Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jesus, the Customer Service Representative

Really, everyone, I'm not being especially prolific today.  I wrote this over Spring Break when I didn't have wifi and also when I was too busy doing nothing to go find wifi so I could post.

Just south of Richmond is a long, crappy stretch of I-95.  It is crappy for many reasons.  Primarily, it is always busy and not fun to drive upon, but also it passes through most of Richmond's heavily industrialized areas so whatever scenic value the land had was destroyed long before 95 existed.  Add the belching smoke from the factories and the horrendous smell of the huge paper mills and you end up with one really annoying whole.

For whatever reason--proximity to the Capital? Sheer amount of traffic volume? the local Bible bangers have elected this stretch above all others in Virginia to plaster with various Jesus-y billboards.  I find these endlessly amusing.  Most of them are the really admonitory type that say things like "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God."  Anyone who already agrees with that doesn't need the billboard; anyone who doesn't won't put any stock in it anyway--especially not after the billboard has just called him a fool. Whether I believe in God or not I don't cotton to being insulted by billboards.  Also, who the hell gets converted by a billboard anyway?  Unless it's a billboard advertising Krispy Kremes which would totally convert me to Krispy Kremes if I didn't worship them already.

One of the billboards offers a hotline phone number. While the others are just sort of amusing, this one weirds me out.

See, I've always wanted to call a hotline for something, just to see what they actually say.  Unfortunately there are really no hotlines that cater to my specific brands of freakazoid, so I've never had a valid option.  I mean, I'm pretty sure that it would be unethical to call the suicide hotline or the cancer hotline and be all "My favorite department store closed in 1990 and I'm out of mixers and also the cat just puked on the rug, WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW????"

I'm not sure what one is supposed to accomplish with the Jesus hotline.  One assumes that it's there in case people feel the need to turn to God.  Once again, though, if one already believes in God, does one need a hotline to convince oneself even further?  Those who don't believe in God would be highly unlikely, I think, to be zipping up 95 and think, "Hey, I've never believed in God before but that billboard totes has a hotline. Maybe I should check that shit out."

Furthermore, what actually happens when you call?  If I didn't believe in God, and I called, the only way I could be reasonably expected to start believing in God is if God actually answered. And if He did this is how the conversation would probably go:

"God here. So you're having some trouble believing in me?"
"Actually, I already do, but I was driving up 95 and I wanted to see happened if I called the hotline."
"You really shouldn't be on the cell phone while you're driving, you know."
"Well, but I'm talking to You. I mean, you would totally keep me from dying, right?"
"That's your guardian angel's job, technically, but I suppose so."
"You're a pretty major deity. What are you doing working in a call center? That's like, what, $10.10 an hour? Assuming you're in the continental US?"
"I'm omnipotent, bro. I can do this AND cause floods.", 
"So how do I know you're actually God and not some dude in Lahore? Can you turn the Philip Morris smokestack into a giant jujube, or something?"
"I could, but would that really make you believe?"
"I told you I already do. I just think it would be really cool if that smokestack turned into a jujube."
"And then you'd wreck the car and we'd be right back to you not talking on the phone while you drive."
"What are you, dude? My mom? Oh, wait--that showed that you're omniscient, right? Cool. But the jujube would still be awesome."
"No jujube, brah. But I'll tell you what--Broad street is seriously backed up. You might wanna take the Mayo Bridge today."
"Sweet! Thanks, God! Hey, could you turn the Mayo Bridge into..."

Also y'all should totally scope my buddy/former colleague, Derrick's, blog.  He's a lot less snarky than I am.

Down in the City of Sighs and Tears

The past century has done some really weird things to our culture.  Since American culture in 1914 was already steaming full ahead to weird, this means that we're now a bunch of damned strange people.  I should probably forewarn you that this is a rant against the suburban ethos, so if you're one of those people who believes that your life only has quality because you live in a cul-de-sac, you should probably stop reading now.  Go eat at TGI Friday's (TM) and have a few mangochocosugartinis before you come back.

A century ago the vast majority of America's population lived in the sticks.  By "sticks," I do not mean places like Frederick County, Maryland--where I have lived, and which is mostly rural.  Frederick County had things like electricity and pavement, even in 1914.  It had one small city and several towns with main streets and brick houses and stuff.  I am talking about places that were a long, long way--like seventy miles--from anything resembling pavement.  Places where the only buildings at all for miles were your own house and barns.  Places where the only living things within thirty miles were either quadrupeds or your relatives. (In some cases, both.)

People in the sticks inherently mistrusted cities.  Popular music did not help; in the 1890s every other piece of sheet music was about some chick from the sticks (see what I did there?) who went to The Big City in search of adventure.  Though of course propriety wouldn't allow direct statements it allowed an awful lot of innuendo.  If you believed sheet music, every girl who ever left the country got knocked up within minutes of seeing Detroit/Philadelphia/Baltimore/New Orleans.  If I had that kind of luck I'd be visiting a new Big City every damn weekend, but these girls of course didn't know what to do and couldn't go home so they became hookers, or showed up at the Society Wedding of the guy who ruined them, or chastised other men.  There was a lot of chastising of men, too--reminding them of their sisters, mothers, sweethearts in Indiana, etc. While women were apparently getting it all over the place, it's a wonder any man ever got laid, with all those fallen women reminding him of his mom.

So it probably comes naturally that when people started to move into the cities, they still mistrusted them, which is probably part of the reason that for the last sixty years people have been trying to get out of cities again.  They still need the city--that whole job thing that made them move there in the first place--but they don't want to actually live in it, so the no-man's-land of suburbia came to pass.  And pass it did; it ran Reebok-shod over the countryside and sucked life out of the cities.

Invariably, suburbs think of their cities as scary, dangerous places.  In some cases this is true; there are plenty of city neighborhoods across the country that are very good places to get killed.  On the other hand, in the city someone will hear you scream (even if, a la poor Kitty Genovese, no one does anything about it).  In the country only the deer will hear you and they don't care that someone's going all Leatherface on you.  In the suburbs someone will hear you scream, but they will assume that you're a recent transplant from the city and that you're the one at fault, not the person murdering you.  The only thing a suburbanite will do is file a complaint with the neighborhood association.

Interestingly, suburbanites automatically fear any and all parts of every city.  I have been told, and quite authoritatively, that the Guilford section of Baltimore is a really bad neighborhood.  This is the area with zillion-dollar neo-Georgian houses; the land of croquet and gin-and-tonics.  But, you see, it's In The City so it has to be a bad neighborhood.  The same people think nothing of Lochearn, which is a pretty good place to get killed--but isn't inside city limits.

So, today, some of my students are en route to the Virginia Museum.  They are terrified because the Virginia Museum is in Richmond. It is, in fact, half a block from where I live.  As everyone knows, if it's inside city limits, it's in a bad neighborhood.

Clearly a bad neighborhood.

The really laughable aspect of this is that most of these kids are from really godawful neighborhoods in Chesterfield County.  One of them actually lives in the crumbling ruins of a 30s motel on Jeff Davis Highway.  But they're terrorized by the idea of going to The Boulevard.  

Weird things, people.  Weird things. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A happy blind haze

I've never been particularly opposed to the use of weed.  I just don't really care that much because it doesn't affect my life, for the most part. Like every self-respecting college student I tried it a few times and the effect wasn't so thrilling that I wanted to keep smoking the stuff.  A lot of folks claim that it "didn't do anything for them" or they "just got a headache," which implies to me that they're like the people who light a cigarette but don't really inhale the smoke.  They just want to look cool.  I'd rather have a Manhattan, which is legal and doesn't smell like the rotting anus of a week-dead skunk.

This week has done a few things to change my mind.  I've been playing host to an old college friend who cannot get through the day without a few bowls.  Since he's ensconced in my spare bedroom it doesn't affect me that much--the stink stays in there with him--but I've come to realize the long term effects of pot. I figure I'm also safe from retribution because the person in question isn't the type who follows blogs and so will, in all likelihood, never read this.

I'll give some credit to weed: it doesn't make you mean, and those who've been around me after a few too many drinks know that booze can turn you really nasty. Weed doesn't do this but its cumulative effect over the course of twenty-odd years can make you damned stupid.

Not to say that our case subject is stupid.  People who have degrees from William and Mary are not stupid.  Academically, the guy is brilliant--but his common sense is so utterly fried that I'm not sure how he finds his way around life.

Actually, he doesn't.  This is his first visit to Richmond in many years, but he's spent time here before.  It is not a difficult city to navigate, but his helplessness started off on Monday as comic and  has degenerated to a big pain in the ass.

Example 1: I get a call as he's driving in.  He takes the Boulevard exit as instructed, but then wants to stay on the phone so he can get step-by-step instructions. OK, that sort of makes sense.
Me: "Drive past the baseball field. You'll cross Broad street and then you'll see Monument Avenue.  Keep going until you see the Virginia Museum, and then take the very next left."
Dude: "There's a statue..."
Me: "That's Monument Avenue. You're good. Keep going."
Dude: "Is that a college?"
Me: "?"
Dude: "Some big brick thing. It has a sign."
Me: (to self) he can only mean the
Dude: "I don't see the street. Oh, wait, that's Ellwood."
Me: "You drove past it. Circle around and come back."
Dude: "How?"
At this point I was ready to send out the Marines, but I was able to talk him back around.

Example 2: After a day touring on his own he was driving back to my place. Once again, he got lost trying to find it despite having been there for two days, but found it on his own.  Another call:
"I'm on your street. Where should I park?"
"Um...wherever you see a parking place."
"But I don't see any."
"Dude. This works like any other city. Find a damn parking place and walk back."
"But where???"
"How the hell do I know? I don't have some magic parking spot finder."

He did eventually park--a block away--which led to Example 3, in which he was so confused by the parking signs which are exactly the same as those in every other city that he took a picture of them to show me so I could decipher them for him. Let me point out that Richmond's parking signs are identical to those I've seen in every other city.

Example 4 was when one of the cats puked in the hallway.  This became a matter of great concern for visiting dude.  Let me point out, here, that he also has a cat.   Cats vomit. It's just something they do.  He not only felt the need to report it, but made it a topic of conversation for five minutes. It's cat barf, man. It happens.

None of these particular examples is anything egregious, but it demonstrates to me that weed will ultimately rot your brain.  So will booze, I suppose, but most alkies I know can still pretty much function as long as they're sober at the time.  This guy is hopelessly lost even when he hasn't had a hit for hours.  Do I know for certain it's the weed's fault? No, but I do know that the man wasn't like this twenty years ago and I don't know what else might have caused it.

So does this mean I think marijuana should remain illegal? No.  It just means I think it's a bad idea to make heavy use of it.  Why shouldn't it be illegal?  I think there are quite a few logical reasons that it shouldn't be.  To me, the biggest problem with illegalized pot is that it consumes far too much time in the legal system, and gets far too many otherwise good people in trouble.  As much as my friend's brain has been addled by pot, he's a good guy and a productive (if often lost) member of society.  However, if his employer did test--he's in the same line of work that I am--he'd lose his job.  If he gets pulled over on his way home from Richmond, he'll probably be in trouble if anyone takes a good look at his car. Not only does this waste police effort, it gums up the court system with things that just aren't that big of a deal.  We have bigger problems.  Marijuana simply does not cause the problems that "bigger" drugs cause.  No drug warfare erupts over pot--it just doesn't generate enough revenue.

What about legalizing other things?  Well--did we learn nothing from Prohibition? You just can't legislate morality.  If people want to do something, they're going to find a way to do it.  And, just like booze in the '20s, making coke and its relatives illegal just means that people will still use them, but that a thriving underworld will blossom.  It has, and it's ruined almost all of our major cities. Even small cities--e.g., Hagerstown--have a gangrenous underbelly because not only do they have their own drug world, they have become distribution centers for the larger cities.

Let's go ahead and legalize all the stuff.  We can regulate it and tax hell out of it, just like we do with booze.  Think of the jobs created: all the stores: "Just Mary Jane!" "Heroin To Go".  And the bureaucracy: by the time the US, in its post-Roosevelt fashion, gets done opening up regulatory agencies in every city, states following suit, and of course Treatment Options for those with Problems, there will be millions of new jobs. Which will mean that the down-and-out who are currently drug users will be able to have productive lives.

Also, we'll be able to play "I Get a Kick Out Of You" on the radio without censoring its lyrics.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A few of the reasons why I'm going to hell.

Let me preface this with the statement that yes, I do believe in Hell.  I'm not entirely clear on the concept  though, because the idea is that you go to Hell if you're a really bad person.  Since Satan is already bad, it seems to follow that he would want the bad people there, so why would he torture the people he actually wants to have around? It seems kind of like peeing in your friends' beer.  I guess the bad people are down with it because maybe they play nasty tricks on each other and, one presumes, Satan.  I mean, once at Homecoming my friends put salt in my beer while I was peeing, and I drank it anyway because that's what friends do and also it would have taken forever to get another pitcher right in the middle of Homecoming.

So, yes, I believe in Hell.  I'm never sure about those people who are all smarmy and oh-so-enlightened who say (usually after I say "You are evil and you are going to burn in Hell") "Well, I don't believe in Hell so I can't go there."  Let me tell you, smartass, I never believed in Newark either because it just didn't seem like a very good idea, but I finally ended up having to actually be in Newark. No matter how much you hate the idea of a place doesn't mean that it doesn't exist and that it doesn't suck.  I wonder if one also gets indecent propositions in the main train station in Hell.

I am probably going to Hell because I do have a filter, but I don't always remember to turn it on and without it I can be pretty nasty, though usually in response to something I find nasty in the first place--or just really stupid.  In recent memory:

Student J: "Yo. You look like a fuckin cholo."
Me: (one inch from student's face) "How do you know I'm not? And if I am, do you really want to piss me off?"

Student V: (busting the I'm-a-sexy-ghetto-ho eye-roll and tude) "I don't need no library card cuz I doan read."
Me: "Oh, OK. You made the active decision to be stupid and uninformed. I totally see your point.  Have fun on the pole!"

Whiny, very loud lady berating a stockboy at the store for not having something:  "I'm going to call the manager!"
Me, almost sotto voce: "I'm going to call the SS."

Pseudo-intellectual chick at bar: "Writing a blog is so narcissistic."
Me: "So narcissistic...what? Use the language correctly.  Besides, if I lived your life, I'd want to read about mine."

Damnit, I've got to stop sitting in handcars by mistake.  Oh, shit, wait...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Steadfast Refrigerator and the Stinky Nothing

So this morning I had a lengthy discussion with my refrigerator.  Not really; because "discussion" implies that the fridge was contributing something to conversation, which it wasn't.  It was, however, contributing a pretty nasty smell to the kitchen. This was why it needed a good talking-to.

You'd think this was actually my fault, that I'd left something in there just a little too long. I'm pretty well known for Refrigerator Science Experiments.  Hell, I once left a thing of leftover Chinese in the fridge so long that it developed representative government. When I got around to throwing it out it formed an allegiance with the mustard and tried to revolt against my totalitarian regime.

Not this time.  I have been pretty good about keeping a clean fridge lately so I don't know what's gone south in there.  I decided that the fridge itself must be responsible so I started grilling it. This was extremely confusing for the cats, who usually and correctly assume that I am talking to them.  The fridge steadfastly refused to acknowledge responsibility; in fact refused to say anything whatsoever.  It hummed insolently and continued to stink.

I have always had a habit of talking to inanimate objects, and occasionally yelling at them (particularly cars and computers, which do not seem to enjoy doing what I need them to do) but I think this was the first time I have caught myself actually expecting to get an answer from something which is not actually alive.

This is how I know it's about damn time for spring break. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Sorry. Grades due in an hour. Can't post.

Sort of.   You know how people talk about comfort food all the time now?  That's what we used to just call "food."  People don't want to do that anymore; it has to be in a category that expresses how New York and up to date you are because of course you don't really eat that stuff every day. You usually eat fusion cuisine, with an amuse-bouche of some shit that normal people wouldn't consider actually a food, and sushi for breakfast (when you're slumming, because sushi is SOOO 90s).  So when you admit that you actually eat stuff like tomato soup and grilled cheese, you call it comfort food.

I am eating tomato soup and grilled cheese because it's one of my favorite things ever.  It came from the school cafeteria, so the cheese should probably really be spelled cheez because it probably really isn't cheese. The bread is anything but artisanal and I'm pretty sure the soup came out of a five gallon bucket that says "Fred's Soup for Schools--Chase City, Virginia."

This is the best goddamn meal I've had all week. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

When I was in high school Special Ed, which we are now supposed to call Exceptional Ed, hadn't become the burgeoning industry that it is today.  Every grade had those couple of kids who were politely called "slow."  You didn't really see them because they existed in their own classes and maybe turned up for gym and lunch.  If a kid happened to be really slow, he ended up at a different school with his fellow brakes-applied learners.

But of course we can't do that anymore because someone, somewhere, might have his feelings hurt and sue the bejesus out of the school system (which doesn't really give a damn about whether people are learning or not, but does care about being sued).

So, in order to keep as many SpEd teachers, counselors and coordinators employed as possible, we keep coming up with changes in diagnoses so that people will have to spend hours filling out reams of new paperwork.

I just learned that Asperger's Syndrome doesn't exist anymore. (It's now properly called High Functioning Autism.)  This didn't really surprise me as I didn't really believe in it in the first place.  The first time I'd ever heard of it was the one miserable year I spent teaching at Parkville High School, which is in a suburb of Baltimore.  I was at a meeting in the beginning of the year when I heard somebody talking about a kid who had what I heard as "ass burgers."  I was shocked because I thought the teacher was talking about the kid's ass, which is of course totally inappropriate, until I gleaned enough from context to realize that she was talking about some supposed disorder.
Of which I'd never heard.
Despite being well-educated and well-read.
And having been in classrooms for three years already.
I soon learned that Parkville had over thirty students diagnosed with Asperger's.  Now, I realize that the air and water in Parkville are not that great; it's a crappy suburb of a crappy city, but still it defies logic that thirty  kids all born within three years of each other in one suburban area are going to have this disorder.
Well, they didn't, because now we've decided that it doesn't really exist.

Eventually, we're going to realize that as a culture we're painting ourselves into a small corner, educationally.  At least, we would if we could find kids who wouldn't whine to their parents about having to paint.  By the time the Karing n Koncerned SpEd folks are done, there will be fewer than ten percent of the population who doesn't have some sort of ostensible learning disability.  And parents will eat it up, because a "disability" absolves them from any parental responsibility.

Has no one figured out that employers do not have Accomodations and Modfications? You show up on time and do your job, or you stop having a job. We have got to stop coddling children who, for the most part, have nothing wrong with them except laziness and indulgent parents.  If they're really that "exceptional," they need to be in an exceptional school where they can draw exceptional bunnies and make exceptional macrame until they're seventy, by which time we will have gone through forty new terms for "exceptional" because that will have become passe and offensive.

I'd say "Will the last person to finish reading this blog please turn off the lights," but I don't have all of your Individualized Educational Plans, so I don't know who has to have a calculator or extra time to flip a goddamn light switch. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cause of death: poor grammar

So last night's cocktail hour conversation was on the morbid side.  I don't remember how we got to this point in the first place, but we were talking about causes of death when someone said "what if you die in some really gruesome accident, or murder, or something and they don't know exactly which injury killed you?"

I can answer that because in one of my former lives when I worked at the Bank of Baltimore, I handled credit accounts that belonged to dead people. That is, people who'd been alive once and had a credit account and then died; it's not like we were establishing lines of credit in Green Mount Cemetery.  As part of the job I needed to review death certificates.  It was really pretty interesting; people who work in  credit and collections always refer to deadbeat customers.  In my case they really were deadbeats.

The strange part is that no matter what happens to you, almost every death certificate lists cause of death as "heart failure." Then, it'll give the "secondary" cause, which usually is what happened to you that made your heart stop.  As far as the coroner is concerned, you died because your heart stopped.  The fact that your heart stopped because you got hit by the Crescent Limited is apparently of minor significance.  I suppose this is a bit of a kindness in some cases, if your death is either unbearably tragic or really stupid. I had one case where a college kid blew his brains out; at least his family was spared seeing that every time they had to show the certificate since it still said "Heart failure."  And if I died because I did something really idiotic, I'd rather not have my last public record say "Got drunk and tried to surf on subway rails."

Actually, I have already planned my demise.  It's been done before, but it's just so apt.  Years ago some dude died in his seat in the balcony at the Byrd.  He sat there for about three shows before someone figured out that either he wasn't doing too well or he really liked that movie.  This sounds like a fine plan to me.

So, if I am found dead anyplace but a movie theatre balcony, know that I was probably murdered.  And since the primary cause of death will invariably be "Heart Failure,"  I expect the secondary cause will be "conversation with person who believes 'alot' is a word."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Irradiated Utz. It's what's for lunch. Also people are retarded.

So, I completely forgot to pack lunch today (read: "I overslept and barely had time to poop and shower") so I went to the school cafeteria.  Unfortunately I also forgot to have any money and teachers have to pony up three bucks for the "food," so I busted out my one remaining dollar and got a bag of potato chips.  I am inordinately fond of snack food, so this wasn't really a bad thing, but then I saw the writing on the wall.  And by wall I mean the bag of chips.

Quick aside--what the hell are potato chip bags made of these days? I remember when they were wax paper; this crap is maybe foil and maybe plastic and possibly both, but is definitely going to give us all cancer.

I was happily nomming away on my salt 'n vinegar chips when I noticed the warning on the bag: "Do Not Microwave This Pouch."

What. the. hell.

I'll admit, for a party snack I have sprinkled cayenne pepper on Grandma Utz Kettle Chips and baked them for a few minutes, but who in creation microwaves potato chips?  Ever?  Why would you? What... Oh, I don't know, this is just too weird for words.

Oh, fine, I'm sure there are stranger things one might do with potato chips--say, pulverizing them and inserting into one's urethra--but why not caution against that, too?

Some time ago I mentioned the "Caution: Hot Contents" warning on fast food coffee cups.  While this, to me, comes under the heading of "No shit!" I understand that some idiot sued McDonalds--successfully--because she scalded her thighs with coffee from the drive-thru, and claimed that she wasn't warned about the heat.  Look, you stupid bitch, you would have complained if your coffee had been cold, and now because you're too goddamn dumb to hold on to it, you sue McDonalds because coffee is hot?

So I don't quite understand the warning, because who the hell would microwave potato chips, but I do understand it, because some jackass would microwave the package and burn himself and then sue Utz because he wasn't specifically told not to microwave it.  Frankly, if you microwave a bag of potato chips, you deserve what's coming to you.

The beautiful grand staircase at the Hotel Jefferson has been marred for years now by an ungainly railing that goes down the middle.  Why?  Safety code insists.  Never mind that there are railings on either side; the twenty-foot-wide stair must have a railing down the middle.  I am not clear on this, either.  If you need a damn handrail, then walk on the side of the staircase where there's a rail.  I don't give a rat's ass how many people fall to their deaths on the staircase--if they're that stupid they need to die, anyway--but do not screw with good Richmond architecture.