Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I saw a meme on Facebook last night that was, according to the results of a fast Google search, a shortened version of a 2007 book called 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School, Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education, by conservative columnist and radio host Charlie Sykes. The meme listed only 11 rules, probably because, like most Facebook memes, somebody shortened it for quick and easy digestion.  Whoever shortened it also got the source wrong; it said, “Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a high school about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school.”  So it could be that these 11 rules are in no way like any of the 50 rules in Sykes’ book.  If so, I offer my apologies to Charlie until I get the time to read his book and compare it to the meme.  Until then, though, I couldn’t stop myself from responding to the 11 rules that supposedly nobody will ever learn in school:

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Way to inspire people, Charlie! This is a great way to start a list of “rules” you want everyone everywhere to learn and live by.  Who wouldn’t look at a rule like DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and not feel a surge of hope for the future and a desire to go on, besides practically everybody?

Strictly speaking, though, Charlie got it wrong.  Life is absolutely fair.  Life makes no judgments at all.  If Life were biased and took into consideration how you lived, then people who dedicated their lives to helping others would all live long and happy lives while wicked, selfish people would perish horribly of pestilence and rot.  It doesn’t work that way, though.  There is nothing more impartial than Life.  You’re born, you live, you die, and you get the same chance to do good or bad with your life as anybody else.  Totally fair.

If, on the other hand, Charlie’s talking about whether or not you get a fair shake in human society, and I suspect he is, that’s all about how people treat one another, which is a part of life, but not all of it.  Maybe that’s what Charlie meant:  People will not treat you fairly.  It’s not entirely wrong, but “life isn’t fair – get used to it” seems like one hell of a cynical take on that message.

I would suggest an alternative to Rule 1: Be fair with people, always. They may not always be fair to you in return, but it’s the right thing to do, and at least you’re bringing some fairness into the world.

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Charlie’s first two rules are DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and NOBODY CARES WHETHER YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF.  I don’t know Charlie, but if I had to form an opinion of him based on these two rules, I’d have to say he seems like kind of a cynical person.  I hope he eventually got a friend or a dog or somebody who was nice to him.

I think I get the direction Charlie’s going in: I think maybe he’s saying that doing good work leads you to feel good about yourself.  If he had said that and only that, I would have to agree with him.  However, Charlie might also be saying you don’t deserve to feel good about yourself until you do good work.  He didn’t say that exactly, but that’s how it sounds to me after “the world won’t care about your self-esteem.”

The idea that people do not care whether or not you respect yourself is, frankly, bullshit.  That’s not my experience at all, and I doubt it’s Charlie’s experience, either.  I think Charlie probably knows as well as I do that people will judge you harshly if you hate yourself.  People expect you to hold yourself in high regard.  People care very much about your self-esteem.

And this is just my opinion, but caring about other people’s feelings, whether those feelings are joy or anguish or anywhere in between, is a big part of being a decent person.  My Rule # 2 would be: Bring some compassion into the world in whatever way you can, small or large.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

This is a bald-faced lie. Some people WILL make 60K or more right out of high school. Some will already be unbelievably rich BEFORE they start high school, or junior high, or grade school.  That’s just a fact.

I’m guessing Charlie didn’t make 60K and, for some reason, he doesn’t want you to think you will, either.

Here’s my rule # 3: Don’t listen to anybody who tells you what you won’t do. In all likelihood, people who dump shit like this on you are probably still pissed they weren’t making 60K their first year out of high school.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

“Wait until you get a boss” sounds like another way of saying “if the boss you get is anything like the boss I got, he will make you more miserable than your teacher ever did.”

I didn’t think my teachers were tough.  I’m not even sure what Charlie means by “tough.”  I thought most of my teachers were pretty great.  Some were boring, a few were jerks, but most of them were good at inspiring me to do good work, challenging me to do better work, and expecting me to do my best.  That’s not “tough.”  That’s nothing more than you would do for a good friend.  I’m not saying your teacher or your boss has to be your friend to be good; I’m saying a good teacher or a good boss will know how to inspire you.  A “tough” boss will just order you to do it.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

And the theme seems to be: Charlie had parents, teachers, and bosses who were “demanding.”

Flipping burgers for minimum wage – and it will ALWAYS be for minimum wage – will never be anything but a smelly, sweaty job nobody likes and everybody wants to get out of as soon as they can. Flip burgers if you have to, but when a real opportunity comes along, say to prepare a good meal for somebody who will appreciate it, jump on that.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

I’m in the awkward position of having to agree with this rule on a technicality, because “learn from your mistakes” is good advice. So is “don’t whine.” If Charlie had said, “If you mess up, don’t whine about it; learn from your mistakes,” I’d stand one-hundred percent in agreement with him, but the oddly specific don’t-blame-your-parents vibe gives me the feeling maybe Charlie made some parenting choices that resulted in more pushback from his kids than he thought he’d get.

I disagree with this rule on principal because it’s wrong.  Parents do lots of things that result in kids making mistakes.  Just one example: Hitting kids makes some of them think hitting kids is a thing they can do.  That’s a mistake.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

YOUR PARENTS ARE BORING BECAUSE OF ALL THEY DID FOR YOU! THINK YOU’RE COOL? YOU’RE JUST A LOUSY KID.

I hate this “rule” so much.  The clunky metaphor in the last line is bad enough, but the way Charlie wrote this rule to turn raising kids into a huge guilt trip ought to be a hanging offense.

First of all, those bills your parents paid were never the kids’ bills.  They were the parents’ bills.  Kids don’t owe parents that money.  When parents brings kids into the world, it’s entirely the parents’ duty to feed, clothe, and shelter their kids without any conditions.  There is no, “Well, okay, I’ll do this, but only if you pay me back later.”  Parents pay the bills because it’s what they’re supposed to do! 

And listening to you is not a chore, like washing clothes.  Listening to kids hatching their plans to save the world is also what parents are supposed to do.  Listen to them and talk with them to help them develop those ideas.  If they acted like it was a chore, they were doing it wrong.

Finally, at some point all kids start to act like they’re too cool for their parents.  That’s how they let their parents know they’re getting ready to hit the road.  Good parents recognize this and don’t sneer at their kids because of it.

So if your parents are boring now, chances are excellent they were always boring. You certainly didn’t make them boring any more than they are the root cause of your mistakes. Shove that in their faces next time they trot out Rule #6.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

There is so much wrong with Rule #8.  The idea that there have to be losers, for starters. You don’t have to make everything a competition to feel good about yourself and if you do, I won’t be your loser just because we both want the same thing.

I don’t know how I feel about grades, but I’m all for giving a kid as many chances as he needs to get the right answer. What’s it matter so long as he gets it right? If you think a kid should get only one chance to get the right answer, and be labeled a loser if they don’t, you’re a special kind of warped son of a bitch who needs to fuck all the way off to the other side of the universe.

As far as school bearing any resemblance to real life: Well of course it doesn’t. School is supposed to be the place where you get all the chances you need to get the right answer before you have to go face “real life.”  It’s supposed to be a place to practice for what comes after.  (Whether it is or not is an entirely different rant.)

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

What the hell does that even mean, “life is not divided into semesters?” I suppose Charlie doesn’t divide his life into weeks, either, and spend his weekends in front of the television drinking beer and watching the football game, or whatever he does for fun.

As far as “finding yourself” is concerned, I don’t even want my employer messing with my personal life. If my boss tried to give me personal advice, I’d politely tell him to mind his own goddamn business and let me get back to work.

Here’s my rule # 9: People who don’t take time off from their jobs now and then are considered workaholics who end up guzzling Maalox straight out of the bottle to control their acid reflux.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

I don’t know when these rules were written but I suspect it was before people started hovering over their laptops in coffee shops all day, making money. Kids, you may disregard rule # 10. It’s another bald-faced lie.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Two things:

Either Charlie’s a nerd and this is a warning that he’s looking forward to revenge for all the times he was pantsed, or Charlie’s not a nerd and this is a warning he’s passing along after a boss or two of his got revenge on him for pantsing them back in grade school.

Either way, I thought you were supposed to be nice to others because that’s how you would like others to behave towards you.  (I’m not sure if the Golden Rule applies to people who like it when others pick a fight with them.)  You’re a total shitheel if  the only way to get you to be nice to people is to warn you you might end up working for a person you used to treat like shit.

 

fuck your meme | 9:10 am CDT
Category: damn kids!, random idiocy, this modern world, yet another rant
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Saturday, September 24th, 2016

I can literally hear two lawn mowers and a leaf blower right now. Are people getting up early on Saturday just to piss me off?

Kmn | 8:10 am CDT
Category: damn kids!
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Monday, January 20th, 2014

We tried to watch the first episode of this season’s Downton Abbey last night using Amazon streaming video through a PS3. If that didn’t make any sense at all, here’s how that breaks down:

First of all, yes, we’re fans of Downton Abbey. Roll your eyes all you want. We like it.

Tim left us his PS3, which is a computer made by Sony to play video games. He bought it to play one game in particular and then, when he got tired of the game, he boxed up the computer and pretty much forgot about it until he was cleaning out some of his stuff, found it again and was trying to figure out how to get rid of it. I had just learned that a PS3 will pay Blue-Ray movies and I’m too cheap to buy an actual Blue-Ray disc player, so I offered to pay him whatever he wanted for it, and that’s when he gave it to us. Thanks for the free computer, T-Dawg.

I don’t remember how I found out that we could watch Netflix on it, too. I think Tim told us that. However we found out, the PS3 works just fine as a Blue-Ray player, or to watch Netflix. Love it. What doesn’t work very well, though, is streaming instant video from Amazon. I’m not sure why. Netflix video streams with no problem, but Amazon video buffers all. The. Time. Try to watch a two-hour show when that little twirling arrow thingie freezes the action every three minutes. I can put up with some video buffering when I’m trying to watch a ninety-second video of kittens, but it drove us both up a wall last night. We eventually gave up and watched Downton on B’s tablet. By the way, watching TV on a seven-inch tablet isn’t so bad when you’re watching with somebody who doesn’t mind cuddling up to you.

PS3 | 9:09 am CDT
Category: damn kids!, entertainment, play, television, yet another rant
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Thursday, December 26th, 2013

I really want to like my smart phone. And for the most part, I do. It can do some pretty awesome stuff I never asked for or even expected it to do. Besides the obvious extras – texting, browsing the internet – it’s got GPS, for instance, so when I call up a Google map, a little blue dot will float down the street I’m walking or driving along. I can’t get lost while I have this phone on me. That kind of rocks my world.

I can also look up almost anything at will. Anything at all. The great big holes in my memory are no longer as frustrating as they used to be. I can usually remember enough background information to successfully google the web page where all the details I need to fill the holes can be found. That definitely rocks my world, no question.

And there are lots of nifty gadgets called apps I can get for the phone. I love gadgets. I love being able to keep a log of how far I walk each day. That particular app even maps each walk so I can keep track of where I’ve been. Love it. Very geeky.

What my smart phone is not particularly good at, ironically, is making a phone call. The reasons are simple, and there are only two: The audio quality sucks, and most people, including yours truly, have very little no radio discipline.

In my lifetime, telephones – real telephones, not cell phones – almost always had good audio quality. Even the cheap plastic ten-dollar phones that drug stores have been selling in blister packs for the last fifteen years or so delivered better audio quality than the best cell phones. I don’t know why, unless it’s because telephones are hardwired into a network while cell phones communicate by radio. Whatever the cause, that was the biggest reason I resisted disconnecting our land line for so long. I liked being able to hear my mom’s voice as it might have sounded if she were not very far away at all. Then she got a cell phone, after practically everybody else I knew did, and then it didn’t matter whether or not I had a land line. Clarity became obsolete. Think about that.

But the thing that really bugs me about cell phones is that they are not telephones at all, but glorified walkie-talkies, hand-held radios that can imitate telephonic communication by virtue of their computer brains. Imitate it, mind you. They’re still radios. While you’re talking, you’re transmitting. You’re not receiving anything your friend is saying. You don’t even know if your friend is talking until you stop. That wasn’t the case with telephones. You could carry on a conversation over a telephone line exactly as if you were speaking to somebody who was in the room with you. You could say “Yes, yes,” or “Uh-huh,” or “Nope, nope, nope,” while they were talking, not necessarily with the intention of interrupting them but just to let them know you were paying attention, listening to what they were saying. Or you could try to interrupt them, but they could keep right on talking to get their point across. You could have a live, active, colorful conversation.

If you want to communicate with anyone over a radio circuit, however, you can’t do any of that. Whenever you start to talk, or even if you say “uh-huh,” your cell phone starts transmitting, which means it stops receiving, which means you can’t hear what your friend is saying anymore. What used to be a verbal cue that told your friend you were listening has become a nervous tic that slams the brakes on the conversation you’re trying to have. So you have to completely change the way you talk. You have to orate instead of converse. For instance, say your friend goes first. While he’s talking, you must compose a response in your head, then when it’s your turn you have to yadda-yadda-yadda non-stop until you’ve finished your prepared speech, because any pause in your oration might be interpreted by your friend as his cue to start talking. When you really are done, you have to stay done until your friend is through. Keeping your mouth shut is not good enough; you have to be deathly quiet. Not even so much as an “uh-huh” through your nose.

This is such an unsatisfying way to have a conversation that I’d much rather write or text people than call and talk to them. Luckily, my phone can do that.

my second brain | 5:33 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, yet another rant
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Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Who doesn’t love sitting in traffic? Especially when there’s no apparent reason for it: no crashes, no tolls, no flaming mattresses.

Wait, what? Flaming mattresses? That’s a thing? Because if it is, I feel cheated, having never, ever seen any flaming mattresses in any of the traffic jams I’ve been caught up in. How have I missed out on this?

Anyway, here’s an animated graphic that shows you how traffic can come to a complete standstill even when there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it.

the wave | 7:06 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!
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Sunday, July 28th, 2013

new smart phoneAs I mention earlier, we replaced our dumb phones with smart phones. We made up a lot of reasons that sounded good for doing this but the real reason we did it is that SMART PHONES ARE AWESOME!

The dumb phones we had were the pay-as-you-go type, which were fine for making phone calls. In fact, they were better than the land line we still have but will soon be getting rid of because the only phone calls we ever get on the land line are from telemarketers and political action committees. I’d put up with daily in-home harassment if the land line was amazingly cheap, like five bucks a year. Or, I’d be happy to continue to pay them whatever overinflated price they wanted for their very dependable service if they would guarantee that I would never receive another call from a telemarketer. I’m pretty sure that neither of those options are going to materialize in the near future, though, so we’re going to drop the land line.

We already stopped paying for the dumb phones. They were good, as I said, for making phone calls but obviously they don’t do any more than that and besides, we weren’t ever completely sure how much we were paying each month for our dumb phones. As it was somewhat inconvenient to find out too late that I couldn’t make a call because I’d forgotten to top off my account, I gave them my credit card number and said, “Here, take out ten bucks whenever I’m running a little low.” Like running a tab at the bar, I didn’t think about how much I was paying because I didn’t have to. My Darling B did the same thing. When we reviewed the costs of keeping a land line and topping up the dumb phones, though, it seemed a little silly to keep on paying that when, for a bit more, we could have SMART PHONES!

They were delivered last week Wednesday, if memory serves, and I use the word “delivered” very loosely here. The FedEx guy was supposed to drop them off after seven, which would have given us more than enough time to get home after our dinner at The Wise if he had, in fact, stuck to the plan. When we got home, though, there was a note from the FedEx guy on our door that said (paraphrasing): “I gots here at 3:30 – Where Was You?” We jumped back into the O-Mobile and burned rubber to get to the FedEx facility on the north side of town just ten minutes before they closed.

When we had dumb phones, My Darling B put a happy face sticker on hers because otherwise they looked exactly alike. Remembering this, when B ordered the smart phones she got a white phone for herself and a black phone for me. That girl’s always thinking. I don’t know how her brain doesn’t get musclebound from all the thinking she does. In case you care, she ordered the latest model, Samsung S4. All that means to me is that they’ll be obsolete in about six months, if they’re not already. That, and they’re not real. They’re science fiction, completely make-believe. Or, as Arthur C. Clarke, one of the greatest science fiction authors who ever lived, put it, they’re magic, as in “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Even Captain Kirk would have thought so. All he could do with his communicator was make phone calls. It was a dumb phone, really. He couldn’t use it to look at a map or search the ship’s computer. Spock would have killed for a smart phone. The one I’ve got beats his tricorder all to hell. It’s smaller but it’s got a bigger screen and I can tuck it in a pocket. It doesn’t hang from my neck on a leather strap. Way more handy than that boat anchor he had to carry around.

And it’s one hell of a lot smarter than Spock’s tricorder, too. Thirty seconds after I turned it on and told it my e-mail address, it knew way more about me than probably my own mother does. Our phones use the Android operating system so they’re connected to The Google, and The Google, as everybody knows, is more powerful than all the nimrod politicians in the world and probably more powerful than every branch of the military. Man, are those guys going to be surprised when they figure that out. If The Google lets them figure it out.

So probably because I have a gmail account and because I’ve been using The Google’s browser, Chrome, for a while now, my smart phone autoloaded everything The Google knew about me. My list of contacts – everyone I might call on the phone or send e-mail to – was imported from my various on-line e-mail accounts. My photo gallery – the folder of photographs in my camera-ready smartphone – was suddenly filled with all the photos I’d ever uploaded to the net. And so on and so on. This thing called “privacy” that you think you have? You can forget about it. The Google knows all about you. If you have never in your life sent an e-mail message, placed an order on-line, or used a cell phone, then I suppose it’s possible that you might have managed to evade The Google’s all-seeing gaze, but if you have ever experimentally dipped a toe into even the shallowest of social media, you are in for a shock when you activate your first smart phone.

And do you want to talk about distraction? A smart phone is literally all the distraction in the world gathered together in a package that you can hold in one hand. It has these things called “apps” that are hot buttons of one kind of distraction or another. All you have to do to be distracted is tap one. If and when the distraction of that app runs out, you can tap the next one. And you will tap the next one. You will keep on tapping the next one until you fall asleep sitting up, and when your head hits the table, waking you up, you will tap the next app to be distracted some more, because going to sleep is boring but a distraction is, well, distracting. You will not notice you’re tired. You would not notice conquering armies invading your city. Not that I’m suggesting smart phones could be part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep tabs on us while distracting us from the coming subjugation of an invading army. In fact, I’d like to go on record as saying that even if this were a thing, I for one welcome subjugation as long as I get to keep my apps. How bad could that be?

smartphone | 11:58 am CDT
Category: ch-ch-changes, current events, daily drivel, damn kids!, Life & Death, Our Humble O'Bode
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Thursday, April 25th, 2013

My Darling B laughed when I got my first offer for a membership card to AARP. “That means you’re officially old,” she said.

She wasn’t laughing when she got her first AARP card in the mail last night, though. “Those bastards! I’ve got a whole month left!” was all she could say.

aarp | 5:35 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, My Darling B, O'Folks
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Saturday, March 30th, 2013

It was casual Friday and Cindy, one of my coworkers, came dressed in a baggy t-shirt with day-glo peace symbols printed all over it. When I ran into her at the copy machine I asked her, “Were you ever on Laugh-In?”

“What’s that?” she asked.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In? You’ve never seen it?”

“No, what is it? It sounds good.”

“Comedy show. Lots of funny people cracking jokes. Ruth Buzzi. Arte Johnson. Goldie Hawn.”

“Oh, I love Goldie Hawn!”

“But you never saw her on Laugh-In?”

“No, I’ve never seen that.”

Judy, another one of my co-workers and apparently a little closer to my age, was at the mail cubbies nearby and chuckled as she listened in. “I think that may be a little before her time,” she commented.

“You remember Laugh-In?” I asked her. She nodded. And then we did what old people do when they talk about their favorite TV and movie stars: We compared notes to see if we could figure out which of the cast members from the show was still alive. Cindy wandered away during this part of the conversation, proving she really isn’t old enough to remember Laugh-In.

“You know, I can still remember when I was the baby around here,” Judy remarked after Cindy left.

“It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?” I answered. “The other day, Carolann mentioned that she graduated from high school in 1997. I couldn’t help thinking: By 1997, I’d graduated high school, graduated college, finished basic training, been sent to England, Denver and Berlin, gotten married and had a seven-year-old son!”

Later, toward the end of the day, I was finishing up some paperwork at my desk when I happened to look down and saw something odd in the salt-and-pepper pattern of the carpeting. When I bent down to pick at it, a piece of plastic popped out of the pile, so I picked it up and dropped it into the palm of my hand. It was one of those little black bits of confetti you can buy at a novelty store that says “Over The Hill!” As if my conversation earlier hadn’t already made that clear, the universe had to flip me a great big cosmic F.U. to top it off.

over the hill | 7:10 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, story time, work
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Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

On my bike ride home from work this evening I stopped at the post office to mail a letter. Kids: A letter is like e-mail that you print out and give to the recipient. I know it sounds weird, but that’s how it used to be.

Did you know that post offices don’t have stamp machines in the lobby any longer? I didn’t notice that until today. When I asked the guy behind the corner when that happened, he said, “Oh, about five years ago, I think. Maybe more.” Shows how much I’ve been paying attention. I would’ve changed the subject to hide my embarrassment, but I was there to buy stamps.

Did you know they don’t even print stamps with prices on them? All stamps are “forever” stamps now. What’s the point of that? They’re just pretend stamps, really. Why don’t they print the word “forever” in the corner of envelopes and charge a buck apiece for them, or whatever the price of a first-class stamp is up to now. I don’t even know. A buck and a half? Ten bucks?

Kids: Stick with e-mail.

vintage | 9:17 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!
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Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

I think My Darling B and I may have crossed the line and become Old People. Not just older people, but certifiably Old People, as in crotchety old, cane-waving, get-off-my-lawn Old People. The evidence is mounting, and seemingly irrefutable. See if you don’t agree:

We both wear glasses now. I’ve been wearing glasses for dozens of years, and My Darling B has had a pair ever since about 2005, but she only recently starting wearing hers while driving and discovered, to her surprise, all the things she could’ve been seeing! The other night during dinner at a local restaurant, she amazed herself once again by putting them on and found she was able to read the labels of all the liquor bottles over the bar, about twenty feet away.

We talk to our cats as if they are children. They come to the door to meet us after work and we call their names and coo over them and make woojy-woojy noises. We never ever talk to them, we sing to them, usually repeating their names or the same phrase several times as if that’ll make them smile or laugh. This probably seems normal to some pet owners and by itself isn’t necessarily a warning of impending fossilization, but in combination with other signs it’s very definitely one of the warning signs that we are Old People.

We groan when getting up out of our chairs, or out of bed, and especially when we have been sitting on the floor and lever ourselves, slowly, to a standing position. The groans are louder the longer we have been sitting. We do not groan occasionally but EVERY TIME, like it’s hard work. And it is.

This evening, My Darling B referred to cancer as “The Cancer,” as in, My best friend, Myrtle, she has The Cancer, poor dear. If that’s not a dead giveaway, I don’t know what is.

aging | 6:58 am CDT
Category: Bonkers, Boo, daily drivel, damn kids!, My Darling B, O'Folks | Tags:
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Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

National Public Radio has been presenting a series of articles about growing old and retiring that don’t make it sound all that appealing. As a matter of fact, they make it sound like a great big bummer.

“Retirement: Reality Not As Rosy As Expectation” is all about how retirement was not at all what people expected it to be, because deteriorating health, or poor financial planning, or both forced them to live on the ragged edge of existence.

And “Boomers Delusion About Health In Retirement,” which leads with a photograph of a line of grayhairs playing Wii bowling, tells us all about what a great, big bummer it is to fall apart as we grow old. “That’s what getting older is eventually about. We’re all going to have serious health problems in retirement, and eventually really serious health problems,” says a consultant asked to comment for the record.

Hey, thanks, NPR! Thanks so much for giving me something to look forward to!

bummer | 6:31 pm CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, damn kids!
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Monday, June 20th, 2011

I’ve recently become afflicted with old man smell. I’m going to assume you know what I mean by that and just plow ahead with my story. This is going to get pretty gross, so what I’m going to do is babble for a little bit here about how gross it’s going to get so you have a few minutes to think about how badly you want to read this and have plenty of time to bail out before any serious psychological damage has been done, because once you read this it cannot be unread.

If you’re still here, I’m going to assume it’s okay to press on. Any time you spend on your analyst’s couch trying to talk-therapy your way out of what follows is your own responsibility. I won’t be paying for any of it, not because I’m an uncaring asshole, it’s just that I don’t have any money. Sue me from now until the planet Nibiru crashes into Earth and all you’ll get out of me is court costs. It won’t do you any good after an interplanetary collision, anyway.

Still here? Wow, you must be really bored. Well, you asked for it.

It began three, maybe four weeks ago after I had finished a particularly hard day of yard work, mowing the grass and clearing brush and I don’t know what else. Whatever it was, it left me stinking like a wet goat and I was so glad when I was done and I could peel off my sweat-soaked clothes, climb into the shower, scrub all over with plenty of soap, and then stand under the hot running water for ten or fifteen minutes. After a day like that, almost nothing feels as good as a hot shower, don’t you think? I sure did, until that day.

On that day I came out of the shower and, while I was toweling off, I caught a whiff of a sort of moldy smell that I thought was coming from the towel. It was the same towel I’d used the day before, so I didn’t think it was all that unusual. I just grabbed a fresh towel and kept drying myself off. And don’t tell me you’ve never used a towel more than once. If you’ve got the time to wash towels after using them just once, tell me how you do it. I’m just barely keeping up with washing my dirty underwear. Okay, actually I’m not.

A short time after my shower, when I should have still had that really good feeling from being freshly soaped up and washed off, I was sitting in the recliner in the living room with a beer while I watched videos on my laptop of kittens playing in boxes, the tell-tale sign of the imminent collapse of civilization. We have the technology to invent computers small enough to hold in our laps, built by semi-indentured laborers in China, and we’re using this amazing boon to view semi-amusing photos of kittens who speak in leet. In the big scheme of things, interplanetary collision is really not going to be the tragedy we imagine it to be. But I digress, as I always do.

While I was sitting there, suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, at once, without warning, out of nowhere, as if it were a message from the gods, although it was really more like the warning sign of a stroke, I was overwhelmed by the smell of old gym socks. It was so powerful that it distracted me from my kitten video enough to make me turn around to see if someone or something had snuck up behind me and was standing just over my shoulder for the sole purpose of emitting this powerful stench, because I certainly couldn’t believe for an instant it was coming from me. Even after I saw there was nobody else around, I got up out of the recliner and sniffed it, but it just smelled like upholstery. The odor of smelly old socks was gone.

But the smell kept sneaking up on me again and again, and there didn’t seem to be any common trigger. It would come back when I was brushing my teeth, when I was folding the clothes, when I was eating my lunch, when I was picking my nose … in a car, in a plane, in a box, on a plane! I began to smell that smell everywhere! But the time I caught a whiff of it that really blew my mind was when I was squatting on the shitter, pants down around my ankles, thoughts wandering idly around the vacant corners of my mind, enveloped in a cloud of my most vile stink, when I caught a whiff of WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? WHAT KIND OF INFERNAL ODOR CAN OVERPOWER POOP?

It drove me so crazy that, at one point, I actually asked My Darling B to smell me. I really didn’t want to, because that’s got to be the last stage of either dementia or decomposition, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Would you do me a favor?” I began, and then I realized what I was doing and almost couldn’t finish, except that I was already sort of committed. I guess I could have made up something on the fly, distracted her by chopping off my own hand, anything that wasn’t quite as weird as I was really thinking of doing, but I was so shocked at myself and so weirded out by that smell sneaking up on me again that I just bulled my way through to the question I really wanted to ask her.

My Darling B has a very talented and sensitive sniffer. Even if I’d been emitting a mild odor, she’d be able to detect it. Heck, if I was as rotten as I was starting to believe I was, she should have been able to smell me from another room. I’d been half expecting her to say something to me before now, or at least pinch her nose as she walked past me, but she’s too nice to do something as low as that. But she also happens to be honest to a fault, so if I asked her point-blank to tell me if I smelled like a moldy gym sock, I think she’d do it. So I did.

“Smell me, would you?” I asked, sitting down beside her on the sofa. “Do you smell anything, um, musty?”

Such a look she gave me. Like I asked her to pick my nose. Then, ever so daintily, she leaned in and sniffed. Closed her eyes and thought about it a moment. Sniffed again.

“Nope,” she finally said, and then, because I’d brought it up, she had to ask, “Why?”

Might as well admit it now and get it over with. “I think I’m getting old man smell,”

She sniffed once more. “No, I don’t smell anything.”

Well, if she couldn’t smell it, it wasn’t there, which made me feel worse because the only other rational explanation was that I was going insane. Almost better to have old man smell. I can’t tell you how long I brooded over what it would be like to slowly descend into a madness that would be made up mostly of rotten smells. Can you imagine waking up every day wondering what kind of stink would flood your senses for the next twenty-four hours? It was like that joke about the guy choosing his hell: “Break’s over! Everyone back on your heads!”

Then, early thing morning, I was combing my hair when I caught a whiff of eau de gym socks again and was about to get all freaked out about it, except that I happened to pause with my comb in front of my face and couldn’t help but notice it reeked! My comb stunk to high heaven! It was on my comb! My goddamn comb smelled like rotten old sneakers! And I was combing that stink into my hair! No wonder that smell was haunting me.

And this is how the story ends: All my combs are getting a long bath in a beaker filled with vinegar and won’t be coming out for a long, long time. Happily ever after. The end.

old man smell | 9:21 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, yet another rant | Tags:
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Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I have to tell you I’m still happy to be employed, but I think I sit on this job more than I have on any other job I’ve ever held before. It sounds like a strange observation to make, but at one point this afternoon I felt as if I was literally putting down roots and quickly jumped out of my seat, swatting at my butt, the way I would if I were waking from a nightmare.

Other desk jobs I’ve had required me to get up and go do work somewhere else every once in a while, but at this job pretty much all my work is within just a foot or two of my desk. I rarely have to get up to go anywhere, and on the few occasions that I do, I travel about three feet, grab the files I need, then go another three feet and sit right back down. On a pedometer, it probably wouldn’t even register.

And my breaks are so short I barely have time to get out the door to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before I have to be pecking at my keyboard like an obediently trained chicken again. At lunch I have enough time to walk all the way around the block if I move at a fast trot and go straight back to work as soon as I can.

Seriously, my butt hurts, I sit so much. Yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, thank you.

Sit On It | 6:52 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, work
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Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Aaron, one of my coworkers, was showing me how to approve course work for continuing education. That’s what I do now; I’m one of the two continuing education specialists in my unit at the Department of Regulation and Licensing, so I’d better know how to do this at least a little better than the guy who’s application I was reviewing. He used the wrong form. Actually, he used an old form, which I guess we let slide for now.

It was also handwritten. “Thanks for typing it, buddy,” I griped as I struggled to decipher it.

Aaron went Pffft! “Who has a typewriter any more?” he asked. I almost told him Well, I’ve got ten, as a matter of fact, but something about the way he farted with his mouth like that prevented me. Instead, I just showed him the next application, which just happened to be typewritten.

I worked my way slowly through the steps to review the application while Aaron sat watching. He’s got to teach me that stuff some time, but nothing’s more boring than watching other people do a job you can do without thinking. I wasn’t surprised when his mind started wandering.

“Can I ask you,” he asked, “were you working in an office before e-mail? Because I just can’t conceive of how that worked.” This reminded me of the time my nephew watched, fascinated, as I demonstrated a typewriter, something he’d never seen before. “It’s like a computer, but with words on paper!” he said, awe in his voice.

Aaron wasn’t jerking my chain; he really couldn’t see how people used to get work done without e-mail. “It was actually a lot easier to get work done without e-mail,” I said, and when he gave me the puzzled dog look, I explained:

“When you get an e-mail, the person who sent it to you expects you to read it right now, right? And if they don’t hear from you in five or ten minutes, they send you another e-mail asking you what’s taking so long, don’t they? You might be right in the middle of answering an email when you see a new e-mail appear in your inbox from somebody else, and you stop and read the new one because you know that guy’s going to be way more pissed if you don’t answer him right away.

“But, back in the day, you had to type up a memorandum that would go into the mail and disappear for days. Which was kind of nice on the receiving end, because you weren’t constantly interrupted by messages coming in that had to be answered right now. The guy sending them didn’t know when you got them, did he? You could open all your mail, put it in a pile with the most urgent stuff on top, and then you didn’t have to worry about any new mail until you got to the bottom of the pile. It was bliss.”

I think next week I’m going to bring in my Remington Portable for show and tell.

Show and Tell | 8:47 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, entertainment, hobby, office work, play, typewriters, work
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Monday, September 13th, 2010

image of Bonkers the cat

Bonkers the cat was at the clinic all day today. He started acting funny last night after dinner, keeping to himself and favoring his left rear leg on the few occasions when he got up to walk a few steps across the floor. Otherwise he mostly sat or sprawled in an out of the way corner or under a desk, eyes half closed, and hardly responded to anyone or anything. Not even Boo could get a rise out of him when she got right in his face, sniffing at his nose. That all by itself was weird enough behavior to make us worry.

So I stopped by the vet’s on the way home this morning and they agreed to see Bonkers at ten. Getting him into a carrier was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Every time I coaxed him into standing up he would flinch in pain and sit right back down again, and he howled when I tried to pick him up, but that only made me more determined to get him to a doctor, so I gritted my teeth, scooped him up as gently as I knew how, and slipped him into the box. The vet carefully squeezed every inch of him until he got to the base of the tail, when Bonkers howled again and wouldn’t let the vet look much closer.

And that’s how I came to leave him at the vet’s all day. They kept him so they could give him a good looking over after administering a mild sedative, and snapped a few x-ray pictures while they had him, too. They were supposed to call me back between noon and one to let me know what was going on, but I didn’t hear from them until I finally caved in to my own impatience and called at three. It turned out the doctor turned to the one page in Bonkers’s file that had an old phone number from back when we moved here in 2005.

The prognosis: Bonkers is old. We’re not sure how old, but fourteen at least, possibly as old as eighteen. Old enough to have arthritis, anyway. The vet figures he was goofing around, acting younger than his age, and his arthritic joints gave him a jabbing reminder that he’s not the kitten he used to be. He got a shot for pain and a bottle of meds for us to sprinkle on his wet food to stave off the worst symptoms. Now there’s an up side to getting old: Bonkers gets wet food every day from here on in.

Bad Joints | 6:48 pm CDT
Category: Bonkers, daily drivel, damn kids!, O'Folks
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Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Damn my creaky knees. I used to sit cross-legged all the time and now I can’t do it for more than thirty or forty minutes, and even keeping it that short they’re so stiff that as I uncurl them I have to fight the urge to groan, “Oil can! Oil can!” like the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz. I never feel old until my knees remind me just how long they’ve been bending and unbending under my weight.

And yet somehow I can’t relax with a book or the newspaper unless I curl my legs up under me. Even though I know it won’t last, I don’t feel as though I’m comfortable unless I’m sitting cross-legged.

I was sitting cross-legged on the sofa with the Sunday paper this afternoon. Bonkers was quietly curled up in my lap. After I finished the section I was looking at I felt like shutting my eyes for maybe a half-hour, so I got up slowly enough that Bonkers wouldn’t be too freaked out, and so I could unfold my rusty old knees. Then I hobbled over to the recliner and stretched out to rest my eyes.

But I didn’t close them right off the bat. Bonkers, never one to miss out on a warm lap when one’s available, was watching me from the sofa to see what I was up to, and when he saw me take a seat in the recliner he jumped down, crossed the living room floor and popped up on the arm rest before tentatively reaching out with a paw to test the waters, so to speak. I patted a thigh so he would know he had an invitation to nap with me and he settled in, sort of.

First, he had to lick his paws, every single digit, one at a time. When he does his paws he also likes to wash his ears because they sort of go together in the feline scheme of things, I guess.

Once everything was washed he tried to fold his legs up under himself, but he’s an older cat just like me and maybe his knees were bothering him after his nap on the sofa because he couldn’t get comfortable with his legs under him. He had to roll over and stretch his legs out over the top of one of my legs. That bugged him because one of his hind legs kept slipping a little further than he wanted it to. He’d pull it back to where he wanted it but it would slip as soon as he started to doze off and he’d jerk awake, pull his paw back to where he wanted it, doze off, slip, jerk awake, et cetera. This went on until he was too tired to jerk awake. Took about ten minutes. That’s about two hours in cat years.

When he was settled in, cleaned off, semi-sleeping and had stopped jerking, I myself began to finally drift off until he started snoring. Usually a quiet, soothing sound akin to a baby’s sigh, his snoring today had the volume and rattle of a tubercular asthmatic. I’ve never heard him snore so loudly before, and it was impossible to ignore. I laid there, wide awake with my eyes closed, stubbornly insisting on getting a few winks until the clock on the wall went bong at the half-hour, then sat up and said to hell with it. There would be no proper nap this afternoon.

creaky | 10:07 am CDT
Category: Bonkers, daily drivel, damn kids!, O'Folks
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Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Here’s something that’ll keep My Darling B awake all night: STREET LEGAL BUMPER CARS!

street-legal bumper cars!

More street-legal bumper cars at CoolThings.com and this Flickr page.

bumper cars go bump | 9:26 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, random idiocy
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