Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Highway Spooning

I don’t have a “Choose Civility in Howard County” magnet on the back of my car to say I’m better than you (that’s what my BTRTHNU vanity plate is supposed to convey). Admittedly it goes against my original bumper stickers & ribbon magnets rant (, but it’s still important to me to say: “Caution: I allow other drivers to slide in front of me instead of closing the gap. I try to leave a car length or two in front of me so I don’t have a bruise on my fivehead when it smacks the steering wheel after you've decided to suddenly stop in front of me. And, no, I’m actually not better than you.”

Today is the first autumn snow in my area. Although most of us learned water freezes at 32° F, most of us seem to ignore that fact and think tire friction must somehow heat the roads, keeping them safe. So we drive business as usual.

I understand you, monsieur ou mademoiselle "offensive" driver, need to be somewhere. It may not be obvious to you (so read this slowly) but, in fact, everyone out there driving needs to be somewhere. That’s probably why we’re all driving. You may think you need to be wherever “there” is before me, or are somehow entitled to be “there” before me, and that I’m the one person in the universe holding you up, but that actually can’t be determined from your vantage point.

When it’s snowing, and the air temp is 28° F, and all those signs that say “Bridge Freezes Before Roadway” still don’t remind you you’re being an ass, front-end damage to your car and engine just might after you finally (or once again) hit someone.

Riding my bumper like a dog sniffing another dog’s bum won’t tell you my emotional state, though it certainly has an effect on it. And it definitely won’t motivate me to move any faster or get out of your way. Flashing your lights or driving in mini-slalom fashion doesn’t do it either. Screaming at me red-faced in silent futility and pounding your steering wheel really just entertains me. And I’m not even in the left “passing” lane so you’ve just got to stop. All-important you is going to hurt someone, so please do us all a favor and get over yourself.

Spoon your partner, not my car. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

eHarmony: Fetch me a Doppelgänger

It can’t be just me. In fact, I know it’s not just me because my friend pointed this out. Why do the successful matches on eHarmony commercials look more like siblings rather than couples? I immediately think of those people are their pets email chains. I believe their system of matching across 29 dimensions could be substituted with a quick cheek swab and a genetic database.

It appears when applicants fill out a questionnaire on what they’re looking for, it turns out to be themselves (in drag). OK, having things in common is great, but having everything in common? Hair color, chin shape, nose, location of their dimples? Their slogan should be “Why waste time transforming into your partner by aging gracefully – we’ll cut to the chase for you.”

The next time you see an eHarmony commercial, you’ll realize what I’m talking about. Or check out the success stories on their website (
). Those matching smiles are just disturbing!

If you get rejected by eHarmony be thankful. You may have saved yourself from two very embarrassing things: (1) Not telling the world “I’m a narcissistic, self-centered egomaniac who only finds happiness dating a live action mirror.” And (2) Not dating your cousin (or worse). Maybe an “I’m with stupid” t-shirt would actually be appropriate in this case.

(Postscript: At the risk of explaining the punchline, the title was not meant as a crass request like asking a butcher to pull a t-bone off the shelf - "fetch" is synonymous with doppelgänger, which is German for double-walker.)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hydrating Swine Lip Treatment

What? My title refers to lipstick on a pig, my friends. It’s still a pig. It's bad enough people pay extra to display advertising for their favorite brands. I’m amazed at how gullible marketers think we are. Of course, they may just be right.

Let's start with "certified pre-owned". So I couldn't tell by the worn tires, paint scratches, door dings, "Proud parent of a suburban middle school honor student" bumper sticker, upholstery tears, faded dashboard or the simple fact it's a 2002 model amazingly still at a 2006 new car price that the vehicle I'm about to purchase is indeed used. I need a certificate to tell me.

Taco Bell has a special soft taco with carne asada grilled steak! Carne asada literally translates to “grilled meat” in Español and or loosely to the generic term “barbecue”. Wow! Taco Bell puts barbecued meat in their tacos.

Everyone’s gone chipotle! It’s a smoke-dried jalapeno. Not exactly gourmet.

And now there’s Asiago cheese! I doubt you’re getting the real cheese imported from the town of Asiago (in the Veneto region of Italy), but more likely the cheddar-cheese-like equivalent mass-produced around the world using the same recipe. I remember Miller Beer tried the same thing with Löwenbräu. That was awful.

Apparenty if you add a little international flair to simple items, we feel a little more cultured and are willing to pay more. Remember the “soft Corinthian leather” Ricardo Montalbán told us was only available in the 1976 Chrysler Cordoba? It was plain old leather that came from Jersey and not the ancient Greek city.

Most people now realize Häagen-Dazs ice cream was invented in a basement in Brooklyn. So was the name. It translates to…nothing, but the umlaut is kicking!

A popular soup was allegedly invented at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and given a French name, again made up, to make it sound more appetizing then “cold potato and leek soup”. The soup? Vichyssoise.

Look, if people spend the money they do on caviar (salty fish eggs - also great for fishing bait), and actually ingest it...well, I believe we are that gullible. Ah, but is it Beluga?

We still love pulling up next to our friends, rolling down the car window, and asking for Dijon mustard. “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” It’s a condiment! Yes we use Dijon (the French town that used to produce mustard seeds) to indicate it’s a strong mustard, but it’s not imported. Well, most of the seeds come from Canada so it’s sort of exotic, eh? And I have to question the brand name Grey Poupon, which phonetically states a natural but unappetizing act.
For as much disrespect and xenophobia I witness against people who have names ending in vowels (including my own), we sure love adding non-English words (often totally fabricated) to our bland consumer goods to feel a sense of sophistication that is often undeserved.

Monday, September 17, 2007

SMOKE-FREE WORLD – After this blog, I could lose some friends temporarily or maybe keep a few around even longer

I think the world should be tobacco free. For the smoker who reads even this far, I’m impressed. Before you get all bent out of shape, rolling your eyes, furrowing your brow, shaking your head and saying the following: “Man, here we go again. Militant ex-smokers who can’t leave us the f’ alone. It’s my right to smoke. I’m only harming myself. I’ll quit if and when I’m ready. I know it’s bad for me but it’s my choice. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. My uncle smoked for 60 years and never got cancer.” Save it. I used to say the same things, and I felt pretty stupid because it was so easy to rationalize and lie to myself. I finally did quit. I feel stronger about this subject than nearly any other, and if you have the courage to read this without a bunch of arguments cocked and ready, maybe you’ll find an ounce of motivation to stop smoking.

Warning: This is a really long blog and it's not my usual "hope I make you laugh" fare. I have a lot to say on this subject. I’m not pulling punches on this one and realize you’re tired of militant ex-smokers telling you what to do, so I may just piss you off, but I’m just as tired of hearing smokers commiserate on how alienated they are, and how tough it is to continue to enjoy their annoying, obnoxious, harmful, disgusting addiction anywhere within two miles of another human being.

Ingesting arsenic is only harming yourself. Smoking is shared by everyone and everything around you. And if you do end up with cancer, you haven’t only harmed yourself and you know it. You’ve hurt everyone around you who cares even just a little about you, and hurt those who do love you tremendously. And you do it to yourself every day, and you can prevent it. That’s what an honest smoker knows. That’s what I realized, and even when I realized it, it took me six more years to follow through.

How did I quit? I guilted the hell out of myself until I finally had the courage to walk away from it. I imagined a doctor telling me that I had lung cancer and six months to live. When thinking about the obvious question coming from my son, “Dad? Why did you do this to yourself?” Answering “because it’s my right” just didn’t cut it. And I became angry. I was angry with myself for not seeing the obvious: I don’t need cigarettes. The tobacco companies aren’t my friends. I’m setting a horrible example for my kids. Every excuse that came out of my mouth was hypocrisy.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about you, Mr. Chesterfield.

There is no real positive benefit to smoking, nor is there a valid argument to allow people to smoke around others who don’t. And smoking is a physical act that involves an area or space, and not just the smoker and his or her device. So the privilege to smoke a cigarette may be a personal freedom, but the physical act of smoking is not. Therefore, it is not a personal “freedom” or personal “right” that requires protection. Smoke-free areas have nothing to do with allowing people to smoke or not smoke; it has everything to do with regulating the air and space around those people, which doesn’t belong to any one person or group.

Yes, mine is a free country. But that doesn’t mean smokers can claim satisfying their addiction in places non-smokers frequent as a personal right or freedom; the simple counter argument is breathing smoke-free air in those same places (anywhere there is shared airspace on this lovely planet) is the non-smoker's right. They cancel each other out.

And even enclosed areas or establishments that are deemed “smoking” rarely contain only smokers. There are non-smoking employees or visitors. And even if the employees or visitors or regulars are smokers, they’re still breathing in secondhand smoke unnecessarily.

I am an ex-smoker, which means I am a recovered nicotine addict and have been both a smoker and non-smoker. As a smoker, I rationalized my addiction like everyone else:

• It’s a stress-reliever
• It curbs my appetite
• I enjoy it
• There’s nothing better after a good meal or after sex
• I have an affinity to tobacco farmers in North Carolina and Virginia – they have the right to produce a legal crop
• It’s my personal right
• This is a free country

It’s a stress-reliever
It does work as a stress-reliever, but honestly that’s usually the relief you feel from satisfying your nic fit, not reducing your blood pressure or heart rate (actually does the opposite). I’d like to carry a spray bottle and mist the smokers I have to pass through when entering a building or a bar, which would definitely relieve some of my stress, but it’s not my right. There are plenty of ways to relieve stress which doesn’t involve nicotine, smoking or unhealthy choices. If it was the only way to relieve stress, you might have an argument.

In school, I learned that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. It’s actually the furthest a smoker will go before they are allowed to light up. If it’s a car, it’s to the crack in the window; if it’s a house, it’s to the first step of the porch, deck or garage; if it’s a smoke-free building, that would be as your face breaks the plane of the entrance/exit, balcony, or bathroom (after hours). If you can’t smoke in the building, could you at least walk a few more feet? Good lord, how bad is it that you have to light up before you even get out the GD door? When I see smokers leaving a building to fire up a stogie, I picture a two year-old being dragged by his mother through the aisles of a toy store, feet sliding, hand limp, tears pouring down his face, not getting the toy he wants. Did you ever consider at least it’s exercise, and to walk a few more feet or meters?

It curbs my appetite
There may be some truth to this. But I don’t believe smokers are any less obese than non-smokers. And we all know the only way to a healthy body is proper diet and exercise. And though I know there are a few smokers that also jog, most only get their exercise from walking in and out of their office nine times a day to grab a smoke. They’re not the diehards at Gold’s Gym.

I enjoy it
I really did love my cigarettes. I loved the taste, and the curl it would make before sliding down into my chest. I loved the instant gratification. I loved the rituals, the smell of a fresh pack, slapping down a box on the heel of my hand to pack the tobacco in so the cigarettes would last even longer. Addictions truly can be fun. Do I miss it now? Honestly, yes. But I found better rituals that I enjoy just as much, and they aren’t killing me.

There’s nothing better after a good meal or sex
Actually, dessert is much better after a good meal, and you can taste even more once your taste buds reawaken and your olfactory sense is back in working order. As for sex, if you’re doing it right, there’s nothing than can top it; not even a cigarette. If you have the energy to light one up after sex, you have energy to go again - much better.

I have an affinity to tobacco farmers in North Carolina and Virginia – they have the right to produce a legal crop
In all business there is risk. If your company produces tobacco or tobacco-based products, you know there’s a risk your industry may suffer if more people quit or die (fewer customers), or you actually decide to stop producing harmful products. As long as there’s a legal business and a market, enjoy your jobs. But it might be a good idea to find some other uses for tobacco besides producing cigarettes. Why do you think RJ Reynolds bought Nabisco? It wasn’t just for the Nilla® Wafers. It’s to have completely separate products to fall back upon – just make sure there are no trans fats in your cookies.

Something I hear a lot in my line of work (software) is: “It’s not like we’re curing cancer.” I say it myself a great deal. What we mean is, it’s just a job and it’s not always fulfilling or seemingly that important. What we do isn’t necessarily noble. If you work for big tobacco, you could say the same thing, but it would be in poor taste. In fact, your products actually promote cancer. Hooray! Disease!

It’s my personal right
Really? Why? I agree that it isn’t up to the government to tell you what you can and cannot do to yourself. If you are an adult, our government shouldn’t have to tell you that your behavior is risky or try to mandate it. Don’t want to wear a condom, or a motorcycle helmet, or protect your lungs, it’s your right to ignore common sense. But when your behavior affects others, it’s no longer your personal freedom. There are others involved when it comes to smoking. You have the right to smoke, just not where others can be affected. So build a self-enclosed chamber (not an automobile), where you can smoke to your heart’s content (which, if your heart could speak, would be never). Once you’re around others, you can’t do it.

Forget about the laws of our government. Let’s try the laws of physics: a gas will fill the volume of its container. The air we all breathe is within our atmosphere. Yes, it’s one huge ass container, but every time you light up, even outdoors, and there are others around, they breathe it in, too. And they smell it. And it’s nasty. And even though the government shouldn’t have to regulate common sense, try to remember that when you light up, and you are hurting yourself, and slowly changing the cells in your body that will at the least result in some form of disease and quite possibly form into a tumor and kill you, there are others that will be affected by your illness or death. Primarily your loved ones, who never wanted you to die. And your fellow citizens who are footing the health care bills and research to help save your sorry ass, or at least provide you hospice in your final hours.

Oh, and how many breaks a day do you take at work? I know you believe it’s your right to smoke, but is it your right to cut out an hour a day of productivity? If you add an hour to your schedule every day, and don’t socialize when you come back into the office after each break, and avoid surfing the net as much as everyone around you, then of course I’m not speaking to you. And how is it possible anyway that any employer today allows nicotine fix breaks? If you need your nicotine, wear a patch or chew the gum. You aren't entitled to an outdoor break every hour on the hour any more than I am.

It’s a free country
Why is it that every time someone does something that pisses someone else off, they say “It’s a free country.”? I’m not vain enough to think that soldiers died for my right to die; maybe to state an opinion without fear of government intervention or retribution.

Here’s what happened when I did quit
How many colds do you get a year? How many do you smoke through? How long do they last? Once you quit, the cilia that was burned off of your throat and in your nose, and was kept off with every cigarette, grows back almost immediately. And it once again protects you from germs and irritants. Since I quit, I now get fewer colds, and when I do catch one, it’s gone in a few days.
I didn’t realize my taste buds would regenerate and I would experience flavor, smells and taste again.

When I get into an elevator with someone who just had a cigarette, it’s overwhelming. I don’t say this to be dramatic, but it is true. I had no idea when I got onto an elevator after a cigarette what others were experiencing. I’m still embarrassed. Do you know how strong and permeating the smell of burning tobacco is? When I’m driving, even with my windows closed, I know if someone in the car in front of me is smoking (not because of the cigarette butt that is thoughtlessly flicked out the window). The tobacco actually wafts back to the cars behind you. Ask other non-smokers and they’ll confirm this.

And what about flicking your cigs? Let’s talk about the careless littering. Biodegradable or not, cigarette butts (especially lit ones -- see Cigarette Fire Deaths or States Target Cigarette Fire Risks or Cigarettes Causing Fires) should not be tossed out the window onto the streets and into the fields, or mashed on the road or sidewalk. It’s burning! It’s dangerous! And it’s your garbage and you are responsible for it. You car has an ashtray, why don’t you use it? Because it’s disgusting and smells when it’s full? Hmm…

I’m no longer contributing to an industry that should have been eradicated centuries ago. And I’m saving money. Why do you think cigarettes are so expensive? Because they can be. You will pay anything, and sacrifice other things, to get them. You may not lose your job and sell your house like a cocaine addict, but you’ll drive around for an hour, walk through snow, stand in the rain, and bum them from strangers. What else have you ever asked for from a stranger? “Hey buddy, can I have a piece of your sandwich? I’m really hungry and I don’t have any food on me. I'll get you next time.”

I’m no longer hurting others around me, other than the feelings of some smokers right now. Even when I did smoke, I wouldn’t smoke in the house with my children. And I wouldn’t smoke in the car with them in there either. If you do, you’re either in complete denial about the effects of secondhand smoke or a complete asshole. Probably both. There is nothing to excuse you for putting your children (or anyone else for that matter) through that. Their right to breathe freely trumps any freedoms to which you think you are entitled.

I’m no longer hurting myself, nor increasing the chances those that love me may not have me around as long as they’d like. I knew with every puff that I was hurting myself and needlessly harming my body. It was a constant teeter-totter of guilt and relief. I rationalized it away. I said stupid things like, “Why quit smoking? I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” You know what? If I get hit by a bus tomorrow it’s because I’m an idiot – it’s still my fault for not stopping, looking and listening before I crossed the street.

“There are people who live to their 80s without catching lung cancer.” Well, you don’t catch cancer from someone else. It isn’t an infection or a virus. It is in simple terms, abnormal cells gone out of control. And they destroy normal cells. Ingesting carcinogens on an hourly basis, like the nicotine and 200 other substances in cigarette smoke, bring about unwanted cell transformations (the DNA in your cells is literally altered), creating those abnormal, cancerous cells. Do you really want to risk that? What would you do if you found out it has already started and you still had a chance to stop it?

And for those octogenarians who somehow do survive decades of smoking, what is their quality of life? They hack, they’re strapped to oxygen tanks, they sound miserable (with or without the sporty electronic larynx) and look even worse: their skin, nails and teeth (if they still have them) are disgusting. And though they technically may not have lung cancer, they usually have an assortment of other diseases like emphysema, heart disease, gum disease or another form of cancer besides lung like pancreatic, liver, bladder, mouth, throat, or tongue, or even melanoma. So forget about wagering your chances at health lotto on your Great Aunt Hackina.

I’m not a liar anymore. I don’t rationalize or tell myself lies to make me feel better about continuing my addiction. When I quit I was very proud of myself; but as time went on, I became incredibly angry with myself for taking so long to do it. I only wish I had quit sooner. I quit in 1996 but I had smoked for 20 years. I’m still at risk for all the crap I sucked into my body. I still hope I quit in time. And that’s the point of this blog. Not to argue about your personal freedoms. It’s to offer my perspective, as a former smoker, that you’ve said many of these things to yourself already and somehow haven’t quit, or haven’t given it a serious enough try. You’re hurting yourself and others around you, especially the ones who care about you. If you quit smoking, you won’t be offended by anything in this rant. If you continue, then it’s still worth the risk of you being mad at me, or offended, or dismissing me as a self-righteous a*hole. I can live with that.

I thought of someone besides myself. At first, I quit for me when I was ready and because it was the right time. But part of my reasoning was because I became responsible for others, and how selfish it was of me to ignore that. You don’t have to be a parent to be responsible for others, or to realize that your health, well-being and life has a great effect on others, no matter your age, relation or situation.

So non-smokers will nod their heads, ex-smokers with a little more emphasis and smokers will agree and say, yeah, I should quit, or take offense, or most likely dismiss this rant as drivel from a militant ex-smoker. You’ve heard it all before. Can’t we just leave you alone? Well if you stop smoking around us, we’ll leave you alone. I just hope this motivates you somehow, even subconsciously, to smoke less, or at least think of others when you do light up or toss a lit butt out the car window.

And for my smoking friends and family, I have a right to express my opinions in my blog and don’t write all these things just to prove a point or my side of the argument. It’s because quitting smoking (and not starting again) was the hardest freaking thing I ever did, and I wish I had sought some motivation before 1996. This is straight talk that I know most don’t want to hear, though you’ve said most of these things to yourselves for years. You and I both know that. Quitting is the best thing I ever did!!!! I want you to quit because you will be so happy you did, and we all get to enjoy sharing time on this planet with you for even longer. No one regrets quitting. Find me one person who said “Damn, I wish I hadn’t quit smoking so soon. That was so stupid! Hand me a lighter...”

So how did I start? It was 1976 and I was only 13. I snuck into my mom’s car one night when my parents were out. I found a half-smoked cigarette in her ashtray and lit it up. I puffed on it a couple times and thought, this is kind of boring. Then I inhaled. Tears streamed down my face as I coughed deep and hard for minutes that felt like hours. The taste was absolutely disgusting and the experience was anything but pleasant. It was painful. But I wanted to be cool. I wanted to experience this thing all the cooler kids or "sophisticated" adults were doing.

It wasn’t a right of passage, it was me feeding into my own insecurities and thought that a five-foot two-inch kid would appear bigger and tougher and stronger by smoking. Even though my body did everything it could to tell me this should not be, I persisted. I tried it again a few days later. And then with friends. The resistance and hacking eventually subsided and I started to enjoy it. Then I started to need it. Then I was 33 and a 20-year smoking veteran, wondering what if I got the diagnosis today, and my kids came to see me in a hospital with tubes and ventilators, and I had three months to live, asking me “What about us?” Well I finally wised up and said no more. How long will it take you?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

20 Random Words (Obvious Filler)

Nothing riveting this week. I found an exercise in a comedy writing book aptly titled "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Comedy Writing" by James Mendrinos. Find 20 nouns in a magazine and write something funny about each. I started this a while ago and keep changing them. It ain't Letterman's Top 10, but there are twice as many and it's certainly fun to do. Hope you like 'em!

  • membership - cliques you pay to join
  • jeep - most reliable vehicle made by the government made unreliable by Chrysler. Four wheels, steel cage, rough ride, canvas doors and plastic windows - hasn't changed in 50 years. How do you f' that up?
  • brakes - something we use to let other drivers know we don't like being tailgated - genius strategy, eh?
  • drafting - something we do to let other drivers know they're not moving fast enough - come on!
  • cell phone - I'm still amazed that's what we (Americans) call mobile phones - we didn't call the old one a trans-Atlantic-twisted-copper-wire-cable phone
  • beaches - (1) what I call my posse of women; (2) favorite movie I watch with the girls
  • dolphin - wish I could breathe through the top of my head; then it would be functional not to have hair there instead of just dead sexy
  • holiday - another reason to bitch, binge, gorge, wallow in singlehood and make fun of those who do celebrate (especially those in festive attire)
  • season - I love the change of seasons - that's what people who still have to suffer through winter say
  • flurry - looks like the real stuff but doesn't stick to the roads, yet still causes the same panic
  • stress - (1) a condition caused by work, family, friends, money or whenever your daughter says "Daddy, I need tell you something..."; (2) a condition experienced by the seams of anything worn by William Shatner
  • commute - fancy word for schlep
  • consumer - fancy word for glutton
  • market - fancy word for bidness
  • continental breakfast - really fancy term for free stale bagels and coffee that's turned to molasses by the time you get your lazy ass out of bed
  • HBO - high-brow soft porn (they call them documentaries)
  • Cinemax - low-brow soft porn (no pretending in the genre or titles, just in the actual sexual contact); the correct answer on the SATs would be: National Geographic is to Playboy as HBO is to Cinemax
  • wrangler - one step up in jeans from dungarees (AKA my old Sears toughskins)
  • SUV - vehicle for soccer moms who are too cool for minivans - here's a little secret: it's still a minivan and you're still not cool, just more dangerous with that weapon of mass demolition you're driving while popping your own meth cocktail to keep up with the Joneses
  • fuel economy - when I was a kid, cars got 12 miles to the gallon. When gasoline finally broke $1 per gallon (during the first gas crisis), the country went to Hell. We swore never again! Today gas is over $3 per gallon and SUVs get…never mind

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This Summer's Fall Guy

I know the story is three days old. And anyone who has ever liked, or actually still likes, the game of baseball has an opinion. I still like baseball. I still love the Baltimore Orioles. And I always have an opinion.

I don't enjoy nine seasons in a row under .500, or long losing streaks, but I'm used to it. And I love the underdog, both in this case and in cartoon form. So I've got nothing to complain about.

The Orioles fired manager Sam Perlozzo on Monday. I am not a walking library of baseball stats, or an expert in any sense of the word when it comes to sports. I am just a fan. But I've never understood the firing of a manager in mid-season for a slumping team. I understand you can't fire the owner, nor the players under contract. Some people feel someone should take the fall, but I don't agree one person is ever responsible for the actions of so many, and firing that one person offers a warped sense of satisfaction to those who want something to happen, even if that something is indirect and ultimately futile.

The manager doesn’t swing the bat, doesn’t pitch the ball, doesn’t drop routine fly balls, doesn’t forget to call off other players, doesn’t draft players or negotiate contracts, doesn’t sit his fat ass upon millions of dollars he refuses to spend on talent or pretend as an owner to understand or even care about the game in which he insists on meddling, and he doesn’t inspire adult, professional athletes to do what they were hired to do.

Firing the manager of the team is like keying your CFO's car when your company's stock plummets. It has zero impact on performance but it probably felt good for a minute if you're an a*hole.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Movie-Groaning Experience

I used to love going to the movies. Watching a flick with my friends and a bucket full of popcorn on a gigantic screen in surround sound was one of the best, and relatively cheapest, things to do. Maybe it’s my age (43) but I really think everything about the whole movie-going experience has changed, and for the worst. Read this in the voice of Grandpa Simpson. I know that’s how it sounds to me.

Stadium seating and TXH Surround Sound® is wonderful but what the Hell happened to the patrons? Of the last ten movies I’ve seen in the theatre (yes, the French spelling means I’m sophisticated), and they’ve all been in the past year, none have been without someone there to piss on my parade. I am a magnet for the self-indulgent; people who continually outdo each other in ways to distract me for approximately 90 to 120 minutes.

If I go to see a family-friendly flick like Shrek 1, 2 or 3 or Happy Feet, the more kids the merrier. I love hearing their excitement and laughter. I do not expect a quiet, experience; it’s a party. When I go to see an intense adult flick like Disturbia, I don’t expect to see infants and three year-olds. I understand every parent deserves a break, but putting your kids through the Turkish prison, ball-suspension torture sequence in Midnight Express because you couldn’t find a sitter is freaking ridiculous.

Just two days ago there were three women who came into the theatre after the movie already started (in the row directly behind me of course) and spoke to each other throughout the movie (about the movie!) at conversational volume. So did the couple to the left of me. Then there was the dude checking his blackberry every 10 minutes-it really can’t wait two hours?! And a text-messager in front of me. The theatre is nice and dark and I get white trails in my eyes because of the nuclear glow of a cell phone. I know this is the information age and people can now handle simultaneous streams of input, but I can’t. Not during my stories!

I love the reclining seats in the stadium-style theatres, but that just forces my head into my knees with a side of whiplash when the back of my chair gets kicked every time Lurch re-crosses his legs.

Oh I used to turn around and give them the stare but apparently I’m not very threatening and it just encourages more kicking or talking or texting.

I went to see Hot Fuzz and we were the only people in the theatre. And it was a really nice theatre with individual trays and leather seats. By the time the previews ended and the movie started, there were only eight of us! – all within six feet of each other. Why do you all have to sit next to me, in front of me and behind me? You could have your own section! Why didn’t I move? Once I sit I don’t like to change my seat – call it a neurosis; maybe I’m just that damn lazy. The woman two seats down had a big bag of Doritos®, which she ate two at a time. And she’s the only adult I’ve ever seen who actually chews each bite 32 times. Lucky me. It was like Girls Gone Wild Kingdom. At least she didn’t bray.

Then there are the plot-guessers. I do this when I watch TV so I know how annoying it is, but I don’t do it at the theatre. “Oh it was him. I know he killed her. He knew the code, he was the only one who was at the campus that morning, and he was totally screwing her sister. And he's a Latin professor who drives a Lexus with two worn tires. Can we go now? This was too easy.”

Or the plot-spoilers. Every time I go to see a sci-fi flick, there’s a kid within earshot who’s seen it three times already. And he can’t wait to tell his friend what’s about to happen next. “He dies here.” “He’s really a ghost.” “That's his dad but he doesn't know it yet.”

And my favorite, the play-by-play announcer. “Oh, she didn't like that. She’s getting in the car. She’s slamming the door. She’s driving away. He's running after her! She's getting away...” Excuse me, we're watching this as you are. We don't need audio captioning!

But it isn’t just the young patrons. I take my daughter to afternoon matinees and it’s like a Matlock convention. Just like me, retired folk love the matinee prices (I think they’re only $9.50 now) and they can be home for dinner by 4:00. Problem is, many of them can’t see or hear very well, so they ask their spouse or caretaker for help. Actually, they yell for it.

Grandpa Moses: “What did she say?!!”
Nurse Ratchett: “She said 'I don’t take it up the ass,' Stan.”
Grandpa Moses: “The what?!”
Nurse Ratchett: “The ass, Stan!”
Grandpa Moses: “Oh…shame.”

Regal Entertainment Group, who kindly brought “The Twenty” to my local theatre –

TANGENT: Really? Ticket prices are now $12.50 and everything on the concession menu is eight bucks and I have to sit through advertisements?! Which you get paid for?! If you dropped the ticket price, or even reduced the size of the small soda to two liters, I’d support you, but jeez!

– is testing out a Guest Response System. Movie-goers can alert management of any disturbances with an in-theatre paging device. If they picked me, I’d be buzzing in on that f'ing clicker like Rush Limbaugh on his morphine drip. The theatre would be empty and I could enjoy my movie without ring tones, the blackberry glow, conversations, cud-chewing/lip-smacking/bag-diving gluttons, plot guessers, pivotal moment-spoilers, Marv Albert, or seat-kickers.

Guess I should just stay home next time, huh?

I do have to admit my favorite part of going to the movies is the “In Case of Emergency” clip they run before every movie. It’s about 30 years old and has tons of lines and black spots and a really crappy soundtrack (like an old driver’s ed film). The voiceover says:

“In case of emergency, please walk, do not run, to the nearest emergency exit.” [PAUSE A BEAT] “This notice required by law.”

Cracks me up every time. Why do you tell us this notice is required by law? Couldn’t we just for a moment pretend that you care about your patrons, your fellow human beings?

“We actually don’t care if y’all die in a fire, flood or stampede. We left 20 minutes ago. But we had to tell you. It’s the law.”

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stairway Etiquette

Last week, a friend of mine, Dan, scared the bejesus out of me when we he walked past me on the stairs at work. Why? He didn’t jump out or yell or trip me or anything like that. He simply said hello. The reason it scared me? Because I don’t look up when I’m on the stairs. I stare at my feet. Not because I’m so uncoordinated I may lose the stairway rhythm and stumble (that happens no matter where I’m looking). It’s because I’m totally self-conscious on public staircases. Not of my own lack of balance; it’s from the asses in front of me.

Think about it. Although the mechanical design of a staircase is sound for getting people from one story to the next (it’s better than ramps everywhere), the social design is entirely flawed. If you walk one stair behind the person in front of you, you’re essentially spooning and will get elbowed, slapped or called into the HR office for invading personal space. Plus you really don’t want to know what they had for breakfast through deduction. So we allow at least two, usually three, stairs between ourselves and the next person. However, at three stairs apart, when you look forward, you’re staring into the ass of a stranger; or worse, a colleague. Male or female, it’s just as frightening. So I stare at my feet to avoid seeing the ass of someone else consume my field of view. I’m sure I appear ridiculous or antisocial to others, but that’s OK.

I can’t look forward. It’s like having a conversation with someone who has a lazy eye. I try to play it cool and repeat in my head “stare at the bridge of their nose, stare at the bridge!” That way they feel like it’s genuine eye contact and I may not even notice their involuntary meandering. Instead I panic – I become captivated by the wandering eye and follow its every move like Emmitt Smith on the dance floor.

Hopefully you’ll be self-conscious the next time you hit the stairs at work or the mall so I don’t have to face my neuroses alone.

[Postscript: An Afterword]
Not sure if you care, but there are reasons for my self-consciousness on stairways that I thought I’d explain. When I walk behind a woman (a stranger), I notice when her pace quickens, or her back tightens, or she clutches her purse closer to her body. It kills me. I want to say, “Excuse me… I won’t touch you, rob you, rape you, or hurt you in any way.” But I don’t say anything and I certainly don’t take it personally because I understand. It’s the way of the world and you have to be cautious, aware of your surroundings at all times and keep your guard up.

And even if not threatened, I don’t want a woman to assume I’m staring at her ass. Or when facing each other, anything but her face. You know the old joke a woman says to a man: “Turn around. Now, what color are my eyes?” So when I talk to a woman, I look at her eyes, take note of the color just in case I’m ever pop-quizzed and fight the urge to look anywhere else – not because of a sexual deviancy, but because when someone says don’t look here, what’s the first thing you do? Yes, I overthink everything and constantly put myself into these ridiculous predicaments that are entirely self-created. Woody Allen ain’t got nothin’ on me.

And I’ve got to be one of the most non-threatening people on the planet. I’m not quite 5’6” and don’t have a swagger in my step, or an imaginary board up my bum. But I learned this because I am the cut point in any line. Anywhere there is a long line (waiting to board a plane, waiting to pee at an outdoor concert, or waiting to see Randy, Paula and Simon), I am the person that people walk in front of (and usually clip with their purse or elbow) when there is no gap in a line they need to cut through in a perpendicular fashion. No apologies or a “pardon me”. It’s almost like I’m not there. And they are never worried about my retaliation, which they somehow know just isn’t coming.

I’m not complaining about being viewed as threatening or entirely non-threatening; I just wish y’all would be consistent, that’s all.

Next week: Pranking people who insist on reading their BlackBerries while walking.

Oh, they’re [brown] [blue] [green] [hazel] [amber] [Thriller yellow] [bloodshot].