Friday, August 31, 2012

Now, get to know one another

As I mentioned on Monday, I've become disillusioned with the political process. Disillusion leads to cynicism and I find myself very close to standing on a street corner and screaming, "the only fundamental difference between the candidates you expect me to choose between is that they disagree on how to spend the money that's left over from the financial institutions that one them!" Or, just sleeping in on election day, because, really, who gives a shit?

I really don't want to become one of those, though. And the only way to fight that off that makes sense to my naive and simplistic sensibility is to bolster my faith in humanity as a collective by appreciating people as individuals. Hence the self-indulgent exercise this week in getting to know people who represent political persuasions. Self-indulgent, in that it was as much for my benefit as anyone else. If you did get some benefit out of it, I'm glad, but it's still "help me to help me."

I want to thank Nancy, Mark and Sean for participating, but beyond that, I want to thank them for not saying anything derisive about the president and his family or his opponent and his family. I want to thank them for not threatening to move to Canada if they don't get their way in the upcoming elections. And mostly I want to thank them for not invoking any tiered, paranoid rhetoric about needing to be fearful of stormtroopers showing up on our doorsteps in the middle of the night to take away our guns or vaginas or anything else we care about at least as much. I asked them to try to answer on their own behalf as much as possible and not on behalf of the spectrum they represent. I'm sure they all might have strayed a little bit from that edict but that's understandable and perfectly fine.
 
It's entirely possible that you're cynical too, even if you're passionate about the political process, maybe even to a higher degree than I am or that you want to admit. It's entirely possible you read these interviews and said about one of the people, "that's fine, he/she seems nice, but I assure you that they're the exception, not the rule." If so, I would challenge that assertion by saying that the only reason you know about these people is that you took time to sit down and read the answers they gave in their own words to direct questions. If they were people you saw at the mall wearing a t-shirt or on tv carrying a sign, that wouldn't be the case. I'd also like to point out that these were simply the first volunteers to raise their hand when I sought them out on Twitter and they were not screened in any way. Anybody want to calculate those odds?

Point being, if you took time to sit down and get to know these people as individuals, you might find that there are more exceptions to the rule than you had previously thought. Find somebody to talk to, not yell at. I really don't think you'll have to look that hard. And besides, if your message needs all that volume to be heard, you might want to consider the possibility that your message isn't
all that strong to begin with.

Ultimately, do I want to see a society where we all get along and things function so well that we have time to sit around and braid daisies into each others' hair? Sweet Christ, no! What would be the fun in that?
No, but I do believe (if you'll pardon just a smidge of tired, paranoid rhetoric on my part) that there are those who profit by keeping us ignorant of the fact that ultimately, we have much more in common with each other than not. And if we could keep that in mind and apply that whole "E pluribus unum" credo, we could really get some stuff done that actually improves the quality of our day-to-day life. That's all.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Get to know A Self-Described Conservative At Odds With The So-Called Tea Party

Our S.D.C.A.O.W.T.S.C.T.P's name is Sean Henry. He is 44 years old and says his job is to "sell some tickets and a few hot dogs" in "Smashville", which means he is the President/COO of the NHL's Nashville Predators. In the interest of full disclosure, he used to be one my many, many bosses.


Why do you consider yourself a conservative or liberal? A liberal conservative

Have you always been a conservative or a liberal?
I thought I was right of center a few years ago, but now as the pendulum has swung, I am pretty liberal.

Do you believe the other guys are bad people?
I think they show bad traits in trying to harness the far, far, far, far tea-bagged right.

Do you think the other guys have any good ideas at all?
Of course, lost often in their sound bites and political games.

Do you regard them as inferior in any way?
I do when it comes to social concerns.

Would the world be a better place if they simply didn't exist?
No, because you need a bad guy to have a good one; hello, ever watch superhero movies?

Why is their opinion fundamentally flawed? Greed and hate is not something that can make us a better country.

Do you see any flaws in the philosophies you believe in?
Of course, but my flaws hurt the few to benefit the masses.

Is there any point in taking opposing viewpoints into consideration?
There is when talking about solutions to create something better, but not to sacrifice just to compromise.

What would you say is your one biggest problem with the other guys?
Their desire to be back in power and that they are willing to align their views with anyone; see McCain in 2008.

Is it more important to you that the causes and candidates you support win or that the opponents lose?
I like winning. Someone has to lose though, so I am happy when it is not me.

Do you honestly believe that victory for your candidates and causes in elections is what's best for the greater common good of everyone, whether they necessarily like it or not, and if not, is satisfying the needs of a select few good enough?
No satisfying the masses should be the goal. The rest confuses me.

Do you take pleasure in seeing your opponents lose?
See above. Of course, because it means I won.

What do you think your strongest reaction will be if a majority of your candidates and causes don't win? * I would be saddened for our future.

What do you think about pizza?
C'mon, it's just like something else. There is no bad pizza but New York style is the best kind. If you can't fold it you are in the wrong region.

What's one thing you think the other guys simply do not/can not/will not understand about you and your beliefs?
That people really dont want to live in poverty, or that higher taxes will make rich people stop working.

Do you think they like pizza?
Yes, with tea bags on it.

What's one thing you think you simply do not/can not/will not understand about the other guys and their beliefs?
See above.

Can you envision a scenario where you and the other guys could sit down and enjoy a pizza together?
Every day at lunch, at work.



* I realize this question is not phrased well. What I wanted to know was if anybody planned to move to Canada or load up on guns and ammo or any other really stupid kneejerk reaction. I was pleased that nothing like that came up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Get to know A Conservative

Our Conservative's name is Cory Miller. He is 41 years old and is a Captain in the Air Force, stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California.

Why do you consider yourself a conservative?
Though classical liberalism is my ideal, and lately I've been tending to be libertarian, I consider myself mainly a conservative because I believe government is not the answer to societal ills. I believe, if given the chance, the innovative and creative intelligence and genius of the American people will drive the Nation towards economic and societal recovery.


Have you always been a conservative?
For as long as I've cared about politics, yes, I have.

Do you believe the other guys are bad people?
There are extremes in every niche of the political spectrum, but the majority of liberals are not bad people. I count many in my "inner circle"; several of my good friends and my favorite aunt are all liberals.

Do you think the other guys have any good ideas at all?
The ideas they have are usually in the interest of bettering the country, I just believe their ideas to be the wrong way to go. There is some compromise that needs to happen in all ideas.

Do you regard them as inferior in any way?
No.

Would the world be a better place if they simply didn't exist?
No. The country was founded on the idea that no one person has the answer, and so dialogue is, I believe, vital to our political process, so long as civility and kindness are bestowed upon the opponent by both sides of the political debate/discussion.

Why is their opinion fundamentally flawed?
I believe it to be flawed because government is not the answer to everything. Further, I would argue the government is the answer to very little. Additionally, excessive income taxes of the most wealthy are not the answer to bring the lowest income class to prosperity.


Do you see any flaws in the philosophies you believe in?
Only a naive person wouldn't see flaws in their political beliefs.

Is there any point in taking opposing viewpoints into consideration?
Absolutely, more people involved cannot be a bad thing so long as they're interested in actual dialogue instead of aggressively pushing their dogma.

What would you say is your one biggest problem with the other guys?
My biggest issue with the opposition is actually with their views on tolerance. They claim the conservatives (Christian conservatives, in particular) are intolerant, then react with intolerance to the very people they accuse of being intolerant.

Is it more important to you that the causes and candidates you support win or that the opponents lose?
Candidates winning is more important.

Do you honestly believe that victory for your candidates and causes in elections is what's best for the greater common good of everyone, whether they necessarily like it or not, and if not, is satisfying the needs of a select few good enough?
Yes.

Do you take pleasure in seeing your opponents lose? Like a hockey game, there is an amount of pleasure in seeing political opponents defeated, but like the hockey game, it's a better feeling for the candidate/cause I support to win.

What do you think your strongest reaction will be if a majority of your candidates and causes don't win? *
Disappointment.

What do you think about pizza?
It can be good, but can be horrible.

What's one thing you think the other guys simply do not/can not/will not understand about you and your beliefs?
That conservatives do care for people even though we dislike governmental social programs.

Do you think they like pizza?
Probably--though I would say only the veggie-lovers. (KIDDING!)

What's one thing you think you simply do not/can not/will not understand about the other guys and their beliefs?
Why they don't allow conservative views into dialogue without spite or venom.

Can you envision a scenario where you and the other guys could sit down and enjoy a pizza together?
Absolutely. As I said above, I have several friends that are liberals.


* I realize this question is not phrased well. What I wanted to know was if anybody planned to move to Canada or load up on guns and ammo or any other really stupid kneejerk reaction. I was pleased that nothing like that came up.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Get to know A Liberal

Our Liberal's name is Nancy Pacini and she lives in Brandon, Florida. She is 56 years old and works as a Permitting tech for Home Depot At-Home Services.

Why do you consider yourself a liberal?
Because I believe that there are enough resources in our nation to be shared by all of us, and by sharing those resources we can improve the condition of each of us individually, thereby strengthening the nation as a whole.

Have you always been a liberal?
Yes, even though I grew up in Chicago in a Democratic, middle class, pro-union family, my family was actually very conservative when it came to social issues. As I became older, I became more and more liberal. Issues such as reproductive rights, desegregation, equal opportunity, etc became very important to me, especially as I became less and less enchanted with my conservative Lutheran upbringing, eventually recognizing myself as an atheist.

Do you believe the other guys are bad people?
Not necessarily. I do however feel that there is a ‘me first’ mentality in conservatives, as if providing opportunities and freedoms for others is somehow taking away something from themselves.

Do you think the other guys have any good ideas at all?
Of course. I would like to see a balanced budget.

Do you regard them as inferior in any way?
Not necessarily inferior, perhaps unconcerned with how their policies affect others

Would the world be a better place if they simply didn't exist?
No, but I think the balance of power is way out of whack.

Why is their opinion fundamentally flawed?
Because our country was founded on the ideals that all people should have the opportunity to better themselves and their families. The more conservative our policies become, the fewer the opportunities for common people. I also believe that this country is made up of immigrants, and that current and proposed immigration policies negate one of the fundamental aspects of the origins of this country, the United States is no longer the place that welcomes ‘the tired, the poor, the huddled masses longing to be free’.

Do you see any flaws in the philosophies you believe in? There is difficulty with balancing the capitalistic with the altruistic, merit with need.

Is there any point in taking opposing viewpoints into consideration?
Yes, of course. Everyone has a valid viewpoint, it’s a matter of finding a compromise. There’s a big difference with the way I believe things should be, and what I am actually willing to live with.

What would you say is your one biggest problem with the other guys?
I have a hard time with the close-mindedness, the unwillingness to treat the opposition with respect. I’m appalled at the way the President is portrayed, with so little respect even for his office, let alone him as a person.

Is it more important to you that the causes and candidates you support win or that the opponents lose?
I have to take a positive view of it, so I would say it’s more important that the issues I believe in prevail, therefore I want my candidates to win.

Do you honestly believe that victory for your candidates and causes in elections is what's best for the greater common good of everyone, whether they necessarily like it or not, and if not, is satisfying the needs of a select few good enough?
Yes, I do believe that liberalism is best for the greater good. I definitely do not believe that satisfying the needs of the few is beneficial to this country, and the world, as a whole.

Do you take pleasure in seeing your opponents lose?
Again, I’d rather take a positive view and take pleasure in seeing the candidates and ideals I believe in succeed.

What do you think your strongest reaction will be if a majority of your candidates and causes don't win? *
Concern that we are seeing the end of the middle class as we have come to know it.

What do you think about pizza?
Even bad pizza is better than no pizza at all.

What's one thing you think the other guys simply do not/can not/will not understand about you and your beliefs?
That I can be a good and honorable person and an atheist at the same time.

Do you think they like pizza?
Everybody likes pizza, but we each like different things on it, don’t we?

What's one thing you think you simply do not/can not/will not understand about the other guys and their beliefs?
The lack of concern about how their ideals negatively affect so many others.


Can you envision a scenario where you and the other guys could sit down and enjoy a pizza together?
Of course, I have done. I have many conservative friends.


* I realize this question is not phrased well. What I wanted to know was if anybody planned to move to Canada or load up on guns and ammo or any other really stupid kneejerk reaction. I was pleased that nothing like that came up.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Get to know The Others

With the Republican National Convention taking place in Tampa this week, the political season is now officially up and running.

Oh, hurray.

I don't know about you, but I've become pretty disillusioned with the political process, due in large part to what I perceive as a near-complete lack of civility and tolerance for opposing viewpoints and the people behind them. I don't believe one side is nastier about it than the other, but it doesn't matter. All of that is nothing but empty-headed vitriol and ultimately, it's totally counterproductive. How can anything get done when all you're doing is yelling about how much the opposition sucks? Hate to break it to you but even if you win ALL the elections, the other guys are not being sent into space. The reality of the situation is that you (we) still have to live next door to each other, shop for groceries in the same stores and attempt to raise kids that are at least slightly less screwed up than we are, among other things.
With that in mind, I went on Twitter and asked for people who describe themselves as "staunch" liberals and conservatives to submit to a short list of questions for interviews that will be published this week. I wanted one of each and I simply selected the first of each to reply. I happened to get a third person, someone who says that they were conservative but are now liberal, so that's a little bonus. There's absolutely no science involved, with no consideration paid to demographics or anything like that. It's completely arbitrary, like stopping the very first person you come across on the street and asking them what is on their mind. What's the point? I don't know that there is one. I certainly don't expect to change anyone's minds or philisophical ideals. I wouldn't even want to do that. If I were to dream really big, I would hope that a couple of people would read these and go forward thinking of those with differing opinions as human beings with their own valid reasons for believing the way they do. Because even if someone has a basic philisophical viewpoint with which we can't possibly relate, we should understand that we still have more in common than not. Then there's a possibility that we can at least work together and try to figure some of this shit out for the mutual benefit of as many people as possible. That would be good enough, I think. I don't have delusions about saving humanity, but I would like to restore enough faith in it for me to feel good about participating in the political process again. If someone else feels the same and gets the benefit of that as well, that's good too. Maybe none of that will happen, though. Maybe your worst fears about The Others will be confirmed. Maybe you'll even develop new ones. Jeez, I hope not. I can't control any of that though. All I can do is ask questions, from one individual human being person to another and then present them here. What people take away from that (if anything) is out of my hands. We'll see what happens.
Anyway, the interviews will run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Off the grid but still in yo' face


Hint: I will be here
Hi there. I just wanted to let you know I will be away this week (August 27 - September 3). The Republican National Convention is taking place and the general consenus around town is if you don't have a reason to be around, don't be around. The convetion has taken over my place of employment so I'm taking that advice and vamoosing temporarily. But I love you and didn't want you to do without in my absence, so I have pre-loaded all-new content that will get you through the week. Everybody wins!
See ya (live) next week.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Uncle Mortimer's Whiz-Bang Follies!

"Uncle Mortimer's Whiz-Bang Follies!" was a radio program during the 1930s that taught children that all problems could be handled with an ignorance of basic scientific principles coupled with a healthy dose of intolerance and a 'can do!' attitude. It was eventually cancelled due to being "simply awful" but has since come to be regarded by some as "ahead of it's time". Here's a transcript of an episode that was originally broadcast on August 24, 1934.

UNCLE MORTIMER: Gee, Tommy. You look glum. 
TOMMY: Gosh Uncle Mortimer, I ever so am!
UNCLE MORTIMER: What's the matter, chum?
TOMMY: Well, there's a real pretty gal in my neighborhood, and I felt like I wanted to have an orgasm inside of her, so I did, and now she's pregnant!
UNCLE MORTIMER: That's terrible, Tommy!
TOMMY: Don't I know it!
UNCLE MORTIMER: Did you rape her?
TOMMY: Of course I raped her!
UNCLE MORTIMER: And she got pregnant anyway? Hmmm. That's odd.
TOMMY: I just don't understand how this could have happened!
UNCLE MORTIMER: Maybe she mistook your raping for love. Was she ugly or obese?
TOMMY: Ugh! Are you kidding? Nobody ever rapes girls like that! No, she's beautiful.
UNCLE MORTIMER: Good boy! I suppose it's possible she wanted to get pregnant and is trying to trap you. Maybe she's a whore? A diseased, filthy, rotten, stinking, lying, no-good, gutter whore?
TOMMY: Gee whiz, Uncle Mortimer...
UNCLE MORTIMER: Answer the question, Tommy.
TOMMY: Well, she dresses nicely, so yeah, I guess she was kinda asking for it.
UNCLE MORTIMER: That could be it then. Still, this is definitely an aberration...
TOMMY: Golly, Uncle Mortimer. I know I'm not ready to be a father but I don't think I'm comfortable with that.
UNCLE MORTIMER: Ha ha! Not an abortion, Tommy, an aberration. An aberration is an irregularity or deviation, and it's symbolic of some type of disorder.
TOMMY: Oh! Like negroes playing baseball?
UNCLE MORTIMER: Well, kind of, although that's actually more like an abomination. The important thing is you have nothing to worry about. You didn't mean to get this whore pregnant so it's her problem, not yours!
TOMMY: The thing is, Uncle Mortimer, I kinda like this whore and she's even more upset than I am! I don't know what I should do.
UNCLE MORTIMER: You should advise her to start smoking lots of cigarettes. The last thing that unacknowledged bastard child of yours needs is a nervous whore of a mother. The calming properties of tobacco can help with half of that problem. The main thing you should do is stop raping her. Can you do that?
TOMMY: I-I think so. She should be big and fat in a couple of weeks.
UNCLE MORTIMER: Well, you're only human, of course. Do your best.
TOMMY: Gee, thanks Uncle Mortimer!
UNCLE MORTIMER: You're welcome, Tommy! Now, what do you say we take a shower together?
TOMMY: Um, I guess so...

Tune in next week for Uncle Mortimer's Whiz-Bang Follies!, when Tommy has something to tell Uncle Mortimer...

TOMMY: Hey Uncle Mortimer! Guess what? I just found out my dad is half Jewish!
UNCLE MORTIMER: Get the hell out of my house. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome to Tampa, where we seriously need to butch up

The Tampa Bay area has been my home for over 20 years. It's not perfect by any means and there are a lot of cities where I'm sure I could be just as happy as I am now, if not even more so. There's virtually nothing to keep me from moving away if I choose to do so, since I'm an adult and legally eligible ton travel freely between states. But I don't because I like it here. It's basically a small town with a lot of people living in it. That appeals to me. We have major and minor league sports. That makes me happy. We have pleasant winters. That pleases me. And of course we have more than our share of eccentrics, flakes, freaks, oddballs and weirdos. That makes me happier than I could ever possibly express.
Of course, there are drawbacks. It's hot and humid. We have earned a reputation for being a hotbed of sleazy entertainment in the form of strip clubs and the production of low-budget porn. The city of Tampa's downtown is a pathetic blend of terrible traffic, abandoned buildings, road construction, inadequate parking and precious little to do. None of these things bother me enough to make me want to move away. In fact, none of them make me want to do much about them other than complain now and then. I like the things I think are great and I hope we can work to correct the things that aren't so great, just like anywhere else I could live. The one drawback I wish we could really do something about right away is our insufferably thin skin.

We, as an area, spurred on by our local media, tend to get our panties into a much bigger bunch than necessary when someone from outside the area criticizes us for something. What happens is somebody says something less than complimentary about something local, and then either the papers or a radio station or a tv news reporter (or all three) hears about it and then come crying to us, "You guys, look what they're saying about us now!" This happens every time someone from ESPN says something negative about the Rays' home, Tropicana Field, which is admittedly not the world's greatest ballpark. It happened when my buddy Mike Lortz took comedian Jimmy Kimmel to task when he mentioned in an interview that living in Tampa was not something he remembered fondly. It happened again on Tuesday when local radio station 970 WFLA-AM brought an article in Salon titled, "Tampa: America's hottest mess" to the attention of their followers on Facebook:

National media begins trashing the Bay area... with a political spin. Left website "Salon" calls Tampa "America's Hottest Mess", claiming that sprawl rules and "tight fisted Tea Party politics" keeps the Bay area from having a livable urban center. It describes Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties as "birther country." Your thoughts?
This resulted in all kinds of butthurt, mostly from people who clearly didn't bother to actually read the article and the criticisms within:
"stupid people say stupid things."

"Again the Obama Herd of Sheep demonstrates and support Division, Anger and Hate! I am not surprised at all. It has become normal behavior for these people."

"Tampa has Ben T. Davis beach, okay its on the bay, but 30 minutes away are the west coast beaches: Clearwater, St. Pete, Indian Rocks, Dunedin, etc. Beautiful beaches! Those criticizing are just jealous." (I love this logic; the only reason anybody would ever criticize the Tampa Bay area is because they don't have access to a beach where they live)

"Stay out than (sic)"

"Don't get me started on a response to this ignorance. I just hope this guy writes a retract cause I have his #;) Tampa is notorious for its Hospitality in all aspects and besides that the city is run and supported by Democrats...the Rnc simply needs our votes and Tampa has the tools and safety for events like this I have seen the budgets, balance sheets etc and the revenue if any compared to tourism, growing businesses etc. is not comparable. maybe we don't want the light rail because in my opinion rails are antiques. We have the technology & innovative mind set to live in Tampa and have global & international relations. I am set up on a VPN in Tampa and work on the other side of the Bay. Meaning I can conduct business from any where in the world from Tampa. Yes traffic is a little hectic but that's due to rapid growth and world population. This convention will be successful and many more larger events will follow and we will continue to wow our hospitality visitors. Not to mention we have the best DJs, media personalities, etc on the Planet & thick skin so whatever this unheard of blogger / salon magazine has to say is meaningless."
(This last one is from someone named Eeryn Falk Lubcich, who is a managing partner of something called TampaHospitality and dismisses "unheard of" Salon and refutes the findings from Forbes contained within the article as "meaningless" by citing the mad skyllz of our globally superior DJ's. I believe she may actually have the thick skin found lacking in so many of our residents; comprising nearly 100% of what would be considered her head region.)   


 Christ, people. Pace yourselves! John Stewart and friends aren't even in town yet.
"Ooh, you're gonna get it, Tampa! You and your nearby beaches!"
Better yet, grow the hell up already. Criticism and scrutiny, whether you feel they're valid or not, whether you want them to be or not, are part of what comes with hosting high-profile events like the Republican National Convention. Comedians, talk show hosts and media pundits of all affiliations dump on cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles every single day and nobody, especially the people who live there, gives a rat's ass. Life is tough and everybody doesn't love you. Suck it up and put on a helmet or stay away from tv, newspapers, radio and the internet for the next two weeks.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New music and a reason to party!

A while back I mentioned my debut as a recording artist, singing back-up vocals on Ronny Elliott's forthcoming new album. Well, this Saturday we're takin' it to the stage! Ronny's album, titled "I've Been Meaning to Write" is his first in five years and will be celebrated with a release party at the Hideaway Cafe in St. Pete this Saturday night. $10 gets you in and also your very own copy of the album (on what the youngsters refer to as a "compact disc"). Ronny will be performing with special guests Chinese Mary Jane. Oh, and me. For one night at least (okay, probably only), I'm a member of a real live rock and roll band, along with Rebekah Pulley and Rob Pastore among others. Come on out, listen to some music, have some food and drinks and watch me get totally debauched. It's rock n roll; anything can happen! I can't promise that I will set a guitar on fire or do something really icky with a shark, but I can't promise that I won't either! Actually, I already promised Ronny that I wouldn't, so those things are kinda off the table, but I may go on stage with my pants unbuttoned...accidentally (wink!).

A note about The Hideaway(s):
Apparently there are two establishments with the same name in St. Petersburg. One of them is located at 1756 Central and is "an ORIGINAL music cafe and production studio serving craft beers, fine wines, pizzas, salads and sandwiches to complement our fantastic menu of local and national talent."  The other  is located at 8312 4th Street north and is "a "Cheers" kind of bar popular with the womyn but men are always welcome. Karaoke, live bands, friendly bartenders and a daily happy hour." Both sound like the kind of place where I would have absolutely no chance of picking up a date (albeit for different reasons) but only one is hosting Ronny's party, and that's the first one.

"I've Been Meaning to Write"
Ronny Elliott's new CD
Release Party
Saturday, August 25 - 8:00PM
Hideaway Cafe
1756 Central Ave., St. Petersburg FL 33712 
(727) 644-7895

Friday, August 17, 2012

The latest dumb thing I've been forced to do

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Pass-A-Grille Beach in Pinellas County. Depending on which route you take to get there, you may have to pay a small toll of 75 cents. Apparently, I took a different route home than I did going there because I didn’t know about the tolls until I was leaving and saw a sign a half mile from the toll booth. That was a surprise, but no problem since I had dollar bills on me. Except there was no attendant on duty. You had to have either exact change or one of those pre-paid “Sun Pass” gizmos. You also had to know this before you got to the toll booth because there were no places to turn around. I had none of those things. There were cars behind me so I kept going, hoping there would be something I could do when I got to the gate. This obviously happens all the time because there were a whole stack of these envelopes waiting for me when I pulled up.


I’d like to take you through this little slice of stupidity, step-by-step…

NO COINS? 
PAY BY MAIL
This conjures an image of someone slapping themselves in the forehead. "Of course! What a great idea! I'd much rather do that anyway! It's easier and funner!", when, of course, none of that is true.

If you do not have the correct change to pay the toll and find yourself in an unattended cash lane, do not back up or get out of your vehicle, as it is unsafe.

This might be my favorite part. It implies that I just wander around stupidly all the time, oblivious to what’s going on around me and every so often, I just happen to wake up enough to 'find' myself somewhere. "Hey look! I'm at a toll plaza!" "Hey look, I'm at the airport!" "Hey look, I'm in the Gulf of Mexico!" How insulting. It’s like they know me!

However, payment for the toll is still required. Please mail your payment in this envelope within 10 days (payable to: FDOT Turnpike Enterprise). Toll Amount Due:

PINELLAS II

2 Axle Vehicle $.75

Add $.75 for each additional axle

Please send check or money order only (do not send cash) and include the following information: vehicle license plate information, date, and time.
Can you imagine other businesses operating this way? Picture yourself walking into a McDonald's. There's no staff there but they left behind a stack of Quarter Pounders (without cheese). Since you walked in there, the rules say you have to eat one (even if you came there for a Filet-O-Fish value meal) and you have to pay for it. But not then and there; later, you have to dance a little jig while you FedEx them a gold Krugerrand. 
Please be sure to retain a copy of your cancelled check or money order in the event a violation is generated.
This means a violation is going to be generated. It's a system that is so inherently fucked up that it automatically issues a standard, preemptive warning about the potential for future fuck ups. Bureaucrats don't see this as something that is fundamentally flawed and should be fixed, preferring instead to regard it simply as effective.

If you have any additional questions please call (407) 264-3164 or email tolls@dot.state.fl.us


MAIL PAYMENT IN THIS ENVELOPE. DO NOT LEAVE ENVELOPE WITH PAYMENT AT THIS LOCATION.
Here it is, a check for .75. It looks just as stupid as you’d expect it to. And I had to mail it, at my expense, of course.  

If you follow the logic of this system, it goes something like this:
  • The State of Florida's Department of Transportation has determined that it needs to generate revenue for operating purposes, which it will do by assessing and collecting a toll of .75 for certain, not all, vehicular access points to and from Pass-A-Grille Beach.
  • The State of Florida's Department of Transportation has determined that it is not cost effective to staff these access points with attendants who can accept payments and make change.
  • Ditto for machines that might perform at least some of the same functions.
  • Instead, they print a bunch of envelopes for the benefit of drivers who aren't forunate enough to have exact change.
  • Those drivers mail their payments to the State of Florida's Department of Transportation in these envelopes, paying a total of $1.21 (.75 toll + .46 postage), or 38% more than the original toll.
  • The State of Florida still only collects .75.
  • The State of Florida's Department of Transportation hires people to sit in an office and process checks and money orders there, instead of taking dollar bills and handing back quarters at toll booths.
  • This system exists instead of raising the toll to $1.00 and at least installing machines that could accept dollar bills and credit/debit cards, the cost of which would be offset by whatever they're spending to print envelopes, and would generate an extra .25 for every every car that passes through while simultaneously saving non-coin-carrying motorists .21.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm lazy, but come on

Hey, I have a question for you; when I rant about something do I come off like I think I'm better than other people? If so, I really don't mean to. Because I know that simply isn't the case. Look up real quick. Who's the first person you see? Whoever it is, odds are at least 50/50 that I'm not as good as that guy or girl. In what way you ask? I don't know. Name something. I'm not saying this to denigrate myself or gain pity or overstate my bad behavior. That's just the way it is, and not just as it pertains to me. People themselves are neither good nor bad, they simply exist and behave. Most people really are about equal when it comes to exhibiting good and bad behavior and are constantly involved in internal struggles to determine what those things are, which causes them to kind of drift back and forth across the line between. I'm no different. So if I have ever implied that I am better than anyone, anyone at all, I apologize because it simply isn't true. 
A notable exception to that, however, being whoever did this...
The person that goes to the trouble of bagging their garbage and walking all the way to the dumpster only to decide then that they don't have the time and/or energy to raise the plastic lid and drop it inside, choosing instead to just leave it right there on the ground where either somebody else will do it for them or it will get ripped apart by stray animals and spread all over creation...well, yeah, that person is a piece of shit and I am better than they are.

PS: If that person happens to be reading this, I finished throwing away your garbage for you, you lazy piece of shit.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Showbiz memories: Getting to meet my all-time celebrity crush

When I worked at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida, I had what I think was probably the coolest job in the building. I don't recall my actual title; USF gave us less than a shoestring budget and we all had four or five different jobs. But as the guy in charge of marketing and public relations, I spent a lot of time backstage during concerts, specifically herding writers and photographers around, getting them to places they were supposed to be and keeping them out of places they weren't. This was pretty easy, since for the most part, all of the people I dealt with were very professional and conducted themselves accordingly with the barest minimum supervision from me. This left me with plenty of free time. I would often use this time to just wander around and take things in. One of my favorite activities was to wander out by the stage and take pictures for fans with their cameras from the angle of the stage. They were always so excited and it was a privilege to play a part in giving them a happy memory of the experience. Otherwise, I was roaming the hallways backstage, picking up and delivering lanyards and credentials or doing other odd jobs. As a result, I tended to cross paths with a lot of the performers.
The common protocol for the arena staff when it came to interacting with performers was Do Not Speak Unless Spoken To. It wasn't because you were supposed to treat them as superior beings, it was just extending the courtesy of leaving them alone so they could tend to their business. Some of them clearly did not want to be bothered and observing the protocol was the ideal way of not getting yourself in trouble. Others, were very outgoing. I remember Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes both being extremely friendly, as was Michael McDonald. In cases like that, it was perfectly acceptable to engage in conversation because it was just being polite. Pretty simple.

FLASHBACK: In 1984, I walked into a record store and saw this...

Featured: Everything I loved about the 80's
I was instantly in love. Like, head-over-heels, little cartoon hearts shooting out of my eyeballs, forever and ever amen IN LOVE! Oh sure, it was completely superficial and shallow, based entirely on a glimpse of a photo on a record album, but still: L-O-V-E.
Of course, I bought the album and played it and discovered that Ms. E (short for Escovedo) was not only stunningly gorgeous, but had serious musical ability. I've always had a thing for girls who can play an instrument. Learning this strengthened my already feverish infatuation with a healthy dose of respect. Over the years, with the benefit of maturity the respect grew deeper and what I had referred to as "love" turned into admiration, which is much healthier. Although...

END FLASHBACK: ...I was still a fan and never truly got all the way over my crush on her.
In 2001, a promoter booked Ringo's All Starr Band for a show at the Sun Dome. Former Beatle Ringo Starr had been doing these all-star tours for a while and that year's line-up consisted of him, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Howard Jones, Greg Lake of  Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson, Mark Rivera and... Sheila E! The decision was made instantly: I was going to meet her even if I put my job at risk. Nothing crazy or inappropriate or even impolite, mind you. No, but I would definitely put myself in a position at some point during the event that would require an interaction. That's all. In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I told my boss about it:
"I can't wait for the Ringo show. I'm finally going to meet Sheila E!"
"It really should be a great show. I'm looking forward to seeing Ian Hunter!"
"Are you going to meet Ian Hunter, the way I'm going to meet Sheila E?"
"The way you asked that question concerns me, which I'm guessing is your intent."
"Ha ha! Don't be concerned. I'm not going to do anything improper. But she's going to be in the building and I am going to find a way to make her acquaintance at some point during the evening."
"While I marvel at your consistent ability to cause me a great deal of apprehension while attempting to reassure me, I think I'm just going to pretend that this conversation never even happened. That way, I don't have to fire you presumptively and if you do end up doing something stupid, maybe one of her bodyguards will just break your neck." 
With my boss's ringing endorsement, I did my usual routine leading up to the show. That night, I found myself more amped up than usual. I took care of things as needed, just with a little extra pep in my step. As a result, I almost killed a Beatle.As the houselights went down to begin the show, I was out in front at stage left, minding my herd of photographers. The band started playing and I suddenly realized I had forgotten something in my office. I took off and burst through the stage doors and found my face inches from that of Ringo Starr, waiting to make his entrance. "Oh! Hi!", I said. He replied with an icy, "Yeah. Hi." So that's how that brush with greatness went.
Relieved that I hadn't bodychecked the singer of Yellow Submarine back to the '60s, I spent the rest of the evening anticipating The Big Moment. Of course, I watched her play during the show itself and that experience in and of itself was fantastic. If you've never seen her, she really is super-talented. Here she is on Letterman a while back...

The show ended and now I was almost out of my mind with anticipation. The Sun Dome was a very simple building, with one continuous, narrow service hallway that circled the entire building, with four in/out access points. Positioning myself between the loading dock and the dressing rooms, there was no way she could get past me on her way out. That sounds a little creepy, doesn't it? Now that I read it, yeah, it does. And now, I kind of regret it. But at the time, hey good idea and a solid plan! As I stood there waiting, it suddenly occurred to me: what if she's a jerk? Uh-oh. I didn't think she would be, but you never know what kind of reaction to expect from someone you meet for the first time. Maybe I was going to ruin everything I'd built up in my mind by actually making it happen! Oops, too late. I saw her coming down the hall. This was it. 17 years, leading up to
The Big Moment
Me: "Excuse me, Sheila. I've been a fan of yours for a very long time and this is the first time I've had the chance to see you perform in person. Thank you for coming." (I extended my hand, she smiled and shook it)
Sheila E: "Oh, that's sweet of you to say. My pleasure! Thank you so much!"
That was it. Maybe 10 seconds. Awesome. Unless I'm remembering it wrong and
It Was More Like This
Me: "Duhhh. Me work here. You pretty. You make bang-bang on drums good. Me happy you come here. Duhhhhhhhhh." (A stream of saliva dribbled out of my mouth and puddled around my shoe as she recoiled in horror)
Sheila E: "Do you need medical attention?"
Either way, it was totally worth it. Especially since I didn't get fired.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"What a stupid thing to suck at"

Sometimes I do odd jobs and errands for a friend of mine. She wanted to thank me for some stuff I had taken care of for her recently so the other day she made the following offer...

"Hey, I want to hook you up with my cleaning lady."
"You want me to go on a date with your cleaning lady? That's weird but I'm into it. Will she wear a French maid's uniform?"
"Not like that. To come over and clean your apartment. Her name is Edith and she's incredible. Your apartment will be like brand new."
"Oh, that's okay. I do my own cleaning. I don't really have money to spend on something like that."
"No, you don't understand. This would be my treat. For helping me with all the stuff you've done for me."
"You don't have to do that."
"I want to though. Please let me. You'll hurt my feelings if you don't."
"Well, shit. All right then."
"Wow. That's very gracious of you."

She wrote down the contact info which then fell out of my pocket later. Or it got stolen. Or I threw it away. I don't know, the point is I lost it. It doesn't matter, I had no intention of calling her. It's not that I don't appreciate the gesture. I do! But I feel weird accepting praise or thanks or gifts sometimes. I don't know why. It embarrasses me. Maybe it's my midwestern upbringing. Who knows? I know that isn't right. I know it's possible to be humble and appreciative without being a freak. People do it all the time. It's just one of many, many things that make me feel awkward. Well, the only way to get good at something is to practice it. And my place is kind of a dump, so a few days later I called her back...

"Hey, I was thinking about it and I'm going to take you up on that offer to have my place cleaned."
"Oh good! You won't be sorry."
"Yeah. So, can I get her contact info?"
"I gave it to you already."
"I know. I called her and...uh...got somebody else. I guess I put it in my phone wrong or something."
"Uh-huh. You probably didn't put it in your phone at all."
"Yes I did!"
"What do you have as her phone number?"
"813..."
"Wrong. 727. She's in St. Pete, not Tampa."
"Oh."
"You had a 50% chance of getting that right and you blew it."
"Well, I..."
"More like 66%, really, considering she could live in Clearwater, which is also 727..."
"Yeah, but..."
"The chances of you getting the other seven numbers right are comparitively microscopic. There's no point in even trying."
"Come on..."
"What's her name? Do you even remember?"
"It starts with an 'E'..."
"Go on."
"Edith."
"Wrong."
"Elaine."
"Nope."
"Edna?"
"No. Her name is Edith."
"That was the first name I guessed!"
"You GUESSED!"
"Well...all right...but..."
"You suck at letting people be nice to you, you know that?"
"..."
"When people want to treat you like shit, you're fantastic. You're great at letting people be mean to you..."
"Like now?"
"...but when somebody tries to be nice, man, you suck.
What a stupid thing to suck at."
"You're right. I'm sorry."
"See what I mean? Jesus! This is just a gift. I appreciate the help you give me so I offer you something as a token of my appreciation. It's very simple. Don't overthink it. All you have to do is smile, say 'thank you', maybe give me a hug. Those should be natural reactions. You certainly shouldn't be saying 'I'm sorry' for any reason. How hard is that?"
"I'm...yes."
"Well?"
"Thank you for that. That's very nice of you."
"Well, that's a start. That seems like it was very painful for you."
"Yeah, it was."
"You're welcome."

I like to think of myself as a work in progress, even though I'm frequently not making any.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mortality is a funny thing

As I mentioned the other day, my high school reunion was this past weekend. I did not go, but not because of any misdirected bitterness towards my old school or classmates. I supported the event from afar by placing an ad in the program and even ordered a t-shirt. I logged on to Facebook Monday morning to see if anyone had posted any pictures or made comments about how much fun they had...okay, I was trolling to see if anybody had mentioned how they'd LOL'd and LOL'd at my hilarious ad. That's when I came across my old friend Brent's status:
"Rest in peace Douglas Adams; my heart goes out to you and yours."

Shit. I did not need to see that.
Brent and I didn't go to high school together, but were classmates in a different school district, at Eau Claire Middle School. Douglas (or just Doug, as I knew him) was somebody we went to school with there and is not the author of the "Hitchhiker's Guide..." books. Eau Claire is a tiny farming village in Michigan (less than 700 people live there). My folks thought my sister and I would benefit from the comparitively bucolic environment and would get better educations there but I found the place riddled with shallow, close-minded and mean-spirited people and I hated it there. After four years of misery (and terrible report cards), I felt like Brer Rabbitt when my parents announced that they were punishing us by sending us back to the troubled, blighted, urban hellscape of the Benton Harbor public school system (Oh no...please...not that...please). I just never really fit in at Eau Claire. In addition to getting lousy grades, I was frequently bullied and ridiculed and spent time at an after-school babysitter's that was truly a house of horrors (a story for another time). Doug was one of a pretty small handful of people I got along with though. Not exactly friends, I didn't bother to keep in touch with him after I left Eau Claire following the completion of 7th grade, but I remember him as always being pretty cool. We played football together, played baseball against each other and both played drums in middle school marching band. I liked him because he was a nice kid who didn't go out of his way to be nasty to me. That qualifies. Still, I literally haven't thought about the guy in decades.
When you think of all the connections you make throughout your life, something like that is tenuous at best. So I don't know why I went over to Doug's Facebook page after seeing Brent's note, but I did. There I found a picture of Doug as an adult, that I never would have guessed was him, and a sunset over Lake Michigan. I learned that he had apparently stayed in the area and had worked at various watering holes as an affable bartender. Yeah, I can see that. His son Reid, whom I never met, of course, made the announcement in the form of a post on his dad's page, that his dad had died, succumbing to cancer after a four year battle.
"Huh", I thought. "So that's how that works." Death and how it interacts with social media is something I've wondered about absently from time to time. Presuming Doug was the only one who could access the edit functions for his page, I guess that means that anybody who visits there from now on will see that he "lives" in Eau Claire, he went to Western Michigan University and he liked "Pulp Fiction", "Squidbillies" and the Detroit Tigers (that one, I already knew). Along with a lot of heartfelt farewell wishes that he never saw, that stuff will be there forever, or at least as long as Facebook exists and how technology re-defines concepts like "forever". On Twitter, announcements and status updates get pushed further and further down the timeline and within minutes, they're buried beneath a never-ending onslaught of new news. Whatever is on Facebook just kind of floats out there like a balloon. It's not carved in stone, but it is on the internet. Who wants to place bets on which is more likely to still be around in a million years?  
As I get older, it's less and less shocking that people my age are dying. Heck, classmates of mine have been dying since I was a teenager. And I know that some people who didn't attend last week's reunion missed it because they're not around any more. Nobody ever says so, but that's part of the reason for having reunions.
I'm not exactly sad that Doug Adams, a kid who really didn't bother me when we went to school together a long, long time ago, died, but it has shaken me for some reason. I mean, I certainly have sympathy for him and his family and friends (it looks like he had lots of friends, and that's nice) but I'm not really sad about it. More like bothered. It bothers me. Part of it could be that people my age shouldn't be dying of cancer, but only because of the fact that anybody of any age is still dying of cancer is bullshit (hey pharmaceutical industry, fuck you and your toxin-riddled vanity "medicines", you greedy, non-disease-curing-since-polio assholes). Part of it is the selfish side of me wondering what platitudes that I'll never get to read will get posted to my Facebook wall. Still another part of it is feeling a little guilty about not devoting time to contemplating The Greater Meaning Of It All simply because I'm not sure There Is One.
Death to me is just kind of an rbitrary (although inevitable) thing that happens, often stupid and usually kind of mean. It's a certainty, but none of the stuff attached to it is. The marathon runner who dies of a heart attack. People getting shot while watching a movie or worshipping their faith. All the innocent kids who die for no good reason whatsoever. All the insufferable bastards who live well into their 90s, also for no good reason whatsoever. Doug, the decent kid who grew up to be a friendly bartender as opposed to at least five kids I could name from that tiny school who deserved to be run over by a grain harvester (there's no way Tim Faher grew up to be anything but an utterly irredeemable piece of shit). Nothing induces anxiety like death and yet the inevitability of it renders worrying about it pointless.
Mortality is a funny thing.

Monday, August 06, 2012

So long, neighbor

I live in one of the older, larger apartment complexes in town. Everybody who lives in Tampa has either lived there or known someone who has. When I moved in, some of the residents were pretty sketchy and it wasn't a really nice place but management has done a great job weeding out the scumbags and now it's pretty good. My neighbors are cool; sometimes they bring furniture outside, open their windows so you can hear music, fire up a barbecue grill and it turns into an impromptu block party, which is always a lot of fun. I like those people and they like me.
Of course, there has to be an exception.
The guy right next door (we're on the second floor and share a landing at the top of a set of stairs), for whatever reason, was not a fan of mine. I don't know why, I think I'm a good neighbor. I don't see how I could have possibly disturbed him. When I listen to music, I always use headphones and I haven't turned on my television in months. I do come and go at weird hours sometimes but I'm conscious of that and take extra care to not be disruptive. But when I'd see him on the stairs or at the mailbox or in the parking lot, I'd smile and say hello and if he replied at all, it would be a head shrug and a grunt.
No big deal. Sometimes people just don't get along with one another. Oh well. I don't need everybody to like me. It's no problem.
As I'd lay awake at night wondering why he didn't like me, I'd try to think of ways to change that. If he was walking his dog, I'd compliment him on how nice the dog looked. People love it when you engage them through their pets, right? Wrong. He would just kind of pull the leash away so I couldn't even pet the dog. If I was going down the stairs and he was coming up, I'd yield. He wouldn't even say thank you. Once we were in the laundry room together and I offered the use of the dryer my clothes had been that still had about 20 minutes on it. "No thanks".
Eventually, I gave up and started hating him too. Not actively. I mean, I still had to live next door to him. I mostly just stopped being friendly.
A couple of weeks ago, one of those portable storage pods were dropped off in the parking lot and I saw him carrying armfuls of stuff out to it. Oh good, he's moving out! Over the course of the weekend, he and some friends emptied his apartment. At one point, I heard him whining at his girlfriend for not doing something right as the two of them tried to haul a mattress down. "Typical", I thought. "He doesn't deserve her." I peaked out of the window to verify it. Yeah, even in sweaty, grubby moving clothes with her hair in a pony tail, she was way too hot for him. What a jerk.
Late Sunday afternoon, the activity had stopped and I needed to go out for something. I stopped at the door of his apartment and listened but didn't hear a sound. I peaked around the side and saw the patio was empty. Looking through the sliding glass door,I couldn't see the whole apartment but there were no lights on and nothing visible except bare walls and carpet. I stood in front of the door and flipped it off with both hands.
"Yeah bitch, now what? You're all moved out and if you had been nice to me, I probably would have helped you. I own a truck. I'm strong. I know how to carry a mattress. You didn't even have to be nice, just not be a dick. But guess what? Too late. You're gone. You can't glare at me across the parking lot and I never wanted to pet your dog anyway. I pet dogs all the time. What makes yours so special? Oh, is he a show dog that can't be handled by regular people? Well, fuck him and fuck you. Tonight, I'm going to cook collard greens and garlic while listening to the worst, loudest music possible. What do you think about that, huh? You don't like it but you can't do shit about it, can you? Nobody cares because you don't live here any more, do you? No, you don't."
As I was dry-humping the doorknob, I heard a click-click from inside. I stepped back quickly as my-soon-to-be-but-not-quite-yet-ex-neighbor opened the door.
"Hey. Do you need something?"
"Hey. Uh, no. No. I thought I saw you moving and wasn't sure if the apartment was empty or not."
"It is, but the dog run at the new place isn't finished so we're spending one more night here."
"Oh."
"That's why we're moving to a house. My dog, she's a rescue. She was abused pretty severely by her previous owners, and right now she's still not good around other people. She gets really nervous and tries to bite them."
"Oh."
"Yeah, this just wasn't a good environment for her to learn new habits. Too many people coming and going. She just couldn't calm down. I'm really sorry if she ever caused you any problems.
"Oh. Nope, no problems."
"I really appreciate you being a cool neighbor about that and never got a chance to tell you."
"Oh. Sure thing."
"Okay. Well, so long, neighbor." 
I waved by and turned to walk back into my apartment, now feeling absolutely awful. But then I remembered that I needed to go out. I turned around to go to the stairs just in time to see him flipping me off with both hands before closing his door.