wall near Mt. Pleasant in DC—heading down Porter Street.
What do they have in common? Well, mostly, they suck. At the time I was planning this post, I was all set to decry their common style as "pseudo-Hispanic dayglo slop art." I see this particular style of montage/pastiche/mural around, in the graphic design world, etc., and it's almost (to me) become a visual shorthand for diversity, especially when you're talking about including a large Hispanic minority.
It looks like art for kids. Bright colors, heavy matching-color outlines on largely 2-dimensional depictions, pre-packaged metaphors, etc. They mostly look like somebody blew up a parrot farm, air-dropped a few baskets of tropical fruits, photographed it and called it a day, and worse, called it representative of the community's cultural diversity.*
To my eyes, this childish, simplistic mess being passed off as what the Hispanic community thinks of when it considers itself is the height of paternalism, or at least condescending. Do the folks in charge of public artistic displays really think this unsophisticated junk appeals to their two primary target markets? Those markets are, of course, Latino locals and rich, guilty, latte-drinking, coop-shopping whitebread like me** who get all excited about the Hispanic couple moving in across the way because it's "diverse." I just feel like there's probably a lot more to the Hispanic, or Central American, or whatever, experience than bright primary colors and simplistic metaphors.
Trouble is, at least the two local murals are actually Hispanic dayglo slop art. By Hispanic artists. This kind of puts a whole new spin on it. I still think the murals suck—don't get me wrong—but now I wonder if this style of artwork really does represent the Latino community adequately. Perhaps coming from lands where jungles, sunshine, tropical fruits, parrots or dayglo colors are ostensibly more common really does make this kind of art make sense somehow. Maybe things are bad enough for Hispanic artists in this country that they're willing to turn out this formulaic crap for committees of white business owners just to get enough work to finance their real art. Maybe Hispanic artists think that's what everyone else wants to see in their outdoor wall-art. I don't know, but it's more complicated for the fact of these most recent murals having been executed by Hispanics.
For sure, I don't know anything about what it is to be Hispanic—the closest I've ever come to having an ethnicity was "bike messenger***." Maybe I'm the paternalistic, condescending one here. Wouldn't be the first time. Hell, it wouldn't be the second time, either. This kind of thing happens all the time when you think you know better than everyone else.
I do fucking hate those murals, though.
*To be fair, the Discovery mural doesn't go the kid-art route—it's much more sophisticated in what it tries to portray, and is much more painterly. I probably shouldn't even include it here. But there is something that makes me group them all together. Probably it's those fugly dayglo/primary colors. Or that it's totally wrong for the setting. Or that it's stuck on the side of a symbol of rich white people's cultural hegemony in this country (Whole Foods--where you too can shop for "natural" items in a brightly-lit, sterile environment, get suckered with "organic" this and "homeopathic" that, and tithe a large portion of your salary for the privilege. Discovery Channel--who have fifty channels of crap that only people who shell out $50-70 a month for cable or satellite can see, and that's really the same kind of snake-oil presented by Whole Foods, but with an egghead label on it.). Or that it sucks. And I have no idea where I got the idea that it was somehow Hispanic, either, but it is.
**OK—I don't drink coffee, and always hated the Coop. I fucking hate hippies, and overpriced bulk grains and pre-packaged hippie snacks (low-salt Hemp Chips flavored with evaporated cane juice, anyone?) do not a shopping experience make, in my opinion. Likewise, I loathe "green" products, mostly because the vast majority of them don't work nearly as well as the supposedly "anti-environment" products they're meant to replace, and they universally cost substantially more. My general rule is that you can get two of the big three—quality, low price, speed (or convenience)—at any one time, but not three. In the case of green products, you typically don't get ANY of the big three, and that says they're not holding up their end of the bargain. Substituting salve for your guilty SUV-driving conscience in place of one of the three is NOT getting it. But I am a rich, guilty whitebread type, and I do celebrate local diversity, even as I question my motives for my excitement.
***In DC, it's an ethnicity just like any other—you're visually identifiable, people think they know things (mostly bad things) about you because of it, and you're discriminated against by pretty much every type of business owner who ever denied service to a black/Hispanic/Asian/gay/whatever person. I ordered breakfast not to go every day at the same McDonalds for months, and never received my food on a tray. The homeless folks and I all "got the bag." That's not the worst of it, but it's emblematic. White guy guilt message: I do not, for one second, think the discrimination I suffered is equal to that borne by minorities in this country every day. It just gave me a tiny window on what it's like, is all.
Special feature for all the local folk who might be reading, now that I've joined (or at least asked to join*) a local webring. See the right-hand column for all your local blogging needs. If you're local. OK, you're all local--I mean local to me. Dang, how did I get so sidetracked already?
Review. Right. So a number of my cow-orkers and I decided, as is our custom on Fridays, to go out to lunch en masse. Since we're smack dab in the middle of a burgeoning suburban renewal/stripmall culture installation, we often have brand new places** to try out, and today was no different. Today's gustatory adventure-zone was Romano's Macaroni Grill--we put the "aaaaah!" in "ta daaaaaah!"
How could you pass on a place with a name like that? Who doesn't remember Granny's recipe, brought from the Old Country before the war, for Grilled Macaroni? Sure, Grandma mostly did it in the broiler since Grampa died, but just hearing the name again conjures up memories of not only the Grilled Macaroni, but also Nacho-flavored Velveeta-n-Hormel Chili Con Carne dip and Ritz Cracker Mock Apple Pie with nonfat Borden Ice Milk. Yum. I couldn't stay away.
I knew our adventure was off to a great start when Stephen, one of the ringleaders of the Friday Lunch Bunch (I just made that up--we don't call ourselves that or anything. How fucking lame do you think we are?), told me that he'd already been to Macaroni Grill last week with his Mom. He pronounced it to be, "eh." With a ringing endorsement like that, on a par with "probably non-toxic," and "I didn't puke," I was getting itchy feet to get out of the office and on the road to dining pleasure. Unfortunately, I'd already committed to the goddamn Macaroni Grill.
So what's the place like? First off, it's a chain sit-down-dining restaurant in the Italian vein, so you may not need to read any further--I'm only going to confirm your prejudices/predilections. It looks pretty good--more like a proper restaurant than not, and if there was a bunch of "fun" stuff like old crew shells, megaphones or flapper dresses festooning the rafters, it's understated enough that I didn't notice it. The staff wears ties, but don't appear to be too strongly encouraged to be wacky with tie selection. The tables have real tablecloths on them, cleverly and originally surmounted by a square of white butcher paper and a handful of crayons (real Crayolas, but with food-type colors, like Roasted Red Pepper and Chef Spit in Your Potato Leek Soup). If that weren't classy enough, there was a supermercado-style (like right off the shelf--I looked for a pricetag) half-gallon bottle of olive oil smack in the middle of the table. If you like the chains, you're sold by now. If not, well...
Food-wise, things started out a bit rocky. Our waitress showed up at our table with a colossal pepper grinder and a grim-looking 1.5 liter bottle of Macaroni Grill "Chianti." You know the rule about pepper grinders--the larger the grinder they bring to crank over your salad, the worse the restaurant. We hadn't even ordered salads yet. Oy. Anyway, in an apparent attempt to out-Olive Garden the Olive Garden, this place brings a big bottle of wine to the table, and says something about the honor system, and something about nine-ounce tumblers of their house "chianti," and "we trust you like you trust us to prepare your food." Uh-oh, Spaghettio--they must have thought I was going to run out with the till if they don't trust me more than that. I didn't get the whole deal--our waitron was not the clearest presenter in the world--but I think it was akin to a never-ending-salad-bowl or something. Since we had to come back to work after, and I figured I'd be too tempted to mix the "chianti" and olive oil to make a nice salad dressing, we got sodas. At least we could still be assured of the "bread without end, amen," to make it a chain restaurant gorge-fest.
I wish I could be specific about the menu, but after seeing the first item, featured on its own page in glorious full-color, I pretty much headed straight for the 6-10 item lunch menu. What was this culinary tour-de-force? Fucking Italian Nachos. I shit you not. If there was previously any doubt about how far from the lowest common denominator we were gonna end up, that pretty much squashed it. The chips were some kind of fried pasta, and the cheeses were Italian-esque, and the toppings were the things I knew I could expect to find in or on every single item on the menu***, but still. Nachos. I was stunned to the point that I didn't even bother to look for the Italian Potato Skins with parmagiano and pancetta. I'm sure they were there. I settled on a pizza, not wanting to be served a mighty trencher of pasta with one of the six key ingredients.
So how was the food? Predictable, but acceptable. The olive oil (poured onto a plate with black pepper ground on it and called "Italian butter" for crap sake) was surprisingly good, and I know some good olive oil when I taste it. Likewise the bread, in smallish individual loaves which were lightly scented with rosemary, crusty but not too crusty, and plainly made all day long right there in-house. The pizza? It looked like your standard gourmet pizza--very thin crust, easy on the toppings, sloppily arranged with (absolutely flavorless--maybe they used spinach by accident?) shreds of fresh basil over the top. It was slightly underdone, and arrived way late, along with an extra salad and bowl of soup nobody ordered (for which we were not charged). Inoffensive, and if you haven't had a REAL gourmet pizza out there in Muncie, Indiana, quite a winner. I thought it was "eh." Everything else at the table got pretty much the same review--the house balsamic viniagrette looked more like honey mustard to me, and tasted like the Eyetalian Dressin' you'd get off the salad bar at the Sizzler. The panini-like sandwiches were uninspired, the lentil soup boring and tepid. There was a spinach salad that actually looked damn good--huge, but good. I was supicious though, of the fact that the spinach was torn up--says to me that it was not baby spinach, and likely to be kind of tough and metallic. It got a decent review from the woman who ordered it, though.
Mostly, this place had all the earmarks of not-yet-up-to-speed staff and kitchen. Things came in a strange order, it was hard to keep our unlimited bread supply up, and we could hardly hear, let alone understand, our waitron's obviously-poorly-rehearsed speeches. I'm sure the service will become slicker soon enough, and the place will turn into the fat-assed stripmall patron force-feeding conveyor belt it was born to be.
Bottom line, if you like the Olive Garden, you'll like the Macaroni Grill. It's a little classier, but basically the same non-threatening, extremely plentiful food, for a reasonable price. And the olive oil and bread are actually damn good.
*I'm not sure why there's a queue to get approved to join this blog ring. Not to ruin my chances of getting in or anything (don't joke about the bouncer's clothes when you're outside the velvet rope, pal), but we're talking about blogs here. How selective can you afford to be? Anyway, I hope I get in--I would love to have a little traffic, and I'm sincere in my interest in encouraging locals to do things like this in their free time.
**It's actually kind of horrifying. Our downtown is being completely re-built, thanks to the arrival of Discovery Communications (yes, the TV people). We're getting tons of new restaurants, shops, a megaplex movie theater (it actually calls itself that), office buildings, parking garages, etc. Lamentably, our civic leaders have decided to aim low, and much of what's coming is headed straight for the heartland's appetites. Huge chain restaurants, Motophoto, Starbucks, McChipotle, Eggspectations (yeah, I'm mystified by that one too). There are some upsides to all this, of course--some of the nearly-abandoned shops just off the main drag are likely to become cool places to shop, drink and eat, we're finally getting a book store (new books, not used), and we have the American Film Institute's Silver Theater, where pretty much any evening we can walk over and see some of the best films the world has to offer, often on a really big screen, with lots of legroom, popcorn with real butter, and BEER. And, truth to tell, nobody ever went broke understimating the intelligence, or the tastes, of the American people. Frickin' Red Lobster is the most popular restaurant in the new area, by a mile.
***The big six: Parmesan (not grated, but wide, thin curls--shavings are classier), black olive slices, diced tomatoes, shredded basil, roasted garlic cloves, pine nuts. This is "gourmet Italian" in much of the world, and handled properly they're all nice things. It's when you look around the restaurant, or even around the table, and see nothing but chicken, pasta and the "big six" ingredients that you begin to feel like you're at Taco Bell.
Recently (my last post, maybe? I forget), I mentioned the death (or at least a dearth) of civility in our nation and the world. Thought I'd go on about it a little bit.
Originally, this post was going to be called something like "Unprecedental Moral Decline," and be mostly about how I believe this country may actually be experiencing same. I need to point out, though, that religious fundamentalists and the others who've been crying so loudly about said decline, while correct that it exists, are totally wrong about what it consists of. What they really lament is that people aren't hewing to their biblical-literalist moral code, or at least that people are choosing to behave differently than they'd like them to. As an atheist, I think these folks are actually part, and a particularly nasty part at that, of the moral decline. I had a lot of examples of this at one point--mostly about how our social and political leaders seem to be setting very bad examples in terms of hateful accusations, selfishness, and general shallow, grabby, shortsighted what's-in-it-for-me-ism. But what it really comes down to is this "death of civility." More accurately, it seems to me to be a complete loss in most people of a sense of social contract or common good.
Why be civil? Why not just get whatever you want and fuck everyone else? Well, for one thing, there are laws about many such things, and it never pays to run afoul of them. But that doesn't begin to cover all the bad behavior people tend to get up to. I'll tell you why you want (yes want) to be civil. You want to be civil because you're selfish and greedy.* You want to have easy transactions at the supermarket. You want prices of consumer goods to be low, and your insurance to be cheap. You want to get where you're going on the roads without a lot of near-misses and traffic jams. You have to shop again with that Gas-n-Sip cash register clerk you just shit all over because your boss called you on the carpet today. Stole a candy bar? Steal enough and the store owner's gonna take that cost out of you by raising the price of everything else. That guy you cut off in traffic? He's a lot more likely to cut you (or anyone else) off later—road rage isn't one person who's nuts, it's people pushing each other too far, day after day. What do you think that does to your insurance rates?
When you're uncivil, you're fucking with the common good—something you share in. What goes around comes around, both good and bad. Better to send out smiles, small favors and goodwill than sharp sticks in the eye. It sounds trite and silly, but it's true, and every little bit helps.
We see it every day—people are becoming ruder and more insensitive in response to everyone else's perceived rudeness and insensitivity. But it's not in your self-interest to let civil society decay like that. Civil society makes your life waaaaay easier, and in many cases it makes your life possible at all. Why wouldn't you want to have a cooperative, generous and civil society? You may find you need it someday. Hell, you probably need it now and don't even appreciate how much.
I want my life to be easier. I want people to be nice to me. I want a lot of things for myself and my loved ones that peaceful, prosperous societies bring. So I got totally selfish, reeeeally self-serving, and realized that I, personally, in my own greedy self, can gain a lot from increasing the amount of civility in the world. So I try to be nice to strangers I have to interact with, to obey the laws as much as I can manage, and to be generous, both with my friends and with charities that help people I don't know**.
Because I'm totally selfish.
* And that's OK. In my opinion, there's no such thing as altruism--you get or perceive some kind of reward from all your choices, even apparently altruistic behavior. I get a lot of stick about this idea from certain quarters--personally, I think the people who are threatened by this have not examined their own motivations closely enough. Either that, or they think they're so useless that altruism is the only thing that's kept them alive so far, and they can't imagine life without that safety net. Either way, they're missing the point. The fact that there's no such thing as altruism, that all behavior is self-interested, is in no way a prescription for giving up on doing things for other people, or generally being a good citizen. And yes, I even think love is selfish, but as we're all selfish about it—my wife and I both want to experience the pleasure of being together, so we're good to each other and considerate of each other's feelings—it works out to everyone's mutual advantage even so. Believing what I believe, I don't act any different than you do--I just don't kid myself about why I'm doing it.
**I give to charities, because I'd be an idiot if I thought I could distribute my "spare" income as efficiently as they can. I don't have anywhere near the understanding of people's needs that they do—it's their job to search out people in need and find the most cost-effective way to help them. I guarantee the dollar you give a bum on the street corner provides a lot less help to society than my dollar to Habitat for Humanity, just because they're a lot more efficient about spreading the money around than you are.
If you ask me, this happens all to infrequently in my world: I got an email today from a long-lost friend. It was pretty weird, loaded as it was with disclaimers in case she'd gotten in touch with the wrong person--it's pretty unlikely as I don't think my full name is all that common, but I guess you never know.
I can really identify with her trepidation--I've communicated with long-losts by email a few times, having stumbled across their name somewhere online, or at an alumni website, that sort of thing. Pretty much without exception, I've gotten a reception that I'd most associate with following them around the mall while wearing nothing but shoes, socks and an overcoat. Well, that's a little strong, but it's very weird all the same. I send them an email asking, is this you? They usually reply pretty tersely along the lines of, "yes, and I remember who you are." Sounds good, if tepid, so far doesn't it?
When I then reply with a quick general sketch of how I turned out since they last saw me and a polite inquiry as to their well-being, I'm almost universally given no reply whatsoever. I think one person may have replied with another single, vaguely alarmed-sounding sentence, and one replied that she didn't want to be friends and I shouldn't write anymore.* Across the board, bad reactions**.
*This was an ex-longtime girlfriend who cheated on me a lot (sucker that I am, I didn't cop on to that until some time after we broke up), but who is now married to some dope she knew in high school. I think she didn't want the whole cheating thing hanging over her, though I never brought it up, especially in a possibly-public email account. Whatever--I wasn't mad anymore about the cheating, I was just trying to be nice and ask how she was. At least she had the courtesy to fill me in on her current life situation, out of respect for the nearly four years we dated or something. She turned out to be a clinical psychologist, if that gives you any idea how messed up in the head she must be.
I'm not sure what makes people behave like that. It's not as if I'm suggesting we rekindle an old flame--in fact I never even had any kind of old flame with any of them except one, and there's no way I'd step back into that beartrap.
I have all sorts of theories about it, though. One is that people just don't know what to say, especially after a long separation. I don't have any trouble with it, but I've been led to understand that I'm in the minority in figuring that until we've proven otherwise, we can still be friends, no matter how long we've been separated. At least in one instance, my espousing this idea what panned as "childishly deluded." I don't need to get into how fucked up that attitude is, but let's assume that more people share it than share mine. Sure, long-delayed meetings in person could be difficult, especially if long, awkward silences aren't your bag, but email seems to me a great way to handle these things. You can take as long as you want composing your responses, you can edit, you can provide visual aids (a link to a photo page or blog), etc. It's not a conversation--no uncomfortable pauses. What could be easier?
Are people uncomfortable expressing themselves in writing these days? From the proliferation of blogs, even truly terrible ones, you'd have to think not, but I guess people that write more than a line or two in emails are still in the minority. As you can guess from this blog, that's not a problem for me, and I can't believe that would be enough to make someone who already knew me think I had turned into a freak.
I have also theorized that people think only desperate, depressed or friendless people (or deranged would-be stalkers) would try to get in touch with someone from their distant past. I suppose that could be true, but it's not the case for me. I certainly don't think I come off that way in the emails. Enthusiastic maybe, but I never, ever suggest I'll be watching, erm, uh, seeing them around, or anything creepy like that. I'm not trying to get in touch with people I had some kind of weird conflict or issue with either (except for that one ex-girlfriend thing), though the temptation to hand out pieces of my mind has been strong in my darker moments. I have nevertheless refrained from contacting those folks at all.
My latest theory is that I just plain freak these people out because I remember when we knew each other. I guess I have an unusually good memory or something, and I further guess it weirds somebody out when I mention that I remember them playing guitar for our fifth-grade class or some such thing. To me, it's just my last clear memory of the person--why not recount it? To them, perhaps, it's evidence that I've spent all my days since then mooning over them or obsessing over their childhood hobbies. I can't really make that connection, but I guess it must happen.
Maybe it's just another sign of the death of civility in this country (and possibly the world). People just don't trust each other anymore, mostly because they're surrounded by countless examples of how only suckers do that. People are dicks because they think everyone else is a dick, creating this self-perpetuating cycle of dicketry. Maybe it's gotten so bad that people are conditioned to believe that every interaction they don't initiate themselves is some kind of come-on or leading up to some kind of hustle or other. I sure hope that's not the problem (though it's pretty like-sounding)--if it is, then we're in worse shape than I thought.
I dunno. It's just depressing, is all. And that's why I've made a point of responding enthusiastically to everyone who's contacted me with a "blast from the past." I really am excited to hear from them, even if it's some dude I hardly knew in junior high school writing me with advice about a line of work I'm no longer in. I may not have much to say, but I can at least say it in a friendly fashion, and I don't think that's too much to ask of people. Mostly, I don't want to discourage them--if they're the sort of person who sends messages like that, I imagine they've gotten a lot of cold shoulders already, if my experience is any kind of guide.
So anyway, my old pal Jen and I had a nice email conversation over the course of the morning, and I'm feeling really good about it. We didn't try to make up for 13 years of lost time, but we hit the high points. I don't imagine we'll be sending too many more emails back and forth in the coming months, but it's nice to think that if I ran into her on the street sometime we wouldn't have some weird email blowoff thing hanging over us. I look forward to that meeting, since I can ask her how her house is doing since the big Christmas fire. I should be so lucky as to have a conversation opener like that with people I see all the time, even.
**And don't get me started on a related topic of asking women out. OK, do, but I'll only do it as a sort of quiz. What would you think if you asked someone out, and she said, "That would be fun, but I'm busy that day, maybe another time?" You might suspect she was OK with you asking her out some other time, mightn't you? What would you think if on two other occasions, you receive a similar demurrer on asking this person out--always with the qualification that another time would be great? You might think that the timing is just very bad, and perhaps try again later. What would you think if one of her friends runs into you somewhere and accuses you of stalking her, or otherwise intimidating her with your obviously unwelcome advances (all three of them)? You might think that she's a fucking psychopath who's so full of herself that she thinks you'd be destroyed by her just saying "no" when you asked her out the first time, and who's too stupid to understand that saying, "maybe some other time," is not well known "code" for, "fuck off, creepo." And you'd be right, and I'll tell you this for nothing, there are a lot of people like that out there. I'm only gonna say this once, people--if you don't want to go out with someone, just tell them so. Chances are they'll be so relieved to be finally hearing the truth from a person of the opposite sex they'll walk away right then and never bother you again. Really. Lying is ruder than just about anything else you could do to them. Tell the fucking truth.
So Girlygirl just linked me to this "blog." You really have to see it to believe it.
I'll assume you've just visited said "blog" and gotten the general sense of it*. If the children are in fact our future, then I guess it's OK that we're all driving giant SUVs, overfishing the continental shelves and generally working on the destruction of the human race--the kids are going to wipe us all out in some Tower-of-Babel-oriented disaster 40 years down the line anyway.
Actually, there are few things I hate online more than LOL**. Think about it, especially as used by the author of the aforelinked blog, "Hiya." Isn't it supposed to be a transcription of what's going on? It this person literally laughing out loud every fifth word? Her parents must think she's become a mad scientist, cackling away in her room like that. How come nobody ever casually drops in PMN (picking my nose) or ASAZ (absently squeezing a zit) into their teenage IM conversations?
Girlygirl points out that apparently "lol" is the new period, or maybe comma. Personally, I think it's more like the new "like" or "ya know" or even, "umm." Or worse still, if it's not meant to be a transcription of your laughter, maybe it's lost all meaning entirely. Maybe at this point, LOL just has a meaning all its own--it's no longer an acronym, it's a word. I don't have a real clear idea what it's supposed to mean, of course--"end transmission" or "over" like some kind of walkie-talkie thing comes to mind. It's strange in a blog, but perhaps it makes a bit more sense in instant messages.
Even if it does still mean laughing out loud somewhere in the wired world, it's still obnoxious to me. I guess if you can't be fucked to find a clever way to say you thought something was funny, or to make it clear that you're joking, then LOL is one way to go. But when you decide to use LOLOLOLOLOL as the intensive version of LOL, you're going too far. Suddenly you've gone from laziness or lack of creativity into betraying the possibility that you didn't know what the hell LOL stood for in the first place. It's like following a P.S. with P.S.S., or writing (or saying) "and et cetera"--you plainly haven't the faintest notion what you're writing, and should probably be avoiding these turns of phrase in the first place.
* There are a number of endearing things in "Hiya," just to be fair. First, the fact that in five days, the author went from " i love him so0 much and this is liek a nitemare" over being kept apart from Derrek (who had just a few days before that been the subject of two entire days of "I LOVE DERREK" repeated over and over) to " i love derrek which i do just more lika bro now." Five days from being lost without him to loving him--but only like a brother. I remember those five day periods in my own teen years. Man, it takes me back. I was also moved by her account of the real meat of the romance with Derrek (at least I assume this is the real meat of it). As always, it's a little hard to follow, but the general gist of it was as follows:
"Derrek holding me was the best!!!"
"i loved it loved him holding me it was such a... god i cant explain it it was beyond wonderful beyond perfect beyond beautiful it was perfect complete flawless whole full excellent (I've snipped a huge list of adjectives that indicate a brain behind the facade) swell, terrific and uh you get the point ? and even that doesnt begin to explain how it felt ! it was the best birthday lol omg and the kiss !!!!!!!! lol cant forget that it was so kewliozerz and all that bout him holding me lol"
All that over a hug and a kiss (I think). Sometimes I wish people could stay that way--stay at a point where they can get so much out of so little--but I guess it's really just for the young. Sigh.
** Emoticons come immediately to mind as another bane of my existence, but that's probably beneath even me to go into.
As you have no doubt noticed, I've changed the name of the blog. It's nothing earth-shattering, really. I just did a search yesterday for "bikeboy" on Google, and turned up approximately 50 bajillion references, but not my poor helpless little blog. Now, I don't kid myself that the average person searching for "bikeboy" is looking for my blog anyway--now or ever. But I also would like to be able to tell someone about the blog and have them be able to find it, even if they've forgotten the URL. Hopefully this change will help with that, as Din of Inequity is somewhat less common. In fact, it looks like a band called Sex Mob and I have it all locked up.
On the upside, if you do a Google search for "panhandles like a mofo," I'm the one and only! Though it's under the now disused Bikeboy moniker. I'll see it supplanted soon enough, though.
Have you seen the design for the new nickels? It's a joke, right? Criminy Pete, they suck. The design will be completely non-obvious to the vast majority of Americans who don't remember the details of the purchase (like who we bought it from, etc.), and I believe that to be the vast majority of Americans over 13. In fact, I do remember some of the details, and I'm still not sure what the crossed axe and clay pipe have to do with anything. Did the Leprechauns buy it from the lumberjacks? Was that it?
On top of the crap idea, the artwork sucks in a very real, and legally binding sense. This is drawing (I know, I know, it'll be engraved in the final piece, but garbage in, garbage out, I say) of the caliber most often associated with the seventh grade's "best artist". It's representational--nobody will wonder what they're seeing--but to call it clumsily and poorly executed does Frank Coppola, John Evans and Co. a disservice.
Being able to draw better than the rest of the kids who were forced to take Art instead of Choir or Shop classes does not mean you're qualified to draw the prototype for our nation's currency. Yeah, nobody minds if you mangle the school's mascot on a pep rally banner, or draw the praying hands on your church's holiday bulletin (people will still notice your unhealthy obsession with drawing on every fingernail), but really. Not the nickel--what was up until now one of the better-looking coins, primarily by virtue of the fact that Monticello is a swingin' hizzouse--please not the nickel.
Americans have about the dumbest currency system going anyway, at least since the British went decimal. I guess the idea of it is pretty solid, but the management of it, and the overall attractiveness of the currency (sorely lacking in the first place--the US has the ugliest paper money in the world) has taken an amazingly precipitous plunge in recent memory. First, the "new" bills. Fugly in the extreme, and they just get dumber and dumber looking as more and more "anti-counterfeiting" measures are piled on. And let's not forget the advanced cleverness of not bothering to make sure they'd be compatible with existing automated change and payment machines or at least provide the public or the manufacturers of these machines with some notice of the fact prior to flooding the market with them. Schmucks.
And let's not forget the "golden dollar" or "sacky.*" I'm totally in favor of a dollar coin. Hell, if I had my way we'd have a two dollar coin also. It was a revelation to me the first time I went to England and Ireland and I was able to reach into my pocket, pull out two measly coins, and buy a pint. Getting totally jarred on pocket change! WooHoo! But of course in the US we managed to completely defeat the whole thing. "Let's make it gold-colored! Let's make it the same size as a fucking quarter so people will accidentally put them in parking meters and jam them! Let's encourage asshats to collect them!** Let's NOT take the completely useless and redundant paper dollar out of circulation!" It was a recipe for disaster, which is what it's been. I got a blank look from a checker at the Safeway a couple of months ago when I tried to spend one. These things have been legal tender for something like three years, people! You should not need to call the manager over to explain to you what US currency is. You should be confused when someone hands you a dollar bill, if you ask me, but no--it's still the dominant form.
*I know that it comes from "Sacajawea" who's on the coin, and I know that Girlygirl favors the term, but for fuck's sake. Sacky? I like the dollar coins, but it makes me not want to put one in my pocket. Sacky. Sack o' shite, more like.
State quarters. If there were ever a public program that attracted more of the worst in design-by-committee and amateurish drawing, I'd like to know what it was. Most of them are ugly. Many of them are stupid. All of them are unnecessary. Who benefits from this? The dickheads who sell those maps with a quarter-sized hole in every state of the Union, that's who**.
**This "collectible" thing is actually a stroke of genius on the part of the government. How else are they going to get hundreds of thousands of people to acquire, then never spend, at least $12.50? And a good number of those folks, because of government efforts to sabotage the success of the fricking Sacky, are also hoarding gold dollars under the mistaken impression they'll be rare someday. Yeah, rare like Beanie Babies--people can't give those things away now. So the government found a way to get the American people (at least the stupid ones) to loan them what must amount to a huge amount of money. Your bank buys the coins from the Treasury, you trade some portion of your paycheck for them, then you stick them in a goddamn plaque on the wall. The fed gets paid, the bank gets paid, and you just paid. I guess you could just look at it like the lottery--it's an ignorance tax, mostly.
Looks like I've got three minutes left on my download. Better get back to "work."
Since the Girlygirl has an office at the house and I'm in charge of such things around my office, I've been on the broadband gravy train for quite a while now. In fact, I can't really remember the last time I used dialup.
Well that's all changed today. One of the joys of my job is that I'm occasionally handed a boat anchor and asked to turn it back into a computer. And it's never just any outmoded piece of crap--no, it's usually some decrepit laptop with just enough RAM to almost run Minesweeper without crashing and enough keys left on it to type about 1/3 of the string of curses I let out under my breath when it's handed to me.
Today's job isn't quite so bad--it's glacially slow, but it does appear to be able to run Win98 and Explorer, it does have all the keys on the keyboard, and I've only been asked to make it work well enough to collect email from the road. Mainly it's loaded up with a lot of crummy startup software it doesn't need, and a bunch of programs we haven't used in yonks. It's in desperate need of some of those Windows updates, though, and one thing it doesn't have is a functioning network card. So that means instead of doing all my updating through my lovely T1 connection, I have to do it via dialup. All 16 megs of updates. At 56K. I almost went mad just waiting for it to determine what updates were needed.
Luckily for me, this has been presented as something of a priority, so until it's done, it has my full attention. Well, it has as much of my attention as it requires, anyway. At the moment this has left me with enough time to eat lunch, peruse the meager offerings on Fark.com today, and write this post. Since I'm theoretically working (I am, after all, running the little legs off that pitiful excuse for a laptop*), I can kid myself that it's OK to spend the download time doing what I** want to do.
* This thing is head and shoulders above our other "loaner" laptop--a first generation Sony Vaio. Everybody wants to use that one the first time they hit the road--it's really compact and thin, and it's metallic purple (more or less). Funny, though--nobody ever asks for it a second time. It's lamer than a two-legged dog, all the peripherals (useless things like CD drives and modems) are all outboard, and it was a miracle I could resucitate it enough to make it run a recent enough version of Explorer to actually interface with our webmail system. Some asshat had tried to install the latest version of AOL on it, and it just couldn't manage it. Do you have any idea how hard it is to uninstall AOL? Yikes.
**In raw HTML, typing an italic letter I looks really weird. All these I's in a row.
I got referred to Kafkaesque by one of my fave bloggers, Skot at Izzle Pfaff (see right). In his (Kafkaesque's) latest posting, he points out that this was the year of SHINY ACTRESSES at the Academy Awards--but I think he missed the real gloss of the evening, so I sent him an email:
I realize you were probably talking about the gowns the actresses were wearing, and thus probably missed the TRUE shininess (dang—Is that a word? Spellchecker says OK) of the evening.
The true shininess, the ne-plus-ultra of gleaming and glistening: Renee Zellweger’s face. At ALL the award shows I’ve seen, that girl looks like just before going onstage, she reached into her purse for a powder puff to cut the glare and instead grabbed a big hunk of fatback. Realizing her mistake she decided, what the hell, I’m from Texas, and rubbed it on her face anyway.
But at least this year, thanks to her “packing on the pounds*” for Bridget Jones’ Diary 2, The Revenge of “Hello, Mummy," she at least didn’t also look like a poster child for wayward skeletons with apple doll heads.
*By “packing on the pounds,” I mean having gained enough weight to not have to worry about the bones rubbing through the skin.
That's the whole text of what I sent. I could have ranted on and on about not only this crazy greasy sheen Ms. Zellweger sports in all non-film appearances**, and not only about how her eyes totally disappear into her face***, but also about how stupid it is that she's supposed to be so overweight in Bridget Jones****. But I didn't. Good thing I'm so restrained, eh?
**What the fuck is up with that? Is she secretly 14? Is she totally nervous in public? If that's the answer, I'd hate to shake her hand at one of these functions. I truly feel for her makeup artist on the films she does, though--how would you like to have to explain to a spoiled Hollywood actress how "RightGuard anti-perspirant actually makes a very good base coat for makeup, all the hot stars are doing it"?
***I realize she's mostly very pretty, in a fairly unconventional way, but she must at all costs be restrained from smiling her natural smile. Her cheeks puff up and her eyes turn into two tiny black currants lost in a sea of custard. Yuck.
****That girl has never been fat. She's pretty skinny even after putting on an extra 10 pounds, or however much it was. Perhaps it's just me--my tastes, as a very large person who in spite of his rants about sizeism still feels compelled to note he's not fat, tend to run toward women who are "actual sized"--but I completely buy into the concept that Hollywood is totally fucked up about women's weight.
Starsky and Hutch Mania Already (still?) Going Strong
I was walking back from my daily lunch place today (The House Grill--motto: It's easier than thinking.), and I was panhandled by Huggy Bear. No shit. This guy had the whole 70s pimp thing going--absurd Fat Albert hat, super wide flares, babyshit brown leisure-suit-cut leather jacket, man purse, side-zip Beatle boots, you name it. There must be something about such an outfit that automatically gives you a "pimp roll,*" 'cause this guy even had that.
*It's my understanding that this is the hip term for that rolling swagger that all 70s TV pimps had, and which all my friends and I worked desperately to perfect. OK, maybe not that last part.
Plainly, he was just panhandling for laughs, or to lower my estimate, already sorely damaged by his attire, of his personal dignity. He asked if I could spare a dollar or two. Two?!? Dag, yo--what happened to "37 cents for the bus?" I said no, and was disappointed when he failed to say something like, "that's cool, man, peace out."
But maybe two dollars is just the going rate in the neighborhood. We only reliably have one panhandler anyway. This panhandler, whom I'll call Sandy, since that's apparently her name, is from "the Center" down the block.
I'm not sure what exactly they do at "the Center" but I'm pretty sure it's some kind of day program for what an Irish Aunt would call, "the bewildered." The House Grill is regularly patronized by all manner of odd folk, the vast majority of whom do not understand money, social custom or personal hygiene, and all of whom make cryptic references to "the Center." Gus the deli owner is a saint of a man just for the way he deals with these retards**. He routinely lets them pay whatever they have to offer, on the theory that sometimes he gets a rubberband, three pennies and a button, and other times he gets 2+ dollars in change, all for the same bottle of Mountain Dew or other vile non-cola softdrink. He never lets them get out of hand, buying too much with their folded up gum wrappers and paperclips, but he otherwise has the patience of a god.
The Center also provides us with a twice daily parade of amazingly disfunctional-looking folks up the block to visit the mall. It's pretty easy to figure out which in the group are employees of the Center, and which are patrons. The patrons are the ones who look unsure of why they're going to the mall again, and who are usually protesting in one fashion or another. The employees are the ones who are generally ignoring them, smoking cigarettes and occasionally really laying into one of these totally confused-looking unfortunates for some apparently minor infraction.
**Yes, I used the word "retards." I'm a very coarse person, as I find the word funny. I don't find retarded people funny in general, since they're just people, but I think the word is a hoot. Needless to say, it's hard to explain this in most company, so I refrain from using it at all. Truth to tell, my heart goes out the the retards at the Center, because it doesn't seem that the ones who can tell what's going on like it very much, and they're certainly not getting much comfort from the staff members I've seen.
So. Sandy. Sandy's from the Center, and she panhandles. She panhandles like a mofo. She's on the corner near my office every day in the morning (before the Center opens?), and asks every single person who comes within range for two dollars. I can't believe she's successful--at least around here, two dollars is a lot, especially without any singing or sob story--but she's plainly got some intellectual issues, so maybe she doesn't care. I never give Sandy any money because I know the people from the Center are not supposed to panhandle as part of their "treatment." How do I know this? Because I have, on several occasions, seen one of the higher-functioning Centerers*** scolding her roundly and loudly: "No Sandy! We're not supposed to panhandle! Gimme a cigarette! Do you have any cigarettes?!?"
***This is the same guy who has several times invited me down to the Center to help with their anger management classes. No thanks--not until I'm more sure the classes are working.
Anyway, it was fun to see someone dressed up like Antonio Fargas' most famous character.
Also: I'm ahead of the curve! My headline of the week from Monday was on Fark.com on TUESDAY. I'm a genius. If getting out ahead of the Farkers makes you that.
Today was primary day in Maryland, where we live. The Girlygirl and I bustled on over to the polling place (doesn't that sound like what you'd call it if you couldn't remember what it was, instead of it's actual name?) to do our duty, and to cast our first protest votes ever*.
*Even though he's left the race now, we're voting for Dean. Sure, he can't really win, but he's the candidate we wanted, and we wanted him because of his views. This is our chance to state, when it really counts, that we wanted something other than the tepid, corporation-owned weasels the Democratic Party is now almost certain to nominate. When the chips are down, I'm voting against Bush, but I need to show folks that I really did want to vote for someone this time around, however unpopular, even if I don't get the chance to do that in the general election.
Every year I have a moment of trepidation on leaving the house--will it be crowded at the, umm, whaddya call it, that polling place (see what I mean?)? My feet are total wrecks most of the time (if they were cartoon feet, they'd likely look like exploding cigars), so I always dread having to stand around, especially when there's no rock show, or at least beer. This year, as every other year, and at pretty much any time of the day, the place was practically deserted, so no worries about waiting in line.
For the most part, I enjoy this lack of crowding--I'm a self-guilter in many instances, so it relieves me greatly not to have to feel I'm holding things up by doing such crazy things as taking my time reading the names and such--but on the way home, I had a sobering thought. I know that we live in an area that's strongly Democratic. I also know that Democrats have a nasty habit of staying home in droves when it's time to vote. All the parties are subject to this poor turnout (shameful, I say), but Republicans have a slight margin in getting out of the house and into the polls. What if the reason that my polling place is never crowded is because none of my neigbors can be fucked to get off their asses and down to the polls? That would totally suck, especially since Girlygirl was even violating doctor's orders by going down there**. We did see at least one neighbor down there voting, and each year I see someone I know there, but that's all the more scary--are the only people voting the people we know? There are a lot more folks in our district than that (though we do have a pretty large number of friends within about 10 blocks of the polling place).
** The round trip is farther than she's supposed to be walking yet after her back surgery, and she's not supposed to ride in a car. In a brilliant strategy of breaking the most rules the least amount, I drove her down there and she walked back. Not perfect, but no way was she gonna miss her chance to vote.
I know there's not many people listening, but if you are, get the hell out there and vote! Even if you have to stand in line! You'll get a cool oval sticker with "I voted" in English and Spanish if you live in my area. It's about the only time I voluntarily sport an American flag on my person, and I wear it all day. Just remember--if you feel bad about not voting, just go do it--there aren't many easier ways to make yourself feel better about yourself and your country/state. It's easy. They want you to come do it. They'll HELP you figure out what to do, and if you don't feel qualified to judge, or don't have enough information to make an informed decision, keep in mind that there are lots of people out there who are working really hard to make their choices, and still making bad ones. You can do at least that well just randomly poking buttons, and maybe you'll get lucky and cancel out some of the knuckleheads.
Dang. Even though I've done my usual thing of half-assing and generally not putting my mind to it, I've still come up with nothing on the "other name for a blog" front. Because I've "tried nothing, and I'm all out of ideas," I'm just going to keep on calling it a blog. I'm sure the moral indignation I've spewed will make up for my laziness, and that all you good people out there will join me in condemning attempts to call non-blog things blogs, just to make them seem hip and current. Or something.
Ugh. Remember what I wrote about stress? Looks like I managed to stress myself right into a cold. Luckily, though, thanks to my guilt about missing so much work last week due to Girlygirl's surgery, this festival of plegm is in the office today! It's pretty damn hard to get any real work done, though.
I think I've seen it before, and even in my pseudo-Sudafed-addled state, it's only marginally funny. I'm not sure it's supposed to be funny at all, but I refuse to accept this premise--it's failed humor as far as I'm concerned. Still, also due no doubt to the drugs and/or epazoodic, I thought I'd poke around. The only real place of interest, of course, is the "other" category. I think most people know that "soda" is mostly coastal, with a concentration smack dab in the midwest as well. "Pop" is mostly the upper half of the country, with "Coke (for everything, including the loathsome Nehi products so popular there)" being mostly the South.
I was also familiar with the Beantown conceit of "tonic," and the incredibly estimated-IQ-reducing "co-cola,*" but was somehow unaware that in North Carolina, the most popular "other" is the almost nonsensical "drink." Crazy, I know.
Where things get interesting, though, is scrolling down through the "other" options for any given state. There were a number of votes in California for "freshly ejaculated manbutter," and at least one Marylander refers to his favorite soft drink as "To God be the glory." My all-time favorite, though, brought to you by Get Your War On, is "robot sweat." Hmm. Strangely, the cartoon that contains the line, "I don't even drink Coke, it tastes like robot sweat" is missing. Well trust me--it used to be there.
*For my money, only mouth breathing or missing front teeth are greater minimizers of other people's estimate of your intelligence on first blush. I'm giving myself a pass on the mouth breathing thing for a day or two because of the cold. But you know what I mean. Interestingly, I had a friend once who said, absolutely apropos of nothing, "I never did get the hang of that breathing through your nose thing." Totally true, and pretty much explained the gobbets of white crusty stuff constantly at the corners of his mouth. Yuck. He was a pretty OK guy, though.