Sunday, May 27, 2018

Being a Nighthawk

Philosophically speaking, I'm not big on the concept of free will right now. It's a long story and quite frankly my knowledge on the philosophical aspects of free will pretty much hinges on an educational series of You Tube videos and discussions with my twenty-two year old son who digs the subject like I do Star Trek. Seriously, my son has read all the big names in philosophy and can have a coherent conversation on the subject while I sound like poor white trash talking about the UFO that flew over the trailer park the night before.

On the other hand, the concepts of destiny or fate seem like superstitious nonsense to me. If anything, I tend to liken human existence to water molecules vibrating in a glass. There is some movement but our choices are limited to the circumstances we're born. I realized that's just the half-assed opinion of a middle-aged guy marooned in a pleasantly hellish suburban landscape filled with proto-facist drones, but everyone has to have a hobby.

My doubts about destiny or fate notwithstanding, somehow over the course of my entire work history I have found a way to end up on third-shift. Yes, a couple of times the choice was intentional, since the alternative was worse, but more often than not situations have arisen that seem to seek out my sorry ass and stick me with a vampire-like existence.

For those who aren't acquainted, third-shift hours usually run from eleven o'clock at night to seven o'clock in the morning. Variations abound, including a twelve hour version that starts at seven o'clock in the evening and runs to the next morning. What also can vary is the start of the work week, but over the years mine have always began on Sunday night. The one consistency though is how badly working nights can screw with your physical and mental health.

These dangers start with an increased likelihood of cancer and heart disease when the natural metabolic cycles of the human body get screwed six ways to Sunday because third-shift workers are going against millions of years of evolution by not sleeping at night. Scientists recently found another monkey wrench banging around in the delicate human mechanisms that's even more fun. Researchers have discovered that during normal night time sleep cycles, the brain flushes out harmful wastes that if left in place can cause all sorts of nifty illnesses like Alzheimer's disease and several others. So those of us working night are not only wrecking our physical bodies but the brain as well. This new information does seem to confirm my wife's assumptions that I have a loose, inert jello swishing around between my ears and not active brain cells.

What I've found fascinating though is the number of people who can't fathom the concept of working third-shift, nor the hassles involved. This includes numerous coworkers of mine who can't understand why I don't want to hang out with them until their nine o'clock morning meetings. Well, to be honest not staying for the morning meeting goes beyond just wanting to go home at the end of my shift to sleep. Despite the fact that my daytime coworkers all think highly of themselves, I'll be kind and say they aren't the most enlightened or cosmopolitan people. So I don't enjoy hearing about their views on the “proper” treatment of illegal aliens nor how every school in America needs to a heavily armed encampment. You can call me a snob if you want or a snowflake elitist, I'm just not keen on turning the country into a continent-wide weapons free zone dotted with fortress-like concentration camps.

Sleeping through the day, while most other humans are living normal lives is a whole other order of magnitude of difficulty. That is unless you develop certain strategies and methods. The first item is installing shades and blackout curtains to limit sunlight into the bedroom. These methods do not block all light but it reduces it down to the point to a dark twilight. That your bedroom takes on the atmosphere and mood of a tomb is something you learn to ignore.

Sounds from the outside world is the biggest obstacle to sleeping during the day. So much that I have developed an intense hate for the person who invented the motorized leaf blower. The sound of the average lawn mower has a white noise quality and in my experience, the noise of a motorized weed whackers quickly fades into the background. But leaf blowers, those insidious creations makes a persistent nightmarish noise at just the right frequency to make sleep impossible. The smaller leaf blowers used by home owners are bad enough sounding like a swarm of mutant bees. But the big commercial version used by lawn care services remind me of a shrieking demon set loose on earth and wanting to party.

Then of course, you have the usual disturbances which includes phone calls, trucks and cars driving through the neighborhood sharing their music, and people who knock on your door for some reason. Phone calls can be ignored, except when two or three hit close together. That's when the little voice whispers in my head as I try to sleep it might have been something important like my wife with a flat tire or one of the kids getting sick. So I jump up, fumble for the phone, only to discover it's some fool offering a great deal on life insurance.

Trucks and cars are a unique obstacle to sleeping during the day in that civility and human decency has decayed to the point that far too many people do not realize no one really wants to hear their musical playlist. That goes for every genre including heavy metal, country music, electronic dance, experimental jazz, besides the usual rap and hip hop. Now I wouldn't mind someone playing a selection of soft classical music as they drove by, but if that every happened my new concern would be that I suddenly died.

The absolute worst hurdle to sleeping during the day is the knock at the door. Most of my neighbors don't think much of me, or I them, but I do have good relations with a meager few with strict instructions from my wife to do nothing that might alienate them. So when there is someone knocking at the door who will not go away, I've got to answer it. Luckily this situation is rare but there was an occasion when one of the good neighbors was irate over the fact that she was convinced one of my two dogs was loose and had taken a shit in her yard. It took me gathering up my two fur balls and showing them to her to defuse the situation. Even then, I could tell from the tone in her voice that she didn't totally believe me. The other occasion involved the old lady living next door who desperately wanted me to know one of my lawn sprinkler heads was stuck. The issue for her was that the stuck sprinkler head was watering a portion of her yard and driveway. Self righteous justification is a dangerous thing, but I honestly feel at times my hate for suburbia and the people who inhabit is based in fact.

The question you might be wondering about is if third-shift is such a pain why don't I find another job? A good damn question and my best answer revolves around the fact that despite it all I actually like where I work. Most of previous work experience was doing maintenance in the manufacturing industries where it's always obvious you're just helping the rich elites and that they will massively screw the workers the minute the economic winds change direction for the worse. As a mechanical specialist in a hospital, I feel like that I am helping people, however indirectly.

At times third-shift sucks beyond human comprehension, its strains on the human body and social inconveniences causes me to buy a lotto ticket every once and a while so I can daydream about winning and then telling the world to kiss my ass. On the other hand, given that I'm such an antisocial curmudgeon whose disdain for the locals is so extreme, I have to admit working third-shift is sort of a sanctuary for me. To me that is a totally messed up and maybe an ironic state of affairs.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Twenty-Second Amendment - A Public Service Reminder

Way back in 1946 when Republicans in congress weren't insane sycophants they actually proposed a sensible and common sense amendment to the Constitution. That anyone running for president be limited to two elected term in office. See on April 12, 1945 only eight-two days after Franklin Roosevelt's fourth inauguration as president of the United States he passed away making Harry Truman the new commander-in-chief. For the first time since since March 4, 1933 somebody other than Franklin Roosevelt was president of the United States. After the midterm elections of 1946, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress and rightly felt anyone having that much power for so long was a really bad idea.

To say FDR's leadership through both the Great Depression and then most of the Second World War was key to the survival of the country cannot be overstated. But looking at the situation strictly through the fact that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, FDR's four terms was putting the nation into extremely dangerous territory. For that reason, the Twenty-Second Amendment was quickly added to the United States Constitution limiting future presidents to two elected terms.

While the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison supported the idea of a lifetime term for anyone being elected president, thankfully that issue was sidestepped with George Washington leaving office at the end of his second administration. Despite his numerous personal faults, Thomas Jefferson went farther by writing half-way through his own second term:

If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact, become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance.

Curiously enough, back in 1872 Republicans did discuss the idea of running Ulysses Grant for a third term but negative public opinion and opposition from members of congress killed that idea. And Teddy Roosevelt did run for a third term as president, but in the “Bull Moose Party” but his efforts only helped Woodrow Wilson win the office.

More recently, I remember Bubba Clinton waxing philosophically at the end of his second term about how it might be okay if a former president came back to the office after something of a break. At the time my politics was considerably different and I remember how my skin crawled listening to him justify such a position. Being completely honest here, my skin still crawls at the idea of anyone being president past the mandatory limit of two terms, it doesn't matter whether they be Republican or Democrat. And yes, I'm open to the idea of extending term limits to those serving in Congress. Adding further fuel to my anti-establishment fire, I have strong concerns for political family dynasties, whether their last names be Kennedy, Clinton, Bush, or anyone else.

This brings me to Trump, no I still refuse to put the term “president” in front of his name. What more can I write about the amoral individual currently living in the White House I haven't already posted. As you might be able to guess, it's about how he likes to “joke” about staying in office past the 2024 Constitutional limit.

Trump admires authoritarian leaders whether they be his BFF, Vlad Putin, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte . Then there was Trump's truly scary words of praise for China's new president-for-life, Xi Jinping.

He’s now president for life. President for life,” Trump told GOP donors in the Grand Ballroom. “No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

You'd have to be blind not to see how Trump wants to dominate everything within his grasp. For proof of this matter just lookup his positively gushing words of praise for any of the authoritarian dictators I listed above. Yes, previous American presidents have cozied up to dictators, many with considerable blood on their hands, but none have ever spoken openly about copying their unlimited time in office. Trump's words towards the free press and the independent judiciary also speak volumes about his true nature. That anyone who opposes him is a danger.

See the problem with Trump joking that the United States might copy China's move toward a president-for-life is that history has shown such inspiring dictators like gauge how the public might react if such a move was put forth seriously. In the past such as President Grant and FDR, public opinion short-circuited the idea for the former and any future reoccurrence like the latter is now formally prohibited by the Twenty-Second Amendment.

We live in different times now, more to the point Trump supporters now act like members of a deranged cult than a populist political movement. Yes, if there are any conservatives reading this essay I can already see the sneer on your faces along with feeling the rage bubbling through your minds. But see President Obama hadn't taken office yet back in the first couple of weeks of January 2009 and yet the TEA party movement magically appeared complaining about the deficit the federal government was running and that it was his fault. The entire time Obama was in office Republicans blamed him for over spending even though George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Clinton but had a tax cut passed that lead to the federal deficit doubling under his two terms. Yes, Obama had huge budget deficits during his time in office, but they were greatly reduced under his watch.

What makes the situation funny though is that now since Trump has his own tax cut passed the federal deficit will again be running over a trillion a year. Surprisingly though Republicans are no long gnashing their teeth over Trump reigniting the budgetary nightmare of overspending.

While seeing Trump impeached and then convicted by congress before 2020 would be personally awesome, the actual chances of that happening are quite slim. Sorry my fellow Democrats, even with the indictments, guilty pleas, and convictions achieved by the Mueller investigation I firmly believe Trump has committed crimes worthy of being removed from the White House, but it is unlikely to happen. Even if a “Blue Tsunami” of Democrats are elected in the 2018 midterms, getting the 67 votes in the United States Senate to convict Trump is damn near impossible. It would mean Republicans joining Democrats to convict Trump and they are not going to defy their base.

The Trump Cult is firmly established and will be with him no matter how many American jobs he promised to protect go overseas or destroys because of his desire to wreck accepted trading agreements. He is the epitome of the rage semi-literate white folks are now expressing. So unless there is a huge change in the mood of the unwashed, rage-filled masses, Trump will remain in office until 2020.

But what happens if Trump is reelected in 2020, something that is quite possible if the economy stays within acceptable parameters? Then there is also the real and depressing chance that Democrats will again decided to engage in an ideological civil war in 2020 sending the disaffected to third parties or just staying home on election day.

To say Trump having a second term in office is a nightmare akin to nuclear war or global pandemic is an understatement. His Supreme Court picks would all be loyalists to him personally along with any lower court judges. His undermining of environmental regulations and treatment of immigrants already borders on the fascistic, I can't imagine what his actions would be during a second term.

His comments about “fake news” and jailing reporters who write things he doesn't like is another level of horrific. I have personally felt uncomfortable overhearing the casual conversations of Trump supporters and what they would like to do to those who oppose their savior. A second term would only embolden such individuals, to the point political violence would become a certainty in my opinion.

Okay, you might have already guessed my final point. If the worst case scenario happens and Trump gets a second term, I have a strong suspicion that his casual disregard for political norms and American law itself will extend to running for a third term. You might think I'm overstating his remarks or his open admiration for dictators but can you honestly see the majority of Republicans standing up to him and saying no? The current Speaker of the House, the most powerful man in congress, Paul Ryan is retiring from politics but he has never shown an iota of courage towards Trump, I simply cannot see any Republican who might replace him being any better.

Normally I'd say we have a better chance of one of his kids running to replace him in 2024. They have clearly inherited his same narcissistic personality traits and Ivanka has already mentioned she has political ambitions. But I do not for a minute believe Trump's “jokes” about staying in power for life are attempts at humor. He's clearly attracted to the idea because it appeals to his ego. Given how our politics have eroded and that most of us refuse to do the work required to keep a democracy healthy I believe Trump just might try it. You do not want to know whether or not I believe he could succeed.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Last year the television version of Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale premiered on Hulu showing us a world in which the United States had been replaced by a totalitarian state controlled by religious fanatics. Without giving away any spoilers, the first season was a straight-forward adaptation of the book, which was centered around a character known as “Offred.” A woman who was being kept as a breeding slave for an infertile couple who were one of the elites of the new regime.

Understand Offred was not alone in her suffering, due to pollution and new diseases, infertility had skyrocketed and any fertile woman who ran afoul of that government would be forced into that bondage. Cloaked in a religious ceremony, Offred and these other women known as “Handmaids” suffered through state sanctioned rape once a month by the couples holding them captive in the hope that they would become pregnant and provide them a child. For the rest of the former American population things weren't much better in this new fictional nation called the Republic of Gilead. Just saying the Gilead Elites went full totalitarian is an understatement, so much that after watching the entire first season you wouldn't be faulted for thinking that being granted refugee status in North Korea would be an improvement.

Without spoiling the first season for anyone who hasn't watched it already, it ends exactly as the original novel with Offred being taking away by Gilead's secret police, her future very much uncertain.

Hulu premiered the second season of The Handmaid's Tale about a month ago and if the first four episodes are any indication it's even more of a physiological mind bender of horrific proportions than the first one. Don't get me wrong, the show is brilliant in its writing, acting, and sheer world building, so much that I have actually entertained thoughts of no longer watching it. The Handmaid's Tale is the epitome of the car/train wreck you simply cannot turn away from no matter how much blood, gore, and dead mangled bodies might be on display.

The first season The Handmaid's Tale used flashbacks to explain how the main characters became caught up in a country descending into religious madness. The first couple of episodes of the second season we get a glimpse at the mechanics of how the relatively enlightened United States fell and became the repressive Gilead. Funny thing, the producers and writers didn't to have search far for material to explain the change.

No, they didn't go the “ripped from the headlines” approach as other television dramas regularly do to write their stories. The second season flashbacks do capture the current mood of societal intolerance here in America and only extrapolate it a little to reach totalitarian Gilead. If you doubt me think back to the 2016 campaign when Trump stood on a stage in front an adoring crowd and mocked a disabled reporter. Just a few years before such behavior would have ended any possibility of being elected to the position of dog catcher in a white trash county much less to national office.

Of course I have to bring up the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia back in Augusr of 2017. That mass of disgruntled thugs walked through the town screaming slogans from the early days of Nazi Germany and Trump blithely later said their were good people in that crowd after one of them ran over and killed a counter protester. Get pissed off if you want, but Trump isn't that tone deaf or simply ignorant. He's a barely closeted racist who plays his base like the fictional Pied Piper did the rats in the town of Hamelin.

The trouble is that Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem. White folks were all cool and super patriotic about the ideas of America and democracy when they were solely in charge. Then the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's hits and they are forced to actually let African-Americans vote and have a say in the government. Remember the old saying about the government “being of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Well, when you can't vote but are forced into the armed forces in time of war but get lynched when you come back if you dare to buck the good old boy, whites only system there's a huge problem with the basic principles of the country. So white folks grudgingly allowed some reforms that sets the stage for women, other minorities, and eventually the LGBT community to exercise the same human rights guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

But wait a minute, there is a certain segment of white folks who decades later are still seething over the fact they don't totally get their way anymore. For a while they are pushed into the societal background because things are going enough for everyone. But things don't stay that way, the easy economic times here in America fade away and are replaced with a global uncertainty.

This combination of cultural and economic fears feed on each other and became a cancer eating away at the foundations of the country and the very principles we are supposed to cherish. When you have an untapped and growing mass of fear, ignorance, and hate basic human nature literally guarantees there will be those who seek to harness such energy to gain power for themselves.

The basic point I'm trying to make is that a good chunk of the Republican party has abandoned rational civic discourse for a strain of moralistic/religious authoritarianism that can be called Gilead-light. You can trace this descent all the way back to Reagan who said if fascism came to America it would come in the name of liberalism. George H.W. Bush helped things along with his Willie Horton political advertisement, something clearly engineered to stroke the race fears of white Americans. His son, George W. introduced formalized torture into the American mindset with many in power calling it “useful” to national security. A form of reasoning regularly used by the Soviet Union/Russia and Nazi Germany and something America was supposed to be immune. Things move right along to until you have the accusations made against Barrack Obama that he was both a secret Muslim and not born in the United States.

The sad thing is that the insane conspiracies didn't stop with President Obama. There are stupid and gullible people who actually think Democratic Party members were part of a sex/human trafficking ring being ran out of restaurants.

The basic premise of this authoritarian mass being the idea that any differentiation from what they consider accepted norms is unamerican at best and more than likely inherently evil. This extends to those of black and brown skin who don't totally wrap themselves in the flag, to those who suggest other religions have just as much right to practice in this country as Christians, or that making a buck at the expense of health and the environment is wrong. The only thing that scares me more than the current situation surrounding this descent into political madness is that I do not see it getting any better.

Now if someone on the conservative side of American politics has made it this far in my rant/essay, an unlikely event I admit, here's where I go after the Democrats to a certain extent.

Nothing says societal decay more to me that when you have the only true adults in government fighting over ideological purity. While there are many examples of this clusterfrak I could pull from the one that stands out was when you had every Republican presidential candidate of 2016 supporting the idea that every illegal immigrant in this country could be forcibly removed. Instead of Democrats uniting to defeat that barbaric and fascistic idea they instead decided it was time for a civil war over minor differences in party positions.

Quite frankly, the Republican turn toward religious authoritarianism and Democrats seeming ineptitude and self-destructive tendencies has brought me to a conclusion I have been trying to fight. Maybe the era of democratic enlightenment here in America might be over. The broad point being that it seems both sides have abandoned consensus building and compromise. Rational discourse was never a hallmark of American politics but things have become so partisan the radical base of each party constantly threatens to bolt if any compromise on issues is suggested. Every election cycle is now a battle to sweep away the current majority and replace it with their polar opposites. Of course the energy that voted in a new majority can't be sustained while those outside of true power are energized to seek something akin to revenge. The other side is viewed as evil and out to oppress and destroy their enemies.

I'll give backhanded kudos to the Republicans and their Machiavellian handlers, they are masters at stirring up their base and keeping them united. Whereas the Democrats love short-term and unfulfilled crusades and other shiny objects that makes voting something of an option for them. To many Democrats, Hillary wasn't shiny enough so they stayed home or voted third-party figuring there was no way Trump could be as bad as he seemed on the 2016 campaign trail. That Trump now regularly “jokes” about staying in office past the two term limit should be enough for every goddamn Democrat to wake the Hell up is an understatement. But there are clear signs the moderate Democrat/extreme progressive war is heating up again before the 2018 midterms.

What's worse than the political extremes of both parties alternately controlling the national agenda is the segment of Americans who simply never vote. Some of the reasons are easy to explain, we do not make it simple to exercise that right. And honestly, Republicans are constantly engineering ways to make it harder with reduced polling places, shorter hours, and allowing workplace policies that make it easy for bosses to prevent their workers from exercising their voting rights.

That still leaves a huge segment of Americans who are happy with their situation and can't be bothered to vote. They are the ones who could one day wake up and find their country changed beyond all recognition. No, I'm not saying a Republic of Gilead is likely or even possible to a great extent. I will admit though I see the elements of one all around me. Our principles on freedom and good government are regularly betrayed at the expense of convenience and a casual intolerance for those outside our immediate group.

America does have enemies, some real bastards that if given the chance would destroy us as casually as some order a pizza over the phone. But we're already well on our way to destroying the Republic, yes as trite as it may sound we are our own worst enemies. My biggest fear above all else is that we may have already passed the point of no return. That any effort of reform and reconciliation would be as futile as Titanic passengers rearranging the deck chairs after hitting the iceberg.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Nomad Feet - A Slightly Messed Up Trip to the Coast

Yesterday I did my routine trip down to Charleston to relax and try to shed some of the stink associated with living in a small suburban town outside of Columbia. Actually, my short escape had more to do with blowing off steam from having to pull the Mr. Mom load while my wife was in Switzerland on business, but it's probably not important to quibble over relatively minor details. So the night before I loaded up my MP3 player with interesting podcasts for the drive down and charged up the battery on my camera since I had a serious urge to play amateur photographer. One problem though, like a dumbass I never put the battery back into the camera so my picture taking was limited to what I could do with my lower end smart phone. While my smart phone camera is fine for some things, it's not good enough for detailed shots so my enthusiasm for picture taking was hugely diminished. This particular picture was taken at the Shem Creek Park in Mount Pleasant.             

One of my objectives on the trip was hitting the USS Yorktown again, something I hadn't done in years. Long story short for those who may not know, way back in the late 1970's the recently decommissioned Yorktown was brought to Charleston to be part of a naval museum called "Patriots Point." Which, if I remember correctly would in turn would be part of a greater development including a golf course, condos, and hotels, all done through private investors. To the best of my knowledge and memory, lets just say the success of this project has fluctuated over the years. Ships have been added and taken away from the naval museum with the cost of their upkeep being the deciding factor. In fact, on one visit to Patriots Point years ago, the gift shop had a newspaper clipping about how the Navy was upset that the Yorktown was falling into disrepair. Back then the possibility was real that the aircraft carrier would be taken away and scrapped if the situation didn't improve. So I was quite happy yesterday to discover that it looks like most of the old girl has received a recent paint job. In this picture, only the superstructure has a faded, bleached look while the lower hull is a dark grey. Due to not having a battery in my real camera, I scrapped the visit to the Yorktown. Tickets to the Yorktown and other ships is rather expensive costing $24.00 for adults and unless it has changed, they even charge a fee to get into their parking lot.                  

Yes, my first visit was to the Waterfront Park and Pier where I got my usual coffee and strolled around taking in the sea breeze and enjoying the water. Totally mundane and unexciting, but call me a grouchy old Lowcountry curmudgeon, but Columbia has absolutely nothing that can compare. Yes, this picture sucks but it's mainly meant to show off the pier.

Despite the issue with the camera throwing me for a loop, what saved the trip for me was stopping at Red's Ice House for lunch. Sitting on Shem Creek in the middle of Mount Pleasant the only problem I had with the place was the fact that I couldn't stay the entire day there drinking beers and listening to the music. Remember, I had to drive back home and the last thing I wanted to do was crash my car on Interstate-26 in the middle of nowhere.

I ordered the Fried Grouper sandwich and chips. All I can say is that was the best sandwich I can ever remember. During these all too brief escapes, I usually just hit some fast food place but someone at work suggested I might like Red's Ice House. If in the area I highly recommend it both for its easy, laid back atmosphere and the great food.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Elementary School Salsa Incident

Recently my wife laid down the law and more or less forbid me from doing the milk and bread purchase runs at the really expensive and ultra trendy grocery store in our area. While the milk and bread are only slightly more expensive, what really sends her into orbit powered on female frustration is throw in a few other items, like the fancy beer I like or any of a couple of dozen other common foods and the final checkout tally can get excessive. And just to keep the peace, and because she was correct on her assessment about the prices being out of the ordinary, I agreed to avoid the place.

The trouble though is that some days I just can't stomach the idea of walking through the cathedral-like Walmart just to buy milk, bread, and maybe one or two other items. Call it a form of simple snobbery or the fact that the ultra trendy grocery store has better customer service, a couple of days ago I defied my lovely spouse and defiantly walked into that forbidden den of upper middle class tastes.

It took me no more than ten minutes to grab two gallons of milk, a couple of loafs of bread, and spend a couple of moments staring longingly at the incredible beer selection before I made it to the manned checkout. Similar excursions into Walmart take almost double the time since it's so much larger and you have to dodge Mary Lou and Joe Sixpack hustling to restock shelves under the watchful eyes of nervous, penny pinching management.

That particular morning at the expensive and trendy grocery store I was in luck. Ahead of me at the checkout was an attractive thirty-something suburban housewife who had recently finished her workout at the equally trendy gym/yoga center just a few doors down. How do I know this blonde lady with the tussled hair and firm booty had just finished some form of workout? Well, because she was still wearing her clingy exercise outfit which made it clear her membership to that facility was not going unused.

Besides her appealing outfit what I noticed most about this lady was the urgency in her purchase and the conversation she was having with the checkout person. See, after catching just a few statements I understood that one of her kids was having an elementary school party and she had to rush home and make something from scratch. Given the near panicked tone of her voice, if this poor stressed out denizen of suburbia wasn't already on anxiety medication, she was surely just a couple of years away from a permanent prescription. Instead I will now relate how I was once forced into a similar situation but for the most part said screw it and still came out looking good in front of all the mindless middle class drones.

Years ago when my daughter was in the third grade my wife and I got a message from her teacher saying that the class was having a party for some reason I have long forgotten. What the teacher wanted the parents to do was supply either food and/or party supplies for the event. Now the problem with this type of school event is that things have evolved beyond simple cookies, cupcakes, and juice boxes. Middle class suburban existence has bred literally millions of people who think they are unrecognized culinary wizards who make a point of supplying these types of events with fancy foods that take time and more than a little bit of talent to prepare. This puts those of us still in the cookie and juice box frame of mind at a huge disadvantage.. While I fully support public school teachers and understand they have a damn near impossible job, many of us outside the education field are stressed for time and energy ourselves.

This is where my wife returns to the story. She is a tax attorney and prone to exceedingly busy stretches of time at work. She also happens to be one of those people who loves to play in the kitchen and the upcoming event in our daughter's class was just the excuse she needed to get all culinary. One of the food items the teacher wanted was "fresh salsa" and my wife having her own personal recipe was overwhelmed with the desire to show it off. The trouble was that something happened at work the day before the event forcing her to lay the responsibility for supplying the class with her special salsa on me.

Truthfully, the recipe wasn't all that complicated, except for the fact that it would require me hand chopping a lot of the ingredients, which I wasn't in the mood to even begin. And to be completely honest, I felt homemade salsa for third graders was ridiculous, everyone going the homemade route was doing it to impress the parents who would be attending the party, not the kids.

After thinking about the situation for awhile I came up with a plan and made the required run to the grocery store to pick up the needed fresh ingredients. I also bought a couple of jars of some no-name brand salsa. Understand my wife's salsa doesn't look like any store brand since she doesn't totally chop up the tomatoes giving it an extra-chunky appearance. So, all I did was carve up the tomatoes to about the same size and along with throwing in a few of the fresh ingredients mixed in the two jars of the no-name brand and stuck it in the refrigerator for the next day.

Since the bottom had fallen out of some project at my wife's work she wasn't suppose to make it to the party. The word she had passed to me was that nothing would return to normal until the proverbial fan was taken apart and the poop cleaned from the blades. But thirty minutes into the party she walks in the door and heads straight to the big bowl that supposedly contained her special homemade salsa.

To this day one of the biggest differences between my wife and me is that she wants to fit in with the overall suburban hive mind. Where as I literally dream of the day when we can move to a place where individuality is not thought of as a mental illness. Needless to say, she knows me and my general disdain for those we live among. For that reason her beeline to the salsa was to find out what kind of stunt I pulled on the unsuspecting proles. The first problem she had was that the salsa was a hit, most of it was already gone leaving just a couple of ounces from which she could decided what nefarious ploy I had attempted.

By that time the only way she could decided was by tasting it herself. So after grabbing a couple of chips and dipping them into the bowl it was clear from the look on her face that she knew I had pulled a fast one and gone store bought. Personally, I was trying not to laugh as the metaphorical dark, foreboding clouds began to gather above her head. I was in trouble and once home it was a certainty I was going to get a full verbal artillery barrage. It didn't matter that the damn bowl was almost empty, I had committed a culinary sacrilege akin to plagiarizing a college term paper.

What saved my sorry butt was not just the teacher commenting that she loved the salsa but two of the other mothers, both full fledged suburban witches, demanding to have the recipe. Something my lovely wife adamantly refused saying it was a family secret. See those two suburban witches were the queen bees of that third grade class besides being well off stay-at-home moms who loved to whine about their tough daily schedule. Which according to them consisted of morning tennis lessons with an absolute brute of an instructor, the inability to find a decent decorator for their new home remodeling project, and whether of not they should skip buying a new car that year because the next their favorite model was getting redesigned.

What drove my wife crazy though was how the two seemed to look down on the working moms associated with the class. That's probably the reason why my wife suddenly forgot about my little trick. Once home nothing was ever mentioned about me pulling a fast one with the salsa. But I know my wife took a nice chunk of satisfaction with the idea that the two uppity witches couldn't tell homemade salsa from cheap store bought stuff.  

Personally, I'll call that one a huge win for me.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Totally Improbable Events – A Pleasant Trip to the DMV

While my wife was away on her recent business trip, the task of taking our daughter to the Department of Motor Vehicles, or simply the DMV, so she could get her learners permit fell to me. After much discussion between my daughter and myself, it was decided that we would make the attempt on a late Tuesday afternoon. The day of the week and time said to be its least crowded. Given this was the DMV, places that I'm sure serve as gateways to Hell, I wasn't optimistic in the least.

Yes, you might be able to imagine the utter exhilarating thrill that coursed up and down my spine that Tuesday as I picked her up from school. For those with a sarcasm detection handicap that last sentence was soaked with it. Be that as it may, I was quite surprised as we pulled into the DMV parking lot to discover it was remarkably empty, relatively speaking. Once inside the building, I was further surprised to discover that instead being struck with claustrophobia from it being packed with disgruntled and loud suburbanites, it was so quiet and empty I could actually hear the soft music being played over the sound system mounted in the ceiling.

Now I'm not sure how other states and even other countries organize their versions of the DMV. But here in South Carolina some bright boy or girl came up with the idea a few years back of having a receptionist at the entrance to help maneuver the customers in the proper direction. Feeling old now, but I remember back in the 1980's of having to immediately stand in line for an extended period of time after entering the DMV only to be given a form, told to fill it out, then stand in line again. God help the poor soul who screwed up their form somehow or was even given the wrong one at the beginning.

The glorious DMV receptionist now ascertains what the customer needs, gives them the proper form along with a numbered ticket, and directs them to one of the seriously uncomfortable chairs. Yeah, while somethings have improved, those chairs are probably surplus from the Spanish Inquisition or some other horrific period in history. Truthfully, don't hate me when I write that since South Carolina isn't know for innovation or making things more comfortable, except for rich white folks, with the adoption of the DMV receptionist we've probably exhausted our supply of good ideas for a couple of decades.

While the DMV wasn't crowded, my daughter and I did have to stand in line for about five minutes as the receptionist dwelt with two people ahead of us. Getting back to the idea that such places are actually gateways to Hell, it was crystal clear the receptionist was completely disgusted with humanity in general. A middle aged African-American lady, as the next person stepped up to her desk, a slightly raised podium actually, she would wait for them to state the nature of their visit. From there, she would silently stare at them for about two or three seconds with a detached look the same way a biologist might a new strain of slime or fungus. A callous thought you might be thinking? Well since at this DMV office we're talking about most of the customers being middle class suburban white folks with a huge pretentious streak and massive sense of entitlement, I felt the same way.

Now to be fair, the receptionist lady looked at me the same way when it was my turn in front of her. Even worse, once I stated that it was my daughter's intention to get her learners permit she asked me if I had her birth certificate and social security card. Quite simply, no, in what had to be one of my biggest brain farts in recent memory, given how obvious those papers would be needed, I had totally not thought to bring them. The look on the receptionist's face was on of utter disdain and I left the DMV that day totally shamed. Given the lateness of the day it wasn't possible to run home, get the documents, and return before it closed. I had to live with my shame until Thursday, when school related circumstances allowed us to return for a second try. Plus, it was my hope that by that time the receptionist would have forgotten about me.

When Thursday afternoon arrived, I picked my daughter up from school and drove back down to the DMV. Yes, I pulled the required documents out of the family filing cabinet and had them ready. Of course my concern that day was the possible crowd we would encounter on our second trip to get her learners permit. I figured that the bureaucratic gods would smite me for my horrendous mistake the previous Tuesday and have the DMV overflowing with the very subspecies of humans both the receptionist and I strongly dislike.

Much to my enjoyment and surprise, the DMV was even less crowded that day. So much that my daughter and I went straight to the receptionist's desk and got the required forms to fill out. In case your wondering, yes, it was the same lady and it was clear from her sardonic facial expression she remembered me from the previous attempt.

The forms I had to fill out for my daughter were fairly innocuous in that I didn't have to overtax the few operational brain cells I had working at that moment. My shift the previous night was a pain and I hadn't slept well that day so my normal intellectual deficit was made worse by the lack of my usual afternoon caffeine intake. So I was more than momentarily taken back when a soft voice caught my attention as I filled out those forms.

“Sir,” the soft voice said, “I believe your number was called.”

I might be beating a dead horse over the idea that all DMV's are gateways to hell, but I was immediately conflicted with the wording of that statement verses the almost angelic nature of the voice. When I looked up and saw what was an extremely attractive women sitting at one of three desks occupying an unused corner of the building, I was more than a little puzzled. Trying not to be sexist here, but this lady's looks and young age made her decidedly out of place compared to every other DMV worker who was middle aged and, frankly, seemed the stereotypical low-level bureaucrat forever in the middle of an existential crisis over past career choices.

“Oh okay,” I said having my daughter move to the chair in front of the lady's desk while I stood next her.

Before encountering the attractive DMV worker, I would have said that it was a physical law of nature akin to gravity or evolution that conversations in such places were short and to the point. The conversation that transpired in front of me between my daughter and the lady was almost surreal in its depth and length. Don't misunderstand me, I was in general left out of the loop in their discussion which was about the intrinsic boring nature or high school, boys, and whether or not they ever matured. Which was something the attractive DMV lady told my daughter was an open question even for someone her age. I couldn't not notice the wistful way the DMV lady said that last part.

No, I don't harbor any illusions that the DMV lady's friendliness was in actuality for my benefit. She was just one of those oddities, a pleasant one, people encounter in situations that would normally be quiet different. Now, don't ask me about the fantasies running around in my head during that time had I been fifteen to twenty years younger, maybe three to four times better looking, and yes, unmarried.

Eventually my daughter's time at the computer which gives the learners permit test came up. While she was in that small room taking the test, I found a chair in the waiting area and tried to not to stare at the lovely DMV lady across the room.

By the time my daughter was done with the test and was in line to have her picture taken I was wondering when everything would go wrong. Like the fictional Mordor, you simply do not walk into the DMV and expect things to proceed easily and quickly. I was half expecting the fire alarm to go off or have some other incident occur that would force us to come back another day and start everything all over again.

Despite my grim certainty that the shit would certainly hit the fan before we could leave, my daughter soon had her crisp new learners permit in her hand. Never one wanting to tempt fate, I got both of us out of their before the bureaucratic gods starting slinging belated lightning bolts my way. By chance as my daughter and I were walking out the door I caught sight of the attractive DMV lady with what looked like a sexy smile on her face waving goodbye to me.

“It's a trap!” I said to myself mimicking the legendary words of Admiral Akbar from the Star Wars movies. Just to play it safe, even though I really need to update my own drivers license to the federally approved version that makes it easy to go on military posts as well as speeding up security processing in airports, I'll just wait.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Nothing is Tiring

Just finished up a week playing Mr. Mom while the wife was away on a business trip. While no metaphorical monkey wrench flew into the proverbial machinery of the normal routine, it was a long tiring week. What I'm trying to say is that I rediscovered that nothing can be quite exhausting.

Nothing mainly consisted of running my daughter to and from school and various activities, which were usually scheduled during rush hour traffic. But it also included keeping the house reasonably clean and straight, the dogs and cats fed and watered, and doing the bare minimum of yard work. Yes, that last one is a standard practice but thrown in with the other chores made it worse.

Long story short, after a week of nothing I need a vacation.