Friday, February 26, 2010

Fear or flight

Although I love to travel, I pretty much can't stand flying. Like everything, 9-11 and the recession have takend most of the fun out of it. I say this after having just returned from a business trip to Florida and having spent about 12 hours travelling yesterday (if you factor getting to the airport, checking in, waiting in security lines, cooling your heals at the gate waiting to board, standing in line on the plane while morons block the aisles trying to get a steamer trunk into the overhead bins, getting out of your seat four times to let the customer of size sitting in the center seat get up to go to the bathroom, cruising to the gate and waiting for your luggage).

Flying used to mean adventure (the good kind). There was a time when everything was included in the cost of your ticket. Even in coach you could get something that resembled a meal. The flight attendants used to treat you nicely and not like cattle. Now you have to pay to check luggage (which is why the morons try to bring luggage the size of Texas on board as a carry on and squeal like a stuck pig when they can't get it down the aisle). You have to pay for a snack. You have to pay for a drink other than soda or juice. Pretty soon I imagine they will make you pay to go to the bathroom (though that might deter that customer of size seated next to me from getting up four times in one flight).

I was fortunate on this trip to be able to upgrade to First Class on my way to Florida. But the perks of First Class have been reduced to being able to board first (after the wheel chairs, babies and old people with walkers), sitting in comfortable seats that aren't making you intimate with the person seated next you, free drinks and your own bathroom. Oh you do get that warm towelette before your premium snack.

I suppose they don't really treat you first class in First Class anymore because no one actually pays to be in First Class. Most people use frequent flyer miles to upgrade. Because the airlines are putting more and more restrictions on using the miles that prevent you from actually getting a free ticket anywhere. So First Class is basically filled with a coach class of people taking their shoes off and letting their dogs breath on the bulkhead.

Regardless, I used all of my First Class karma on the trip to Florida and had to suffer the indignity of coach on the way back. There isn't even a a pretense of treating people decently in coach anymore. At one point after forcing my way to my seat strategically located at the back of the airplane I wanted to scream, "I'm a man, not an animal" or "Soylent Green is people." But I am sure no one would have got either reference or cared. They were all just focused on getting their fair share of the coveted overhead bins.

I know I rant about airplane travel every year or so, but it just kills me that the airlines -- who I am sure are struggling financially like everyone else -- continue to pretend to give a rip about customer service. They could stop making the stupid announcements about "We know you have many choices in what airline you use and we sincerely appreciate you flying ______." For one none of us have any choice. We are at the mercy of who flys to where we want to go for the cheapest price. Two if you truly appreciated us flying your airline you wouldn't treat us like mindless cattle (though I admit most people in coach are mindless cattle).

Don't waste our time with the safety talk before each flight. If someone doesn't know how to buckle a seatbelt in this day and age, they shouldn't be let out unescorted. And if there really was an emergency you can bet it would be everyman for themselves the way it is trying to get your crap into the overhead bin.

I also don't care to hear from the flight crew. I don't give a rip about what altitude we'll be cruising at or the airspeed. And if I want to see the Grand Canyon, I'll visit the damned thing, so don't tell me it is visible out the left side of the plane because I've got a fricking customer of size blocking any view I'll ever have of the window.

And stop telling us to turn off and stow any electronic devices for take off and landing. My iPod and Kindle won't make the airplane drop like a stone if they are turned on. Nor will my tray or seat being in the full upright position really affect anything either. You are just yanking our chains for having to wait on people in the sky without getting tipped.

This is all my impassioned plee for high speed rail.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Your post here

I used to think it would be funny to order things like t-shirts and coffee mugs with "Your Name Here" on them instead of your actual name. It was one of the many impulses I have curbed over the years in order to cruise under the radar while navigating life and avoid drawing too much attention to my quirky side. Having a quirky side isn't something that plays well in a job interview.

Although it is likely pretty obvious to people around me that I am quirky, I am by nature a shy soul and do not like draw attention to the fact. For that matter, I don't like drawing attention to me in general. At the same time I am closet rebellious soul and look at ways to voluntarily cull myself from the herd. I have a tattoo, but it is on my upper arm and is only seen when I am at the beach or working out at the gym. My ears are also pierced (a reaction to having to wear a suit everyday in the early 80s) but it has been quite some time since I have worn an earring. It just seems pathetic to me for a man over 50 to sport earrings....or ponytails or dyed hair or anything that reeks of resisting the ravages of time.

I have always resented being told what to do. But growing up fearing authority and recognizing that conforming brings home the bacon I usually do what I'm told and mutter under my breath about it. And yes, I realize that I am passive aggressive.

Speaking of resenting being told what to do, I hate signs. Nothing makes me want to do the opposite more than an obnoxious sign demanding I do or not do something obvious. We recently rented a vacation home for a couple of days at a beach resort. The first thing that greeted you when you got to the door was a cardboard sign that shouted: NO SHOES IN THE HOUSE. There were several more signs inside the house repeating the commandment. I was paying several hundred dollars to stay there plus a hefty cleaning fee. So I think I had paid for the right to wear shoes in the house if I wanted to.

All of this is a roundabout way to point out that a blog is a perfect medium for a shy, conforming non-conformist, passive aggressive personality looking for a creative outlet that doesn't require direct human interaction. I can expose my quirky nature in a safe environment without having to dye my hair blue or pierce exposed body parts. And since no one reads it, pays for it or directs it, I can experience the freedom of writing about whatever I want whenever I want.

And I do.

But god help me if anyone ever subscribes to my blog for Kindle. Flattering as that would be, it would put this burden of quality control on my whole quirky nature. Then I'd start resenting the yoke of oppression writing for a paying audience (although .99 a month for the pearls I toss out here is a pittance in the grand scheme of things) would place upon me.

I am such a tortured soul.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When holidays collide

Sunday was Valentines Day. It was also Chinese New Year. And then Monday was President's Day (though technically it was just Washington's Birthday). That is a lot of holiday's coming together. But at least Valentines Day and the Chinese New Year share red as the appropriate color.

Combining Washington and Lincoln's birthday into a signal holiday seems kind of sleezy to me. I think we should get every president's birthday off. I'm not sure who I would suggest this to however. But there has to be an office of official federal holidays. Or perhaps it needs to be a Congressional action to create a federal holiday. God knows it would be a meaty topic I'm sure they could sink their political teeth into.

The Chinese New Year isn't determined by Congress. It is determined by the lunarsolar Chinese calendar which I assume has something to do with the moon and sun, but after looking it up on Wikipedia, I pretty much glazed over and accepted that someone somewhere understands it. Regardless the Chinese New Year fell on Valentines Day this year and that probably won't happen again in my lifetime.

Not that I should care about Chinese New Year and Valentines Day coinciding this year. The only reason I got them off was that they fell on a Sunday. And a holiday that doesn't give me a free day off isn't really a holiday in my book. Odd that there is virtually no ritual associated with President's Day yet we get it off. I am suprised Hallmark hasn't figured out a way to sell cards for President's Day. We could give each other gifts of dead president's (slang term for paper money, not actual relics of presidential corpses). With my luck some searchbot for the FBI or CIA or NSA or whatever other federal police agency protecting my rights will find this and put me on a list as a threat to national security. I assure you I am only suggesting people give me gifts of money.

In addition to the traditional way of celebrating Valentines Day by giving cards, candy and romantic gifts this year, I got to spend part of my weekend at a Vet emergency hospital paying $170 to make a dog throw up Valentines Day chocolates.

Ironically it wasn't even my own dog. We were pet sitting for a friend of my wife's. We'd just picked up the dog and left it in the car while we did some grocery shopping. Clever person that I am, I told my wife that I was going to pick up a couple of gifts for the kids while she wheeled them around the store grabbing things off the lower shelves without our knowlege until we hit the check out line. I dashed over to the Valentine candy and bought her a heart shaped box of chocolates as a cute little gesture to go along with a card and present I'd already picked out. I then dashed out to the car and chose to hide the box of chocolates under the driver's seat.

It never occurred to me that the dog we were pet sitting for had a sweet tooth and would root out the box of chocolates like a truffle pig. When we returned to the car there was red cellophane all over the front seat and an open box of chocolates with half of the chocolates gone. My wife then informed me that one of the instructions the dog's owner had left was to make sure the dog didn't get into any chocolates because it had already had two trips to the emergency vet in its short dog life.

Although I'd had dogs as pets throughout my childhood, I had never been privy to the fact that chocolate is toxic to dogs (and cats for that matter). Our dogs had seemed to eat anything and everything without a problem. Anyway, when we got home, my wife called the vet number her friend had left her and someone from the vet's office got back to us and informed us that since it was a very small dog (some designer poodle mix) we should take it to an emergency vet so that the dog could be examined and forced to void the chocolates.

If I'd known it was going to cost $170 I would have stuck my finger down the dog's throat. It cost $99 just to walk in the place. I'd had the foresight to bring in the half empty box of chocolates which the vet's assistant weighed and determined that the dog probably hadn't ingested enough actual chocolate to have been harmed. But they decided to make the poor thing puke anyway to be on the safe side. Apparently the going rate for making a dog puke is $71.

After an hour at the vet's listening to a skinny, trailer park looking woman whine to another vet's assistant about her Rottweiler swallowing some large chew toy whole and her unsuccessful efforts to get the dog to pop the toy out of either end, I paid the bill and took temporary dog and the half a box of chocolates home. My kids were happy to see the dog (who seemed none the worse for wear for having scarfed and barfed half a box of chocolates). My wife tossed the remaining chocolates reasoning that the dog had probably licked them. So now I was out the vet bill and the price of the box of chocolates as well.

Now I am not sure, but I think all of this has something to do with Chinese New Year, Valentines Day and President's Day converging. But that is just my theory.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The stock yards


I am not what you would call a stock savvy person. And by stock, I am referring to the stock market, not livestock. Though I am not really livestock savvy either despite growing up in Idaho. Anyway, since the stock market took a dive a year or so ago and ate away at my meager retirement funds, I paid more attention to whether it was gaining or losing on a daily basis by checking the numbers on msn.com. They display the stock numbers in red if the market is down and green if it is up.

Okay, watching the market and what makes it go up and down (according to the mindnumbing commentary that msn.com offers up along with the stock reports) reminds me of herding sheep. Even though I don't know that much about livestock, I did hang out at my friends farm when I was a kid and we used to delight at spooking the sheep for entertainment. It didn't take much more than throwing sheep pellets (translated dried sheep shit) at them  to spook them into running from side to side in their pen.

That is Wall Street in a nutshell. One day the market is up because some report says consumer confidence is returning. The next day the market is down because another report says consumers are pessimistic about the economy. Unemployment isn't as high as expected sends the sheep running to the green side of the pen. The feds messing with rates sends the sheep running to the red side of the pen.

Baaaaaaaaah.....

I am not an economist. But I have lived through enough recessions to perceive that they are as much about people's perceptions as they are about the economic realities. You tell people that the economy is going down the toilet and of course they are going to curb their spending make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell them that there are green shoots and more likely than not they will be tuning into the Home Shopping Network like good consumers and giving the economy some well needed fertilizer to help those shoots (real or not) grow.

Simplistic I know, but I believe this is so.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

If I said that I can't stand the Olympics, does that make me a bad person?

I realize that many people think the Olympics is a sacred ritual symbolizing a place where different cultures and countries can come together in the spirit of friendly competition and whoop on each other without causing the same long term impacts as going to war, but I have to say I'm sick of the hype and it bores the heck out of me. I especially think the Winter Olympics is right up there with watching water boil when it comes to entertainment.

It isn't that I don't enjoy watching sports. I will watch football willingly because I understand it better and believe it has a base quality not sullied by the pretense that it is anything but a sport for hire. Football players compete for the money and the fame. They are open about this. Olympic athletes imply that they are competing for their country's honor. But let's cut through the bull and admit it's about the endorsements and boasting rights that they won a gold medal.

I am sure that if anyone actually read my blog, they would be deeply offended by me dissing on the Olympics. But it is just one more sacred cow that needs to be put into the proper perspective. I believe people think they like the Olympics because it has been hyped into them every four years that they are supposed to like the Olympics. We are led to believe that it is downright unAmerican in a global kind of way not to like the Olympics.

Face it, the Olympics is a money machine. Cities compete with each other for the honor of hosting the Olympics know it can be a major boost to the local economy. When we first learned the Olympics were coming to Vancouver several years ago, I was dragged into several meetings in Seattle to learn how our local economy could figure out how to exploit Olympic bound people passing through to Vancouver. I even had to listen intently to a local business man who had been the official portable toilet contractor for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Apparently people who go to the Olympics generate a great deal of human waste.

And that is my point exactly.

I am particularly tired of the commercials featuring Olympic hopefuls I have never heard of competing interpretive bob sledding. McDonalds is even boasting that they provide the official chicken nugget dipping sauce of the Winter Olympics.

I bet you the original Olympics in Ancient Greece didn't have snowboarders competing. Come to think of it there wasn't an winter Olympics in Ancient Greece. They didn't have snow. They just had the summer Olympics with a bunch of naked guys wrestling and seeing who could throw a javelin the furthest.

I suppose I shouldn't be so critical of the whole thing. After all, I spent most evenings flipping through my FIOS cable looking for something decent to watch and inevitably end up watching Man Vs. Food.

Now if they add competitive eating of disgusting amounts of food to the Olympics I might change my mind.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't tell a soul

I just finished reading a novel on my Kindle about a company that was able to track your soul as it progressed from one life to the next. The book was called Soul Identity by Dennis Batchelder. In the book, the Soul Identity company made big bucks by offering people the opportunity to pass their resources on to their soul's next incarnation. The kicker was that the company had to be able to find you in your next life in order to give you your many lives savings. To make matters worse, you couldn't remember anything about your past lives from one life to the next.

That sucks. What is the point in having your soul reborn if you can't remember anything? Doesn't that create a Groundhog's Day effect of repeating your same mistakes over and over? It would explain why humans continue to engage in futile activities like war and political parties.

Oh I am sure there are loop holes in this arrangement. Maybe you take stock of each life in between passing on to the next life. Maybe you map out things to do and learn in your next life. If this is the case, I have a few bones to pick with my soul.

I would like to believe that I have a soul. The thought of having something continue after we die is comforting. But I wonder if that is why humans want to believe in souls. The alternative is "just living and then dying and that is it." And that seems particularly pointless.

I am not a religious man so I don't equate having a soul with a belief in god. I believe in the patterns inherent in nature and that nothing is totally random. This is not to say that I believe in fate or a master plan that is outside of me. Maybe it goes back to my believe that we create our own reality.

One thing I have always had trouble with in any theory of soul progression or reincarnation is giving up the sense of self. Even thinking of death I hate the idea of ceasing to exist as me. For I equate my personality with my soul. It is MY soul, not a community soul. And that, according to many religions and metaphysical theories I've read is what I need to give up. I need to become one with the universe in order to become enlightened.

But is it really necessary to give up my sense of self to discover (or uncover) my soul? Do I have to be assimilated in order to exist? What is the point of having a soul if it is not truly yours? Shouldn't it be like a comfortable old sweatshirt that fits perfectly and only gets better each time you wear it? Why should we have to keep the same soul but wipe it clean each time we use it in another life?

Funny how each of my questions just leads to more questions. And the only answer anyone could possibly give me is that I have to have faith.

Oh well, enough tail chasing for now. I have a soul to catch.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Who are you?

I watched the first half of the Super Bowl while I was at the gym yesterday. Since the Seattle Seahawks weren't in it, I didn't really have a vested interest in the game. I was kind of rooting for the Colts because I like Peyton Manning. Or at least I like his television commercials because he seems to have a good sense of humor. Though it is more likely the advertising copywriter who has the sense of humor. Regardless of whether Manning really has a sense of humor, he seems like a pretty great quarterback.

I want to apologize to the Colts for rooting for them. Because any team I root for usually loses despite how much they are ahead in the game at half time. The Seahawks should pay me not to be a fan because it would seem everytime I watch one of their games (including the Superbowl several years ago) they lose big time.

Suffice it to say, although I only rooted for the Colts for the first half, they lost in the half I wasn't watching. So maybe my curse really only comes into play if I am not watching the team I am rooting for. Or maybe I am giving myself too much credit and didn't have anything to do with the Colts or any other football team losing. I forget sometimes that I am not THE supreme being, just A supreme being.

But this post isn't really about the Colts losing or the Saints winning. Although I do like New Orleans the city. It is a great city.

This post is really about the Who performing at half time. I can't review the performance. I was actually in the locker room by that time changing out of my sweaty clothes. For some reason I sweat profusely when I work out. I realize you are supposed to sweat when you work out, but I really sweat. My shirts look like I have been wearing them in a shower.

But I digress. Maybe instead of calling my blog "Dizgraceland" I should call it "Digressland."

But back to the Who. I didn't see them perform. I wince at the thought of seeing them perform. I know that they are legends, but let's face it, legends only stay legends if you don't peek behind the curtain and see them applying wrinkle cream.

I'm not an age-ist. I am in my early 50s myself and have little room to talk when it comes to the ravages of time. But then again I was never famous and few people have a clue as to what I looked like when I was the age the Who were when Pete Townsend was smashing perfectly good guitars into amps on stage. So if they asked me to perform at half time at the Super Bowl no one would likely say, "Whoa he should have thought about making a comeback a couple of decades ago." They would more likely say, "Who the hell is he?" which would be justified since I have very few talents that would warrant me being asked to perform at half time of the Super Bowl. Well, technically, I can play the guitar, but I am probably not in the same league with Pete Townsend which is probably why they asked the Who to perform instead of me.  That and the fact that no one has ever heard of me.

Again, I can't critique the performance, just the hype and concept of raising aged rock stars from the dead to perform. The Super Bowl people love to do this. I did see the Rolling Stones peform at half time a few years ago. That was disturbing. Though I have never liked the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger has always reminded me of a twisted Don Knotts. And the older he gets the more he looks like him.

I imagine the Super Bowl people would have the Beatles perform if they could figure out a way to reanimate John and George. I suppose technically they did have A Beatle perform when Paul McCartney did a half time show.

Oh, I suppose having geriatric rockers perform is better than the crap you have to endure during regular season football games. The highlight of most Seahawk game half times I've seen has been dogs playing frisbee.

But they were young dogs.

Pretty good frisbee players too.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

It's Groundhog's Day (again)


In Punxsutaney, Pennsylvania, Punxsutaney Phil came out of his den in Gobbler's Knob, saw his shadow and therefore inflicts upon us six more weeks of winter. And once again this furry mammal who is not far removed from a obese rat illustrates the old axiom that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Take the photo above, for example. I used it back in 2007 in a post call Punxsutaney Tim. And since no one is around any more who read that post, I can use the photo again and feel pretty darned confident that it will appear new and refreshing (and a bit disturbing) to anyone who now stumbles upon it.

Such is life. Things only seem new and innovative because you haven't seen them before. Trust me, there is nothing new on the planet. If you don't believe me, think of something creative and then Google it. You'll find umpteen versions of your idea are already out there and chances are someone has slapped a patent on it.

There are many people out there who make a great deal of money coming up with a "new" look for an old product in hopes that mindless consumers will buy it because it looks different than it did before. I just read an article about the 75th edition of the board game Monopoly being released. To give it a fresh look, they turned the square playing board into a circle. They also eliminated the fake money (now each player gets a credit card) and they replaced the cool playing pieces shaped like race cars, shoes and other odd implements with platic tabs.

Be still my heart.

Kind of pisses me off because half the fun of playing Monopoly was tucking the stacks of fake money under your edge of the board and fighting over who gets the race car or the top hat. But trust me, 75 years from now someone will want to modernize the round Monopoly board by making it square and go all retro by bringing back the race car and the funny money.

And speaking of nothing new, one of the downsides of blogging (and living) as long as I have is that I catch myself starting to write a clever new post (it could happen) and then realize I wrote an identical post a couple of years ago. Though in keeping with my theory that everything is new if you haven't seen it, I could in theory simple begin copying old posts and pass them off as new material and no one would be the wiser.

Wait, that would put me in the same category as your average sitcom writer and I have higher standards than that.

Most of the time.

Happy Groundhog's Day!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Raging about aging

It seems like at least once a week, I get junk mail from the American Association of Retired People (AARP) insisting I join their ranks. I am sure that it is a great organization and they do offer lots of discounts for members, but so does the American Automobile Association (AAA) and they will also change my tire. They also don't wave my age in my face.

AARP offers me a free travel bag if I will join. I hate to break it to them, but nothing seems more pitiful to me than to walk around with a tote bag that screams AARP on it. I might as well walk around in a pale yellow jumpsuit with an ascot ala Don Knotts.

I have news for you AARP. I may be over 50, but I am nowhere near retirement. I have two toddler aged children to put through college and I will likely only retire when they discover me expired at my desk with my Blackberry (or whatever the gadget dejour is in 30 years is) clutched in my cold, dead hand. Until then, please stop suggesting I join the blue-headed legions of the AARP.

As a marketing person, I would suggest that the AARP could seriously think about rebranding their association. Nothing conjures up an image of an old folks home and Over the Hill parties than AARP. They could call themselves the Dorian Gray Association and pitch ways to stave off aging. Or they could call themselves something edgy similar to the militant seniors who formed the Gray Panthers. Maybe something like the Silver Mauraders. Or go cutesy and call themselves the Wrinkle Wranglers Association.

I know I am protesting too much. But aging sucks enough without people trying to pitch you on joining a group that focuses on it. If I want to rub my nose in my age, all I have to do is look in a mirror or go to the list of people on Facebook who graduated from my high school at the same time as me.

I was getting shot for the H1N1 virus at a Safeway the other day and the pharmicist told me it would cost $15 unless I had Medicare. People see gray hair and they immediately expect to see you hauling around your groceries in an AARP tote bag. I'm sure when they see me carting around my children they assume I am a doting grandfather.

Oh well, I suppose I should just accept the inevitable. Looking at the bright side, I am only about three years away from getting the 55 and older discounts at Denny's.

Sigh...