Sunday, September 30, 2012


Apparently, there are, "among likely voters", people who remain undecided in the upcoming Presidential election. I'll admit that there have been elections in which, for a time at least, I was undecided.  In the early going of 2008, I could envision myself voting for McCain without having to hold my nose too tightly...or be drugged or have a gun held to my head.  He seemed like a fairly reasonable guy and he was worthy of respect.  Not a lot of time went by before I was swayed wholly to Obama's camp and wholly out of any possibility of supporting Mr. McCain. Choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate, among a number of other gaffes eliminated McCain from consideration for me and Obama continued to impress me more and more as the campaign season went on.

So I'm not deriding anyone who, at some time or other classifies themselves as "undecided".  Truth be told, being "undecided" is an honorable position...up to a certain point in time.  It demonstrates that a person is thoughtful and deliberative. It demonstrates a refusal to be herded along with the madding crowd.

In this this point in demonstrates a level of personal, purposeful oblivion.  That goes for either side.

If, at this point, you can't choose between Romney and Obama -- one way or the other -- I'm not sure you should be allowed to vote when the time comes.  If, at this point, you truly remain undecided, I'm concerned about your future on Evolution's Hit Parade.

Here's how I view your predicament. (And, once again, this works from either the Left or the Right's POV).  Imagine you've gone to a wedding.  There's a sumptuous meal being served at the reception. A waiter arrives at your table and asks you, "Would you prefer the lovely sliced sirloin or the moldy sandwich"?

"Hmmm", you reply, "Is the beef prepared with tarragon? I'm not really fond of tarragon."

I don't know about you, but I've got a real problem figuring out just who these "Undecideds" are.  So I decided to go out and meet some of them.  Here's a small sampling of the "Undecideds" I was able to discover.  In each case, I asked them how it was that they were having difficulty with this particular choice.

1. Russell Denmann
I've been undead since the Kennedy Administration and, to be honest with you, Government hasn't been a huge priority for me since.  I still show up at the polls but only because there are so many slow moving hors d'oeuvres standing in line in a good year. 
2. Hattie Morgenthau
 Most people just look at superficial differences like policies and some-such, but I've learned over the years that there isn't much you can't tell about a man by his personal grooming. Warren Harding was a compulsive nail-biter and look what a yutz he was.  I bet you didn't know that, did you?
Now, there's no question that Romney and Obama are both attractive young men, but Romney has this little Korean woman traveling with him and giving him a mani-pedi every day.  So, his nails are impeccable but it makes him seem a bit elitist, don't you think?  Barrack, cuts his own nails, but I saw one of those pictures of him on the beach and I noticed he cuts his toenails square instead of rounded. My third husband did that.  Do you have any idea what those sharp little corners can do to a woman's ankles every night.  I tell you, Michelle must be a saint!
It's really a hard decision. 

3. Stanley Keeler 
I wouldn't say I'm truly undecided. Romney pissed me off with that whole 47% thing.  Hell, I've been working this farm since my Daddy died in '83 and I ain't seen more'n $23,000 profit a year that whole time.  But I ain't gonna commit one way or t'other 'till I step into that booth.  There's always that 1% o' me that says I could still win the Powerball, and then I'm gonna want me a Romney in the White House.

4. Stella Coats
 I'm leaning toward Romney, but I'll admit I've got a problem with that whole dog-strapped-to-the-roof-of-his-car thing.  It's just cruel to do that without shooting the beast first.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reverse Covers

Sometime in the not too distant past, someone posted this video on FaceBook with some laudatory comments (about the song, not necessarily the video).

I wholeheartedly agree. 

I'm not going to say I was ever some kind of Humble Pie aficionado, but this was a great song.  Songs like this are the reason the dial goes up to Eleven.  Songs like this are the reason cars come with a red-line on the tachometer.

And I have no idea what got me thinking in this direction, but it seemed like a fun exercise to imagine that Humble Pie hadn't written it...that they were covering some other artist who first wrote and performed it.

Then, I tried to think, if that was the case, who I might envision having originated the song.

I settled on Robert Johnson.  Somehow, I could really imagine Robert Johnson singing about drugs and 30 days in the hole, in a really stripped down, unaccompanied version.

And now I really want to hear that version.  I bet it would have been great!

The truth is, this little mind game would be a lot more fun if I had Jimmy Fallon's talent for mimicking various singers and I could do a video.  But I don't and that's not gonna happen.

Anyway, I'm inviting you guys to come up with a song (great or otherwise) and imagine that the original is actually a cover of a much earlier version.  Let's hear what you come up with.

There's only one and a half rules.  The "half" rule is that it works better if you assign the origin of the song to an artist who was already dead when the real original was written.  The second rule is: No Frank Sinatra.  He did enough lame covers of contemporary artists when he was alive, so it takes no imagination at all to imagine what he'd do with Lady Gaga's Poker Face.

Have at it kids. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Devil In The White City - A Review

I just finished reading this book and it's amazing, fascinating, engrossing and a bunch of other words I could apply to a book I really enjoyed.  First's non-fiction, and I just don't read all that much non-fiction.  I won't say I don't read any non-fiction, but to be honest, most of it's written really dryly and I have a hard time sticking with them even if I like the subject.

This book is written like I'd expect the script of a Ken Burns documentary to be written. (I don't know whether or not Erik Larson would consider that a compliment, but I do.) The story is told in a very easy narrative style interspersed generously with direct quotes from the people involved -- both the notable and unknown folks.  Little interesting side-factoids are dropped all the time.

The story begins in 1890 with a few American cities competing for the honor of hosting a Columbian World Exposition (A World's Fair) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America.  The finalists are New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Washington D.C.

Chicago especially wants the fair in order to establish themselves as a world class city -- not just a place with a large population and a bunch of meat packing plants. If they win their bid, they'll not only have to perform beyond expectations to hold their heads up in the U.S., they'll have to outdo the show Paris put on just a few years earlier; an exposition that featured the Eiffel Tower, then the tallest structure in the world.*

The book would be interesting enough if it were only about the fair, but the story is juxtaposed with the story of H.H. Holmes, America's first serial killer -- who just happened to be on the loose in Chicago at the same time.  With all of the new jobs available in Chicago and all of the anonymous visitors coming to see the fair, the pickings were ripe for Holmes and it took years before anyone connected the dots and realized there was a single killer on the loose instead of just a bunch of random disappearances.

Read this book.  Really.

*I won't give it away, but the planners for the fair were at a loss for quite some time to come up with an idea to "out-Eiffel the tower".  Many people presented plans for taller towers (including Eiffel himself), but the folks planning the fair were adamant that it be something else new, unique and impressive as all hell.  It wasn't a fact that I was aware of, but I'm proud to say I figured out what the fair came up with before it was revealed in the book.

The Customer Is Always Wrong...

Except when he argues long enough and loudly enough. And has documentation in triplicate.

I guess I'm not even annoyed by this any more. Does it make me sound old to have only recently become convinced that every company I do business with will screw a matter of course..if I don't debate the issue?

Let's start with Verizon Wireless.  I got a new phone a couple of days ago.  It's a shiny new Samsung Galaxy SIII (4GLTE) whatever all of that means.  It's shiny and I love it and it does lots of stuff and it's really quick and I want to have its babies!

The woman (Jennifer) at the Verizon store in Allentown, PA couldn't have been nicer or more informative. And HOLY CRAP was she patient with me. BUT, the moment she started ringing up the sale, two of her associates descended like locusts and tried really, really hard to sell me more crap.

No, I don't need a 12v adapter. I've got one in the car and another one at home. No, REALLY, it works just fine.  No, I don't need a holder for in the car.  The one in the car right now is universal and it'll fit this phone just fine. No, I've already said I don't want any insurance. Please go away!

They left.  Did I mention that Jennifer managed to find me a plan that's going to save me a BAZILLION dollars a month?  Well, she did.  Part of it involved  getting rid of my mobile USB broadband doohickey because now I'll be able to use my phone as a hotspot. (I'll need to watch my usage to make sure I'm paying for enough GB per month and not getting killed on overages, but I should be fine.)  Anyway, she said she couldn't cancel the account on the doohickey, but if I called the 800 number she was including, I could cancel it myself.

So I called Verizon Wireless to cancel the USB doohickey.  Everything went fine until we got to the billing part.  Verizon Wireless bills you monthly, in advance, so the guy was telling me that I'd already paid through September 25th but after that, I'd never see billing for it again.  Long story short...I had to argue with him for 15 minutes and get him to talk to a supervisor before he figured out how to issue a credit for the 3 weeks I'd paid that I wouldn't be using. Because, apparently, Verizon Wireless is the only company in the known universe that doesn't know how to issue a credit without an advanced tutorial and a gift of three virgins to the Volcano Gods.

And I guarantee 80% of the people who should get a credit don't argue the Verizon Wireless pockets the money.

Then, there was my hotel.  We were at a Homewood Suites; part of the Hilton Honors system. When I made the reservations, I had to change something, and it was easier to call the customer service line than to try to make the change online. And, once again, the primary person I dealt with couldn't have been better. My reservation promised me one rate for the first two nights and a $20 cheaper rate for the third night.  Of course, when I looked at the final tally slipped under my door before checkout, they had charged me the same full rate for all three nights.

Now, granted, it's only $20, but it's my $20.

So, I went to the front desk, thumb drive in hand with copies of my confirmation email.  I said I'd been overcharged for the third night's stay and quoted her the rate I was supposed to be paying and the woman said, in a distinctly snotty voice, "And where does it say that?"

So, I handed her the thumb drive.  That one was solved fairly easily.

Hey, it's not the $20. It's not even that companies' mistakes are always in their favor.  It's the universal attitude that I'm trying to pull a fast one and they force me to act like total dick just to get what they promised me in the first place.

And now, I'll hop off my soapbox and find something cheerier to get my day started.

Update: I just thought I'd add something I found pleasantly surprising.

The Enterprise Car Rental place near me wasn't open yesterday when we got back to town, so I was stuck with a fourth day of car rental whether I wanted it or not.  My goal was to get the car back to them by 9:30 this morning to avoid any more charges.

Now I've talked before about the Gas Scam that all rental car places pull.  You get the car with 1/2 a tank and if you return it with less than 1/2 a tank, they charge you $1.50 more per gallon than the most expensive gas you can find in the area to bring it back up to 1/2 tank.

But how did it ever get to 1/2 a tank in the first place.  Obviously, they charge people to refill the tank, but they never actually do put any more gas in it unless it shows up running on fumes.

So, we got the car with 1/4 tank of gas and I misjudged a little and I was returning it with 3/8 of a tank. (I suppose I could have driven around the block a billion times until I got it down to 1/4, but that falls into the category of "not worth the effort".)

Anyway, I jokingly asked the guy if I was getting a credit for returning the car with too much gas, and---Holy Shit -- he said, "Sure, it's about 2 gallons, so how about I credit you $11.00?"

I swear you could have knocked me over!

Update 2: And another thing...

Earlier today, I bought an ebook straight off of Baen Books' website.  Literally while I was pressing the "confirm order" button, I realized I had already bought and read the book.

When I got the email receipt, I sent a reply (Baen doesn't send a blind "do not reply" type of thing, a reply finds it's way to a person), saying I had already bought the book once and could they give me a credit toward a future purchase. 

Within an hour, I got a reply saying they were issuing a refund.

These companies are fucking up my entire premise!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Suburbia Both Fascinates and Frightens Us. But That's O.K...We Might Not Really Be Here Yet.

So Anon GF and I are in the wilds of Eastern know...the suburban wilds.  Both of us grew up in some version of Suburbia, but we've been living in an Urban environment so long that neither of us really believes Suburbia exists anymore until we experience it again on one of our periodic trips beyond the Hudson River.

I know most of you live out here, but lemme tell's really weird.  And from my point of view, Supermarkets are the best demonstration of wonderful and weird that Suburbia has to offer.  Or, should I say SUPERmarkets.

We took a leisurely drive yesterday, leaving Brooklyn a little before Noon to beat most of the weekend warriors onto the road.  We stopped in Easton, PA and had a really nice lunch at a cute little place.  Here's a picture of our cute little red rental VW Bug enjoying the cuteness of Easton, PA while we were dining. (Who knew you could rent a cute little red VW Bug? I usually get stuck with a white or silver Taurus!)

So anyway, we eventually dawdled our way toward Trexlertown. PA.  This is not a normal destination.  Our destination was to be in the general vicinity of Bethlehem and Allentown, but we kinda like staying at Homewood Suites Hotels and the one we've stayed at before was sold out, so we just made a reservation at the next one down the road.  Who spends a bunch of time in the hotel anyway, so we only care that we'll like the room...not so much that there will be great stuff right outside the back door.  (There isn't.  But more on that later.)

Anyway, since one of the reasons we like staying at Homewood Suites is the little kitchens, we stopped off at a SUPERmarket to get some snacks and stuff to stock the kitchen.  On the way to the SUPERmarket, we were passing through some area where there was no evidence, whatsoever of a town.

I don't mean we were driving through beautiful (or even not-so-beautiful) country.  That, we like.  No...we were driving through an area of housing developments that all had their backs facing the road.  They all seemed to have been built in massive chunks, so you'd drive by one development where the same three house designs were repeated over and over again, and then you'd know you were passing a different development because the three house designs changed somewhat.  And this was going on for about five miles.

Anon GF said, "Gawd, I'd never be able to live here."

Cut to: Arriving inside the SUPERmarket.

Anon GF: "I want to live here."

You could fit about 6 of our neighborhood supermarkets into that one Wegman's SUPERmarket we visited yesterday.  Did you ever see Moscow on the Hudson?  This is kinda how I felt walking into that store yesterday.

As much as I loved the store, it's more than a little overwhelming if you're not used to it. First, there was the finding of snacks.  We thought we'd found the snack aisle, but something was wrong.  Where were the Lay's Potato Chips.  Where were the Cheetos?  Where was the Chex Mix?  Eventually, we realized we were within the SUPERsubSUPERmarket. A store within a store (the size of our neighborhood's entire store) that was dedicated to natural healthy stuff.  I'm talking raised by Virgin Tibetan Monks, watered by the urine of pure white unicorns, grown to an audio track of a chorus of innocent 7-year-old girls singing hymns to Gaia kinda natural and healthy.

Eventually, we found our way to normal snacks. (There were a bunch of baked, fat-free things there too, but we were able to focus on the goal and get the real stuff.)  We also found a bunch of other stuff we decided we needed. (So much for focus.)

Then...then...THEN WE FOUND THE MARKET CAFE!!11!!!lll!

The Market Cafe is kinda like one of the pay-by-the-pound salad bars you find in NYC delis. Like this:

Only not like that. At the Market Cafe, it's really appetizing looking.  And there are choices of about 100,000 types of entrees and salads and side dishes and bagels for tomorrow morning and pie and cake and tarts and tortes for dessert tonight.  And there's about 4 acres of the stuff.

And you hear Celestial Angels singing as you turn the corner and see it.

Our jaws dropped.  Our eyes glazed.  There may have been drooling involved.

Now, remember...we had had a lovely lunch. Tonight's dinner is already reserved at Emeril's. We decided that a meal of a few small items from the Market Cafe taken to the hotel while watching HBO would be just the ticket.  We got chicken and stuffed peppers and Caprese salad and roasted veggies (a couple of kinds) and a pound of peel and eat shrimp and beer and bagels and grilled-chicken pasta and a lemon meringue pie and a few other appetizers and...O.K. maybe we got more than a few small items.

Then we encountered THE SIGN.  At the register, there was a sign saying that you could only pay for items picked up from the cafe (and beer) at that register. You must go to the other registers to pay for the the items from the SUPERmarket.   So I ran and got another cart so we could attempt to separate our items into Market Cafe payable vs. SUPERmarket payable items.  This is not easy.  There aren't really any good clues as to how to separate them.  There's not a good geographical demarcation for one vs. the other.  Some items that you spoon into a container are Market Cafe items and some are SUPERmarket items.

Here's how you know what you can pay for at the Market Cafe register.  If the Eighty year old cashier smiles at you and runs the item over the scanner, you're O.K.  If she looks at you like a Ten-year-old who has suddenly forgotten you're potty trained and calls for a manager, you've transgressed.

While Anon GF suffered the glares of the Market Cafe cashier lady, I took the other cart and went to the Self-Pay station in the SUPERmarket.  This is also a wonderful experience.  First, you stand in line while someone tries to find the UPC on each item and more and more frantically waves her items over the reader.  Eventually, it's your turn.  Each time you successfully wave an item over the scanner, it yells at the top of it's robotic lungs something like "UNHEALTHY SNACK FOOD ITEM THAT WILL KILL YOU BY MORNING IF YOU EAT IT...$14.95!"  or 'EMBARRASSING PERSONAL HYGIENE ITEM SURE TO MAKE THE PEOPLE WAITING IN LINE BACK UP A STEP OR TWO ... $16.38!"

Eventually, we made it to our hotel.  I've only got two things to say about the hotel so far. First, I'll let the sign on the inside of the room door speak for itself.

Second, there's apparently some weird time-portal nexus at our hotel.  This morning, I went downstairs to get some coffee and danish from the morning buffet.  I also picked up a newspaper from the stack on the table near the elevators.  When I got back to the room, I realized it was yesterday's paper.

A little later, I went to get something from the car.  On my way back up to the room, I noticed they'd changed the stack of newspapers, so I picked up another one.  This one turned out to be Thursday's paper.

We might not even be here yet!