Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Messing with the cosmos


After ranting about why being normal is sometimes a good thing, ironically, I've been going out of my way lately to break my normal routines. For example, for several years now, I've waited for my morning train in the same spot, boarding the first car behind the locomotive and more or less sitting in the same seat every day. Lately, it dawned on me that it would make more sense for me to sit in a car farther back on the train since it would put me closer to the station exit closer to my office building. So I forced myself to wait for the train in a different spot.

It really freaked me out, but I did it. It has also freaked out the people whose spot I've taken on the platform. Train riders are creatures of habit. Apparently so am I.

I've also been walking up eight flights of stairs at my office building instead of taking the elevator. This has been freaking out my legs.

So how has the cosmos been responding to my stepping out of the normal routine? The only thing I've noticed out of the ordinary since I started mixing up my routine was that the Chinese violin player who sits out in the plaza playing what I assume are traditional Chinese violin tunes almost every day was playing a version of "Old Suzanna" when I walked by him the other day.

That freaked me out.

Okay, so there probably isn't any connection between me riding in a different train car and the Chinese violin player playing "Old Suzanna." But it reminds me of how superstitious humans can be. I remember as a kid assigning cause and effect to everything. There was this plastic ring this kid had when I was in grade school that he swore caused him bad luck as soon as he'd got it out of a vending machine. Bad luck to him translated into being chased by some girls. I offered to take the ring off his hands because, even at age 8 or so, I didn't think being chased by girls was such a curse.  He gave me the ring. No girls chased me.  But I think it was because I'd stepped on a crack in the sidewalk. Wait. That's supposed to break your mother's back (which is a pretty sick thought).

But I digress.

I'm still going to mix things up. Because being stuck in a routine is like watching endless reruns of Pawn Stars because you are too lazy to change the channel.

Wait a minute...maybe I need to stop watching reruns of Pawn Stars, too.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why be normal? Well, I'll tell you...

Someone posted "Why be normal?" as their Facebook status a few minutes ago and I had to fight the urge to  unleash a torrent of reasons why being normal isn't such a bad thing. For one, it goes a long way towards keeping you from being locked up.

Pronouncements like "why be normal," "march to the beat of a different drummer," "think outside of the box," and "draw outside of the lines" are trite, hackneyed phrases that scream of hypocrisy and make my eyes roll back into my head so far I'm afraid I'll need to learn to read Braille. People use these phrases to justify why they are weird and often outcasts.

Let's face it, everyone really wants to be liked and to be liked, you have to fit in. So if you have a strong desire to keep wild badgers as pets and walk around without pants (not something I'd recommend if you keep wild badgers as pets) you definitely won't appear normal and you likely won't fit in and have a lot of friends. Often times people who don't fit in overcompensate by making themselves even weirder. Then they seek out other weird people and band together to make fun of normal people and mutually embrace their weirdness. Case in point: Star Trek conventions.

I'm actually torn on this issue. On one hand, I have always felt I'm pretty non-mainstream. I don't like convention for convention's sake. But at the same time, I have no desire to stick out like a sore thumb. The solution seems to be to conform in public and rebel in private.

Kind of a cop out. But there is a certain survival aspect to this as well. When I was a kid growing up in Idaho, sticking out was a sure way to get the crap beat out of you by normal kids. And when was the last time you saw someone promoted in a company for thumbing their nose at the corporate dress code by wearing leather, sporting a Mohawk and etching a Swastika into their forehead.

Ridiculous example, I know. A non-conformist, creative type wouldn't want to be in a corporation unless they actually wanted to make enough money to survive. But at the same time, they would realize that it is useless to go into a conservative environment and demand that they conform to your non-conformist views.

Normal, after all, is a relative term (and I'm not referring to any of my relatives, because god knows none of them are normal). It may be normal to drink tea made out of rancid Yak butter in Tibet, but I wouldn't try and order it at a Starbucks in Seattle.  Though asking for a "double-tall, lowfat, no foam rancid Yak butter tea" does have a certain ring to it.

Unique and creative people don't need to scream out their uniqueness. I've railed before about the irony of art students all dressing in raggedy black cloths and piercing various body parts to make them unique in a sheeplike way.

So why be normal, you ask? Because the world is crazy enough without Bohemian wannabe's whining about being oppressed by a vanilla world.  Sometimes wrapping ourselves in a nice, normal routine is comforting.

Oh, but it is okay to color outside the lines once in a while.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

VISA gift cards suck: A rant

A few years ago, someone gave me a $25 VISA gift card as a thank you for something. I thought it was a nice gesture, but tucked it away in a drawer. Then a few months later I was cleaning out the drawer, found the card and slipped it into my wallet. It eventually made it into my travel wallet as emergency money. But I never found a reason to use it.

Finally, on my recent trip to Boise I glanced at the card and noticed it had an expiration date of 8/2013. I figured I should use it or lose it. So I pulled it out at a store in Boise and tried using it. The card reader said the card didn't have enough money for the transaction (just under $12). I was puzzled, but didn't really think much about it.

I decided to go online to find out how much was loaded on the card. I looked on the back of the card and struggled to read type so tiny that it could have been used to inscribe the Bible on a grain of rice. It read:

This Card is issued by The Bancorp Bank pursuant to a license from Visa S.A. Inc.  This card is distributed and serviced by either ITC Financial Licenses Inc. or IH Financial Licenses Inc. depending on the state or territory in which this Card is purchased. This Card is not redeemable for cash. Except where prohibited by law, a Service Fee of $2.50 per month will be applied to the remaining balance of this Card beginning in the seventh (7th month following the date of activation. Except where prohibited by law, a Re-Issuance Fee of $5.95 will be assessed for shipping and handling to replace the Card. By accepting or using this Card, Cardholder agrees to be bound by the Cardholder Agreement as amended from time to time. Cardholder agrees to notify immediately if this Card is lost, stolen or used without permission. For balance information go to www.vanillavisa.com or call 1.800.571.1376.

I'm no lawyer, but I immediately deduced that I had been screwed out of $25. Sure enough after visiting www.vanillavisa.com and entering the card information, eight $2.50 service fees were deducted from the card value. And although there were only $20 in service fees deducted from the $25 card, there was no value left on it. I'm not sure what happened to the remaining $5.

Adding insult to injuring, the website offers only a 1-800 number and a snail mail address for inquiries. Who in this century doesn't have an email address? My assumption is they no your average person doesn't want to waste the time and energy to write them knowing the response would be to read the user's agreement on the back of the card (which I could never have read without my bifocals). And who reads the user's agreement on a gift card? You would assume someone paid $25 for it plus a service fee up front. Charging $2.50 a month for the card if you don't use it seems borderline criminal.

And I love the legal mumbo jumbo line about "Cardholder agrees to be bound by the Cardholder Agreement as amended from time to time." How can you agree to an agreement that changes from time to time without your knowledge or review?

Shame on you Visa! Shame on you Vanilla Visa as well. I'm seriously thinking of getting rid of all my Visa cards and switching to American Express. And you can bet I'll never buy a Visa gift card for anyone for any reason.

But maybe I should check out American Express gift cards and read their user agreements first.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Man in Iron Mask with Starbucks


It has been a week since I returned from my business trip to Boise. And as usual, it was odd being a visitor in a town you grew up in. There is a sense of straddling two times that include the Boise of my past and the Boise that is now.

I like the Boise that is now much better than the Boise I grew up in. It is still laid back, but has a certain cosmopolitan flair that didn't exist when I was struggling through my formative years. The downtown I grew up with was fairly sterile and barren. The downtown now is lively and stoked with character and trendy restaurants.

Not that I had much free time to soak in the trendiness of it all. I spent most of my time in a parking lot in the countryside near Nampa watching television spots take shape -- a process not unlike watching paint dry. And although the weather was clear, it was unseasonably cold and windy for Idaho (not the ideal conditions for an outdoor shoot).


But we accomplished our job in the alloted three days and then hunkered down in an editing studio to piece together the puzzle of various takes and angles to produce a pretty great final product.

I caveat this all with an observation that I rarely talk about my work in my blog. I believe in a firm separation of  blog worlds and work worlds. But I made an exception here to explain why I've posted photos of me wearing an iron mask and one of me drinking out of a pineapple. They are simply props.

But I digress.

I did drive by my mom's house to see whether it had been torn down. I had mixed feelings when I pulled up to it unchanged except for a "FOR RENT" sign in the front yard. I really rather would see it torn down than to have strangers, especially renters living there. I truly hope my mom's spirit has moved on so she doesn't have to fret about things and people being out of place in her house.

Regardless, I enjoyed my time in Boise, surreal as it was. But it is good to be back in the land of the falling rain.

I miss that pineapple though.