nine hours of hobbiting

          We intentionally did not see the first two films (2012 and 2013) in order to see the 3d Hobbit Trilogy all at one time.  Today, we did just that—in comfort—in a local recliner-theater which offered a one o'clock (1300) to ten o'clock (2200) marathon.  Worth it.

2014 ten films

          With one last page still hanging on the calendar, I prematurely offer this years ten best films.

          Birdman should not be missed by anyone; Interstellar is a real treat; Gone Girl was filmed perfectly; John Wick aspires to be (and maybe is) the best retired-hitman-revenge movie of all time; Lucy is a great action-think film; Guardians of the Galaxy entertains almost everyone; Under The Skin perplexes wonderfully; Snowpiercer is full of great characters and is metaphorically over-ripe; The Lego Movie and The Boxtrolls prove stop-motion animation can trump green screen and computer animation.

Honeymoon - Pam and Veach

          Pam and I were married on 1 Nov 2014 and just spent an amazing few weeks honeymooning at the Oregon coast, Washington's Hood Canal, and in Leavenworth, Washington (no it's really not in Bavaria).

cat meme

Humor Defined

          Funny is in the ear of the beholder.  Timing, pacing, delivery, grasp of storytelling—all very important.  These girls have made the funniest video I've seen in months.   Honestly, this wouldn't tickle as hard if Haylee and Amanda were one single google search less naive, or if their rendition of Sir Mixalot's Big Butts was bad, or if they sang the middle stanza.  But their cluelessness adds to their hella good performance and is multiplied by the fact that some of the lyrics offend them enough to make me laugh so hard I lost my breath.

Pop Culture - Madeon (vids)

How To Handle the Toilet Needs of Hiking Housecats

         This is a continuation of an article I wrote five years ago explaining how I trained my cats to hike with me (original article here). 

          Recently, I was asked how I handled litter box needs during car rides and on the trail.  A great question; to answer it, I share the following (please bear with...some of this is tangential but pertinent).  

          The first step in transporting your cat from home to hiking trail is deciding if you are going to confine your cat to a carrier or pet backpack; use a pet halter and seat-belt fastener; or allow him/her to ride loose in the car.  I quickly learned that my current cat, Cecil, does not like to wear a halter, so he is either in his backpack/carrier or loose (depending on length of trip).

          I familiarized Cecil with his backpack by leaving it open in a corner of our house and playing with him in and around it for weeks.  Eventually, he chose it as a place to nap. 

          I recommend "vehicle trial-drives," prior to beginning any cat hiking, during your initial 'determine how attached your cat is to you' phase (which can take two weeks or two months depending on your cat and how much time you spend together). 

          Even if you have no intention to teach your cat to hike with you, I suggest you take your pet on a monthly ride in your vehicle if—for no other reason—than to insure he/she doesn't solely associate car rides with going to the Veterinarian.  After a few car rides (both at night and during the day) your cat will become familiar with your car, understand it is the same as the inside of your house, and will relax in his/her spot.  When going on a short (less than 60 minute) ride, Cecil prefers to ride on the left side of my lap against the door.  I secure my cats in their carrier(s) during long drives.

          I only bring along a litter box when I intend to be away from home for more than 24 hours and/or the cats are going to be riding in the vehicle for more than 6 hours.

          Cats are similar to humans in their toilet preferences and routines.  Just like people, cats prefer to use the toilet in their own home.  Many people choose to 'hold it' rather than use public bathrooms, which—for cats—means digging in unfamiliar earthy, sandy, hard-compact dirt.  On more than one occasion, I have witnessed our female cat, Aggie, go for over 12 hours without a bathroom break, even though she was outside for nine of those hours in the forest with us.  Cecil, on the other paw, seems to look forward to using the entire great outdoors as his sandbox and, even when we are only going on a quick hike, will begin to look for a place to squat after only 30 minutes outside.

          In an essay about cat bathroom behavior, there is one final thing which needs's impossible for a cat to accidentally urinate or defecate.  Every time they squat, they do so with intent.  A decade ago, I took one of my previous cats, Gus, on a short drive to hike the forest trails near Prescott, Arizona.  Weeks earlier I had taken him on a weekend trip and on that trip I had put a litter box in the car's rear foot-well.  This trip, I did not.  I had not vacuumed the car since that earlier trip and I also failed to notice a small amount of litter had fallen onto the carpet.  We were on the road no more than ten minutes and I heard him scratching at the carpet in an attempt to cover his urine (this is the primary reason I recommend you choose to confine your cat in a backpack or carrier...even on short trips). 

Veach Rocks (2)

          My second creation, also from an Oregon beach, is the same—but different—all over.  This rock is an ever so slightly flattened egg-shape covered in tiny "craters".  It is painted with enamel and measures 2¼" long, 2" wide, and 1¾ deep (57mm x 51mm x 46mm).

side a                                                        side b

Veach Rocks (1)

          I have returned to more creative endeavors.  This small flat rock from my favorite Oregon beach is almost a perfect 1 1116" (42mm) circle.  Painted/baked with ceramic enamel and ½" thick (13mm)—it's perfect worry stone size, for your pocket.

side a                                            side b

Lucy - film review (☆☆☆☆)

          Lucy, Luc Besson, 2014 is not only recommended viewing for fans of the writer-director's other films, but for aficionados of the filmic arts who enjoy the occasional unique as well.

          Monsieur Besson took La Femme Nikita's initially reluctant female singularity Übermench, added a sufficient amount of humor from his The Fifth Element, included an obligatory crazy-foil and legions of speedbumps dressed in black (Léon, The Professional) and then went one step further: he added a message.  The result is a successful think/action movie.  I do not know of another example of this type of film, which makes it worth seeing if only because it's one-of-a-kind.

          Abstract, philosophical (para-philosopical to be more accurate) films like Koyaanisqatsi or even The Tree of Life are solid documentaries or dramas (or a combination of both) and all are locked to their Serious Messages.

          Template-driven action films are, by design, the opposite of unique.

Lucy.  Well...Lucy is both of the above.

eye space

Mother - Fabrice Le Nezet

wampeter and cecil

Dealer Review - Smart Center of Portland

Avoid salesman Mark Tower—everyone else is fantastic.

The best measure of a business is how they handle mistakes and problems.

Recap:  I ordered and placed a $1,000 down payment on a 2014 Smart Cabriolet on the 4th day of February 2014.  My salesman, Mark Tower, told me it would be delivered between late-April and mid-May, which was fine by me...who needs a convertible in Portland until May?

New bit:  In April, Mark told me "Wampy" (nickname explained here) would be arriving in the port of LA on 16 May.  I thanked him for his update and explained that I did not want, during dealer prep, to have a license plate holder screwed into the front plastic of my car because I intended to install a special mounting bracket.  He assured me his service department would, "never install a front plate bracket without a customer request".

Memorial day came and went.  No car.  I'm impatient; so I asked for an update and Mark responded with (and I should note, he—like almost everyone under the age of 50—only communicates by phone text) "it's a 2015 and they aren't releasing them yet.  I'll let you know when they ship it north.  If you're not satisfied you'll get a full refund".

Angry at being treated this way (and did my 2014 become a 2015?) I complained to the General Manager who immediately rectified the situation by giving me a free Smart Cabriolet loaner until my car arrived. 

Please note:  I used the past tense form of 'arrive' in that last sentence because I only needed to drive their free loaner for six weeks; I picked up Wampeter on 10 July.  I paid dealer invoice—$20,500—not the MSRP of $21,950.  And, as you have already sussed, a front plate bracket had been installed, which they are going to fix (in a week or so) by swapping the front body panel from another new car in inventory.

Mercedes Benz of Portland/Smart Center of Portland, has many professional, wonderful, fantastic people.  I worked with, and recommend working with, Andrew Plummer (GM), Dale Acelar, Crystal Barber, Ben Tait, and Mylee Burns.  I recommend you avoid Mark Tower.

same old me no longer able to abide the same old me who once abode

          It's not you, it's me (George didn't coin the phrase, but I give him credit anyway). 

          For the last ten months I've struggled finding a comfortable workplace.  A place where I fit.  Six different locations.  Three different employers.  It's not them.  It's me.

          I stopped delivering newspapers last September because 700 days without a day off = insane.

          So I went to work as a driver for a temp agency (BBSI).  They scheduled me, over the next four months, to drive for three different companies:  Brasher's Auto Auction, Manheim Auto Auction, and Enterprise Car Rental Agency.

          After a few weeks, I had the scheduler stop sending me to Brasher's because it was poorly managed, extremely unsafe, and people yelled.  All the time.  At everyone.  For any reason.  Bunch of old grouches who hated their jobs, co-workers, and employees.  When I feel particularly self-deprecating, I think I should have felt right at home.

          Manheim was the exact opposite of Brasher's; clean, safe, organized, and professional.  But every effort to get scheduled more than one day a week met with failure.  From my vantage point it looked like I was too young to be selected as a full-time driver at Manheim.  I might fit in there in ten years (or as soon as all my hair turns grey).

          I drove the most for Enterprise.  Part-time.  The hours changed every week.  And I quickly became intolerant of the vast majority of my co-workers with whom I was trapped in an 11-passenger van for almost every shift.  Impolite smokers.  Strong perfume wearers.  Incessant talkers.  Constant smartphone sharers.  Adult children with broken internal thermostats (cranking the van's heater).  And every one of them proudly a master of the obvious; "It's snowing!"  "Traffic is terrible!"  "It sure is getting late!"

          Once I obtained a full time job cleaning cars for Alamo and National Car Rental Agencies, I quit driving for BBSI.  With all the vacuums and car washes and traffic noises, I thought I might be able to work an entire shift and, maybe, I would never smell or talk or listen to a co-worker ever again.  But after a few months I discoverd the company itself—EAN Holdings—was so corrupt and managers so terrible that I couldn't tolerate working for them and resigned (detailed here).

          Two weeks later I began working at Avis Budget Group.  Same job.  Same pay.  But (just like Brasher's and Manheim) ABG is a much cleaner, safer, and professional company to work for than EAN.  I was much happier.  My schedule was consistent.  My managers polite, understanding, and even complimentary at times.

          So why is it me?

          Why am I, once again, dissatisfied with my work environment?

          Within my first couple weeks at ABG three different co-workers drove into the back of the car I was driving through a car wash.  It must be me.  I must be driving too slow.  Once is a coincidence.  Twice is bad luck.  Three times in ten days?  Clearly, that's my fault.

          My third week I was sitting in the break room with a male and a female co-worker (neither of whom I knew other than to exchange greetings).  They were talking—each from a different country and speaking their own accented English—so, at first, I was unable to understand any of their conversation.  Their accents were so heavy I didn't think they were speaking English.  But (just like the way Antonio learns English in the 13th Warrior) I soon began to understand some of their words and then almost all of them.
          He was, and had been for several minutes, sexually harassing her.  Brazenly.  Openly.  Willfully.  He degraded her and her family and laughed about it when she protested.  He talked about her and interrogated her using the vilest words.
          I wish I could say I immediately jumped to her rescue and forced him to stop his ugly tirade against her and all women.  I didn't.  I was shocked and I thought, 'The words coming out of his mouth can't actually be what I think I'm hearing; I must be missing the context of their conversation; they must be best-friends and this is just banter...dark, ugly, jokes; I just don't get the funny because I missed the beginning of the conversation...which must be a running joke because she keeps saying "How many days have I told you to stop saying these things to me?"
          I questioned her later.  Learned he had been sexually harassing her for months.  Learned she refused to report him.  So I reported him.  I wish I could say he was fired.  He wasn't.  She was eight months pregnant and so she left on early maternity leave.

          Last week, I attempted to provide guidance to another co-worker regarding a policy, which we'd all been instructed to comply with a few days earlier.  In hindsight, I was not very politic (in fact, I was as blunt as silence can be).  He was preparing to work on a vehicle "out of order" and I took it and put it back.  He protested.  So, I pointed at the car which the manager wanted next and said, "that's next".
          He verbally exploded.  His posture was aggressive and, at one point, I was certain he was going to punch me.  He slammed car doors and kicked trash cans instead.  The gist of his yelling was, "you are not my boss, you can't tell me what to do."
          So I reported him to HR.  Verbal abuse, creating an uncomfortable work environment, refusing to comply with company directives, blah blah.

          It's me.  I can't work with people anymore.  And it's not because people at work are any different than they ever were because "people" have always been this way.  "People" fall into two categories: slammers and closers (detailed here) and the vast majority have been, and will always be, slammers.
          The reason I now-know it's me is: I now realize I was once a reasonably-tolerant closer who kept his mouth shut, professed a live-and-let-live mentality, and grinned and bore it.
          Now, I can't.  Now, I say something.  Now, I speak up.  Now, I make corrections where I think corrections are warranted . . . even though I should shut up and keep my feckin' opinion t' me-self.


Symmetrifractal - Mike Swale

Late Spring Cleaning of Brain Detritus

          Costumes.  People who dig themselves a nice comfortable rut and then walk that rut for the remainder of their days.  Committing crimes, and by crimes I mean things the perpetrator—rather than society—believes to be wrong.  Which leads to a tipping point and voila, "I'm a criminal; this is my costume".

          I knew a guy who claimed he had PTSD (which he called 'battle fatigue') which he said he "got" when serving as an apprentice seaman aboard a ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Once, he detailed the traumatic hours his vessel took and returned fire, his fall down a gangway ladder and his feelings of extreme stress caused by an inability to see what was going on since he was below decks the entire time performing duties, listening to the barrage.

          From earlier conversations, I knew he had been drafted into the Navy in 1967, at nineteen, and I was also aware—but chose to never mention—that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (whether real or fabricated, it matters not) was in 1964.

          I'll refer to this storyteller by name from here-on because Billy doesn't "go on the web or do any of that smarty phone stuff" and even if his girlfriend reads this to him he could brook no argument with me, because it's all the truth.  Or at least these are facts as he believed he understood them and as he related them to others.  Which is the same.  Except it isn't, is it?

          Bill—now a 66-year old hippy—may have real memories of, and honestly think he was present at, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.  It doesn't matter that he wasn't; his brain thinks he was.  The same brain that doesn't think he's a hippy anymore.  He admits he was, "kind-of a wild child and maybe 'the hippy label' could have applied in the 70's."  But that was, "in his youth" and, "not who he was anymore".

          The reason I say Billy is, was, and-forever-will-be a hippy is because he wears the costume.  His black shoulder-blade length hair is never out of a braided pony tail.  A bandanna of some kind is worn as well at times.  He dies his thick beard black to match his hair, and every day—without exception (summer or winter)—these are the clothes he wears:  black leather biker's boots, black Carhartt pants, and a black leather vest with small lapel pins which signify his Vietnam service, support of POW/MIA, etc.  He not-only looks like Tommy Chong but his vocal pace and tone sounds almost the same as the character from the movies (a peppering of far-out's, his dude's are long and filled with too many U's just like his way too-many man's are heavy on the A's).

          The only stories Billy seems to enjoy recounting are those that involve drugs.  After a few weeks, one gets weary of yet another version of:  when he almost got busted; when he had taken too much; or when he did something stupid because he didn't want to get busted or had taken too much.

          On more than a couple of occasions, I witnessed strangers approach Billy in restaurants or on the street and ask if they could buy drugs.  He always politely informed them he "wasn't carrying" (had nothing to sell).  Because of the numerous prescription drugs he had to take, now, Billy only smoked an occasional joint.  None-the-less his costume still acted like a placard (Get Your Illegal Substances Here!).  He refused to take the sign off even though he was no longer in-business because, although it looked like a costume to others; to him, it was a uniform.  He had worn it his entire adult life, it was the foundation for all his memories, and he hadn't chosen retirement...his doctor explained the facts to him and he chose life.

          Billy had been arrested a few times: loitering, vagrancy, possession, public intoxication, failure to appear, etc; and—each time—he had spent a few days, weeks, or months in jail.

          I asked what he thought about living the type of life that always carried with it a potential for incarceration.

          He replied, "It was no different than gettin' drafted.  I was sent to war; no choice.  I did what my country asked; I served.  When the cops rousted me, or I got busted for somethin', it wasn't no different.  The Navy and the Man: even though they both made me go and do, places and things I didn't plan-on or wanna-do, they both still gave me three-hots-and-a-cot, free medical and dental care, and there was always someone to talk to until my time was up."

          I asked why Billy had never been dissuaded by the illegality.

          He said, "The law is wrong, man.  There's nothin' wrong with takin' drugs.  What anyone on this planet wants to put in their bodies is their business.  Drugs are illegal because the government needs to keep the military-corporate-industrial-police state funded.  It's OK if you take prescriptions from your doctor; it's not OK if you grow your own.  No taxes.  Less jobs for the masses.  The day they make every drug legal is the day that tens of millions of police, lawyers, jail guards, border guards, pharmacists, doctors, and prescription drug manufacturers go on unemployment."     

          Billy may be retarded (that was the medical term his VA psychiatrist used: minor retardation) but it was self-induced.  Decades of illegal drugs had killed more brain cells than he could spare.  But he was still savvy enough to put some cogent thoughts together once in a while.  And that was entertaining to witness.

          Since it is not in my nature to drive a point home at the expense of common decency, I didn't ask Billy to enlighten me as to how he thought his body's organs had gotten into their current state of imminent failure.  It may have been one way to refute his "nothin-wrong-with-drugs" claim.  But, I suspect, he would have blamed his terrible health on agent orange or paraquat or MK-ULTRA and never on the misdeeds he inflicted on his own body, which was all "his business" until it was time to die.  Then he went to the VA.  The government now keeps him alive with taxpayer dollars.

other articles with death-panel candidates:

A free "stand in" loaner from the dealership

I have mixed emotions.  Sorry and perturbed (to have been dealt this hand); combined with a bit of consternation (at feeling forced to—once again—gripe and complain like an ornery ass-hat) and pleased as a swine wallowing in his own ordure (at my current vehicular status).  I eliminated names to protect the guilty and the innocent.

Smart Center Portland General Manager,

          I ordered a 2014 smart cabriolet in February.  At the time, I was informed it would be built in April and delivered in late May.  As the months passed, I was informed of the status of my vehicle, its VIN number, when it would arrive in the port of LA, and when it was expected to get to Portland.

          On 23 May I received a quick note relating that since it was a 2015 model year that it was uncertain when it would be released and that I would be kept updated.

          I wrote back expressing my huge concern; I was expecting my 2014's soon arrival and was now worried it might not be the model I wanted.

          This was your salesman's reply:

"The only difference between the 2014 and 2015 Smart is a digit in the VIN.  If its not the car I promised then you will have your deposit refunded no questions asked.  I will let you know when Smart trucks the car North to us."

          No acknowledgement that I ordered the current model year—not next year's—and no explanation. 

          Is this how all customer's are treated?  If I had ordered an expensive Mercedes and the next model year arrived instead, would I have been provided full explanations or would I also just be encouraged to request a refund?

          I want to understand this mix-up.  Is it only mine or an entire shipment?  Does this happen routinely when new model years come out or is it the first?  Was the mistake made when the order was submitted or on the factory's end?  What is your best educated guess on arrival?

          I don't intend to wait until September.  I ordered a convertible in February so that I could enjoy the top down this summer. 

          I do not want to have any more dealings with that salesman; he should focus his derisive 140 character messages on young tweeters and not on people who've already bought a car or three in the past.


Veach Glines

Mr. Glines,

          I apologize for my salesman's seemingly emotionless, flippant, curt and non-helpful email message.

          I have reviewed the order and determined that indeed your order was originally processed as a model year 2014 but was switched by the factory due to the changeover from one model year to the next.  I am working with the smart brand people, now, to see when we might be able to get the vehicle from the port.  I will let you know as soon as I hear from them.

          Until I can get a definitive answer, I would like to offer you a Smart convertible to drive.  Although it will not be the car you ordered, I am hoping that it would be a satisfactory short term solution.

          Per your request, I removed the salesman from your file and added a new salesman.  I have cc’d him on this message and will make sure he connects with you right away to update you and make arrangements for alternate transportation. 

Thank you,

General Manager

Yesterday I met with the General Manager who gave me a 2013 smart cabriolet to use until my 2014 2015 arrives or they locate one in stock somewhere.  Thank you smart center of Portland.

see my hopes way up there? teetering?

          Today, I was informed that my vehicle is being held in the port of LA/customs because it's a 2015 model.  According to the salesman (who I'm beginning to despise rather than just think about the same way I do all people who sell for a living: with disdain) since the 2015 models are not authorized to be delivered yet, it will not be trucked north for an undetermined amount of time.

          I ordered a 2014.  I've been told the 2015 is the same as the 2014 and that the only difference between them is a digit in the VIN number.  I'm still... what's the word? ...pissy.  That fits.  Color me pissy and skeptical (because sales guy is an idiot).

5 reasons why you should avoid Enterprise, National, Alamo Car Rental

          I resigned from ERAC / EAN Holdings (the parent company of Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental agencies) after ten weeks working as a service agent at their Portland, Oregon, airport (PDX) locations.

          Are you looking for work?  I advise you to seek employment elsewhere.  Many of these reasons are systemic or intrinsic to EAN Holdings policy and are not limited to the PDX area.

          Maybe you are considering renting a vehicle and would like to be more informed.  Here are five reasons why you should never rent from Enterprise, Alamo, or National car rental agencies:

          1.  Safety is never first.  If a vehicle has a 'low tire pressure' indicator light on the dash the policy is to fill the low tire(s) and rent.  Service agents never inspect low tires for damage unless a nail is so large it's impossible to miss or a leak so fast the tire won't hold air.  Service agents never refill the windshield washer fluid until the reservoir is empty and either a customer or indicator light informs someone.
          Normal preventative maintenance (oil change, rotate tires, etc) is done when the manual recommends except when a large demand for vehicles occurs (every holiday, busy weekends, etc) then side-lined vehicles are rented without being maintained.
          Service equipment (gas pumps, vacuums, car washes, etc) are in a constant state of disrepair.  For example:  the automatic shut-off valve on the gas-hose nozzles don't always function.  I got my clothes soaked with gasoline once (and they don't issue sufficient uniforms nor provide laundry service).  I witnessed at least one "accidental" overflow every week and learned from a co-worker that small spills (less than 10 gallons) which everyone had caused/witnessed were inconsequential compared to his largest.  He claimed that once he set a gas nozzle to fill a car, went to lunch, and returned after 30 minutes to at least 100 gallons of gasoline "accidentally" spilled into the environment, storm drain, his work space.  (And no, neither OSHA nor the EPA were informed as the law requires.  EAN does not abide by any law that would slow work or cost them money.)

          2.  EAN Holdings unlawfully discriminates against employees with disabilities.  Under the Americans with Disabilites Act, it is the right of every disabled employee to inform their employer of their disability and request they make reasonable accommodations; the employer is legally required to make the accommodation if it does not impose an undue hardship on them.
          I'm a person with Aspergers (now called Autism Spectrum Disorder) and felt very stressed by some of EAN Holdings scheduling policies.  Not only how they handled ten-minute breaks and lunches, but how I (everyone) was, at times, scheduled to work until closing (either midnight or 1 a.m.) and then scheduled a morning shift the next day.  Employees rarely work the same shift.  In a normal five day work-week I was scheduled to begin at four different times.
          I informed the head manager as well as both supervisors of my disability and requested they make some scheduling accommodations to reduce my stress.  From that day on I was scorned, put off, talked down to, and treated disdainfully by every manager and supervisor.  For many weeks, whenever I would mention the unaddressed request to my chain-of-command, they told me they were "still looking in to it."  This refusal to accommodate my request was—ultimately—the final straw which caused me to resign.

          3.  Enterprise doesn't care about their employees, only about increasing company profit.  When I began working hourly for National/Alamo in January, both were union companies.  I and all of my co-workers (some of whom serviced cars for their entire adult lives) were 40 hour-a-week full time employees eligible for 1.5x overtime pay, holiday pay, vacation pay, med/dental benefits, 401K, life insurance, etc.
          However, Enterprise's hourly employees aren't unionized and—consequently—are all part time.  They each are scheduled to work less than 32 hours a week and are eligible for no benefits except those mandated by law.  All Enterprise hourly employees are youth who live at home/go to school, adults working a second job, or seniors augmenting their pensions/social security.
          Although the exact same cars are driven in-to and out-of our respective service islands (every day I cleaned cars rented by Enterprise and their service agents cleaned cars rented by National and Alamo) we never worked together at the same service islands, and did not share break rooms, supplies, or equipment. 
          In early March, the contract between the Teamsters Union and EAN Holdings expired.  National and Alamo hourly/union employees have been working without a contract since then.  Negotiations are now considered "stalled."  EAN Holdings wants to eliminate the union and make all National and Alamo hourly employees part-time with no benefits like their Enterprise hourly employees.  Obviously, the union wants to increase the benefits for their members without going on strike.  They are at an impasse.  Before I resigned the shop steward informed me, "it doesn't look good for the union."
          This was the penultimate reason for my resignation.  I wanted to be the first rat off the sinking ship.  I enjoy working outside, listening to music all day while I clean cars.  I quickly got hired to do the exact same job (in the exact same union) at a competing car rental company.

          4.  Everyone is either a thief or is extremely ethically challenged.  If you rent a vehicle from Enterprise, Alamo, or National and—in your rush to catch a plane—accidentally leave one of your cherished personal belongings in the trunk, under a seat, or in the glove assured it wasn't lost for long.  An employee found it and wears/uses/sold it.  There is an unenforced policy outlining how to turn-in found items.  When a lost item is found, it is supposed to be turned in to a manager and the company holds it for a few months before it is donated.  I turned-in items when I found them (almost every day), even after I discovered some of the items I had previously found had been thrown into the trash (maybe a manager called and the owners of those shoes or that jacket told him to discard them).  I witnessed so many lost items taken home by drivers, service agents, and even managers that I could not recount them all.  Some of the more noteworthy I watched people take home were:  suitcases, a sleeping bag, sporting equipment, jewelry, and watches.  Every day there would be more than one pair of sunglasses or prescription glasses found.  Umbrellas usually got thrown away immediately because locals of the Northwest don't use umbrellas, only tourists do.  The pile of cigarette lighter-to-USB chargers was so large (because most employees had stolen their fill) it had to be thrown away on a monthly basis or it would fill the found-this-but-have-no-use-for-it shelf (where I put a laptop printer six weeks before I resigned.  It probably still resides there.)

          5.  Lies, dishonesty, and 'fudging numbers' is encouraged, condoned, and incentivized.   Every supervisor lies to every subordinate (usually to encourage unsafe acts or to speed production at the expense of quality).  Every employee lies to his supervisor (usually to cover damage/mistakes, poor performance, or anything which could reduce the employee's bonus).  Every sales "rental" agent is dishonest to every customer (because their bonus is tied to selling upgrades or insurance).  Every manager fudges his numbers to his superiors (because his bonus is linked to renting every available vehicle and only keeping reserved vehicles on the lot).
          I was lied to by my manager when he hired me and every time I spoke with him after that day.  I only learned the truth about how my bonus was computed after I resigned and spoke with HR.
          I felt compelled to be dishonest to a manager because he required me to multitask in order to comply with the required number of vehicles needed (worst case: one car every 6 minutes during a three-hour period).  So I let a gasoline nozzle go unsupervised while I vacuumed only to discover one overflowing when I eventually smelled fumes.  I know that I caused over ten gallons to spill on that occasion (based on how much the nozzle could dispense and how many minutes I worked without remembering to check).  When I informed my manager of the spill, his first words were, "It wasn't too bad, right?  Probably only a couple gallons?  And you cleaned it up with the spill response kit?"  I gave him the answers he wanted to hear.  My third "yes" was mostly true.  I tried to clean it all up.  Except for the large amount that floated on a nearby stagnant puddle, which drained into a nearby green space and storm drain.  Absorbing several gallons of gas floating on 300 gallons of ditch-puddle water is impossible to accomplish with three carbon pillows and a few dozen carbon pads.
           I assisted several times in fudging management's numbers by moving cars where I was told to move them.  They were ready to rent, serviced and "clean" (no EAN cars are ever really clean after they have more than 3,000 miles or so—that's not possible in less than 6 minutes).  I moved them into storage/maintenance lots so they could tell their supervisors that their lots were empty.
          I witnessed rental agents lie to customers every day.  The local favorite is, "You really should get the additional insurance because if you're in an accident, say, and weren't nearby, so had to get it towed to a shop in a small town; without the additional coverage, the entire time the car is being repaired you'd be liable for the daily rental, which could be weeks!  You don't want to be liable for weeks of rental while it's being repaired do you?"  A lie that many, many, people fall for.

          Not every car rented by Enterprise, Alamo, or National is unsafe and dirty—any more than every EAN employee is a liar, a thief, and/or discriminates against people with disabilities and behaves immorally or unethically.

          Why should you apply to work for a company like this?

          Why would you do any business with a company like this?

          I personally know of at least two rental car companies who don't permit any of these behaviors and which will terminate an employee who steals, lies, allows or performs unsafe acts, discriminates, or behaves in an unethical manner.  Take your business or job application to a company with good business practices.  If you think I must be just a disgruntled employee and choose to not follow my advice...don't say I didn't try to warn you.

It's 11:11 (that's 2311 for Europeans) do you know where your superstition is?

          This is something I did, do, and will do again: re-read, re-post, and re-comment.  I wrote this four years ago.  It contains the required number (for me) of *bing* elements, which I—now—include in the title.  The bookends work.  My beginning, middle and ending flow in a succinct-enough fashion to warrant another look, and I recall the mentioned rapscallion didn't understand my title's double entendre, which made me feel old when I explained my childhood television's curfew question.

          The sentence—I'm proud that I am smart enough to not have any superstitious beliefs—is vainglorious and condescending; but, it's also true.  A few months ago, I had a brief conversation about ghosts with our resident rapscallion (my paramour's teenage son).  All conversations with youth are brief, so this one might almost count as a lengthy one.  We were watching TV, and I was jumping over a commercial logjam in 30sec hops with the DVR remote (for unaware Europeans: American TV has a few-minutes of commercials every ten minutes).  My last hop advanced into the show, so I made a couple 10sec back-jumps and we watched a portion of a commercial for one of those shows where a group of people walk around at night, with night vision cameras, in old buildings (for unaware Europeans: most Americans think one-hundred year old buildings are ancient).

"Do you believe in ghosts?"
"No."  I said (as I paused the TV).
"So, ummm, what do you think happens after you die?" 
"Where were you before you were born?" (My default teach-a-teenager position has become—answer a question with a question.  It can, occasionally, cause an additional sentence to be added to the conversation.)
"So, like, that's it?  Nothingness?"
"You almost sound upset."
"Well, it's kinda know...blip and we're done."
"I'm not telling you what to believe.  You can pick from dozens of religions that say you go someplace magical.  Also, if you want to think ghosts move old dusty chairs in basements of derelict buildings or float around as orbs...well, that's your prerog™."  (Clipping a suffixplus is kinda lame, but I get a kick when he repeats them.  In a month I'll overhear him with a friend playing Guitar Hero, "If you don't wanna use the mic while I play guitar that's your prerog bitch.")
"But you don't.  And you're happy with that."
"Not only am I content with 'blip and we're done' (as I said blip I snapped my fingers) I'm amazed and confused by anyone who wants and believes their existence to be infinite and forever."
"Amazed and confused—isn't that a Led Zep..."
"Dazed and confused is Zep.  Amazed and confused is Neil Diamond."
"You sure?"
"About the song titles...yes."

          This conversation got me thinking about my lack of superstitious beliefs.  I realized that I do have one thing which can only be explained as superstitious ideation.  It also could just be a big coincidence (I once had a co-worker who said there were no such things as coincidences, but I think he might have been superstitious).

          Almost every time-telling device in my possession, or around our home, is digital.  I don't wear a watch (and haven't for many years).  Since I don't live a life of deadlines, schedules, or appointments (and haven't for many years) I'm usually not concerned with knowing what time it is.  This lack of concern results in my not looking at the digits on the stove or the front of the DVR.  I can answer my cell, talk, and hang up...all without looking at the time.  I probably check the time about six times a day.

          I usually need a strong reason to look at a clock.  If I'm woken and it's still dark out, I'll point my eyes at the digits on the nightstand.  If someone rings our doorbell at night, the clock will tell me if it's too late for our resident rapscallion to have visitors.  If I've been reading for hours and wonder if I could squeeze in another hundred pages, I'll let those same digits on the nightstand decide.  If I'm hungry, but we have dinner plans this evening, the digits inform me if a snack is necessary.  A round of golf could take 4 hours.  The film starts at 5:45.  The store closes at 9.  Even in my lackadaisical life there are reasons to look at the time.

          Lately (and by that I mean for the last several months) when I do, it seems, more-often-than-not, the digits are all the same.  An inordinate amount of the time, when I check the time, it is either 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55, or 11:11.  And I read somewhere, enough years ago that I've forgotten when and where, that when that happens regularly it means something important is going to happen—and, that something is going to either be fortuitously good or viciously evil (I also forget which).

          I'm not saying that every time I check a clock it's always all-same-numeral time.  But out of a possible 720 different minutes in every 12-hour period, there are six times it occurs (for unaware Europeans: Americans use a.m. and p.m. instead of the 24-hour clock).  That's a dozen opportunities out of every day, or—to be specific—only a 0.83% chance for it to happen every day.

          I woke up at 4:44 to use the bathroom last night.  My landlord had people clean-out the rain gutters today; they arrived at 11:11.  I can go a day or three without it happening, but it's so frequent that I've begun to seriously wonder at the odds.

          If I was completely non-superstitious, I wouldn't even notice if I sat down to watch TV at 5:55 or went to bed at 1:11.  But since I can't seem to stop noticing it happen, I must be a little superstitious.

          [After writing this essay, I began to look for appropriate images and, in so doing, discovered more than a few e-groups discussing the 'phenomenon' as communications from the other side or somesuch.  They were a comfort to read, because then I realized that all I'm doing is pattern-recognizing.  If I see it's 10:52, I immediately forget the time and note to myself, "almost eleven."  But when I started the car last week and it was 2:22—that immediately got saved in long term memory because it's a signpost, of course!]

          AAAhhhh me.  Once again a superstitiousless idiot.

Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. — Helen Keller (blind and deaf author-activist)

tched chickens, three un...

          This is (but shouldn't be) still considered counting one's chickens. approved; VIN number in hand (the first 5 letters of which are: WMEEK I do naught shite ye); insurance prearranged; and not hurricane season (nothing to capsize a cargo ship in the Caribbean).  So unless—while unloading the ship or loading the truck, someone tries to carry too many smarts at one time, happens to drop mine and then accidentally steps on it—my chicken is quite successfully pecking a hole through its shell.

          Accordingly, I designed this custom badge from GoBadges to replace my factory smart-logo because, although I understand why someone would want (nay, need) to keep the emblem and model on their Toyota/Hyundai/Ford/Chevy/Honda/Chrysler/Mitsubishi in order to readily identify theirs, in a parking lot full of similar, generic, mid-sized sedans—I don't think that's going to be an issue I have to contend with.  (If you look close, you may notice I gave the snapperhead logo a teeny-tiny facelift).

Dateline: T minus 30 days

My smart car is on the ocean.  It is scheduled to dock in the port of Los Angeles on or about 16 May; add 10 days to get to Portland, and Memorial day should be memorable.

Memorial day update:  It's in car-jail.  Delivery date is now TBD.

TOBG (timely oldies but goodies)

          I created and posted this five years ago at the same time of the year.  Today, I decided to drag this up from the archives to the present because I'm feeling very out-of-sorts and I can't seem to locate any of my vastly diminished creativity (it may already be completely gone).  Maybe I've still got some around.  Somewhere.  But I just can't seem to find any and I'm too discouraged to search any harder.

Mr Nobody - film review (☆☆☆☆☆)

     Mr Nobody, Jaco Van Dormael (2009) is a film I strongly, highly, emphatically recommend—to people with brains that work like mine.

     Here's a test:  Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky (2000); the question is not if you liked it, or even if you enjoyed Jared Leto's performance (he's also the main character in Mr Nobody) the question is:  Have you watched it, in its entirety, beginning-to-end, without distraction.  Yes?  Go to the next question.  No?  I don't think you'll be able to sit thru 30 minutes of Mr. Nobody.

          Same question about Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001).  Yes?  Next Question.  No?  You will be so lost and confused by Mr. Nobody.  Your brain just doesn't work like mine.  It's not a better/worse thing, we just process information differently.

          Which of these five films have you seen?  Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe (2001); Sliding Doors, Peter Howitt (1998); Inception, Christopher Nolan (2010); Cloud Atlas, Tykwer/A&L Wachowski (2012); Memento, Christopher Nolan (2000).

          None?  You won't make it through the opening credits of Mr. Nobody.

          One or two?  You may be able to watch the entire film (after all, you made it through Requiem as well as a frenetic, subtitled, French comedy) but you lack sufficient film foundation to actually get your brain completely around Mr. Nobody.  The up-side:  you have a short list of must-see films to catch up on (except Cloud Atlas, you can skip that one; I only included it because I needed a 'high bar').

          Three or four?  You'll understand Mr. Nobody, so maybe you'll like it.  Lack of understanding is the main reason films like this (these) are disliked.

          You've seen all of them?  Then you'll love Mr. Nobody.

          It really doesn't matter what you think about any of these films—like, hate, or indifferent doesn't matter.  If you have seen all (or almost all) of these seven films, your brain works like mine.

one unhatched-chicken, two unha...

          After my car arrives, what will be the first alteration? 

          The badges—forward of each side mirror—will be replaced.

          Basic models are 'pure', cabriolet's 'passion', and limited editions each have their own.

          Mine will arrive with passion badges (in about a month) and I will immediately replace them with wampeter, which Smart Madness has custom made for me.

          Kurt Vonnegut coined the word in 1963 with the novel which begins:  'nothing in this book is true'.  Something which connects or ties an otherwise unconnected group of people together is a wampeter.

          Some salesman and loan officers; a few mechanics whom I've yet to meet; me; my family, friends and neighbors; you; the person who made the above badge, and then picked up her iphone (which has a green velvet case) to look it up and ordered Cat's Cradle using her Amazon app; other smart car owners (some of whom I'll exchange waves with in passing, others I'll exchange ideas with online, and a few others I may actually meet at the 2015 Portland smart car rally...which does not exist outside of this sentence as far as I know) — none of these people are in any way actually connected by this vehicle, this tool, this mode of transport for one or two people and an average-sized grey striped cat.  Nobody actually thinks a mystical-phantasmagorically-cosmic connection has actually been created by artfully combining plastic, metal, rubber, glass, cloth, leather, and matte grey paint, into the object which is currently sitting in the rain, in France, in a huge lot surrounded by thousands of other micro-cars.  I realize, nonetheless, that it is harmless to ponder this connection as if it actually existed.  So I ponder.  Busy, busy, busy.

I'm mentally ill and I'm OK, I create all night and I'm antisocial all day

          Around the same time that Y2K was a thing, I learned about a new word:  Aspergers.  I pronounced it with derision—two words: Ass Burger's.  Because, even though this was a label which seemed to apply to most of the personality traits which made-up the who I had always been, it didn't change anything.  It was just another rose-by-any-other-name thing.  Knowing there was a new medical label for the person that was me (who avoids doctors, of every ilk, like they're machete-wielding street-corner bullies) had little impact on me.  I have always been comfortable with my introversion and bewildered by the behavior of what extroverts refer to as normal.

          In the 1980s, I referred to myself as Über-introverted.

          By the late 1990s I easily joked about myself as someone who was at the, "Unabomber-level of introversion; without the bombs and with a keener eye towards manifesto writing."

          Today, I still pine for a shack in the woods, rarely find myself in a position to use the term Aspergers in conversation (which is more-than-probably because listendon'talk is my normal, and not because I avoid identifying which brand of homo-sapiens I was born into), and never refer to Aspergers by nickname or acronym (for the same reason it's penis, not willy or cock).    
          Aspergers has now been moved under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Some people have a problem with this change.  Some other "new mental illnesses" (now identified as such by the DSM) include: arrogance, narcissism, above-average creativity, cynicism, and antisocial behavior.

          I am now classified as a person with autism.  Personality traits are now referred to as diseases by machete-wielding street-corner bullies.

          These distinctions are causing some people to sit up and bark.  Others are shitting in their bed-clothes.  None of this has any more affect on me than when I learned—over a dozen years ago—that a new label existed for my introversion.

          La de da.
          Kay sera sera.
          Sometimes you just have to say what the fuck.  

The Dream - Haberkern

The Union Label

          Yesterday a customer said, "You're in a union at Alamo car rental, so what's your opinion about them.  Are unions beneficial?"

          "From my perspective,"  I replied, "the union makes a huge difference.  Years ago, when Enterprise Car Rental bought the Alamo and National car rental companies they had to take them as they were: union companies.  But Enterprise itself wasn't then—and remains today—a non-union company.  All hourly union employees who work for Alamo and National are full-time, 40 hours a week, eligible for overtime, paid holidays, sick days, vacation days, healthcare, full benefit package.  Hourly Enterprise employees are paid the same wages but are part benefits."

          Anyone who has ever criticized a union's efficacy needs to wrap their head around this reality.       

build date

          I've been informed that Friday, 4 April 2014, is the day my smart is scheduled to be built.

          That's National Cordon Bleu Day (if you didn't know, now you do) and I intend to celebrate that day by eating some crusty panco chicken, ham, and cheese.      

create your happy

          Epilogue/postscript:  I really had no idea when I created/titled this digital rendering that it was the first International Day of Happiness.  Anyone and everyone familiar with the real snapperhead that is me, knows I'd have ridiculed or—at the very least—made a joke out of such a foolish and crass Hallmark-label-façade.

          In my own way, I guess I did poke fun at it.  The "hidden message" is no where near some of my previous (which can be at-or-beyond the Where'sWaldo-level).  In this one, there are dozens of recognizable images and a couple which aren't hidden in any manner at all.  What so ever.  Out in plain sight.  As the nose on your face.

          Looking for one with more challenge in the hidden stuff department?  Click on that little © below and scroll past the comics until you get to one that makes you go hummm (or one that makes you say, "I don't get that") = hidden stuff abounds. 

Meme naysayer challenge

          You, me, and everyone we know have been inundated by memes and are also, more than probably, guilty of adding to the deluge.  It's now considered rather gauche to forward them or to even call attention to a meme which especially tickles you by showing your screen to someone else.  At least that's the impression I have from the cheap seats—which is the vantage point of those of us who are untumbling, non-twits, who don't have our face in the book.  (Albeit there are only twelve of us under the age of 65.)  Did I just hear a collective gasp?  I also don't own an account to pay my pals.  Yup, that was an audible intake of breath.

          I am shunning common decency.  Being mostly disconnected from the vast hypertextural flow over here in my tiny blogspot eddy I can write lengthy paragraphs which are seen by very few and those who visit this rather tranquil current are enured by the rants and foma I espouse.

          With no further ado...

spring haz sprung

          I know many of my fellow countrymen are still slogging thru the wintry mix and need to still use scoop-like implements to move blankets of snow from their path.

          Please know that I empathized with you today, while I and my cat wandered the forest trails on our first cat hike of the year.  It was in the low 60's (16° C), clear and sunny.

          We met this little green fella and saw five deer.

For - will shoot - It's A Trap - Skulls On Parade

doctormatt | veach | AssasinRoyale | bluesboyjr

I take the "better story..." part back

          After watching this, I remembered my 2006 story (written in 2008) about a similar hawk which almost landed on Pam's head.  I take back the part about actually wishing he'd landed.  The story is good enough without what would have resulted in lacerations and a ninety-minute drive to get her scalp stitched.

smart font

                                                   With slanted e or without...that is the question.

Pamela Pure War Holed

Volans - Murat Sayinger


Tula's Trousseau

          I created this advertisement (for my fiancée), which will be published in the next issue of a local quarterly belly dance magazine called From the Hip.

I'm a Teamster

          Another first.  My new position is servicing vehicles at National/Alamo car rental (cleaning, refueling, etc) which is a union job so I'm now a member of the Teamsters Local 305.

          I've never been in a union.  None of my assorted previous jobs were union and then I joined the Army.

          If—35 years ago—someone had said (while working my way through college) that in 2014 it would be considered an accomplishment just to be hired full-time at a union job with benefits, I would have scoffed.  Scoffed aloud...I tell you. 

Mouse on Mars - Cream Theme by ZEITGUISED

Frozen Solid - Day 2

Soon. Very soon.

          14 years ago the orange-splashed smart I decided against buying in Germany would've cost 11K, but wouldn't have been convertible and wouldn't have all the tech-extras of the matte grey one I ordered yesterday.  Even though the price has almost doubled since 2000, I'm quite pleased.
          Expected build-date is in April.  Delivery should be late May or early June.    

Birthday letter to my Mom (on her 75th)

Dear Mom,

          Yesterday, I was reminded your birthday was approaching when Pam asked “Isn’t your mother’s and dead-to-me-sister’s birthdays a day apart?”  When answering her follow-up (‘who’s was which’) I said, “I once had a mental trick which was...let’s see...Mom was born before my sister, so my Mom’s (...) on the 28th.”

          As I paused slightly at the (...) point, she tried to be funny and finish my sentence with: “is older than your sister”.

          It was a giggle in an obvious way, but it caused my brain to hiccup and question my decades-old trick; since the number 29 is larger than 28, is Mom’s birthday the 29th?

          I’m now back to kinda almost positive your’s is the 28th (because 28 comes before 29) but, regardless of the exact day, I hope you have a happy one on your birthday—whichever day.

          The conversation which ended with Pam messing with my memory or calling attention to the noticeable loss of it (a menopause symptom), began with her wondering why I disliked presents and when/why it began.  I tried to explain it and as I talked, old thoughts began to coalesce.  I said:

          I was a normal child when it came to gifts—eagerly anticipating presents in December wrapped in white tissue paper and in March after cake.  While recalling some childhood favorites:  Big Bruiser, Mister Man, a Crackfire rifle, a white spherical Panasonic radio on a chain, a red Huffy with a banana seat, a ten-speed racing bike (stored before Christmas in a neighbor’s garage), I also remembered a couple of not-so-greats:  a frozen-to-death hamster; a do-it-yourself model wagon train with wooden horses to carve; and, embarrassingly, trying to steer my sister away from buying me a plastic pin ball game, while we were ‘kids corner’ shopping for each other. 

          As a teen, my girlfriend began to sour gift-giving and -receiving for me.

          After wracking my brain on what she might really like...either spending weeks making something (like a jewelry box) or weeks of my paycheck on a bracelet or necklace...I would notice over the following months that she never wore it or preferred to keep using her old store-bought one.

          Conversely, the gifts I got from her made me sad.  The items themselves said ‘she really doesn’t know me, and either doesn’t listen or pay attention to what I say when talking about my preferences’.

          As an example, she didn’t seem to think my favorite color was something to remember.   (It’s been orange since I was 14... while working at the pro shop; one member teased another for wearing an eye-straining orange leisure suit with white stitching and I admired his vehement defense of ‘his favorite color’ and decided I agreed with him about the reasons orange was best—albeit not about his extreme wardrobe.)  I still remember that my girlfriend’s was black.  And not just because so many women claim that’s their favorite color, but because my gifts from her would almost invariably be dark, subdued, grey, silver, or black.  Never orange.  As if her first thoughts were how my item might look when accompanying her.    

          Long before my first marriage, I instituted a rule:  we’ll provide each other with a short list of affordable specific items, at least a month before the holiday.

          I continued this tradition with my second wife because I’d fallen into the routine.  I thought it worked, and she never balked at any of my suggestions (which was a big reason I married her and - then - became a big reason to divorce).

          In the mid 1980's I had opportunity to witness what I consider the saddest gift-giving and -receiving failure ever (between my Nana and her son, my Uncle):

          While visiting, Christmas of ‘86, she received a boxed fruit basket from him (it may have actually been a boxed basket of sausage, cheese, and crackers.  Maybe it was a boxed basket of candles, bath salts, and lotions).  No matter.  She beamed and was oh-so pleased.  She talked about her son (whom I never witnessed visiting or talking on the phone to) so warmly.  I learned she got gift baskets every year from him; once around her birthday and another around Christmas.  Always with a brief note attached, ‘With hopes this finds you well,’ or ‘Thinking of you this holiday season,’ or maybe slightly more personal ‘A milestone - 60 - wow.’

          Nana told me that he also called her a few times a year, to wish a happy or a merry.  I asked if she ever got a present from him that wasn’t from a catalog, ordered over the phone.  “No,” she said. “He’s very busy and the men in our family, as-a-rule, aren’t much in the way of gift-giving.  They say it’s not the gift but the thought that’s important and I agree.  The baskets say he still thinks about me and that’s what matters.”

          But I disagreed–then and still–and the aphorism (which I do agree with) is the reason she was wrong...there was no thought behind the baskets which his wife or secretary automatically ordered when the calendar said it was time.  And since he was intelligent enough to know that constant impersonal baskets from catalogs should have been (would be, by most people) perceived as less than sending no gift at all...and still he did only that...for decades...I can only assume his sensibilities were broken.  That sentence should have ended with a question broken?

          I suspect he might’ve been following in his father’s footsteps...doing as he was taught.  I recall occasionally riding with Papa when he’d “visit” his mother.  Papa seemed to enjoy my company (but the men in our family are practiced at deception) and I also recall enjoying the cage elevator in Great-Nana’s building; liking the candy she seemed to always have; wondering about the odd curb-feelers on her car; and I don’t think I minded talking with her as much as he did (at least that’s the impression he gave...the visits seemed brief, even to a five year old).  My thought is Junior had opportunity to witness Senior’s interaction with his Nana, solidifying that going through the motions is all that’s required.

          But where was I with my rant about gifts?  Oh yeah.  Third wife.  At first, I relaxed the rule because her daughter still received presents wrapped in white tissue paper and after cake.  After our first holiday, I proclaimed that I wanted no more gifts.  I told her I didn’t like them in general and that getting gifts made me uncomfortable (which wasn’t a lie).  I agreed to keep buying gifts for step-daughter, but much preferred she and I shop, pick out things we each wanted (which we could afford) and to then let the other buy them.  What I didn’t say was that it was because all the gifts I got that holiday were items I would never use (a fat tie when I only wore skinny ones; a sport watch with a massive dial when I only carried a pocket watch; a members only jacket ... Ugggh, remember those?  I hated them even when they were en-vogue).

          Fast forward a few now. 

          I very much like giving gifts when they’re honestly wanted and subsequently make the recipient happy.  I’m not alone in disliking giving anything—to anyone—if it’s unwanted.  Nobody likes their time or money to be wasted.

          Ditto that last paragraph replacing the words ‘giving’ with ‘receiving’ and ‘to’ with ‘from’.

          Which makes me think of your kerfuffle over the back porch light, which according to you wasn’t destined to become what you wanted if your daughter/my sister did the replacing.  I don’t blame you for nipping that in the bud before it blossomed into something you’d either hate every time you looked at it or would’ve needed to replace (dreading the next visit when you’d be forced to either admit hating it or make-up a white lie about it getting damaged).

          Bringing me to my very-own favorite “gift failure” with her:

          Backstory:  I began my collection of spheres in 1990 while on a camping vacation in Moab, Utah.  I bought a red-veined jasper sphere in a green-marbled malachite dish.  I quickly realized that If I didn’t set some rules for myself I could easily end up with too many spheres, from bowling ball size to pea size, so I chose a small bracket around the size of the first one (1.75" diameter) and only added spheres if they were between 1.5" and 2".  These outside parameters are soft (I don’t carry calipers) so...I have a few which are slightly larger and slightly smaller—but only by a millimeter or two.

          In the spring of 2000, when I was in Germany, she and her boyfriend came to visit before they went to Spain and Switzerland, and brought a sphere which she proclaimed a “late birthday present.”  She elaborated that although she knew it was slightly larger than my collection, she’d met this amazing craftsman and learned all about how he made these wonderful rainbow colored marbles and blah blah blah immediately thought about my sphere collection and decided—even though it was quite expensive—that she had to get one for me.  It was slightly larger than three inches.  The fact that it was very costly was mentioned.  A lot.

          The backstory as to why she should have known better:  She visited me in Georgia in the early 90's and saw my spheres when the entire collection could fit in one hand.  And she visited in New York in ‘98 and saw it when it was 50 spheres displayed on my living room wall.  I recall telling her then about all of my criteria:  no flat surfaces; no built-in stands; one piece only; any and all materials are allowed (currently the range is: woods, glass, dozens of different minerals and types of rock, rubber, plastic, different metals, ivory, and various composites like Formica); and – most importantly – never smaller than 1.5 or larger than 2 inches.  Also, I bought spheres with her in three different Indiana locations and she saw and handled those purchases.

          None the less, she spent (I would guess) well over $250 for a sphere that very clearly was not something that would fit in my collection.

          For years I kept her expensive marble (not a sphere) in a spiral brass window sculpture in the kitchen.  To not ruffle any feathers, when she came to visit last October, I moved it from the kitchen into my collection.  Of course—as expected—she sought and pointed it out to her husband with the re-re-re-mention of it’s expense.

          I attended a holiday party last month.  We were asked to bring a no-longer wanted item representing something we “wanted to put behind us”.  When someone picked our item, we would then explain what it represented, pick something from the pile, and explain why that item “intrigued or represented something we wanted to bring into our life in the coming year”.

          Yea – a crowd of old hippy’s, young hipsters, and wingnuts...most of our Portland-friends are pretty far out on the fringe.  The artist fringe is something I could never quite embrace.  I like meat and logic too much.  And vegan-spiritualists are so incredibly chock-full of nonsense they seem to be speaking gibberish.  English words but with sentences that lack any commonly understood meanings.        

          The Expensive Marble was selected by a woman who cooed about the colors of the rainbow imbuing her porch with it’s aura (or cleansing her essence or some-such gobbledegook).  I picked a coffee table book on art deco (a design era Pam and I both admire).

          When the time comes I’ll say I gave it away because it never fit in my collection and that I wanted to put deceit behind me, because I was tired of continuing the ruse.  I don’t know if I need to tell her now (so she can get over it in a year or two) or if I can put off telling her until her next visit.  Which, if Pam and I get married will probably mean the not-so distant future.

          While on the subject of gifts, I think it only apt that I mention the best and worst gifts you’ve given me:

          The best gift of all is my life.  I suspect I’ve not thanked you in clear and definite terms for birthing and raising me.  Sorry I didn’t say it sooner:  Mom, thanks for being my mother.

          Second best gift you gave was:  my smile.  You and Dad scrimped and saved but spent money on straightening my teeth...those thousands could easily have gone elsewhere.  As every year passes, I’m more proud of my smile (with only the one filling, which I got when I was twelve) I’ve got quite an impressive mouth for an oldster.  And it’s not just because of the braces; clearly, you instilled a higher oral hygiene standard; brushing, water picks, and less sugary drinks growing up may all have been a part of it, none the less, the combination stuck.  Thank you.    

          Third best:  my love of reading.  Having talked with so many boorish adults and ignorant children in my life, I’ve identified a common denominator:  none of them ever read for fun.  Most stupids think reading is something you had to do in school.  Thank you for reading to me as a child.

          Making me a cat person.  You may not remember doing it, but you did.  I got Popcorn in 1979 the week after you visited my first Milwaukee studio apartment.  You were leaving (walking down the outside steps to the car) and said, “I’m surprised you don’t have a cat yet.”  I replied that I’d been thinking about it.  A lie.  Twenty year-olds don’t know how to say, “Thanks Mom, what a great suggestion!”  Which it was.  And, even though my neighbors had a ton of pets, I hadn’t considered getting myself a cat until you mentioned it in passing.
          The wooden hinged box made at the prison (which I use).

          Every package of half-way cookies, which (even with the recipe) nobody else on the entire planet is able to make correctly.

          Rag rugs (3 adorn my floors and a 1 cushions the cat’s eating shelf).

          The one present you sent which I recall disliking so very much was a sweater in 2000.  It was a goofy Xmas sweater with a huge golfer on it.  You said later that it was a “gag gift” but it didn’t feel like that when you sent it.  I never wore it and felt real bad throwing an unused sweater away.  I think that same emotion must have driven me to keep up the ruse with The Expensive Marble.  I also think that same guilt-emotion is one of the contributing factors why I continue to say I don’t want gifts.  Maybe I empathize too strongly with the gift-giver.

          I mentioned this months ago about possessing several traits of Asperger’s.  Here’s a list of the most common symptoms for adults.  The first six are those I share to some degree: 
  • Average or above-average intelligence.
  • A precise eye for intricacy and detail.
  • Difficulties engaging in social routines, conversations, and small talk.
  • A preference for routines and schedules; stress & anxiety if disrupted.
  • Lack of eye contact.
  • Sleep problems, including difficulty in falling asleep, frequent nocturnal awakenings, and early morning awakenings.
  • Extremely specialized interests or unusual hobbies. 
  • Difficulties with high-level language skills such as verbal reasoning, problem solving, making inferences and predictions.
  • Difficulties in empathizing with others.
  • Problems with understanding another person’s point of view.
  • Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety.
  • Unusually sensitive or insensitive to sound, light, and/or other stimuli.
          I’m prone to read waaaay too much into what I think another person is feeling based on what I’m “reading” from a person’s non-verbal communication and vocal tempo.  This helped me be a good interrogator and interviewer, but it’s also one reason that I eventually left my last wife.  She was prone to crazy mood swings.  Her bad mood became mine.  Then she’d get angry that I was in a bad mood.  We could so easily become a snake eating it’s own tail. 

          Since I tend to “catch” the mood of those around me, I can get dragged without warning into a bad mood just because she’s angry at her boss, or her child, or the neighbor’s dog, or the traffic on her drive home.

          Fast forward to now:  I adore Pam’s moods.  I have a nickname for her that causes her to cringe when I use it: ‘Pure-Pam’.  She’s never in a snit without a real good reason.  Like you.

          I think Pam (and I) are both having perimenopause symptoms.  We both get night sweats and have unusual aches and tenderness in our joints.  But since I’ve been told men don’t get the symptoms women get, maybe my night sweats and body aches are just me over-empathizing—all psychosomatic.    

         Symptoms unique to me:  the occasional rapid or irregular heart beat and a decrease in libido (the only one the literature claims I could have).  So maybe the heart-thing is too much caffeine, the night sweats is too many covers, and the aches and pains is just from a lot of walking.

          PurePam still claims she’s too young for menopause.  So to explain her symptoms she says the tingling in her hands could be caused by sewing too much; sweating at night is too many covers; her lower libido and joint and body pain is because of some long work hours standing on a concrete floor which makes her over-tired; and her insomnia is either something she ate, too much sleep the day before, or because the book she’s reading is too interesting. 

          She doesn’t have moodiness or anxiety or any of the anger-stuff.  I can deal with smellier farts and sweats and all the rest, but I really hope she stays PurePam who never gets her panties in a bunch or her dander up.

          This has been my birthday present.  A real letter.  Not written with a pen, but I’ve always written better behind the keyboard.

          After watching the movie ‘Her’ where the main character’s job is writing and mailing computer generated letters which are designed to appear as if the customer wrote them with a pen on heavy letter stock, I realized it’s been way too many years since I wrote you a real letter.

          Although phone calls are nice, the spoken word is less solid.  I’ll insure there isn’t another five-year span between letters.

          With love and hopes that your next year is filled with happiness -

          {signed with a pen}

PS:  I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t end without mentioning your desire to give me a camera.  The fact that last year you were aware of my sensitivity to gifts (even if you didn’t understand why) and asked if a GoPro would be welcome, was in-and-of-itself...wonderful...just that you asked.

       Gifts are best when the giver—in sync with the receiver—selects an item the recipient is already considering.  I also appreciate that we were in sync.

       But (yea, here comes the but) I feel uncomfortable when you spend hard-earned on what I consider an extravagance.  Just as uncomfortable as when you asked if I’d like your car after you pass.  My thought process went thusly:  I can’t afford the added insurance and upkeep so, if gifted with a car, I’d sell it and put the money in savings, which–then–seems like I’d be “reserving” money from your estate...way too much like when dead-to-me-now had soon-to-die-dad “loan” his granddaughters money.  Icky-ick.

       I’d prefer you bake a bunch of half-way cookies and not buy me a GoPro.  I still love Necco wafers and non-pareils.  Or...I’d love a big bag of homemade GORP—my favorite is equal parts:  Kellog’s cracklin’ oat bran (which I can’t find locally) - Regular m&m’s - Nuts (a mix of peanuts, walnuts and cashews) - Raisins - and a small amount of mini marshmallows.  Thanks so much.  XOXO