Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Since I last posted, many things have happened: Christmas, popular revolution in Ukraine, the deadliest natural disaster in our lifetimes. Each deserves its own post and as for the tidal wave/earthquake: holy shit. It makes 9/11 look like ice cream at the park. I encourage you all to send money to the Red Cross. Just think about the hundreds you probably squandered for ornaments and gifts. A few more dollars won’t matter to you but it will make a difference in Southeast Asia. ‘nuff preaching. Check out the conversation I had at Radio Shack yesterday:

Salesman #1: How can I help you, sir.

Me: I’m looking for a case for this awesome new iPod I got for Christmas.

Salesman #1: One of the lucky few!

Salesman #2 [face brightening]: iPod accessories? You’ll be wanting this iPod car stereo converter, I guess.

Me: I don’t have a car stereo. It got ripped off a few months ago.

Salesman #2 [face drooping, face brightening]: That’s too bad. Well, maybe you’ll want to pick it up anyway so that when you replace that stereo you’ll be ready to go. Its $59.95


[Meanwhile, Salesman #1 rushes over to the shelf, snatches a 3-pack of iPod cases off the shelf. One is white. One is pink. One is blue. He scans it at the register.]

Salesman #1: Will that be all, Sir?

Me: Um. That’s a 3-pack. See, I only got one iPod for Christmas.

Salesman #1:

Me: And one of them is pink.

Me [sighing]: How much?

Salesman #1: $29.99

Me: I think I’ll hold off.

Salesman #1: I’ll just hold this down here under the counter for when you’re ready.

Salesman #2 [clinging to my leg]: We’re supposed to be getting leather cases in! They come individually wrapped at only $24.99 with a mail-in-rebate! Buy it today and we’ll reserve it for you when it comes in! Sir! Don’t leave!

[Ignoring the piteous wailing of the salesman, I leave.]


I think this counts as one of the most rediculous retail experiences I've ever had. I'm still scratching my head over it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

As many of you know, the weather has turned poor out here in the East. When I say
'poor' I mean godawful, wretched, frigid, nasty. Monday night the mercury got down
in the single digits and into the minus territory with wind chill. Fortunately last
night (Tuesday) was a fair bit warmer, clocking in at the mid to upper twenties.
I say 'fortunately' because I spent a good portion of last night outside.

Let me backtrack a bit.

I took the train home from work as usual, reading an excellent sci-fi book ("Snow
Crash"), thinking about what I would spend the $100 on I was about to earn from the
focus group I would be attending later in the evening.

I stood outside waiting for my wife.
And waited.
And waited.
No wife.
No hat, either, although I had gloves and a jacket. It seemd I'd left my hat at
work. (It isn't much of a hat anyway, just a grey nylon gator I left to dry on a
cabin furnace in Tahoe some New Years ago, which nearly resulted in a fire, but
instead left the gator all rusty red and charred in places.)

I wracked my brain for reasons why my wife was late. Usually when she fails to show
up it is because she has told me to meet her somewhere else and I've spaced and just
gone to my usual spot by the tree near the parking meters. This didn't seem likely,
though, because we were due to pick up her car from the mechanics (she was driving
mine) and we had no other plans. Meeting at an alternate location just didn't make

Other more fanciful reasons occurred to me but were summarily dismissed: lost track
of time, car crash, alien abduction.

Right about the time I was on 'zealot gardner siphoned gas for ride on mower' she
rode up...in a co-workers car.

"You have a flat tire," she said.

Which is funny because just that morning at the mechanic's shop in old town Bowie an
old deranged guy on the corner brandishing a (tobacco) pipe had waved and
gesticulated wildly at us as we passed. We concluded he was crazy. (Who smokes a
pipe on a streetcorner at 7 a.m. in sub-freezing weather? Besides, he had a beard.)
We rode back to campus in her co-workers car. The gyst of the story was this: she
had discovered the flat and, on account of my not having a cell phone (we share one
between us and she had it), she could not contact me. So she had gotten her coworker
to ride out to the metro station and pick me up to take me back, fix the tire, and
be on our way with but a minor headache. Right?


The first thing that went wrong was that my car is a Ford.

This means many thingsThis means many things but primarily it means that:
a) little things will fail to operate or break, often, at crucial timesb) when little things go wrong, they will rapidly become big thingsc) you will wish with all your heart that you had gone for the Honda


In my case, it meant that the miniaturized tire iron that comes with the car is too
short to gain any sort of leverage whatsoever on lug nuts tightened by mechanical
air hammers at tire shops. What that means in non-technical language, is that it was
impossible to loosen the screws on my tires because my equipment sucked too badly to
overcome the supercharged air-hammer or whatever mechanics use to install tires.

I wheezed. I groaned. I swore. I sweated. I became very un-pretty. Still, the flat
tire held fast.

The very same co-worker who had picked me up at Metro drove by (30 minutes later)
and, finding me still stranded, offered to help. I took his tire iron and tried to
use it but the socket was too small for my car. I shrugged. He shrugged. He drove

Fortunately, I have a strange intuitive ability to jury-rig mechanical solutions to
problems. I can't read an instruction manual to save my life and I am useless with
anything that requires finesse, but brute force and manhandling objects is a latent
specialty of mine. While my wife wandered off to call AAA (the stranded motorist
rescue squad) I dug through my car for anything at all that might be useful and...
...came up with a Club.

For those of you who either weren't alive or don't remember The Club, it was a fad
anti-theft device in the mid-90s consisting of a long iron bar and a cryptonite
lock. Would-be thieves would be thwarted by not being able to turn the wheel with
this device affixed to it. It was a silly and awkward device and I heard that
thieves learned to blow through it using liquid nitrogen. Either way, by the time I
bought mine the fad had subsided. I bought it because some punk kid had jammed a
screwdriver into my ignition and tried to make off with my ride. Unfortunatly he (or
she) hadn't been considering MURPHY's RULE OF FORD OWNERSHIP (see above). After
digging around for awhile in my ignition, he was either unable to get the car to
respond, or he realized that he was about to steal a piece of shit that would
probably break down on him with the cops on his tail, so he abandoned the project.
After purchasing my Club, I used it exactly once. Then I chucked it into the
backseat, lost the keys, and there it has remained ever since.It might have inconvenienced thieves a bit, but it inconvenienced me mightily. And besides: if somebody had stolen my car they would have been doing me a favor.

But back to the tire-changing problem. I managed to position the Club just so that
it increased my leverage on the tire iron. I wheezed. I groaned. I swore. I sweated.
I became even more un-pretty. This time the lug nut turned. Patting myself on the
back, I repeated the process...two more times. I got three out of four lug nuts off
the tire in this manner. But the forth one.

Oh the fourth one.

It was not only stucker than the rest, but I stripped both it AND the tire
iron yanking on it. It was then that I remembered that I had snapped a similar tire
iron like a toothpick once working on this very same car. Why I had gone out and
replaced the broken one with exactly the same piece of shit miniature iron again
remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, AAA had not shown up.

After 45 more minutes I picked up a nearby "emergency phone" (we were in a parking
garage at the University of Maryland).

"Hello?" a sullen black femaile voice answered."Yeah, can you send someone to help me? I've got a flat and need a lug wrench 'cuz mine's broke."

"We don't do that," the woman said.
"What do you do?" I said, a bit testily.
"EXCUSE ME?" the woman said. Oops, poor tactic.
"I just need you to send somebody."She finally agreed to shelf her 'no can do' attitude and send a cop.

The campus cop showed up. He might have been a junior high kid for his youth. I
explained the problem. He called to 'get permission' to look for an iron in his
trunk, sheepishly explaining that he couldn't lend out his stuff because it could
get broken. Receiving said permission, he rooted through his trunk. Out came jumper
cables. Out came flares. Out came a first aid kit. A spare tire. Other junk. But no
iron. No dice. No way.

AAA still didn't arrive.

The young cop called his HQ and they sent out another officer with an iron. This was
a cross-thing with different size sockets. Very useful. I immediately set to work on
the last, stripped bolt.

I wheezed. I groaned. Etc.

No luck. The bolt held fast.

The cop tried his luck.

No luck for him, either. It would take a mountain to move the bolt.
I tried my Club solution again and again but it couldn't grip the new iron. Until,
finally, I got some play. A tiny, miniscule shift in the bolt. From there, it was a
cakewalk. The bolt squeaked off (ugly, shredded).

I put on the spare tire, gave back the iron, thanked the cops, unjacked the car,
gathered my wife, and prepared to leave.

Still AAA had not arrived. We called and cancelled them.

"That was lucky," I said as we drove north in heavy traffic on Interstate 95.
"What's that sound?" my wife said.

I heard it, too. It was coming from the spare tire. MURPHY'S RULE OF FORD OWNERSHIP (see above) re-emerged into my consciousness with a vengeance.

Starting with a grinding sound, then a wobbling, then an audible 'pop' and our worst
nightmare came true: a high speed blowout, our second for the evening.

I got us onto the median.
It was dark outside.
It was cold outside.
My car has a broke heater.

"Call AAA again," I said to my wife.

She flipped open the phone, dialed. The phone turned itself off with an indignant
beep. It was out of batteries. The charger was in my wife's car, which was in the
shop (which was where we had been headed those couple of hourse ago...)

We were fucked.

I'm not a very prepared man. I don't think ahead or plan ahead much. You just never
know what's coming down the pipe at any given moment. You might prepare for a
hurricaine, gather rice and batteries etc, only to get hit by lightning. You might
burglar-proof your house, buy a guard dog and a pistol, only to get run over by a
milk truck stepping off the curb. But one thing I try to prepare for is breakdowns,
because everybody breaks down. I keep a working flashlight in my car, and some
flares. And I had matches in my briefcase. Soon we had flares up.

And we waited.

And waited.

The cold set in, an abiding, penetrating cold that can be ignored 99% of the time
when you are inside and warm, which is where most of us spend our lives. I
remembered that we keep emergency sleeping bags in the car just in case: but they
were in my wife's car (which we use most of the time). I regretted intensely that my hat was not on my head. I regretted not charging the cell phone. I regretted not having a working heater in the car.

A guy showed up in a pickup truck. A toothless guy with a slur and a barrel chest.
He spoke with a poor Baltimore accent. I talked to him while my wife used his cell
phone. She used it to call the cops. She was nervous about being stranded on the
roadside at night and relying on total strangers. I'm sure there is a societal
comment in there somewhere but then was not the time and its too late now.
A state vehicle showed up but they guy had nothing to offer.

A couple of kids showed up and we called AAA on their cell phone. I explained to the
dispatcher that we had already called once that night but cancelled etc. She said
that since we were on the interstate we would have "top priority". Whatever that
meant. I gave the kids my starbucks card and they drove off, cold and happy.
Finally a cop showed up and offered to call his tow company, but we'd have to pay
out of pocket and wait 15 minutes.

Stupidly, I declined on account of the fact that we were AAA priority. He left us
with some 30 minute flares and promised to drive by in a few hours just in case.
We climbed back into our car and waited. The tempurature dropped. Our toes went
numb. We shivered. Visions of dying in the cold like some misbegotten fool in a Jack
London story came to me. Especially after the cops flares burned out and I stood in
the wind, outside, shaking so violently that my few remaining matches spilled onto
the dark grass.

After 40 more minutes I saw a stopped vehicle quite far behind us that might have
been a tow truck. Instructing my wife to remain where she was, I went to
investigate. It turned out to be very far behind us: distance is deceptive at night,
in the dark. To my left were dark woods. Animals rustled and marked my position.
Headlines flashed before my eyes:

"Area Man Devoured by Voles in Suburban D.C., Wife Perishes of Cold"

1/4 mile down the road I turned to glance at my car...only to see a tow truck backing toward it.
Shit shit shit, I said, stumbling through the dark. My ankle could have cracked like a dry twig in any minor pothole but I didn't care: I knew my wife would be uncomfortable dealing with a tow truck driver. See, of all the creatures that roam the earth, tow truck drivers are one of the least appreciated and most misunderstood. Partly, this is because tow truck drivers are always greasy, always overweight, smelly, and uneducated. Partly, it is because they do not, whatsoever, resemble what they really are: a form of angelic being culled from the teeming masses of nocturnal humanity to pull helpless motorists out of trouble. In addition to appearance, the prime difference between them and other angels is that if you put your faith in the latter, you'd still be waiting on the roadside. Tow truck drivers deliver.

This guy wasn't larger than an average walk-in freezer, but he did have an ass crack the size of Kansas, and spoke with heavy urban Maryland accent. He also materialized out of the gloom right behind my wife (who had not noticed him pull up) and scared the crap out of her, all bearded and sillouetted in wierd steamy siren light. To her credit, she stashed a wicked piece of The Club beneath her jacket just in case. (I say 'to her credit' because all too often we middle class suburbanites trust that 'authority' will handle our problems when in reality cops and such can only react and are rarely able to provide protection when we need it most. Its a good idea for all of us to be able to fight.)

After clarifying who we were and who he was, it turned out he was not the AAA tow guy at all: he was just 'passing by' and saw some drivers in need.He hitched us up and, just as he was about to leave, the AAA tow guy showed up (90 minutes after we called.)

The AAA guy explained that he had only received the call 30 minutes ago and had driven 30 miles to get to us.

We felt bad and the drivers might have gotten into a fight about it, but cooler heads prevailed when I got out my checkbook. Since neither were in the wrong and both were trying to help, I just paid off the AAA driver with twenty and off we went, in that warm cabin that smelled so pleasantly of lubricant, filthy seat coverings, and sweat.

Moral of the story: keep battery, matches, flares, and blanket in car. Keep cell phone charged. Trust samaritans on the roadside. But a real tire iron. Don't assume bearded old guys smoking pipes and gesticulating in sub-freezing morning air are crazy.

This morning I found my hat in my briefcase. I'd had it with me all along.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

To my readers: keep me bookmarked. I'll update perioidically but until my work-computer memory cache issues are resolved, my blogging capability is severely curtailed.

The feds have finally pushed me against the wall. I can't even read my own updated blog, or any comments on it. Not even sure if this message has gotten through... I might need to bottle it up and drop it in the ocean just in case.

To other blog writers: if possible, find the settings (in Blogger) to fire me emails of your postings. I find it unbearable to be disconnected to my regular reads.

In the meantime:
Find reasons to laugh.
Curse the march of progress.
Curse silence.
Take the fight to the enemy.
Avoid transfatty acids.

I'm out.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Someone has finally gotten wise and studied the word 'dude'. Cool, dude.

As an avid user of this word, I find its versitility to be nearly universal.

I use it to 'tone down' otherwise overharsh statements with my pals. (i.e., instead of saying, "your girlfriend is a balls-out skeezer" (which would result in a fight), I say, "dude, your girlfriend is a balls-out skeezer" (which results in a chuckle and a high five).

I use it to express dismay. ("Duuuuuuude...")

I use it to express amazement. ("Duuuuuuude...")

I use it to express concern. ("Dude, are you alright?")

I use it to express pleasure. ("Dude, excellent corn.")

I use it to josh around with my wife. ("Hey...what's...up...dooood.")

I use it to imitate a cholo. ("Eh, doooo...wassup, essay?")

I use it to mean a generic individual that I'm about to best. ("That dude's going DOWN.")

The only thing I take issue with is the article's claim that "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was responsible for the rise in use of this word. People always think whatever movie they thought was iconic was somehow responsible for whatever cultural thingie it contained that society uses, you know what I mean? (<----- that sentence should win an award for imprecision). But seriously, "Dude" was a 70s surfer term. How do I know? I saw it in "Dazed and Confused".

Friday, December 03, 2004

My Nanowrimo efforts are officially over. I gave myself an extra week because Thanksgiving week was too filled with family. I did pretty well: I think I wrote about 40 pages. My momentum has flagged a bit since I re-discovered my music studio, which has been disassembled in boxes since our big move this summer.
I more oftener get satisfaction making music over writing fiction and the two compete very strongly for my already limited free time.
On the one hand, music is immediate, tangible, and sometimes trasendental (as when, last week, I went into a hypnotic state recording bass takes over and over and over. My thoughts narrowed to nothing, my hands moved of their own accord, I saw nothing for several hours. At the end I realized that my fingers still know the bass as well as ever.)
On the other hand, music is fleeting and generally profitless. The airwaves are full of smack churned out by talentless artists and genius producer/engineers. I make songs and pieces of songs and they fall into a hole in my hard drive. If I ever collect my efforts into a CD again, the songs will just fall into a hole on other people's IPODs. This is both good and bad. In theory I am just happy to have such a satisfying hobby and I really do believe that music should be made with other goals than preserving it for the ages. In practice, a few million bucks and a license to spend all my time making hit music is quite alluring. Except that one needs to be young and clueless to break into the music industry, and I have never cared to be hip enough anyway.
And although I consider myself more of a natural musician than a natural writer, books seem to be more lasting. They are also a deeper medium. Good song lyrics (ala Dylan or Alanis) or an unforgettable melody can make you say to yourself "cool", but they can't deliver the range of emotions as well as a kickass book. Someday I'd like to pull a book out of a shelf, hand it to people and say, "here you go, now leave me alone so I can make some music."
I'm giving my writing efforts short shrift here. I think its because I've been a frustrated writer for more than half my life. This blog, in fact, represents the only "successful" thing I've ever done with words -- and that is certainly up for debate! My stories languish year after year, growing ever more cumbersome. Fresh ideas are a dime a dozen and usually worthy of a page or two before inspiration flags. Maybe I have ADD. Somebody send me pills.
But forget all the philosophy. Here are my goals for the upcoming year:
1. Finish a manuscript.2. Complie another CD.3. Form a band.
Maybe these are "New Years Resolutions" a month early. Maybe I should try to accomplish these things before New Years. THAT would be a challenge...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Uncle Sam has finally done it. Canned my access to Blogger from work. Not by choice, just by having such a lame, unworkable firewall system that cookies are blocked, memory caches are forever undumped, and servers lock up. Hopefully this is just temporary. At the moment I am scribbling from a hideout somewhere in the mountains of Cuba.

On other fronts, I saw Rumsfeld again today. He was getting a haircut. Apparently an old Korean lady in the mall below where I work has been his barber since he was defense secretary in the 80s. She snapped a photo of him with her two kids and he ducked out with his secret service guy.

D.C. is a strange planet.