Friday, December 30, 2011

One step forward, two steps back.

Try as they might to get people to stop using their cell phones while they're driving, our legislators are fighting a losing battle against the automobile manufacturers.

This is the dashboard of the 2012 Hyundai Veloster.  It features something called blueLink, which synchronizes your smartphone to the car to allow you to navigate and communicate with your fellow drivers as you speed along the highway.

Every day, states are sponsoring legislation to make it illegal to keep drivers from texting while driving and some are outlawing using the devices at all.  Some have said that it is hazardous to use hands-free devices as well.

While lawmakers claim to be looking out for our greater good, it is the duty of the auto makers to provide people with what they want.  Apparently, what they want is a cell phone in their car.

Perhaps our government needs to switch its focus from the driver to the manufacturer?  Why outlaw the use of cell phones when we are buying automobiles that encourage it?  How many accidents will have to be caused because the driver was using his blueLink to find a local pizza place before we stop this nonsense?  Motorists have no respect for the laws and it seems that the companies that they are buying their cars from feel the same.

It started with cup holders and has now evolved to this.  What's next?  Television on the steering wheel?  Why not?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Putting us in our place.

The "social media" thing has been quite interesting.  As a migrant from being "pen pals" and actually speaking on the phone to someone, I have watched this revolution in personal communications and marvelled at the relationship between being personal and impersonal simultaneously.

The most interesting (debatable) part of it is the relationship that us commoners have with the so-called celebrities.  In the Twitter language, we are "followers."  On Facebook we are "friends."  I think that's what separates Twitter from Facebook.  On Twitter you are either followed or a follower.  On Facebook, there is a friend relationship that at least places the participants on a somewhat equal footing - even though one or the other might know it isn't so.

Take, for instance, a recent Tweet (a strange sequence, to be sure) from my "friend" Paula Creamer, in which she discloses her "Christmas present to myself" in Twitpic form (right).  It's a Porsche, of some sort.  To most of us, saying that we had given ourselves a Christmas present, we might be referring to a high-end kitchen appliance or a musical instrument.  To those on the "followed" end of the Twitter landscape, a Christmas present to themselves is a $50,000 automobile.  To most of their followers, that represents a year's salary (before taxes).

Not that we begrudge them this "gift," but the question it raises is the difference between the haves and the have-not's.  We have always known there is a difference, but now that we have this social media, it is on display for us to acknowledge.  The "Politeness Man" among us would say, "Hey, good for you!" but the regular person that is buried deeper would say, "What the fuck?  This is what you do with your money?"  Well, of course it is.  If you earned $17 million a year, you wouldn't spend it on a Ford Festiva.

So, I wondered (quietly to myself) is it better or worse that we know that we are so separated from them?  I suppose we've always known that movie stars, musicians and celebrities live a different lifestyle than the rest of us.  What we didn't have was graphic evidence and the immediacy of the Internet to show us exactly how much different they are from us.

After all, would you rather not know about Tim Tebow's religious convictions or would you just as soon watch him as quarterback of the Denver Broncos?  Recent news would say you'd rather not know all the extraneous junk.

I suppose there are some of Paula's followers who would look at this photo and not think twice about it.  I'm the type of person who looks around at those in line behind me and wonders, "What do they think?" and holds the door for people behind me because I don't want a stranger to question my ethics.  It doesn't make me better, it just gives me what we used to call on the softball field "rabbit ears."

I'm the type who thinks twice about everything.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Where are you going to put all that crap?

Over the weekend, I saw a lot of photos of wrapped stuff under trees (both real and artificial -  trees, not gifts) and wondered about the wretched excess that this holiday has become.  Rather than find that one thing that you think might make the holiday special, you have chosen to over-compensate and grab a bunch of stuff in the hopes that something will hit the target.

We buy people one birthday gift, yet we splurge on Christmas with tons of crap.  Explain.
Perhaps it reeks of sour grapes from my end, since my holiday contained neither tree nor wrapped stuff.  Nevertheless, it seems as though we (you) spend a lot of money on things that people either do not need nor want, and that is disconcerting.
The latest story from the Internet says that this holiday season might set a record for gift returns, costing retailers almost $47 billion.  One of the reasons they cite is that consumers decided that they didn't want to spend as much as they did.  That tells me that, out of obligation, they purchased things that they knew they couldn't pay for or afford, yet did so anyway.  After coming to their senses, the gifts were returned and some bogus reason was conjured.  That's sad.

Some retailers are tightening their return policies in advance of the post-Christmas rush. points out that Target, which used to allow 90 days for customers to return certain big-ticket items, now will only accept returns for 45 days after purchase. Toys-R-Us stores won't take back electronics if the packages have been opened. Both Target and Wal-Mart now only offer limited returns if you don't have a gift receipt. J.C. Penney, Macy's and Express require that "special-occasion" dresses be returned with the original tag still attached, in order to deter one-time wearing, and now has not one, but 30, different product-specific return policies.

They're onto you.  I'd guess that today and Tuesday, stores will be mobbed, not with shoppers, but ungrateful gift recipients who are returning things that they don't want.

One of the lasting memories from the days when I used to partake is the din of wrapping paper being dispensed as boxes were opened and things displayed.  In true "Seinfeld" tradition, the unwanted gifts were met with the exclamation of the name of the gift:  "Oh -- socks!"  In the pile they go.

Twenty-seven percent of people returning electronics admit that they wished they hadn't bought them in the first place. Just 5 percent of the people who wanted their money back said that the gadget didn't work -- but, after testing, two-thirds of those supposedly defective items were found to have been just fine after all.

It's a strange custom that you humans have.  You work yourself into a mad tizzy for a month agonizing over what to get for that "special someone" or that someone who isn't very special that you feel obligated to buy something for because "they always get me something."  I have made a giant leap this year in avoiding the holiday altogether, and I have been able to embrace my ignorance.  I don't have to do what society finds acceptable and I don't have to wear myself thin worrying about what other people think of what I think.

I don't understand you people.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Share a cigarette with negativity...

I know, at the age of 54 that the best half of my life is gone.  It's a simple mathematical work.  I could give you great odds that I'm not going to last 105 years, and I can also safely assume that the last 25 or so of my years will be spent in some hunched-over, problematic knee pain, hard-of-hearing-lost-sight-body-fat-gaining sustenance.  It's difficult to imagine now, but unless I'm some Jack LaLanne clone I don't see it ending any differently.

I have to look back, at this point, and assess the events of the past and reflect - both negatively and positively - on their impact. This isn't some New Year's resolution-type thing, just random junk ...

My gym is filled with 50-something year-old guys with tattoos and unsightly body hair.  It's what makes me wonder what guys find appealing in other guys.  I find nothing appealing about hairy asses and paunches - but reasonable men may differ.

So there's that.  And I'm left to wonder about my future.  I find 30 year-old women appealing, but the appeal is not reciprocal.  I'm working hard, trying to stay in shape, but the 50s are creeping in.  I think 30-something's find 20-something's appealing, and therein lies the conflict.

I'm not sure we'll ever match up sexually.  It's sad really.  There isn't a lot of appeal in us old guys.  We don't get any random "Hey, nice shirt" comments from girls anymore.  I started shaving my head in the mid-1990s, when it wasn't fashionable [self back-pat] and I used to get a lot of requests from beautiful young women to touch it, as though I was some sort of bald Buddah that they had to touch, or else their lives would be meaningless.  I obliged.

Now, every jackass is shaving and it isn't such a big deal anymore.  What really offends me is when I see guys with otherwise full heads of hair shaving for the mere sake of it. That's a violation.  I feel like I was part of a 1960s music revolution and jerks like the Beach Boys took advantage of my good work. Hey, pay your dues, then let the girls rub your head.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck in gym locker rooms with elderly guys who have lost track of the fact that their junk has migrated south with gravity.  Their hanging testicles look like Chinese lanterns, they wander around with (apparently) no idea of what they are displaying in public.  As for me, I turn my back on men when I change pants and I can't imagine displaying anything significant in front of them. But, I have a sense of self-awareness that escapes most people.  Like those guys who wear shorts and sandals (with socks) when they should be covering their bony knees and hammer toes.

So, to you men who are wandering around with your junk hanging out, let this be your word of warning ... "None of us wants to see it" - and I think I can speak for everyone.  We don't want to watch you scoop up your testicles and deposit them in your underpants.  We don't need to see your hairy ass and rotund, furry abdomen on display.  It isn't interesting in the least.  You are better off finding a secluded corner of the locker room and dressing in private, because your privates deserve that.

It could be your New Year's Resolution.  Please.

The Evil That Men Do.

Victim number 7 has emerged in the Bill Conlin child sex abuse case, and victim number 12 in the Sandusky case.  I guess we're supposed to be shocked and appalled, but I'd guess that we've heard from maybe ten percent of the potential victims.

This isn't like trying Sushi or skydiving.  You don't do it once and say, "OK, I got that out of my system."  It's not a Bucket List item that gets checked off.  It's recidivist behavior, just like adult sex.  It's perverted potato chips.

On the grand scale of human behavior, I understand sex between consenting adults.  I even understand it between adults of the same sex, because we have opposable thumbs and reasoned thought.  But, when it comes to fondling 7-year old boys, that's on Pluto. People on Neptune are laughing at them.  "Wow, we like a lot of strange shit, but we aren't that bad."
I can't figure out what climactic sexual thrill is derived from putting your hand in a kid's pants.  But that's me.  I'm on Mars.

I wonder if at least some of it comes from our supressed sexuality.  We resist talking about sex with kids because they are supposedly too young to understand.  The problem with that is that they don't know the difference between what is appropriate and inappropriate.  They know that stealing is wrong and that they shouldn't lie - we have no problem telling them that.  But when it comes to their sexuality (which they will carry with them forever) we keep the "birds and bees" discussion until we feel that they're ready for it.  And even then, it is approached by many with all the anticipation of a root canal.

That is never going to change.  Our repressed feelings about sex and our bodies is bred throughout generations.  We're a little better at it now than our ancestors, but most of it is confined to telling dirty jokes and saying "fuck" in front of people.  There isn't a lot of frank talk about what really makes us tick.  We're just at the front of a societal awakening on homosexuality and what rights we feel they are entitled, which is to say all of them - but that is another matter.

For now, we are confined to our pre-conceived notion of what constitutes normal behavior and when and where it should occur.  That's fine, but at some point you may be faced with the difficult task of explaining why Uncle Bob shouldn't show your 12-year old son his penis.

For now, we choose to say nothing. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thoughts and Things.

Somebody should have Bill Conlin on suicide watch.  I'm just saying.

I cut my baseball teeth on his Daily News columns in the 1970s and 1980s.  Who knew the deep secrets he was hiding?  Nobody, which is exactly the point.  Football coaches, filmmakers, musicians and writers perform their craft to our admiration, while we go about our daily lives.  They are awarded Grammy's, Pulitzers and are admitted to various sports Halls of Fame, all the while concealing their hideous private lives.  It's long past time that we stop admiring people for their so-called worth to society and start looking at their work - and their work alone - when it comes time to awarding them.  Does it make Bill Conlin any less a sportswriter because he enjoyed fondling young boys and girls?  No. What it does is make him less of a human, and that is something to which we all should aspire to overcome.

Every night this week I have been on the road with a driver who has had his headlights off at the brink of darkness, which is now nearly 4:45pm here on the east coast.  I followed one driver tonight on the mis-named "North-South Freeway" (which actually runs East-West) its entire length; their shadowy presence preceding me on my trip home.  In my silent secrecy, I hoped someone would turn into them so that the court document surrounding their accident would include the phrase "driving in darkness with their headlights off." I'm a bit of a saddist sometimes.

It's three days and counting and I have managed to avoid stepping into a shopping center during what marketing people call the "Christmas Shopping Season."  Oh, if I can only manage Thursday and Friday, I'll have it made!  Meanwhile, I listen to radio and TV ads proclaiming that your gift tells that "special someone" how much you love [him or her]" and asking if you are "ready for the holidays."  Are we ready? Well, isn't that like asking if we're ready for a two-foot snowfall?  It's coming.  On Saturday, mindless fools will be invading the shopping malls and the local news will be filled with stories about those "last-minute shoppers."  Somehow, I feel both free and lonely.

I'm one step closer to abandoning the Christmas season entirely.  This year, I have managed to avoid not only the shopping but the office Pollyanna that accompanies the season.  It's simple, really.  Just drive past the mall instead of stopping in.  The $20 gift that I could do without will eventually go to someone else.  Some would ask how I could endure spending the holiday alone.  To those, I would respond that I spend the other 364 days alone, so what's the difference?

 “I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”
– Charlie Brown about not receiving any Christmas cards

Monday, December 12, 2011

... and another thing.

Tim Tebow's Denver Broncos won another game on Sunday.  The reason, we are led to believe, is that Tim is a Christian.  God looks out for Christians and he bestows them with superhuman traits, such as the ability to get a football team far enough down the field so that their kicker can make a 59-yard field goal to win the game in overtime.  He also encourages the opposing team to fumble and allow the Tebow to go on that 20 yard game-winning drive.
It is in times like these that I question what year this is.  Are we really superstitious enough to believe that all this is some sort of divine intervention?  Aren't there Christians on other teams?  Why would their God want some to succeed and others to fail?   What about all the Satan worshippers?  Isn't Satan trying?

Now, there are rumors by his ex-wife that professional wrestler Hulk Hogan had a homosexual affair with another wrestler, the aptly named Brutus Beefcake.  Hogan, of course, denies the story and sidestepped around the gay issue, saying in essence that "there's nothing wrong with that" but that it would also damage "my career."  Really?  How would it damage your career?  You earn a living tearing your shirt off and posing half-naked in a ring.  If anything, I think being gay would enhance your image.  She also said he abused her, but Hulk is obsessed with the gay rumor, as though the spousal abuse would be acceptable by comparison.  To some, it probably is.

I'm reading that the Duggars are planning a memorial service for their miscarried twentieth child.  If I am supposed to summon up any sorrow for this event, I'm losing the grip.  Jim Bob told People magazine. "This is life, and I understand that we are going [through] something that many others have. You think about the what-ifs, but God gives us strength to go on. We won't be able to see this child's life and the phases that we've seen for our other children, but we know we will see this child in heaven one day. We are thankful for each child, and we are blessed to have the children we have here and the ones we will meet someday in heaven."
Really?  They named the kid Jubilee Shalom.  I'd guess that's because the kid will never live to have his classmates ridicule his name and have his 19 brothers and sisters threaten to come to school to kick their ass.  Otherwise, they could have named it John or Sarah or whatever name is left over from their hideously large family.
The problem with living in a so-called "free society" is that we allow people to do what they want, within the confines of our defined laws.  Having 19 children is a sick and twisted abuse of that privilege.  And you can bet your next paycheck that they aren't done attempting to procreate.
I think they're mentally ill.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Random Thoughts

If I've learned anything from Twitter and Facebook, I have learned to communicate ideas in a condensed form.  So, I will eschew the long-form essay in exchange for some Facebook-suitable paragraphs:

It's baseball Winter Meeting season.  That means it's free agent signing season.  The salary numbers being reported for guys like Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols and Jonathan Papelbon would run a small country for several years.  In a time when state governments, our Postal Service, banks and many U.S. citizens are struggling to stay afloat, throwing millions of dollars after athletes seems to be a bit misguided.  But then, philanthropy is a lost art.  One wonders what these millionaire team owners could do if they decided to sell their team and actually do something that furthered society.  I suppose merely considering that makes me old and cranky?

I saw Jerry Sandusky being escorted out of his home in handcuffs this afternoon, after two more adults came forward to say that he molested them as children.  I thought about how we have all done things for which we are ashamed - some morally odd and others merely socially awkward.  But, never could I think of anything as low on the ladder of society as being arrested for molesting a child.  I'd guess that, at that stage of ones life that you would have to throw up your hands and thank God that you didn't have much longer to live, because the life you had left would be of such a low quality as to make it merely eating, sleeping and breathing.  And that's probably all you would be entitled to.

The new Kindle Fire has irked some parents, who say that it makes ordering from Amazon's web site too easy for their children.  To those parents I say, "Welcome to the world."  Did they think that Amazon would market a device that would make it more difficult to order from their web site?  And why do they think it's so inexpensive?  Seriously - put down your iPhone and pay attention.  These are probably the same people who complained that Facebook's free games allowed hackers to steal their personal information.  Get with the program.

The U.S. Postal Service has decided that the best way to save itself from doom is to close down distribution centers, shorten the delivery week and slow down first class mail.  I know that Civil Service jobs require an exam, but I didn't know that they did not require an education.  The braintrust over there has decided that providing less service in a slower fashion will make them successful.  I didn't read that chapter of the marketing book when I was at Widener.  You have heard that theory that an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters will eventually write all the great books?  This proves that the same number of monkeys will eventually run the Postal Service into the ground.  Get the monkeys back on their typewriters and put some businessmen in charge of the postal service.  UPS and FedEx have done quite well for themselves.  What is it that they know that the USPS does not?  How to run a business, for one thing.

I read that Sinead O'Connor is getting married - for the fourth time.  That puts her three times ahead of me and four times ahead of me on the "I can't believe somebody would marry her" scale.  After one failed marriage, I figured that it could happen to anybody and that the failure could be either mine or hers or both of ours.  If I had failed a second time, I'd start to have self-doubts about the type of person I was and/or the type of person I chose to marry.  After three times, I'd think about checking into some sort of clinic to try to rid myself of the lingering longing for companionship.  At marriage number four ...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving thanks for what?

I guess I'm supposed to get behind this whole "Thanksgiving" gig and relent to it being some sort of family style pseudo-religious holiday where commercialism is tossed out the window and we are left with what is supposed to be a pure holiday, devoid of crass association with anything capitalistic.


Thanksgiving, for all its alleged non-biased glory, is yet another corrupted holiday.  Families all over America have just finished gorging themselves over a kitchen full of food.  They have collectively fallen asleep over a television full of football and are secretly planning their assault on "Black Friday" sales at their local shopping mall.

And if I see one more reference to tryptophan and its sleep-inducing effect I'm going to strangle someone.  There  is more tryptophan in cottage cheese than in turkey.  You want to sleep because you eat an ungodly amount of food.  The turkey isn't your problem.  You are.

Is it necessary to cook a 20-pound turkey, stuff it with bread and serve it with accompanying casseroles, sauces and pies?  What are we really honoring?  Are we giving thanks or just cooking a huge meal?  As I watch news stories of families celebrating their holiday I think about the gorging that goes on and wonder if it's all necessary.  If the idea is that we are celebrating something with our family, why do we need to cook more food than would feed a batallion?  To me, it seems a waste and regardless of your ideals, I think you're feeding into (pun) the idea of mass consumerism that you profess to hate.

There, I said it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

TV by Candlelight

"OK everyone, hold the candles long enough for the TV and newspaper guys to get their photographs.  We need to show everyone that we aren't just concerned with the football team, and this should do it.  When your arm gets tired, just switch hands.  Five minutes should do it.  See you at the game!  Don't forget to buy your blue t-shirt so we can throw some money at a charity.  That should be enough."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Best One Yet.

I get a lot of these.  They generally show up in my Spam folder.  This one creeped into my Inbox, encouraging me to open it and read it.

This is a good one.  It has the corporate logo and everything.  Featuring an actual signature of a "Senior Vice President" of something called the Online Banking Team.

There is even a link to what I am supposed to believe is the Chase Online web site, where I can rectify any alleged account problems and return my life (and credit card) to its original health.

My favorite part comes in the bold lettering at the bottom (their bolding, not mine).  Where it says that if I fail to provide them with the required information, my account will be "automatically deleted from Our [sic] online database."

OK, go ahead and delete my account.  Along with the money I owe you.

Go ahead.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Softening of America

Don Rickles showed up at John Lasseter's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony today.  I had to look up who Lasseter is - it turns out he is the director and Chief Creative Officer for Pixar, and originally worked for Walt Disney Studios.

Anyway, Patton Oswalt Tweeted some of Rickles' lines from the ceremony.  They made me laugh because I read them to myself in Rickles' voice and imagined him saying it: 

"I look around today, and I'm the biggest star here." - Don Rickles, at Lasseter's star unveiling.
"Suck up to your dad, boys. He's gonna leave you a bundle." - Don Rickles, to Lasseter's kids.
"Last thing Disney said before he died: 'Get me a Jew to be in my cartoons." - Don Rickles.
When I was a kid (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) I'd stay up late to watch Rickles guest-host the "Tonight" show.  I recorded them on my cassette recorder and would listen to them over and over.  We didn't have DVR or VHS recorders in those days.
He would come out to that Toreador music that Doc Severenson's band would play and spend 90 minutes berating Charo, Ed McMahon and every guest he had on the show with every racial stereotypical epithet he could think of. And we laughed.  We didn't think of filing a complaint lawsuit because he portrayed the Irish as boozers, the Mexicans as bandits and the Polish as meatheads - as Archie Bunker similarly portrayed them on a show called "All in the Family" that ran concurrent to Rickles' "Tonight" show duties.

You couldn't put a show like "All in the Family" on network television today.  The closest we have come in the last 20 years was that William Shatner show, "[Bleep] My Dad Says," and they had to characterize the word shit with an asterisk and some other symbols, and use the word bleep to say shit.  How has that progression worked? What was the point of calling a show "Shit My Dad Says" and then having to use bleep instead of shit?  Why not call it "Strawberry Bricks?"
I don't know if we laughed at Rickles and Archie Bunker because we didn't know what else to do or if we laughed because everybody else was laughing.  I do know that we laughed because it was (ready?)  ... funny.  It was funny to see this balding Jew telling Charo that she needed to get her papers stamped so that she could be on the show.  Charo used to call him "Don Wrinkles." Today, millions of supporters of immigration would write e-mail's to NBC complaining that Rickles cast them in a negative light.  Meanwhile, none of them could produce the "papers."
Rickles is 85.  I don't know if it's his age or his cache that allows him to get away with what he says, but I'd guess that if he appeared on the scene as a 20-something comic doing that sort of humor, he would be ostracized.  Such is the sad state of America.  We kowtow to every ethinc group and kiss the backside of the lawyers who represent them because we don't want our kids to grow up thinking like that.  Meanwhile, millions of kids who grew up watching "All in the Family" or seeing Rickles on talk shows learned the difference between humor and bigotry.

It's sad that we do not allow our children to establish their own boundaries.  If they don't know where the edge is, how will they know where to stand?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What is Hip?

Hipsters (also scenesters) are a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers with musical interests that appeared in the 1990s.  Hipster culture has been described as a "mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behaviors."

The term itself was coined during the jazz age, when "hip" emerged as an adjective to describe aficionados of the growing scene.   Although the adjective's exact origins are disputed, some say it was a derivative of "hop," a slang term for opium, while others believe it comes from the West African word "hipi," meaning "to open one's eyes."  Nevertheless, "hip" eventually acquired the common English suffix -ster (as in spinster and gangster), and "hipster" entered the language.

I have opened my eyes.  If hipster means that I embrace long-ago lifestyles, then no, I am not a hipster.  If it means, as I think it does, that I have "opened one's eyes," then I proclaim myself a hipster.  Case in point:  Music.  I was one of those kids who stood in line for concert tickets and records.  Huge portions of my free time were spent preparing to queue-up at the local record store for a ticket to the latest high-end rock show at The Spectrum.  Now, I can sit on my computer and, in a fraction of the time, get the same ticket to the same show.

We bought records that we would take home and place on turntables, hoping that they would "play." If they skipped, we had a myriad of solutions to make it work.  It was stressful.  Now, I can order an mp3 from several different web sites and know that when I "open file" it will indeed open, without any scratches or surface noise that I experienced (and expected) as a teenager.

If being a "hipster" means that I have embraced my new lifestyle, then I welcome the change.  I like being able to sit at home and order a ticket to a show, or download a noiseless file of new music.  I am an aficionado of the growing scene.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

An odd thing that happened while I was watching TV.

When I come to someone with an announcement of a new technology or practice that I have adopted, I often get the "You'd be better off ..." response.  You know the type.  "I just got a new Droid phone," you announce. To which they reply, "Oh ... you should have gotten an iPhone." As if that was an option or something you would have considered.
The proper response would have been, "Oh, that's nice. Great!" Or something in that vein.  We do not announce our life's decisions with the idea that they will be greeted with anything but approval.  We want our decisions to be confirmed by our peers. It's one of the things that separates us from the spiders and lizards.  We have politics.

Which brings me to my television viewing habits and the reasons I turn the television off sometimes. I was aimlessly tuning around the thing after Wednesday's usual awesome episode of "Modern Family," which included the line "This whole thing is a colossal fog cue," which, if you didn't see the episode, is lost on you.  Nevertheless...

As I turned the stations, I came across an Ani DiFranco concert on my local PBS station.  It was a few years old, but I like Ani, so I figured it would make nice background music while I stalked Facebook pages,  Twitter accounts and such.

Ani came out on stage - in her hometown of Buffalo - to tumultuous applause, as one would expect.  The camera did one of those crowd pans, which gave me an idea of what would follow.  There seemed to be a dearth of men in the audience, and a lot of wide-eyed women with hero worship glowing on their faces.  At  the very least, there was a dearth of men in the front of the auditorium where the camera was focused.  I have been to Indigo Girls and Holly Near shows, so the thought occurred ... let's check the Wikipedia listing to see what is going on here.

What was going on was that Ani has admitted (an odd word) to being bisexual.  So now, the show took on an entirely different meaning.  As the crowd swelled and cheered with each of her proclamations, I started to get annoyed that the music did not seem to be the priority.  The priority was that Ani was standing up for like-minded women regardless of her music or whatever the show was supposed to be about.  Every syllable was greeted with a "whoop" or round of applause that became annoying to those of us who were tuning in to hear the  ... um ... music.

Then, it dawned on me.  Several of them weren't there to hear the music as much as they were there to have their beliefs and lifestyle vindicated by a celebrity - such that Ani is a celebrity.  The between-songs chanting and cheering affected me to the point that, after a half hour of it I decided that I didn't need their lifestyle approved of on my television.  Sadly, I couldn't concentrate on her music as much as I fixated on the pending approval of her viewpoint by the audience of sycophants.

I didn't think that's what music or entertainment was supposed to be.  Perhaps there are thousands of people who need their lifestyle vindicated by a celebrity in public, but for me, that isn't the case.  If the chanting approval of like-minded people is going to get in the way of art, then perhaps the art isn't the priority?

I'm just saying.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The reason I don't gamble.

I don't understand the slot machines.  They are all different, take different amounts of money and use different symbols on the wheels.  Instead of cherries, sevens and cigars they should just say "win" or "lose."  I think that would make it easier for us to understand.

I went to the Golden Nugget  in Atlantic City tonight to see Kathleen Madigan.  She's very funny, even though she is very tiny and from St. Louis and a Cardinals fan.

I'm not a gambler and I only go to Atlantic City when I'm going to a show. Otherwise, the whole thing could slip into the ocean and I'd hardly notice.  Because I was going, I stopped at the ATM and pulled out $120, thinking that I couldn't possibly drink and gamble that much money.  Well, at least I couldn't gamble that much.

I sat at the bar and had a few beers before the show.  I waddled into the casino and threw $40 into a slot machine.  I'm not sure what it was all about, other than at times some cigars showed up and some noise was made.  In the end, I cashed-out ten dollars because I didn't want to sit there and miss the show.

After the show, I went back with my ten dollars and threw it into a different machine.  This one had sevens and cherries in it.  I pushed the "Max Bet" button a few times, and one of the times it made a lot of noise for a long time and I saw numbers going up on the machine.  I wasn't sure how much actual money it was because it was all about "credits" and I didn't have the inclination or skill to divide it by the fifty cents that each bet was worth.  Rather than do high-powered math, I pushed the "Cash Out" button (the smallest button - the "Max Bet" is the largest) and out came a voucher for $106.25.

Since I'm not a gambler and realize the value of $106.25, I made a bee line for the "Redemption" window (also very small), took my $106.25 and went home.  Some people would have continued to gamble, thinking they were on a roll or something.  I didn't expect to see anything close to the three symbols that gave me the $106.25 again, and figured I should get out while I could still rationalize the event.  When I got home, I pulled $125 out of my pocket and left it on my dresser.

I win.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Some new photos while I think of something interesting to write about.

The famous LOVE statue. I popped the flash and was surprised at the glow that it rendered. I'll go back and get another one that isn't quite so grainy.  Or maybe that's the look?
The Philadelphia skyline from the South Street Bridge.  It's one of the better spots to capture it.  They are nearly finished the rebuilding of the bridge, although it still shakes like the old one did.
Rittenhouse Plaza, which I'm guessing is some sort of high-end residence.  It's conveniently located near the Apple store. Or maybe the Apple store is conveniently located near it?
City Hall and the tents.  I saw more bicycles parked around the city than I had ever seen.  I think that's a good thing.
City Hall from Broad Street near Chestnut.  The island makes for a nice set-up spot.
The City Hall courtyard rimmed by tents of the Occupy Philly squatters.  I'm not sure what they want and from what I heard, I'm not sure they know either.
Logan Circle very late at night. The only sounds were the rushing water and the plaintive cries of a homeless man, ranting in his own language.  I worked quickly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Mid-Term Exam.

I went for bloodwork today.  I'm not sure why I was nervous about it, but I was.  It barely took 10 minutes for the needle and two vials of my vital fluid and I was out the door. In the meantime, I chatted-it-up with the Technician (nurse?) over my reticence to have needles stuck in me.  "I don't even watch on TV when someone is being stuck."
"Me neither, but it's because their technique is bad," she said.  "I see them pull the sheath out of the needle with their teeth and I think, 'I don't need your germs all over this thing.  It's bad enough that I have Joe Plague to deal with.'"
I said, "Wow, Joe Plague!  That was my favorite comic book as a kid," completely copping on the Joe Plague concept.  It was at that point that we started developing a film about a Superhero, Joe Plague; who has no real super-powers, but everyone is frightened of him.
If I ever develop a Joe Plague character and produce a play or TV series, I'll have to find the Technician (nurse?) and cut her in on half the profits.

I don't get to the doctor much.  Or at least, as much as I should as an over 50-year old male.  I need tests and clinical analysis to determine whether or not I need a procedure.  In the past 8 years, I have been there exactly 3 times.  The last time, they had to go to the basement to retrieve my records because I hadn't been there enough to keep my ... subscription ... active.  If I'm not sick, I don't go. That's my policy.  The last two times I went, I had a horrible case of poison ivy and an odd infection on my thumb.  Last year I didn't even have a head cold, and if it wasn't for my bicycle accident last month, I probably wouldn't be there now.  So, is it fate or circumstance?

The blood test is like a mid-term exam.  Pass it, and you still have a final to take.  Fail it, and you can still make up the grade with a good final.  So, in a couple of days I'll find out if my lifestyle (I hesitate to call it a life) has been worth the effort. I've been off dairy for 20 years. I put almond milk in my Kashi cereal.  I eat veggie sandwiches for lunch. I don't drink carbonated beverages and I exercise enough that a night off is like a vacation.  I'm sitting here eating whole grain pretzels, for Pete's sake.

For the three days leading up to it I kept thinking, "How can I cheat this thing?"  But the sad part is that I can't.  It's a grade that I've earned. Either I'll pass or fail.

I take great pride in being one of the few over-50's who is not taking any prescription medication.  I had borderline high blood pressure (130/90) and controlled it on my own with some dietary modifications. My great fear now is that my cholesterol will be high enough for the doctor to suggest one of those modern wonder drugs.  I'm not sure I can modify my life(style) enough to make any drastic changes, so I'm hoping that the numbers are good enough for her to say, "Just keep on doing what you're doing."

I think that's all any of us want out of life, eh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Three things I read about while waiting for my oil change.

While waiting for my car to finish having its oil changed tonight, I innocently thumbed through a copy of Rolling Stone magazine.  It was a rather ordinary issue, until I got to the back page.  There were a few ads that gave me some valuable insight into what people will spend money on.

The first interesting product was something called a Grow Box.  It was advertised as a hydroponic system for growing plants indoors.  If your mind works anywhere as oddly as mine (pity) then you will have immediately jumped to the necessity for an indoor plant-growing system.  Not only that, but the product is cleverly disguised to look like a cabinet, stereo speakers, a computer box or a small refrigerator.  Because you wouldn't want anyone to know you are growing tulips in your den.  Right.
It's a wonderful contraption, full of high-powered LED lights, hygrometers and technical growing materials for your ... um ... flowering plants.  OK.  A quick jump on their web site showed me that the small one, the My Grow Buddy, sells for $399.  For a more professional system, which they call the Mortgage Lifter (yep) sells for $2,495.  Maybe "Mortgage Payer" would have been a better name?

They'll sell you the lights, soil and all the equipment you'll need to start growing world-class plants in your very own home.  You can also buy a fan to remove those unwanted odors.  Right.  You don't want your house smelling like flowers.  That's what Airwick is for.
All you'll need to do is run down to your local garden center for some seeds.  Right.

Next, there was an ad for one of those male enhancement products.  They are getting bolder with their advertising.  You can buy things called Horny Goat Weed and Vein Erect at drug stores.   I'd need a back door and a secret knock to even attempt to buy something like that in public.  Pile the kids in the station wagon, dad is going down to the store to pick up some boner pills.
"Cool, can we stop for ice cream?"

The more interesting one, however, available online is called Ball Refill  That's right.  And no, it isn't helium or compressed air.  It's called a semen volumizer.  It is a pill that is designed to give men "mega orgasms."  It's for all of you who are concerned that you're not spewing enough of yourself on ... yourself and want to prolong the clean-up process.  From what I've read, women go crazy for a guy who can fill a soda can with ejaculate.  It's probably why I'm still single.
In the FAQ section (the F stands for Frequently) of the web site, it says that you should "consult your health care professional before using Ball Refill."  I don't know about you, but I would not want to be the guy going into my doctor's office, and when she says, "What brings you here today?" I reply with ...
"Well, I wanted to check with you to see if I could take this supplement that makes me spew like a horse."

Actually, I can't imagine how any of the questions are "frequently asked," but that's another matter.  "How much Ball Refill should I take?"  "Should I continue to take Ball Refill?"  "What kinds of medications react with Ball Refill?"

Here are some questions I would ask:  Can I over-fill my balls?  What if I take so much that my bladder fills too?  Can Ball Refill be used on my pets? 

A glimpse of the ingredients shows that it's niacin and some herbs.  It probably just jacks up (pun) your blood pressure to the point that you either ejaculate or pass out.

So, what was the third product I saw in the magazine?  Just some web site where you can order a quilt made of t-shirts.  What a ridiculous concept.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Putting baseball in perspective.

First, some background.  I am a Phillies season ticket holder and a fan since 1964.  I have seen the great, near great and horrible.  That's enough background.

If I can do nothing else (and perhaps I cannot) I think I can place things in perspective.  I was at last year's disappointing game 6 of the NLCS where Ryan Howard looked at a called third strike to end their season.  From my perch in section 204 I was devastated.  I left the ballpark feeling like I was punched in the stomach and I was bitter over it for several weeks.  After that, I vowed to never again allow sports to affect my life in a negative manner.  I didn't think it would be so soon that my resolution would be put to the test.

I went to the first game of the NLDS this year.  The Phillies fell behind early, 3-0 with their Ace Roy Halladay on the mound.  A couple of home runs later and they would go on to win the game.  Several of us in the stands were disappointed in the Phillies, but would wind up going home happy.

Almost one week later, that good feeling would turn sour as Ryan Howard once again made the last out of their season, this time with a weak ground ball in which injury was added to insult as he went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon.  I later found out that most fans had turned off the television before they found out that he didn't complete his trip to first base.

As I watched the game, I felt the looming doom that would eventually befell this team.  The 1-0 loss did, however, allow me the time to place baseball into a proper life perspective.  Baseball is different than other major sports because of the vagaries of the schedule and the players involved.

In football, basketball and hockey; teams go into playoff series with the same players that brought them there.  In baseball, the key player - the starting pitcher - is determined mostly by a draw of the schedule.  In a 5-game series (as the NLDS is) that draw has more to do with the outcome of the series than anything.  Not only that, but if a team goes into a hitting drought, the short series is magnified, because there is less time to work their way out of it than the overly long baseball season allows.  Sure, the Phillies won 102 games, but they were never faced with the prospect of having to win 3 out of 5.  All that mattered was that they won their division and advanced to the playoffs.

In olden times (before the NLDS or even divisions) a team could win its division and advance directly to a Championship series. Now, there is no benefit to winning the division.  Sure, you get what they call "home field advantage," but in a 5-game series, you get 3 home games.  True home field advantage would mean 4 home games.  In a 5-game series, having only one more home game is almost useless, as we saw.  First solution:  Give the team with the best record a true home field advantage and make the wild card team (the Cardinals) earn their victory by winning games on the opponent's field.  Otherwise, the 162 game season is pointless.  Why play all those games just to lose to a wild card team because you only got one more home game? Only in baseball.

Having the first series decided in only 5 games negates the entire (already too long) regular season.  Baseball was founded on a 154-game schedule.  That's because, after 154 games, the two best teams (the winners of the American and National League) would face off in the World Series.  Now, teams have to win 11 games after they go through an even longer 162-game season.  Does that make sense?  Why make the season longer and then add playoff games?  It doesn't make sense - unless you factor in television, which is the reason for almost everything in life - but that is a matter for another essay.

So, here's my solution:  Go back to two leagues with no divisions.  Play your 162 games if you must, but give some advantage to the team with the best record.  What's the point of playing the season otherwise?  Either a first round bye or some protracted home field advantage.  As it is now, it's more of a crap shoot than a pure talent competition.

So, fret not Phillies fans.  Your team was done in by television and modern thinking.  It had little to do with talent.  As we have seen, it doesn't matter what happens in the regular season. Baseball has become hockey and basketball.  Just enjoy the regular season like you would a movie - it's entertainment.  The real competition comes once TBS and Fox get involved and screw up your work day by putting playoff games on at 1:00pm and 4:00pm and players complain about shadows that they never see during the season.  That's where television has taken over the game and the fans and teams lose control.

You should not lose control over something over which you have no control.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Good and Good for You?

It's fortunate for me that I like foods that are supposed to be good for me.  Low-fat, low-calorie, sugar-free ... all the stuff that marketing people and doctors tell us we are supposed to eat.

Almost every day for lunch I eat a Veggie Sub, which I affectionately call a Condiment Sandwich.  Instead of lettuce, I use spinach, because it's supposed to be good for me. Besides, with all the peppers and onions on the thing, I can barely taste it anyway.

I eat high-fiber whole grain cereal with almond milk every day, oatmeal, yogurt, and I take enough Omega 3 fish oils to sprout gills.

I wander through the supermarket looking for things that I can eat and feel good about eating.  I have been drinking the Zico Chocolate Coconut Water for a while.  It's water from coconuts that has chocolate flavoring.  Can there be a more perfect beverage?  I submit that there cannot.  Today I found a couple of new things.

I had an ice cream craving.  I usually go for Ben and Jerry's or some chocolate peanut butter flavor, but today I saw Coconut Milk ice cream, with the added benefit of being both soy and dairy free.  Lo and behold, its first ingredient is organic coconut milk.  It tastes pretty good, and I no longer have a craving for ice cream, so it works on that level too.

The other new thing is something called Kona Deep "100% Deep Sea Mineral Water from 3,000'."  It says it comes from "pristine glaciers off the coast of Greenland that sank deep into the ocean thousands of years ago" from something called the "Global Conveyor Belt."  Ironically, I put it on the supermarket's conveyor belt when I purchased it.

It's full of electrolytes and nutrients, so I have that going for me - which is nice.  I have to admit to being skeptical of water coming from 3,000 feet below the sea, and I wonder if it isn't just purified water with added nutrients to make it the same as deep sea water.  I have the same doubts about the coconut water.  I guess I can no more imagine going to that extent for water or cracking open enough coconuts to get thousands of bottles of water.  I only hope that the coconut water people are hooked-up with the ice cream people so that they aren't throwing coconuts in the trash.  That would seem to defeat the purpose.

The reason I'm skeptical is that the chocolate water was $2.49.  The coconut milk ice cream was $5.99.  The Kona water was a paltry 64 cents, which would seem like a relative bargain, all things considered.  Nevertheless, normal ice cream is cheaper and regular water is free.  If this stuff isn't what I think it is, I'm wasting my money.

So, I'm either a sucker or I'm doing something good for myself.  Or both.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Go climb a pole.

In order to establish perspective, let me tell you:  I hate the telephone.  I don't like when it rings, I don't like calling people and I don't like getting the bill.  Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to live without one.

I'm one of the growing number of the population that does not have a traditional land line.  I didn't think it made any sense to pay for a cellular phone and a land line, so many years ago I ditched the hard wire.  The problem with that is that now, people who call me expect me to pick up the phone because they assume that I'm sitting on my cell phone.  Most of the time the ringer is off or it's in a bag or on a table somewhere.
"Where were you, I tried to call you?" they ask.  When I had a regular phone, they never had any trouble leaving a voice message.  Now, they expect me to answer every call.  HINT: Sometimes I'm driving on on the toilet or reading or watching a TV program.  Your call is important to us. Please hold until a representative is available.

The phone I have now is a misery I can barely hear people and the interface is a mish-mash of poorly conceived icons and buttons that cause me to disconnect the relatively few calls I answer.  When I get a text message, I have to push the "Read" button twice, for some unknown reason.  I would like to throw it in the river, but I can't because I got it 4 months ago and my contract has 20 more months to go before I can cheaply replace it.  Otherwise, I'd pay full price and may wind up with yet another horrible device.

I've been searching Ebay for a replacement.  Each one that I find that appears acceptable has some odd issue.  One has poor call quality. Another has no 3G service. One has good call quality but is poorly constructed.  Another is well built but the keyboard is difficult to use.  It's impossible to know from these subjective reviews whether or not I would like the phone.  Most of the reviews for the phone I have were positive, so I can't count on someone else for an opinion when they think it's great and I think it is a piece of junk.

So far, I've found 4 probable replacements.  Each one has a minor flaw, but the selling point of each one is that I can get them for less than $90.  I'd hope that I could sell my existing piece of junk to an unsuspecting boob for about $50, so perhaps I could mitigate the cost somehow?  Even so, how do I know that the money I spend for a new phone will make me any happier?  Something tells me I'll be playing my own game of phone tag trying to find one that is acceptable.

You'd think it would be fairly simple to find one that has a loud speakerphone, QWERTY keypad and decent sized screen, wouldn't you?  It isn't, or else I'd have one by now.  The other issue is dealing with Ebay.  The inexpensive ones come from China and the postings don't have any actual photos of the phone I'll be receiving.  Some of them don't come in the original box, don't have the manual and will arrive just in time for my old contract to expire.  And I can't help but be skeptical of a phone that retails for $300 being sold on the Internet for $80.  It doesn't seem right.

But it falls into place with the giant mass of crap that accompanies the cell phone.  Hidden fees, outrageous costs for texting and other charges that somehow turn a $39 plan into a $79 monthly bill .  I could read through my bill, but I'd have to set aside an 8-hour block of my day to figure it out.  Like the cable TV bill, we pay it.  It all seems to make sense, because when we were signing up for the plan it sounded like such a great deal.  Then, the first bill comes and our eyes spin around and we get a quizzical look on our faces like we just smelled something but we're not sure if it's coming from the trash can or the cat farted.

"Did I sign up for this?"  And "What's a state usage tax?"  But boy, they sure are fun.  Texting and web surfing and all that mindless chatter.  How did we ever survive without them?  Quite well, as I recall.  I'd get home at the end of the day and check my messages.  Zero.  If someone needed me badly enough, they would call me at work.
I used to know phone numbers.  Now, I just look for their name in the directory.  I couldn't tell you anyone's phone number except my mother - and that's because it's the same one I had before I moved out.

In the meantime, I'll keep looking for my ideal device.  Meanwhile, I thought all this junk was supposed to improve my life?  So far, it's cost me more money and complicated my life.  There is a whole new set of rules and laws governing when and where we can use cell phones.  Phone etiquette is still being learned and those of us who have it want to smack those of you who do not.
Here are two things you can do to start:  Stop the walk-and-text and talk in a normal volume.  Don't bump into me while you're texting and stop yelling into your hand.

Now, I'm going back to my shopping, because I know that someday I'll be happy with technology.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Art and Competition

The latest list of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been released.  Among them are Guns N' Roses, Heart, Cure and Joan Jett.  Among a list of artists who are not only not in the R&RHOF but have never been nominated are T-Rex, the Smiths, Yes, Jethro Tull, Devo, Todd Rundgren, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Roxy Music, Willie Nelson, Warren Zevon, the Replacements, ELO, Chubby Checker, Hall and Oates, Los Lobos, Black Flag, X, the B-52s, Dick Dale, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Nick Drake, Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth and the Go-Go’s.

Some people are up in arms over these omissions.  Such is life when you confuse art with competition.  The same thing happens with Emmy Awards, Oscars, Grammy Awards and Tony Awards.  Some expert opines that so-and-so has been shafted by either not being nominated or not winning.  That's a shame, but it's the issue that one encounters when one brings competition into art.  The two should not commingle, because when they do, trouble follows.

Sports is a competition.  There are timers and scorekeepers to ensure that the winner is the one who completes the game with the requisite amount of goals, points or time.  When you start heaping awards like Most Valuable Something or any award that is voted on by people, trouble follows.  That is because the worlds of art and competition have once again collided.

Soon, Major League Baseball will begin awarding its annual group of Most Valuable Player, Manager of the Year, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.  They are voted upon by people who may or may not have an ax to grind or have close ties to one of the athletes.  There is no substantive measure for those awards like there is for home run or runs batted in leaders.  When the awards are handed out, invariably somebody cries "foul" and debate heats up over who is more "deserving" of the award.  Poppycock.

Sports are played and decided on the field.  Art is excecuted in front of an audience.  In neither endeavor should human priorities muddy the waters.  Once a winner in sports is decided, the debate is over.  When an appreciative audience applauds a performance, that debate is likewise over.  We don't need "Best Actor" awards or "Best Picture" awards.  Tastes differ and to one, a brainless comedy is a better film than "The Godfather."  It's the purpose of art.  It is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Athletes of winning teams celebrate in their locker room.  Artists who give great performances relish in them for days, and appreciative audiences reward them with praise.  I'm not sure I understand why we need to give awards to athletes and performers who have already received an award - the joy of satisfying an audience.

I don't need votes and awards to tell me who won or who I like.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pardon my language

I want to listen to music and surf the Internet on my 10-year old computer -- but I fucking CAN'T - because it's ten years old!

Oh - then, can I read my e-mail on my cell phone like all the cool kids? No, you fucking CAN'T - because your cell phone isn't a SMARTPHONE, and you can't read e-mail without a contract and a data plan.

Can I run this old software and read a file that I made 5 years ago? NO! You CAN'T! Your software is OLD and it's not compatible with the software we're making now! Upgrade.

I'd like to buy a new cell phone, can I ... NO. The new iPhone5 is coming out and soon, your iPhone 3 will be antiquated and incapable of doing anything but ... making phone calls! HA. You are a captive of your technology.

Sure -- you love your stuff. Your new laptop, your new phone, your new TV; but it's all soon to be replaced by new stuff that is incompatible with your old stuff.

I used a rotary phone for 30 years. THIRTY YEARS - and everybody I called answered the phone. Why? Because the phone was still the phone. We had a television hooked up to an antenna for 50 years. Fifty years! We got all the same TV programs that the people next door got who bought a brand new TV and antenna. How did that work? Because it was TELEVISION!

Then, we got cable. Glorious cable. It wasn't more than a year later that we had to upgrade to a new converter box - and every 6 months after that, a cable guy was knocking on the door to give us a new box. New box after new box ... until, they finally decided to do away with the boxes and antennas and make the whole thing digital. What used to cost us $10 a month (in 1981) now costs $120. Is this progress?

Along comes the Internet. Those beep-bap-beep boxes aren't good enough anymore. Now, you NEED DSL, cable Internet and satellite. What used to cost $19 now costs $45. It's the same Internet, only now the technology changes and we are expected to pay more for the same service.

I want to listen to music while I surf the Internet - but I fucking CAN'T, because my computer is 10 years old and the memory isn't large enough to support the two devices. I would use a CD player, but those were phased-out 5 years ago. If I want something that has enough power to run two things at the same time, I have to buy a NEW computer - and that will cost at least another $1,000. How long before that's obsolete?

We pay a lot of money for things that we never paid for. Television, Internet and telephones. And what are we getting from it? Technology that is obsolete 2 months after we get it home. Are we really happier now than we were before? All these things frustrate us and confound us to the point of making us cuss at them and raise our blood pressure. Would we be any less happy with reliable, free television and old phone service? Who are we talking to on our cell phones? Is it necessary?

Facebook changes their format. Netflix changes its pricing, and millions of people are suddenly up in arms over something that they didn't have or know existed 5 years ago. In the string of time, it's a grain of sand. How can we get so worked up over something that we did so well without? Are we so spoiled that we get angry over losing a cell while we're driving that we curse the cell provider? Is it worth $1,000 to buy a new computer so we can listen to music while we web surf? Do we need 800 cable channels for ten times the price of 100? Are we so wired-up that we need to read our e-mail on our $400 Smartphone? Are we doing anything that can't wait until we get home?

Apparently, the answer to all of those questions is in the money we have already spent on the technology.

I liked it better when I had record albums, rotary phones, 12 TV channels and a pen and paper. I don't know that my life is so improved now, regardless of how much I've spent on it.

I do know that Apple, Comcast, Verizon and Dell are doing very well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One bad Saturday

What started as an innocently planned 75-mile ride with 300 people I didn't know (and 1 that I did) turned into a big bowl of wrong shortly after the start. As anybody who does this sort of thing knows, the photos that follow represent a large amount of money in apparel and equipment, not to mention the one at the end that represents a huge amount of pain and inconvenience.

Kevin and I had decided to do a ride from Parvin State Park on Saturday morning that was sponsored by a local cycling group. I've done these sorts of rides before, and they attract all kinds of riders. From riders who want to finish in the shortest time possible to riders who barely know how to shift gears and ride for the food and SAG support.

It had been about 3 years since I had done one of these rides, and only on reflection did I recall the vast difference in rider quality and I hadn't fully developed a plan to avoid the least experienced and/or slowest of the bunch.

We started from the park, and rolled quickly but quietly down the sparsely traveled county roads. Saturday morning was cool but manageable, and I knew that it would soon be warm enough that we would feel better. After all, it was a 75 (or 100) mile ride, and you can't judge the first half hour against the rest.

As we rode along, on some of the faster and flat spots, the familiar cry of "on your left" was said about a dozen times as riders on their high-bar bikes strolled along at about the same speed as some could run. But they paid the same $20 that we did, so the courtesy of telling them we are going to pass seems the least we could do.
We had barely gotten 12 miles out when we encountered a herd of cyclists that were taking up the entire right side of the road. I was about to tell Kevin that we should buzz this group, when one of them decided that a small encumbrance in the road justified her almost stopping entirely, and without warning she slowed to a crawl, leaving me no choice but to run up on her rear wheel.

I saw our wheels cross, and had enough time to say out loud, "This isn't good," and in a flash I was sideways on the ground. I had hit with a force that I have never hit before, and immediately felt my head hit the pavement (yes, that's blood on my helmet) and my left arm impact my chest with a force that would end up dislocating my lung from its protective casing. I know I was almost to a complete stop when I hit, because there is no scraping on my clothes or arms - just impact points and big scars. One on my forearm, one on my shoulder and one on my upper thigh. I'd have been better off sliding. To give you an idea of the force, the impact not only dislocated my left lung, but it dislocated the left lens from my Oakley Flak Jacket frames - a feat that cannot be accomplished easily.

The medical term is pneumothorax. You (and I) would call it a collapsed lung. Subsequent X-Rays would say it was 40% collapsed, and I wound up being admitted to Elmer Hospital. They found no cracked or broken ribs, so they reasoned that it was the impact alone that caused the lung to collapse. That's a lot of impact, gang; especially from 4 feet off the ground.

Shortly after 6:00pm, I would be in surgery having a half-inch tube inserted into my left chest, through my rib cage and into my thorax to attempt to draw enough air out of it to allow the lung to reinflate and rejoin its rightful place near my rib cage. By Sunday afternoon, that mission had been accomplished, and late Monday afternoon I was released from the hospital with a ridiculous amount of gause and tape on my body

The lessons we learn from this experience are plentiful:
  1. Pack a "Go Bag" and leave it in your vehicle, in case you, like me, have nobody at home to retrieve your belongings and you don't prefer to spend your entire hospital stay in a gown and smelly bike shorts.
  2. Stay as far away from strange riders as possible. Not all of them (or not most of them) know the simple etiquette of yelling "slowing" or "stopping" to let riders behind them know that they are slowing or stopping. One of those two words would have gone a long way toward keeping everyone safe. I still don't know if the rider I collided with takes any responsibilty for her actions. It doesn't matter, but it would be nice to hear "I'm sorry."
  3. When you're doing these giant group rides, pick out 6 or 8 people you know and ride with them. If you don't know anyone, find a way around the rest of them and practice "on your left" and yell it at every opportunity.
  4. When you have a plan, execute it. Don't wait for something to happen. I had a bad feeling about the group in front - emphasized by a couple of riders with hydration packs on their back - and should have just crossed the yellow line and gotten them out of my way. Several times prior, we had yelled "car back" and they just stayed bunched up on the road. That's why motorists hate us and why I hate some cyclists.
There are probably a few more that will materialize as I sit for the next 6 days waiting for this to heal.