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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Un-Lure of Easy Money

I love dive bars.

I don't often drink in bars, but a couple of times a year I like to go to this filthy shot-and-a-beer joint near my house. It's not only not fancy, I think there's a blood stain on the pool table's felt.

Why would I like a place with crappy beer, smoke-filled air and a collection of alcoholics who all look like they've had repeated and possibly recent acquaintance with the criminal justice system?

Because you hear great stories in a dive. No pride or dignity prevents these guys from reeling out their own Springer-ready lives.

But this time I got to sort of participate in the story. I'd barely settled down and had noticed a couple of guys putting bloody Mary mix in their beers. Gross. I've known a couple of people who like tomato juice in beer, also known as Instant Vomit, but this is the first time I've seen two guys at once with taste buds that were shot-off in 'Nam.

One of them approaches me, and okay, Vietnam isn't possible for him. At a guess, he was probably born before 1974 but not by much.

'I'll give you $100 to drive me to KCK.'

For those of you not familiar, this is about 20 or 25 miles away, but could mean anything from fairly upscale new houses built out by the taxpayer's whorehouse of Western Wyandotte County to a crack den in the old, run-down part of the city. This guy didn't look like he was headed to anything upscale.

Right off, I'm thinking, That ain't gonna happen. I told him he could get a cab for that. Apparently everyone else drinking there had told him the same thing, and he was just sick of hearing about it.

In fairness, this far out you can generally walk almost anywhere faster than you can get a surly and incompetent cabbie to cart you there. Even if it's 50 miles, you're better off afoot. But I still wasn't going to drive this guy anywhere. He puts tomato juice in his beer—who knows what else he's capable of?

Some time goes by and he tells me he really needs to get to KCK and he'd give me $150 cash. One way.

This wasn't increasing the chances I'd say yes. I thought he was hinky at the first price, and with this offer he surpassed grizzled hitchhikers on the Interstate on-ramp for people who Ain't Getting In My Car. A hitcher is probably, 99.5% of the time, harmless. But the 0.5% of the time when he pulls a knife and wants your wallet, or decides you'd look better hacked up in a rest stop trash can, means I ain't picking him up.

But this guy had the bonus of being practically guaranteed to land me in jail, trying to call my ex to bail me out. That's not a call she wants to get, and while we may not see eye to eye on much, I think I can agree with her there.

'Dude, I promise you won't go to jail,' he tells me. To which I say I'm pretty sure the jails are chock-full of guys who heard or said that just a few minutes before they were arrested.

$200 was the next offer, the guy apparently not pickup up on the fact that he'd have had better luck with a hard-luck story and asking for a free ride. He wouldn't have gotten that, but he wouldn't have spooked me in asking it.

What's so damned important in KCK? Money. Of course. He said he had $500 waiting for him and he needed to get it so bad he'd give me $200 just for the ride. He had to make his child support, he said.

Child support?

I asked when his child support was due. The first he said. I'm like, you've got five days. Surely you can get your $500 without giving up nearly half of it in that kind of time. Right?

So then the guy asks to use the bartenders cell phone 'again.' I hadn't seen him use it before, but I hadn't been there long. He gets on the phone and is saying things like 'Dude, where are you? You're at my house? Come get me at...'

He's telling his pal how to get to the dive and saying 'I'll go out to the sidewalk and flag you in.'

A few minutes went by and someone commented that they wondered if he was going to finish 'that.' 'That' was a 1/3 full liter-mug of tomato-juice tainted beer he had left sitting on the bar.

After a few minutes, the bartender started wondering where he'd gotten off to. With her phone. Some of the regulars chuckled and one said, 'I don't think you're real likely to see that phone again.'

'I bet I won't get paid for those last two beers or those chips either,' she said.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Rogue's Gallery For Sure

Okay, I don't have any idea if I'm, to use the popular term, 'ready to date.' It's not like I'm lonesome, or like I have a huge hole in my life that I need someone to fill. But when I was last 'single,' I dated all the time. It was like breathing, nothing I put an effort into. I went and did the things I wanted to go and do, and I invited girls along based on whether I thought they were interesting, cute, or best of all, sexually irresponsible.

And I figure if I wait until I’m lonesome or have a huge hole in my life to try and meet anyone, I’ll do something dumb like seeing if any of those irresponsible chicks are still out there.

Of course, there was a huge advantage to being compelled to spend seven hours a day in the midst of 500 single girls roughly my age, girls who were mostly dying for any distraction from the class.

Another thing about that whole scene: when I was 17, high school girls were, basically, women. They had boobs, wore makeup, and none of them looked like children playing dress-up. I swear. I'm not interested in dating someone half my age, but when was it they quit stocking high schools with women and started putting these children in there? I'm off topic, but it's a real concern. If they keep it up, one of these days my own kids will be allowed to drive cars or something.

So being that I'm not in high school any longer, and that it apparently wouldn't matter since the hot chicks I went to high school with are now in their 30s, I decided to do something about meeting women. Women I could actually date if I had a life. Because the part about going to the things I want to, I don't really do that anymore either. I'm going to Hayseed Dixie at Davey's on Friday, and that's the closest thing to 'going out' in the sense of something I could theoretically take a date to, that I've accounted for since November.

I saw 'Shopgirl' alone in the theater and stopped off for a beer at a dive which has, as its main selling point, a collection of riff-raff who tell outlandish stories in the first person. Not exactly a date, but I was still married.

So anyway, interspersed here in my rant about dating are the pictures I posted to an online personals listing. It's as unpromising as it is inexpensive, but it beats at least one alternative:

I got a telephone solicitation from a brick-and-mortar dating service, went and heard their dog and pony show. It was just timing, their auto-dialers got me right around when I was curious. Except they really push the fact that their members are hot to get married, and since my divorce isn't even final, I'm thinking more like meeting to eat a bunch of caramels, no pressure.

I knew the fees would be high, someone has to pay the rent. I figured I'd find out what the deal cost, keep it in mind for someday and maybe. I was thinking they might charge as much as$50 or $100 a month, which is about $250 to $300 more than I can afford.

There was a questionnaire, a video, a pitch. They even had me pull up a couple of profiles on their database, to see that there were women there I'd want to meet. And there even was one, except when they finally got around to the money part, yikes.

The cheapest plan they had was $3000 if I was stupid enough to sign on the spot. Plus $30 a month. That was for a membership that would expire in a year. If you wanted to be able to continue past the year at ONLY $30 a month, they wanted another $700. For $3700 right this minute and $30 a month, you can keep using the service until you get married.

But there's more!

If you really want to blow a wad of cash, you can sign up for almost $6,000. For that, you get to keep paying $30 a month until you're married, and if that spouse dies or divorces you, you can renew for 'only' the monthly fee! How big a pessimist do you have to be to opt for that???

Oh, the $6,000 package comes with a cruise. A cruise I'm reasonably sure I could book for myself for about $1500.

So what kind of women would you meet through a service like that? Women serious enough about getting married to pay $3700 in hopes of meeting potential husbands? I'm not only not that motivated myself, I'm pretty sure I don't want to go on a date with anyone who is.

And no, I don’t think paying a fee like that proves she has substance, if I recall the term my ‘counselor’ used. I think women with substantial bank accounts mainly have them because they’re smarter than to shell out that kind of money.

Plus, at least one of the online places I’ve seen charges for guys but not for girls: they let the girls in free, ladies’ night style. So for all I know the women at this place see a price list that’s maybe 10% what I was pitched.

Oh, and annoying sales tactic: the prices they show are all $1000 higher than this. The claim is that it's $4700 if you sign up later, but by joining right this fucking minute, you save $1000.

Anyway, when I balked at the price (my 'counselor' didn't know I wasn't even willing to shell out $50/mo with no up front fee), she started trying to get me to finance the deal with them. $200 down and $125 a month (probably at credit card interest rates, probably until my second or third spouse dies or leaves me).

I hate high pressure sales tactics. In part because I have the urge to cave, I'm too damn nice. I don't cave, though, I sit there saying no and feeling awful about it, so then I get pissed at them for making me feel bad. And then I'm definitely not buying because I'd have felt awful for nothing.

I thought I'd found an out, told the lady that I hadn't even figured out the refi on my house, so I definitely wasn't in the market for a high-priced introduction service. I said I'd make a poor prospective husband if my house was foreclosed on because I'd put myself $125 a month out of my price range for my own residence.

"That is a great idea," my 'counselor' said.

"It is?"

"You could have your mortgage lender fold this into the mortgage. It wouldn't affect your payment more than probably $20 a month, you'd have the service and your house payment where you need it. That's a great idea. If you can put $200 down, I'm pretty sure I can work it so the rest could be done when you close. That way you don't lose your $1000."

Hello? That was not my idea. And I wouldn't be 'losing' $1000 by walking out: I've seen that trick before. If I can get something for $3700 today, I can probably get it for half that if I hold out. If I even want it, but my idea was to get out of there without being rude. Why was I worried about being rude???

"Have you gotten that high-pressure tactics don't work on me?" I finally asked. "You weren't gong to get $200 out of me today if that paid for the whole thing. You wouldn't have gotten $50. At this point I wouldn't give you $2."

She reminded me of the asshole at a Ford dealership who did everything but stand on his head and spit nickels to ‘counsel’ me into a mini-van I didn’t want and couldn’t afford.

So far, the far cheaper alternative has produced approximately zero leads. I've e-mailed a few women. Their profiles appear non-toxic, though I guess you have to assume a certain amount of outrageous lying, posting pictures of a much cuter sibling/daughter, or using a high school yearbook shot from 1985. The only one that e-mailed me back was with quick note that she'd met someone and was seeing how it worked out. It might have boosted my confidence if she'd said she met someone through this service, but I'm doubting it.

But maybe it's my pictures, which is why I've salted them through this post. I'm relying on the three readers of this blog, (well, two since one of them is my ex) to tell me if it's my pics that are doing me in. I tried to get decent looking, relatively current shots (including some I took for the purpose) while presenting myself honestly.

Is it the honesty that's dooming me? If everyone assumes a certain degree of image inflation, photo doctoring and outright deception, maybe they figure me to be a real cave troll who only looks human after extensive Photoshop work...

Also, this bar scene everyone is so burned out on. Where is it? And how do you tell a pick-up bar from one that just serves alcoholic beverages?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring On The Moon

I took the girls back to Moon Marble on our spring break tour of stuff that doesn't cost much.
I have to admit, taking Mo to a place with so much stuff made of glass is not free of stress. Worth it, though.
They have more than marbles. Chuck Palahniuk sent me a care package last year in response to pretty much the only fan-letter I ever wrote, and he could have bought everything from the severed finger to the sushi air freshener at Moon Marble. If he lived in Kansas instead of Oregon, that is.

In fact, he even could have bought pretty much everything on the necklace there. They sell semi-precious stones in the room with the marble Mo tried to heal by laying on hands.

The thing with marbles, like anything else, handmade is something you should expect to pay for. The marbles they pick for demonstrations are ones that can be made in 15 minutes. Figure it for yourself, whether you're a fry-guy or a CEO, what would you charge for something you could only do four of in an hour? What about a softball-size monstrosity that takes all week?
Not that there's not room in the world for machine-made marbles. There are effects you can't get with machines, but it would hard to get the effect of millions of marbles available dirt cheap with old fashioned lampwork.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I Could Do That...NOT

Hopefully I havent' got this set so it will play wheter you want it to or not. I had the 'Fight Club' spoof trailer set to 'false' on autoplay and it still autoplayed. This one, I don't see the script code one way or the other.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Where Would I Even Begin?

Spring break this week, so I got bonus time with the girls, got them through Wednesday dinner. Took the week off work so I'd be available for whatever time I could get. I'm trying to get the tax-return ball rolling but I'm just licked, between trying to get remedial housekeeping taken care of and completing my longest solo flight as a newly minted single parent.

Or have I been minted? The divorce isn't final, so I guess I'm still in the die, newer than mint.

The fatigue is probably enhanced by Madame Blueberry. For the childless, that's a VeggieTales, one of their better ones. However, Mo's OCD tendencies kicked in on it, so it was played to the exclusion of all else. ALL else. She doesn't even watch it most of the time, but gets pissed off if the TV goes silent, or to the Wrong Program. At first this fixation was funny. It's checked out from the library, and I'm wanted for questioning there about the DVDs in my ducts they want back, so the ex-Frau asked me if I wanted her to burn a copy of it, but that was this evening when she was picking up the honyocks, and the first image that came to my mind didn't involve a DVD-R, it involved actual fire.

Saturday we went to Osawatomie. I wanted to check out my prospective digs. That's a Northest Kansas joke, there's a lot more to Osawatomie than a state boobie-hatch: there's also the John Brown Museum (it was closed), a cool park around it (which was open), and plenty of small houses crammed together like Kansas didn't have plenty of land.

I don't know if you can see from the photos, but I sometimes wonder where Kansas gets this reputation for flatness. I heard once that to find an area flat enough for the on-location shots in 'Wizard of Oz' they had to go to the Oklahoma Panhandle, which is...not in Kansas! Most of the state is rolling prairie, and then you have the Flint Hills and the 'Baby Ozarks.' It ain't mountains, but try chasing my kids through John Brown Park.

And no, there's no trick photography or Photoshop stunt here: Mo really does get that much air when she swings. The camera is at head level for me, about six feet off the ground and I am actually looking slightlyup. It's unsettling when she decides she doesn't need to hold the chains.

So then on Sunday I decided it was time to hit a museum that was open. I even went online and checked for hours and admission prices. We'd done the Nelson pretty recently, and while I don't think you can overdo a gallery like that, it's nice to mix it up a bit. So we did the Kemper, a much smaller museum but it's all modern stuff.

Emily was excited about the Warhol (Dennis Hopper, a screen on a shot from 'Midnight Cowboy,' I believe), a Pollack (the Nelson has one, but this was a different splat), and some of Pollack's disciples. A couple of cook Georgia O'Keefes, too. I'd show you pics, but no flash photography allowed. Fortunately they had no such ban outside by the spiders.

What was actually scary wasn't the spiders, it was the weather. The sirens had gone off Sunday morning though it wasn't even overcast where we live. Isolated supercells are the biggest source of tornadoes, and as their name suggests they are isolated. I've lived in Tornado Alley for 36 years and never seen a tornado; the closest call I had was in grade school, when I heard one from the saftey of the storm shelter. And that wasn't even close enough to damage structures around the school. Still, a bullet is pretty isolated, it doesn't make Russian Roulette safe.

There were 110 tornadoes spotted that day last I heard, nine fatalities. Sirens were going when we came out of the Kemper Museum and according to the radio there were confirmed twisers about ten miles from where we were. Tennis-ball size hail, too. Out further, where the worst of the tornado action hit, they had some softball size. When you think about the mechanics of hail, sucking that ice back upstairs, softball size is practically impossible. An updraft like that might take me up.

But I don't want to be a Disneyland Dad, so Monday was house cleaning. Okay, not 100% of Monday, but we hit it pretty hard. We also hit the Crayolas pretty hard. I was caught out on this last week, when Mo had homework that required crayons and I realized I didn't own any. At all. The sidewalk chalk and markers I had were used up, and crayons weren't even something I'd thought about. For one, Mo's had a history of eating them. Not a little bit, but enough where her developmental pediatrician questions whether she's covered by what the company means when they say 'non-toxic.' Plus she writes on walls with them when she can. That's really less of a concern since I have not a single wall that doesn't need a fresh coate of paint already, but I hadn't even been thinking of coloring supplies.

But coloring is a good outlet for her, and she'll do it about forever. So I bought the Old 96er (movie reference), the set of Crayolas that shames my childhood grail of 64. I remember having 64-envy when I was stuck with the 24 in school. Eventually my parents caved and got the 64, which seemed an amazing luxury. 96 isn't even the max these days.

The 96 was about four-and-a-half bucks. For three more I could get the 120. Well, according to my math, that's almost double the price for only 24 more colors. Unless those colors includes 'Human Blood Red' with real human blood for pigment, that's a bit outrageous. I think I know what they're doing, though. A friend of mine opened a burger stand years ago, and he specialized in overfeeding you. His regular burger and fries was more than I cold handle. My brother would split the fries with me and it was stilla gut-buster. But he had a double on the menu, a huge sandwich. When he added a triple, I asked him who could eat such a thing. He said he only sold two a week, but that he sold a lot more doubles with the triple on the menu, because the double had gone from being the maximum to being the medium.

I'm sure Crayola sells a ton more 96-color sets with a 120 to make it look reasonable.

So then I was going to take the girls to the Natural History Museum in Lawrence on Tuesday. I went with Em's class on a field trip and it was a big nostalgia trip for me, because I saw those same stuffed walruses when I was her age. It was open, and it was a 'suggested donation' thing, and it's not that far from home. But Em didn't want to do it, she preferred the Adequate Mall. No sweat, it's less gas to get there.

The thing with video games like the motorcycles is you don't have to pay. The previews alone exceed the attention span...

Oh, and we hit Target, too. For clothes and to browse patio furniture, it seems.

There's more, but I'm about to fall asleep at the keyboard here.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Way-Back Machine

Gene Simmons overthrew Big Bird for me in about third grade. KISS worship wore thin by junior high and I moved on to stuff you didn't have to play backward to hear satantic messages. I liked Black Sabbath but when that first Ozzy solo album came out, it blew me away. Randy Rhodes was instantly appealing: if the simplicity of power chords appealed to me as a novice guitarist, it had worn thin without my even knowing it, and 'Blizzard of Oz' was a revelation.

So I'm passing through the gas station on the way to work this morning and 'Crazy Train' is playing on satellite radio.

Satellite radio is just the modern reinvention of Muzak. Ozzy on Muzak is a little startling, being that this was the music I cranked up to irritate my Dad when I was 14. It's kind of like finding out they're using a Dead Kennedys tune to sell sneakers or seeing Iggy Pop pitching car insurance. Which will probably also happen.

But it's not just the Ozzy thing. Last night I was listening to the Ohio Players. Damn, those fuckers could play. It's easy to think of them as a disco act, but they were more than that. A bari sax just flies in the face of purely 'dance music.'

And tonight, The Joy of Cooking, 'American Originals.' For the uninitiated, this is the original groove band. R&B, soul, and folk influences, it's sophisticated but infinitely listenable. If this band had been promoted...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Daddy, What's A Train?

Daddy what's a train?
Is it something I can ride?
Does it carry lots of grown up folks?
And little kids inside?
Is it bigger than our house?
How can I explain?
When my little boy asks me,
Daddy, whats a train?

That's a verse from a folk song by the great Utah Philips. My Dad called on Sunday to see if me and the honyocks wanted to see a live steam engine.

Train nostalgia is kind of like steamboat nostalgia, except steamboat fans don't tell you that all your rush-hour nightmares could be solved if only we had a good light ship system.

I saw a steam engine on the move once. Union Pacific had a couple of restored passenger cars full of VIPs they were pulling behind one, and I happened along a stretch of highway clogged with people waiting to see it. I pulled over and waited, and it was worth it. It was a powerful thing to see as a guy who drives a car, I can only imagine the religious significance it had for people who got around on horses.

They had a line of kids and their parents waiting to check this puppy out. It was at Union Station, a tax-subsidized white elephant in Kansas City. If you waited long enough, they'd hoist you into the engineer's cabin and let you pull the rope for the whistle:

They blew the whistle to make the kids happy. It made them cry. It also made them hold their ears.

There was other fun stuff at Union Station, including restored railroad cars with living fossils who can regale you with stories of how it was to travel first class in the Pullman car days. It absolutely enthralls children.

But there's more. The train behind the steam engine was, if I understood correctly, a Mardi Gras theme 'Spirit of Louisiana' from Canada. Who decided to let Canadians manage a Mardi Gras thing obviously didn't take adequate notice of what Canadians do with bacon. Only in Canada can delicious crispy bacon be made into a Daisy canned ham. Not to mention CorelDraw and socialized medicine.

Yes, I click a lot of pictures. Em has dubbed me a 'shutterbug.' I think I'm compensating for years of sharing a camera with someone who got on my case for taking extraneous shots. If we were talking about film, where there is material and process costs, I can see it. But with digital media, where I can burn a CD for less than I can mail a bill, a picture costs nothing. Yes, a digital camera eats batteries, but with rechargeables even that expense is practically nill.

I have a friend who's a professional photographer cum photo editor. She takes amazing pictures, and I'm sure part of that is her education. Part of it is her equipment, cameras with huge lenses as big as her thigh. But mainly, she clicks a lot. I've known her to use six or eight rolls of film in a half hour. Statistics would tell you that there's bound to be a few good ones in a batch that large.

I've never had the confidence or the budget to snap that much with film, but with a digital, why not? I bought a 1 GB card for my camera because it was on sale for less than a 256 MB. And with 4 megapixel camera, a gig of card is enough for a week at Disneyland.

Oh, but back to the train thing: There was also the museum stuff they have all the time, including a huge room of N-guage trains that the aforementioned batteries failed me for. Miles of track for a train small enough to cruise into a prescription vial, pretty impressive. They also have a handcar and caboose and locomotive you can get in, including a modern computerized version that Mo ran to almost sure derailment.

And a diesel with an analog, 1970s sort of cockpit.

I hope Kansas City never gets light rail, I just want to put my heresy out front. I like trains as much as the next guy as long as the next guy isn't my nephew Marshall. But moving 100 tons of steel that happens to have a few commuters standing on it is about as 'green' as an oilspill. I even like subways, but until you convince another ten million people from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to move into the KC metro, it would be better if we each had our own Hummer H1s.

Oh, but back to our little field trip. Naturally, after a while, the kids got used to the sound...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Who Gave You A Job???

Mo's spring school pics came back. They looked like this:

Okay, she's my daughter so it means nothing when I say she's beautiful even though she is. So the outfit that takes these pics, they hold you hostage in the fall. Before the pics are even taken for the yearbook, they ransom you for the prints. They give you a retake, but the still charge like it is 1977.

Film developing is expensive, but digital previews are basically free. Yes, the equipment costs money, but if you're taking pictures as a trade, you're going to shell out for some equipment either way. Sears has digital previous because they don't sell a print unless they get a picture you'll be sucker enough to buy. The yearbook assholes, they don't care if the kid vomits on the lense at the retake.

Such professionalism. It's spooky how bad a fuck-up you can be and still get a job.

This spring pic was actually pretty good compared to some we've had. Autism doesn't lend itself to a posed shot, Mo can smell bullshit and she has a low tolerance for it. I dig that, makes me proud.

But here's what you get when you just point and click with a digital. I think this picture was taken by Miss Linda, it's from Special Olympics bowling a little over a year ago:

That beats hell out of any yearbook picture I've seen.