Saturday, July 30, 2011

This is how it is.

I see how it is. Money, price and service have lost their relationship.

I started to think about it when the spate of NFL free agent signings was being reported this week. The lockout is over, and teams have been rushing to pay huge sums of money to mesomorphs with athletic skills. Twenty million dollars. Ten million dollars. Guaranteed money for guys with no more skill than running fast and catching oblong projectiles.

As I placed my items on the grocery store conveyor, I walked down to the end of the line to place the items in my canvas bag as the cashier rolled them over an electronic scanning device. I hadn't finished placing them all in the bag when the cashier said, "Twenty-one seventy-five," which was my cue to swipe my debit card and pay for it all. The items sat unattended while I entered my PIN and selected "Yes" and "No" to those questions at the end of the transaction. When I was finished, I completed bagging my items and the cashier tore off the receipt and said, "Thanks for bagging," as though I had another choice. Someday, I'll arrive with enough moxie to just stand there and wait for service. But why should I have to do that?

Automobiles are advertised with all sorts of gadgets and safety features. The most extravagant safety features are reserved for the more expensive cars. I suppose that's because poor people or those who choose to drive economy cars don't deserve to be safe. If you want a lot of airbags and exclusive safety options, don't buy a Fiesta.

In Washington, D.C. (our nation's capital) elected officials earning hundreds of thousands of dollars are fighting over a way to spend trillions of dollars and placing the burden on people earning thousands of dollars. As it is with a lot of things, the people most impacted by a decision have the least amount of influence over it and are generally powerless to fight it. They have changed the way our inflation rate is calculated, which influences Social Security increases. They raise taxes and make the tax code so complicated that we have to pay to file. Whenever government spends itself into a hole they place the burden on us because we are their last resort. The trouble is, we aren't getting the service we are paying for.

There doesn't seem to be a relationship between the level of service, the importance to society and the price or salary paid. We derive entertainment from watching professional sports, but does that justify the exorbitant salaries? I suppose if we are stupid enough to pay $80 for a ticket to a game, teams are justified in paying $20 million a year for the people we pay to watch. If we continue to do the work that we pay store clerks to do, we're going to keep doing it because they expect it of us. If we keep buying expensive automobiles when cheaper ones will do the same job, manufacturers will keep making the big, less sensible ones.

If we stand idly by and watch our government tax and spend, we are getting what we are deserve. Our priorities have shifted into areas of entertainment and occupying our days with texting, Facebooking, Tweeting and mundane tasks that distract us from what is really important. It seems that the wider the gap between the rich and poor the more things we find to distract us from realizing it. We have our wide-screen television, web-enabled cell phone and mind altering prescription drugs to distract us from how far we have fallen and what we are really paying for.

Are we really any happier now?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How do you feel? I feel hot.

"It's Africa-hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of heat."
- "Biloxi Blues"

It's uncomfortable for the humans. Animals and other creatures don't seem to mind much. We, however, are fragile creatures. Lizards can crawl around on rocks in the sun and not a drop of sweat. In fact, I don't know of any other animals who sweat like we humans. And certainly none who sweat like I do.

The strange thing is, our body temperature is almost 99 degrees, and yet temperatures in the 90s bother us and make us reach for the thermostat.

The temperature yesterday got to 102 degrees. That's right. The weather people said it was a "real feel" of 116. That means that it feels like it's 116 degrees, as though we're supposed to know what that feels like. It's already 102 and we're supposed to think that it's even hotter? What would it feel like if it was 116? We'll never really know what the "real feel" is because we never really feel it.

Today, it's 92 with a heat index (real feel) of 102. So, I guess if I go outside now I'll know what 102 feels like. Since it was 102 yesterday, that's what 102 would feel like if it was 92 and ... oh, I don't know what any of it is supposed to feel like. It's hot, OK? That's what it feels like.

The local supermarket had covers over the exposed milk and eggs because the air conditioner couldn't keep the place cool enough to keep the milk and eggs cold and fresh. When that happens, I'd say it's time to throw in the towel and declare some sort of state of emergency. But more than that, it makes me wonder what our parents' generation did when it got this hot. It did get this hot for them, and they didn't have air conditioned cars and workplaces. Their milk and eggs were probably exposed to deadly heat. They also didn't have the luxury of regular showers and advanced hygiene products. It must have smelled pretty bad too.

I wonder if we have softened as a society. The only time we have to do without artificial temperatures is when we are walking to our car or outdoors for some reason. In the 1950s people used to flock to movie theaters that had those signs that said AIR CONDITIONED with the little icicles hanging off the letters. Those were great times.

I grew up in a house without air conditioning, and it wasn't until I moved into my spacious 700 square foot condo that I became accustomed to air conditioning. In my youth, I'd throw a fan on and lie down for a while until the sun went down. That was before I discovered the luxury of expensive electric bills. Now, I flip the air on and it's 79 degrees inside. What a great life. I also think it has softened me and made me less able to adapt to the heat. I'm on the second floor, and without air conditioning it would be 90 degrees in here - and feel like 102.

Rather than appreciate the relative comfort, I wonder how much better my life is now than it was when I was a kid and we'd go through heat waves. And yes, it's hot, but I really couldn't tell you how it feels since I've managed to insulate myself from the outdoors during most of it. I run from my air conditioned workplace to my air conditioned car and air conditioned dwelling. I'm conditioned from the air. These past few days, I've been hunkered-in as though there was 2-feet of snow on the ground.

I cringe
when I have to endure an outdoor event in 90-degree temperatures and God forbid I go for more than a half hour without air conditioning. I have a ticket for Monday afternoon's Phillies game, and it would be worth the $32 for me to give the ticket to someone and find something to do indoors. When I go to games I look around, and I don't see many people suffering like I am. Invariably, some benevolent soul decides to mist the crowd. That's just what I need, more moisture. I feel better for about 30 seconds, then I look down and see that my scorecard is wet. Thanks, Phanatic.

So we endure the summer. We complain about the heat, much as we endure the winter and complain about the cold. It's the wind chill then. How it feels when the cold wind blows on us. I don't remember all this real feel and wind chill junk when I was a kid. Some scientist figured that we needed to be reminded how uncomfortable we are in extreme temperatures. I think that's part of the reason we complain more now than we used to.