Saturday, December 26, 2009

Can you play Chopsticks with a knife and fork?

That's what 24 hours of rain does to 24 inches of snow. Compare and contrast. Nature is goofy. She's ruined the last 2 weekends - one with snow and one with rain. That leaves locusts and famine. Wake me when it's over.

I had an nice dinner at the local Chinese buffet on Christmas. A woman at the next table asked for chopsticks. I'm fascinated by the people who ask for chopsticks. The restaurant has plenty of forks and knives (and they're courteous enough to place them on your table) but they insist on wooden sticks. I think they're showing off for their friends, since I can't think of a practical answer as to why an American would choose to eat with two sticks instead of a utensil with stabbing capabilities and another that cuts.
I'm also a little puzzled by the food. They offer pizza and French fries as part of the buffet. Who goes to a Chinese restaurant and eats pizza? Maybe Chinese people? Besides, the pizza isn't very good. It's probably as good as Chinese food would be at Pizza Hut.
I'd guess that, if I went to China I wouldn't be served the same stuff that the Chinese restaurants serve here. I think it's gooped-up with sweet sauces and spices to make it palatable for us Americans.
I wonder too, why the shape of the chicken dishes always looks different. The chicken for the sweet and sour chicken is long and narrow, while the General's chicken is kind of round and lumpy and the chicken and broccoli chicken is flat. Is it all chicken?
The place I went to was charging dinner prices all day, and made the announcement as I walked in. They also wished me a "Merry Christmas," which I found odd. Charging dinner prices all day struck me as taking advantage of the limited choices available, as though I had options. What was I going to do, walk out? I got even by over-eating. That'll teach them! What should I have said? "I refuse to pay $12 for a meal that should cost $9." They know it's not going to happen, since my other Christmas dining choices included Dunkin' Donuts and Wawa.
Neither of those places has very good Wonton soup.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's almost over.

Charlie Brown: [Charlie Brown and Linus stop at a wall on their trip to the pond for ice skating]
I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus.
Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel.
How are we supposed to feel? I had the TV news on tonight. On Christmas Eve, it's always the same 3 stories:
1) Christmas Eve mass at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul,
2) NORAD supposedly following "Jolly Ole' Saint Nick" on his trek around the world and,
3) Last-minute holiday shoppers being kicked out of local malls because it's 6 o'clock and they should have thought about this stuff a month ago.
The same old, same old. The other underlying theme of the local news is that "Christians everywhere are celebrating Christmas" as though Christians are the only people decorating trees and exchanging gifts on Friday. That's a load of crap. Mostly because to the media, the group of "Christians" represents anyone who doesn't fall into the Jew, Muslim or "other" category on the form they fill out somewhere. But to those of us with brains, "Christians" celebrate the Pagan holiday of Christmas because of either religious or societal peer pressure. They feel the need to give something in order to either get something or not feel guilty about getting something. It's the world's biggest pyramid scheme. And you know that heathens around the country will be tearing open gifts on Friday morning regardless of their religious upbringing.
Every year it's the same thing, and I imagine news directors at TV stations around the country penciling-in the standard reporter-based crap:
REPORTER: I'm standing outside [name the] mall and I've been talking to shoppers all day asking them why they've braved the crowds to do their last-minute shopping.
SHOPPER: I just have a few things to pick up, so I set the alarm clock for 4:00am and got out early today. Now, I'm done.
SHOPPER2: We just have a few more gifts to pick up, and we've been so busy that we figured that today was our last chance. (Nice thinking, since it's Christmas Eve and all)
SHOPPER3: I'm just looking for the perfect gift for my wife. (What a lucky girl!)
REPORTER: So, if you're coming to [name the] mall, you have 35 minutes to get here and find that last-minute gift before they close the doors and make you stay when your sorry-ass will be locked in until Saturday. Now, it's back to the newsroom where we're following the journey of Santa and his reindeer on their logistically impossible job of delivering toys to people around the world. Where is he now, Jim?
JIM: Our NORAD trackers have him in Pakistan right now, which oddly enough, is a Muslim country, so we figure he'll make quick work of them and get onto the business of delivering toys to those Christian boys and girls in places where they speak English and worship gods with less than 6 arms.
'Tis the season. Meanwhile, it's the same old crap every year. This year I did the best I could to distance myself from the odd tradition of gift exchange. I look around and wonder what it is we're doing and I can't figure out an answer other than peer pressure and guilt.
My boss gave me a beach towel, and I can't tell you the last time I went to the beach. The supervisor of my department gave me a $25 gift card for the Longhorn Steakhouse. I went to their web site and found that the nearest location would cost me about ten dollars to get to, so I figure the gift card would be a break-even. I suppose I'll find a homeless person in Philly to give it to. That should shake things up at the Columbus Avenue location!
It's a strange thing, the gift exchange. Children feel entitled and adults feel obligated. I'd like to think that we can randomly give things to people without the attention of a holiday, but the country is under the control of advertising and retail, so that's my nirvana I suppose.
It puts a lot of social pressure on people and they pretend to enjoy it, but I think if we decided to cancel Christmas, large numbers of people would breathe easier, lead less stressful lives and live without the ensuing debt that the holidays bring to some.
I suppose my viewpoint is slanted because Christmas is for kids and couples, and my world contains neither. But the problem is that if I choose to ignore the day (and I have) it is difficult if not impossible to ignore the social ramifications of the day.
Maybe if I were Jewish or a Hindu? Or happy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

They are out of ideas.

HARRISBURG, PA - Gov. Rendell yesterday upped the ante in his bid to balance the state budget, saying that without a table-games bill he would have to close the State Museum of Pennsylvania and some state parks in addition to laying off at least 1,000 more government employees.
Rendell last week said layoffs of 1,000 more state workers were "imminent" if no gambling bill was on his desk by January 8.
The bill - the final unresolved part of the state budget the governor signed in October after a 101-day impasse - would bring in $250 million in license fees and taxes that Rendell said is necessary to keep the government running.
When government runs out of ways to find revenue they invariably turn to gambling. Something that was so abhorrent when times were good now suddenly becomes a panacea. Strange how desperation works, eh?
So now the governor has held the threat of closing valuable state resources over the heads of the citizens if he doesn't get his gambling money. Interestingly, he probably has no use for either the state parks or the State Museum, so it's no skin off his nose. The people affected will be school-aged children and people who like to hang out outdoors for free, and I suspect he figures that groups interested in keeping those places open will pressure their state legislators to cave in to the governor's strong-arm tactics and pass a bill that they would otherwise oppose.
Something is either a good idea or a bad idea, and no amount of monetary gain will make it necessary, unless of course the government uses it as a pawn in their quest for money. That's why I figure the next two public sources of funds will be drugs and prostitution.
States that have already instituted lotteries, casino gambling or high taxes (New Jersey) have apparently run out of ideas for ways to raise funds. God forbid they cut their own salaries or some other state-funded perc they've become accustomed to. They have reached a limit in leaning on the populace for tax money, so one would figure the last resort would be something they wouldn't otherwise approve - legalized marijuana or legalized prostitution.
After all, Nevada has dealt with prostitution for decades, and along with their gambling mecca, they seem to be doing quite well for themselves. Once the casinos are up and running and the state is still in an economic shortfall (inevitable) the next previously social stigma to bring in funds will suddenly become acceptable to the legislators who would have opposed it in better economic times.
I can only hope that when it happens I am young enough to enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tis the season.

The snow is as high as an elephant's eye. Well, maybe. I've never really seen how high and elephant's eye is, so the hyperbole will have to do. Actually, it's about two feet, which is barely higher than my cat's eye.
As times of the year go, I hate this one. The days are short, and in order to get anywhere, one needs to add 25% to whatever time frame one thought would suffice. That's because hoards of shoppers are clogging the roads fetching their nearly last-minute gift items from the local shopping malls. Our fragile infrastructure wasn't made for this nonsense.
Tonight, for instance. The little town of Deptford was chock full of Urban Assault Vehicles (generally with one person inside) making a bee-line for the mall. My usual 40-minute ride home took more like an hour, partly because of the traffic and partly because I forgot what day it was. The snow-induced lost weekend manifested itself in a big rush to the stores on Monday night, lest little Timmy or his siblings be left without the latest Wii game or some piece of crap that will be tossed aside 3 days before the warranty runs out.
Have I mentioned how much I hate this time of year?
My theory on all this is that it's the one time of year when everybody - regardless of skill - has to be out in public. That means men wandering aimlessly in the mall, driving around not knowing where they're going and kids who would be better suited in front of the TV or surfing Internet porn, but are instead out causing trouble with their car or their lack of focus, making life difficult for those of us either trying to get home or out buying a roll of toilet paper.
This year, for the first time ever, I have not set foot in a shopping center, mall or other form of retail commerce since Thanksgiving. It's been personally satisfying, if not stress-relieving.
Life gets back to nearly normal on December 26, and I for one, can't wait. Now, all we have to do is get rid of this damned snow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I used to like snow.

Once I started driving my love affair with snow ended. It's nice to look at and it used to be fun to play in, but when it becomes work, that's where I stop enjoying it. Add to it the fact that it screwed with an entire weekend and it's on my short list of things I could do nicely without.
It took over an hour to dig my car out of it's snow tomb this morning, after nearly 2 feet of snow (23.4 inches officially) fell Saturday and Saturday night. The silent killer.
The good thing about condo living is that the sidewalks were cleaned early by a team of shovelers and snow blowers. They were out at 4:00am waking the neighbors and cleaning our stairways. The downside is that we don't have a garage, so the plow runs through the parking area and builds a nice wall of snow around us.
It's kind of powdery and light, but there's still 2 feet of it, so the weight isn't much consolation. I dug a path wide enough to get my car out and parked it in one of the cleared-out vacant spaces. I'm hoping that they come through with another plow tomorrow while we're at work. The hardest part will be figuring out where to put it all.