Search Lobsterland

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Beware the Diet Industrial Complex

A fellow blogger and friend put this up recently. I posted a comment but started to run on and decided to just take it on over here.

The diet industrial complex makes a gazillion dollars off making healthy people believe they're not healthy; and eventually making them not healthy. More precisely, $30 billion (with a B) a year spent by people who want to be happy on things that actually make them miserable. And fatter than they were to start off with.

Yes, I'm a diet heretic. I don't deny Americans are too fat, but I truly believe we'd be healthier if there was no such thing as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Deal-A-Meal, Atkins, South Beach, etc. I know you can point to anecdotal success stories, but so can faith healers and snake oil salesmen. These programs make people fat.

When you fast, your metabolism crashes. Then, when you binge, your body is working double-time to store fat. Yeah, yeah, these programs all tell you not to fast, but in reality, if you're miserable, you're going to cave sooner or later.

So you set out to do whatever program, and it really doesn't matter which one. You go six days or two weeks with a full head of steam, tons of resolve. You're miserable but you think it will be worth it in the end. Then you give in when someone orders pizza for your department at work, or you sneak a couple of candy bars. You say to yourself, Self, you rocked hard for those six days, this won't sink the ship. Get back with the program now.

So you go back to the deprivation mode, your body thinks its starving and the next time you cave, you're maximizing the amount of fat your body puts on those 'problem areas.'

The worst part is, almost everyone on these diets is JUST FINE. Or they are when they first get sucked in. My friend talks about 7th grade, when she was alarmed to find she could 'pinch an inch' as they were saying Special K marketing. An inch? Few women can look like women and NOT be able to pinch that much. I doubt Hugh Hefner could have launched Playboy if he'd had Twiggy to work with instead of Marilyn. For starters, he'd have been arrested for obvious child pornography if he'd used the underdeveloped girls Calvin Klein uses today.

The old saw about insanity is that it's doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. I'm not saying I couldn't stand to lose a few, but Richard Simmons crying and holding my hand is not the answer.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Adequate Mall

On our junket of the Adequate Mall today, we did some ice cream. I'm trying not to think about the fact that I'm breaking the final $20 bill I have in cash-on-hand, but Mo asks for ice cream every weekend, and I keep forgetting to get some. Oreos I remember, even if I don't lay them in fast enough to suit her.

I was the one that decided to look in Java Jive. I was mostly interested in Rosterie coffee, a local outfit. The owner came and talked at the breakfast of last weekend's homebrew competition, and he seemed pleasantly surprised at how much beer snobs have in common with coffee snobs.

He had made a 5 gallon urn of coffee for the deal and it was gone by the Q&A time. Of course, these are homebrewers who don't think 30 gallons of beer is a lot to have in the house. I think we probably, on the whole, pass the 2.2 cup average before most people have thought how glad they are not to be in the Army.

There I go again, ripping on Army recruiting ads from the early 1980s.

Not to mention the 'coffee generation.' That was the 'got milk' campaign that wasn't.

Anyway, my brother is a coffee fanatic. He's the awake version of my beer fascination, and besides that has some balance to his life. He roasts his own beans, and as soon as gourmet restaurants went espresso he had to have French Press, when they went with the presses he went to some wonky carafe. I suppose he has his next coffee-brewing device scouted out for when $50/plate restaurants catch on to the funky carafe. When it does.

The divorce has me questioning all kinds of stuff I hadn't before. But even before I was cast into this niche, I wondered who supports some of these stores.

Yes, it would be nice to decorate the house without thinking like a rodent. Or a bear with found furniture.

Still, I confess a weakness for this Southwestern stuff. But between that and the ice cream and the Monkey...and all the other stuff I did with apparently deadly drive-Em-nuts accuracy, I guess I wore her out.

The DVD Return



I'm now down three DVDs to the local library. Mo puts them in the air return and other vents of our furnace/ac. I've done my best to scare her out of it, and since the seperation have made big efforts at controlling access to the materials and wrapped the vents in screen.

So imagine my thrill to find a couple more missing.

Where did the disc go? No response. What did you do with the disc? No response. I need the disc. Bring the disc to Daddy.

After several repititions, this got a disc back. She went to the furnace vent nearest us, reached in and produced a disc. While she was in time-out I felt around other suspects to find the other (she'd actually removed the plate, so a screen wouldn't have prevented this).

No go. So when she was free again, I asked her for the other disk and she went to the bathroom, where she climed a vanity and reached until I was worried she'd cut herself on sheet metal.

When I got up there myself, I foundout the power lines for the medicine chest light rack run through a hole big enough for...a DVD.

It's an air return she bent double in spite of the screen, and if you can see it, it isn't air. Right?

It's hard because I know these compulsions are totally real to her. I'm trying to talk electricty out of going to ground and I don't have a say-so about it.

But is it Art?


Another thing at the Adequate Mall (they call it the Great Mall, but since Jeepers closed,it's really not that great), this funky art store. How they can make it when Jeepers can't is beyond me, but they do have this cool car.

Jeepers, RIP


Yes, once again we passed by the grave of good times. Mo asked for the 'roller coaster dragon' and cried when I told her (again) that it was gone.

America at its Americannest...

I still haven't worn the new off my digital camera. It's not fancy: the coworker who tried to help me buy well could hardly hide his disgust. I avoided the impulse-buy version they hang by the memory cards, not by a lot. It's not junk! It has megapixels, plural, whatever that means.

But now I don't have to worry about using more than my half of 'our' camera. Amazing the things that crop up when you're of a mind to look for resentments, but in my head a digital camera means click first and ask questions later. Digital media is ridiculously cheap, and the photographers with actual skill I know get the great shots by being liberal with the button.

So now Em tells me I'm a shutterbug. She told me this as I took a picture of this stretch Hummer sitting outside a church in wait of a wedding party. If only she knew how hard I had to restrain myself to just taking a picture of the car and not trying to rescue the groom.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I'm Gonna Shoot That Guy...Let's Have Some Pie!


Social situations are a dilemna. They stress Mo out even while she seems to have fun. The risk of damage by her tends to stress out adults who might be held responsible for irreparable damage to a grandfather clock ro a purple grape juice stain in an heirloom quilt.

But the alternative is to be a shut-in. Fuck that noise.

So I took the girls to a get-together for a B'Hai holiday. Something about how they have a different weird calendar than the Gregorian one. A pie party, according to the invite.

I was in transit to this affair when I happened to think a pie party might mean one where everyone is expected to bring a pie. Fortunately, that wasn't the expectation. Melissa had made a ton of them. Grasshopper, chocolate-orange, Key lime cheesecake, etc. It was enough pie to put a platoon of Klingon Space Marines into diabetic comas.

Mo did really well with it, all things considered. And Em had a blast with her defacto cousin and the herd of vague relations and friends her age.

My host asked me how I was doing. He knows about the divorce but not in detail. His wife is also a friend of the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster, so it's a little tricky. Fortunately (or not), he and his wife have each been through the divorce mill a couple of times.

If there's anything we can do...

That phrase: I've said it, but if anything there's generally relief when no ideas are forthcoming. I've heard it and it always reminds me of the times when I said it. So I told the truth, 'A few grand wouldn't hurt.' But then there's that 'can' word: he asked about things they 'can' do, not about things they'd do if they had god-like powers.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I Would Have Bought a Jock...

If I'd known they came with fingers.

Why Indeed

Who does this thing with the shoes? What does it mean? And are they thrown up by people who are disposing of their own shoes, or is the idea to mug someone else and steal their shoes, using the power line as a sort of permanent 'keep-away' game?

My kids don't know either, so there goes the logical first sleuth.

But why does anyone do anything?

My brother is a pretty hardcore Xtian, though one who is willing to admit doubts, questions and even anger related to God. He believes enough to trust this God character, which is either more or less faith than I can muster.

I hear people excuse addictions and odd behaviors as 'whatever it takes to get through it.' Through what, exactly?

My bro's faith is cornered in part on the 'why believe anything at all?' thing. For the uninitiated, this is the idea that you believe in God because the alternative is too horrible. Or that a population believing the alternative would be too horrible.

Horrible for what? Why DO anything at all?

I can cite all kinds of intelligent reasons I do my job, support my family even when it's not quite a family as I understood it, but it's all bullshit. If I quit doing that, there are things that would follow as consequences, but what would it mean?

Nothing, same as everything else...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cat Fish

I judged beer this weekend.

Not the way you probably think: people hear you're a beer judge and they say things like 'I judge beers, and I know what score I'm going to give them...'

But really, I'm the suds edition of a wine snob. Actually, the competition was held at a winery, and a very good one. Finding good wineries in Kansas is no small beer, but Les and Michelle work with hybrids that do well in the area on their 30 acres. Try the St. Vincent, a nice dry red. I think it won a double-gold at the Pacific Rim competition a few years ago, and that's going up against California, Australia and New Zealand. Not an arena-league event.

Oh, but the catfish thing. I took the girls Friday night due to a family emergency. Zeus, my father-in-law and my daughters' super-grandpa went into the hospital for complications with his kidney ameloids and pneumonia. Not a good scene, but if anyone can lick it, he's the one.

So Sunday I oversleep. I had an alarm set but no kids throwing wedding crystal off the deck to wake me up. The dog barked at nothing and woke me up three hours late.

I took the girls to Nebraska Furniture Mart, which doesn't involve going to Nebraska anymore. Then we hit Cabela's, where I tried out the cheapie digital camera I bought from Warren Buffet. (The artist formerly known as Frau Lobster took 'the camera' with her when she moved out.) If you've never been to Nebraska Furniture Mart, you don't know the full meaning of a Stuff-Mart. I didn't see any air compwessahs, but damn. Cabela's is roughly the sporting goods equivalent.

The taxidermy displays are a bit creepy. But the fish, that's amazing stuff. They have these huge aquariums, I got this shot with Em in the frame for a sense of scale. This is a Leviathan of a catfish might eat your fishing boat. Makes those noodlers seem pretty brave.


So while we were there, I fed the girls at the restaurant. This isn't something I was amped to do, I'm struggling to figure out how to make ends meet. And I'd just bought a digital camera, which cost more than the $0.00 I had in mind. It's a bit more than a film point-and-click camera, but you don't have to pay a photo-mat to develop every 12 or 24 misguided shots.

But then Mo said the word 'vacation.' She had translated our twenty minutes of six-lane and two places she had either never seen or hadn't seen with me or in recent years, and translated it to a road-trip. So alright, why not a vacation?

We had a restaurant meal with foods they've never tried.
Not the pickle, she loves those. But figuring she liked ham, I got her wild boar. I had a bit of elk myself, and she at some of both.

'Obviously you don't have a problem with eating wild things,' Em observed as me and Mo powered down our game-meat.

Nope, no problems here.

I asked Em, what was better: run free and wild, then die, or live in a pen and die. She said the pen was better, because a wild animal has a bunch of predators, but a cow has just one, the farmer.

There's probably political significance to this, especially since Em used to tell me I couldn't eat cows because 'they live in the field' (this, after explaining that lobsters were off limits because 'they're buddies' and 'they live in the water'). I figured her to be annoyingly vegetarian right around when I bought a Steak & Ale franchise or something.

Anyway, we did the Adequate Mall after Cabela's so Em could introduce me to the Piercing Pagaoda employee who stabbed her lobes. And it must have been a vaction because she put her mean-face on for the camera, showing way too much angst for a ten-year-old.


After all that, when we were back at the house, Mo was pointing out items and naming them. Which is great, she needs the reinforcement and it's a non-harmful obsession.

In the process of labeling stuff, Mo touched the box of gross moist cat food I buy because the world's oldest cat doesn't do hard food anymore. It's supposed to be fishy, but smells like anchovy paste vomit.

Mo dubbed the box 'cat-fish.' That's logical, right?

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Dick Cheney Code

That's the title of a spoof I've never read, a play on Dan Brown's little fad.

But now, it turns out, the VP is into attempted murder. Or Tom Lehrer's trophy case (two game wardens, seven hunters and a cow).

Good thing he didn't have this thing. It's so grotesque I blogged it just for the hell of it, not knowing it would become relevant to current events in a few days.

Help! Help! I'm Bein' Repressed!

Just so you know I'm not one of those hypocritical anarchists who only hates laws that infringe my personal good time. The drug laws are bad enough, but this is really wild:

It is illegal to give or receive a tattoo in the state of Oklahoma. Oklahomans aren't ink-free, of course. They simply throw their shotgun in the pickup, grab a couple of jars of 'shine for the road and go to Texas or Kansas.

Or, I don't know, I suppose there are guys with the needles in their basement, ready to spread hepatitis to the young, the trendy, or the occasional redneck lacking the ambition to drive to the border.

So I'm outraged, even though I don't have any plans to get tattoo, and come to think of it, don't live in Oklahoma.

Now we see the violence inherent in the system.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Seeking the Gutter

Jeepers turned out to be a non-starter, so I was casting about for an alternative birhtday activity for Mo. A party like we had for Em wouldn't be a treat, it would be torture for her. Such gatherings inspire her to hide out, act out and even flee the house. For that matter, Jeepers would be improved greatly if they took out most of the arcade games and all the other people. I mean, without soaping the windows and posting a 'closed' sign.

Chuck-E-Cheese was suggested, but they don't have rides, the most important thing at Jeepers. 'Curious George' is showing, but Mo's already going to see that on a field trip Monday. I never got to go to a movie theater on a field tirp, but these modern times...

Cosmic Mini-Golf was something I considered. It's an indoor putt-putt lit mainly with black lights and using flourescent balls and with flourescent borders on the edges of the greens. Well, they're not greens, they're blacks, it's really pretty spooky. Mo likes to walk around the place but I wasn't sure how she'd do with something as organized as golfing, and they were surprisingly busy when we went by there. Go figure, it's usually a ghost-town so they get busy the one time I consider popping for a game.

Mo has bowled with Special Olympics in the past. I thought that'd be a fun trip, and even scouted out the lanes SO uses so there'd be continuity.

She did pretty well with the first game. She seemed to be enjoying herself, though I had to get on her for the overhanded throw. I know it's an eight-pounder, not a full-weight ball, but I still figure it'll bang a dent in the wood when thrown from four feet in the air. I got to see the gutter-ball dance, which I'd only heard about before. Mo loves a gutter ball.

I think I know why. A gutter ball is incredibly orderly. It goes in a perfectly straight course and leaves all ten pins standing. She dances for gutter balls like I dance for a spare. I don't have a strike dance because I don't think I've ever gotten a strike.

Okay, I don't think I've ever posted a three-digit score at bowling. I should use bumpers.

I turned bumpers on for the second game, because Em was getting frustrated and I thought maybe Mo would grove on the novelty of knocking some pins down. Em had actually gotten a spare in the first game, and on a pretty ugly split, the 1 & 10 I believe. The ball looked like it'd go right between them, then it veered into the 1-pin with more noise than it's visual speed seemed to predict. Good on her.

Em loved having bumpers, though. She doesn't find any elegance in a gutter ball, and some of her pitches would go in a graceful arc down the wood, threatening to smash straight into that first pin only to had into the gutter about a foot from the balls.

Mo got a strike. Em got a spare where she knocked down all ten on her second ball, which seems like a strike to me.

But bumpers pissed Mo off. She actually threw a ball on top of the bumper, and she attempted something that, like the gutter-ball dance, I'd only heard of before. She threw the ball onto the neighboring lane, where some fairly serious bowlers were playing. The guy who was about to go when Mo's pink eight-pounder came into his field of view was a good sport about it.

So Mo was getting whinier with each frame, and I decided to get some refreshments for the honyocks while I tried to figure out how to take the bumpers back down on her name mid-game. I took them to the concession stand, where Em asked for a cookie. Mo wanted a cookie too, or so I gathered, but she got fussier and fussier and said 'machine.'

I thought she meant the vending machine, which was down a ways from the concession stand. I thought maybe there had been a routine related to Special Olympics, so we went to the vending machine. I asked her what she wanted, and she said, 'Chocolate!' So I fed a buck in and asked what kind. She hit the coin-return, grabbed the emerging bill and headed for the miniature arcade. She looked, seemingly at random, for a game that took dollars, and after she settled on one, and it had taken her dollar she walked away from it. Em tried her luck at it, but Mo was still unhappy.

I led the girls back to our lane, trying to get Mo to focus on the game again, but the next time Em was up, Mo bolted for the arcade area, cutting through several people's tables and I had to run around a bunch of kids who were trying to change their shoes on the fucking floor in front of the shoe counter (isn't there an etiquette about that???), and when I caught up to her she was in full core meltdown, so we packed up and left.

Oh, and I'm not much of a bowler, but when did they invent this slicker-than-grease shit for the lanes? On my second or third frame, I thought I was a little forward with my plant-foot. Turns out, I thought right, as I bruised my knee and elbow and pulled at least two muscles in a Jerry Lewis follow-through. Didn't hit a single pin, either. They have a warning sign, I noticed later, about that foul-line meaning business. I guess they're trying to use all the silicone they don't put in women's chests these days into Lane 20 at Mission Bowl.

It was embarrassing, though not as embarrassing as explaining to the library that you've lost another DVD to the cold-air return...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Jeepers?

I used to take the kiddos to this place. It was like Chuck-E-Cheese without the annoying rodent and it had rides. All indoors, but they ad bumper cars, a roller coaster, a centrifuge dubbed the 'Yak Attack.' This is all good fun, wears kids out, and it's not too annoying that hungry arcade games are all over the joint.

I used to take the kids there when I was alone with them on the weekend. Mo's first seizure followed such an excursion, when she'd ridden the Yak Attack for about 45 minutes straight. The vestibular stimulation was healthy according to the autism literature, but according to her new neurologist, the rides caused seizures and were a no-no.

Except they're not. After four or five years of not taking Mo to Jeepers, of thinking I'd never even get to take her to Words of Fun, I find out that there's no conclusive link. Stress, tiredness, these things can lower your seizure threshhold, and excessive amusement park time provides that. So does getting married, having babies, chaning jobs, etc.

To tell her ahead of time or not? Well, if she knows we're going to Jeepers and she feels like the birthday celebrations at Grandma's house aren't going fast enough, she might act out to get the first part over with. So it was later that I told her we were heading to Jeepers. At this point, we had a couple of stops to make but nothing huge or time consuming.

But I told her. Then took her to th Great Mall, parked the car and led my daughters to the closed sign.

I was going to do this last month, to coincide with Em's birthday, but I could not afford to do it twice in short order and we already had a pretty elaborate party planned for Em. So I put it off for Mo's birthday, and now the closest Jeepers is in the Chicago area.

So now I'm back to square one. Let me know if you know anything that would really replace a long lost indoor roller coaster to a nine year old girl.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Pull!

Okay, this video is pretty hefty, so if you're on dial-up, don't even click the link. It's over six MB, but that's what it costs if you wanna be fucked up for life, right?

Very obscure movie reference, but at least one of my two readers will get it.

For the record, I am not a gun nut. I have tendencies, but I own no firearms and sometimes go years without firing a gun. I like to target shoot and blast skeet, but it's a rare treat to do so.

And I haven't looked, but this shotgun probably costs as much as an entry-level German luxury car, though if that's the case and I had an even-up choice I might still be tooling around in an '88 Buick. And spending a lot more time at Powder Creek.

Though part of me says that shooting skeet without making your shoulder into a blue-green contusion is somehow cheating. I'm not sure if it's worse because the thing will crank the rounds off so fast it sounds almost like a full-auto. I suppose in the unlikely scenario that you have to hold off a platoon of Delta-Force commandos, being able to squeeze of twelve rounds of buck shot in under two seconds would at least allow you to die knowing you'd at least harrassed the opposition.

Aside from the macho considerations, the guy shot what, 50,000 rounds in five months? Obsessive-compulsive much?

I realize this is the same personality disorder that accounts for NFL players, NASCAR drivers, and winter Olympians. And he probably gets free ammo from someone for a similar endorsement.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Too Stoned for Sturgis

That's the title of a Tim Wilson song that offers some curious examples of seemingly impossible extremes:

Too old for Lawrence Welk,
And not young enough for Mickey Mouse,
Too steppin' to Steppenwolf,
And too greasy for the Waffle House...

Also such oxymorons as too ugly for the Rolling Stones (rhymes with too stupid for Jenny Jones), too important for the New York Times (rhymes with too immature for LeAnn Rhymes).

Anyone who watched the Super Bowl half-time show can attest that too ugly for the Rolling Stones is bad. Brings to mind another commedian I remember, a guy who had one memorable line that 'you know you've got problems when you gag a plumber.


When you're too fried for bikers (the song goes) you're pushing the fried envelope. I love hyperbole like that. It's what makes Don DeLillo work when he does. My friend Jay couldn't stick out 'Cosmopolis,' and I think I understand why; I've struggled with some of DD's books, that one managed to connect with me.

Anyway, Yorkist Rose posted a response that I'm obliquely, and probably badly addressing. I'm too tired at the moment to edit it more fully, and I've probably already lost almost anyone who stumbled on my little blog by now, since me typing is even worse than Tim Wilson singing.

I've been married to the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster for 13 years. This leads me dangerously close to those goofy numerologists with the 13 hang-up, because the 13th of the month is also both my daughters' birthdays; they're 13 months apart, etc. If I was a triskaidekaphobic, I could take it further. 'Our song' was actually a divided title. I was rather lopsided to the jazz side (still am), and always thought of our song as 'My Foolish Heart.' This is true because one of the times early in our dating when we were more or less on a break, I played that tune on crappy synthesizer and broke through whatever we'd fought about. But for a 13 tie-in, it doesn't work unless you consider the chromatic scale or circle of fifths.

As I say, we had two 'our songs.' This is probably not a good idea: If you're getting serious with someone and can't settle on a romantic song, get out while the gettin's good. Seriously. Our other song? 'For The Longest Time.'

Okay, you can all say 'awwwh,' but that was the other song we focused on. The then frauline who aspired to lobster status put that tune on a mix tape for me. Remember mix tapes? When there was no such thing as a CD burner outside a factory somewhere, this was how you ripped tunes. There's a catch, though, because you can't tape a song off a record faster than the record turns. A mix-tape recorded at 4X would sound like a chipmunk festival. Back then, taping an album or a mix for someone meant you'd spent at least 90 minutes cussing because the needle-drop came through on the goddamn tape, or puking off the balcony of your apartment because you drank a whole pint of gin making a tape of tunes you'd added up the times for and the whole project was ruined when the last four bars of the climactic tune was cut off by the end of the tape.

No blue bar to tell you there was 90 minutes and 35 seconds of music you were trying to cram onto a 90 minute cassette.

Oh, but the Billy Joel connection isn't obvious, is it? Nope, but I saw an interview with him a few months ago. He was rehearsing for his 'Tired Old Has-Been' tour. Like he couldn't play those songs in his sleep by now. The interviewer had to pretend stupidity, kind of like the U.N. Security Council (the IAEA is going to report Iran to the Security Council, because the Security Council doesn't have CNN, and so has no idea that Iran is a spooky theocracy with nuclear ambitions). The interivewer asked Billy Joel what song he was most sick of, out of all the tired moldy-oldies he would be trotting out in this dog-and-pony show. Joel played the first few bars of 'Just the Way You Are,' and the interviewer (playing dumber than even U.N. ambassadors), had to ask why.

I paraphrase, since this is a fairly vivid memory but I didn't write it down or anything. 'I married a woman who said she loved me and it was forever and it lasted thirteen years.'

There's that damned 13 again.

Oh, but I mentioned Yorkist Rose in a vain attempt to keep even one reader this far, so I better at least pander to her.

You might have guessed, I know Yorkist Rose's 'true' identity. Her actual name is Yor Kisross, a Finnish defector living under a barely-assumed name in Eau Claire. She is a computer hacker by day, and a dairy industry saboteur by night.

Anyway, I won’t hold her illegal status with INS against her, or the fact that she is on good terms with my wife. Almost all my friends are also my wife’s friends, which is why I’ve (as noted in a previous post) worn out my welcome with the few friends I can speak freely with.

But Yor raises a good point. A lot of these mutual friends helped my wife move out. I don’t hold it against them; they were helping a friend who asked for a favor. I’m not happy about it, and when it’s boiled down, I don’t even respect the decision. But it wasn’t them egging her on, at least I'd hope not.

For that matter, even my wife is welcome here. If I wanted to hide something from her, I’d put it somewhere else than the World Wide Web.

Annals of Recapitulation

I guess I still have a soft spot for Woody Allen's 'Side Effects,' where he cites one of the works of his absent-minded professor character as 'Styles of Modes.'

I've been reading (yes, still) Prague by Arthur Phillips. I don't know if I'd relate to it as much if I didn't have some friends run off to Prague in the 90s. Oh, but the book's set in Budapest. Which skirts the fine line between clever and stupid, but I think he gets away with it.

One of the themes of the book is the history of nostalgia, or the idea of people being nostalgic for that which they've never experienced. That probably registers a little easier on me these days, too, because when things are going poorly, it's natural to think of better days. I remember a few weeks ago...

But of course a few weeks ago I wasn't really happy. Or rather, it doesn't seem possible that I was doing anything but conning myself. Especially after exhausting the friends I can talk to about the divorce: I'm not about to try and recruit mutual friends of ours into an Army of Scorn. I don't think she'd do that to me, and more significantly, I won't do that to my friends. After thirteen years of marriage, the list of friends of mine who aren't friends of my wife is...okay, it's ridiculous to call three people a 'list.'

Oh, I guess the list would include the hired friend, I believe he'd be considered a mental health professional. Except he's not crazy that I can tell, so he can't be a psychologist, right? He's seriously helped me a lot, probably about as much as a professional can.

But as I say, the tendency in mulling things over at this point is to remember the scars, wounds, frustrations and slights. Not to defend that, because when you start talking yourself out of nostalgia for this time and that time and the other time, you end up...well, I won't speak for anyone else. I end up thinking that the only time in my life I was really happy, with no regrets, was half an hour my junior year of high school.

Which is ridiculous if you know me, because I'm a pathological optimist. When I had the heart attack, I'm convinced the doctors kept me an extra day to impose the grim truth of things on this peculiarly up-beat and absurdly young patient. A while before that, when I had risen by Peter-principle from a job I was good at to a job I still don't comprehend, and was called to a meeting with the President and head of HR (which could only mean termination, that formation never signaled anything else), all I could think of was what I could do with the severance money and what a relief it would be to wake up unemployed instead of incompetent.

Still, a glass that's half full can just remind you how incredibly thirsty you are. And I don't suppose I'd register as human if I was without contradictions...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Your Real Job

Pat Walsh tells the story of meeting someone at a party who worked for a circus. He was excited at the thought and asked what that was like. ‘A lot of paperwork.’

A friend from high school has one of those cool jobs, though. Some jobs suck to even a casual observer. I think that at a certain, young, age, whatever your Dad does for a living seems way cooler than it could possibly be. Insurance actuaries and astronauts are probably on about the same footing until their kids get to Kindergarten. Even a diesel mechanic can probably milk the ‘cool job’ image to when his kids hit puberty.

I doubt that even test pilots seem exciting to their teenage offspring.

And maybe it’s just me, but it seems like even my ‘real job’ doesn’t stack up that great against where some of my friends from high school ended up. ‘Commercial artist’ sounds pretty cool, but not as cool as anesthesiologist. Maybe ‘anesthesiologist’ sounds cooler than it is.

But I backed into my career. I was working in gas stations mostly, with stints as an ‘operator standing by’ for an 800-number clearing house whose clients included Fat Magnet and Tummy-Sizer, a professional phone pest paid to torment people with radio-program surveys, jobs which had only one common denominator: they were not as bad as washing dishes in a Mexican restaurant. Meanwhile, friends of mine were majoring in something besides avoiding a job you’d have to keep secret even from a three-year-old son. And they went on to get cool jobs, with titles like ‘photo editor.’

For what it’s worth, the Mexican restaurant in question is one I still patronize, which is notable in that after seeing what went on behind the wall in other food-service jobs, I never recovered my appetite. I’m sure other places I eat re-fry hushpuppies dropped in murky puddles on the floor or serve fish the manager bled all over trying to filet frozen cod after not thawing enough to get through the dinner rush, but ignorance is palatability. Still, while the Tex-Mex establishment was clean and professional, the dishwasher gig will never, I hope, be trumped for the worst job I ever had.

So my friend the photo editor was in journalism school when I was violating the no-smoking policy in a kiosk, doing my best to alienate customers so they’d quit bothering me. Instead of getting a degree, I gradually quit bothering with classes, instead hatching a variety of embarrassingly na├»ve plans for conquering the world of commerce. One of these was to launch a magazine, which I fancied would be a hybrid of libertarian/conservative journals like National Review and American Spectator, cross-pollinated with Playboy’s sexiness, and erudite fiction in the mode of a premier literary magazine. I’m not sure which was more absurd, that I thought I could edit and publish such a magazine, or that I thought anyone would buy it. I hadn’t yet looked up to notice that no one else in America was reading anything.

While I failed to become a long-haired William Buckley in smoking jacket surrounded by twenty-something girls who pretend not to mind pipe smoke, I did manage the commercial artist thing. It’s not a glamour gig, it’s a steady paycheck and decent benefits.

Still, to call me an artist, that’s weak. Which is almost as much of a stretch if you’ve ever seen me try to draw, or even write legibly. Luckily, you don’t need to have any artistic skill, aptitude or even a creative spark to be a commercial artist. You only need a computer, a cubicle, and a willingness to do unbelievably dull things with corporate logos.

Oh, wait, this post is about my friend. I mentioned that, didn’t I? She’s a photo editor for a ‘major metropolitan daily newspaper.’ If you’ve never visited one of these, you probably have images of chain-smoking cub reporters bringing down a President with honesty and hubris. I won’t disabuse you of that, the glorious image is one of the few things to offset salaries and benefits that make the circus look like a golden parachute.

And it does sound cool, when you call someone out of the blue on a Saturday afternoon and they have to go, right now because they’re due in a ‘page-one meeting.’ Which means my friend is either relatively important, or page-one is composed by people who couldn’t convince their boss that their kids’ soccer games would be missed if they didn’t get out of the office by noon on Saturday.

I tried to call my friend the photo editor the other night. George Bush was blowing hot air on Congress, which I wasn’t watching, but her boss sent her to be an ‘on-site’ photo editor. This struck me as an odd assignment. I guess I assumed a photo editor did things like shrink the jowls on the Vice President or take the crow’s feet down a decade on the Senator from New York. These are easy enough to do with Photoshop, but they’re also things you can do anywhere. You certainly wouldn’t need to be at the Capitol for the State of the Union address.

And you picture a photo editor, too, being a veteran photographer, spending hours with loupe in hand, going over contact sheets for ‘the photo.’ So imagine my disillusionment when she explained to me that she ‘shuttles disks from one end of the building to the other and make sure the names in the captions are right.’ Apparently, ‘photo editor’ was a title they came up with in lieu of salary when the last photo editor quit because he was sick of being called a copyboy.