Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Odd Bits - The Holiday Edition

So how’s everyone handling the annual holiday stress?  Me?  I’m cool.  Actually finished my Christmas shopping last week, and everything has come in.  One more trip to the post office, and my work this season is done.  (Now don’t be hatin’.)

Holiday Chores
Because I’ve had sufficient time off left that I could take every Friday off from Thanksgiving on, I’ve had the opportunity to get shit done, without it conflicting with some kind of sporting event.  The weekend before last was really productive. 

Remember how I had to test drive a new car model for my company’s fleet, a month or so ago?  Well, I also took the chance to test drive the car we currently use, so I could make an apples to apples comparison.  (And this one wasn’t purple!)  I needed someplace to go, so I decided to go shopping.  My pantry was in pretty good shape, so on the spur of the moment, I decided I’d get a new Christmas tree.

My last one, a little 3-footer, got tossed by my January to February girlfriend, so I was without.  This time, I opted for something a little bigger.  (Definitely artificial though. Don’t have the patience to go the “live tree” route.)  I found a nice 6-foot tree, with the lights already attached.

That had an upside and downside.  On one hand, I don’t have to buy new lights (which were also tossed) or string them up.  On the other hand, they were white lights, and I prefer the colored one.  Wait, I mean “lights of color.”  We don’t want to offend.

But because I didn’t see a similar tree with either colored lights or no lights, I pressed the “Easy Button” and got the white lights.

I wasn’t even going to put it up right away.  But then I figured I’d at least get it stood up so I could check it out.  And then I thought I might as well hang my beaded garland on it.  And then I thought I’d stick a few ornaments on, and put up the rest later.

An hour and a half later, it was all done.  I had to go out later and pick up some tinsel and a tree skirt, but it was a real good start.

After that, I still had some energy, so in an unexpected fit of usefulness, I tackled some of the other chores on my list.  I mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors, cleaned the microwave, and unclogged the kitchen faucet. 

The faucet gets grit in the nozzle, so when it starts spitting out water that looks like it’s coming from Jim Carey after his night of “fun” with Renee Zellweger in “Me, Myself, and Irene,” I know it’s time to unscrew the cap and clean it out.

Naturally, since I was technically doing “plumbing,” I pulled my pants halfway down my ass.

Later that night, as I sat in the living room, sipping something cold and strong, I had such a feeling of contentment as I gazed upon my clean apartment and shiny new tree, and smelled the scent of my new cinnamon candle.

I love using the tree for the main illumination in the room.

I felt very peaceful and satisfied, as I wondered if “productiveness” might be something I should continue to explore.  But then I thought better of it and the mood passed.  Sloth is tricky that way.

Canvassing the Place
That same weekend, I also received the last key pieces to my overall redecoration efforts… two more of my photographs, put onto 20” x 30” canvases.  I needed something to go on the blank wall over my bed, so the week before, I ordered two of my favorite shots to be done up on canvas.

But once they arrived, I realized I hadn’t quite thought it through.  While I loved both shots, they didn’t look very good side by side.  One was a fall landscape I just shot in October, and the other was a blue abstract water reflection shot.  So I figured a full rejiggering was in order.

After running through a number of combinations I settled on a new scheme.  I took down the two water shots I had in the dining room and replaced them with the new fall landscape.

I put the two from the dining room over my bed, and I put the new water shot on the wall to the left.

I had a shot of some torrenia flowers on the left, so I moved those over to the right.


The torrenia went in the spot where I had Cassie’s daughter Claire’s painting (from their ARL fundraising drive) so I moved that to a spot in the kitchen, which was the final domino.  It’s taken all year, but I think I finally have my place looking the way I want it, and it just about looks like a grownup lives there.  Almost.

Last thing I gotta do is make a canvas shot of Camden Yards, to go in my hallway, opposite a large panorama canvas of PNC Park.  But that can wait until spring.

When Googlebots Attack
Remember how I wrote about getting hammered with hits from Google Images bots?  It was kind of nice getting all those hits, because Hits = People Like Me = I’m Fabulous.  But deep down, I knew they were really just empty calories.  I waited to see if the bot attack would subside, but it never did.  So after about 2 weeks, I set my hit-counter to ignore bot hits.  And back to reality I went.

It’s not hard to see where the Googlebot period is…

Hellooo – O—O—O?  Anybody here?  Here?  Here?

Debunkery – Holiday Edition
I see this one on Facebook all the time. 


Allow me to rephrase if for you: “Nobody’s religion counts but mine, and if you attempt to accommodate any others, I’ll get really bitchy and play the victim until I get my way.”

To me, it’s simple.  People say “Happy Holidays” when they don’t know your religion.  It’s a basic, considerate thing to do because there is a significant number of people in this country who are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Wiccan, Pagan or Pastafarian, many of whom celebrate a holiday during the same general time frame.  None of them are any less worthy of holiday wishes.

Now businesses, they have a monetary stake in not offending people, so that’s where you most often hear the HH greeting.  I don’t think anyone is setting out to offend anyone else, but insisting that people (strangers) reference your religion as the default greeting is saying, “I matter and other people don’t.”  Which is just what Jesus would have said, isn’t it?

I’m a simple heathen and I don’t care what anyone says.  If you say Merry Christmas to me, I’ll say it back.  And I’ll do the same with any other greeting.  It’s the thought that counts.  Everyone should just to accept whatever greeting they get, in the spirit in which it’s given.  And stop whining if people don’t automatically assume they’re Christian.

Overcoming a Bad Reputation
It was with great happiness that I read this morning that my Queen, Joan Jett is finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, next year.  She is going in along with Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a number of other luminaries.

As far as I’m concerned, Joan should have been in years ago.  Her influence on female rockers is immense, and she’s still out there, in her mid-to-late 50s, making albums and going out on tour.  She’s been eligible since 2005, so it’s about freakin’ time.

Me and my friend Joan, circa 1988.

I’m also somewhat dumbfounded that Stevie Ray is just going in now.  He was eligible in 2008.  If there’s ever been a better guitarist than SRV, I’d sure like to see him.  I know Joan will show, but I’m not sure who’s going to play Stevie Ray’s stuff at the induction ceremony, but that’s one show I’ll have to see.

My Bologna
I’ll finish with this quick story…

We had our department holiday potluck this afternoon, and as we were sitting around stuffing our faces, a new member of our group mentioned that after her husband goes deer hunting, they usually make a pile of deer bologna.

To which I replied, “Now you just need a jingle… “My baloney had a first name, it B-A-M-B-I…”

I’m amazed they ever let me eat with the grownups.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Candid Camera Cops

Like in many cities, Baltimore is weighing the value of requiring police officers to wear body cameras.  In fact the city council already passed a bill requiring it, but the Mayor vetoed it.  They both want the cameras, they just differ on timing and logistics.

I think body cameras for cops are a terrific idea, because everyone wins.  Assuming the cameras are on when it matters, citizens are protected from unwarranted use of force, and cops are protected from false accusations of brutality.

At least, I used to think that.  Now I don’t know what to think.  The Eric Garner case in New York changed everything.

When I wrote about the Ferguson case, I called bullshit on multiple parties, mostly because no one really knew what happened.  Everyone was talking about it, but no one actually knew anything.  My appeal was for patience, to see what the actual evidence was.

And you know what?  If the evidence that was presented by the prosecutor was true. I don’t see how they could indict.  The evidence did not sync with the “eyewitness” stories that were being blasted on TV.  It DID sync with other evidence and witness statement from people that were not yapping into a camera.

I know there are a lot of factors at play, but it comes down to, “If you don’t want to get shot by a cop, you probably shouldn’t swear at and then physically attack a cop.”  That’s just common sense.

It’s a shame it all played out that way, but the evidence (again, if legitimate) was convincing, at least to me. 

The biggest factor that made the Ferguson case blow up was that there was a combination of a fatal incident, eyewitness talking to the media (social and otherwise), and a lack of real-time documentation.

That’s where I thought a police body cam could have saved a hell of a lot of uncertainty.  Once everyone could see that a huge kid cursed at and then attacked a cop sitting in his squad car, you’d see the shooting was justified.  OR, if you had seen a cop put 6 shots into a kid who has his hands up, you’d see an indictment and trial.

And then came the Garner case.

Here, we have a cop using a banned choke hold on an unarmed guy who was just standing there, for the crime of selling single smokes, which is barely a notch above jaywalking, ignoring his pleas that he couldn’t breathe until the guy dies right there on the sidewalk, and the whole thing is on video.  And they STILL didn’t indict the cop.

Eric Garner, about to not be able to breath.  (Source)

I just don’t see how that’s possible.  What is it that has to happen, before it’s the cop’s fault?  Kill a dog, while he’s at it?

So no, it’s not like putting body cams on cops is going to solve everything.  To even make a dent in the mistrust between the police and minority citizens, it’s going to take far more complicated solutions to address the root of the problem.  It all comes down to poverty.  Here’s why…

We’ll never solve the mutual mistrust problem when with an overwhelmingly white police force policing an overwhelmingly black (or Hispanic) population.  And dropping a few more token minorities onto the force is not going to cut it.  There has to be a significant, visible difference.

But it’s not like even if they wanted to, all the dudes from the neighborhood can just go sign up and be issued a badge.  They have to meet physical requirements, take an entrance exam which may or may not be biased towards white applicants, go through training, and pass another test.

I’m betting a significant percentage of the candidate pool haven’t had the best education, which might have helped in passing a test.  A lot of these city schools aren’t exactly shining jewels of educational excellence.  It’s all teachers can do to keep kids’ butts in their seats, sometimes.

And why is that?  Maybe because the kids haven’t been eating well, or maybe they’ve been out all night on the street, or maybe they’re afraid of enjoying the act of learning and getting labeled as “not keeping it real.”

And where does all that come from?  Poverty.  No money, no food, no toys or books or laptops.  No kid is going to thrive under that kind of stress.  Meanwhile, the older poor kids are pressuring them to come out and hustle, to make a few bucks... just watch out for the Po-Po.  Thus begins the mistrust, if it hasn’t already been handed down from preceding generations.

Now, I’m not trying to generalize, and there are obviously exceptions everywhere, but this is a problem that will not be solved by exceptions.  It requires institutional change, not Band-Aids or body cams. 

How is that going to happen?  A good start would entail the creation of some real jobs, paying a realistic wage.

Like what,” you say?  Well how about construction jobs?  We only have mile after mile of crappy roads and thousands of bridges that are falling apart.  Remember that one that collapsed in Minnesota, a few years back?  There are thousands more in the same rotten shape.  Why wait for the next tragedy before we act?

A jobs bill could set aside funds for all kinds of highway projects, but not only that, how about setting up an apprenticeship program, to learn the applicable skills?  Start at one wage, during a fixed apprenticeship, then add a few more bucks upon completion.

The thing is, these can’t be McJobs; they have to pay off better than dealing or hustling, or else they’re doomed to fail.  There has to be a viable alternative to a life of rotating between crime and jail time.

We do this, and it’s a win/win.  People who need jobs can get them and make a living, and our roads and bridges are brought out of “death trap” status.

That’s one idea, and I’m sure there are more to be had.  So why hasn’t anything like this been done yet?  You might ask the GOP, who has blocked every jobs bill in the last 6 years.  You see, their clientele isn’t interested in jobs bills, they’re interested in tax cuts for businesses.  Construction workers aren’t giving millions of dollars to their re-election campaigns, the Koch Brothers are.

As far as they’re concerned, the solution to police versus citizens issue is to build more prisons.  Now that’s a jobs bill they’ll support.

This is a problem that’s not going to get better just by hoping it goes away.  How many more people have to die?  How many more shops, cars and houses have to get torn apart?  How many more grand juries must we convene, before we recognize that mutual suspicion and antagonism is not a basis for solid law enforcement?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Debunkery - The Working Stiff Edition

While taking a Thanksgiving stroll through Facebook last week, I came upon another wiseass meme that was just begging for a good debunking.  Here it is:

Just to warm up, let me pick a small nit here… No one is losing their mind because retail workers are working on Black Friday, like it says in the bottom section of the graphic.  That’s why it is known as Black Friday… a day for when retailers supposedly go into the black for the year.  Retailers.  That means salespeople and clerks work there on this day.  Always have, always will.  There is no pushback regarding working on Black Friday, nor should there be.  I suspect it was included here merely to give the overall assertion more weight.

Now, Thanksgiving Day is another story.  And here’s where this meme completely falls apart.  It’s really just the fallacy of false equivocation.  It is assuming that both groups of people are worthy of comparison.  In other words, EMTs, nurses, firefighters, cops and soldiers perform similar functions as retail workers.  Which is, of course, completely absurd.

There is no comparison there, for one very simple reason.  The jobs of EMTs, nurses, etc., are in a realm where the need for them does not disappear during a holiday.  There will always be medical emergencies on holidays, just like there will always be fires, dangers to public safety, and military activities.  Hence, those working in these professions are called on to work on holidays like Thanksgiving.

Retail workers, on the other hand, are there to sell you stuff and make money for ownership and management, and performing these duties on holidays is 100% elective, on the part of said ownership and management.  No one NEEDS to go out bargain hunting on Thanksgiving.  No one. 

Up until last year or two, no one ever questioned this, and retailers still made money hand over fist, through Black Friday and subsequent sales, and the (predominantly) minimum wage workers got to celebrate the holiday with their families.

So as you can see, there is insufficient common ground between these two groups of jobs, to substantiate such a snarky and empathy-free statement.  I can pretty much guarantee you that the person who wrote it did not have to go to work on Thanksgiving.

To summarize, EMTs, nurses, firefighters, police and soldiers are an integral part of ensuring the continued function of a free country.  They work holidays because society needs them to.  Retail clerks, while important, work on Thanksgiving so you can buy discounted electronics a day earlier than you used to. 

It is a logical fallacy to use one group as means to criticize a completely dissimilar group.  Therefore, this meme is bullshit.

Ladies and gentlemen, please think before you share such dimwitted commentary.  You may now return to your regularly scheduled cat videos.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Odd Bits - The Regal Screwing Edition

Happy Thanksgiving Week!  I didn’t take a particular day off this week, but it should still be light.  Obviously I’ll be off on Thanksgiving (given that I don’t work for some greedy retailer or mall who insists on ruining their employees holidays by forcing them to go to work right after dinner).  I expect to get off work a couple hours early on Wednesday, just because it’s supposed to be the day before a major holiday, and NOT because we’re expected to get our first serving of snow.  Then Friday, there will be me and one other person bumping around our department, and that’s it.  Most of our building, as well as the entirety of downtown, will be a ghost town.

Most people want Black Friday off, but since I don’t, I always volunteer to come in and take up space that day.  I suspect my boss had the other person come in just to keep an eye on me.  She probably wants to be sure I don’t go frolicking through everyone else’s cubes and rub their office utensils on inappropriate body parts.  Again.  Stupid security cams.  At least, I can play the music at my desk a lot louder than usual.

Hit Me
If you have your own blog, have you noticed more activity from Google on your website hits counter?  Last week I noticed a huge bubble starting Wednesday night, peaking Thursday, and still running high.

Normally I’d be thrilled with a bump like that, but three quarters of all those hits are from Googlebot-Image.  Apparently, they’re cataloging all the pictures I’ve used. 
This was one particularly Google-heavy time period.

So, are you getting this too, or am I just special?  Or long-overdue for a good cataloging?

Mock… Yeah… Ing… Yeah… Jay… Yeah
Over the weekend I went to see the new Hunger Games movie, “Mockingjay Pt 1.”  Loved it.  Thought it was very well done, considering it was only half a movie.  I think this will be one of those DVDs (eventually) where you can’t just watch Part 1; you have to watch both together.  (And it still wouldn’t take as long as one “Lord of the Rings” movie.)

The acting was top notch; Jennifer Lawrence was amazing and totally grabbed your attention and empathy.  But there was one thing that kept distracting me from complete immersion into the film.

Did you see that article where Jennifer Lawrence’s co-starts were talking about doing kissing scenes with her?   Liam Hemsworth (who played “Gale”) told Jimmy Fallon, “She's one of my best friends, I love her, but if we had a kissing scene, she would make a point of eating garlic or tuna fish or something that was disgusting. Right before the scene she'd be like, 'Yeah, I ate tuna' or 'I had garlic, and I didn't brush my teeth.' And I'd be like, 'Fantastic, I can't wait to get in there and taste it!


Apparently there were a lot of practical jokes on the set and this was just Jen holding her own with the boys.  But still, that knowledge totally colored my viewing experience.  The one time they kissed in the movie, it was supposed to be moving, but all I could think was, “Bleah… I wonder if this one was garlic or tuna?”  Pretty much took me out of the moment.  Luckily for Hemsworth, this kiss was just a quick one, rather than a prolonged make-out. 

What a tragedy though, when kissing someone so totally kissable.

Regal Ripoff
My usual movie house is in the Regal Cinema chain, so at the beginning of the summer, I joined their Regal Club, which awarded you points based on your food and ticket purchases, to be redeemed for more food or tickets.  It was scaled thusly:

* 50 points: free small popcorn
* 100 points: free small soda
* 150 points: free ticket.

I don’t know about the food purchases, but every ticket I bought earned me 10 points.  So last week, when I went to go see “Interstellar,” the ticket guy just handed me a coupon for a free small popcorn.  I wasn’t in the mood for popcorn, so I held onto it; but I also had intended to save up the points for a free ticket.

When I went back this weekend, I asked about how that works; about how you can amass your points for a larger prize.  The answer shocked and disappointed me.  You can’t.  Not easily, anyway.

He explained to me that once you hit 50 points, the register automatically spits out the coupon for the popcorn, and that’s it.  So I said to him, “Your Regal Club material, right over there, (pointing to the table beside the ticket counter), says you can redeem 150 points for a free ticket.  How do you get 150 points of you have to take the 50 point popcorn?

He said, “You have to earn the tickets all at once, like buying multiple tickets, or a larger order (translation: “a fuck-ton”) of concession food.”

That left me severely pissed off.  I didn’t argue with the kid… hell, I have underwear older than he is; I know he’s not making policy.  But damn, what chance does that give a single guy?  Maybe if I was a member of Cassie’s family, and a night out at the movies entailed tickets for 2 adults, 4 kids, and several dogs and cats, all with corresponding concessions, maybe I could earn a free small coke.  But as a dude buying one ticket at a time?  I guess it’s a popcorn life for me.

So what the hell, I cashed in my free popcorn ticket.  And then I promptly realized the true evil of the setup.  You can’t just buy popcorn for a movie.  You have to have a drink too, to wash it down and to keep you from going into salt-driven dehydration before they roll the opening credits.

If I would have thought about it at the time, I should have immediately turned in (or cut up) my rewards card right there at the desk.  What a freakin’ ripoff.  Their program is not nearly what they claim it to be.

If this racket was like a carnival game, it would go like this:

Carnie: Step right up; sink one ball, get a small prize, sink two for a medium prize, sink three for this tractor-sized stuffed unicorn with a glow-in-the-dark horn.
Bluz: [Sinks one, is handed a small prize.]
Bluz: [Sinks another, is handed a second small prize.]
Bluz: [Sinks third, is handed another small prize.]
Bluz: Wait, I sunk three balls, I’m supposed to get the unicorn.
Carnie: No, you sunk one ball three times.  You get three small prizes.
Bluz: How do you get the unicorn?
Carnie: You have to sink all the three balls at once.
Bluz: I’m about to remove your two balls and stuff them up the unicorn’s ass!
Carnie: Hold that thought.  Security!

I figure I’ll wait until I see a more “senior” ticket person, when there’s no one else in line, and ask about it again.  Then I can take a little more time to argue it out, drop in lots of phrases like “discriminates against single people,” and “false advertising,” and if I don’t get any traction, culminate with whipping a pair of scissors out from my coat and cutting up the card.  Of course, they’ll probably claim I was going to stab someone, and call the cops.  I should find a pair with the rounded tips, like from grade school.

Or maybe I’ll just start smuggling in Milk Duds.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Odd Bits - The Cheesy Edition

Just a couple of odds and ends to cover today; in fact, this post may be entirely free of significant content.

Milestone Alert
We hit a milestone here at the old D-fish blog, but I never got around to mentioning it.  But back on October 15th, we rolled the old “hit odometer” over to 100,000 hits. 
OK, so I missed capturing the moment by a couple of hits.

First off, I should probably thank Mom and Dad for 80,000 of them, and comment spammers for another 15,000.  No wait… those spammers never show up on the stats page.

Anyway, if you’re reading this now, thank you for any past contributions, and to contributing toward the next 100K.

Bright Collage Days
I meant to do this back when I summarized my famous “Summer of Bluz,” but I still had a couple of events still to come.  But here, in collage form, are the tickets from every sports or entertainment event I attended in 2014.
 Click to embiggen, if you wish.

Now maybe someday, if I’m ever sufficiently motivated, I’ll recreate this kind of thing in a photo album, rather than keeping them all clipped together in a cigar box, which I can no longer even shut.  See, it’s not just full with this year’s tickets… I have ticket stubs going back to the 80s.  I wouldn’t just be doing a page or two of ticket collage, I’d have to do like 30.

Which means I’m much more likely to go find a bigger cigar box.

An Admiral’s Work is Never Done
As you may also recall, the bulk of my job is managing our company’s fleet of cars.  Technically, I am the Fleet Manager, but I prefer Admiral of the Fleet.

As such, our parent company’s other Fleet Managers and I have been evaluating a new car to possibly replace our current model.  A couple of us have been given approval to test drive the proposed model for a couple of days, to formulate an educated opinion.

Because I had a couple of days off, (last Friday, and today), I figured that made a good span of time to check out the car.  They worked through a car rental company, a branch of which happens to be about 5 minutes from my place.

So on Friday, I went out to the branch and they took me out to what would be my car for the weekend, a brand new 2015 Chevy Malibu.  The car rental rep and I walked around the car, checking for pre-existing dings and dents, but all I could comprehend was a single thought repeating endlessly in my skull.  I finally spit it out to the rep…

“But… but… it’s PURPLE!”

Sure, the car was a real beauty, but how could I possibly drive a purple car??  Purple is the color of the despised Baltimore Ravens.  I wouldn’t even let Pinky have purple towels in the bathroom here.  I have a reputation to think of!

And even more importantly, I hadn’t had a chance to work out the mojo implications of driving a purple car for the weekend.  I’d have to think of various counter-charms and reverse mojo, in order to counteract the bad vibes.

Lucky for me, the Ratbirds were on a bye last weekend, so that removed half my worry.  The Steelers played last night, and scored a 4th quarter comeback win over the Titans.  I figure that if I hadn’t had the purple car, they probably would have won more convincingly.  Good thing the car was a lighter purple than the Rats wear.  A dead-on match might have spelled disaster.

So this is what my life has come to… agonizing over game-day mojo.  But what else would I expect from this wheezy, cheesy life?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sudden Death

You’re probably thinking this is a sports post, but it’s not.

I’ve been working on kind of a weird project lately.  I was thinking, a while back, “What would happen if I were to drop dead?”  You know, massive heart attack, pushed in front of a subway train, or hit by some Baltimore driver who was too busy texting to look where she’s going.  Something besides a long (or even short) illness.

We all toddle along with our messy lives with lots of things going on, fully intending to tidy everything up later, but what if later never comes and someone else has to step in and wrap up your business? 

This is especially important if, like me, you live alone.  How would someone else know how to get into your computer, or access your bank accounts to pay your bills and close the account?  How would anyone know you have recurring bill payments set up, which could drain an account over time?  What about your insurance information, or investment accounts or 401k?

Obviously you’d want to make things easy on them, so that nothing gets missed.  So I was thinking, “I’d better leave some serious bread crumbs here, just in case something happens to me.  I’m sure not getting any younger, and Baltimore isn’t getting any safer…”

I’ve never had a will drawn up… mostly because I haven’t had anyone I felt the need to designate as a beneficiary.  (You know, like a wife.  The one I had was leaving all her shit to her kids, so I never took any action.  Then before I knew it, it was unnecessary.)

To address this situation, I decided to write up a list of everything someone would need to know, in order to settle my affairs, in the event of my tragic demise.  At first, I planned to seal it in an envelope marked, “In Case I Drop Dead,” and tack it to the bulletin board in my kitchen.  (It doesn’t do any good if it isn’t conspicuous.)

But then I figured, “What if someone breaks in, or it’s seen by some crooked maintenance guy.  This envelope will have the “Keys to the Kingdom,” if you will.  Someone could use that information to clean out everything I have.

So now I decided it will have to be a two-part thing.  I’ll still tack up an envelope, but it will only contain a clue to where I’ve hidden the “real” envelope.  It will be something only a relative (likely, my brother) would know.

What will be in the envelope?  Here’s what I’ve got so far.

·    Most importantly, it will reveal the existence of the spreadsheet on which I keep all of my user IDs and passwords, to every account, service and utility I have.  (Like I said, in the wrong hands; that alone would be big trouble.)
·    A breakdown of what’s on my computer and why it might matter.
·    Instructions to place one final message on my blog.  (I’d never just disappear and leave yinz hanging!)
·    The location of my important documents, like birth certificate, Social Security card, insurance information, bank statements, and bill payment statements.  The bill statements, (which I insist on being mailed to me, despite the feverish efforts of every utility and bank to move me to electronic statements), will provide the necessary information to cancel all services, or at least indicate which services need cancelling.
·    Notes on how to pay my last bills via my bank’s online service, with the payees already set up, and also to stop my recurring rent payments.
·    Notes on the various checking, savings and investment accounts I hold, with instructions for the disbursement of said funds.
·    Instructions on what to do with all my crap.  (Take what you want, then sell/donate it all!)
·    A list of people I would like to be contacted, and informed of my passing.  (Is it wrong that I have my local sports bar on the list, so they don’t think I just left them for some other bar?)  Also, instructions to put some kind of status update for me on Facebook, if there still is such a thing. 
·    My preference for a “Going Away Party” rather than a funeral, and a list of songs to play. 

           Pour the drinks and let the stories fly.

You know, we spend all our lives accumulating things and setting up ongoing systems.  You’d think we’d give more thought to how to stop the merry-go-round, after we’ve cashed in all our E-tickets.

Has anyone else ever given thought to the unthinkable, like this?  If so, am I missing anything?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Understanding Your Introvert

I read an article on the Huffington Post this week, called “10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently in the World.”   I found it interesting because I’ve always considered myself an introvert, despite being told by numerous people across the years, that I’m not.  I think it’s my basic nature, but not at all times in all places.  Because I could find so many exceptions, I could never really be sure.  Perhaps I’m just a hot mess.

But in the article, there were a number of times where they had me down cold; enough so that I’m inclined to believe my original assessment.  Here are (in edited form) the 10 characteristics, and the degree to which I match up.

* They withdraw in crowds.
The resulting crowd, which is often loud, noisy and congested, easily overstimulates introverts and drains them of their physical energy. They end up feeling more physically isolated than supported by their surroundings, and would rather be anywhere but that sea of people.

This one is not a major issue for me.  Being within a crowd doesn’t really bother me… as long as I’m not getting squashed or knocked around.  I mean, look how many ballgames I go to.  But then, I’m not required to do anything while I’m among the crowd.  I can hide, because I’m one among many. 

* Small-talk stresses them out, while deeper conversations make them feel alive.
While most extraverts are energized by such interactions, introverts often feel intimidated, bored or exhausted by them. It's not uncommon in large conversations for introverts to take on the role of the quiet listener and then take time alone once it's complete…  It ultimately comes down to how a person receives (or doesn't receive) energy from his or her surroundings. Instead, introverts prefer deeper conversations, oftentimes about philosophical ideas.”

Definitely me.  I hate small-talk and hallway chitchat.  I never know what to say.  Talking about the weather or other harmless platitudes makes me feel like a big, shallow phony.  That’s one reason I always come into our building at work, wearing earphones.  (Yes, WITH music playing.  I’m an introvert, not a sociopath.)  It gives me an excuse not to chitchat on the elevator.

Now, take the same person I’m avoiding in the hall and sit us down at a table for a while, and I’m fine with where ever the conversation takes us.  No, it doesn’t have to be “philosophical ideas,” (yech), but something real. 

* They succeed on stage – just not in the chit-chat afterwards.
At least half of people who speak for a living are introverted in nature.  They simply play to their strengths, and prepare extensively. In fact, some of the most successful performers are introverts. Remaining on a stage, removed from a massive audience, proves far easier than the small talk-filled conversations that follow.”

This is closely related to the preceding item.  In my world though, “the stage” is more like a conference room.  I have no problem preparing and presenting material and discussing it with a group.  The key point is that I’m prepared.

Now, in that same group, if someone cold calls me and says, “Bluz, will you talk about this issue we’ve been working on?”  I go into a cold panic and struggle to find words, especially if it’s not something related to my primary job.  I need a warning and time to get my thoughts in order, so I don’t sound like a bumbling idiot.  Luckily, my supervisors know this about me, so I usually have time to prepare.

* They get distracted easily, but rarely get bored.
If you're looking to destroy an introverted person's attention span, just put them in a situation where they feel overstimulated. Due to increased sensitivity to their surroundings, introverts struggle with feeling distracted and sometimes overwhelmed in large crowds and open office spaces.”

For me, yes and no.  From a cubicle, I can block out all the noise around me and focus on what I’m doing.  In fact, anyone calling for me usually has to say my name a number of times before I hear them.  BUT, this is while I’m in a cube with walls, which provides the illusion of solitude.  It’s like putting a towel over a birdcage.

“Rarely gets bored?”  Yep, that’s me.  To my buddies, it’s been a running joke for 30 years about how I’m easily amused.

“Overwhelmed in… open office spaces.”  Yep.  Hate those.  And my company is about to remodel into a floor plan featuring just that.  I’m dreading it.  I hate feeling like I’m out on display.  I’ll take my corner with a towel over my cage.

* They are naturally drawn to more creative, detail-oriented and solitary careers.
Introverts naturally prefer spending time alone or in a small group, delving deeply into one task at a time and taking their time when it comes to making decisions and solving problems. Therefore, they fare better in work environments that allow them to do all of these things. Certain professions -- including writers -- can give introverts the intellectual stimulation they crave without the distracting environment they dislike.”

This explains why I hated retail so much.  There was always so much going on at once.  I did much better when I had a single task, large or small, to accomplish.  I much preferred to be in the back office, checking in product, doing returns or placing orders.

* When surrounded by people, they locate themselves close to an exit.
Introverts not only feel physically uncomfortable in crowded places, but also do their best to mediate that discomfort by hanging as close to the periphery as possible. Whether it be by an exit, at the back of a concert hall, or an aisle row on an airplane, they avoid being surrounded by people on all sides.”


For me, it’s not necessarily being by an exit, but I much prefer to be on the outskirts of a crowded room, than in the middle.  The wrinkle is that if I’m sitting at a big table, I’d prefer to be in the middle, just so I can hear more of what’s going on.  If you’re on the end, you’re cut out of any conversation going on at the other end.

* They think before they speak.
This habit of introverts is often what earns them their reputations as listeners. It is second nature to them to take their time before opening their mouths, reflecting internally, instead of thinking out loud (which is more common among extroverts). They may seem more quiet and shy because of this behavior, but it just means that when they do speak, the words they share have that much more thought -- and sometimes power -- behind them.”

Well, that’s my goal…  And when I don’t think before I speak, it tends not to go very well.  I can come down with a raging case of Foot-in-Mouth disease if I’m not careful.  I think this also contributes to my reacting very strongly to getting interrupted. 

People that know me known that it’s one of my hot buttons.  If I can sit there and listen to everyone else, take the time to collect my thoughts, and then pull the trigger to deliver something that’s on my mind, I damn well better get the chance to finish.  (Especially if it’s a story, which in my head, has a particular rhythm.)

It’s awfully hard to express a complex thought anymore, because as soon as you take a breath, between sentences, someone else usually cuts in and breaks up the flow or hijacks the point.  Usually that’s my cue to stop talking and leave the room.  My view: if you’re not listening, then there’s no point in talking.

* They physically can't stand talking on the phone.
Most introverts screen their phone calls -- even from their friends -- for several reasons. The intrusive ringing forces them to abandon focus on a current project or thought and reassign it to something unexpected. Plus, most phone conversations require a certain level of small talk that introverts avoid. Instead, introverts may let calls go to voicemail so they can return them when they have the proper energy and attention to dedicate to the conversation.”

Totally and completely me.  I’ve never liked talking on the phone and view it as a necessary evil.  (“Necessary” as in if I want to talk to my parents or out of town friends, (which I do) it’s phone/Skype/FaceTime or nothing.)  Before the advent of Caller ID, I dreaded it when the phone rang.  The prospect of blindly picking up the phone to talk to yet another salesperson, pitchman or pest, was stressful. 

If I have to call someone or someplace I don’t know, I will spend 10 minutes staring at the phone, summoning up the courage to pick up the receiver and begin.  I hate it.

* They literally shut down when it's time to be alone.
Every introvert has a limit when it comes to stimulation. Think of each of them as having a cup of energy available. For introverts, most social interactions take a little out of that cup instead of filling it the way it does for extroverts. Most of them like it. They're happy to give, and love to see you. When the cup is empty though, they need some time to refuel."

Agreed, although I wouldn’t say I “shut down.”  But after a vacation, whether I’m visiting my parents, my buddies, or the rest of my family; while I love being there and hanging out with everyone, when it’s done, I need to get back to my cave and grab some alone time, to just “be.”

Being an introvert doesn’t mean we hate people.  It’s just that we have certain ways in which we need to interact.  I mean, I could easily work from home, but I would miss my co-workers and having daily interaction with people.  I’d go bonkers if I had to stay home all day, day in and day out.  So there has to be balance… like being able to get out, mix it up, and then have a place to which I can retreat.

The thing I like best about this article is that it helps me feel like I’m not alone… like I’m much less of a freak. 

So where are my introverts out there?  Do any of these things ring true with you?

Director’s DVD Commentary: There was another point on the list, which I cut for length; plus it didn’t really apply to me.  Click the link on the top, for the complete article.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Day After

Where was this when I was writing the end of my post yesterday?  I could have posted this and saved myself the trouble.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Scenes From a Polling Place

I went to vote this morning, before work.  On the way into the building, I had to run the usual gauntlet of people wanting to hand me paper.  But there was one guy on the end, who didn’t have a handout; he had a hand out.  It was one of my district’s state delegates, Sandy Rosenberg.  This was a guy I like; I remembered that he got a high rating from NARAL, so he was all right with me.

He shook my hand and urged me to vote for him and the Democratic ticket for governor.  I clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You got it.”

It’s nice to provide positive reinforcement for a politician once in a while.

Anyway, there wasn’t a big crowd so I essentially walked into an empty school, but for one police officer, a youngish white guy.  He saw me and immediately groaned.  I first thought that he noticed my Steelers jacket and was lamenting the ass-whippin’ they laid on the Ratbirds Sunday night.  But since my jacket was black, with a black logo, I didn’t see how he could have seen it, from as far away from as he was. 

Then he called out, “I haaaaate that hat!

I forgot I was wearing a Penguins hat.  Not one to let a moment go, I said, “Wow, I didn’t think there was anyone else in this town that cared about hockey.”

He replied, “I’m a huge Flyers fan!

This time it was my turn to groan.  Then I said, “I didn’t know they let Flyers fans have guns!

Talk about tempting police brutality…

He said, “Man, I HATE the Penguins, but I sure like playing there.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that.  Sure, he could be complimenting the Pens’ exquisite arena, but more likely, he was talking about the Flyers’ outstanding record (9-2-1) when playing there.  But not wanting to inflame an armed Flyers fan, I wished him well and went on my way to the voting booth.

I plan on watching the Pens tonight and then turning on CNN to watch the election returns.  I probably ought to pour myself a nice stiff drink too, because it sure doesn’t look good for my team.  I’ll be amazed if the Democrats manage to retain control of the Senate.

Sure, a lot of predictions went awry in 2012, but things were different.  Despite the fuck-ton of money spent, it was a Presidential election, so turnout was high.

The GOP has had a couple more years of Citizens United under their belts, so the money is spewing forth from the Koch brothers and other anonymous One Percenters.

More importantly, they’ve laid the groundwork to keep Democratic turnout low.  First, they got major portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 repealed, (by the Republican-appointed justices), which opens the door wide for red states to enact all the parlor tricks there were prohibited from doing in the past, to deter seniors, minorities and young people from voting.

If Democrats suggested any of these voter ID requirements to be presented prior to buying a gun, there would be right-wing riots in the streets.  Because in America, the right to a lethal weapon supersedes the right to vote!

Between the voter suppression tactics and the natural dip in voter enthusiasm in a mid-term election, they’ve stacked the deck for themselves quite nicely.  And the barrage of campaign ads are hard at work trying to convince people that now that we’re out of the Great Recession, it’s time to elect people espousing the same policies that caused it in the first place, because, well, Ebola.  And Benghazi.  Socialism!

Anyway, we’ll see what happens on the other side.  Cheers!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The 80s - Pros and Cons Part 2

On Monday, I wrote about my niece, Kyrie, expressing regret that she didn’t get to be a teen or young adult in the 80s.  As someone who was exactly that, it got me thinking about the relative merits of the era.  I decided to make a list of pros and cons, starting with Reasons Why the 80s Sucked.  So now, it’s time for:

REASONS WHY THE 80s WERE AWESOME!

MEDIA

Cheap cable.  Granted, you only got 60 stations, (10 of which you watched), but at least it was cheap!  My cable bill was around $30-$40 a month.

Print.  In the 80s, newspapers still mattered.  Newspapers are still around, but are shrinking both in size and quality.  Any more, newspapers exist for senior citizens and crossword puzzle addicts (like me).  Books mattered too, and bookstores thrived.  New book releases were a big deal.  Stephen King and Dean Koontz (two of my favorites) were in their primes.

News.  Aside from newspapers, people got their daily rundown of information from the network news.  There were only three of them (plus PBS), and they mostly just reported on whatever happened that day.  If there was an editorial slant, it was far more subtle than you find today.  In my opinion, the disintegration of the news media into 24-hour partisan hyperbole is the number one cause for today’s hyper-partisan political scene, and resulting do-nothing Congress.

Partisan networks throw journalistic standards out the window and fire up the populace with perceived slights and offenses, which forces politicians pander to their intractable and hysterical base, which leads to a governing body clinging to the nonsensical platitudes that got them elected.  Then it’s no surprise when the two sides can’t work together for the common good.  All because the news media wants ratings.

I long for the day when news teams just told you what happened during the day while you were at work.

ENTERTAINMENT

TV. There was no reality TV.  MTV still played music videos, which themselves, were often imaginative and highly entertaining.  Married With Children came out, which while crass, provided a viable alternative to the traditional, squeaky-clean family sitcom.  Dramas like Hill Street Blues and LA Law came out, featuring riveting, thought-provoking storylines and razor-sharp dialog.

Music. The new wave/gloomy music aside, the 80s contained a tidal wave of great rock and roll.  Just look at some of the groups who were in their prime in the 80s: Guns and Roses, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, ZZ Top, The Scorpions, George Thorogood, Joan Jett, The Georgia Satellites, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and Heart, who had a whole “second act” to their career.  Stevie Ray Vaughan’s entire career was in the 80s, and it led to a resurgence of artists playing the blues guitar.

The music had hooks and was played by real people, with real instruments and no auto-tune!  To be a singer, you actually had to be able to sing.

It was almost enough to make me forgive the 80s for also popularizing rap.

Movies.  CGI wasn’t around yet, so special effects in movies were mostly practical.

Think of the big movie stars who were in their prime: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Murphy, Michael Keaton, and directors Tim Burton, John Landis and Steven Spielberg.  James Cameron was well on his way to becoming a legend.

The 80s gave us the Airplane/Naked Gun movies, Indiana Jones movies, two of the three Star Wars trilogy, the first three Rambo movies, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Bachelor Party and Splash, Porky’s, the first two Terminator movies, Aliens, the Back to the Future trilogy, Bill and Ted, Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Revenge of the Nerds, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, American Werewolf in London, and all the John Hughes movies.  Mel Brooks’ History of the World and Spaceballs came out in the 80s.  Karate Kid. Johnny Dangerously. Lethal Weapon 1 and 2. Poltergeist, for cryin’ out loud!  Although I wouldn’t mind if they took back the clown.


Sports.  There were fewer expansion teams diluting the talent pool in the major leagues.  And NASCAR was still an afterthought.

SOCIETY

Vices. You could drink and drive without ruining your life, assuming you didn’t plow into the high school glee club. It was just the way you got your car home.  Underage drinking barely raised an eyebrow.  I can’t even count how many minors my dad got into hotel bars in Cleveland, when we were there for the annual Steelers/Browns game.  Or how many had drinks at our house, at Barn Parties.

(Like I said earlier, some pros could be cons and cons could be pros, depending on your point of view.  From the point of view of my 20-year old self, it was pretty sweet.)

I’ve heard that the 80s were famous for cocaine use, but I’ve never even seen it before in my entire life.  I guess rural NW Ohio is a long way from Studio 54.

Strip clubs were still fairly innocent.  And cheap.  You didn’t have to take out a second mortgage just to kill a few hours there.

Speed cams and red-light cams didn’t exist.  To get a ticket, a cop had to see you do it.  And as George Carlin once said, “You know my motto in traffic?  If a cop didn’t see it, I didn’t do it!

Shopping.  Malls were still a thing.  Granted, once I worked in one, I didn’t care to go back, but you know what?  Malls provided jobs!  No wonder it’s so tough for teens and young adults to get work.  There’s a whole segment of the economy that’s missing. 

Fashion. Granted, I’m totally unqualified to speak on fashion, but I have two observations that made the 80s awesome: Track suits were cool and men’s shorts were still short.  At least they didn’t come all the way down to your calf, which defeats the purpose of wearing shorts, if you ask me.

Politics. OK, Reagan was in office, but he was not nearly the deity that conservatives make him out to be.  Any current politician claiming to want to do the things Reagan actually did would be ridiculed by the right and driven out of the country club.

But it was a different time.  Despite major differences, shit still got done.  There wasn’t a hyper-partisan media, creating hyper-partisan politicians who use filibusters as a primary weapon rather than a last resort.  Opposing sides worked together for the good of The People.  They weren’t excommunicated for daring to compromise with the enemy.  ("Compromise;" meaning each side got some of what it wanted and no one got it all.)

Reproductive Rights. They were pretty much settled.  You could go into a Planned Parenthood office without having to fight your way through a screaming mob.  Would have been better if Plan B had been invented, but you can’t have everything.

***

Going back to what Kyrie said, the 80s seemed to be a time where people talked to each other more, and established more personal relationships.  I don’t think she’s wrong.

We had so many fewer distractions back then...  Fewer TV channels, no internet, video games were still pretty primitive, phones had cords.  Early cell phones were the size of bricks.

Today’s tech pulls people further into their own heads, which are usually pointed towards their smart phones or video games.  Without so many compelling distractions, maybe we reached out more to each other. 

Or, maybe we were just trying to find out who had all the cocaine.