Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another day, another free event with over 50,000 people in attendance


Kind of on the spur of the moment, I attended the much-hyped Criss Angel event at Clearwater Beach last night. The illusionist was scheduled to "escape" from the condemned Spyglass Inn live before it was imploded on his A&E television show. I was just excited to see a building imploded, something I've always wanted to witness live. Unbelievably, there's no actual video of it up on YouTube yet (of course, that could change by the time you read this), but here is the computer animation of what was supposed to happen:






It went down just like that and was truly an amazing thing to see happen in person. On that front, the evening did not disappoint. Other aspects, however...

We were really too far away to witness the whole magic, great escape aspect but I recorded the show and watched it this morning and it looked kind of corny on tv. What I find strange...and funny...is how many people seem seriously upset after the fact that there might have been some trickery involved. I guess it didn't occur to these people that neither the city of Clearwater nor the company handling the demolition would sign off on a televised stunt where there was real danger. If nothing else, do they really think the guy in charge of pushing the button to set off the explosives is going to do so if it means killing someone? "Sorry, my orders are to push the button at 10:55 and that's what I'm-a gonna do. (BOOM!)" Newsflash: Magicians don't really have magical powers. There's a reason these stunts are called "illusions". Somebody better hide the sharp objects if these people ever hear some of the ugly rumors out there about Santa Claus.

Navigating and exploring Clearwater Beach itself turned out to be the most unpleasant aspect of the whole thing. True, it's really not the kind of area that's set up to handle a sudden influx and egress of 50,000 people but surly parking attendants and (some) restaurant and hotel staff who seemed genuinely annoyed by having to deal with extra customers on a Wednesday evening didn't help matters. When it was over, there were lots of police officers driving around but they didn't seem to be doing much to speed the flow of traffic. I left there at 11:45PM and got home (24.2 miles) at 2:20AM, by which time I was wishing that they'd imploded more than the Spyglass.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Closing time



Looks like Bennigan's, the chain that first answered the question "What would happen if a local neighborhood pub mated with a shopping mall?" is done. Since I'm not really a fan of these kinds of places, especially after my last visit (although, ironically, that one is the only one in Tampa that is still open) I can't say I'm sorry to see them close. However, I definitely feel for the 400 or so employees who lost their jobs with no notice today. Especially since I'm in a similar situation after being laid off by my 9 to 5 a couple of weeks ago. All I can say is it's scary bad out there, folks. I'm kind of bitter about it but wasn't emotionally invested enough in it (as I have been in other jobs) to really be that worked up over it. Sure, I'm worried about paying my bills and that makes me angry but I don't miss the job itself. Let's just say that I'm not going to go there and firebomb the place but if somebody else did, I might be willing to consider taking the rap for it as a gesture of appreciation to the person who did it. Is that passive aggressive enough for you?

A long time ago, I worked in the corporate office for a chain of electronics stores that went out of business. When things were beginning to go south, we (I say 'we' only because I worked there, not because I had any kind of say in the matter) started closing stores. There would be a truck full of guys waiting in the parking lot outside the store at night. They would sit there until the store closed, watching the employees lock up and leave, wait about 10 minutes in case somebody forgot something and came back, and then would move in and clean the store out. Merchandise, fixtures, signage, everything. The next day, the staff would show up to find a gutted store with a padlock on the door. Management wouldn't tell those of us in the office about until after the fact for fear of us calling and tipping the poor suckers off. I think because they were afraid that if the employees knew what was coming they would rip them off. I've seen some pretty scummy things in my time but to this day, that was by far the worst thing I've ever been part of.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I have a feeling Publix is going to get sued again



These are the cooking instructions (two sets, depending if you want chewy or crispy crust) exactly as they appear on a Publix store brand frozen pizza I bought today. Specifically, a "Publix Premium Self-Rising Crust Pizza". I have not altered them in any way. See if you can spot the sequential problem that is going to result in some idiot burning their house down. (NOTE: If you don't, for the sake of safety, please just click here)

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS

For proper food safety and quality follow cooking instructions. Preheat oven. Cook before eating. Do not thaw pizza before baking. Your oven temperature may vary, so adjust baking time and temperature as necessary.

CRISPER CRUST

  • Place pizza directly on the center oven rack.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Remove pizza from box. Remove wrapper and cardboard circle.
  • Pizza may require up to 23-27 minutes of total baking time.
  • Pizza is done when cheese is melted and edges are golden brown.
  • Let pizza stand 5 minutes before serving.

SOFTER CRUST

  • Place pizza on a baking pan on the center rack.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Remove pizza from box. Remove wrapper and cardboard circle.
  • Pizza may require up to 25-28 minutes of total baking time.
  • Pizza is done when cheese is melted and edges are golden brown.
  • Let pizza stand 5 minutes before serving.

It's not what you say...

...but how you say it.


HISTORIA DE UN LETRERO (THE STORY OF A SIGN)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A short conversation about memory


"Hey, I almost forgot to give this back to you. Here you go."

"You can't do that."

"Do what? Give this back to you? Why not? It's yours, I borrowed it a long time ago. Look, I'm sorry it took so long..."

"No, you can't 'almost' forget something."

"Oh, I got it. This is you teaching me a life lesson again, like you're my own personal Yoda or somebody. Do or do not, there is no try. Is that the line?"

"Well, sort of. In this case, you could either remember or you could forget. And if you didn't forget, then you must have remembered. If you had forgotten, would you say that you 'almost remembered'? Of course not. That would be a stupid thing to say. And who says stupid things? That's right, stupid people. I'm just trying to save you from being one of the stupid people. You're welcome, by the way."

"Yeah, see, this is where you want to show me how smart you are and you try to get me to think about the things I do and say but I just get irritated and angry instead. So I want to hit you, but I hesitate for just a second and I do think about the consequences of my impending actions, but only because I think, well, what if you really are like Yoda and can do all kinds of Jedi self defense tricks, because I don't want to get my ass whipped. Then I remember it's just you and I'm pretty sure I can clobber you pretty easily. Somehow though, luckily for you, you always stop a little bit short of making me just that angry, which spares you the beating you so royally deserve and makes future exchanges like this inevitable. So thanks. Good job there, Professor Pain in the ass."

"You know, you're a very angry, hostile person who's incapable of taking constructive criticism. That's why I almost didn't say anything."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Better living through misrepresentation

By now, I presume everybody has heard about the new healthier alternative side order that has been added to Burger King kids meals, "Apple Fries". Presumably, everybody also knows that these are really fresh apple slices and are not fried at all. So why are they called fries? Well, the way they're cut and served, they kind of look like a regular serving of french fries. That's kind of cute, I guess, and it could make it more appetizing to kids. Kudos to Burger King for making an attempt to change the bad eating habits of children. But is this approach of making something you need resemble something that you just want one that can...or should...be applied elsewhere, for the benefit of adults as well as kids? We as a society have pretty much demonstrated that we don't have any self control whatsoever. Maybe we need to be tricked into saving ourselves. Think about it, we could have:
  • Salads that look like lasagna
  • Orange juice that looks like cocaine
  • Trigonometry text books that look like Xboxes
  • Philosophy lectures that look like NFL games
  • Oral hygienists that look like strippers
  • Trade schools that look like Hooters
  • Churches that look like Hooters
  • Hooters that look like hooters

The possibilities are endless...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Get your butch on!

WARNING: The following video should not be viewed by anyone without at least one fully functional set of testicles within arm's reach.

Ladies (see above) and gentlemen (yeah, you too, you fancy lads), I present for your pleasure, A Bunch of Dudes Shooting a Samurai Sword With Guns.
Enjoy!



HELL YEAH!! Hair is suddenly growing in all kinds of places where it shouldn't! I wanna smash a beer bottle over my head, and one over your head too, and then pick up the broken shards, chew 'em up and spit 'em at that guy over there! I'm ripping my shirt off because I am definitely going to jail tonight! RAAARGH!!!

Whew! Okay, does anybody else need to take a moment to collect themselves? Go ahead. I completely understand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stay tuned!!

We've all seen "teasers"; tucked in among regular paid advertisements, these very short blurbs from your local news try to hit you quickly with something very dramatic that will make sure you don't turn the tv off at the end of the night. Or worse (for them), switch over to The Daily Show. It's usually something like, "What you're doing between right now and 11:00 could kill you. Tune in tonight at 11:00 to find out what it is and what you should have been doing about it!"

Every tv station that broadcasts local news does this, even though I can't imagine it's remotely effective here in GoogleNation, where if you care about something, there's no need to ever wait until 11:00 to find out about it. It's entirely possible the management of these stations recognize this and as a result have either stopped trying at all or have gone to the extreme of saying something just to see if anybody is paying attention. How else to explain the teaser that local (Tampa Bay) affiliate WFTS ran (read by Wendy Ryan) during last night's prime time programming:

"One of The Golden Girls has died. Tune in at 11:00."

My thoughts upon hearing this:
  • My god. It's finally happened. We're out of news. Heaven help us all.
  • Well, we are in Florida. I'm sure that show has been, and continues to be, very popular with a certain segment of viewers...
  • ...although you can bet your Early Bird that none of them are still viewing at this hour.
  • I'll bet for that reason channel 28 wishes it was one of the Rolling Stones instead of a Golden Girl.
  • How is it possible that so many of the Rolling Stones are still alive?
  • Gee, I'm sure glad I'm not a relative of one of the actresses on The Golden Girls who just hasn't had a chance to check voice mail.
  • Ok, I wonder which Golden Girl it is...but I'm just too lazy to get up and go to the computer right now to find out. In a battle of uniquely 21st century American attributes, my habitual disinclination to exertion soundly defeats my desire for instant gratification, in this case, the readily available and immediate accesss to information via the internet. Somewhere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin weep softly.
  • It's sad whenever someone passes, regardless, but wouldn't it be at least a little bit awesome if it was an accident involving dirtbikes or kickboxing or sharks? Or all three?!?
  • That's wrong. What the hell is the matter with me?

And for what it's worth, no, I did not stay tuned to find out. After all, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly were on The Daily Show.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Flugtag 2008

The Red Bull Flugtag was presented here on Saturday, for the first time in Tampa Bay, and I attended with a group of friends along with another 110,000 people or so. The arrow on the right indicates roughly where I was. See me? I'm jumping up and down and waving! Hello!
In case you're not familiar with it, Flugtag, a German term meaning "Flying Day", consists of teams of people building homemade, human-powered flying machines and piloting them off a 30-foot high deck in hopes of achieving flight. They never do, though. So it's basically the Superbowl of putting on ridiculous costumes, building stuff and pushing it off a ledge into water. And yes, this is as funny and entertaining as it sounds. When it comes to free entertainment, it's hard to beat people falling into water. Costumes and flying machines that don't just add bonus points.
Tampa is one of three cities to host the event this year, the others being Chicago and Portland, Oregon later this summer. Red Bull has sponsored about 40 of these so far and we (Tampa) set an attendance record, more than doubling the 50,000 that had been projected. I'm not surprised; literally everyone I spoke to for the last two weeks was planning on going. I think event planners were caught off guard though.
  • It was scheduled to begin at 1:00 and we got there at 11:00 when gates were supposed to open. But it was obvious that a lot of people had gotten in and set up camp much earlier than that, as evidenced by us ending up where we did.
  • In spite of previously published warnings about things that wouldn't be allowed in, there weren't even cursory bag searches taking place, at least not at the gate where we entered (right outside the convention center).
  • Food and beverage locations were few and far between, which was a matter of major concern because with that many people packed in that tightly, smack in the middle of the day, smack in the middle of July (why didn't they schedule it for later, like around dusk?), remaining hydrated was of vital importance. Just because we were closer to the hospital than the launch pad doesn't mean I wanted to go there. Eventually, even though we drank plenty of fluids, our group just couldn't hang so we left around 2:00 and watched the rest of it from The Press Box. We had a good time but it was just too hot and too crowded to be enjoyable after a while.
  • A group of people who were probably a little put out would be those presenting and attending METROCON which was taking place simultaneously at the Tampa Convention Center. Some of the more elaborately costumed anime fans might have had legitimate concerns about being mistakenly tossed into the drink by overly lubricated enthusiastic Flugtaggers.
  • I don't think there were nearly enough police officers on hand to handle traffic. We left well before the end and we still wound up stuck in pretty thick traffic on the way out. I can't even imagine what it was like when the event was over.
  • Lastly, I don't understand why the city didn't take advantage of the event to publicize the Riverwalk. After all, that's really where it took place. For all the publicity the event got leading up to the big day, there was never a mention of Mayor Iorio's legacy project and it's proximity to the convention center as well as all the exciting cultural/dining/retail shopping opportunities offered in downtown Tampa...or will be some day...hopefully. I don't know. It just seems like somebody in marketing would have thought of that, that's all.


Overall, it was fun but there's lots of room for improvement if/when it comes back.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cut me off, I've hit my limit

I think I might be done attending meetings, conferences, seminars and classes of any kind. Reason being, I just can't take any more of the people who think the whole purpose of the gathering is for them to talk about themselves. I've talked about this subject before but I really think I'm truly fed up now. I don't have the patience anymore and it's just not good for me. Any benefits derived from the good information and networking opportunities to be found, are always just drowned out and negated by the spotlight monopolizers who apparently didn't get enough show-and-tell time when they were kids. "Look at me! Listen to me! Ngyanh, ngyanh, ngyanh, ngyanh...." These people inspire mentally unhealthy and physically unlikely fantasy scenarios in me. Work out your childhood issues elsewhere and spare me the relentless, self-serving gum flappage before I start feeding you feet-first into your own woodchipper-like maw, ok?
You know who I'm talking about (hopefully you do anyway; I pray I'm not the only person in the world this happens to. That would be a very special Rod Serling-esque hell on earth). They're the people whose fascinating life experiences are so intertwined with the subject matter that you wonder why they're not leading the discussion in the first place. Unless they aren't those people. They could just be random blowhards who get off on interjecting themselves into every conversation whenever they feel like it, just because they feel like it. "Please allow me to take this opportunity, and by take, I mean literally, since none was offered, to disrupt the exchange of ideas and pertinent information to tell everyone how I invented parentheses or some such nonsense. Ngyanh, ngyanh, ngyanh, ngyanh...." Hey, no! No! Up yours, ok? You're about to invent bleeding from the ears. Oh wait, what's that warm trickle I feel? Too late, you already did. Looks like my brain is liquefying itself in an attempt to destroy the parts of it that have to process what you're spewing. Man, I was going to use those parts for other stuff too!
No, I think it's probably healthier if I just stay home from now on.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A short conversation about birthday presents

"Here you go. Happy birthday!"

"Thank you! Oh, it's a bag from Hallmark!"

"Yeah, they have some really clever greeting cards there."

"There's no...there's no card in here."

"Yeah, I couldn't decide what kind of card, you know? Funny or sexy or sexy funny. And when I get stuck, I just cop out and go the gift certificate route. It's easy."

"You got me a gift certificate? For a card? I have to go get my own birthday card?"

"Well..."

"Wait, this isn't even a gift certificate. It's a coupon."

"Yeah."

"For 50% off..."

"Right."

"...purchases of $25 or more."

"Uh huh."

"What could I possibly spend $25 on at Hallmark?"

"You...could buy a whole bunch of cards..."

"Wow, what could...what could be worse?"

"Umm, look down at the bottom there..."

"Oh wait. It's expired. Beautiful."

"Sometimes if you talk to a manager, they'll extend the deadline. Like a grace period."

"It expired in February."

"I know."

"February 2004, to be exact."

"Oh. What? Oh yeah. I didn't even see that. Well, we could maybe, you know, take a pen and try to make the four look like a nine."

"I'm...just astonished. This is beyond thoughtless. Thoughtless means lacking thought. This is actually thought-minus. As in, if consideration were a checking account, you'd be overdrawn right now. You'd be racking up huge penalties and fees and your picture would be posted all over town."

"You're right. I can't even deny it."

"I mean, I have always been able to count on you to give me the most unique gifts, all the time, without fail. When other people get me boring, mundane things, I know you will never fail to surprise me. But this...this just blows me away. It's easily, easily, by far, the worst present I have ever received."

"I have to admit, you're right."

"So what I'm saying is...you've truly outdone yourself this time! Thank you! I love it!"

"Hey, happy birthday! You totally deserve it!"


(Happy Birthday, K)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why sports can still be great sometimes


I sat down to watch the home run derby last night, an exhibition event in conjunction with the major league all star game. I'm a sports fan but I won't sit down and watch whatever game happens to be on. It's kind of hard to be a sports fan these days. There's a lot not to like, with greed and cheating and frankly, just too many games and teams to keep track of, and I can't blame anybody who doesn't get into it. Personally, I have to have either some sort of emotional investment or there has to be some kind of intrigue or I tune out too. Normally something like a home run hitting contest wouldn't even rate turning on the tv in the first place. But tonight, I wanted to see what happened when Texas Rangers (and former rays) outfielder Josh Hamilton came up.
In case you don't know, here's the (very) short story on Hamilton (I encourage you to read more when you get a chance): Drafted first overall by the Rays in 1999, he got injured, made some really stupid personal decisions, became a drunk and a drug addict and was suspended numerous times which resulted in him not playing professional baseball at any level between 2002 and 2006. The Rays stuck with him for as long as possible but lost him to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 2007 season. He was traded by the Reds to the Rangers prior to this season.
The fact that he's even alive is a happy ending to this story as it stands so far. How far down was Hamilton when he was down? Try losing days at a time and waking up in crack houses with strangers. For example:
"I was walking down the double-yellow of a two-lane country highway outside Raleigh when I woke up out of a trance. I was so out of it I had lost consciousness, but my body had kept going, down the middle of the road, cars whizzing by on either side. I had run out of gas on my way to a drug dealer's house, and from there I left the truck and started walking. I had taken Klonopin, a prescription antianxiety drug, along with whatever else I was using at the time, and the combination had put me over the edge. It's the perfect example of what I was: a dead man walking." - Josh Hamilton, ESPN Magazine, July 2007
The fact that he made it to the big leagues after what he put himself through elevates the ending from merely happy to downright miraculous.
Of course, the story isn't over yet. There's no such thing as a former drug addict, which means he'll never be completely out of the woods and he will continue to struggle with addiction on one level or another for the rest of his life. But at least things are looking up for him now. He's hitting .310 with 21 home runs and 95 runs batted in. If you're not a baseball fan, those are very good numbers. In fact, he is currently among the American League leaders in all three of those categories. I've rooted for Hamilton since he was with the Rays, in spite of the fact that he never even wore the uniform shown in the picture above during a major league game. The fact that he is so obviously a human being with flaws who has battled and so far persevered makes me want to root for him automatically. Don't get me wrong; people like Cal Ripken should be admired for their high character and squeaky clean resumes, but as far as examples for people (and yes, children) to emulate, I think there's a lot more practical value in following the example of someone who's screwed up colossally and not let that define them than there is in someone who doesn't really know what it is to royally fuck up. Let's be honest, more of us are going to fall on that side of the ledger than the other at some point. Basically, I'm just a sucker for underdogs and heroic comebacks.
So when Hamilton stepped into the batter's box at Yankee Stadium, I was already hooked. This was before I even knew that he had brought his old American legion coach, 71-year-old Claybon Counsil, with him to pitch to him. When he hit his first home run on the second pitch, I could feel a grin breaking out on my face. By the time he had hit his 10th, I was laughing loudly. And when he was hitting 20, 21, 22 and on, with over 50,000 people on their feet chanting his name "HAM-IL-TON! HAM-IL-TON!", I'll readily admit I was choked up. He finished that round with 28 home runs, a new derby record, including one that travelled 512 feet. In all, he hit 2.36 miles worth of homes runs in that round.
The fact that Hamilton didn't win the home run derby doesn't even matter. He got tired late and Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins took the title. It doesn't detract from the drama and emotion that sports, when it's at it's best, can still produce organically. The kind of drama and emotion that someone in Hollywood will try, and fail, to reproduce when they get around to making a movie about Josh Hamilton, simply because nobody can make up stories as good as the ones that still happen organically in sports.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Retro A Go-Go


Man, people sure do love the past. Whether it's themed restaurants, vintage clothing or golden oldies music, some folks just can't seem to get enough of yesteryear. For instance, I just happened to visit a place today that will blow your mind!

Check this out...

There's a store at the mall that sells what they call "compact discs". Here's how they work; what you do is you buy this cellophane-wrapped container that's about as big as three or four iPods (depending on which model you have). You open it up and take out a round disc that's got an oily, refracted rainbow-looking design on it and put it in some sort of machine to play music! Apparently, that's the way they did it back in the old timey days. Isn't that a hoot? Each "CD" holds between approximately 12 to 18 songs. If you want to listen to more than that, or if you wanted to hear from a different artist or genre, you would have to take the disc out and insert a different one. So people would have to carry their players and untold numbers of these discs around with them wherever they went, just to listen to music while they churned butter or sold war bonds. How nuts is that?!?

I thought there would be lots of senior citizens in there, remembering the "good ol' days", shopping for Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington or Pearl Jam tunes, but there were actually quite a few people in their 20s or even younger. Kooky kids, being ironically hip I guess.

I asked someone what possible appeal could these relics hold for non-cave dwellers? She told me, "It's nice to actually own something solid, something tangible that you can hold in your hand and not just something ethereal like a file that just lives on your computer." Whatever, grandma! You can keep your quaint, archaic notions like CDs and polio and all-white presidential campaigns. What's next? A place that sells gas for $3 a gallon?

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Sorry folks, site's closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya."


(Fear not, non-sports fans; in spite of the many baseball-specific references ahead, this post is not really about baseball. And no, this site is not closing. Yay! or Boo! depending on how you feel about that news.)

Pitcher CC Sabathia's has been in the sports headlines a lot lately because he was recently traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers in what is easily the most dramatic trade so far this season. If you Google his name, you're liable to come across this web site. There are lots of forsaken web sites like this on the internet, like research satellites deployed long ago that are still transmitting to nobody.
Seeing web sites like this is always kind of creepy. It's like coming across an out-of-business toy store or abandoned amusement park. I can't help but wonder what went wrong. At some point there was a person who was so excited about the exploits of CC Sabathia that they went out and registered a URL, designed a site, lovingly gathered statistics, placed pertinent hyperlinks and painstakingly scanned several photos, just so they could share their enthusiasm with the world. What happened four years ago that caused them to lapse? It's not like Sabathia hasn't been successful and therefor worthy of a tribute like this. Did they forget? You'd think his winning last year's Cy Young Award as the American League's best pitcher might have reminded them that they hadn't posted an update since 2004. Maybe they just stopped liking him. Perhaps they had a personal encounter with CC and he was less than pleasant. Unfortunately, that kind of thing happens between sports heroes and fans. But they didn't take the site down. They just...quit. Maybe it was something worse? Some kind of tragic personal circumstances that prohibited them from maintaining the site. Who knows? Apparently, nobody really.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dream jobs



Hey, do you ever think about what you would do if money and insurance weren't important and you decided to chuck your job and just do something you think would be easy, kind of fun and you might be good at it? I know I do. All the time! Not because I hate my job or anything. Sure, it's a relentlessly soul-crushing cycle of mindlessly banal and ultimately insignificant chores that reduces me to something less than a human being who thinks about death a lot but I really enjoy it. I'm talking about sheer escapist fantasy. Because let's face it, these days you're not going to just quit an established job, drop out of the career chase and try to make it on your own individual talents, unless you just happen to be The Most Fearless Person In The Whole Wide World.

But if I could just fart around all the time doing whatever I want and worry even less about my obligations than I do now, here are three things I would probably try:

1. Limo Driver
Talents required: Ability to drive a really big car, gift of gab, familiarity with where stuff is and how to get there.
Pluses: Get paid to live vicariously through people partying their brains out, good hours (usually free during the day time), cash tips.
Minuses: Wearing a suit, cleaning up after assholes (puke) while wearing a suit.
Why it probably wouldn't work out: "Hey, folks? Excuse me. Can I get your attention for a sec? Listen up back there, please. Thank you. I just want you to know that I'm pulling over and you have to get out. Yeah, seriously. All of you, right now, get out. Just get out, right here, on the side of the road. Please. I'm really sorry about this. No, I am serious. Hurry up. I'm sorry, but you insist on playing that godawful Soulja Boy song and I just, you know, I just can't have that. What? Yes, I already told you I'm totally serious. No, you're right, it's probably not the worst song ever made but it's close enough and somebody has to draw a line somewhere, you know? So get the fuck out. Right now. Yeah, I know it's prom night and I know your dad already paid for four hours. Don't worry about it, I'm giving you a full refund, in cash. Have fun or good luck or whatever."

2. Busboy (at a nice place, like a country club or really good steakhouse)
Talents required:
Ability to pour water, fold napkins, set & clear tables and carry dishes without breaking too many of them.
Pluses: I already have experience (back in high school), free meals (whether management knows about it or not), free booze (ditto), cash tips. And at age 44, I would most certainly be Lord of the Busboys.
Minuses: Wearing a ridiculous uniform, cleaning up after rich, sloppy assholes while wearing a ridiculous uniform. And I'm 44.
Why it probably wouldn't work out: I'm 44.

3. Hot Dog Cart Vendor
Talents required: Ability to make change, extensive knowledge of condiments. That's it.
Pluses: Plenty of fresh air, good hours (usually done for the day after lunch), cash tips.
Minuses: Inevitable health problems due to prolonged exposure to hot dog water.
Why it probably wouldn't work out: I have a severely low tolerance for weenie jokes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A short conversation about loud music


"Well, so much for the county doing something about the volume of shows at the amphitheatre. I can hear every single note of Dave Matthews."

"Me too."

"Uh, I don't see how that's possible. It's five miles from my house but you live ten miles away from me. I mean, it's very, very loud, but..."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you. They're doing that godawful Soulja Boy song right now and it is crystal clear. Man, I don't even have my windows open!"

"I think that might just be your next door neighbor's music. That's not a Dave Matthews song."

"I don't know which one it belongs to but it doesn't really matter. They both play that shit loud as hell all the time and I'm getting tired of it."

"Who are you talking about?"

"My next door neighbors. Dave, and his roommate Matt."

"I'm talking about the loud music coming from the Dave Matthews Band concert at the amphitheatre."

"Oh. Well, you can't possibly expect me to be able to hear that from here, you doofus."

"I know. That's what I was trying to..."

"Not with Soulja Boy crankin' it or whatever he's doing right next door. Damn!"

"Well, in spite of his claims to the contrary, he's no Superman, that's for sure. Heh heh. Am I right?"

"What? What the hell are you talking about?"

"Nothing. Never mind. Listen, can you pick me up again tomorrow and Friday? And maybe a couple days next week?"

"Sure! Every day if you need me to."

"From the bottom? Ha ha!"

"Jesus, now what are you talking about, you freak?"

"Nothing. Never mind."
(Thanks, Char B.)

Music

There are five songs on that iMeem playlist in the right margin listed as being by somebody named Qlarq. That's me. I'm Qlarq and I made those songs.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Victimized again!


I got a call this morning on my cell phone from an 800 number. It was a recorded message telling me to call them back regarding a fraud issue with my bank account. Of course, I freaked out and called back immediately. I spoke briefly with someone who put me on hold for almost a half hour. I was at work so I had to hang up before anyone came back. When I called back during my lunch hour, I spoke with someone who took my info and said "we didn't call you." Uh-oh. "Yes you did", I told her. "I'm looking at your number on my cell phone right now." She said "I don't know what to tell you. You might want to call your bank." Double uh-oh! I thought I was talking to the bank. "No", she said, "we're a third party fraud monitoring company that works for your bank." So I hung up and called the 800 number for my bank and asked for the fraud department. I'm not going to tell you who I bank with but it sorta rhymes with Yahoo (I know sometimes it's funny to say something rhymes with a word that actually is the word you're trying to conceal, but that's not what I'm doing here. I don't bank with Yahoo and I don't think you should either. Only because I don't think they're that kind of institution.) I told the guy my whole story up to that point and mentioned that I was concerned about two things: A) my bank account and B) the fact that the people at the first 800 number refused to acknowledge calling me. This guy was either very busy or, you know, an asshole, because I got the very distinct impression that he really wasn't interested in walking me through this. "I don't know about the other 800 number but you don't have to worry about anything because your debit card was cancelled earlier this morning and you'll have your new one in seven to ten days", he said. I told him that I didn't really consider that reassuring since i hadn't requested the card be cancelled and how was I supposed to get cash for the next week and a half and... "Yeah. Ok. Well, you'll have that new card in seven to ten days. Have a nice day. Click!" I'm not sure if he just hung up or actually said the word 'click' but he seemed like the kind of guy who might do something like that. Now I had three problems. I left work early and went to my bank branch and spoke to a manager who was very helpful. He listened to my story, called his superiors and verified the first 800 number was legit and explained that they were probably calling to tell me the card was being cancelled but never got to because I couldn't hang on. He also apologized for the difficulty I'd had on the phone and verified that my account was fine. Long story short, this is probably tied to the whole Sweetbay mess. And it's a pain in the ass but I'm really not at much risk.

So upon learning that I'm apparently a victim of identity theft, albeit probably not significantly, my initial reaction is to think that identity thieves really need to raise their standards. Seriously, who would want to be me? Part of me wants to wish them luck with my identity. Maybe they'll do better with it than I have. Haw haw.

My second reaction is to get my paranoia flowing and barricade myself inside my apartment. I'm not answering the phone, reading text messages or opening email. I'm afraid to check my eBay auction of a small lot of vintage hockey cards. I don't trust my television or even my microwave. I think the toaster and the coffee maker were talking about me just before I went in the kitchen. Sure, they acted like they weren't, being all silent and inanimate, but it was an awkward kind of silent inanimateness-ancy. Just writing this is giving me the heebie jeebies and as soon as it's posted, I'm turning my computer off. I know for a fact that the cats are trying to kill me but that's standard. In fact, their consistency is actually a small source of comfort.

But otherwise, how do I know that everybody else isn't out to get me? I don't!

Monday, July 07, 2008

This is serious

Undoubtedly, the freedom to access information and the exchange of ideas is important to you. If not, you wouldn't be reading blogs, silly ones like this or otherwise. The internet is a resource that people will attempt to exploit in order to make money. Some have done a better job of that than others. But at least these developments have been organic for the most part. That's something that could change...



This isn't something you should dismiss as paranoid fear-mongering. The precedent has been established and history will repeat itself if allowed. It always does. Do something about it. Get educated, get involved and most importantly, demand accountability from those in whom you place your trust when you vote.

(Thanks, Jill)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Overcoming compulsion through nature


Did you ever get it in your head to do something? To the point where it becomes an obsession?

I live in a second floor apartment with a balcony patio porch thing. I don't even know what it's officially called. I have a couple chairs out there and sometimes, when the weather is nice, I sit out there and play my guitar. Actually, what I do is sit out there with my guitar while guitar music plays on a sterero inside and I pretend I'm playing it. I do this to get the attention of women who might be attracted to the kind of guy who sits outside on a balcony, patio and/or porch and play the guitar. It's really not working. That's really the only thing I ever do out there and I only do this when the weather is nice. And since I don't classify "hotter than Mercury" as "nice", that means I haven't been out there since February. There are several large trees surrounding my building and when dead branches break off, they fall on to my balcony patio porch thing and stay there. There's a lot of sticks out there right now. It kind of looks like a high-rise beaver dam. It's been on my mind to go out there and clean it up but I get distracted easily and I just haven't gotten around to it. But today for some reason, it was bugging me. I kept looking out there and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I decided I was going to clean that mess up today, no matter what. Understand something, this would not be a big project. All I'd have to do is go out there and kick them off and let the law of gravity determine that they fall where they may. For some reason, even though my mind was made up, I didn't go out and do it right away. I kept doing other things instead, including watching tv and reading the paper, but the idea never left my head. Finally...finally!...I got up to go out and do it. The problem is, the timing of this decision coincided with a fairly nasty (aka standard Tampa Bay) summer thunderstorm. No matter. I was committed and a little obsessed with doing this chore. I thought, "I want to do this now. Right now. I want to do nothing else right now. I'm doing it now. Right this minute. There's nothing in the world I want more right now than to get rid of those sticks." the weather would not be a deterrent. In fact, I'm willing to concede the fact that my downstairs neighbor might blame the storm (and not me) for all the timber that he would invariably find on his patio porch thing was kind of appealing.

So I opened the door and before I could set foot outside, I was blasted with spray, like I was in a car wash with the windows down. It wasn't just the rain but the splash of the water coming off the roof and overflowing from the gutter. I was prepared to get wet but not drown, so this gave me pause. Still, I pushed forward and got all the way out, becoming completely drenched in about five seconds. But before I could make another move, there was a brilliant flash of light followed immediately by what sounded like a hydrogen bomb going off, indicating an extremely close lightning strike. That's when I went inside. And stayed there. There are two things you don't screw around with in Florida; alligators and lightning. If you have to choose, pick alligators because there's a possibility, albeit anorexically slim, that you might be able to win a fight with an alligator. Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world and residents learn that fact quickly or they don't remain residents for very long (the key requirement for residency status is being alive).

Meanwhile, those sticks aren't going to hurt anybody, even if they're still there in September. Which they probably will.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Who killed the golden goose?

There's a Coke machine in my apartment complex, located at the pool which is between my apartment and the mailbox. I would often stop at this machine to purchase delicious Coca Cola products. Coke Zero, to be exact. It tastes exactly like regular Coke! Seriously, you can't taste any difference at all! (I'm sorry, that's a lie, but it's something all people who drink diet beverages are obligated to say from time to time for some reason. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it ain't that good. What is? Nothing, that's what.)

But it wasn't just for the sake of convenience that I would patronize this machine. You see, this was a very special Coke machine. Special, in that it would frequently give you two cans of soda for the price of one. And by "frequently", I mean every single time. You would put your .75 in, there would be rumbling inside the machine and then THUNK, a frosty can filled with sugary, carbonated goodness would roll out. Then, a couple of seconds later, another rumble and THUNK, a second can would appear! Two cans for .75? That's rolling back prices all the way to Mayberry, circa 1960 right there! Oh happy, happy day!

Some people might consider this stealing. You know who you are, and I can hear you out there, in your own voice, saying that to me. I (of course) don't see it that way. To me, this machine is an official representative of the Coca Cola Company. It's got logos and little TMs and R's all over it, just like a Coca Cola truck or an employee in a company polo shirt. Looks pretty official to me. And if an official representative, robotic in nature or otherwise, wants to reward me with free product, well who am I to refuse? Times being what they are, that would be just plain foolish.

Today after picking up my mail, I stopped to get my buy one, get one usual, but this time only one can came out. I stood there for a minute, puzzled, when a neighbor told me, "it's been fixed." I couldn't believe it. Why? How? "Somebody put up a note telling the Coke man what was happening and he fixed it. No more free sodas", he said sadly. At that moment, I think I know exactly how Cheif Bromden felt when he realized that the R.P. McMurphy he knew and loved was gone.

I wanted to pick that machine up, carry it across the pool deck with Coke Zero spraying everywhere and hurl it threw a window as a form of protest. But those things are crazy heavy, you know. Besides, what's done is done. The important thing to do now is to find out who put that note there and begin making their life a living hell in order to drive them out of our community. Because there's no telling what a sick mind like that is truly capable of.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I'm really not a jerk...


...but I could be wrong. Sure, I have my moments. Those of us who are cynical and sarcastic have naturally inherent, deep-rooted jerk tendencies. It's like a zebra trying to tell you it's not a horse. Dude, you're strange looking, and it's odd that you talk, but you are definitely a member of the horse family.
I guess I should say I don't think I'm a jerk all the time. Or more accurately, I'm not as big a jerk as I could be. I think the keys are discretion and restraint. Picking your spots and not always unloading with both barrels is important. I haven't always been good at either of those things but I think I've improved with age.
For instance, here's something that happened recently...
I used to work in the sports and entertainment industry. I did that for over 20 years. As a result, I've met people in the industry with whom I remain friends (that's not the jerk part of the story, I don't really know anybody powerful or influential, mostly just ham-and-egger working stiffs like me. I'm just giving you background to set-up what follows). I recently had tickets to a show at a nearby venue. I mentioned this to a friend who happened to work there. She invited me to come by early, beat the crowd and visit for a little while. I told her I would and if she needed help with anything, I could kill time by pitching in. As it turns out, nothing needed to be done when I arrived and I was just sitting there peacefully, minding my business, not hurting anyone, not even in a restricted area, waiting to make chit-chat with my friend. Now that I think about it, if people would just leave me alone, I could probably get by in life without ever being a jerk. To anyone! That's probably never going to happen though, because for whatever reason, I'm somebody who seems not only approachable but fuck-withable to strangers, especially those with attitude.
So as I was sitting there, perfectly well-behaved, serene and happy, a volunteer usher named Russell came up to me and asked, "Are you the sound man?" I answered no. "Well, are you the lighting guy?" No again. "Well, who are you then?" I smiled and said, "I'm just here to help out if needed. I guess I'm a volunteer." He said "You don't look like a volunteer. You're not wearing a black t-shirt, you don't have a nametag and you didn't bring a flashlight." He was right. I had none of those things. So I told him I was actually a guest of his supervisor, which was true, but ready to help if necessary. I felt a little jerkness for playing that card, but I was polite and I figured that would end it.
Wrong.
I went back to happily minding my own business as Russell started giving a lecture to some other ushers on the science of how to read tickets (yes, seriously). For no good reason whatsoever, he decided to sneer at me and call me out. "You might want to take some notes on this." Damn it, why?!? Why, why, why did he have to go and make me to want to say, "Let me tell you something...Russell? Is that what it says on your little paper nametag there? Here's the thing, Russell; I've worked professionally in the sports and entertainment industry in venue management for over 20 years. I've been all over this particular venue dozens of times. And I've seen more tickets in my life than you have ass pimples. Now, I have no idea how many ass pimples you actually have but I'm guessing it's a lot. Regardless of all those facts, I've taken such an immediate and intense dislike to you and your attitude that not only do I not want to take note of what you're saying right now, but I can not imagine a single circumstance on earth that would make me take the slightest interest in anything you say, up to and including 'help me, help me, wolverines are tearing my flesh, please dear god, help me' and that's something I'd normally at least turn around to see. And just for the record, I didn't bring it with me, but I do have a flashlight and it's considerably bigger than yours."
However, I didn't say that. It would take a real jerk to say that to someone. Instead, and I have no idea why, since I only saw the movie once and it was when it came out back in 1991, I quoted the t-shirt Bill Murray wore in 'What About Bob?' and said "Don't hassle me. I'm local." See?
Okay, I really am a jerk.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Profiles In Panhandling


(NOTE: I do not hate poor people and I do not hate the homeless. I sincerely empathize with anyone who's finding it difficult to just survive these days under any circumstances. I've always been, and suspect I always will be, closer to poor than wealthy so I do honestly feel for people who are struggling. I can not be clear enough on that point. But I do hate bums. And by bums, I mean those who expect handouts just because they do nothing more than ask for them. I mostly hate them for making me feel cynical and uncaring towards people who might really need help when I say no and for making me feel like a chump when I say yes. Specifically, I mean I hate assholes like the two listed below)

#1: White male, mid 40's to early 50's, just north of the Tampa Theatre on Franklin Street around 11:00 at night on a Friday.
AMOUNT SOUGHT: $16
FOR: Bus ticket from Tampa to New York City.
THE PITCH: "I'm in town to bury my father. But I left my suitcase unattended at the bus station and some homeless bastard stole it. It had my wallet, my clothes, everything in it and now I can't get home. I filed a police report but they're not helping. I went to a church and they gave me a little money but I still just need another $16."
AMOUNT GIVEN: $0
That's a sad story and I would hate to be in his shoes, but I knew it was bullshit simply because the same guy has hit me up with the same story at least twice before. And he was wearing different CLEAN clothes each time. Actually, I think I might have given him a couple bucks the first time I heard it because it actually seemed somewhat credible. Now I'm over it. I said, "That's terrible. Homeless guy, huh? Bastard! As a police detective, I hate what those homeless bastards have done to this city, it's residents and it's visitors, like yourself. Well, you said you've filed a report. Do you have the file number? I can make a couple of calls and see if we've been able to turn anything up. Sometimes they'll dump what they don't need and we can recover some of your other personal effects. You never know. I can call the evidence room and see if anything has been turned in. What's that number?" He said, "Are you really a cop?" and I replied "Well, if you're not really a panhandler then yes, I'm really a cop". To which he said "Wait...Huh?" and I answered "Exactly". He got the last word when he told me to go perform a physically impossible sex act without assistance.


#2: White female, anywhere between her mid 20's to late 50's (very difficult to tell) near the Royal Regional parking lot, just north of the Courtyard Marriott around 8:30 in the morning on a week day.
AMOUNT SOUGHT: Any
FOR: Coffee or cigarettes or whatever.
THE PITCH: (to me and a small group of commuters who just happened to be walking in the same direction at the same time) "Does anybody have any spare change I can have so I can buy some coffee or cigarettes or whatever?"
AMOUNT GIVEN: $0
Are you kidding me? First of all, what's with the mass broadcast approach? I appreciate the attempt at efficiency but I'm an individual! Where's the personal touch? Well, don't take that literally. I really don't want any personal touching, thank you. Secondly, the two items she bothered to mention by name would probably be best classified as luxury items, not exactly essential-for-survival. Plus, it didn't even sound like she knew what she wanted. She might go the mall, hang out, pick up a pack of smokes, get a decaf latte, or just "whatever". What, is she my long lost 16-year-old daughter? I've never been panhandled to help finance a shopping spree before. Come on!

Say, that's some swell calendar, Harry!


I was looking for calendars in an office supply catalogue yesterday. Please don't ask why I'm shopping for calendars in June. It's really not important. The point of the story is I saw this intriguing line of ad copy: "With a 28 pager for extra months or art work to a standard 24 pager, these calendars assure you enjoy each month of the year."

Wow. That's a pretty big promise for a calendar to make, don't you think? How exactly does it intend to accomplish this? A calendar's function is to keep track of days, weeks, months and years, not fill them with joy. A calendar can tell you when Christmas is but it is not capable of giving you a gift. Even if all 24 pages (that's 28 pages for you jet setters) are decorated with the very best pictures of baby animals, leggy pin-up girls (that's shirtless firefighters for you gals...or dudes. Hey, I don't care. This blog is what you make it.) or popular cartoons you've already seen hundreds of times, I just don't think that's an assurance that any calendar can keep. And what do you think is going to happen if I have a shitty month and I want my money back? "Hey, February sucked. Sure, I always knew what day it was, I was never late for an appointment and I learned something new and interesting about black history every single day. But that doesn't mean I enjoyed it." They're not going to give me a nickel. They'll probably tell me the guy who writes blurbs for the catalogue had peaked creatively with the catalogue they put out six years ago, which wasn't even as good as the one they did nine years ago, and he's been coasting ever since. So this year he didn't even try at all and just recycled some of the same tired, old nonsense that he's gotten by on before. Sort of (exactly) like what Mike Myers did with "The Love Guru".
Or maybe they'll say there was a typo and they actually meant CALENDER, a machine in which cloth, paper, or the like, is smoothed, glazed, etc., by pressing between rotating cylinders, in which case a guarantee of year-round enjoyment makes complete sense.
Well, either way, I'll tell them that somebody needs to tighten up the operation down at the ol' office supply catalogue. If they're going to make bold statements about assuring people's happiness, they better damn well be ready to back them up.