WELCOME - Let's Look At Life and Rant About It!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today On The Drawing Board ...

I had a phone conversation with my friend Richie ... he was complaining about all the yard work and house upkeep he had to do. Every weekend, his wife ... Beth ... had a list of chores he was expected to squeeze into the two days ... rain or shine ... sweltering heat or frigid cold.
One of Richie's least favorite jobs was "poop patrol," the cleaning up of all the excrement left by their beagle Higgins. "That's what I thought we had kids for," Richie explained, "you know, to grow up and do all the things around the house we hate to do."

I was considering this conversation while consuming a Bomb Pop ... those bright, icy, and oddly-ridged red, white, and blue treats ... when I had an idea for the ultimate invention. Dog Turd Dye ... DTD!!

DTD would be a tasteless and odorless additive to wet dog food. It would come in a small bottle kept in the refrigerator. When canine dinner time rolls around, a dropper full of DTD is added to your pet's food. And for approximately 48 hours, every ass nugget that leaves your dog will be tennis ball yellow, horror movie ooze green, or construction cone orange. Locating and removing these biological messes from your yards will be a breeze! I would become a household name and bazillionaire in one easy stroke!!

Then, like a rational person, I began to think about logistics. How do you meet a fun-lovong chemist? Caribou Coffee? And what about safety issues? I know that, in humans, food additives like colorings and dyes have been tentatively linked to serious health concerns such as liver damage, asthma, and cancer. And in children, studies conducted with tartrazine, more commonly known as FDC yellow #5 ... there goes my tennis ball yellow option ... have shown connections with hives, hyperactivity, and a lack of focus and concentration. Animal testing has been done on lots of rats with varying results. I guess dogs would have to be studied to, but I think it has potential.

I'm still gonna call Richie and give him the good news!!

POINT OF RANT: Do dogs really need to concentrate?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Today At The Toy Store ...

I'm invited to a kid's birthday party. My friend Stacey's daughter, Taryn, turns six and they're having a cookout. Normally I don't get asked to these type of events, but Stacey thought I could help her husband man the grill and manage the adults while she and her mother kept a lid on the children ... about 10 little tykes if everyone shows.

I agreed ... I was promised a nice Porterhouse (with grilled mushrooms) and all the wine I could guzzle after the kids left. But now I have to buy a gift and I haven't had to purchase something to amuse a six-year-old girl in a very long time.

I have nieces and close female cousins, but they and their parents always had very specific gift ideas ... I guess the picky thing is genetic. Hell, sometimes my sisters and brothers would actually buy a gift for me to give and I'd just write them a check when we got together for the party. So believe me when I say I was a bit overwhelmed when I stopped by a toy store to pick something up.

I decided on a spending limit of $35 ... not crazy-over-the-top but also not like a cheapass. So I wonder up and down aisles with an empty cart and see all kinds of stuff for six-year-old boys ... stuff I would have loved. If I had extra cash, I'd probably get some of it for myself right now. Transfomers ... cool. K'Nex construction sets ... awesome. Kid-size SuperSoakers ... get out of town! 101 Piece Magic Kits ... too much fun. Little Tikes Motor Workshop ... nifty. Charlie Coal the Talking Grill ... I want one for my new place!!

But Taryn is a girl, so I check out girlie stuff. Barbies are everywhere, but center stage are Barbie versions of Bella and Edward from the "Twilight" saga ... torturous love and vampires seem a bit much for a six year old who won't eat broccoli. Then I see a shelf of things called Brats. They look like little plastic prostitutes. Then there are Zhu Zhu Pets ... little hairy things with very animated expressions ... and enough day-glo My Little Ponies to create a lethal stampede ... and their cute little eyes tell me they'd do it in a hoofbeat.

I look at jump ropes with handles that make a variety of electronic noises, pogo sticks, cuddly stuffed animals both real and imaginary, Ribbon Dancer streamers and accessories, and big-headed dolls in fragile looking carriages. I see Dora the Explorer paraphernalia ... is Dora even relevant these days? Same question for Hannah Montana and all the merchandise she's hawking. I also wade through the massive amount of movie tie-in items from Avatar, Iron Man, Shrek, and Toy Story.

Then I consider "classic" gifts like a Play-Doh Fun Factory (Stacey would murder me in my sleep), a Spinner Art set (same outcome), a Lite-Brite, or an Etch-A-Sketch.

After about 40 minutes of careful consideration I walk out of the store with four items and a receipt totaling nearly $55. The big-ticket item is a small inflatable water slide that looks like a friendly sea serpent ... what kid in their right mind is gonna turn up their nose at that. Then, for Stacey and her husband's inclusion of me in this get-together, I found a pair of purple electronic drum sticks that simulate the full range of drum set sounds ... they're pretty wicked ... and loud. And finally, in tribute to "old school" style of play, I got Taryn and "egg" of Silly Putty and a classic metal Slinky.

POINT OF RANT: I'm a pretty damned good friend.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Today In My DVD Player ...

I was so bored. My chores were done ... I didn't feel like the gym ... I had no place to be ... I had just finished the book I was reading and didn't feel like I could concentrate on starting a new one ... I was just feeling listless and at a complete loss. So I went over to my media cabinet and started thumbing through my movies and stuff. Drama ... no ... sci-fi ... uh-uh ... period piece ... hardly ever. Then I found a comedy that was passable, so I opened the case to remove the disc and found that I had misfiled the DVD. Instead of a movie, I had a stand-up routine by Joy Koy, a featured guest on E!'s Chelsea Lately show.

If you've never watched the guy, you're missing out. Very genuinely funny ... the kind of guy you know was a class clown and never screws up a joke when he's telling it. He jokes about his mom a bunch, too, which is really funny ... on one special, she was there in the audience taking it all in. And his son is a topic of some pretty funny adventures ... the kind of embarrassment we've all had to deal with from time to time.

Maybe it was divine intervention, but I popped the disc in and suddenly my mood and outlook on life perked up.

POINT OF RANT: Thanks, Jo!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Today At Lunch ...

Yesterday, I went into work early so I could take a two-hour lunch. Phil ... an old neighbor of mine who bailed me out of some serious scrapes once or twice ... is in my neck of the woods visiting relatives. He's travelling with his two year old son, Gaston. Phil wants to eat at a local chain restaurant ... not my fave by a long shot ... because his son "prefers" the place's kid's menu. Does a two-year-old even understand the concept of a menu? Or of a preference?

Anyway, we meet at the eatery and get seated pretty quick ... it's only just past 11 so we beat the lunch crowd. I'm sitting with my diet soda ... Phil has an iced tea ... and Gaston has already created a small reenactment from Hamburger Hill with saltines and drippings from his sippy cup.

The waitress returns to take our orders. Phil surprises by choosing a salad ... he had always been a poster child for carnivores ... so I take the reins and order a 1/3 pound California burger with avocado and onions. Phil asks our waitress if she can give them a few more minutes while he and Gaston look over their options. Seriously, Gaston is not considering his options ... he has three small toys on his hi-chair tray and is just looking around as servers and patrons pass by.

When our server ... Cyndi with an "I" in the wrong place ... returns, Phil asks for the kid's chicken fingers basket. "But they're not really fingers, are they Gassy," Phil says to his son in that sing-songy voice that parents develop. "No they're not."

No, they are not, indeed, the fingers from a chicken, but that did get me to thinking about how confusing some food selections must sound to children with average to above-average cognitive skills and overall brainpower.

I hope preschool curricula cover these things, but chicken "nuggets" are not made of gold ... but, again, chicken. Fish "sticks" are not comprised of twigs and storm debris. When children run away, they are sometimes recovered but also sometimes endure some tragic events. They are not, however, harvested and turned into tater "tots."

Then there's the whole "hot dog" controversy to explain. How many parents have explained that hot dogs aren't made from canines and that people don't eat dogs? Lots ... but part of their sugary explanation isn't true.

Although frowned upon by many, several cultures still embrace the consumption of dog meat. It all started with ancient Chineses and Aztec civilizations, where certain breeds of canines were raised for meat. Many Aztec artifacts ... especially pottery ... depict dogs being consumed, while Mandarin culture describes dog meat as "mutton of the Earth."

If you're a world traveler, you might have the opportunity to sample rica-rica (a hot roasted dog dish) while attending a wedding in Indonesia, or slurp down a bowl of bosintang (a fragrant soup made from dog) from a vendor stall in Korea. While touring some rural areas of Switzerland, you may be able to resupply your stash of canine sausage and doggie jerky. And in a hotspot like Hanoi, you can probably find a group of men bonding over platters of cho zao sa ot, fried dog cooked with lemon grass and chilis ... it's supposed to have a special kick similar to Viagra.

The list of countries and delicacies goes on and on. Makes explaining "kidney" beans seem like a walk in the park!

POINT OF RANT: Haggis ... actually good. Dog jerky ... not for all the money in my savings account.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Today On The Highway ...

I have to report an unexpected and extremely sad death in my "family." I decided to get my camera out this morning and just go out and shoot some pics. Nature ... rusty train trestles ... entrances to trailer parks ... really just anything that caught my eye.

So I was sailing down the four lane to get out of the city ... windows down and a homemade mix CD blaring at about 9 on the volume scale ... when it happened. At an off ramp, where the winds plummet through and around the concrete pillars and support structures, a megabreeze swept through my car and took the life of my all-time favorite Cleveland Indians cap.

I got that hat during a great game at Jacobs Field in 2006. I even got Grady Sizemore, the center
fielder who got his start in Cleveland in 2004 when he was traded from the Expos, to Sharpie his signature on the side. And I went to a local T-shirt shop where they treated the hat with this chemical that would really help preserve the signature.

Without even thinking, I used the next emergency crossover to circle back but, with traffic and everything, I never found a body. This necessitates that services will be closed casket.

I loved that hat. I have about 20 ... college teams and pros ... football, baseball, basketball, and hockey ... but that hat was special. I swear I could wear that thing backwards and always look cool. And when I placed it on my head, I was 12 years old playing Little League for the first time. And then I think of how bad I suck at baseball and just think about the great times me an "Hattie" had.

POINT OF RANT: Remember to let your loved ones know you care ... I missed out on telling "Hattie" how I felt and now I'll never get the chance.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Today On YouTube ...

I love pop music ... it's playful and goofy, and almost always employs catchy lyrics that get stuck in your head. I've been following a quartet known as Big Time Rush ... kind of a K-Mart version of N-Sync or Backstreet Boys. And I mean that in a good way ... lots of personality and effort without the ego.

Recently, American Idol alum (and winner for her season) and songstress supreme Jordin Sparks guest starred on their Nickelodeon show and they recorded this song and produced a video.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Today At The Laundromat ...

Right after I signed the lease on my new apartment (about two weeks ago), I purchased a stackable washer and dryer. The apartment is small, but there was a linen closet outside of the bathroom that would be an easy hook-up for a washer/dryer unit. And my landlady said I could.

So I shopped around a little, made my purchase, and scheduled delivery. Then came the snags ... the "easy" hook-up wasn't going to be that easy, and the installation tech couldn't get back to me for two days. And my supply of clean "delicates" was reaching critical mass.

Solution ... a trip to the laundromat.

I made this decision with trepidation ... I'd been to a laundromat or two in my time, and I know the playing field can be dicey. See, I live in a fairly big suburb of a good-sized metropolitan area, but we don't have any fancy laundromats. And I was hoping to make this a one-time thing.

I remember in the late '80s or early '90s when the news used to do soft segments on new trends and they mentioned the "laundrobar" ... a place that was a hybrid of a full-service laundry and a bar/club establishment. I guess they had been around in Europe ... Scandinavia especially ... for years with great success. I wish me and my dirty clothes could be in an episode of "I Love the '80s" and dance and drink those stains away.

Instead, about four blocks from my new dwelling is a laundromat/dry cleaner hybrid. The enterprise is part of a long storefront of been-around businesses ... it looks like an abandoned safehouse where no one ever felt safe. Bricks are falling out of the facade and the windows are beige and filmy from constant humidity. It's way too far from the nearest police precinct house.

the dry cleaners is closed, the laundromat side stays open 24/7. I went Friday right after work ... I figured most people would be out with family and friends and the place would be pretty much deserted. My two huge laundry baskets and I had some company ... a bedraggled mother with two kids who kept running down the aisles with those wheeled wire clothes bins, a big burly dude trying to force and area rug into one of three industrial-size commercial washer units in the back, and two elderly couples who both looked like they, like myself, waited until their supply of clean clothes ran low before shlepping out to do laundry ... all four of them sat amidst piles of folded and unfolded items casually watching their remaining garments spinning lazily in nearby dryer units.

They place was fairly big inside, so I easily found a bank of four adjoining washers, sorted my items, loaded the machines with clothes, money, and detergent, and then sat down to admire my surroundings. The place was just dull ... dull wallpaper ... dull peeling floor tiles ... dingy overhead fluorescents ... dull brown and tan plastic seats and benches.

And it was not the cleanest place ... I had tucked a small pack of multi-purpose wipes in one of my laundry baskets, so I wiped my chair down before I sat (I had also pre-emptively wiped down the four dryers I was using). One of the senior women looked at me like I was a snob or something ... I just hoped the bacteria on her and her husband's chair didn't send them to an early grave.

She eventually lost interest, talking to the other couple and deftly avoiding one or both of the rampaging boys ... their mother sat clueless reading a well-viewed magazine at least five years out of date.

For the next two hours I was held hostage by things that washed, whirled, spun, chugged, and agitated. I went through the old magazines myself looking for something to read ... twice. I watched the burly guy wrestle his washed rug into his car. I watched the odd people that came in ... seemingly from nowhere ... to play one of three ancient arcade games or buy a soda or candy bar from the vending machines, and made up life stories for them in my head. I routinely gazed at the two security cameras and wondered if anyone ever watched the tapes (probably if there was an act of vandalism or death from boredom) or if some poor bastard from a small security company actually had this scene as one of many live feeds from area shops ... and if there was someone watching, did he or she feel as sorry for me being stuck doing laundry on a Friday night.

I got up several times to check on and then silently malign the dryers for their pricey demands and meager output of actual heat. I even intended on using the restroom once, but not all the multi-wipes in the world could have made that happen. Words like "cholera" and "plague" kept coming to mind, as well as old comedies that used the line "Calcutta in the summertime."

When I was finally finished ... a few things were a bit damp, but I had reached a limit ... I directly to a drive through for a fresh six pack. It was Friday night, dammit!

POINT OF RANT: Multi-wipes ... never leave home without them!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Today In A Parking Lot ...

My lunch hour is sacred time to me. For those sixty minutes, I can remove myself from the pressures of the workplace. I often just drive through for a sandwich and sit in my car by myself ... no music, no phone ... just me and my thoughts. This time is especially important when deadlines are looming or multiple projects are reaching completion. It's a chance to hide from responsibilities, if only for a quick breather.

Today, I nabbed a spicy BBQ chicken on Texas toast with a side of chili cheese fries and parked in a shopping plaza ... two anchor stores with a strip of 15 small businesses between ... frame shop, card shop, health food store, insurance agency, Greek diner, etc. Usually there isn't much to see ... just other nooners grabbing food or running quick errands ... but I lucked into dinner AND a show. Part of the parking lot was marked off and three guys with a bucket truck ... like the utility companies use ... were replacing bulbs in those towering light poles that dot most metropolitan parking areas. I always wondered how those bulbs were changed and how often they had to be switched out.

So I watched and ate ... ate and watched. One guy, in particular, caught my attention. He was older ... like Betty White's older brother old. Like before we had electricity old. Seriously, the dude looked to be in his early to mid 70s. And he wasn't the crew leader or foreman or whatever. He was operating some control interface on the side of the vehicle and inspecting the bulb to be installed.

It was
interesting to watch, but my sandwich was damn interesting ... and tasty ... as well. So imagine my surprise when, while looking at an unusually-colored care taking a parking space two down from my position, the air was filled with a thunderclap. I think I wrenched my neck as I swung my head around to see the Ancient One huddled under the bucket truck while glass and debris settled around him. The guy in the bucket must have loosened something prematurely or dropped something from up high because it was a serious mess. He had ducked down into the "bucket" for a moment ... I briefly thought he had tumbled out with the replacement materials until he popped up like a guilty Wack-A-Mole. Thank goodness these guys know to cordon off the area so no vehicles or pedestrians are anywhere near their working vicinity.

there was one casualty ... as the excitement and drama of the accident unfolded, I lost control of my plastic spork and two chili cheese fries fell to their deaths, leaving a trail of gore down my dress shirt.

OF RANT: You can dress me up but I'll eventually embarrass myself and everyone around me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today on YouTude ...

This dude, comedian Jack Whitehall, was the "third guest" on the Graham Norton Show last night. Now, typically the third guest is kind of filler ... providing comic relief or responding to the A-list guests anecdotes with awe and amazement. But this guy stole the show ... he was hilarious just sitting on the big couch being himself. Check out the clip.

POINT OF RANT: Big names can be, and often are, boring!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Today In The Paint Store ...

I finally got my new place ... it was official June 1, but it's been slow going getting everything moved in. It's the top part of a duplex ... one bedroom with a small living and entryway and a really tiny kitchen. But the bedroom is huge and has two closets, so I took one set of doors off and set up my workstation inside for sort of a "office alcove." And I have direct access to a storage loft above the garage (which the downstairs neighbor gets for her car ... no biggie), so I can move all my stuff out of storage and have it nearby.

The building owner lives next door, and her "deal" is that I can paint as long as I either a) repaint if I move or b) agree to be charged the cost of having someone else repaint when I vacate (something she's capped at $200).

So that presents me with my current dilemma. Have you been to a paint store lately? There's so many choices ... flat paints to help cover up imperfections ... eggshell formulations (also sometimes called "satin") for a bit ore durability ... semi-gloss and gloss types with higher resin content that creates a soft reflectivity and provides a more cleanable surface.
And then there's primer. Primer, as God intended it, is a layer of pigment meant to help the surface coat appear true to color, alleviate the need for multiple coats of paint, and to make the DIY conglomerate more money. But today I'm faced with primers, undercoaters (meant to prepare irregular surfaces for paint application, thus, in some cases avoiding patching and spackling), and sealers (meant to seal the surface to prevent the substrate receiving paint to actually absorb or leech the pigment into the wall). I think I just need primer, but then I have options of tinted primer (regular primer leaning toward the color of my choice that improves the coverage of surface coats) or even scented primer (primer with added chemicals that mask smells for up to a year, great if you've taken over the lease from a messy family or a recently-evicted "cat lady"). And there's paint options with primer and/or scent in a all-in-one formulation ... not for the faint of heart or checkbook.

Next I have to consider size ... see, guys, size does matter regardless of what they tell us! Of course, we're all familiar with the full gallon of paint with the smear of color on top and complimentary can opener and stir-stick taped to the side. But for smaller projects, there are quarts and even smaller sample sizes. There's even an "oops" bin of customer returns and bad decisions that offer quality paint at a great price.

So, in the scheme of things, color choice can be first or last on the list, or somewhere in the middle. But looking at all the sample swatches can be mindboggling. There are thousands of choices, and you can still bring in something to be color matched or as for a "shade in between" of two selections and the paint technicians with work their alchemy and shake-rattle-and-roll you out the perfect hue.

And if you want to see how colors will work together? ... many DIY superstores have computer stations that will allow you to combine wall, ceiling, and trim selections for a glimpse of your finished room.

I've selected a flat latex in light avocado for my bedroom (and a darker version for the opened-up closet), a warm buttery yellow semi-gloss for the one wall in my kitchen with enough area to even paint, and a rich slate blue-gray eggshell for two walls in the main living area. Also in my cart are rollers, edgers, drop clothes, sponge brushes for hard to reach spots, and a little can of Spackle ... it will look nice on the shelf where I store it, because the chances of me properly prepping for painting ... of PPP ... are highly unlikely.

POINT OF RANT: It might be easier ... and cheaper ... to wallpaper my new place with fresh dollar bills.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Today At The Dentist ...

I've got a cavity ... or receding gums ... or an infected root. My teeth feel fine, but it's my regularly semi-annual cleaning appointment at my dentist and its ALWAYS something.

He's a great guy ... on the younger side and he has a very hip office with decent magazines in the waiting room, original cartoon animation cels around the various rooms, competent help who don't mind arguing on my behalf with my insurance company, and a flat screen TVthat's usually tuned to the Cartoon Network or Boomerang. Classy!

What I don't like is that he talks to all his patients like we're five years old. This is not my first dental rodeo, so to speak. I've had many, many cavities, two root canals, two extractions (I'm not proud), and a crown procedure that in the 16th century would have been considered the highest form of torture. He can speak to me man-to-man.

And, like I said, I don't care for the fact that even when my teeth feel fine, he always finds something pricey to fix. Or it's time to update x-rays ... cha-ching!

I blame my parents for the state of my teeth ... well, I blame their DNA. We were, and still are, a family of bad teeth. We all, as far as I know, follow the "Holy Trinity" of brush, floss, and regular check-ups, but it doesn't matter. Every parent and grandparent ended up with dentures, a few at surprisingly early ages. All us siblings have problems, and some of the nieces and nephews look downright British from a dental viewpoint. Personally, I know I should brush more often and floss more regularly, but why bother when my fate is sealed.

I've never been excited about oral hygiene. When we were kids, we did the dentist thing because my Dad's insurance pushed it and we loved the free brushes and floss at each visit. But when I was around four, I remember going with my Mom and sister for a check-up that changed how we looked at dentistry as a family. My grandmother drove us to the dental practice and she and I waited in the car while my sister took the first appointment. They weren't gone long, and my Mom was literally sobbing as she crossed the parking lot. "He's dead," she cried once inside the vehicle, "dead." Our dentist had taken his own life over the weekend and our names slipped through the cracks when canceling appointments. I knew my Mom really liked our dentist ... we all did ... but she had a great many oral problems and he had worked very gently with her. According to various studies, male dentists are 6 to 7 times more likely than adult males 25 and older to commit suicide. Some blame the nature of the beast ... causing people discomfort. Others feel that dentists are affected negatively by their standing with doctors and other professionals in the medical community at large. No study seems to have the answers, but, as a family, we grieved hard.

It was probably eight or nine years before us kids got back into a routine of going to the dentists. And by then the problems had piled up. Overbites ... cavities ... wisdom teeth ... "extra" incisors. We were a mess.

When I left home for college, I found a dentist there so I could keep up the regimen I had built through my late teens. He was a great guy ... good talker with lots of funny stories ... young enough to come across as cool ... and apparently, as I would soon learn through gossip and hastily canceled appointments ... addicted to laughing gas. He went through rehab three separate times with little success (apparently). Correspondingly, I fell of the dental wagon for several years.

When I landed my first job, a co-worker suggested her dentist. Why not, I thought. Here's why not: 1) my "new" dentist was an older woman of Romanian heritage who spoke little and grunted while she worked, 2) Natasha on the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoons could have been her twin in looks and mannerisms, 3) She operated out of this old cinder block building that always felt damp, and 4) her x-ray machine was older than she was. I saw her twice.

My current guy is looking better and better as I finish this entry. He does motivate my brushing habits, especially with his three-day reminders. Like clockwork, I get a call and an e-mail reminding me that my next appointment is about three days away. During that time period, I brush and floss like a demon on crack. I scrub my teeth until my gums bleed ... really. Now if I could just spread that enthusiasm over the six months between visits, I'd be set.

POINT OF RANT: Ask for grape floss ... they have it but hold it back for the real kiddies.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Today At A Fast Food Joint ...

I love drive-thru fast food ... tasty, relatively inexpensive, and oh so convenient. But when I order a juicy burger with onions or a chicken club, I have never asked for a side of incompetence ... yet it always seems to wind up in my to-go bag.

Just a few days ago, I stopped after work at a place that serves these boneless wings I love. There's a few flavors of sauce from which to choose. I always get the "Asian Kick" ... although when they first come through the glass partition they smell more like "Chinaman's Ass." Anyway, I bought a six-piece combo, paid and collected my food, and then drove about a mile to the parking lot of a "superstore" where I could dine before starting the official commute home.

Let me describe my meal: a diet cola I had ordered with no ice (whatever sank the Titanic was in my cup, however) and a grease-stained bag containing a box loaded with six juicy (one quite small, however ... obviously the runt of the hen house) boneless chicken masses slathered with maroon-colored sauce ... so much sauce, in fact, that it had leaked into the bag. No problem, though ... there was nothing else in the bag to get in the pungent sauce's way. No napkins. No fork. No wet wipes. No fries. Nada.

Who exactly trains the drive-thru food technicians of today? A dyslexic chimp? A seared scallop? A down-on-his-luck stockbroker? It just seems like common sense to me that with every order you include napkins, plastic cutlery, and the actual items the customer ordered. And the messiness ... people don't take pride in the simplest things. I find true beauty and craftsmanship in a well-wrapped burrito or a condiment-heavy burger that comes out of the Styrofoam box neat as a debutante at her coming out party. Why can't the people who actually make and/or serve them find the same kernel of pride?

Usually I'd cry a "youth foul" at this point, claiming that young people just don't possess a decent work ethic like those of us just 10 or 12 years their senior. For the last two years of high school, I made and delivered pizzas for a small independent chain. Other than the owner, the entire staff was between the ages of 17 and 23. I know the drill about being young and in the food service industry would... we used to do unspeakable things to orders made by people we knew and didn't particularly care for. We deliberately burn (slightly) certain orders so we could eat them on break or claim them at closing time. We used to climb on top of the pizza shop (when the owner/manager was gone) and smack dough balls at passing cars with the huge pizza oven spatula. I even personally screwed up my very first delivery by placing the thermal delivery case sideways in the backseat so that all the toppings and sauce on the pizza slid right off the crust.

But here's the thing ... as stupid as we acted at times, we never let the front-end of the business suffer. We answered the phone lines on the first or second ring. We were respectful and courteous of all customer requests. We made every attempt to remember things like "extra sauce" or "olives on the side." We kept boxes of extra napkins, Parmesan cheese packets, plastic spoons and forks, and pre-moistened towelettes in our delivery vehicles in case something was missed at the shop. And when I screwed up that first delivery, I told the customers (an older married couple) I would make it right ... I called my manager from their phone to get a replacement pizza started and offered the phone to them if they wanted to speak to him directly (they declined), drove straight back to the store(luckily I didn't have any other orders in my car), and then returned with the pizza and a complimentary six-pack of cola. They actually gave me a generous tip.

But it's not just "young people" ... I'm an equal opportunity nitpicker. There is a wave of retirees and senior citizens re-entering the workforce, and many of them end up at fast food establishments. The older lady who seems woefully ill-equipped for the breakfast rush, who can't make change, and thinks the electronic order screen is "magic" gets a "10 for ineptness" rating just as quickly as the teenager who pops her gum or stops taking my order to check the incoming text on her cell phone.

So today, I was heading to get some groceries. It was just past lunch time and I saw that one of my favorite burger joints was offering a special on chili dogs. I LOVE CHILI DOGS! So I ordered, paid and retrieved, and then drove to the grocery ... just about three blocks. My mouth was watering as I parked and grabbed for the food. The restaurant worker was apparently trying something from my playbook. She'd packed the two coney containers on end to fit in the bag more conveniently. Points for creative storage ... demerits for the mess. All the onions, mustard, and sauce had smeared down the cartons, completely saturating the bottom third of bun and wiener. And of course, no napkins to help sort out any of the mess.

I don't even "Hardees," I mean hardly, remember driving back to the restaurant. Just that everything was moving slower than normal, my breathing was really loud, and everything had a lovely red tint to it. I went inside and asked to speak to a manager. After just a few seconds, a nondescript man in his late 20s or early 30s came over and asked what I needed. I explained the situation and just paused to gauge his reaction. Then, swear to God, I saw his eyes glaze over and in a robotic voice he started issuing this apology statement which used the word "sorry" a great deal and mentioned something about how the establishment hoped every customer enjoyed their food upon arriving home. I was pissed. I suddenly and very vividly remembered every chili and soup I had ever ordered where I received no plastic spoon or crackers, every salad where the dressing never materialized, and every "no cheese, thank you" sandwich request I had made only to come face-to-face with an orange square of slightly melted edible wax.

"Hey, I've got a question for you," I said, interrupting his emotionless delivery. "Do you ever drive through places for food yourself?"

"Yeah, sure." He looked somewhat confused.

"Do you always go straight home?"

"No," he candidly replied. "Sometimes I've got errands to run, or I'm heading out of town to see my girlfriend."

"Hey, and do you ever get customers here who are just passing through the area and decided at the last minute to grab something to eat?"

"Sure ... lots of people jump of the highway to grab some food for them and their kids. Some come in and some just cruise through. A bunch are even from out of state."

GOTCHA!! Suddenly, he looked a bit uncomfortable. Trapped.

"And do you think those out-of-state-tourists and their kids wait, oh I don't know, two or three days until the get home to eat your stinkin' food? Do you think if you forget to give them a spoon with their clam chowder they wait a few hours until they can stop somewhere and shop for spoons?"

At this point, I looked at the manager squarely, sure I would spot a look of regret or contrition. But I kid you not, he looked awed instead ... like he had never thought of these customer-centric questions and their answers in his entire professional life.

POINT OF RANT: I'm emending my question ... who trains the people who train and manage the drive-thru technicians of today?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Today On A Ladder ...

Again, I'm staying with older relatives, so I try to do what I can around the house to help them out. The damn light bulb in their garage burns out with a strange frequency. I think someone is using their garage at night for raves or book club meetings because it seems to wear out about every two weeks, and they hardly ever leave their home.

So once again, I move their two cars out onto the driveway and locate a step ladder. Now, to most of you, this probably seems like an easy chore ... five minutes and forget about it. It will take me at least a half hour to screw up enough courage to climb the ladder. I'm afraid of heights, especially just being a little bit off the ground. I would feel safer on top of a skyscraper looking down than a few rungs up on an eight-foot ladder.

When I say I'm "afraid" of heights, I'm probably overstating the situation. Like many people, heights make me uncomfortable. But lately it has gotten worse. I watched a TV show where they showed a rider-point-of-view show from the front of a roller coaster. My stomach noticeably backflipped. And another nighttime drama showing three men repelling down the side of a building made me vomit a little in my mouth. Maybe it is a full-blown fear.

Fears, by definition, aren't bad things. Most fears are considered normal human reactions to potentially hostile or dangerous situations. Fear instincts ... that feeling of fight or flight ... are millennia-old emotions designed to help us deal with life. Fears are tied to and heightened by our emotions, so maybe my creative nature and overactive imagination help make my discomfort with heights a bit more "physical." Maybe I need a leather couch and accompanying therapist twice a week. The world will never know.

Phobias, one the other hand, are intense, persistent, and often prolonged states of fear usually focused on one or more specific things or concepts. Many phobias are considered by medial professionals and mental health experts as a type of anxiety disorder ... sometimes to the point where they become disruptive, even crippling, to living a normal life.

And the list of phobias is both lengthy and comical ...

Aviophobia is a fear of being in an aircraft, and is believed to combine facets of other common phobic conditions such as acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces and entrapment), and agoraphobia (fear of leaving "safe" places). I call it common sense.

Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, and I hear people talk about having mild to serious cases of it all the time ... just like musophobia (fear of rats and rodents), dentophobia (strong fear of dentists), agliophobia (fear of pain), and lygophobia (fear of darkness). And most times, the people who mention these fears tend to talk about experiencing them as children ... although I know a woman - a former co-worker who is probably around 45 years of age - who gets clammy and slightly nauseous if you even talk about mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, or whatever. One day, we put a sound-activated rubber rat in her desk drawer while she was at lunch. She had to leave work early because she lost control of her bladder ... seriously. Dorleen, I'm eternally sorry ... but I chuckle out loud every time I tell that story.

There are some very odd phobias ... at least to me ... like barophobia (fear of gravity), somniphobia (fear of sleeping), alliumphobia (fear of garlic), testophobia (fear of taking tests), and disposaphobia (fear of getting rid of things). I guess they could cause disruptions to a lifestyle, but they just seem like excuses for being clumsy and falling down a lot, not going to bed when told, avoiding co-workers offering spicy foods, not studying and doing poorly during exams, and not cleaning your house ... respectively.

Then I found the fears that just seemed ridiculous ... what I like to call the "Stupid List." It's a long list, so I'll just mention a few ...

Melophobia or the fear or hatred of music ... I know everyone has types of music they like and dislike, but the hatred of ALL music. Imagine Christmas with no carols. Cars with kids and no sing-along CDs. Life without "Glee."

Ostraconophobia or fear of shellfish. Now, I loves me some crab and shrimpies, but to fear them ... like the lobsters breaking through the rubber bands on the pincers and attaching. I don't think so.

Xyrophobia or the fear of razors. I can understand how some people could be put-off by slasher movies or the whole unfortunate Joaquin Phoenix phase, but I can't see any crippling effects.

Mageirocophobia or fear of cooking ... I once had a girlfriend who should have claimed this because she was just a lousy, lousy cook. She wasn't much of a girlfriend, to be honest.

Coitophobia ... again, see previous girlfriend reference and then we shall never speak of it again! But come on ... seriously?!

Allodoxaphobia or fear of opinions ... I truly hope it exists and it can either be created in a contagious form and harnessed to shut up half of Capitol Hill .

Potophobia or fear of alcohol ... right next to the Three Little Pigs, get-rich-quick schemes, penis pumps, and other assorted myths.

Paraskavedekatriaphobia or fear of Friday the 13th ... strangely enough, my maternal grandmother was born on a Friday the 13th in October, and almost a dozen relatives waited more than three years before visiting to meet her because of their superstitious heritage. A few even left a room if the "baby" was discussed. Go figure.

POINT OF RANT: I fear only a person's actions can define the lines between discomfort, fear, and phobia ... but can someone help me down from this ladder?