Thursday, August 29, 2013

Subway Hit List

Now that Katie Ett is no longer writing her ruminations on public transit, I feel I should step into the fray on her behalf.  Baltimore may not have the hustle and bustle of NYC, but that doesn't mean getting around town is not without its common annoyances.  So with that, I bring you:

Brief Letters to People I Hate on the Subway

To: Person Who Walks up to the Train at the last Second and Tries to Butt in Front of Me
From: Guy Who Was Standing There First

If you want to get on the train in front of me, show up earlier and claim that piece of real estate before I do.  Trust me; I know where that train door is going to open and I’m not standing there by accident.  I may be a couple of feet behind the yellow line, but that is not in invitation for you to wedge yourself between me and the train door.  When I see you coming next time, you can expect to run into my shoulder, because I’ll be planted there waiting for you.

To: Person Who Wanders Onto the Train and Then Stands There Deciding Which Direction to go and What Seat to Take, While People Streaming in the Other Doors are Claiming All the Seats.
From: Guy Who has to Stand Because He Couldn't Get Around your Big Ass.

There are windows on the train, through which you can see where the empty seats are.  Get in the door and get in a seat.  You’re not picking a door on Let’s Make a Deal, so get on with it.  You are especially annoying when I am the one who let you step in front of me to get on the train first.

To: Person That Has All Her Shit on the Seat Beside Her
From: Guy Who Has to Stand Because You Won’t Move Your Shit

Is your bag of crap so important and/or valuable that it needs its own seat, while other people have to stand?  No?  I didn't think so.  Now kindly put your shit on the floor or your lap, because just like every day at rush hour, this is a crowded train.  Next time, I’m grabbing your bag and tossing it out the door.

To: Dude Who’s Lounging Across Both Seats, Glaring at Anyone Who Dares to Approach
From: Guy Who Has to Stand Because You’re Tired from Breaking into Cars All Day

Straighten the eff up.  Unless you’re wide enough to need both sides of the seat, slide your gangsta ass over and let someone take a load off.  Oh, and pull your pants up.

To: Lady Wearing a Quart of Noxious Perfume
From: Guy Who’s About to Hurl on your Floral Dress

I’m riding backwards and reading tiny newspaper type.  Unless you want a new print on your dress, maybe 1 spritz of Eau de Paint Thinner will suffice, in lieu of 7.  Thanks for the dizzy headache.

To: Lady Who Steps Off the Train and Immediately Stops
From: Guy Who Just Put Skid Marks on the Floor Trying to Stop, so he Doesn't Walk Right Up Your Back

You’re one half step away from having an entire subway car full of people fall on top of you.  When you get off the train, for chrissakes, keep going.  Decide where you’re going AFTER you’re clear of traffic.  And the same goes for the person that walks out the subway station doors and stops.  Keep going, or you may get trucked right into the #54 bus.  Some of us are eager to get home.

To: Person Who Steps up Right Beside Someone Else on the Escalator and Then Stops
From: Guy Who is Forced to Stare at Your Lumpy Ass for the Next 75 Seconds

You are the colon blockage of the subway system.  Do you see that empty corridor of escalator stairs opening up in front of you?  Now look behind you.  Do you see a line of people staring holes in the back of your head, because you apparently think this is some kind of Disney ride?  We’re all plotting your demise.  Now take one step up, and then one step to the side.  Was that so hard?  Some of us have somewhere we need to be… 
See that open space up ahead?  I could be using it if you people weren't clogging up the works.  (Source)
The escalator is like the highway; pass on the left, stand on the right.   Of course, as a Baltimore resident, I can’t assume that you've ever heard that rule before.  Oh, and you are especially annoying if, as with the Aisle Drifter, I was kind enough to let you step on the escalator ahead of me.  Now it’s all I can to not to knock your head into that of the person beside you, just to hear the Three Stooges “coconut” sound.

Thank you all for your kind attention.

Your buddy, Bluz

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Got Beef?

People often talk about how we get crankier as we get older.  I’m here to tell you that it’s not a myth.  I do things now that would have horrified my younger self.  Maybe it’s due to a growing intolerance of the buffoonery we see around us every day, or maybe it’s our becoming more comfortable with not giving a shit what people think of us.  When I was younger, I’d never do anything that would create waves in public.  I’d receive bad service and apologize for asking for a correction. 

Suffice to say, I’m over that now.  After working in retail for as long as I did, I know what constitutes good service and what doesn't.  And that doesn't mean bawling out the waiter because I don’t some management-related policy.  I try to keep any display of irritation focused on the actual cause; not just the person that’s handy.

Here’s what set me off this week…

I went to see an Orioles game over the weekend.  It was a glorious, sunshiny day; just perfect for baseball.  I needed a little “me” time so I went to the game by myself, and got a seat in my new favorite spot: the club level in left field.
This was my view from section 274.
I misjudged how quickly my section would be shaded, so after a couple innings, I moved down to a shaded spot in the corner, two sections down.
Updated view from section 270.  Similar view, but made in the shade.
I’d gone to my usual bar before the game, and had my usual foot-long bratwurst, and then got some nachos to top it off.  But by the time the 7th inning rolled around (like, 6 hours later), I felt the need to get something else to nosh on.  I wasn't completely sure, though.  I could always pick up something on the way home.  I was kind of on the fence.

Anyway, at the top of the 7th, I got up and took a leak, and then cruised around the club level to see if anything looked good.  I checked into getting a hot pretzel, but they were all out.  Next thing you know, I found myself at the club level version of Boog’s Barbeque.  I recalled from the playoff game I went to last year, that this location really loads up a pit beef sandwich, so I stepped up to the line.

There was one couple in front of me, talking with the “chef,” (he had a big white hat), as he made their sandwiches.  He looked up at me and said, “Do you want something?

I said, “Well… yeah.”

I mean, why else would I be standing there in line?

By now, the game was into inning break, aka the “7th Inning Stretch.”  That’s where the Orioles always play “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”  (Really.  Don’t ask.)  Apparently this is also the point where the food stands start packing up.

So the chef says to me, “OK, but usually when I hear this song, I know I’m done.

In a flash of irritation, I said, “Fine, be done,” and I spun and walked out.  I could hear him trying to call me back, and then explaining to the other couple that he would have served me. 

I didn't say anything further.  But what I wanted to say was, “What kind of customer service is THAT, where you make your customer feel like you’re doing him a favor by allowing the privilege of paying 10 bucks for a freakin’ sandwich?”  I hate that attitude.

It wasn't like everything was all cleaned up.  I could see a big tub of roast beef right in front of him.  I wasn't asking him to create something special, after he put everything away… all he had to do was stick some beef on a bun and take my money.

In earlier years, I wouldn't have said boo; I’d have just waited for my sandwich in silence and thanked him for serving me.  But I know that a customer shouldn't be made to feel like he’s imposing, just for daring to ask a server to do his job.

When I told her about it, Sitcom Kelly thought I was just a little bit Sen-si-tive.  Maybe I was just on the fence about wanting to eat again.  Or maybe I’m becoming an old crank.

I had something similar happen to me at a Wendy’s a year or two ago, only it was more about incompetence than insensitivity.

I was ordering my double-cheeseburger, just like always: with pickles, tomato, lettuce and mustard.  I heard the cashier call it out just like I said it.  I stepped aside to wait for my order and saw the line person begin to assemble it.  Problem was that she added onions.  (I hate onions.)

So I called out, “Hey, I didn't order onions on the double-cheese… just pickles, tomato, lettuce and mustardNo onions!

She said, “What?

The cashier echoed my order… no onions, just pickle tomato, lettuce, mustard.  They went back and forth about it for a moment or so, to clear up the apparent confusion.

When the line person went back to re-do the burger, and I stepped away to draw my fountain drink.  I picked up my order and went to my seat, but as soon as I unwrapped the burger… onions.  After all that commotion, they still got it wrong.

Again, a wave of irritation washed over me and before I could think about it twice, I put my finger through the loops of onion, pulled them off the burger and went back up to the counter.  Schlapping them down on the counter I said, “Here are the onions I asked you to hold,” then went back to my seat.

They were lucky that was all I said (and that I didn't throw the onions back into the prep area, Frisbee-style).  I don’t mean to have hissy fits out in public, but I expect simple competence.  In the past, I would have merely removed the onions and set them aside, but this time, it was important to me to make a point… that point being, “Listen to your customerYour ingredients are not interchangeableSome of us have strong likes and dislikes.”

Was I being too melodramatic?  I hope not… I kind of enjoy this new-found freedom to express displeasure.  Normally, I’m the nicest customer ever because I know how hard it is to serve the public.  But I also recognize when people are just going through the motions.  And I also know that places like Wendy’s and Burger King have systems in place to keep orders straight.  Errors happen when people take shortcuts and don’t pay attention. 

I know that often times, customers contribute to the error, by not communicating clearly, or having outrageous expectations, but I’d like to think I know better.  I’m more than happy to give the benefit of the doubt. 

It doesn't come up every day, but sometimes things happen, lines get crossed, and I just see red.  I mean, I was up at that Wendy’s counter before I could even think about it.  By the time I sat down, I was like, “Seriously, did I just do that?”  But I felt they needed to know that something was grossly wrong with their quality control efforts, if not for me but for the benefit of future customers.  (You’re welcome.)

So do you think I over-reacted in either of those cases?  What would you have done?  Is there anything that makes you get snippy with people right there in the store?  (Talking to yourself in the car doesn't count.)

Or have I just become a grumpy old man?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prom Night

Just in case I don’t feel geeky enough on a regular basis, I suppose I should tell the story of my prom night.  I alluded to it in my post about being on my high school newspaper and writing a gossip column called, “The Ear.”

I never went to the prom as a sophomore or junior, because I was terrified.  Even though I had a girlfriend, a big dress-up event like prom was so intimidating to me.  I had no idea what it entailed or what I was supposed to do.  When the girlfriend first mentioned it, (as sophomores) I was like, “Sorry, no freakin’ way.”

Remember, I was incredibly naïve and completely without “game.”  Aside from being devoted, I was terrible boyfriend.  I eventually told her I’d take her, if she really wanted to go.  This came so late in the year, it was probably too late.  Anyway, she appreciated the gesture, but said we could wait for the next year.

By the end of our junior year, I don’t think we were dating any more.  (I’d have to look it up.)  Regardless, we weren't in a good place, so we didn't do prom then either. 

At the end of my senior year, I wanted to go to prom but I was still single and didn't have much in the way of “prospects,” so I didn't know what to do.  I some solid friends in Rik, John, Brill and Billy G, most of whom were going, and it sounded like a good partying opportunity.

I seriously had no idea who to ask.  I had a number of female friends I spoke with during classes, but no one with whom I was particularly close.  One day, as I was walking between classes with one of them, the subject of prom came up and she said something like, “Who would take this old cow to prom.”

Oh man, what an opening!  I pounced and said, “Hey, why don’t you go to prom with me?

No dice.  She stammered something about being in a “complicated” situation and turned me down. 

It there was any consolation, my buddy Billy was in the same boat as me.  He’d only been at the school for a year, so he didn't know that many people.  I had the same problem, and I’d been there for three.

So, we came up with a plan… we’d each ask one of the sophomore girls that worked with us on the newspaper staff.  My target was the girl who was my “Ear” counterpart.  We’d been working together all year, she was cute, and I was getting desperate.  It would be a big deal for a sophomore to go to the prom with a senior right?

Of course, right.  She accepted, so Hot Damn, this boy was going to prom!  Billy’s girl accepted too and Rik was bringing his girlfriend from out of town, who was even younger than my date.  I don’t remember if John was planning on going with his girlfriend or not.  I do know that it didn't matter, because at our senior picnic, John got tossed in the creek and cracked his head on a big rock, sending him to the hospital.  That put him out of commission for a while.  (The rock was fine.)

The biggest dilemma seemed to be what we were going to do after prom.  I had absolutely no idea, and leaned on Rik to come up with something, since he was practically a lifer in our town.  All he knew about was some vague notion about a party down by the river.  (Yeah, I know, that sounded shady as hell.) 

All during the lead-up to the prom, my date kept asking about the post-prom plans.  I’m sure her parents were concerned about what some sketchy senior had in mind for their little girl.

I finally caught a break when a girl from my physics class, (coincidentally, the same one that shot me down as a date), said I should come to this other classmate’s party, in the ritzy section of our little town.  I didn't know the host very well (technically, I didn't know her at all), but this was the de facto after-prom party for the National Honor Society and “upper-class” crowd, so I jumped at the chance to have a tangible plan.  My date was most gratified to have something that “wasn't down-by-the-river” related to tell to her parents.

Now, before you get too wrapped up in expectations here, let me clarify something.  While I liked the girl I was taking, we had no romantic history, so I wasn't expecting to make out with her or anything.  In fact, it was like an overly fancy first date.  I wouldn't have minded if it led to something, but I wasn't exactly in “hot pursuit.”  We went out one other time after prom night, I think, as part of a double date.

And Billy, he had no designs on his date at all.  He just wanted someone to walk in the door with.  So it was no surprise that once we all got there, Rik and Bill disappeared out to someone’s car, to get their drink on.  My date and Bill’s date were part of the sophomore prom committee, so they spent the evening running around and doing “prom stuff,” like circulating and collecting King and Queen ballots and whatnot.  I barely saw her all night.

Our theme was “Fantasy Island.”  I’m not sure any teenager fantasizes about sweating through his suit-jacket in a hotel ballroom.
I basically spent the evening with Rik’s date.  She didn't know anyone there, so we talked most of the night.  In fact, she was the first girl I ever danced with, you know, in public.  She wanted to dance right away, but I wasn't a dancer at all, so I said I’d slow-dance with her, if they played a slow song.

Next thing you know, they played “Stairway to Heaven,” which fit the bill, so we slow-danced to that.  It was nice.  She was tall (as well as cute), so we fit together well.  Anyway, I forgot about the part in “Stairway” when they speed it up at the end, so I then had to fumble my way through my first fast dance in public, as well.

Things loosened up after dinner.  By then, I think everyone but me had been out to their car for a few belts.  All I really remember after dinner was a bunch of us dancing and carrying on, and then Billy yelling for everyone to do “The Worm,” whereupon he threw himself down on the ground and began thrashing about.  I think some people thought he was having a seizure.  And it was even funnier because practically no one knew who the hell he was.  His date wished she didn't either.

After surviving the event, we eventually landed at the after-party.  Finally, I could get a beer.  Unfortunately, my date did as well… in fact, she had many beers and ended up drunk and yammering for one of my classmates. 

Where’s Shhteve?  Heesh the only one that undershtandshh meeee.”

I don’t think he even knew who she was.  Meanwhile, Bill’s date and I tried to keep her out of trouble.  I don’t know if Rik was there or not.  I think he grabbed his date and took off for his house, for a little hot monkey love.  I don’t remember Billy being at the party either.  He might have been banned after his performance on the dance floor.

Bill’s date was staying at my date’s house for the night, so I took the both of them home at the appointed hour.  (They had to be home by 11:00, I think.)  Bill’s date was very appreciative that I looked out for them and got them home safely.  As she helped my date into the house, I went back to the party.

It was a good night for me, not so much because it was prom, but it was a chance for my classmates to see me in a social setting, with a beer in my hand.  To tell the truth, many of them were shocked.  They’d never seen me party before, probably because I was new to it, and hadn't partied with anyone but my buddies.  That summer, I found myself at more parties, wondering why I never got out in the previous years.

Prom night was also fortuitous because we didn't know Bill very well either.  But after his “performance’ at the prom, (coming on the heels of his stunt at my first party,) we knew we needed to hang out with that guy a lot more. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Right up the Old Kazoo

A song came on my MP3 player the other day, which reminded me of one of my family’s classic pranks, from back in the early 80s. Let me set the stage…

Back then, it was our practice to keep in touch with our departed friends via cassette tape. (Obviously, I mean “departed” as in “departed from our neighborhood,” as opposed to “departed this life.”) Mostly, we sent tapes back and forth with our buddy Billy G, who had moved to Georgia. It was a fun way of keeping in touch and a way in which the recipient could hear from several people all at once.

So, my dad had a friend who lived in Worchester Mass, and went by the name of “The Lob.”  You may remember The Lob from a previous post called “The Legend of the Rattler,” where in an audio clip, Dad tells the story of a red-eye train trip he took with The Lob, that left them falling down drunk... literally.

Dad decided that we should do a tape for The Lob, and since he was providing the Barn and the beer, we were up for it. The Lob knew our neighborhood group from when he came along on one of our Steelers/Browns trips to Cleveland. Since he was basically a 50-year-old kid anyway, he fit right in.

Director’s DVD Commentary: “The Lob” is an old-time term for one’s junk. I have no idea how the guy came by the nickname, (I suspect it was self-appointed), but I’m sure there are a lot of people that know him by that name only.

I don’t remember all that we did on that tape, but I remember two bits. In one, Dad simply brought the tape recorder around to everyone and asked what we thought of The Lob. That brought this exchange with one of our teen-aged neighbor girls:

Dad: What do YOU think of The Lob?
Girl: I LOVE The Lob!

Dad said The Lob played that part over and over. I think the girl thought he was called The Lob because of his tennis game.

The other bit took a bit more planning. 

Remember back in the early 80s, when they had songs out like “Stars on 45” or “Hooked on Classics?”  They were made up of a bunch of song snippets all strung together, usually with a disco beat behind them. “Hooked on Classics” was made up of famous riffs from classical music.

I had a bunch of Doctor Demento compilation records and on one of them, there was something called “Kazooed on Klassics,” by a group called the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra.  Basically, it was 2 minutes of “Hooked on Classics,” done on kazoos. You may have even heard a part of it before… it was used in “16 Candles” for a scene on a school bus. Anyway, it was fairly intricate, with multiple parts all going at once, not unlike an orchestra.

We were including some goofy Doctor Demento stuff for the Lob Tape when it occurred to me, due to my college radio training, that we could make it sound like it was us performing the song. I had a kazoo myself, and with some audio sleight of hand, we were able to sell the story.

Dad went into a big introduction about how we got all the kids in the neighborhood together to practice a song for him, and how we worked so hard on it. Then to “introduce the band,” we went around the room and Dad would ask, “Are you ready?

The person would answer yes, and then give a toot on the kazoo. Then he’d ask the next person, we’d pass him the kazoo, and they’d give a toot, and so on.

After we’d all blown a note on Kazoo, bringing to mind a whole Kazoo-tooting army, he counted us down: OK, 1….2…3!

(This is the real song, not “our version.” I love how the William Tell Overture goes right into the Can-Can. Straaange bedfellows.)

We recorded the song using a portable tape player, as opposed to taping it internally with the stereo.  That way, our vocalizations and exhortations could be heard simultaneously with the song. And because I was an “experienced radio DJ,” I knew how to have the needle on the record ahead of time, so the needle plunking down on the record wouldn't come across on tape. I was just praying it wouldn't skip. When the song ended, we all erupted in cheers, as if we’d just given the performance of a lifetime.

We totally pulled it off. When we played it back, it really sounded like it was us playing the song.  Luckily, The Lob didn’t know us well enough to know that we would have been completely incapable of playing something that intricate, without months of practice. (And who had time for that, when there was so much beer to drink?)

Usually, when I made a tape for someone, I’d knock off a copy for myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that with The Lob Tape. I’d love to hear it again, to see if it was as good as I remember.

Anyway, Dad said The Lob bought our act completely. He said he was touched that we’d put in that much effort just to entertain him. I kept asking Dad when he was going to tell him that it was actually a record, but Dad wouldn’t tell him. Even now, it’s 30 years later and he still hasn’t told him about it. To me, a prank isn’t a prank until the victim realizes it’s a prank. 

Knowing Dad, he’s probably got a second part to the plan, just waiting for the right moment…

And just so you don’t think we were picking on the guy, he and Dad had a long history of pranking each other and sending joke packages. This little con fit right in.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Minding One's Pees and Q's

This post was inspired by my blog sister Thoughtsy, who today wrote about the difficulty involved in trying to pee for five seconds on a pregnancy test stick.

Poor Thoughtsy hadn't considered all the backsplash and whatnot, and then couldn't get at the TP in the dispenser.  I feel bad about her having such a traumatic experience, although not as badly as I feel for anyone in an adjoining stall, to whom it must have sounded like being trapped in a car wash.

It’s unfortunate that it has to be the girl who takes the pregnancy test, because guys are totally built for that little exercise.  If we pay attention, we can hit a floating cigarette butt as it swirls down a flushing toilet, without losing contact.  (On the down-side, we rarely pay that much attention, hence our well-known predisposition to leave telltale residue on the floor outside the bowl.)

In Thoughtsy’s comment section, many people offered up their own pee-stick stories.  While I obviously never had to pee on a stick, I still have a story to contribute.  I was going to tell it there, but figured it was too long for a comment, but just the right size for a short post right here. 

First of all, let me say this isn't exactly my story; it happened to someone I know quite well.

The guy in question had to take a drug test before starting a new job.  He was not worried about the test, because he did not use drugs, so fear of failure was never a concern.  He just took the usual precautions to avoid poppy seed bagels and such.

He went to the office where the testing was done, having saved up a nice full bladder.  It was so full, in fact, that out of concern for overfilling the container and possibly making a mess in the room, he decided to pee in the toilet first, and then fill the container.

This proved to be an unfortunate decision, as he misjudged the interval at which he should switch receptacles, and by the time he began filling the container, he was unable to produce enough to fill it up to the required level.  (I believe there was a fill-to line on the cup.) 

To remedy the situation, he decided to dip the container into the toilet, to make up the difference.  Same stuff, right?

So, cut to when he hands the specimen to the technician.  (I wonder if they’re called Pee Technicians… It would sound so respectable at parties to say, “Yeah, I’m a P-Tech down at Johnson Labs…”)

Immediately the P-Tech looks at him all cockeyed and says, “I can’t accept this… it’s too cold.  The sample has to be warm.

Apparently, diluting one’s sample with toilet water is a frequent means of attempting to beat the test, so she had seen this scenario before.  She said that he would have to produce another sample without leaving the office, or else he’d have to reschedule for another day.  He tried to explain what happened, but she wasn't having it; to her, he was just another druggie trying to game the system.

Because he didn't want to go through all this again another day, he had to wait it out, there in the office.  He spent the next hour or two pounding glasses of water and pacing around the room.

This time he filled the container first, and when he brought it out to the P-Tech, he said, “Here… is this one warm enough for you?”

He’s lucky she didn't “accidentally” drop it on his shoes and make him do it again, just for being a wise guy.

It’s funny, this must be National Blog About Pee Week or something.  If only Thoughtsy had use of this device, she would have been over and done with that test in no time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Memory Snippet

My computer monitor is on the fritz, so I'm bringing you this post courtesy of my Ipad. So please excuse any changes in style for this post.  The writing, however, will remain true to the mediocre quality to which you've become accustomed.

I got a new set of sheets this week.  Pinky put them on the bed Thursday night, and the when I got into them that night, I had a flashback to the days (or more specifically, nights) of my youth.  

I used to absolutely love the day when my mom would change the sheets on my bed.  I'd come home from school and she'd say, "Fresh bed tonight!"

"Fresh bed."  That's exactly what it was, too.  Mom could make a bed more tightly than anyone I ever knew.  Sure, I'd have to make my bed every morning, but I couldn't do it well at all.  So when Mom made the Fresh Bed, I'd take great pains to keep it intact for as long as I could.  

First of all, I'd never turn the covers down.  I'd sit way up on my pillow, slip my toes under the covers, and then wiggle myself down into bed, so I'd be wrapped up tight, like a 6-foot burrito.  (And you should have seen the gymnastics involved in jamming all of ME into a place the width of a pillow.)

Secondly, I'm not a real "active" sleeper; I rarely thrash about and mess up the covers.  I usually just "revolve," turning from back, to side, to stomach, to other side, and so on throughout the night.  In the morning, I'd wiggle back up out from under the covers, the same way I'd gone in.  That way, not only did the bed remain all tight and cozy, I didn't have to make the bed in the morning.

If I was careful, I could keep the bed tight for about a week.

I know you can get maids to come in and clean for you... I wonder if there's a service that will come in and make your bed every day...

I'm pretty sure Mom is unavailable these days...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How About we Cut the Kid a Break?

I knew I shouldn't have looked.  It was like in those horror movies, when you’re yelling, “Don’t open the door!  Don’t open the door!

I was reading on the Yahoo news page about the latest developments in the case where 16-year old Hannah Anderson was kidnapped by a close family friend, who also killed her mother and brother.  The three of them had gone to the man’s house for a day of go-kart riding.  Six days later, (last Saturday) she was rescued when she and her kidnapper were spotted in the Idaho wilderness.  He was killed by police, in a shootout.

Among the developments:
*  This week, the girl was on an online social media service, answering questions about her ordeal. 

*  The police determined she and her captor had exchanged 13 cell phone calls on the day of her kidnapping.

*  He had taken the girl on trips before, to Hollywood and Malibu.

Then, against my better judgment, I looked at the comments after the article.  My friend, the fastest way to lose respect for your fellow man is to read the comments after a Yahoo news article.  It doesn't even make any difference what it’s about. 

I was going to write about something else today, but I couldn't get the disappointment out of my head.  People were tearing this poor girl up

Some were claiming the whole story was fishy, because the girl had been in repeated contact with the guy via cell phone on the same day she was kidnapped.  They think she was in on the whole thing, in an apparent scheme to have her mother killed.  Others were claiming the parents were negligent for allowing her to go anywhere with him.  More still criticize her for being online answering questions, and not appearing more upset.

It’s funny how people presume to know something about which they actually know jack shit.  It’s like they watch a few TV shows, so now they’re experts on behavioral psychology and deductive reasoning.  Then they watch shows like Nancy Grace, which is only about a couple of logs short of the Salem Witch burnings, and demand to go from the rescue straight to sentencing the victim.

I’ll give you that these comments strike a nerve because some of those same arguments were thrown at me, back when MY buddy’s 10-year old daughter flew out to stay with me for a couple days.  (I wrote all about that, here.)  What these jackals fail to realize is that not everyone is a murderous pervert.  There could have been any number of reasonable explanations for these allegedly damning details.

People have to remember that this guy was a family friend who had been closely involved with the family.  As far as anyone knew, there was no reason for mistrust.  Sure, 13 calls might seem like a little much, but we don’t know what was going on.  Maybe he was supposed to pick her up from school.  Maybe they were arranging details regarding their upcoming visit.  Maybe the call kept dropping before they were finished.  Maybe friends were interrupting her. 

The point is you can’t immediately jump to the conclusion that proves she wanted to kill her mother.  There can be no certainty in the absence of information.  If jumping to conclusions was an Olympic event, this would be a country full of gold medalists.

The same goes for her online presence.  Apparently, she’d been active on this particular site, was inactive during her disappearance, and then restarted when she got back.  I saw some of the Q and A and I thought she handled things as well as can be expected.  People were asking her very blunt and pointed questions, which she answered as she saw fit, including that she thought her captor “deserved what he got.”

People are like, “She’s not upset enough, so she must have set it all up.”

Where do people get off charging that she wasn't upset enough?  First of all, people process tragedy in their own ways.  Maybe she’s numb.  Maybe she doesn't know what to make of it all, after being abused by someone she knew well.  Or maybe she’s handling it the way teenagers handle everything… by talking about it online.

Secondly, no one can see what goes on, on the other side of the monitor.  Words are stark, especially when pecked into a cell phone.  They don’t necessarily reflect the angst that might have gone on behind the scenes when typing out these answers.  The poor girl is sixteen.  What the hell do these emotional vampires expect, another Twilight book?

I’m pretty sure if I were to endure some kind of trauma, the first thing I’d do upon recovery is talk to you about it right here.  I mean, look at the whole Kidney Stone saga!  And if there had been blogs back in the 80’s, I’d have written The Whatsername Trilogy way back then.  It seems to me it’s perfectly rational for her to talk about her experience online.  Either that or I have the emotional sensibility of a 16-year old girl.

As far as I can tell, there’s no reason she can’t talk about her experience as she sees fit.  It’s not like she can give away information that could hinder a prosecution; the dude is dead.  There’s not going to be any show trial.

It’s an added tragedy that this case will cast doubts on all relationships between grownups and their friends’ children.  My friends and other neighborhood kids all had relationships with my parents, and even went places with them, like to football games in Cleveland.  My buddies and I are all “Uncles” to each other’s kids, and if I had any of my own, I wouldn't hesitate at all to send them out to hang with their Uncles.  It’s good to have a grownup to talk to, when a kid is not inclined to speak to their own parent, for whatever reason.  It’s a way to strengthen the whole tribe.

It kills me that this asshole used that trust to destroy a family, and in doing so, made it harder for the rest of us to maintain positive, productive bi-generational relationships.

I don’t know the entire story of what happened to Hannah Anderson last week and I’m pretty damned sure that the rest of these Yahoos don’t either.  Maybe she is some sort of 16-year old evil mastermind.  Or maybe she’s just a kid that got terrorized by a nutjob.  But how about we let the facts come out before making judgments and coming to conclusions?  How about we cut the girl a break and refrain from making asinine accusations based on presumption and hysteria?

At least until the next high-profile atrocity comes along…

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Odd Bits - The Run-by Fruiting Edition

OK, it’s time to get my head out of the 80s and see what’s going on around here.

Biggest news around these parts is about when the Orioles were in the 9th inning break in San Francisco, over the weekend, someone in the stands threw a banana onto the field, by O’s centerfielder, Adam Jones.  (Jones is African-American.)

No one in the media noticed at the time, but that changed once Jones placed the following tweet:

That got people’s attention. 

Jones is a regular presence on the Twitter, so his tweet drew quite a number of responses.  The sad part was that so many were defending the banana tosser.  You’d think that we were past squeezing out the giant pile of blatant, steaming racism, and into more subtler, “Voter ID” forms of racism, but this incident, as well as the one with that Missouri rodeo clown in the Obama mask, shows there’s still a glaring blind spot in our communal eye.

To be fair, a person claiming to be Banana Boy called into a radio station to apologize, saying he was just mad at the Giants for sucking so badly, and grabbed a banana off a fruit stand and throwing it.  He said there was no racist intent, as he didn't even know Jones was in the area.

Perhaps that’s true, if the caller really was the Mad Fruit Bomber, but isn't throwing anything on the field an obvious no-no?  I believe the only acceptable object to be thrown onto a baseball field is a home run ball hit by the opposition.  Other than that, you can throw up, throw down, throw a fit, throw a pose, or throw the baby out with the bathwater, but don’t throw anything on the playing field.

When bananas go bad.
What I want to know, besides why a baseball park has a fruit cart, is why did the guy choose to throw a banana?  Wouldn't an apple or orange be a better “throwing fruit?”  All I can figure is that maybe the dude wasn't trying to throw anything on the field at all… he was trying to use the banana for the boomerang effect.

Sadly, he totally slipped on banana appeal.

The Fall Season
Last night, another fan was killed from a fall at a baseball game.  This time, it was in Atlanta, where a fan fell from an upper level, 65 feet down to the parking lot below.  This is the third such case, in recent years, where someone has died from a fall at a ballpark.

It’s a tragedy; I don’t know what else there is to say.  I guess they ought to put up some higher railings.  I’m just surprised that these things don’t happen more often, and not only from ramps and platforms, but from the seats.  Those upper deck seating areas can be pretty steep.  I always worry about toppling ass-over-elbows all the way down the steps whenever I’m up there, even without beer…  And it’s scary because it seems like the upper deck is where you find the most troublemakers.  If you get in a scuffle up there, it’s not hard to imagine taking a pretty long tumble.

Delayed Gratification
There was an article today about another delay in implementing a featured benefit of Obamacare.  It seems they’re delaying the establishment of out-of-pocket caps for at least another year, to give the insurance companies more time to refine their computer models or whatnot.

Naturally, the Republicans are all over it, both criticizing Obamacare in general, and taking care to support the delay.  In fact, besides taking useless symbolic votes in The House, their primary tactic seems to be running out the clock.  They know the longer they can delay the engagement of the most beneficial parts of Obamacare, the more time they have to regain control of the Senate and/or Presidency, and repeal it altogether.  The worst thing that can happen to them is to have it roll out and become popular.

They only win if they can keep people afraid of it long enough to win the next elections.  If people are taking advantage of their new-found benefits, it’s going to be hard for them to explain why they’re trying to kill something that helps so many people.  The GOP can’t very well tell them the truth, which is that it’s not helping “their” people. 

The Republicans aren't interested in consumer protection.  They’re interested in protecting business from consumers.

The Next Development in Transportation: The Habitrail
Have you heard about the next big thing in rapid transit?  The guy that founded Paypal, Tesla Motors and (private space travel company) Space-X, is developing a tube-like long distance transportation system, which runs similarly to the way you send your deposit in to the teller at a drive-up bank window.

The capsules in this tube are supposed to run at over 700 mph, in an enclosed tube using fans, magnets and a cushion of air, like that on an air-hockey table.  That’s a rate that would take you from LA to San Francisco in a half an hour.

It’s an interesting idea… it’s fast, environmentally friendly, safe, and will probably never come to fruition.  I mention the latter because there’s no way the Powers That Be (namely the fossil fuel, automotive and airline industries) will let this thing get built as is.  Well, at least not without mitigating all the advantages.

With a price tag for construction at almost 70 billion, I’d have to wonder how much a ticket would cost an average consumer.  With that kind of layout, it would take quite a while for it to become profitable. 

That’s why I’m guessing that if things ever get serious with the HyperLoop, (as it’s called), the aforementioned Powers That Be will lobby hard to attach various requirements to ensure the production costs go even higher, thus making it more and more difficult to break even, thus scuttling even the most conservative business model.

They’ll never make any money if only the 1%ers can afford a ticket, making it an earthbound version of Concorde.

But damn, I bet it would be a fun ride.  Can you imagine going 700 mph on the ground?  Geez, I could sit down in the bathroom car in Los Angeles, (if there is such a thing) and by the time I’m done with my article, I’d be wiping my butt in San Jose.

OMG, what if the bathroom fan interfered with the fans producing the car’s velocity?  I’d hate for the captain to have to get on the speaker and be like, “We’re sorry, we’re going to be a little late getting into San Francisco, because someone couldn't pass up second helpings on Burrito Day.”

Proud Mary
I had lunch today with Mary, who is a good friend of mine, and about 10 years my senior.  She and I founded our company’s ragtag band of Steeler fan rebels, called the Steel City Underground.  Because it was threatening rain, she carried her black and gold Steelers umbrella, which reminded her to tell me the following story.

The other day, it was raining (again) so she was using her Steelers umbrella as she walked up the street to our office building in downtown Baltimore.  Suddenly she saw a car come veering over to the sidewalk, right where she was walking.  She was initially worried that the driver was in distress, but that idea was soon dismissed as he rolled by and splashed her with the water standing by the curb.  His window was open and he shouted out, “You fuckin' Steeler bitch!

Nice, Baltimore, very classy.  Way to pick on a sweet little lady.   That right there says everything you ever need to know about Ratbird fans. And to think I was going to lighten up on the Rattie abuse this year.  “Charm City,” my ass.  I can’t wait for football season to start.  When they don’t repeat as Super Bowl Champions, (and they won’t), it will be just as sweet as the Steelers winning another one.

OK, almost as sweet…  I don’t want to get blasé about it just because we've had so much more practice at winning Super Bowls.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bright College Days Part 4: The Parties!

Because I was a commuter student, I really didn't hit the off campus bars very often, until I got into my senior year.  But that’s not to say I didn't party in town.  Four of the BMK guys had a off campus apartment, known as “616” (for the address of the place).  They were good for 4-5 amazing parties per school year.
The 616 House, as it stands today.  Which is not much different than how it looked 30 years ago.
Remember that post where I wrote about leaving my buddy John’s wedding reception and going to an off-campus party?  And I was introduced to “Hairy Buffalo” (a concoction featuring pure grain alcohol), returned to the party and while helping to carry a keg out of the hall, tumbled ass-over-elbows down the cement steps and onto the sidewalk?  That was a 616 party I went to.

I learned that lesson early on; not to trust anything that someone makes in a giant barrel.  But they did teach me a few excellent new drinks.  I’m a basic straight-whiskey or gin and tonic man, but these are good.  In the fall, try mixing cinnamon schnapps and apple cider.  It’s like drinking an apple pie.  In the winter, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps is just like a warm York peppermint patty.  You’re welcome.

And I often needed warming up, because every year, on the 3rd Saturday of January, they held the annual Beach Party, where everyone wore shorts and t-shirts, they grilled outside and played summer music like The Cars or Beach Boys.  Man, you should have seen the looks on the party store clerk’s face when I’d come rolling in to buy beer during a January ice storm, wearing short and a T-shirt.  When I think back, I don’t know how I survived college, I really don’t.

Another favorite party was the time they had the Gore/Porn Film Festival and Dinner Party.  That’s where we watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, while eating chili.  The porn was really soft-core; I believe they showed Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.  They were like classic monster movies, only with tits.

Most of the parties were un-themed.  Soon after I started attending, I would bring my crate of records.  The “house” collection was stuck in the 60s and 70s, which have their place, but I brought the current stuff.  At least this way, there was always something around that I wanted to hear.  Plus, I liked to feel useful in the eyes of the upperclassmen.

That party I wrote about, where my girlfriend couldn’t attend (again) and I ended up snuggling with some hot blonde, in front of all my girlfriend’s friends?  That was a 616 party.  There was always the possibility of hookup drama at a 616 party.  (Not that I ever actually hooked up there.  There I was, in the middle of the pre-AIDS sexual revolution and I still couldn't get laid.  #NoGame )

That Halloween costume party I wrote about in 2009, where I dressed up like Tommy Chong and brought a giant joint made out of chewing tobacco?  That was a 616 party.  As I was walking up the street to the house and cars were honking at me, I began to reconsider the wisdom of carrying such an authentic-looking joint out in the open.  I hoped if a cop picked me up, he’d be a Good ol’ Boy, and be able to recognize chewing tobacco when he’d see it.

The thing was, when you partied at 616, you never knew where the night was going to end up.  I remember one night when we ran out of beer, about a dozen of us piled into the bed of a pickup truck, went out to the drive-thru beer store, and then since we were already out, the drive-thru at McDonalds. 

It was funny, we passed a hat around the pickup, and then at the end, the last guy was counting out the money and was like:

Nineteen, twenty, twenty twenty-five, twenty fifty… hey, who put in the condom?”

The 616 House was very good for the Commuters who were “townies.”  I, however, who lived 40 minutes away, always had to worry about the long drive home, after a long, hard party.  It’s really a wonder I always made it home.  I know for a fact that there were nights when I absolutely, positively should not have been behind the wheel.  But I didn't feel like I had many options.

I didn't have anywhere in town to stay over, nor did anyone else live up in my neck of the woods.  I could either sleep in the bathtub, (where someone had probably hurled that night), or run the gauntlet home.  Fortunately for me, there was not a heavy police presence along my route.

The only time I ever encountered a cop while coming home from a party was a night when I really needed one.  My car broke down about halfway home, in the middle of nowhere.  While I was valiantly trying to restart the car, a cop rolled up behind me.  Man, nothing sobers you up like those lights in the mirror.

Anyway, I pulled my shit together and the cop never (acted as if he) suspected me of drinking.  He used his car to push mine into a nearby parking lot, and then drove me to the nearest gas station to call home.  When I reached my dad, he told me that all the cars were out, so he couldn't come get me.  To my eternal thanks, the cop ended up taking me all the way home.  Believe me, I was certainly unnerved riding all the way home with the cop, knowing that I’d just been pounding beers, but it worked out. 

There was another time I broke down, but there were no cops to be found.  This time, my escape was even more improbable.  I made my way to the closest house (the houses were not close together at all!) and there was no one home there but a mother and her daughter, and the LET ME IN!  Ah, country folk… so trusting.

I was sure they wouldn't help… I mean, who would let some tall terrorist-looking stranger into their isolated house in the middle of the night?  But I put on my best manners and they let me use their phone to call for a ride.  We made small talk about their Siamese cat, while I waited.  Maybe they figured if the cat likes someone, he must be OK.  Eventually, my ride came, and all was well. 

So tell me, is there an old "party house" in your past?  What kind of shenanigans were you up to?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bright College Days-Part 3

In my last post, I wrote about the place where I spent most of my time on campus, the Off-Campus Commuter Center.  I had previously Google-searched for pictures of the interior, from when it was still located in Moseley Hall, but I couldn't find squat.  (The Center moved from that location in the early 2000s.)  But I did find some exterior shots; unfortunately, I forgot to merge them into the post.  I’ll make up for that today.
Our entrance was that lower door to the left of the stairs.
I remember I had this one 2-hour class on the 2nd floor of Moseley Hall.  About halfway through, the prof would give us a 10-minute break, and I’d head down to the Commuter Center.  I don’t think I ever made it back up for the last half of the class.  I have no idea how I passed his class.

Other memories of the Commuter Center:
  • The big picture window in the front of the main room, clearly labeled, “The Accu-Weather Window.” 
  • Caption Contests!  Whenever a funny picture would run in the school newspaper, especially if the subject was someone from student government with whom we’d quarreled, we’d initiate a caption contest.   Imagine a hundred of the same picture taped up on a wall, with captions of wildly ranging taste and propriety.  It was especially funny when the subject would catch wind of what we’d done, and come down for a look.  Suffice to say, some took it better than others. 
  • Getting Food Machined!  Three vending machines stood side by side in a small corridor just off the main room.  On special occasions like birthdays, or if someone was being especially sassy to the upperclassmen, a group would surround the target, hoist him or her up on their shoulders, and toss him on top of the food machines.  I think they got me once, on my birthday, but I managed to avoid it for the most part.  Sometimes quite a chase would ensue, over and under tables and all around the main room.  But no one ever completely escaped their fate.  The Food Machiners always had the advantage of numbers. 
I found the idea so amusing; I made my first 8mm short film about a food machining.  I still have the reel… someday I've got to get put on a DVD.

  • Writing for the COCO newspaper, the BG Wheels.  It was kind of the same as working on my high school paper, only we produced an actual newspaper.  
  • Panel of Experts.  Whatever problem you had, there was someone in the Commuter Center who could help you.  Whether it was math, writing, computer programming or where to get the best pizza, or just navigate the campus bureaucracy, someone had already solved the problem and could help you with yours. 
  • Pizzzzzaaa!   This is where I first discovered Myles Pizza.  (You know, that place I go every time I return to Ohio, and treat my friends to a shitload of pizza, and then take the rest home?)  Sitting in the Commuter Center was where I first experienced the joy of pizza delivery.  Lord knows how many classes I cut because of these words: “Hey bluz, do you wanna go in on a pizza with me?”  I could never say no.
    What would you rather do, sit in Broadcast History class, or eat this?
  • I loved knowing that when I was on the radio, they always tuned in my show on the PA system.  For better or worse, anyway.  The downside was that when I screwed up (and my first year, I screwed up a LOT), everyone heard it. 
  • COCO/World Student Union parties. Well, one in particular, when our organization and the World Student Union co-hosted a party in the Commuter Center.  I remember this one because while we supplied the facility, decorations and refreshments, the WSU brought in the DJ, who would only play foreign songs requested by his clients.  
I threw a royal fit and after rousing all the rabble, ended up leaving with a bunch of my colleagues, turning all the lights on as we left.  (You know, terrorism started in earnest shortly after that.  Still… not my fault.)

  • Discovering Monty Python.  I heard a couple of friends talking nonsense about a penguin on the television set, in high-pitched English accents.  Sensing my confusion, they were amazed to learn I hadn't heard of Monty Python.  One of them brought in a couple of albums for me to borrow and the second I heard The Argument Clinic, I was hooked for life. 
  • Graffiti.  The graffiti in the men’s room was legendary.  It grew so pervasive that one year, the facilities coordinator painted the wall with blackboard-style paint, and left sticks of chalk.  (It wasn't nearly as much fun after that, though.) 
  • Lolling in the courtyard.  One of the best things about BGSU was that it had a great deal of open green space, including a large common area in front of Moseley Hall.  It was great in the spring, when the weather turned nice, to go sprawl out on the grass and catch up on assigned reading, (at least until someone pulled me into a Frisbee game 10 minutes later).  I embraced the accomplishment of both tanning and schoolwork at the same time.  Obviously I was an early adopter of multi-tasking.
Prime summertime sprawling area.
  • The annual visit from the traveling preachers.  One spring during my freshman year, I was out reading on the common, as mentioned above, when suddenly this old guy (probably 45-50, which is younger than me right now, so let me pause to kick my own ass for being a wiseguy), literally jumped up on a tree stump and began hectoring the passing students with both insults and Bible verses. 
I joined the crowd gathering around to see what was going on and it was kind of disturbing.  The preacher was basically calling most everyone sinners.  Any girl that wasn't covered from chin to toe was a whore, and every guy was a whoremonger, and we were all fornicators.  Some students yelled back or tried to argue with him, but he wasn't there to listen, he was there to yell his biblical interpretations at us.  It was strictly a one-way street.

Coming from a traditional Catholic background, I was kind of unnerved by this kind of Old Tyme Religion.  A bit later, I went back to the Commuter Center to ask what was up with this guy.  When I mentioned there was a preacher out there, all of the “Old Warhorses” got up en masse to go watch the show.

I learned that this was an annual rite of spring.  These preachers had a circuit of campuses they hit every year.  The guy I saw was Brother Max.  There was also Sister Cindy and their leader, Brother Jed.

Once I got used to the deal, it became much more entertaining.  It always upset the freshmen though.  Like me, most weren't used to having their moral upbringing called into question in the public square, just by standing there.

The best time was when the campus chaplain, Bible in hand, had a verse for verse throw-down with Jed, basically proving that you can make the Bible support or contest most anything you want.

  • BMK off-campus parties!  OK, that’s going to have to be a post all by itself.