09 July 2018

The Aerosol Swiss Army Knife (The Great Groceries Write-Off)

[originally posted to epinions.com on 2001-05-01]

Subject: Groceries
Pros: Many groceries are very good.
Cons: Some groceries are not very good.
Summary: I have long been a user of groceries, and I recommend them highly.

Modern grocery stores are absolute marvels-- palaces of wonderfully wretched excess where you can find dozens of products for use in any specific situation. Need orange juice? Great-- they have "from concentrate," "not-from concentrate," with calcium, without, with extra A & C, with pulp, no-pulp, some pulp, all-pulp, different pulp.... Need bleach? They've got large, jumbo, mega, regular, lemon, rainfresh, concentrated, super-concentrated, absurdly concentrated.... You say you need apples? Well, there's Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji, Granny Smith, McInstosh, Rome, Gala, Washington State apples, New Zealand Apples, home-schooled California free-range apples, all available in various size categories.

Being confronted with so many choices can lead to what author Douglas Coupland labeled "option paralysis"-- the tendency, when confronted by a near unlimited number of opportunities or possibilities, to choose nothing. Instead of getting just the right product for the need at hand, you wind up buying nothing, leaving all sorts of problems and needs unaddressed.

Which is why I am so excited to turn your valuable and harried attention to one of THE true marvels of this modern age, one product that will fill the bill for a dizzying variety of chores, a product whose many uses address so many different needs and situations that no trip to the store is complete until you've replenished your supply.

I am talking, of course, about the super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant.

What you say? "Are you high? It's just deodorant!"

Right, and beer is JUST a sports drink.

Of course, it's important that you buy the right brand of no-name deodorant spray. If you buy a name you trust and recognize, chances are you will talk yourself out of using the product in some of the scenarios I will describe. Your best bet is to buy the supremo-monstro canister of the most generic house brand offered-- sheer mass of product is the key. You want a can that looks roughly the size of a 40-millimeter shell casing. Remember-- "quantity has a quality all its own." Plus, a ten pound canister of the no-name stuff will be about 30% cheaper than any recognizable brand name. As for scent, if you buy the real deal-- the no name black can that has "suitable for use on humans" somewhere on the label in tiny type-- your pickings are likely slim when it comes to fragrance, and I'm pretty sure that "regular scented" is what you will wind up with, but fret not, gentle shopper: close enough is good enough in this game. In fact, it's probably best to AVOID any particular pleasing scent, since there's no telling where you'll end up where or how you'll end up using this miracle product. Why, consider just these few actual uses from my own past:

"Shower In A Can®"
While in college I and my roommates discovered that a jumbo canister of underarm deodorant can be an absolute life-saver when you happen to hit that snooze button 16 or 17 too many times in the morning. Picture this scenario: you oversleep, get up and realize that you have only 4 minutes to dress and get to class before the finals start. You understand all too well that you smell like a wet musk ox after a night in a cigar bar but you also know that sometimes there's just no time for hygiene... UNLESS you have the super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy Shower In A Can, mist yourself from topnotch to toenail while grabbing a Pop-Tart from the cupboard, then sprint to class to ace that Biochem final and be one step closer to a fulfilling career in brain surgery.

"Room So Fresh®"
You come home after a hard day of Biochem Finals/sales presentations/margaritas by the pool and find a phone message from your parents alerting you that they're in town and stopping by to take you to dinner. You step into your dorm room/apartment/four-bedroom ranch style, realize that the place smells like a wet musk ox after a night in a cigar bar, and then notice the fact that your parents are due to arrive sometime in the next 90 seconds. You know that Dear Old Mom will come in sniffing and wincing, starting her standard finger-wagging lecture... UNLESS you have a super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy Room So Fresh spray, sprint through the room while spraying the can overhead, kicking all the dirty clothes and empty beer cans into the bedroom, then answer the doorbell with a big warm smile.

"Insta-Laundry®"
You get back from dinner with the parents at Red Lobster and find another message saying that "everybody" will be meeting and such and such bar that evening and that you really ought to tag along since SHE'S going to be there and this is finally maybe your Big Chance. You bound into the closet and painfully remember that you meant to do laundry that afternoon (you were distracted by cleaning the apartment for the parents, remember?), meaning your cleanest shirt is whichever one that doesn't have palm-sized chili stains, the one that still hints slightly of a wet musk ox after a night in a cigar bar, meaning you're doomed to another night of "Hitler's Secret Arsenal" on The History Channel... UNLESS you have a super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy Insta-Laundry spray, shake the Pringles from the pockets of the shirt and give it a quick spritz of manly scent, then head off to be completely ignored by the One True Woman Of Your Recent Dreams.

"Shoe-Nice®"
You stumble back home, broke and alone, heartbroken that SHE three times forgot your name, and you fall into bed, thinking for a moment that the place smells kinda fresh and sporty. You kick off your shoes, stumble to the bathroom for the nightly ablutions, then wander back to bed and suddenly realize that that earlier kinda fresh and sporty odor has been replaced with something that smells none too vaguely of a wet musk ox after a night in a cigar bar with a bag of corn ships served on the side. You realize that those two orders of Buffalo Wings in your tummy are not enjoying this odor, and both you and the wings will be bothered by the foul stench all night... UNLESS you have a super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy Shoe-Nice spray, hold your breath as you roll over to snatch the sweaty Nike's, dash to the back porch/patio/garage, fumigate those bad boys but good, then wander back to bed to have strange garlic-fueled dreams.

"Bug-B-Gone®"
The next morning you roll out of bed at the crack of 9:30 AM and pad quietly into the kitchen for a healthy breakfast featuring a trough full of Wheaties and a half can of Mountain Dew you forget to put back in the fridge, but when you open your pantry door, you are confronted by a half dozen little brown intruders milling about on the floor of your pantry. You realize that you really ought to start living a little better, possibly picking up after yourself and exhibiting maybe the tiniest twinge of pride in your wardrobe, hygiene, and housing, but you also know that those are really big projects and the project at hand is more immediate and pressing and will quite likely scurry away to the back reaches of the pantry where they will again be ignored and forgotten... UNLESS you have a super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy "Bug-B-Gone" off the corner of the counter (where you left it the night before while dealing with the corn chippy smell), let loose a fresh scented cloud of Insectoidal Death From On High with one hand while you reach in to retrieve the Wheaties box with the other, then wander off to consume a healthy sensible Breakfast of Champions while watching those BodyShaping chicks on ESPN2.

"Fung-O-Way®"
That afternoon you wake up and remember that you promised to meet The Guys for some basketball over at that elementary school with the outdoor hoops. You fumble around your closet looking for your court shoes for a half hour, remember that you still need to do laundry, then remember that your hoop shoes are on the porch/patio/workbench where you left them last week when you previously noticed that shoe smell (musk ox, cigar bar, corn chips, etc.), so you retrieve the shoes, find a pair of acceptably clean socks, and sit to put them on when you notice an itchy burning redness between your toes. You realize that this is what comes from living like a caveman, and again you start to promise that you are going to Change. Things must Improve. You cannot continue to live This Way. But Change is something one does in The Future, and here in The Now you have some Way Nasty Funk going on between your toes, and you don't feel entirely comfortable putting shoes and socks on those toes... UNLESS you have a super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy Fung-O-Way spray, hit the affected areas with a light almost-surely medicinal fog, immediately grab that pair of Chinese take-out chopsticks left on the counter and bite down upon them as if they are the rawhide strip in an Apache childbirth scene as rolling waves of silver-hot searing pain course up your leg and into the deepest crevices of your tiny wimpering mind, then slip on the socks and shoes and hobble off for a few hours of huffing and puffing around a dilapidated schoolyard.

"Thief-Stoppr®"
That evening, after going out for pizza and beer with the rest of your no-game bad-hooping buddies, you all pile back to your place to watch TV since "Fistful Of Dollars" is on AMC in widescreen. You stop by the 7-Eleven for beer and CornNuts, and as you unlock your front door you look up and see your neighbor wandering over to know if he can bum an extra six-pack off you since you did the same to him the weekend before when you were too drunk to buy more beer. "Uh, no," you explain with annoyance, entering your home and quickly locking the door behind you as your neighbor starts screaming at you, explaining how he'll get that beer, you just watch. Later, as you are grabbing a bag of Funyons from the kitchen during the opening credits, you hear the soft metallic scrape of a window sliding open and you look up to see your neighbor trying to crawl through the small window over the sink in the kitchen, reaching towards the six-pack on the counter and mumbling all the while how you owe him those beers dammit, and you realize that he quite likely will GET those beers dammit... UNLESS you have a super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant. Simply grab your handy-dandy Thief Stoppr from the kitchen table where you left it before basketball, aim suarely between the intruder's beady hate-filled eyes and let fly with a refreshing blast of Mountain Freshness, then rap his windowsill-gripping knuckles firmly yet gently before closing and locking that kitchen window, then grab the Funyons and beer and scurry back to the Media Room so as not to miss any of The Man With No Name.

The next morning, when you waken on the sofa to the sound of the still-playing television, you tear yourself away from The Three Stooges on "N.Y.U.K." on AMC and decide that today finally in that Dawn Of A New Day when you will finally get your act together and start living life like a productive adult human. You pick up all the clothes and pizza boxes and empty plastic six-pack ringy thingies, you change sheets on the bed, toss the old sheets into the dumpster, you load the dishwasher, and then you shower, shave, comb your hair in preparation for going to the store for a full battery of real cleaning supplies. You grab your handy-dandy super-jumbo aerosol can of store-brand underarm deodorant, take aim on the left armpit, and hear a brief quiet hiss which quickly fades to silence just as the sad reality of your situation starts to sink in.

Out of deodorant.

Note to self-- next time buy two super-jumbo aerosol cans of store-brand underarm deodorant.

= END =

16 June 2018

That time I almost killed myself.

[NOTE: this post first appeared as a Twitter thread originally posted on the morning of June 8, 2018, spurred by news of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. A great many people seemed totally surprised by the Bourdain suicide, as they all thought he seemed like he had so much *good* in his life that there was no way the darkness of suicide might ever darken his story. These people were, of course, tragically mistaken, and there was a great deal of discussion onoine by a great many folks, all reflecting on their own personal tales about suicidal depression and episodes. I decided it was finally time to come totally clean on my own long-refrigerated such tale of a close call with suicide.

It refers back to the Spring of 1982, my senior year in high school, and well... "things were not a good as they could have been." The specific detailss are not as important as the events and thoughts in response to those details, so that's what the tweetstorm dealt with: the way suicidal depression can come out of "nowhere" to threaten those whom many would never believe might be at risk.

In a surprise to me, that tweetstorm sorta exploded, with hundreds of thousands of impressions and hundreds of "likes" and several dozen comments and responses (public and private) -- via Twitter but also via email, and phone, and text, and at least one or two real-life convos with friends and family who'd never previously heard a whisper of this tale. Apparently, a great many people were interested (or perhaps just morbidly fascinated-- I do not claim to understand).

At any rate, I had a few people NOT on Twitter ask if I might repost the entire thread in a form/location where it could be seen and read in its entirety.

And so here it is, reposted in one document, with each tweet in that thread now living as a paragraph in the large combined essay.

I don't post this (again) because I want or need attention for any of this, but rather because it feels important to get these kinds of stories out so that others might better understand just how common and easily camoflaged these typs of experiences are. As with Bourdain's suicide, people seemed surprised by my tale. Unlike Bourdain, I survived to share the tale (albeit many decades later). I was stupidly lucky that I pulled off at the last moment and didn't end my life. Others are too often denied that same stupid good luck.

I guess what I am saying -- what I was hoping to convey -- is simply "this shit is real. It is common. It happens to people all around you all the time. Be aware, and stand ready to be the kind of friend who might literally save a friend's life just by being there, by listening, by reminding someone that it's never as totally black as it might seem in any lonely moment."

I hope that makes sense. If not, as always, your full purchase price will be refunded.





"11:52 AM - 8 Jun 2018

Apologies in advance for a long humor-free thread:

When I was 17, I came within a devil’s breath of taking the final leap (literally) in a suicide attempt. I was in a dark lonely moment, and I just wanted that pain and terror to end— more than anything I could think or describe.

I’d not planned it or plotted it nor can I recall ever even contemplating such a thing before. But there came a night when everything swirled into a perfect storm of self-destructive terror, and some still-rational part of my brain plotted a possible exit strategy:

“We’ll dive headfirst from the huge stadium onto the pavement below. We’ll need to make sure to hit headfirst, of course.”

So I climbed the local HS stadium, clambered over the safety fence on the top back wall, leaned out and was holding on by one hand, staring at the pavement below, trying to gauge how much to lean to assure headfirst impact 75 feet below.

And that’s when a breeze of clarity drifted thru my head, and a small voice somewhere inside quietly screamed out “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” And then there was utter silence, and then horrible realization of my predicament.

I probably came closer to falling at that precise moment than at any other, as I almost slipped in my mad scramble to regain tight grip and get back over into the right side of the fence. Which I managed.

And then I slumped down and vomited all over my feet. And I cried for more than a little bit. And then I wandered home, and managed to wash my clothes without being noticed, and never mentioned this episode to anyone for very many years.

I NEVER TOLD ANYONE. Nobody who knew me then ever had any clue about any of this.

I never again had any similar episode, but neither have I ever forgotten how that moment felt: a total loss of rational perspective, replaced by an almost drunken logic where the clearly worst idea seems the clearly best idea. I just wanted the fear to be gone.

I’ve gone thru counseling at least twice in the 35 years since— talked about this in one series of sessions, didn’t in another series. I don’t live in constant terror of a relapse— that was a lifetime ago. A totally different person. A different movie.

But neither do I totally turn my back on the inescapable fact that that... thing— that beast— lurks somewhere deep in my brain, ready to whisper the worst advice at the worst time if I ever allow myself to tune out all other voices. Which is not exactly comforting.

The point to this overlong tale is simply this: you never really know what pain someone else was fighting against for their very lives. IS fighting against. What rationally bizarre and extreme action that struggle might drive them to. Drive YOU to.

These tornados of the soul can swirl up with little or no warning, and leave you with little safe shelter, and lay utter waste to every aspect of your existence. Or they can (as in my case) vanish just as quickly as they appeared, leaving you a shuddering sobbing wreck.

So be careful before you make very many grand pronouncements about suicide and depression. Unless you’ve actually been there and lived through it, you don’t know. You just don’t.

And If you’re very very lucky, you never will. Trust me."

[end]

04 February 2017

a bag of crap, a jug of coffee, and thou

It’s Super Bowl weekend, which means it’s also time for the Cub Scouts and their “Super Bowl of Giving,” an annual food collection program benefitting local food banks and charities. To participate, you simply leave some canned goods or non-perishables in a bag hanging from your front doorknob (or on your porch) and Cub Scouts in your neighborhood walk thru to collect the bags and deliver to the aforementioned charities.

Great program: simple, easy to understand, easy for the young Scouts to handle. All good.

I am well past the point where any of my sons are Cub Scout aged, so I no longer have occasion to be reminded of it until I see the uniformed little collectors scurrying around, thrilled at each new donation they pick up.

So I am awake this Saturday, doing my usual “curse tehg gods for my existence as I wait for the coffeemaker to hurry up dammit” routine, and our dogs go nuts: barking, leaping against front door, howling. I glance around corner to see if perhaps someone is there, or if there was a delivery, or if maybe the neighbors are out with their Shih-tzu which to my dogs looks like a walking McNugget.

Nothing. “Stupid dumb dogs,” think, and return to the aforementioned cursing and waiting.

A few seconds later, the dogs AGAIN go nuts, this time even louder. Again I glance, and this time I see a tiny little Cub Scout — Cindy Lou Who Scout — leave something on my porch and then scuttle away quickly. Again I yell at dogs to shut up, I pour my coffee, and I step out to see what is going on. I see the Scout — along with his mom and two other Cubs and a wagon loaded with bags of donations — rounding the corner to leave our cul-de-sac.

“Oh yeah…” I mumble. “Super Bowl of Giving. Cool.”

I glance down and there’s a small white Target bag tied closed, with what looks like a large handful of gravel inside.

“Wow— good thinking!” I think. “They provide donation bags, and weigh them down so they don’t just blow around and create an ugly litter situation!” So I pick up my “donation bag” and come inside to see what canned goods I can part with. I open the bag to dump out the gravel, and that’s when I suddenly reassemble these details into a whole different mental LEGO construction.

This is not a donation bag.

This is a bag of cat shit.

Which The Wife collected from our two litter boxes. And tied closed. And dropped outside on our front porch for me to put into the trash whenever I first went outside.

Which was sitting there on the my front porch. On the Super Bowl of Giving.

When a happy little Scout saw “another donation.”

“OH MY GOD…” I shout and sprint back to my door. I bolt outside, scream ‘WAIT! NO! IT WAS A MISTAKE!”

But I see now Cubs. I rush back and grab my keys and hop into the van: I HAVE to find that Cub Scout and explain. And apologize. Beg forgiveness. “IT’S ALL A HUGE FUNNY MISUNDERSTANDING!” I am pre-explaining to myself aloud in the car. ‘WE’RE NOT THAT KIND OF SICK TWISTED SICKO! REALLY!”

(Well, we might be, but the fact remains that we did NOT intentionally leave a bag of cat crap for a Cub Scout donation. That’s beyond even my childish evility, at least on the SUper Bowl fo Giving. This early. Without my coffee yet, which is still back in my kitchen next to an open bag of cat droppings in my kitchen.)

I circle thru our neighborhood twice, but I never see those Scouts. Chances are, I’ll never see them again. In my mind, I can hear that poor Cub Scout’s Mom: “Jimmy— don’t you EVER EVER go back to that AWFUL neighborhood ever again! DO YOU HEAR ME!?!”

I can hear her reporting this obscene sick demented behavior at the next Pack Meeting: “Sweet mother of god! WHAT KIND OF BASTARD DOES THAT?”

I can see the Dad consoling his son: “Jimmy, there are some bad people in the world. And one fine day we shall hunt them down and use them for dingo fodder.”

In my mind, the imagined conversations are always excellent.

I pull back into my driveway, literally on the verge of tears. Tears of shame, embarrassment, and pity. And as I am sitting there, my phone pings: next text message from The Wife:

left bag of litter on the porch. remember to put in trash. thx


And so it goes.


28 June 2016

A Cunning Plan

"stupid problems require stupid solutions"

[Note: this essay was originally posted to the now/rightly-defunct Epinions.com site as "satire," but in the aftermath of the recent #Brexit vote by the UK to leave the EU... perhaps it's an idea whose time has now come. Perhaps England itself might suffice for some part of this plan. Ahem. --BN]





A Cunning Plan

The problem is obvious: there are too many stupid damned idjuts running loose, stirring up trouble for the smart people like me (and, to a lesser extent, like you). Now, it's easy enough for me to ignore occasional encounters with rampant moronity, but in these dark and troubled times it seems as though a smart man such as myself can hardly go ten or fifteen feet without having to pause to let some wingnut shuffle across my path.

 The problem seems worse online. Here on Epinions, for example, one can hardly utter three words before some slobbering buffoon blunders up to start flapping their Cheeto-stained lips in your face, blathering on about what they think and what they like and what their opinion on such and such is and blah blah blah and I think we've all seen and heard just about enough of this, right?

So I have a plan.

Once upon a year gone by George Carlin took time away from his cocaine dependency to suggest that maybe it might be a good idea to round up all the stupid people and dump them into one of the western states in the US-- one of the big boxy-shaped ones, like Utah or Wyoming or New Mexico-- so that the rest of us might live in peace and tranquility. Many people laughed at this suggestion from Carlin, due in no small part to the fact that he offered this suggestion as part of a comedy routine, plus I'm pretty sure that the aforementioned cocaine dependency did little to build a reputation as a man recognized for cogent thinking.

But just as Da Vinci envisioned the helicopter long before anyone really understand how to make one, Carlin's coke-fueled fantastic dream well have been simply a glimpse into the future, for today I am here to tell you that I know how to make that dream real.

Carlin's plan would never have worked if put into actual use, since there's simply no way that any state's population (or its congressional representatives) would have allowed their state to be used as a National Dillhole Dumping Ground. At this stage of the planning, Carlin likely threw up his hands in frustration and decided to have a few more lines of blow, but as I am not burdened with such chemical distractions, I have had time to work through the problems, and I'm here to tell you that there is a place in the far West where such a plan could work without significant popular or political opposition.

Guam.

Guam is perfect for my plan. Just consider the many advantages of Guam for such a plan:

• Guam is U.S.-controlled territory, meaning we won't have to deal with any tiresome immigration issues when we start shipping off the morons, but as a mere protectorate (or territory, or whatever it is... we can look that up later) Guam cannot claim the same rights as might a full-blown state. If we buried Oregon under four feet of mewling dipshit, there would be legal challenges and all sorts of problems, but with Guam... I mean, come on: it's GUAM.

• Guam has no significant military might of its own. If we try shoving our morons down the throats of any other country, no matter how normally pacifist and peaceful they might seem right now, once we start pumping our genetic sewage their way, I think we could expect see serious trouble. I suspect that even Switzerland or, hell, CANADA even would nuke up and go postal if they saw a long bus convoy of American morons coming over the hill, suitcases and change of address cards in hand.

• Guam is a long way away, separated from us back here in the U.S. by a few thousand miles of shark-infested ocean just perfect to alleviate any safety or security concerns of lily-livered folks back here who might otherwise worry about some sort of ugly resentful backlash if the (ahem) "parties to be relocated" were ever to find their way back to the mainland again.

• Guam is a fairly large island, allowing for large numbers of morons to be moved there, BUT-- and this is a strong selling point-- Guam is NOT so large that it might offer sufficient agricultural resources to allow the new moron population to expand even more. We neither want nor need a repeat of that unfortunate bunnyrabbits-into-Australia fiasco, so the limited acreage and rocky terrain of Guam will serve as useful "limiting reagents" to the growth of the moron population.

Now obviously there are some difficulties to overcome, but that is to be expected with any grand visionary plan such as this. For example, some of the native Guamanians (Guamites? Guamagranates? Someone Google this up for me, please...) will likely grouse and complain about this plan, unhappy that "their" island was chosen to become "Idjut Country" and possibly even reluctant to vacate the premises, but I expect that we can win them over through a combination of slick advertising and thuggish intimidation. Also, let's not lose sight of the fact that "we" (well, "I") back here on the mainland have done the bulk of the planning and organizing, while THEY on their happy little island have done very little to help, so perhaps we could simply play upon their feelings of guilt and tell them it's their turn to kick in.

Also, we need to help the native Guamanders (Guamicans? Guamese? We really need to get this nailed down before we roll out the hard-sell ad campaign...) get past the initial shock and realize that the wheels of progress can't be slowed just for their own petty selfish concerns. We're up to our eyeballs in morons here in the U.S., while there in the middle of nowhere sits a perfectly useful island that could house millions of morons, and it's time to get everyone on board. We need the space, dammit, so sacrifices have to be made, and I think we all agree that it's a far better thing that these sacrifices be made by folks other than us.

Any lingering reluctance from the natives (I really could use that name, people...) could be washed away just by running a nature documentary about Christmas Island. Twice a year that tiny South Pacific island is literally overrun by tens of millions of ant-sized red crabs as they migrate across the island for their mating and spawning. If you've ever seen it, you'll never forget it-- a seething crawling red carpet of walking micro-seafood. We'll show that to the Guamish (Guamolians? Guamozzles? This is starting to become embarrassing, folks...) and then tell them "now just imagine this same situation on YOUR island, except replace those teeny little crabs with Chuck Norris fans, K-car purchasers, and Ross Perot supporters. Are you SURE you wanna hang around?"

Guam would be vacant by lunchtime.

Remember-- future generations will judge us by what we do today. If we leave our children and our children's children to inherit an America littered with great blundering herds of slobbering doddering morons, what kind of parents are we? What kind of people are we? We need to make the tough decision today to ensure that the future is a little less dim for everyone.

Except those poor Guamicaneans. Er, Guamalusions. Guami... (sigh)

Dammit.

14 December 2012

Now seems a good time to shut up

I sit here on a gray blustery Friday, trying to prepare for a Boy Scout camping trip this weekend, but my thoughts instead turn to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

An armed man entered the school just an hour or so ago, and for no reason yet known, opened fire. On a school full of innocent kids and teachers.

Right now, reports indicate upwards of 30 people killed, including at least 18 children.

Twitter and Facebook of course are already seeing the usual major camps draw into familiar circles: the conservatives calling for prayers and bemoaning the sad state of our national character vs the liberals working up some outrage over the issue of gun control, and all I can think of is "SHUT UP -- ALL OF YOU!"

We have people down. Kids. Teachers. Parents. Bleeding and wounded and dying and dead. We have parents of 400 kids terrified beyond belief that their children were in this slice of Hell this morning, and then forced to pray the horrible yet understandable "please let the dead include someone else's family and not mine."

THAT'S where our thoughts and concerns should be at this moment, not on your -- OUR -- silly damned opinions and politics and morality. Later there will be time enough (and seems like there always is, even when there isn't) to argue and bicker and belabor the "why" and "how" and "what went wrong," but right now to try and use a still-unfolding tragedy as support for some pet belief or cause just seems… staggering gallingly offensively arrogant and self-centered.

Right now it's not about you, or me. It's about us: we have people in harm's way and hurting badly.

If you can't physically help that situation, then have the grace and good manners to stay the hell out of the way and not demand attention for yourself. We'll all then listen to your idiot mewling and lecturing just as soon as our people get loaded into ambulances, OK?

Promise.

04 December 2012

sucking the thumbs on their feet

So Bank of America credited our mortgage acct with a refund of incorrectly applied fees. They didn't tell me this -- they merely changed the amount due on my mortgage statement this month without explanation or remark. When I called to ask "yo- whassup?" I was bounced through three different offices -- having to re-verify all my acct info and ID every time -- before I was finally told by someone in the Research Office that the refund was for (drumroll...) "fees."

"What fees, assessed when?"

"We don't have that information."

"But you are the ones who charged them."

"Yes. That is correct."

"And you don't know why they were refunded."

"That is correct."

"And you work in the Research Office?"

"Yessir."

"Is your office currently hiring?"

"No, sir. Why do you ask?"

"Seems like a cush job -- get paid to know and do nothing useful."

"Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"'Else'? That kinda sorta implies that you helped on some previous or different matter, now don't it?"


. . .

So today I go to make the monthly mortgage payment, and the refunded fees no longer appear. So I call to ask "yo, whassup?"

Again, bouncing through multiple offices and departments to wind up with someone who says (drumroll...) "we returned them."

"Returned them where?"

"Uh, wherever they came from."

"Which was...?"

"Well, I'm not sure."

"Did you tie them to a balloon and release it out a window?"

"No, sir. Let me check."


[on hold for 4 minutes]

"Hello, sir? We returned them to you."

"To me? Ah. And how did you return them?"

"I don't understand, sir."

"I believe that. I mean 'by what mechanism were the funds returned' -- were they deposited or was a check issued or was a credit made to my balance?"

"Oh... we mailed them."

"Why didn't you just credit my account?"

"Which account, sir?"

"My mortgage account balance due, since that's where it was last time I called."

"Yes, sir, but last Thursday a check was issued."

"And where is this check?"

"You've not received the check, sir?


[deep sigh]

"YES. This has all just been a test. I received the check that I didn't know about for the fees that nobody can explain and I have that check in my hand and that's why I decided to call and waste twenty minutes with you trying to figure out where the money in my hand now exists. (sigh) Is there someone else I can talk to -- someone with some abilities in banking or at least verbal communication?"

"I'm trying to help you, sir."

"And failing. Badly. When was the check mailed, and to what address?"

"Last Thursday, and it was mailed to your home."

"Can you please confirm that address?"

"You need your home address, sir?"

"No -- I know my address. I'm trying to confirm that *you* rocket scientists have it."

"Well... OK."


He confirms that they did in fact mail it to the correct address.

"So why didn't you give me the option of just having the fees deposited into my checking account?"

"We don't know your account details, sir."

"Yes, you do. You send me monthly statements for my mortgage, my line of credit, my checking, and my savings accounts. I'm pretty sure you guys save copies of that info since it's all IN YOUR BANK."

"Well how are we supposed to know that, sir?"

"HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHO YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE? Is that what you are asking me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Would it be easier for you guys to keep track of who your FORMER customers are? I'm starting to get the distinct sense that you guys aren't really keen on the whole 'banking' thing."


[pregnant pause] How else can, er, do you have any more questions, sir?"

"Quite a few, but none that I expect will be answered in this call. I'll just go wait for my check in the mail returning fees from my account assessed for no known reason at no known date by departments unknown within your bank and now refunded for no know reason."

"Very well, sir."

"Oh-- wait. Actually, I *do* have one more question: if and when I receive this mystery check, I'll need to deposit it, and I'm wondering if there will be the traditional hold on that money."

"It will be a standard check subject to all standard treatment and policies."

"So Bank of America is mailing a Bank of America check to a Bank of America customer who will then deposit that Bank of America check into a Bank of America account which will then have those funds on hold for a few days as Bank of America waits to see if Bank of America has funds to cover their own check?"


[pregnant pause] "Yes."

"Excellent. Thank you so much, and good luck."

"Good luck with what, sir?"

"Avoiding accidental self-injury with a spoon. Good bye."


[click]

(sigh)

And so it goes.



people person B

20 July 2012

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

I was one of those kids.

The kind from the 60s where rockets and spaceships and astronauts were the coolest thing imaginable. Where every trip to the local Gulf gas station meant an opportunity to claim yet one more NASA-themed collectible: some toy rocket, or pamphlet on spaceflight, or poster about the moon. I drank Tang, because that's what we were going to drink when we traveled to the Moon and Mars and beyond. I had a plush toy Snoopy doll in a NASA suit, complete with oxygen umbilical and "Snoopy" flight cap. I could at a glance tell you the specific differences between all the rockets in the US inventory. I dazzled at the wild artist conceptions of the mighty von Braun-esque winged spaceships depicted in our old encyclopedias.

And on July 20, 1969, I sat there in slack-jawed amazement as every fantastic imagination became a little less fantastic and suddenly a lot more possible as we, the people of Earth, watched one of our own step out for the first time onto the surface of another world.


To kids today, it's difficult to fully explain the monumental sea-change that event represented. We've walked on another world.

Never again could our species say "this planet is the limit of our reach." Never again would a child be born into a world where men had not traveled through the deathly empty black of space to leave prints on the face of that white disk smiling down at us from the night sky since our first ancestors looked up.

From now on, the sky is no longer the limit. From now on, there are no limits.

–––––

Somehow, in the intervening decades, we've lost that feeling. Instead of a world where we might achieve any goal if we set our collective will to it, we bemoan all those things we accept as somehow beyond our control.

The planet is warming. The oceans are dying. Our institutions are failing. Our leaders are corrupt, our favorite foods are killing us, pointless wars and fighting seem to be escalating wherever we look.

And still the Moon smiles down at us, amused at our petty worries and distractions.

Remember me? You used to find me so amazing -- so tantalizing. Now... you stare at your feet and mumble about how far you've sunk.

I liked looking up and wondering what miracles I might see in my future. I liked it a lot. And I miss that feeling.

And so, to the men and women of the Apollo program, on the occasion of the anniversary of quite possibly the Coolest Moment Man Has Yet Managed, a geeky red-headed kid from the 60s again says "thank you."