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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Canal Street Gondolas?

I can't make fun of the Gulf Coast situation, that is some nasty shit. Yesterday, most of what I was hearing was that it was bad, but I didn't have a notion of what 'bad' meant.

I've bitched about the stupid fucks who issued building permits for the five houses on my street (including mine) that have below grade basement garages and no place for the water to go but into the garage. But to build a city of half a million people below sea level on the coast?

Here's what I think they should do. Take these historic buildings in the Quarter and whatnot, and jack them up to above sea level. Fill in below with footings and set it up like Venice. Hurricanes will still be a bitch, but then they always have been.

As far as barrier islands go, seems like it'd be possible to do something manmade that would help buffer a city. Or maybe it makes more sense to just move it, come further in and rebuild. Above sea level and in a situation where you're not trying to fight the Mississippi's Westward tendencies...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What About the Strategic Hot Sauce Reserve???

Yeah, I've heard about whole Mississippi towns taken off the calendar. Oil drilling rigs floating up rivers, refining facilities taking heavy damages.

And I guess 80% of New Orleans is under water, a fate I can relate to in a vague way after this summer's flooded basement, my own personal drainage problems.

And I have a soft spot for New Orleans. 'Confederacy of Dunces' is one of my all time favorite books, I love Chef Paul, the libertine traditions of Mardi Gras and wish I could get an ice-cold Dr. Nut.

And gas is going to get more expensive, which I agree sucks, but what about hot sauce?

Tabasco's web site is offline due to the general Gulf Coast disaster area, and I have to wonder if Avery Island is a bunch of puddles of sea water with barrels of future supplies of the most famous hot sauce on earth getting ruined.

This comes as a nasty shock to me when I was getting ready to write a fan letter to the Tabasco people for keeping it a family business but licensing the packaging of individual servings through Heinz. When I cave in to the Reilly influence and get a hot dog at QuikTrip, the thing that perfects it is those single-serving Tabasco pouches.

The Tabasco people claim the product has a five year shelf life. Unopened, maybe. But it would be more accurate to say that a lot of refrigerators have a five year old bottle, half full of separated, brownish stuff. Oxidation takes its toll, and the sauce (which has more vinegar than you want for a lot applications to begin with) tends to oxidize faster than most people use it. The pouches are the perfect fix: you don't expose it to air until you're going to eat it, and the flavor is exquisite.

My first encounter with Tabasco, I was twelve or so. We were having tacos, which was pretty regular. At least as often as a Chef Boyardee pizza kit, Mom would make tacos. She used regular seasoning for the ground beef, for some reason McCormick instead of the local favorite Williams. Chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese. Shells warmed in the oven. And I got curious about the Tabasco, asked if I could put some on my taco. Dad said sure, but to go easy on it, a little goes a long ways.

I drizzled eight or ten drops across my first taco and bit into the fires of hell. But I couldn't admit I'd overdone it. I couldn't give Dad that victory. I ate every bite of that taco, nose running, eyes watering, sweat running down my scalp. And by the time I finished it, I loved it. The endorphin rush (I didn't know that's what it was at the time) had kicked in and I was in heaven.

So even though Mrs. Renfro's Habanera Salsa has taken first place in my spicey staples inventory, and even though I tend to add crushed red pepper to a lot of things I don't want the vinegar tang of Tabasco on, I can't conceive of home not including a bottle of Avery Island's answer to fire. I hope, if the French Quarter is submerged, that by some miracle, Tabasco is on high enough ground that the flow of hot sauce will be uninterrupted.

Yes, spambots found me.

I could go in and nuke the spam response I got to my last post, but I just activated the anti-spambot feature at blogger and I'm not going to worry any more about it at this point.

The 'War on Drugs' gives us an illustration that, given demand, ferocious and sophisticated methods of interception only meet with the same. The big difference between cocaine and spam advertising is that some people actually want to buy cocaine. It's a comparatively beneficial thing, and I'd be gleeful if the resources now being wasted on drug interdiction would be directed at the assholes who generate spam, computer viruses, etc.

And I marvel, as with the e-mail come-ons for sneaky-pete prescription painkillers: who falls for these things? I realize the investment end is smaller than with traditional junk mail models that require physical postage, but I can't believe this can be done profitably.

Before I installed Spam Assassin on my domain, I was getting hundreds of comeons for Oxycontin. Viagra, lots of e-mails trying to sell that too.

For the sake of argument, let's say I wanted to party with some synthetic opiates and erectile dysfunction drugs. And what's more, let's assume I'm not smart enough to trick a doctor that I can't get it up and it's wrecking my marriage. And not smart enough to fake pain symptoms that can't easily be disproven to get a script for some high-power stuff. So let's assume I'm drug seeking, terrible at acting and can't be bothered with figuring out how to fake symptoms but want the drugs.

I'm going to give my credit card number to some anonymous e-mailer and wait for it to come in the mail? Please.

First off, if I was the DEA, I'd be sending these e-mails out just to find good people to stake out. Got to keep prisons a growth industry, right? Without such tactics, they'd never catch a guy who can't fake back pain or impotence.

Second, if I pay whatever they're asking for via my credit card, and the dope doesn't come, what do I do? Call the cops and say I got burned on a drug deal? I know credit card companies offer good protection against fraudulent charges, but I bet the fine print includes something to the effect that you're on your own if the fraudulent charges originated from an attempt to break the law. The last think CitiBank wants is to be fightng on behalf of people trying to use interstate commerce to violate federal laws.

Then again, if you're so inadequate as a human being that you can't get dope through normal channels (the pharmacy, or maybe an ice cream truck if you fancy grass, heroin and cocaine), what are the odds you'd think these things through? I saw an episode of 'COPS' one time, where, no kidding, a woman hailed the cops to bust a woman in a house who'd taken $20 from her for some crack cocaine, then didn't provide the drugs. She wanted the Las Vegas police to make this woman give her the dope she'd paid for.

And my friend who's a cop, he was a detective for a while, and got the walk-in report from a person who wanted to file a complaint against someone for stealing their stash of pot. 'I'd love to take that report,' he says. 'Because as soon as you sign it, you're swearing you had posession of a controlled substance, and I'll bust you. Then I'll go hunt down the guy who stole it, and we'll send you both away for the same stash.'

You have to make allowances for my friend. Because he's a cop, he's been indoctrinated to think the narcotics laws can be enforced. He's also not going to give up his job for malfeasance to benefit the sort of idiot who comes to the station house to report that their contraband was stolen.

I'm sure whoever it was went home and gave a credit card number to some spam e-mail offering high times at reasonable prices...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Will You Get Anything???

I was mowing my Mom's lawn and her next door neighbor, I stopped to talk to him. He's classic. Remember Sanford & Sons? If you got rid of most of this guy's junk, maybe you'd get close to that. He's not in business to sell the stuff, he accumulates. I can relate, I have packrat tendencies myself. Okay, more than tendencies.

He has index card files, rusted shut, on his patio that he says he keeps tools in. By this, he means he means to one day keep tools in them. He has two street sweepers in his garage he bought before I was born. I haven't seen them: there's too much shit sitting on them. There's a motorcycle, and the assorted partial reubilds of four or five others. There's adding machines with 200 or so keys that go back to some prior era of accounting. There's an Olds 442 under a tarp in his driveway, I rode to school in this car on a carpool basis 30 years ago. Then it got side-swiped by a dump truck while parked. It's still there. It has not been repaired.
This time, the subject moved into Social Security. To give you an idea of age: this guy is a World War II veteran. His son who's my age, he was the product of a second marriage, and he survived that wife too.

He's also survived numerous visits from code enforcement people. He had ten vehicles and a boat at one time, and he always sells down to the legal limit when they put the pressure on. Owns two riding lawnmowers for a yard that can be mowed in less than an hour with a walk-behind. Owns a non-motorized mower for his golf green, where he practices his puts.

When his second wife was still alive, I understood why he kept working. Shit, he had an on-the-job accident about fifteen years ago and he about went nuts not having work to go to. He doesn't love his job, he just doesn't know any other way to be.

So anyway, being in suburbia, he's long since pushed his luck with the amoung of crap he stores outside his house. The inside, it's full. Even after his second wife died and he got rid of enough books and bookshelves to start a Borders, that was just to clear a path. He's still working, approaching 80 and still puches a clock instead of punching his boss. The stories he tells about work: I can see he think the place would shut down without him; I can see where his employer might be begging HR to fire him if he won't retire because he's a pain in the ass.

But today the conversation drifted to Social Security. Him talking about how he's 'paid in,' and so is entitled to a payoff. According to his version of history, when Reagan got in (it's always a Republican villain with this guy, even though his resentments would properly be bipartisan), they started to use the Social Security 'trust fund' to pay welfare bums who still haven't gotten off their asses to look at the help wanted pages. Nevermind that this guy is 15 years past retirement and holding a job that might take someone off welfare. Nevermind that I've personally known both welfare junkies and people who have gone from welfare to careers that exceed mine. Reagan fucked us all, according to my Mom's neighbor, and despite being stupid, managed to do it in a way that can't be undone.

This same guy wants to know what my autistic daugher's 'special talent' is because, according to him, there are offices in Washington where the CIA employes autistics and utilizes there special skills. Mo is autistic, but she's not fucking Rainman. Spooky smart is not the same as idiot-savant.

This guy gets particularly irked by the Bush administrations 'privatization' schemes for Social Securty. He wants to know, if its such a great idea, why they don't put his trust fund in the market? Well, sorry, but there IS NO FUND. It's a lie. Current contributors provide current benefits, which is something that only works with an increasing pool of contributors. The baby boom is over, and just like Southwest water rights base don the 1930s being an unusally 'wet' decade, unless the job market swells with a ton of babies that don't exist right now, I'll be lucky if Social Security pays my property taxes. If I live that long. When I took my first job, 65 was the magic number. Now, they say 67. For all I know, in the next three decades they'll sneak that up to 87. Or cut benefits. Either way, my 401 and Roth are more likely to prevent my dumpster-diving.

Privatization versus abandoning the program? It's politcally unpopular bigtime to say you'd just phase Social Security out. It's the classic case of the government making a good idea bad: It's good to save for retirement; it's bad to let the government figure out how.

In any case, I can't see myself pushing 80 and punching a timeclock. I like my job, but there's shit I'd rather be doing. Marching up and downt he square is not good enough.

This guy, my Mom's neighbor, he's bought some rural land. Plans, supposedly, to build a barn there. To fiddle with stuff he can't plausibly put in his already cluttered yard. Does this mean retirement? No, he says, he's just going to build it. A house with the barn, 'maybe someday.'

This is a white Fred sanford with no heart attacks to fake. He's made an eyesore (to folks like my Mom) out of his place, and power to him. I say it's it's house, his land, and until he does actual damage to somone (not lowered property values or other second-hand-smoke bullshit), let him be. Now I find out he's extended it a bit. A franchise. Five acres of blight seperate from his home, where he plans (he won't do it, but try convincing him of that) to build a barn to tinker in. Guaranteed: if he lives to be 90, the poeple who build aroud that five acres will try to have him suppressed.

I say, fuck it: let him shout 'Theater' in a crowded fire.

My Newest Business Plan

The bank turned me down, and I can't figure it. What could be more American than Liquor, Guns & Ammo? It's not like I included prostitutes in my proposal (since I don't need any financing to attract them, I thought it superfluous). I got a great location scouted, too, right between some low rent apartments, a riverboat casino, and a pawn shop. You gotta figure there's a demand.

And that annoying waiting period thing? I figured out a way around it: the law requires a five day wait before purchase, but if I let the customer 'demo' the unit for five days pending credit approval... Because let's face it, you might still be pissed in five days, but the guy you're pissed at has probably figured that out, and no matter how much fun he's had with your wife, girlfriend, daughter, etc., he's gone by the time five days is up. Be realistic. The Second Amendment doesn't say anything about getting the gun slow. The only time frame that comes to mind right off is the right to a speedy trial for shooting someone who just might have had it coming.

I thinkt he big problem is this: Second Amendment fetishists forget that those guns are supposed to protect the other parts of the Bill of Rights. If the NRA focused on cases where someone used a handgun to defend the free speech rights of a New York Times reporter (presumably by rescuing her from captivity and shooting her kidnappers), maybe the Times wouldn't be so fucking hostile to gun owners.

The booze part: I don't know about you, but if I was going to kill someone, I'd need a drink. Maybe before, maybe after, probably both. The Olympic Sized Swimming Pool Martini. Dry up and dirty, please.

And to cop a George Carlin riff, Iraq is supposed to be coming up with a constitution while pretending it's not a colony the way Japan and Germany pretend not to be U.S. protectorates. Just give Iraq our Constitution. It's still good but we're not using it.

Ugly People Can Make You Better

I happened to think, as a sort of appendix to that road rage post, about something I was going to do a long time ago, and I didn't.

You might have gathered, I hate driving. It's part of why I want to live in New York City. Really, almost any city so dense that having a car is illogical. There's places that fit that criteria that I haven't been to.

But I used to want the airhorn off a semi tractor. I drove a little Toyota and I wanted something that, if I get cut off, I could throw a scare into someone, make them think they cut off a an 18-wheeler instead of a cute little hatchback.

Then I saw a guy in an old Ford blast someone with just such an array. They'd been driving slow in front of him, and he was tailgating them. When they finally turned, he blew that horn, amazingly loud, and when the startled occupants of the other car looked back, he was wagging his finger at them, scornful. He was among the ugliest human beings I've ever seen. So consumed with his rage he required this ridiculous weapon to scream at the world.

the idea of putting truck horns on my Toyota just evaporated in that glimpse.

Maybe if I saw someone weaving to freak rude motorists out, I'd think that was just as ugly. Hope not.

Vigilante Road Rage

I've really gotten sooo much better about this, but today I lost it.

I'm coming back from mowing my Mom's lawn, and they're doing some road work. Signs for miles ahead tell you that the left two lanes will be closed, tell you from where and to where. As you get to the 'from where' point, there's a single file of cars in the right lane, moving slowly, fits and starts. So I got in line. And there's people whizzing past in the other two lanes because the signs precede the cones and the cones precede the actual construction work.

It's nothing I haven't seen before. And these people are not saving themselves much time. Three minutes, maybe four. They used to pass on the shoulders even after it got down to one lane but now they've put up 'DO NOT PASS' signs anchored with sandbags in the shoulders, so that's out. And what do those signs say? Uh, hello, all you assholes whizzing past the line of cars: you're not supposed to be passing!

What bothers me is not the time, it's the attitude. What these people are saying is that their time is more important than my time. Anyone's time. are the same assholes who fail to yield to emergency vehicles, who have car accidents because they're talking on the goddamn phone. These are the uncivilized dingleberries that don't pull over for a funeral procession. These are people who make me have ugly thoughts, fantasies about rocket belt-fed weapons and RPGs. I want to throw those chains of spikes the cops lay down in front of runaway cars and flatten all four tires for them, just to let them know what I think of their self-importance.

But since you can get shot at trying to do something about it, and since I know it's not healthy to rage, I try to get into my cave with my power animal in these situations. But when a professional trucker started moving up tot he left of me, I flipped him the bird and pointed to one of the 'DO NOT PASS' signs. He got in behind me, but others were still zipping past. So I flipped them off, and eventually the cones narrowed it to two lanes, and that's when I did something that's probably illegal.

I vaguely remember some news item about how they'd outlawed road rage. Well, passed a law threatening fines or jail or whatever, to 'aggressive' drivers. So this might or might not be self incrimination (for that matter, flipping someone the bird is technically assault, so I'm your man, Mannix).

I started zigzagging between the lane I was in and the lane people had plenty of time to have merged from. Like the NASCAR guys do when they're running under caution. I never understood why they did that, because I think passing under caution gets you penalized pretty bad in racing, so I assume they're keeping their tires hot for traction or they're just bored with turning left all day.

It turns out to be harder than it looks, doing a two lane slalom with enough arc to keep people from passing on the one side, or sliding up and taking your place on the other. It's kind of fun, though, and it scares people. Behind me, I could see people deciding not to wait until the last possible spot to merge. Then, to make sure they knew that I was doing this because I was pissed at their lack of couth, I drove as slow as I could once we were down to one lane. I had a mile of empty road in front of me, just put it in first and let the engine idle. Then, when I got to the exit where people would have the option of getting off the interstate (they probably could have made it up one ramp and down the other to pass me, I was going that slow), I dropped the hammer and cruised the posted 55 the reast of the way out.

Could I get a ticket for this behavior? Probably. What would gratify me immensely is if the cops would set up stings and write people up for passing where it was posed they couldn't, because fines are double in work zones. Pull them over in a way that slows all the traffic down so that the word gets out that your time better be really precious if you're going to be that rude.

Lobsters are Buddies

It's as if she knew. When Em was maybe three years old, I made a comment about eating lobsters, and she insisted that you couldn't eat lobsters. Why?

'Lobsters are buddies,' she said. 'They live in the water.'

Target had a lobster pond, and she liked to go check them out. It's logical: Why don't we sell pets in the same section of the store as food? I even have a friend who bought an enormous frog at a Chinese market as a pet. The Chinese market guy could not believe they'd spend $8 on a frog and not eat him.

Couldn't I take the lobster out of the tank, boil him alive, then eat him?

'NO! Lobsters are buddies.'

Aside from the obvious cannibalistic thing (and I remember reading somewhere that lobsters tend to cannibalism, that if you don't rubber band their claws, they'll eat each other in the lobster pond at target), the kosher laws have always been a mystery to me.

I mean, everyone has foods they prefer not to eat. My list is pretty short, but what on earth is it about shellfish? I tend to think that these primitive codes have a basis in survival. It's probably not very economical to raise pigs in Palestine, and if it uses more resources than it yields, it'd stand to reason that custom would proscribe eating pork. Without the kosher law, some guy would get rich and eat pork as a status symbol, something like that. As opposed to merely owning slaves, which wasn't against the rules. Or have several simultaneous wives ages thirteen to seventeen. Creepy, but not scripturally banned. Go figure.

Some of the combination things, I don't know, maybe mixing dairy and meat (isn't that one of the rules) had to do with sanitation, a situation that in that time and context invited food poisoning. Dunno. Maybe it's all irrational and arbitrary. Unaccountable would say all relgion is irrational and arbitrary. In fact, it's an article of faith with him...the irony!

But shrimp? What the hell? Did the Levites have some sort of insight into the cholesterol content? Did they just know that if Jews figured out how to make Cajun Angels (shrimp wrapped in bacon, grilled with butter and barbecue spices) that they'd have to figure out how to set up a cardiology practice in a nomadic desert dwelling society? Maybe it was only once the Jewish Homeland of New York City was established that cardiology for fun and profit came into play.

Uh-oh, the Thought Police are getting ready to ram the door. I just made a comment some would claim was anti-Semitic. But I adore New York City. I'd move there in a heartbeat if Frau Lobster didn't detest the place. And I want one of those hats I saw the Hassidim wear. What do you call those hats? And is it some sort of cultural affront for a Goy to don one of those hats? Not that it'd necessarily stop me, but if it's offensive, I'd like to at least know.

And the withdrawal from the 'settlements,' that's an amazing bit of progress, and from a regime that I didn't think was capable of anything but more attrocities against Palestinians. I've suggested before that the best way to peacefully resolve Palestine is to give Israel a new location: Nevada. Then pull all foreign aid to the Zionist regime and give the Israelis airpane tickets. I suggested Nevada because it's a dessert and the Mormons next door could give them a good example of how to run a theocracy that isn't so Apartheidy. And there's plenty of room in Nevada.

And I have to wonder how different the century might be if the early Zionists in favor of Uganda as a homeland had won. It was a real consideration. It couldn't have turned out any worse than what's happened with Palestine.

But this New York thing: what better way to gentrify the Bronx than to bring millions of Israeli Jews in? Take the shittiest neighborhoods in NYC, I guarantee you the average Israeli Settler has seen tougher. In a couple of years, it'd be like Manhattan.

The other great thing about New York is assimilation isn't just optional, it's practically impossible. How the hell do you 'assimilate' into 8,000,000 people from 12,000,000 cultures?

Friday, August 26, 2005

McStarbuckification & Lobsterism

I'm no global economic force, but I could make a vegan-burger that is more credible, both in taste and nutrition, than anything that comes from the Golden Arches.

Still, gotta give them credit for trying. If they'll ever try it in my area, maybe I'll consent to consume one. BK Veggies aren't too bad. The main thing is to find something that tastes good, even if it doesn't taste like meat.

CPR and Paris Hilton

Tomorrow morning I go in for CPR/First Aid class. I've taken this every two years since before I had a heart attack of my own.

One of the rare occasions I let TV take over, I watched the 'Simple Life,' where Paris Hilton and this ugly chick who has some pop-singer affiliation, they had to pretend to 'work.' I don't know if you've seen this particular abortion of a TV show, but they're pretty bad at 'work.'

In the episode I was victimized by, they played firefighter. Carrying hose up flights of stairs, I can see a civilian not being up to that. For that matter, I've known some firefighters who would get infarcted if they had to do it again.

But they did CPR training, and as someone who has been in cardiac arrest, someone who's relied on a combination of unlikely luck, CPR training and medical professionals to bring me back... Seeing Paris Hilton getting CPR training, I had a visceral reaction, waves of nausea, tightness in my chest, light-headedness. Because despite her good looks and money, the idea that if I had another attack, my life could in any way ride on this entitled cunt...

I shudder. Paris Hilton is the sort of person who makes me question my assertion that human life deserves protection until it commits a crime that exceeds its value (such as performing abortions or running a Fortune 500 company into bankruptcy for profit).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The 150 Foot Bus Ride

I feel silly enough having the kiddos ride the bus to school when I pass within two blocks of their school on the way to work. Technically, I’m supposed to be at work before school starts. But since I don’t have a second shift counterpart taking over my desk at 4:00, my boss accommodates the chronic tardiness that necessarily comes with either putting them on the bus or dropping them off.

Today, one kid catches the bus, the other was too slow finding a pair of shoes. So I dropped her off. Approaching the school, I was right behind my other daughter's bus.

There's a house next to the school. Closer than some of the parking places I've got when there's a play or other parent-bait event. The bus stopped and picked up a kid and drove him (I'm not exaggerating) maybe 125 feet.

I'm not bitching on an environmental basis. Those dinosaurs died so we could drive around looking for sexually irresponsible girls. But riding the bus less than the length of a football field?

Fuck the gasoline: do you know what kind of resources go into making steel, making brake-pads? Stopping that bus, what a needless waste.

Don't Apologize, Pat

On the way to work today, I heard that Hugo Chavez (for the uninitiated, he's basically like Castro with oil money) is bitching that the U.S. has him in the assassination crosshairs. I wish! If we did business that way, we could have popped Saddam and the rest of the 'deck of cards.' Why do 'shock and awe' when you could do it with a few snipers?

Chavez is probably paranoid, like that asshole in charge of North Korea. Sure, we'd like him dead, but who wouldn't?

Do you hear any sign that the U.S. is going to invade Venezuela? I haven't even heard bullshit charges that they're buying nuclar weapons components.

So Chavez is having a fit that he just might have to hold his breath if his paranoia isn't cured, and Pat Robertson (no hero of mine) makes the offhand comment that if we really wanted to get rid of him, it'd be easy. Wouldn't it be?

Full disclosure: I believe the CIA finances its black budget overruns by trafficking heroin and cocaine. I also believe the real reason we invaded Iraq is because if we don't use up the bombs we've bought, we can't keep the bomb-makers in business. Iraq was an inventory clearance, MOABs on blue-light-special.

So Pat says this and next thing you know, less than twelve hours later, he's apologized to Hugo Chavez. What the fuck? Pat Robertson might be a legit assassination target in some people's mind, but compared to an OPEC dictator? What are you going to do, run your SUV on an Xtian cable network?

Basically, if someone is President or otherwise Maximum Leader of a country, that's proof enough that he's guilty of capital crimes. Hang him, let the crows eat his eyes, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein, all guilty.

Hugo Chavez too. But then, Pat has run for President, so hang him too. You want population control? Instead of murdering babies in the womb, start with politicians.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I Look Like a Criminal, But Still..

When I worked in convenience stores, drive-offs were an occasional worry. I worked graveyards more often than not, and for some reason people are more inclined to run away in the dark when they're alone than to fill up and sneak away at 5:00 p.m. when your'e struggling to make change for paying customers.

I worked for QuikTrip when between jobs most recently. This was ten years ago. They were the Nordstrom's of Gas-n-Sips. Requiring someone to prepay was a firing offense, the idea being that a pissed off customer who would have paid outweighs a scoundrel who might run off with a tank of gas.

For that matter, during training, we were taught that while we were to refuse checks from someone with a bad check that hadn't been redeemed, the company made money off bad checks. We charged a $25 service charge on bounced checks, and the vast majority made them good, paid the 'service' charge and went on to be loyal customers.

Now QT, the last place I'd expect, has gone all prepay. You can pay at the pump with a Userer's Card. Or you can prepay.

QT is still ahead of the curve. Give them a valid driver's license and they'll give you a card that releases the pump on the old pay-after basis.

This is how far ahead of the curve they are:
Payday, this past Friday, we took my paycheck to the Credit Union, and then went to the Connoco across from it to fill up the minivan. My truck has broken the $50 in relatively moderate petroleum markets if I run both tanks down, but that hardly ever happens since I have a 2-1/2 mile commute. The minivan holds a total of less than one of my F-150's tanks. It's got one cute little 14-point-something gallon tank.

So I gave the attendant a $50 bill. He checked it with a marker before releasing the pump. I think you could pass off a one-sided, black toner photocopy of a $50 if you could make the marker change color the way it's supposed to. Somehow, it's assumed that a $50 is counterfeit, which almost makes me blow Diet Dew out of my nose because I'm in the graphic arts, have access to truly high end equipement (a $45,000 scanner; a $400,000 digital press, etc.), and I'd have a time making a $50 I would believe as a party gag.

While Frau Lobster filled the 'van' with overpriced dinosaurs, I rounded up beverages for my family, and returned to the register for an education in stupidity:

The van had taken the whole $50. In fact, he'd preset it to shut off at $50, even though at most, Frau Lobster might have robbed him of $1.13 if the pump had run until the van was full and she'd bolted (leaving me in the store with no way to get home with my armload of soft drinks).

The attendant was even a little indignant that she'd used the whole thing, as if I was the one that put the price at $2.70 a gallon.

I don't blame him. I was working at a Texaco when Saddam rolled into Kuwait and gas went from 79¢ to $2,10 in one day. Even then, we had signs up proclaiming we'd reject any bill larger than a double sawbuck. It was a lie, but most people bought little enough in gas that a $50 would run us out of the amount of change we were allowed in the drawer. Yeah, we could have easily broken C-Notes all day, but we'd have been an even more tempting target for armed robbery.

So if the average customer is spending $15 and you are forbidden from keeping more than $35 in change in the drawer, $50 bills are problem.

And I have, as prior posts indicate, cultivated a head of hair that might make some narrow-minded individuals assume I have huge criminal streak. Nevermnd that, if I wanted to steal, I would do everything in my power to NOT have distinguising features. Long hair, that woudld be out, as would a shaved head (the two extremes I tend to). A suit would be too much, but jeans would be too casual. The Grand Voyager minivan is about the only thing I have that screams 'average.' And it's a '98, so it may be screaming 'poverty' in an age of so-called zero-percent financing and fake 'employee' pricing.

It's an interesting shift in assumptions. Window #1 gets your money before window #2 gives you the wrong food, but in an upscale restaurant, no one asks you to pay before you eat. Gas stations, even QuikTrip requires me to prove I have means to pay and likely intentions before I can pump gas. But what if I went to a steakhouse and ordered a $32 Ribeye, a lobster tail, caeser salad, baked potato and grilled asparagus, had a bottle of cab sauv with it, maybe a Creme Brulee for desert. The bill comes, maybe what? $250 if I'm not eating alone, maybe $130 if I'm flying solo (and flying I'd be, the whole bottle of wine to myself). For sure, it would be easier to walk out on an overpriced dinner than to drive off with a tank of gas.

Makes me want to find the guys who covered their license plate during the first Gulf War and let them know: pay for your gas, steal your meals.

A sign of the times...

A joke passed on to me by George
A guy walks into the local welfare office, marches straight up to the counter and says, "Hi... You know, I just HATE drawing welfare. I'd really much rather have an honest job."

The social worker behind the counter says, "Your timing is excellent. We just got a job opening from a very wealthy old man who wants a chauffeur and bodyguard for his nymphomaniac daughter. You'll have to drive around in his Mercedes, but he'll supply all of your clothes. Because of the long hours, meals will be provided. You'll be expected to escort her on her overseas holiday trips. You will have to satisfy her sexual urges. You'll have a two-bedroom apartment above the garage. The starting salary is $200,000 a year".

The guy says, "You're bullshittin' me!"

The social worker says, "Yeah, well... you started it."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hey, Langa-List Members!

Yes, you. Don't leave so quick. It's a blog? Yeah, it's a blog. But the content is all over the place. Come on in and look around. Don't be a stranger!

Speaking of the Real Book

An excellent CD, one of my absolute favorites, riff's on the Real Book. Steve Swallow, with Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell. I've had it for about ten years and it still gets heavy rotation on my hi-fi.

The album art is clever too, not only with the obvious cover, done to look like a 'Real Book' that's seen some use, but the liner notes are in the form of lead sheets for the tunes, penned in the style of the lead sheets in 'The Real Book.' The photo on the back has Steve winking at you.

In fact, the more you know of the legend of 'The Real Book,' the more clever (and possibly incriminating) the cover art becomes...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Coat and Tie (and All That Jazz)

Tomorrow, I do it, wear a suit where it's ridiculous to do so.

If the batteries in the digital camera are charged, I'll provide you with photographic evidence of this charade. But with what I spent at the Men's Wearhouse, I might as well wear it. I said in an earlier post that I've only worn it to a wedding and a funeral, but I thought of one other time: I wore the suit when I went to fight a bullshit parking ticket. I was the only guy in the court room with a suit on. I would have fit in better if I had dressed from a thrift store.

More importantly, I had another lawn mowing epiphany today. I detest mowing, it makes me want to move to New York, live in an apartment surrounded by maintenance-free concrete. Never mind that I've never been willing to share walls, the first place I rented was a microscopic house. And forget that Frau Lobster is allergic to New York (and most other big cities). She also has these odd notions that our children should run and play in an outdoor setting. It's freakish, but she tolerates my presence so I have to make allowances...

I'm still ironing out 'Wealth Effects.' For that matter, it seems to get more wrinkled as time goes by. It's over three years since my heart attack, and I was already in progress on it when that happened, so this is a project that's four years going on five.

But I'm mowing the lawn and a whole other novel just kind of inserts itself into my imagination. Rapid fire ideas that required me to spend three hours just jotting outline-type notes. I couldn't let it go. Even the title came to me, 'John's Fake Book.' Done in a type of cover to mock the 'Real Book,' which is so underground that legit publishers have successfully ripped it off.

Because Elliott (he's the 'John' of the title but can't admit it for good reason) doesn't use a fake book. All this shit just flooded into my mind, his exile from New York, his heroin habit that is kept under wraps at great expense, his homosexuality and marriage of convenience to a woman who needed a husband to get full custody from a hostile ex (in a 1950s setting). And a ton of other stuff I won't blog about because I just spent hours typing it into a word processor, and because I think once 'Wealth Effects' is put to bed, 'John's Fake Book' will be the next opus.

I like the 'fake book' as a motif for this, because Elliott's ear is so good that such books are useless to him; at the same time, he's living a necessary fiction not because he's a homosexual, but because he shit his nest in an extraordinary and permanent way when he was in New York where, even in the 1950s, you could bat for the other team if you were smart about it.

I won't let this derail me from 'Wealth Effects.' I've got too much time and effort invested in it to throw it over like Tom Cruise discards Hollywood beauties. The odd thing is the genesis.

I'm mowing grass and sweating it up, and I picture a junkie who wears long sleeves year-round, to cover track-marks. He wears a coat and tie, but that's less and less probable as time goes by...

Looking at the bruise where they drew my blood for a lipids workup, and my blood isn't easy to draw (the blood bank quit calling me because guys who faint at the finger prick test for anemia are more trouble than they're worth). And I remember seeing somewhere that Kurt Cobain said that the most needle-phobic person on earth (he must have been speaking of me) would crave one if it had heroin in it. That's the nature of addiction.

And I can relate: when I smoked, I got to where I coughed in the morning until I yacked, and then I lit the first cigarette of the day. In any case, Bird Pepper has it's second title by me in the bag, all I have to do is write it. I mean, I sort of did this evening, a few thousand words of summary and sloppy dialouge with names that changed as the story evolved...

The 'Real Book,' the underground version, is something that was a rite of passage for me as a teen. You get an archtop, a Real Book, a Polytone amp. You learn the errors int he Real Book from a master. This illegal, piracy-of-a-piracy was singularly important in my musical development. Pat Morrissey, the late-great trumpet player, was at a jam session I had no business at and I was trying to keep up on Caravan. He said to me, 'They're not using that arrangment, they're doing it like the Jazz Messengers. Its...'

It was better I sat out. He didnt' say it to me, but since I couldn't process all the information he was giving me, and I couldn't follow the band on paper, I kenw I'd get the figurative cymbal thrown.

But the fake book think, that's something that could cut both ways for a secretive junkie, a closet homosexual, and a man who is wanted in a relatively casual way for murder a few states away...

I Hired This Bruegel Guy...

I let this cat read some of 'Wealth Effects,' and he came up with this as cover art. Hmmmm.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Even Frau Lobster Says I Don't Stink...

And really, she has about the most sensitive nose on earth. My own olfactories are delicate and trained. I'm a National rank BJCP judge, and after another decade of judging I might have enough experience points to make it worth re-testing for Master, the next rank up. I have a bit of a blind spot for dimethylsulfide, the fermentation by-product that gives some beers a 'cooked corn' aromatic note, but I can smell mercaptans (the skunky smell that shows up in beers bottled in clear or green glass) a mile a way.

That sknunkiness is not supposed to be there, by the way. Some Heinekin/Grolsh/Pilsner Urquell drinkers think it's the selling point, but it's actually damage done during storage. The iso-alpha-acids that make beer bitter, when exposed to excessive UV, split up and form, among other things, the exact same chemical that skunks spray on potential predators. Miller gets away with clear glass by using a hop extract that does not have the susceptible molecule. Not that there's much in the way of hopping to a bottle of Miller, but if you must accept an improperly packaged beer brewed to McBottomLine standards, it's probably the 'least offensive.'

Anyway, Frau Lobster can smell the residual of fried foods prepared in our kitchen for about six years after the meal has been prepared. She was an early adopter of Febreeze, and is given to burning smelly candles and spending her discretionary income in a local soap shop that makes perfume-laden soaps you can smell after six or eight rinses.

So if Frau Lobster says I don't stink, I take her at her word. I swear she smells offenses that are not there, so if she can't detect one, it definitely doesn't exist.

This is by way of introducing that my boss talked to me (again) about coworkers bitching about my aroma. Coworkers plural. He can't tell me who all it is, but I know one is my cellmate. The asshole. In nine years on the job, I've rarely even thought that term, let alone said it aloud.

The reinforcement of a second person, of course, lends credibility to my status as a latter day Ignatius Reilly, complete with yellowed smock and poorly maintained hot-dog cart.

I don't know who the second person is, but I assume it's someone the asshole talks to. I also assume that, on his cue, they've tried to ascertain how many days in a row I wear the same jeans.

For full disclosure, I'll say that in a day of light office work, I do not believe a pair of jeans gets 'dirty' to the extent that they need to be subjected to a full laundry cycle. I haven't done any scientific testing, but my impression is that in the winter (barring snow shoveling or other sweaty activities), four days is a good mark. Summer, two to three tops.

And here's the thing: I guarantee you that, with the possible exception of my asshole cellmate, a lot of people use the same standard, coupled with their nose and eyes, to determine if a garment can be worn again. Especially the 'well dressed.' The asshole is given to wearing suits to work, a pretension that is incomprehensible since the CEO of the company wears jeans. But if you wear a suit, do you have it dry cleaned after one wearing? Maybe if you are literally without another way to spend your money. Or if you're an asshole production artist in a cubicle farm with almost no dress code.

Despite my ramblings against McStarbuckification, I do buy jeans at Wal-Mart. I'm either exploiting Bangladeshi cotton workers at the expense of poor, out of work Southerners, or I'm helping Bangladesh industrialize the same as we once helped Alabama. Take your pick. But I won't pay $30 extra for a 'Levi's' tag when the cotton came from the same third world textile hell. $10 a pair for jeans, great. More money for shit that matters, like the $250-$300 per month I spend on prescription copays to keep me and my family up to the American standard of near-health. Shit, maybe I spend the $30 I don't give the Levi's ad agency on booze. If so, at least I'm giving the money to someone who fulfills a useful function in society (brewing and distilling alcoholic beverages). The alternative is to pour those funds into the scam machine that generates the shuck-and-jive routine that a $7,000 Sub-Zero refrigerator will actually keep their food ten times fresher than a $700 Maytag. Or that a BMW 740 is worth $50,000 more than a Toyota Camry.

Viva Bangladesh!

Anyway, I buy these jeans in batches. Frau Lobster is on her way to the Stuff-Mart tomorrow to buy a fresh stockpile of hypoallergenic deodorant (I'm down to three sticks) and two or three more pair of cheap, Bangladeshi-cotton 'Faded Glory' 44-30 jeans. Since they'll go through the wash at about the same rate, I'm sure that anal-retentive coworkers will assume I'm wearing the same jeans every day.

Maybe I should wear my underwear on the outside. That way people could tell. Unlike my jeans, my underwear is unique. Em delights in picking out boxers for me any time a gift-giving holiday comes up. I have three pair of Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants boxers, each with a different design. I also have hearts, the Guinness beer logo, Scooby-Doo, Homer Simpson, etc.

I think of boxer shorts as lingerie for men. I mean, really, except for Olympic swimmers, almost no guy can pull off the Speedo thing, so boxers are the way to go. And just as the woman in front of me in the gas station line might be wearing a blistering ensemble from Fredricks of Hollywood under the ordinary clothes she's wearing to work, my little secret is the 'Fear My Nekkedness' Sponge-Bob boxers under my generic blue jeans. Does it have the same sex-appeal as embroidered lace? No, but the embroidered lace only has sex-appeal based on the chick wearing it.

Anyway, my boss suggested that my hair might be the cause of the complaints. It is a wild growth, the longest I've sported in over ten years. Depending on humidity and what conditioners happen to be in the shower stall, it ranges from laying relatively flat to being fairly frizzy. I don't have many split-ends because I never blow-dry it. On rare occasions, I have it evened up, but basically I'm growing it until next April or so. By then, I'll be a veritable wig-farm for Locks of Love. They separate out the gray hairs (hard to tell in my blonde mop), but they need a minimum 10" drop of braided or pony-tailed hair. I've sweated out enough warm weather events in the past year that I'm not turning back until I've got a donatable amount.

The facial hair, I don't think they can use it, but I figure I might as well experiment with going wooly in the face while I've got the mane above to go with it.

My boss, for the record, has long-hair tendencies but gave up the mop years ago. He asked if I had enough to pull back in a pony-tail, and I do. He thought that might seem less 'wild' to my fellow inmates, and put them at ease, so I'm going to experiment with banding my hair back.

In the meantime, it occurs to me that I have over $400 invested in a suit I've worn to one wedding and one funeral. I think I'll wear it to work Monday. I'll look like a damned bail bondsman, shoulder-length hair, nipple length beard, coat and tie. Maybe I'll douse myself with one of the Reagan Era colognes that is still in my medicine chest for good measure. That way, if my coworkers want to say I smell bad (either because they are in my cubicle, harnessing all their energies into hating me, or because they listen to someone who is), I can at least pretend to be in touch with my inner Ralph Lauren instead of my inner Ignatius Reilly.

Clean and Odor Free?

I'm not the kind of guy who typically badmouths coworkers. I really get along with pretty much anyone, and I tend not to have strong feelings one way or another about the other inhabitants of the cubicle farm.

For around five years I've had the same cellmate. He never talks to me. He got divorced, moved, and took up with a new girlfriend, and the first I knew of it was when he put a picture up in his cubicle of him with his new girlfriend. He didn't tell me who she was, I heard it through the grapevine.

Since he ignores me so thoroughly (though I also hear he routinely bitches about me to people he does talk to), I'm generally unaware of his presence. I honestly don't know when he comes and goes. There are ghosts with more presence in my workday.

My boss has kept me seated by him because everyone else who's sat in that cubicle has fought with him. Since I don't fight with him, it's probably a smart move on my boss' part.

The latest complaint, made twice in one week, is that I smell bad. Complaints made to my boss so he had the uncomfortable task of mentioning it to me. I've been a supervisor, so I can dig the line he's got to walk. Ignore a real problem, and you're not doing your job, confront a fake one, and you're not doing your job.

I admit that when I drop ass, it's violent. I try not to do it there at my desk, and even got a special cushion to absorb the worst of any accidental fumes. But that's not what this guy is bitching about. He's saying it might be my feet or something, but it's definitely a hygiene issue.

A few months ago, I worried about this. I break out in rashes if I don't use hypoallergenic deodorant, and I have to drive a ways to get the stuff I can use. I was out for a week or two, and as the day wore on, I know I had some serious pit smell. But I'm still working my way through a stockpile I bought after that drought (literally bought every stick in the store).

For the record, I shower on a daily basis, as is customary in America. When I'm working out regularly, or the lawn needs cutting, it might extend to twice in a day. I've missed one here and there in my life, but not by choice, and not recently.

Generally, if I complain about a coworker, it's because they're not doing their job. They're either fucking off or incompetent or coming to work stoned. But this guy is an asshole. There's just no way around it. I've attempted to break the ice, both at work and on the rare occasions I've run into him outside work. But since he apparently wants no social intercourse with me, I've respected that and given him space.

I'd still fight Tom Cruise, I don't hate this guy at work. But when someone goes this far in honing his joylessness, I'm tempted to forego showers for a week or two. Maybe start chewing garlic-flavored gum and going out of my way to direct farts in his direction.

I guess sitting next to me is this guy's personal Fear Factor episode.

But I don't think I'll stink on purpose. It'd just make the case he's invented in his mind real. Maybe I'll send him a singing telegram. That, and maybe make an extra effort to empty the chamber pots, ashtrays, and spittoons under my desk. Might even quit using sardine oil as a hair styling product.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

If You Could Fight One Person...

This is the famous 'Fight Club' question that Tyler and Jack kick back and forth. Someone I know picked P. Diddy for apparently dropping the 'P' because it was getting between him and his fans.

Which I think is hilarious on so many levels. An initial that isn't even short for the guy's 'real' name couldn't get between anything except him and reality. This guy is apparently the same guy that was once Puff Daddy, also known as Sean Jean.

Which is where it gets even funnier. The source for this information is not People magazine or anything like that. I heard about this from an educated white guy, about my age (middle 30s) who lives in Europe. How is it he's even heard of this rapper, whatever his name is? And he's picked, on account of this dropped initial thing, Diddy (I guess it's just Diddy now), as the guy he'd fight.

I've been thinking about this, too, from a standpoint of who would I fight? If I could fight just one person, engage in fisticuffs for the first time, since I've been old enough to vote.

I'm not a violent person, I've held back from hitting people who really deserved to be shot or dragged behind a pickup down a gravel road.

Michael Moore is out, not because I have any respect for him, but because it's both too obvious and because he's maybe the only guy on earth who's fatter and softer than me physically. Not a worthy adversary at all.

Likewise, Al Gore, George Bush, Hilary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and other political figures. They're too old, too fat, and too used to body guards making sure they don't even muss their hair getting out of the limo. It just wouldn't be sportsmanlike to fight those cunts.

Schwarzenegger is off, too. He's got too much muscle tone left from his juicing days, and it'd be too embarrassing to get killed by mis-matching too far the other way. Besides, he's married to a Kennedy, which is punishment enough, and Caulifournyeah really couldn't have a more fitting Gov.

Paris Hilton would be fun, but I doubt she'd put up much of a fight, so then I'd just look like some asshole battering a feeble-minded blonde.

Oh! Got it. I'd fight Tom Cruise. He's a few years older than me, but works out, so we're probably more or less an even match. He thinks a wide range of extremely helpful pharmaceuticals should be thrown out on the basis of no medical knowledge, and people listen to him because he's famous. And after throwing over an embarrassing list of gorgeous Hollywoood beauties, he's now hooked up with a chick over ten years younger than me, so he's practically a kiddie-toucher

So I'm calling you out, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. No shirt, no shoes, no belt, no body guards, we fight until one of us can't keep going. And before you come, you might tell your child-prisoner/fiancé to see if she can get a deal on Christopher Reeves' old wheelchair.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Get Poor Quick Scheme

Still pondering the self-publishing idea. Worked 11-1/2 hours today, so my brain is too cooked to do my manuscript any good. A few days ago I decided I didn't like the elaborate bird built out of hot peppers, so I reworked this logo for a colophon.

Gotta do more research when the book is closer to ready, as far as editing, legal issues, etc. I've ironically turned from an aspiring author dying to get his book in a 'Big Six' publishing house to thinking that I can't trust a publisher with my baby. If it doesn't potty train in a few weeks, they'll just drive it out in the country and dump it. And when I write a second novel, they can just point to the advance I didn't sell through. Then they can either tell me to fuck off, or grudgingly publish the second book. With a smaller advance, and on condition that I not get another dime of royalties until the combination sells through (even if they keep the first novel out of print). Max Barry only in the past few months reached this point with his first two books, which means he either got a ridiculously good advance on 'Syrup' or that even someone who's success I envy is marginal in an industry that thinks Dan Brown, John Grisham, Anne Rice, and that Harry Potter chick are all that and a jar of salsa.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

More Tatoo Work for Bro's Guitar

It's coming together. This is actually the third set of sketches I've done for the inlay work on my Brother's guitar. Excuse the image quality, the big silver disks on the headstock represent the base of the tuning peg. It's not photo-realistic, it was just to give me a notion of the space I have to work with. Likewise, the gradients in Illustrator are just to give a vaguely 'shell' impression. Kenny is a master luthier who does flat-out amazing things with shell. Visit the page about the archtop he built for me and you'll see what I mean. So these leaves, they'll look amazing when they're set in shell.

If you are on High Speed, curious & patient, there's a PDF of it you can zoom in on and see more detail. IT IS HUGE. Almost 100 MB, so I'm not kidding about that high speed. The rosette and pick guard are crude representations, really just place holders like the tuning peg indicators. The geometry of the guitar body isn't perfect either, but close enough for government work.

It's not an archtop like mine, a cutaway flat-top. Brian scoured the earth and came up with some master grade red cedar for the top (this is almost impossible to get anymore). The back and sides are going to be Brazilian rosewood, Kenny's had a stockpile of that from before the importation ban.

You hear about the burning of the rainforest in Brazil, but what they don't tell you is that no one would burn down those forests if they could legally export the rosewood and other exotic woods to the United States. Yes, logging would mean some of the rainforest gets cut. But when you make it commercially valueless, it leads to idiotic things like burning it down to try and graze cattle. It's so vast, you could probably do selective logging that's sustainable. It's not as if someone's going to pulp mahogany and rosewood for paper. They farm pine trees for that in Arkansas.

And of all the tone woods out there, Brazillian rosewood is the undisputed champ for resonance. It also made a very sexy fingerboard for my guitar (the archtop).

Tomahawk Chop!

I'm a rabid Chiefs fan. I love football (NFL) for no good reason. I came to it late in life, 20 or 21 or so before I fell for it. Childhood traumas related to my limited attempts at atheltic endeavors finally yielded to a craving for gladiatorial spectacles.

I also love Demolition Derby, and boxing when it was only slightly crooked and Heavyweights were really fighters (1970s and earlier).

Anyway, in a discussion about Stephen Graham Jones (I know, this seems like a leap, but stick with me), the subject of his Indian-ness came up. For the uninitiated, SGJ is a promising young author, and an Indian. Blackfeet. This has put him in some impossible positions: he likes to have fun with it in his fiction, remarking on the way Indian 'papers' feel like a dog pedigree, and how the Indians have started dressing like cowboys, etc. Jones isn't negative about Indian culture, he just isn't hyper-serious about it. Which is cool, because people who define themselves by race or gender or sexual preference, etc., are damned irritating.

So anyway, the occasional protestor at Arrowhead Stadium who says the Chiefs are defaming Native Americans, I've always felt like those guys should go hang out with guys like Fred Phelps (who has gone from heckling funerals for homosexuals to heckling funerals of Iraq war casualties, saying that they're going straight to hell for participating in a war on behalf of the evil Federal Government). In fact, the Indian protestors should get with the Queer Nation blood throwers, the Earth First! tree spikers, PETA guys in badly fashioned lobster suits. They can form a human shield around Phelps and his asshole disciples before someone makes a martyr out of him. Because shouting damnation and carrying defamatory signs at a soldier's funeral is a pretty good way to get your ass killed. Personally, I hope he continues to live, because if you shoot a Fred Phelps, he gets out of waking up ever day knowing he's Fred Phelps.

But my friend, who I generally agree with about quite a few things, he said something about sports franchises belittling Indians (presumably including my hometown favorite). He likened it to having a team called the Jigaboos.

So I had to think, am I off base? I can see where the tire shop I saw in Tulsa, 'Ugh, You Needum Tires?' is a fair comparison to having a baseball team called, for instance, the Atlanta Niggers. Actually, I always thought 'Tarheel' was slang for a black man, so I thought there was an example, but says I'm wrong.

But while the Chiefs' cigar-shop Indian appropriations might be in bad taste, I never found them patently offensive. Liberal scolds like to try and ban the 'Tomahawk Chop' as hate speech, but that dog won't hunt in my opinion.

The one regular season game I ever got to attend, Green Bay was visiting. This was the last game were Bono looked like a legit quarterback. The opening play was a 70 yard pass (Martyball proscribed this, but it happened anyway). And we blasted the Packers on our own frozen tundra (it was 1ºF at kickoff if memory serves).

And we did the Chop. Of course. And there were cheeseheads mixed with the sea of red, and a costume I thought was clever: a cheesehead with arrows sticking out all over him. More cigar-shop Indian stuff, right? Not to mention the 'arrowhead' hats that were sold to compete with the 'cheeseheads.'

But the 77,000 fans at the game, they aren't thinking about the Trail of Tears.

So am I wrong? Should I be ashamed of the Indian imagery the Chiefs use? Would they be allowed to play ball in the NCAA under its new Racially Senstive policy?

And, being part Irish, should I be pissed that they still call a police van a 'paddy wagon' on account of the large number of Irish cops who've driven them (probably driven them full of drunk Irish relatives when the term was coined)? And there's German (or Dutch or Austrian, who knows?) in there too, and I'm sure if you looked you could find a racial slur or stereotype in that area. Should I be embarrassed by the Governor of California, even though I've never even been there?

Anyway, I thought I should start the ball rolling on this debate, since in the coming months the Chiefs are going to not only have an awesome record, but will advance to the post season and win their second SuperBowl. I guarantee it, to use Namath's quote (see above).

A short entry

Just to prove I can.

Transylvania Barbie

I remember hearing that Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, posted the heads of victims on posts lining the roads in his neighborhood. Or maybe it was hole bodies, can't recall for sure. This was in addition to liking to drink their blood, take baths in it, just think of the bloodborne pathogens he exposed himself to. I know, they didn't have HIV back then, but still, a marvel he didn't get Hepatitis or something.

Anyway, our house is, for Barbie Dolls, kind of like living under Vlad's rein, except naked.

There's TONS of Barbies and TONS of Barbie clothes in our house, but our daugthers both seem to prefer them nekkid. Mo also likes to cut hair (her own, her dolls, her sister's dolls, etc).

I came home from work today, and there was a headless barbie dangling from twine over the stairs to the basement. This isn't necessarily a comforting sight, I just finished reading 'We Need to Talk About Kevin,' so if one of my daughters was to go Columbine someday, I'm sure this would look like a missed warning sign.

Wish I'd taken a picture of it. I have tis one, from when Em was lining up the Barbies for a Music Hall number...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Training Wheels for God

Now that you're through laughing at me for suggesting I could narrate audio books because of my high school flirtation with Thespianism (I wasn't invited to flirt with lesbianism, even telling chicks I was a woman trapped in a man's body didn't get me anywhere with that crowd).

Yeah, it was a crowd at my high school. It was so un-bold to come out of the closet, I told people I was bisexual for a while because chicks liked it. Well, some chicks liked it, others assumed it meant I had HIV. And I couldn't bring myself to actually kiss a guy, even if it might get me somewhere with a girl, so I dropped it.

So anyway, I've been reading 'Grendel' by John Gardner. He posits a lot of the existential arguments that Anne Rice does in 'Interview with A Vampire,' except he does it without being pedantic and in 10% of the space. And I got to thinking about debates I've had with people over 'faith,' and so on.

I know a guy who's trying to 'build a mystery' as I think Sarah McLachlan would put it, reading Jung and Crowley and trying to cobble together his own personal god. Or demigod, he seems a little hazy on that point.

Which is almost as goofy as a teenage boy pretending to homosexual impulses to get girls.

Prior to reading 'Darwin's Black Box' by Micahel Behe, I was a lifelong atheiest. And I mean atheist: the faith that there is no God. Not agnostic, unsure, but absolutely convicted on the point that there is no supernatural, nothing beyond life in the organic sense, which is something that 'just happened.'

The Intelligent Design argument has turned out to have enough throw weight that I've had a crisis of faith in my atheism, and so am probably now more in that agnostic column. But anyway...

When I say lifelong, I mean when I was four or five, I can recall my Dad telling me about how God created the universe, the world, etc., and life, from clouds of gasses and so on. I believed the Santa Claus bit, the Easter Bunny, etc. But this God thing, I thought, How gullible does he think I am?

So it seemed like this total outright whopper. As I grew older, found out the ugly truth about Santa and the Tooth Fairy and so on, that somehow reinforced the God as fiction instinct I'd had. I was made to go to church well into my teens, and even went through the motions of confirmation class and baptism. I remember thinking, if there is a God, and he is omnipotent, he could surely tell that I didn't believe what I was doing was legit.

I had this horrible idea that I was doing this partly to please my parents, and partly out of this dreadful prospect that there was a God, and that hopefully even though I didn't mean it when I got dipped, maybe I'd escape Hell on some sort of afterlife equivalent of a legal technicality.

Then I went to Russian Orthodox church because a friend at school had a Mom who didn't believe in cleaning house, thought Playboy in the bathroom magazine rack was di rigeur, and that 17 year old boys should be able to have a drink of whiskey here and there. She also went to a Russian Orthodox church, and the music was better than the protestant church (though by then my protestations of atheism had gotten me a pass from mandatory attendance). I even sang in the choir, not to please anyone, or to try and trick God or anything like that. They needed basses, and I liked the music. Plus, if you're going to stand through a two hour service, standing with the choir seemed more logical than standing in front of a chair you wouldn't be using.

I liked the ritual of Russian Orthodox Church. The incense, the costumes, the iconography. The unyielding tradition of using a liturgy that's always been done in the vernacular, but that had only had two or three line edits in seventeen centuries.

But I got bored with that and, worried that Reagan was going to draft me for a war that wasn't happening, I switched to a Friends Meeting, where they don't have any music. Quakers are pretty much the best opposite you could come up with for the Russian Orthodox. Where the latter still not only won't ordain women priests, but won't let women behind the alter screen, the Friends Meeting was celebrating lesbian 'marriage' in 1987. That wedding broke my heart too, because I'd had my eye on one of the pair, and was too dense to realize they were a couple to begin with.

The other thing about the Quakers, no sermon. No minister to give one. Everyone sits there, the pews weren't even all facing the same way, and there was a huge poster on the wall that declared 'Nicaragua is Not Our Enemy' for when I got bored with checking out the hot lesbian M.D. who was way too old for me and out of my league if she'd been straight and single. I was there to establish a grounds for Conscientious Objector status.

There was a dude at that Friends Meeting house who went to jail instead of war during World War II. That's guts, man. And faith. You don't take that kind of weight for principles if you don't have some hard-core faith.

But when I jumped out of an airplane ten years ago (okay, I hung onto the strut until I was told to 'look up' and let go, but it's still called a jump), that took buckets of faith. The instructors had taught us for eight hours how to increase our chances of surviving, and I took what they told me on faith. Really, I'd never met these guys, so I probably wouldn't have picked them up hitch-hiking, but I trusted their instruction. I trusted them to pack my parachute, set the auto release for the secondary that would blow if I didn't have a canopy over me when I fell to 1000 feet (in case the static line failed and I was passed out or something). I trusted the static line to pull my primary. The pilot to fly the plane, all this faith. It's not like going to jail for two years when it would have been 1000 times easier to enlist and seek a non-combatant job or something. But still, dangling your feet in the air 3500 feet off the ground with the intention to let go when told to...

That's just one example. To an extent, starting in on 'Grendel' was an excercise in faith that Jay and others who've recommended John Gardner to me were making a sound recommendation.

So if Santa Claus and so on is the training wheels for God, I still haven't learned to ride the damned bike. But to follow that metaphor, I can apparently ride a unicycle when it comes to skydiving.

More Certain Than Ever

Still fiddling with ideas for logos, names for colophons, etc. But I think I'm going to do the self-publishing thing with 'Wealth Effects' after all. That is, after I get through fixing it.

Jase at Write Club has been a fiend, critiquing what I'd posted there (about 20,000 words if memory serves). So I need to return the favor and get cracking on his ms.

I wrote a tediously long e-mail to my friend Jay on this subject, I think working through things in my mind as much as anything. (Aside to Jay: Sorry to subject you to that, by the way, if you're reading this.)

My mission has always been to go the traditional agent/publishing company route. The advance check would be nice. The affirmation that someone thinks my novel is marketable, thinks so enough to write teh check, that's the biggest thing that would be nice about it. Given some sales, an agent might also negotiate audio-book rights, movie rights, etc.

I have no intention of compromising the quality of the book. And when I get it ready for publication, it'll be a manuscript I could send to an agent with a straight face (unlike the mess I've made so far). It's not the novel I've lost faith in, it's the industry.

And maybe I'm off my nut (I mean in ways other than the norm for me).

Oh, and the graphic layout of the book, being able to take control of that is a huge enticement to me. For that matter, I love audio books, but the best audio books tend to be 'read by author.' So theoretically, I could record my own book if I was selling sufficient paperbacks to believe the audio book had a market. Print on Demand can do CDs too, so there's that. One of my neighbors told me that when my book comes out he won't read it, but he'd be glad to listen to it. He's a total audio book fanatic, with a job that requires a lot of driving. Doesn't read for pleasure, but listens constantly.

I do both, and have a passable speaking voice. If memory serves, carried a 75% victory percentage the year I did Debate in H.S., even with a different partner for each tournament, and getting sent to the advanced tournaments after cleaning house so thoroughly in my initial 'novice' outing. Also tried out for a lark when my high school did 'The Foreigner,' and next thing I know I'm Owen Musser. That was a fun deal, since my wardrobe included a KKK robe, a real hunting knife (imagine bringing that kind of thing to school today!), etc. That robe, too, I had to make a running aisle exit from a scene, and in one performance I stepped on the robe and almost fell in the lap of our the high school's principal. She was black (you can't make this shit up).

Which is a long ways to go in saying I could probably do a fair job of reading 'Wealth Effect's' in a recording booth. Even know a couple of guys with studios, pro gear, all that.

Oh, big exception on the read-by-author thing: Elmore Leonard. I heard an interview with him, and he's got a voice made for print. Reedy, squeaky, small. His books need a Richard Poe or Frank Muller to narrate them.

Friday, August 12, 2005

All The Trouble In The World

I solved it all, this morning while brushing my teeth.

I have a Zippo lighter I got as a consolation prize in a charity poker tournament. I’ve never filled it with lighter fluid, because I haven’t smoked in a decade (one experiment and the occasional cigar aside), but I carry it around. I always loved Zippos, and it’s one of the things I miss about cigarettes.

Anyway, nowadays, there’s no way I could travel by air with it. It’s illegal in my pocket, and it’s illegal in my bags (which are subject to random search). This is so I don’t use it to set a passengers hair on fire or light a shoe bomb.

But I heard recently on NPR that back in the 1970s, there wasn’t any screening at all, you could get on a flight with a .357 Magnum, sticks of dynamite, a Bowie knife, and no one would know it. It’s how D.B. Cooper was able to do his thing. Hijackings were so common that people on flights through the southern United States basically expected to have a Havana layover every so often.

Also, back in the 1970s, you could smoke on the plane. You could stick a Pall Mall in your mouth and light it with a Zippo, and no one would say boo unless you were in the ‘non-smoking’ section. Which is a funny thing itself, since smoke notoriously does not stay were the smoker is, and even 'jumbo' jets are about as impressive as a minivan in terms of passenger space.

Anyway, the NPR story told how they picked up thousands of guns in the first few months of 'bothering' to check. Those metal detectors were going off left and right, at a time when the FAA was arguing that armed Air Marshals would be a threat to the safety of flights.

Hell, most of the people packing were probably otherwise solid citizens who figured a gun would come in handy if some whacko decided to hijack the flight. Or who carried all the time for self protection.

Fast forward to 9/11 and passengers are so disarmed that a box cutter is a sufficient weapon to take over a flight. Zero resistance policies turned out to have a tragic side effect. But when that shoe-bomb kook tried to light his fuse, he was practically beaten to death by his fellow passengers.

Now, you can’t even carry finger nail clippers on an airplane legally.

I say, take out the x-ray machines and go back to the 1970 standard. Yeah, the second-hand smoke will be a drawback, but assholes with box cutters will face what amounts to volunteer air marshals. Try and light a shoe bomb, don’t be surprised if you get perforated by three different calibers of handgun fire. Pull a box-cutter on a stewardess, and get your ass shot to pieces.

And if you think guns are ‘the problem,’ you probably also believe the world is overpopulated, so shut up. If I’m wrong and it rains airplanes, be grateful someone’s thinning the herd.

Oh, and prescription drugs. They’re expensive, and with government subsidies for Seniors, they’ll get more expensive. Public spending on healthcare is already the main inflationary pressure in that market sector, so knock it off. After two decades of the ‘War on Drugs,’ cocaine, marijuana, and pretty much every other drug except Sudafed is cheaper and more readily available. This is good and well, but instead of issuing patents for statins, beta blockers, etc., just ban them. Declare war on the prescription drugs, try and stop the pharmaceutical companies from delivering them to the customers. Use Gestapo tactics, jail people for possession, for use, for dealing. You won’t find a cholesterol count over 130 in ten years, even among inmates. Plus, by making it a covert operation, you’ll automatically generate competition not only for better drugs but for a price advantage.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Does it keep getting worse?

Unaccountable's reply to my last post is pessimistic even for Unaccountable.

A couple of things (I'm due for bed). Does the publisher's promotional money make much difference? Last I hard, a huge percentage (like 75%) of Americans never even go in a bookstore for themselves. Alarming numbers haven't read a book since high school. So is Dan Brown the product of a marketing campaign? Or is it, as I suspect, 'DaVinci Code' has a strong enough first-hundred-pages to get word of mouth going even from people who don't end up being satisfied?

Because a LOT of people have ranted about that book to me when they started it, who cooled on it when they finished. And I can count on two fingers the number of people who have finished it and still recommend it, and (not naming names), neither are big readers, so maybe they don't have a lot to compare it to...

And what is Word of Mouth, that marketing term 'sneezer,' etc.? Isn't the NYT best-seller list a sort of word of mouth? It's like the McDonald's sign that announces, basically, that billions of people have been rooked into parting with hard-earned money for food that isn't fit for the penitentiary cafeteria. So why shouldn't you?

I really believe 'Haunted' will be a negative for Chuck Palahniuk's career no matter how hard Doubleday whores it. It's not, overall, a good book. What got him to the aforementioned list was books like 'Survivor' and 'Choke' that built audience. More and more people who couldn't wait for his next book. So much so that they (I did this) pre-ordered 'Haunted' as soon as Amazon let them.

The next book? I'm a fan of Chucks, he's even gotten what is probalby the only fan-letter I ever wrote (and he responded in spades). But I won't be pre-ordering his next book, I'll be waiting for it to come to the library. I'll check it out, and if it's worthwhile, I'll buy it.

I think Donald Maas nailed it when he said that people could almost supernaturally tell when the fourth book of a series just sucked. If Sue Grafton gets to 'X is for Xandthoudakis,' and Xandthoudakis turns out to be a bore, good luck with Y and Z. Some fans will buy no matter what, but it'll drop off.

But as far as Dan Brown being a marketing phenomenon, I'm not buying it: his publisher is promoting it because it sold well. If it hadn't, they'd fill the windows of Borders with someone else's book. Ditto for the Harry Potter books. Whatever itch they scratch, so far they seem to be doing the job. Power to them, but sell short on Sony stock if people quit watching as much TV as they used to because they can't quit reading these books. Because some of these super-hits are the only books in a lot of those houses.

Am I wrong? McDonalds is able to sell food unfit for animals though the force of advertising, but I don't see ads for books. I'm a bookish guy, so where are these ads that I'm missing?

The Big Six would love it, LOVE IT, if they could force feed Americans crappy books. They could eventually get rid of writers altogether, hiring Bob Newhart's infinite number of monkeys and the 'Got Milk?' people. But I think people buy shit books for the same reason they go see shit movies.

Remember 'The Gods Must Be Crazy?' It wasn't the gods that were crazy when I was 15, it was the stupid, faux-artsy motherfuckers who kept the local art theater sold out night after night to see a black guy click to subtitles and throw a Coke bottle off a cliff. It was a cute movie, but it didn't deserve fourteen months of run.

I wasn't complaining at the time: bored girls my age were easier to feel up when they were equally bored with seeing the movie 'again.' But there was a tautology to the movie's success. It was a cult favorite because it was a cult favorite. And the older fans were smuggling booze in, I saw this more than once, guilty pints and distinctive Michelob bottles coming out of purses. Just like 'Koyaanisqatsi' is less interesting than your neighbor's vacation slides unless you get ripped on acid first.

So I'll say it the only thing out of balance in 'Koyaanisqatsi' is ticket sales versus artistic merit. I haven't read Dan Brown's phenomenon yet, but I'll bet it's not as dumb as Copolla's slide-show and Phillip Glass's insipid soundtrack...

So does it keep getting worse? Is every day better than the next? I reject that claim, as tempting as it might be. Like Xtians who say they believe because the alternative is too horrible, I refuse to believe that Dan Brown, J.K. Rowlings or Sue Grafton mean the end of literature and literacy. If I'm wrong, I really might as well turn on a 'reality' TV show and drink some Jonestown Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Publish AND Perish

I engaged in a lively argument with some friends at a bulletin board I frequent, me basically parotting the arguments against self publishing I've learned my whole life.

Who've I learned it from? My Dad for one, though even he recognizes that the modern world is different. It's one thing to spend $17,000 in 1965 self-publishing a press run, quite another to submit an electronic file that can be ordered one at a time for $17.

Where else? Let's see, Donald Maas bad-mouths self-published books in his book on writing the 'break out novel.' He says a lot of shit I agree with in terms of what makes a book generate the world-of-mouth impact that puts it on the map. But he's also a literary agent by trade. If the next Dan Brown is a POD guy, agents are fucked.

And while I'm not the sort most people would peg as 'Green,' (I just threw an aluminum can in the trash, and do so often, even though I realize that aluminum cans are one of the rare items that can be recycled with less environmental damage than landfill/virgin manufacture). I detest the whole recycled-as-an-end notion, it's a techonology, and if it costs more to recycle paper than to grow pulpwood, that means you're using more resources and being 'less Green.'

And landfills, modern landfills, are less damaging to the world than some individual humans. But I digress (it's my specialty).

But what could be more green than Print on Demand?

Full disclosure: while being determined to go the traditional route for myself, Ive subscribed to PODi's newsletter for YEARS. This is an e-mail that shows up, was it 1999 I started? 2000? It was back when POD technology didn't offer laminated covers, when print quality was an issue, when an Indigo digital press cost three times what they do now. So I know a little about the subject.

A book that is printed as ordered has two huge plusses:

It's never out of print. You want it, go to Amazon or wherever it's catalogued, and order it. Maybe you're the first guy in twenty years to want to read it, there's no practical reason it can't still be available. You get your copy of some obscure book you heard about, or a back issue of a literary magazine that was the first to publish an author you've come to love. And it's brand new, the spine isn't broken and the pages aren't yellow. It's just some ones and zeros that cost about nothing to store, waiting for your interest to inspire the manufacture of a copy.

Zero waste. Where I work, we have an Indogo now. We still have traditional, plate-hanging presses for longer runs. But we can do four color process runs of one at the same unit cost as hundreds. The economy of scale only kicks in when the click charges exceed our plate costs, and in that case we run it on the SpeedMasters (really good Heidelberg presses). You can't tell, even with a loop, which press it was printed on unless the SpeedMaster operator fucks up.

The remainders I love to buy, they're books printed that were auctioned off unsold. They mark the hell like the 'cutouts' of the LP days, and discount it to get it off their hands. Why? Because they had to print 10,000 copies to make it worth doing.

I make my living in desktop publishing. Computer Graphics. I redraw logos, I set type. I order dies. This is all stuff that used to be done with lead, teams of men would attempt to keep up with the kind of output I can do. Guys lost fingers jig-sawing inferior boards to ones cut witha laser now for die cutting magnets.

My uncle, he was a journman typesetter. If it hadn't been for desktop publishing, he wouldn't have had to change careers. Instead of being this amazing luthier and fine woodworker, he'd be this lead-blinded, retired Linotype Operator. I used to live next door to an older version of him, a guy who gave his eyes to the production of the Kansas City Scar, who gave me his pica pole because he couldn't see the numbers on it anyway, and because I was in the trade that eliminated the job that crippled him.

Uncle Kenny may not have been in the Luddite brigades who said desktop publishing would never give the quality of 'real' typesetting (tough InDesign now gives me the ability to do proper justification, with hanging quotes and extended caps, something DTP wrote off in the late 1980s as impossible). But they were there, insisting that desktop publishing as just a way to let any asshole who could scribble on a napkin design his own menu, typeset his own paper, book, newsletter.

And yeah, any asshole with a computer and a $40 printer can make the menu for his restaurant. And if you have any sense of design, you eat there, you look at the menu and you wonder why he doesn't let a nephew just do it with Crayolas.

The POD scene, it takes all that and throws it into the Bestseller Industrial Complex. If your book is shit, who's going to buy it? If 'A Confederacy of Dunces' came about today and couldn't find an agent, John Kennedy Toole could POD it, take a 'next generation anti-depressant' and go one with life instead of blowing his goddamn head of and making his Mom be his posthumous agent. And if that boob who came around my former workplace with his crazy self-published manifesto about Lyme's Disease and his mail-order bride (this was a 'non-fiction' book, at least in his view), that nut, his 'wife' and what, his Mom, that's his sales.

Publish and Perish. The 'and' of my childhood is replaced by technology. Quality control? It's up to the author. Legal issues, sue the author (he probaly has NOTHING to take, I don't). The cover sucks? Well, if it's my book, shoot me an e-mail. There's no way I design books for other guys and then hire someone to design mine. I'll be my own patient and take my medicine. It's hard for me to imagine that I could come up with a cover more offensively tasteless than the latest Janet Evanovich...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Earth shattering read

I (finally) finished 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' today. I've been getting overtime at work (badly needed), and the last hundred pages took me a few days because I only got to read when I took a dump.

And this was the kind of book, you might find out your legs had gone to sleep.

I'm trying to recall the last time a book ripped my heart out so completely. And at the same time offered some redemption. And surprised the shit out of me.

Shriver paints in some dark colors. Jay said I should read it as a birth-control method, but if I followed that logic, it'd be fucking 'life-control.'

'Beloved' and 'Paradise' are painted in similarly dark colors (not really a pun intended, just one I didn't avoid). Or, to harken to my discussion with Jay, remember in 'Invisible Man' when he finds out the content of the 'recommendation' letters he's been giving to the most powerful men in New York?

You know the cliché about the trainwreck you can't look away from? Trainwrecks never moved me much, because most trains seem to be hauling coal to power plants or cars to dealerships. You got, what, four or five guys tops running the thing? And they probably come out okay, it's just a big mess. 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' is more like a Breugal.

Horrifying and beautiful. Thought provoking, too.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My own colophon?

To self publish or go the agented route? Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the outrageous fortunes of literary agents and traditonal publishers, or to say fuck it and POD the thing when I'm good and ready?

From childhood, self-publishing has been cast in my mind as the route of vain spendthrifts. But when I was a kid, you had to make a real committment, spend some serious money to self-publish. When Frank Herbert self-published 'Dune,' it wasn't a cheap proposition.

In my early graphics career, self-publishing tended to make sense for niche non-ficiton. Kevin Jamison's 'Missouri Weapons and Self-Defense Law,' for instance. He was the first guy with a book that addressed Missouri gun owners specifically, and it was based on two decades of practice as a lawyer in that area. He had such a reputation that he was getting orders before he knew what his cover price would be.

And if Phil Gramm had gottent he 1996 GOP nomination (which seemed likely at the time Rich Nadler's bio of the Senator came out), Rich would have been the first on the seen with a positive biography of our likely next president. He'd have been positioned roughly as well as whoever wrote 'Young Man In A Hurry' right when Bill Clinton proved that fucking around wasn't fatal to your campagin. If Gary Hart had known!

But the main people who still put a stigma on fiction writers who self publish, well, they're agents and editors at establishments that stand to lose if anyone can publish anything and let the market decide. While the 'market' tends to decide that we needed a McDonalds and Taco Hell in my town instead of Max's Auto Diner, I tend to favor market oriented systems. The idea that an agent gets me in the door with an editor, who then marks up my manuscript by hand, and back and forth we go, me doing my best to make a word processor look like an IBM Selectric, until finally a goombah keys the ms back into a computer? Fuck that shit.

What sells a book? When did you see a TV commercial for a novel. I've never seen one. Radio spots, occasionally, but none that have made me buy a book. What makes me buy a book?

Word of mouth. Two ways: Jay or Julie D, or another friend who reads a lot loves a book, I might try it. Often, these two actually send me books.

The marketing term is 'Sneezer.' A guy who can't shut up about a product is a sneezer, who gets other people to check whatever out. Three bladed disposable razors, beer-flavored tampons, novels, whatever.

And in a world where so-called 'legit' houses pulp unsold books after a few months, or remainder them (to my pauper's delight at Foozles), print on demand offers a world where a book never needs to go out of print. Ever. Even if it sucks or is not popular (or both).

So maybe, if I ever decide I'm finished torturing Wealth Effects, it will show up on the Midwest Rock Lobster colophon as a trade paper back. Or maybe the Bird Pepper Press. I'm claiming that trademark, and as far as I can tell the U.S. Patent and Tradmark Office hasn't seen such yet. Of course, one of the things I'd do before self-publishing is run shit by an intellectual rights attorney to make sure I'm not automatically putting my ass in a sling...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

America Can Seem So Derived...

The Clinton/Lewinsky scandal? Oil for food fraud? Lying about why we invaded Iraq?

I'm not one to give governments a pass, but checkout Quetzalcoatl's resume.

Getting drunk and taking it up the tailpipe, then setting sail to be King somehwere else? That trumps even Andrew Jackson and some of the other anti-heroes of American Presidencies.

In a way, I suppose it trumps being the canniballistic dictator of some poor African country or the genocidal maniac in charge of a Southeast Asian dystopia who lives the life or Reilly and dies of natural causes under the umbrella of such liberal democracies as Saudi Arabia.

How sadly unoriginal, that our own Presidents don't quite manage to reach the scale of some conquered Indian culture's shamed figureheads, but only seem to be pale immitations.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Baseball is Bad For My Self Esteem

I think I've mentioned before that I'm still trying to find an attorney who will take my case against Michael Chabon on contingency: Chabon took the season I played baseball and used it verbatim as the springboard for his novel 'Summerland.' Right up to the cool, supernatural stuff. Oh, and my Dad was a high school teacher who drove an unattractive series of used cars, most of which lacked air conditioning as well as sex appeal. He didn't cruise around in his own blimp, nor did he have any more genuine enthusiasm for baseball than his gangly, uncoordinated, unpopular first son.

I had a zero batting average, and my so-called peers never let me forget it. A collective groan resulted from me being 'at bat.' The coach would tell the kids to 'cut that out,' but how much credibility did he have? He was the same schmuck who told me the ball couldn't hurt me. With a zero batting average, the only way I got on base was with a walk. In third grade, the pitcher is the kid who can throw the ball from the mound to the plate; accuracy is not a consideration. You might get to first on four wild pitches, but you're about as likely to get on with one wild pitch. Your shin, your ass, your shoulder blade, these were as likely as the catcher's mitt to receive the pitch. The ball might not kill you, but if you think it can't hurt you, stand sixty or seventy feet from me while I hurl baseballs at you. Yeah, I'm 36, but my arm strength is comparable to a top third grade pitching arm, and it'll still fucking hurt you.

I digress. Shit, I led off with a digression. I took Em, who's about to start fourth grade blissfully ignorant of what it's like to stand in the batter's box while a third grade Mad Hungarian wannabe uses you for target practice, to a baseball game. This is more or less an annual event.

My employer is a generous one. Not perfect, but generous, and since Chiefs tickets are wildly expensive and practically impossible to get for 130 employees, baseball offers the company a chance to give us a perk better than average while being realistic. These aren't shitty seats, they're club-level most years, and have been plaza level one year. It's a season ticket package with four seats and a parking pass. You sign up for the dates you prefer, the person with the seniority gets the parking pass and it's minimum two tickets per employee.

But baseball isn't that popular, and more often than not, I not only get free parking via seniority, but I get four tickets. Sometimes for more than one game. People are too busy, or out of town, or whatever the day the tickets they signed up for, and they look at the chart and give their pair to whoever has the other two.

One year, Frau Lobster extracted a promise that I not accept any more free tickets because it was breaking us. Financially, even with free admission and parking, the fuel to navigate my truck to the stadium, and buy minimal concessions was too much. The 'free' tickets ended up costing us, on average, $25 a game.

Maybe that's why some of my coworkers beg off on theirs...

Anyway, I'd just read 'Moneyball' by my tied-for-favorite (tied with James Gleick) non-fiction writer Michael Lewis, who profiled Billy Bean. Using unorthodox approaches to evaluating talent to win his division with the second lowest salary in the league. That speaks to all my soft spots: heterodoxy, the underdog winning, proving that deep pockets don't necessarily mean you get the 'best,' a failed player who can write his own ticket as a manager, this is great stuff. In the end of the book, Bean is turning down big money to go coach the Boston Red Sox. Maybe, in retrospect, not the best career move ever, but it made me like him even more.

The A's were also my hometown team, or they were around the time I was born near here. They moved, along with the Dodgers and Giants, to California, gold-rush style. And there was a drug lord, err, pharmaceutical robber-baron, willing to do the philanthropy thing. From what I recall hearing, he put out feelers to figure whether Kansas City preferred a burn hospital for kids or a baseball team.

We got a baseball team. I don't know if that falls under the 'baseball is bad for my self esteme' heading, or just 'God, this town sucks sometimes.'

And while Kaufman was alive, he bought talent as necessary. he retired numbers on the wall at this stadium are no small beer. It's been 20 years since the Royals won a World Series, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard names of players on winning teams, including last year's Boston Red Sox, who came up through the Royals' farm team. These guys get louder cheers in KC as the visiting team player than our current crop, normally.

Now, more or less, when the other kids...I mean owners, find out the Royals have a decent player, they buy him off.

So aside from liking Michael Lewis' portrayal of Billy Bean, what was my 'rooting interest?' Not much. The Royals have (last I checked) the second worst record in baseball, as they did last year. This is worse, in my mind, than being absolute last. At least there's a distinction in being the shittiest. Second shittiest? So I can root against the hometeam in a vague way, hoping Tampa Bay (last I checked they had the absolute worst record) might pick up a few games and save the Royls from being completely undistinguished.

I know, with fans like me, who needs enemies.

Also, I don't believe millionaires employed by millionaires to play a game should be subsidized by taxpayers (who are mostly not millionaires, and never will be no matter what the lottery commercials say). While I find it implausible that a sport of waning popularity could support four or five teams in the New York metro area (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Mets, am I missing a team or two?), I fail to see what the Bay Area gained by whoring their tax base to get both one of New York's 'extra' teams and Kansas City's only team. And the A's haven't gotten much more notice from Californians than, say, the Kansas City Royals. I don't think most Oakies even noticed the arrival of the team until Al Davis whored the Raiders down to L.A. Now that he's conned the Oakland taxpayers into rebuying their own team, I bet a rambling sampling on the streets of Oakland would turn up more vials of crack, prostitots and actual Hell's Angels members, than A's fans. Or even people who know Oakland has a Major League franchise.

But the bad actors who are responsible for most of this financial mayhem (on the baseball front) are helping FDR with the wheel-chair access ramps to various circles of Hell. Al Davis is regrettably still alive, but that's a different sport. So who to root for?

Since the Royals haven't seemed to embrace that 'money isn't the answer' philosophy that has (sometimes) served Oakland well, I rooted for the A's. It felt less perverse than just rooting for the Royals to have the worst record in the game.

The Royals are presently owned not by a philanthropist who thinks a burn hospital is equivalent to a baseball team. Instead, the team is owned by a guy who (as far as I know) has gotten rich off $10 Bangladeshi jeans sold by Wal-Mart. In my book, that means he's an asshole who's worse than the Kaufmans, who only sold drugs.

I don't know who owns the Oakland A's, and don't tell me because then I'll regret attending the game entirely.

Thanks to baseball's new high standards, the players are without a constant supply of amphetamines and anambolic steroids. Consequently, it was five innings before anyone hit a ball. Still, it was a close game, with a pitcher from each side getting 'lit up' by the batters eventually. Em liked the idea that the pitcher was getting 'lit up,' having the ultimate bad day at the office when four or five guys would hit his pitches. We also speculated about whether a home run it into your own team's bullpen is maybe a little worse than having the ball wacked into General Admission or the fountains.

If you're pitching, and the home run lands in your team's bullpen, you gotta figure the other pitchers notice. They're on the same team, but are really your rivals in every way. They have a harder time focusing on the game, now that the Family Size jar of greenies isn't being passed around, that's gotta snap you out of your daydreaming, or your nostalgic conversation with a fellow reliever about how great Dianabol had been.

Em and I both agreed the fireworks they did after were better than the game.

So how was this bad for my self esteem? Aside from watching several hit-less innings where I might as well have been the guy in the batter's box, I gave two tickets away. Again.

I mentioned having four tickets, right? This is because a coworker who had the other two was going to be out of town. Em unable to find anyone available and willing to submit to the game. I also failed to attract guests, despite my parking pass (a $9 'value' itself) and club-level tickets with a face price of $22 each.

So I did what I always do in this situation. The opposite of scalping. I approach some pair I see waiting to spend money on admission and give them my extras. These are adjacent seats, so I pay a little attention: no one who looks like they got out of jail this morning.

Four or five times, I've done this. Given away $44 worth of tickets to people waiting to buy seats, and I've never seen the people I give the tickets to on the inside of the park.

Do they hawk the good seats for cash and buy G.A.? Are stadium officials wating for me to turn my back so they can club these people into submission for not spending money at the gate?

No, it's me. I'm certain of it. It's not my long hair, the same thing happened when I shaved my head in the summer. And long hair, short or none, I'm with an adorable child. A child who's adorable enough to charm even people who think they don't like kids.

The seats are good. Very good. Less than 100 feet on one side is the press box, about the same distance the other way is the 'club,' where people spend big bucks on dinner while ignoring the game from behind glass. The 'luxury suites' are up behind where we sit, and from what I hear that's the most ridiculously expensive way to see the game of all. Why any actual fan would prefer those booths to a seat down where you can hurl insults at the guy in the on-deck circle is beyond me. But people waiting in line for tickets aren't buying a fucking luxury suite, and I'll bet they aren't buying the seats down there where you can smell the catcher's farts.

One time, I could see it, but every time I give these tickets away, I sit with Em next to a pair of empty seats. And this was a fairly full stadium. I don't know what the body count was, but the stadium was as full as I've seen it since the Orioles were in town with Cal Ripken Jr. on his last season.

Last game before school starts for a lot of people. Plus, it was dollar night for hot dogs, small sodas, peanuts; they had so many concessions discounted that I spent less than $20 despite having two beers (I almost never buy beer at a baseball game because of the combination of crappy product, stingy servings, and high prices). Instead of having to tel Em about making choices, I was able to provide her with more concessions than she could consume. It was also Friday, which means a kick-ass post-game fireworks display, one that clogs the air with smoke so bad you worry about people with asthma who might have strayed into the stadium.
And there were nostalgia fans, old-timers who remember the Kansas City A's, they came out in force. Neither of these teams has any playoff hopes (that I know of), but baseball fans (odd even by Lobster standards) love that shit. The inter-league games when St. Louis comes to town, they actually sell the park out with people wanting to see a supposed rematch of the 1985 World Series (though all the players and coaches from back then are dead or at least retired).

And the seats I gave away were empty. Again. I know there's better seats, but not much. I have photographic evidence. Is it my pits? Do I smell? Can people just sense that I'm the kind of creep who brings a book to the game in case I get bored?

The field from my seat
Speaking of which, they could dispense with the Minnesota Multi-phase Personality Inventory for ADD cases: if you can sit through a baseball game without additional entertainment, you have a suprlus of attention, give the players your amphetamines.

Anyway, when you give away tickets more expensive than you'd buy to someone waiting in line for tickets, then never see that person even though the seats you gave away are adjacent to your own... How many times does this have to happen before you start to wonder if the same people who groaned when you were up to bat are frightened by your very presense as a spectator? Yeah, I know I'm a troll. But I try to conjure up the kind of troll who could give me a free upgrade like that, a troll I wouldn't want to sit by for fear of cooties or conversation.

I can't seem to imagine this troll without including escapees from Wards Island (and you wouldn't expect too many of them to swim the Harlem River, and immediately head for a baseball game in Kansas City). True, that would be a crazy thing to do, especially since they could just walk over the pedestrian bridge. But the people in Ward's Island are a different kind of crazy. From what I've heard 'criminally insane.' And I can't see a criminally insane guy giving away free club-level tickets while escorting his nine-year-old daughter to the turnstiles.

The press box from my seat
Oh, the A's won 5 to 4. It came down to the last at-bat for the Royals, but as meaningless as the victory might have been, Oakland took it. Without having to expose Em to the 'extra innings' I'd explained were theoretically possible down to that last out. She seemed truly fascinated that grown men could play a game at the professional level without having any idea when it might end. And that, even though they get paid a king's ransom for playing, they wimp out if it rains.

Still, she's a bright girl, and I think she understands that a tie is the negation of competition. I think she was also glad (despite rooting for the home team) that the game didn't go into 'extra innings.' Nine is enough to wait through for a fireworks display.

Still, except my daughter, no one will sit with me...