Saturday, March 26, 2005

I know that nobody reads this blog. That's why I stopped writing it for a few months. Well, that and depression over the Election. But even after I wasn't depressed anymore, just bitter, I didn't write anything. Why?

The problem is, I'm not serious enough. When I write about a serious subject, I crib most of it from people who are a lot more serious and much better at research than I am. When I sit down to write a funny article, it turns into work, and I'm not even serious about being funny, like Dave Barry is.

Still, I do think thoughts and it feels good to put them in writing, so I'm going to quit worrying about being serious or being serious about being funny and just write this stuff down, secure in the knowledge that nobody reads it anyway.

I've been doing a lot of laundry lately, and I've been reading the little instruction on the dryer filter: "Clean Before Loading." It occurred to me that you might also consider cleaning after loading, or even after unloading. You've got a number of options, here. However you look at it, you're cleaning between loads, right, so it's all the same, right?

But no! The dryer manufacturers, whose job it is to think deeply about this stuff, are one step ahead of us novice filter advisory writers. What they have considered, and which came to me as a revelation only today, is that at some point you will dry your very last load of laundry. You don't know which load it will be, you'll only discover that in hindsight. As you lie there dying (if you have time) you'll think back over your life and you'll think about the last time you loaded laundry in the dryer, and you'll think, "Sonuvagun! That was my last load of laundry!" And aren't you glad you didn't clean the dryer filter after your last load, because that would have been wasted effort. What do you care if the dryer filter is clean now? Let the next guy clean the filter!

Okay, there's something noble about cleaning the dryer filter for the next guy, who you'll probably never meet. And cleaning the dryer filter for the last time could be one of those putting-your-affairs-in-order things you want to do before you go. But on the other hand, it's a stupid little chore that you can pawn off onto somebody else and I'm always for that, and apparently, so are the dryer manufacturers, because that's what they advise you to do: Wait until you know that you have to dry a load of laundry before cleaning the filter, because this could be your last load.

So there it is, a little reminder of our mortality, right there on the dryer filter. Life is so freakin' poignant.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Julie and I divide up the Christmas Ordeal like this:

She gives a crap; I don't.

She shops for the ideal present for each person; I look at something that's on closeout at Target and think, "How many people could I give this piece of junk to?"

I grab some wrapping paper and slap it on each present; she lovingly ties it with ribbon handcrafted by monks in the Middle Ages, adds miscellaneous decorative touches, and composes a lovely personal note.

Julie starts thinking about shipping boxes of presents across country on Christmas Eve, when the only way to get them there on time is to leave them on the roof for Santa to deliver; I start nagging her to finish the damn wrapping and let me get the boxes in the mail before the Thanksgiving turkey is cold.

This year my nagging bore a little fruit and I actually had four boxes to mail on December 14th. We had to have an argument and I had to tie a few bows myself (note to family: mine are the ones that look like the dog tied them), but for once the boxes and I were in line at FedEx early enough that I didn't have to use their "wormhole service" that actually blasts packages back through time to get them there by Christmas.

This was my first year to use FedEx instead of UPS. I decided to give them a try because the ads said that their ground service was cheaper than UPS's. I like cheaper.

Around here, this is what it's like to ship via UPS around Christmas:

First, you try to find a parking space within expeditionary distance of the UPS office. This isn't hard if you don't mind scraping your old pickup truck against the side of some jerk's SUV that's taking up two spaces, which I don't. You hire native bearers to carry your packages into the office, and your friendly UPS agent helps you use the computer to enter your packages into the system. You stand in a line longer than the ticket line to an Ashlee Simpson concert where she's actually going to sing, but it moves pretty quickly. Your packages are weighed and you're given a bill to pay in the trailer they've set up in the parking lot. All in all, given that one-quarter of the population of Los Angeles is at the UPS office at any given moment, the process is reasonably quick and painless.

Then there's the FedEx experience.

I walked in with my four packages. A couple of people were being served by the two counter clerks. I looked around and found a table with forms to fill out. There was only one type of form. I filled it out four times, once for each package. I got in line and waited for a clerk. And waited. And waited. I couldn' t imagine what was taking the customers ahead of me so long. Were they shipping anthrax to Zimbabwe? Were they trying to pay in Monopoly money? What?

I finally reached the clerk and she informed me that I'd filled out the wrong form. She pointed toward a table other than the one I'd been working at for the last fifteen minutes and told me to use one of those forms. She softened the blow, however. "You can put two packages on each form," she said, smiling the smile of someone who knows that you've just unwittingly eaten your own children.

The form did indeed provide spaces for two packages. But you still had to enter your own information twice. That's because the information was going onto peel-off labels that would be stuck to each of your boxes. Basically, I filled out crummy, hand-scrawled labels for packages that already had neatly typed shipping labels on them.

Once I got to the cashier, she weighed my first package and began typing what seemed like the first draft to her novel. I couldn't imagine what all she could be typing that had anything to do with my package. I could imagine her typing an instant message to somebody in the back room: "Hey, Lucille, How's it going back there? People are lined up to the door out here. Poke your head out and take a look! Any cake left from Michael's going-away party?"

She pulled out a tape measure and measured my package's length, width, and height. Then she measured the box I was shipping. (Okay, cheap joke, but that's the only kind I can afford.) "What's the maximum size of a package?" I asked. "Oh, yours is well under the maximum," she said, "but we have to measure everything." Then she typed some more. Eventually she printed out a sheet with both addresses on it (sender and recipient) and stuck it on the box along with the addresses I'd already written and the addresses from the form I filled out. That's three sets of address labels ( in case you count on your fingers and you ignored your mother's advice about never reaching into the washing machine while it was going).

Then she moved on to my second package.

This whole process took so long, I saw a woman who was waiting in line start carrying her packages back out to her car. Okay, that's not unusual. People give up when they're stuck in long lines, I've seen it before. But this woman was the very next person in line! And sonuvagun...she had her packages back in the car and was halfway to the UPS office before a cashier became available.

So, come December 24th when Julie has the last present wrapped and I'm racing off to ship the last box to the last family member, I think I'll spend an extra ten minutes on the road and drive to the UPS office. Because,you know, I absolutely, positively want to be back home by Christmas morning.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Why I Use a Pseudonym, Part 105:

My wife Julie provides flowers for an entity we'll call (disguising the name to protect the guilty) the Connecticut Yacht Club. The club holds an annual gala called, as it's called by every yacht club in North America, "The Commodore's Ball." Julie is doing the flowers, and there will be a lot of them. I know there will be a lot because I was up at 5:00 a.m. to go with her to the flower market downtown to buy them. She bought, I hauled, and I hauled a buttload of flowers.

Anyway, the committee in charge of the Commodore's Ball was discussing Julie's credit in the program book the other day. Her last name...my real last name, not that phony "Knight" moniker...is Julie Strnad. That's right, S T R N A D. Not "Strand."

With the last name "Strnad," I'm used to people misspelling my name. I don't hold it against anyone if they misread my name. I don't even hold it against them if they see it and think it's misspelled and "correct" it to "Strand." I'm not a schmuck. I cut people some slack.

But the good women on the Commodore's Ball committee wanted to write Julie's credit in the program book as "Flowers by Julie Strand," even though they know it's wrong, because they didn't want it to look like they'd made a mistake!

That's right: it was more important to the Mrs. Howells on the committee to avoid the possible perception of a typo than it was to properly credit the person who contributed so much to their event.

I know I'm prejudiced, but can you see why I hate rich people? Poor people would misspell her name out of ignorance or stupidity. But only rich people would be so self-centered as to do it on purpose.

Eventually, after much discussion, they settled on the credit "Flowers by Julie's Designs."

So, how do they manage things on your side of the looking glass?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Did you know that depression makes you stupid? I heard that tidbit on the radio yesterday, and it was mighty reassuring. On November 3, after learning that Bush had been re-elected, I went into a dark, black funk. That afternoon I found myself standing in front of the ATM facing an error message: INCORRECT PASSWORD. For the life of me, I couldn't remember the pin number I've been using for the past six months. I had to drive home and look it up.

The next day, I heard the radio item about how depression shuts down the brain and makes people stupid. At least it isn't early-onset Alzheimer's.

Anyway, my diminished brain has been analyzing (okay, brooding, moping, screaming silently) what went wrong for the Democrats this Presidential election. We've got an unneeded war going on, going badly, costing us hundreds of billions of bucks; the economy sucks; the President's approval rating is under 50%...and still the Democrats lost. Why? Or rather, as my brain articulates it, Why, why, why oh dear God in heaven, WHYYYY?

There are rumors of fraud, particularly with the electronic and non-auditable machines in Florida and North Carolina, and that could be it. Still, even if there were electronic shenanigans, and even if the actual count was marginally in favor of Kerry, Bush received a heckuva lot of honest votes.

Why, why, why oh dear God in heaven, WHYYYY?

I believe the problem was...John Kerry.

Zogby International President John Zogby of the Zogby Poll was a guest on Bill Maher's show Real Time. He offered the opinion that if the choice had been between Bush and Not-Bush, Not-Bush would have won handily. Alas, the choice was between Bush and Kerry.

Very early on, I was dismayed with the Democrats' choice of a candidate. Yeah, I was a Howard Dean fan. The man has fire and personality and he speaks from the heart. Or from the gut. So what if he screams now and then? I've seen men paint themselves blue, put on foam hats and scream their lungs out at football games. "Man Screams" is not a headline.

Kerry did not scream, and maybe that's not a bad thing, but he came across with all the passion of a cardboard stand-up. Who wouldn't be turned off by the forced hand gestures, the pontificating voice, and the artful dodging of tough questions?

I was talking to (okay, ranting at) Julie last night about Kerry. I'm absolutely agog that thirty-seven states ban gay marriage or define marriage as one man plus one woman. What in the hell is wrong with people that this should even be an issue? What skin is it off their (blue) noses? This election, all eleven of the anti-gay marriage propositions passed, usually quite handily, including one that was against any sort of rights for "domestic partners."

Clearly America is filled to overflowing with narrow-minded, born-again bigots who are so offended by homosexuality that they would deny even the most basic civil and social rights to homosexual couples who love one another. Fifty years ago, these holier-than-thou jerks would have been right at home barricading schools to keep out the colored kids. Maybe I got it wrong, but didn't Jesus preach something about tolerance? Agh.

I understand that Bush appeals to the shriveled, dehydrated hearts of these cretins. Okay, that's his "moral" base. But so did Kerry, stating that he believed that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that he didn't see any need to "amend" (i.e. bastardize) the U. S. Constitution with an Amendment prohibiting the marriage of gays.

So I asked Julie, "Do you think Kerry really gives a rat's patootie if gays marry?" She said that she didn't. I agreed: I don't think Kerry is worried at all about gay marriage. His home state of Massachusetts is one of the few states that have rejected anti-gay legislation. So, I figure his stance on gay marriage is pretty much the same as mine...as long as I assume he's lying. Or should I call it "spinning his response"?

Couldn't he even take a moral stance and say that the United States Constitution is for and granting and preserving rights, and not for taking them away? That he was morally offended that anyone would suggest using our nation's greatest document to discriminate against any particular group? Obviously, no, he couldn't.

Another example:

Prior to the Presidential debates, Larry King asked Kerry if he regretted his vote granting Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. Kerry fudged, said he didn't regret his vote, that he thought the President should have that authority. Come on, John...pull the other one. Of course you regret that vote! It would have been so easy for Kerry to say, "Yes, I regret it. Bush lied to us about what he would do with the power, about using it to obtain U. N. support for the war, about using it only as a last resort. Instead, he used it to circumvent the U. N. and the Congress, and he rushed into war as a first resort. Which is why I voted against giving him the money to wage the war."

But no, admitting mistakes was seen as a political no-no at that point, so Kerry bobbed and dodged and came off sounding like an ass.

Americans want a President with clear, strong beliefs. If Kerry has them, he failed to convince the public of their existence. Instead, he played the spin game, he waffled, he wavered, he ducked and bobbed when he should have been punching. He didn't even have the guts to call it "the Bush administration." He kept referring to it as "this administration," almost as if it was his own.

I still believe John Kerry would have been a better President than Bush, as would John McCain, Howard Dean, and Kermit the Frog. But voting for Kerry was like voting for a hologram. There may have been a real person in there somewhere, but damned if I could find him.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

I don't know how it's done where you live, but around here the polls are manned almost exclusively by retirees. The average age of a poll worker in Southern California is a-hundred-and-eight.

In this way the system reminds me of jury duty, where people's lives, their freedom, and the interpretation of complex legal issues are decided by twelve people too stupid to get out of jury duty. But I digress.

Julie and I voted this morning. We arrived to find two lines feeding into the polling room. After we'd stood in line for a few minutes, someone mentioned that one line was A-K and the other line was L-Z. The word spread and some people shuffled, muttering, from one line to the other. After that, people took it upon themselves to keep newcomers informed about the system in an informal, Blanche DuBois, depending-on-the-kindness-of-strangers method. It struck me as dicey. I would've felt better if they'd taped up a sign.

Julie signed in first. She displayed her sample ballot to the poll worker and the worker began flipping through a big book to find the name "Strnad," (not "Strand"). Once she found Julie's name, Julie signed in and the worker started to close the book. I quickly placed my hand in the book and said pleasantly and brightly, "Don't close the book yet!" The poll worker glared at me and instructed me quite sternly to step back...and she closed the book. Was it my imagination, or did she slam it shut rather defiantly? You know, putting me in my place. She waited for a moment and we stared at each other like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in the big showdown in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Finally she beckoned me forward.

I stepped up and displayed my sample ballot. She read the name. She laughed and said, "Why, it's right on the same page!" Yeah, duh. Imagine that. A married couple walked in together to vote. Don't that just beat all, Barney? Then she started flipping through the pages again looking for "Strnad" in all the wrong places.

Eventually I was allowed to sign in and the oldest man in North America handed me my paper ballot and the "privacy sleeve" that it goes in after you've filled it out. In fact, he handed me two sleeves. I handed one back to him. He stared at me as if I'd just shoved a two-headed baby into his arms. He snarled at me, "What am I supposed to do with that?" "It's an extra," I said, and then clarified, "I got two." He got a look on his face like a store clerk giving change to the Flimflam Man. "Okay," he said, and reluctantly he took the extra sleeve from me, keeping one hand on his wallet.

Eventually I got to vote, marking my paper ballot with a little penlike thing.

It made me wonder how things were going at the polling places where people voted on computers. I mean, if you were an election commissioner, who would you rely on to troubleshoot the system all day? Wouldn't newly-hired old people be just about the last group you'd want to put in charge of a computer system? What could be worse...cats?

This year, I wouldn't be surprised if Alf Landon finally won.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Now a CIA report has confirmed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Still, Bush insists that he would do it all again, even knowing that fact. Why? Because, in Bush's words, "[Saddam Hussein] was gaming the system!"

Would Americans have gasped in horror had Bush made this his battle cry at the outset? "Saddam's gaming the system! He's subverting U.N. sanctions! Are we going to let him get away with that? We have to go to war with Iraq!"

Somehow, I think not.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Julie and I went to the L.A. County Fair yesterday. We didn't go for fun (which was lucky), but because Julie, a Master Gardener, was giving a series of lectures.

Maybe I'll expand on the experience later, but I'm working on a screenplay for a short film right now and don't have the time. However, I did come up with a succinct summary that I wanted to write down and figured I might as well write it down here as anywhere.

Here it is:

Going to the L.A. County Fair is like watching television when there's nothing on: An onslaught of commercials and infomercials, interrupted by mediocre entertainment much of which will make you physically sick.

Back to work now.

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