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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

My Photo
Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Why Yes, They Are Homeschooled. Why?

Yesterday was another day of perpetual football. Our son had to be at the field at noon. He's on the Pee Wee division team, so we had to sit through the Mighty Mights and Jr. Pee Wee games before his team took the field.

Unfortunately they lost, but for the most part they played their hearts out. Their loss - this opponent - speaks loudly about how a very well funded team operates. Ours is a bush-league team run by people who just like to play. Their opponents today presented the appearance of a team that wins because that's what the parents DEMAND! As a result this junior football leage team has more sponsors than your average NASCAR crew. I've never seen a youth league football team that well funded. But more on that in a later post.

After the game our son walked from the field of battle, sweaty and beaten, carrying his pads and helmet. He looked like a character from one of those NFL nostalgia films. We'd been at the field for five hours and we were all looking forward to getting home to a hot meal. For me, however, cooking didn't sound all that exciting. So we turned to that bastion of U.S. culinary convenience: Burger King! Yes, we'll have Whoppers all around and don't forget the cheese! Drinks? Dr. Pepper of course. And don't skimp on those fries, Mister!

A quick detour through drive-thru and we were back on the road. FlyBoy plowed into his combo.

"Dang, the put a ton of lettuce on mine." he complained, opening his burger.

"Lettuce?" I asked, not sure what he said.

"Yeah. Lettuce. L-E-D-I-S."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Now there is empirical proof

Despite what my kids and those who diss'd me in high school think, I'm cool. Finally, there's no doubt.

I am 11% loser. What about you? Click here to find out!

I'm going to take a moment to bask in my coolness.

By way of explanation, this means only 11% of the population is cooler than me, while 89% are bigger losers. Just thought I'd clarify.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Questions I have

  1. If you look at a mirror with a pair of binoculars, will the image in the mirror appear closer, or only the mirror itself?
  2. Why is it acceptable for there to be any number of minority-only groups and events, but if anything is perceived as white-only, it's immediately tagged racist?
  3. Why does American society tolerate, indeed glorify, violence, but abhor anything sexual?
  4. What exactly is a "dirty sanchez?"
  5. Why are there interstate freeways in Hawaii?
  6. Who is the "they" that everyone quotes?
  7. If I eat pasta and anti-pasta at the same time, do the calories cancel each other out?
  8. Speaking of "anti-," does an anti-aircraft gun shoot anti-aircraft? After all, a glue gun shoots glue and a nail gun shoots nails.
  9. Are those people I see at disaster scenes with "K9 Rescue" on their jackets looking for trapped dogs?
  10. If sunflower oil is made from sunflowers and olive oil is made from olives, what is baby oil made from?
  11. If a point on the edge of a CD has to go 10 inches to make one revolution, but a point near the center only has to go 2 inches, how is it possible for two points on the same disc to travel at two different speeds?
  12. If I buy de-hydrated water, what do I add?
  13. If a man is standing in a forest talking, and there's no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?
  14. If I have multiple personalities and I threaten to commit suicide, is it actually attempted murder?
  15. Is the word "thesaurus" in the thesaurus?
  16. What would Geronimo yell if he jumped from a plane? "MMEEEEEEeeeeeeeee...?"
  17. Why is it that when you're driving and looking for an address, you turn down the radio?
  18. If white is the combination of all colors and black is the absence of color, how do they make black paint?
  19. Why do we use "happy" for salutations for every other holiday, but with Christmas we say "merry?"
  20. Why are there no letters assigned to the number 1 on a telephone when 7 and 9 have four letters each?
  21. Does that make 7 and 9 the greedy Republican capitalists of the phone pad?
  22. If a stealth bomber crashes, will it make a noise?
  23. If the 7-11 down my street is open 24-hours, why does it have locks on the doors?
  24. Is there a fine if I open a milk carton on the side that doesn't read "open here?"
  25. If someone using sign language swears, do you wash his mouth or his hands?
  26. What is that force that alerts children anywhere in the house that you've just tried to use the bathroom by yourself?
  27. If someone wearing coke-bottle eye glasses were to look at the sun, would it burn their eyes like an ant under a magnifying glass?
  28. If you clamp a hand tightly over your mouth and nose when you sneeze, will it blow your shoes off or come our your ears?
  29. If an angry employee is called "disgruntled," is a happy one merely "gruntled?"
  30. What does the "H" stand for in "Jesus H. Christ?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mr. Pidass, You're Craftsman Is Ready

Following a trip to my local 7-11, I now have my Dr. Pepper and am prepared to write.
Several years ago my wife and I thought it might be a good idea to retire for a while. Not in the traditional meaning of "retire," mind you; we don't intend to sit on the front porch at dawn, waving at the joggers, drinking prune juice, or endlessly complaining about the gov'mint - although truth be told we already complain about our leaders a lot and now that I think about it I seem to recall a rumor that the base ingredient in Dr. Pepper is prune juice. Oh, well. Now if there were any joggers in our neighborhood - or if we were awake early enough to notice - at least we'd fit the stereotype, despite being decades away from enrollment in AARP.

Perhaps a more accurate way to describe our intentions isn't to call it "retirement," per se, but more along the lines of a willful unemployment. Only we intend not to suffer the typical ills associated with unemployment. Instead we plan to use our unemployment to better ourselves and our children by traveling North America in an RV-Bus conversion motorcoach, experiencing all those things you'd never see otherwise. Perhaps we should call it "funemployment."

To prepare us for this adventure we sold the big house, the fancy cars, and generally divested ourselves of the trappings American society brainwashes us into believing are the definition of "success." We moved into a small rental house to prepare us for our next step down, i.e, into a converted bus. How small is this house, you ask? Let's just say we keep a generous supply of lubricant on hand in case someone wants to change their mind.

This move meant I had to give up my huge garage for a tiny little toolshed in the back yard. I don't mind so much, although I do miss having somewhere in which to putter in a manly manner, the way manly men do when they have their very own garage space. On the side of this putterless-able toolshed is several old pieces of junk left over from previous tenants, including an old lawn mower. When we moved in we tried to dispose of these unwanted articles of clutter via our local trash collector.

Now, I'm not one I'd normally consider to be "old." According to my daughter, that status isn't achieved until the age of 40, at which time I think she believes it's time to collect social security. At 38 I don't yet qualify, but in her eyes I'm close enough to smell it. I mention my age only because I am old enough to remember when trash men actually collected unwanted things. At any rate, trash, rubbish, refuse; they took whatever it was and by whatever name you called it. Don't want it? Leave it outside on garbage day and it would magically disappear.

To show these denizens of the refuse of rampant consumerism that we appreciate their efforts we'd leave a bag of M&Ms or a bottle of Old Spice on the can around Christmas. We'd even wrap a red bow around said present so he'd know this item wasn't intended to be discarded, but was a small token of appreciation for taking that burnt-orange lounge chair out of our lives forever. In retrospect I'm not sure of the message we were sending though: either "here's a $1.50 bag of frozen chocolate to suck on throughout your day" or "you stink."

But that's what Christmas is for, right? You become a little more generous. You give gifts to those within your sphere of existence whom you'd ignore entirely on any other normal day: the garbage man, the mailman, the checkout girl at the local mega-mart. Well, I realize that might sound a little sexist; the checkout person doesn't have to be a girl - it could also be a gay guy.

But I digress. The point I was about to make was that today's "disposal engineers" feel that the advancement of their title now grants them immutable power over the world of refuse. Today, you may arrive home from work to find that the spare tire or Liberace oil painting remains at the curb while the other trash is gone. When we moved into this matchbox I placed those miscellaneous toolshed junk items out by the curb every Monday for three weeks and every Tuesday they remained behind. That explains why they were hidden behind the toolshed all this time. Apparently the previous tenants didn't know what to do with them either. Finally we received a notice from the "disposal" company that they do not accept paint cans, tires, cadavers, lawn mowers, or any of the other items that I just happened to have piled on the leeward side of my toolshed. Well, except for the cadaver of course, in case any law-enforcement types are reading this. Looking at the phone book-size list of forbidden items I remember thinking WTF? What am I supposed to do with this sh..tuff? Actually I really thought "shit," but this is a family friendly blog for fuck's sake.

Shortly thereafter I experienced another interesting discovery resulting from this quest. There is no place convenient in which to dispose of an unwanted lawn mower. Well, not convenient and legal anyway. Because yeah, I could take it out to one of the innumerable desolate roads in the area and dump it somewhere along the way, but unlike the other heartless bastards who dispose of everything from deer carcasses to washing machines on our nations roadways, I have a heart goddamit! Apparently people who live in New Jersey have no idea where their garbage goes. They just put it outside and like many primitive people they believe the trash fairies flutter by on gossamer wings, making it vanish with a wave of their glittering wands. An actual land-fill apparently doesn't exist in this area of the country. When I'd ask someone for the location of a landfill, I'd either receive a look that told me I might as well be trying to find the lost golden city of Tenochtitlan or directions that lead to a remote hillside along State Route 519.

Last Sunday morning I sat out on the back porch with a cool glass of Dr. Pepper in hand. I was intermittently thinking about the wholesale dismantling by Washington of what used to be our civil rights and what to do with that damned lawn mower. I glanced over to the toolshed. There it was, staring back at me; mocking me. I'm not even sure if it works. At least if it worked I could perhaps sell it for a few bucks. Then, just as the sun peaked above the tree tops, the solution presented itself. It was right there in front of me, looming like... like... like something big standing right in front of me. I waved at the neighbor jogging by and went back inside, grinning to myself over my epiphany.

Monday morning I took the lawn mower down to my Sears repair center and told them it wouldn't start and I just couldn't figure out why. The young man behind the counter treated me with the kind of reverence and understanding only another man with a broken power tool would understand.

"I understand sir. We'll get it running again for you."

"Thanks. I can't wait until fall, when I won't have to mow again for several months."

"Heh heh, I know what you mean, sir. You want to give me your name and phone number and we'll call you when it's ready?"

"Sure. My name's P-I-D-A-S-S. Pronounced 'Piday.' I know, try growing up with it. First name Stewart."

"Ok, Mr. ... Pidaye [doing is best not to laugh], what number can I reach you at."

I ignored his use of a preposition at the end of a sentence. "Please, call me Stu."

"Ok, Stu. Where can we reach you?"

"I'm at 669-487-9377. That's my cell." I figured the unusual area code wouldn't seem so unusual as a cell phone, what with cellular service being national now.

The Sears man, in his freshly pressed uniform, pushed my four-wheeled adversary into the back like an orderly about to prepare a patient for surgery. "Ok, Stu, we'll call you when she's ready."

I left, feeling both smug for escaping the impenetrable refuse web in which the garbage man - excuse me, "disposal engineer" - had me trapped and a bit guilty for what the Sears guy is going to think when he dials 1-669-487-9377 (or, phonetically, "1-NOW-ITS-YERS") only to find no Stu Pidass lives there.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

That'll Be $16.50 and Two Hail Maries

Football is consuming my life. Our son is on his first Pop Warner team and he couldn't be happier about it. You'd think he was already a professional. I know because he said so himself. On his first scrimage we walked through the entrance tunnel onto the grid iron. It was his first time dressed in full uniform and pads in front of a crowd. You could smell the awe that enveloped him. Almost to himself he muttered, "this. is. sooo. COOL! I feel like a professional!"

Yep, he's hooked. So for his sake we bite our tongues and attend all the pep rallies, punt/kick/pass competitions, games, practices, and other events cunningly disguised as football events but are really designed to separate us from our money. My first girlfried wasn't so high-maintenance; and only marginally more expensive.

Today was the punt/pass/kick competition. According to the flyer we were supposed to be there by 9am, but as usual we arrived - on time, I might add - to find we were actually way early. Apparently registration began at 9am. The rest of the parents know this means to arrive sometime around 9:30 or 10:00. On the other hand, I apparently still naively think that 9am means nine in the morning. So we sat there for the first hour trying our best to avoid being hit up for the twentieth time to buy a raffle ticket.

As my son watched the raffle peddler wander away in search of further victims who could be guilted into trading their salary for a little pink piece of paper with an illegible number on it, he asked "Hey Dad, why don't you volunteer to work the events?"

"I would, but they don't call me to ask." Which is true, really. I would do it, and I have made that known, but no one ever seems to contact me to tell me they need my help. And I'm sure I gave them the correct phone number. I'm virtually certain of it.

"You should tell them again. Then you could volunteer to work at the confession stand."

Confession Stand? Hmmm... How would that work? "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I need two cheeseburgers, a basket of curly fries, and a biggie coke please."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Don't Tell Me There's No Difference Between Girls And Boys

The other day I was driving my son to his football practice. He, my daughter and I were having a conversation about school. Our kids are homeschooled, so they don't suffer the same tragedies as public school kids, like having to spend so much time riding the bus. They admitted that while the bus ride did take too long, they didn't mind it all that much because it gave them an opportunity to socialize, which was something they were not allowed to do while in school.

One of the games the girls played routinely during the bus ride was "the daily theme." This was much like show and tell. Each day one of the girls would bring something she found exciting or interesting to show the other girls. The next day the other girls would reciprocate by bringing something to match. On Monday one girl might bring in a beenie baby; on Tuesday they would all bring beenie babies. Wednesday one might bring a scarf, so Thursday they'd all bring scarfs to show. My daughter tells me this went on for the entire year and covered subjects like barbies, sweaters, stuffed animals, string, foreign money, and a miriad of others.

I thought this sounded like a pretty danged good way to pass the long bus ride. When I was a kid I passed the time on the bus in total obscurity. But I was curious: that was what the girls did, but what about my son and the other boys on the bus?

Turning to The Boy, I asked "so how did you and the other boys amuse yourselves on the bus rides?"

He shrugged. "Mostly by burping and making fart noises."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I've Always Hoped This Day Would Come

We love us some CSI. My daughter and I watch that show every time it comes on TV, even if we've seen that episode six times previously. It's our new Whose Line Is It Anyway. During every episode one of us will invariably quote something we've learned by watching CSI:

  1. That guy who pumps your stomach will know you've cheated on your diet.
  2. It's shocking what comes out of a human head.
  3. CSIs conduct every phase of the investigation, from evidence collection to interrogation.
  4. Crime scenes are best searched by flashlight, even if brighter lights are available.
  5. When confronted with the evidence, suspects can't resist spilling their guts.
  6. Every violent crime in Vegas is solved.
  7. All CSIs in Vegas are young and good looking.
  8. Vegas CSIs can pull prints and DNA from air.
  9. CSIs have access to every scrap of data in the universe.
  10. For some, finding a pubic hair is a good thing.
  11. Those things in the freezer are not popsicles.

The other day we had just watched the intro and the opening sequence was playing.

Daughter: Dad?

Me: Yeah, Puffin?

Daughter: What is this song?

Me: 'Who Are You?'

Daughter [with a confused look]: Who am I?

Me: No, 'Who Are You?'

Daughter: Uh, is this a trick question? Why does that matter?

Me: What would they call it otherwise, 'untitled?'

Daughter: It's called '[her name]?'

Me [sensing an opporutnity to have a litte fun]: What is?

Daughter: The song.

Me: Oh. No, 'Who are you?' It makes perfect sense when you consider that the show is about people who try to figure out who commits a crime.

Daughter [lightbulb coming on]: Aaaahhh, I get it. The name of the song is 'who are you!'

Me: That's what I've been saying.

Daughter: And who sings it?

Me [Yes! I've always hoped one of them would ask this during the credits]: Yep.

Daughter [after a few seconds of silence]: Dad, did you hear me?

Me: Yeah.

Daughter: Well, who sings it?

Me: Yes.

Daughter [frustration beginning to show]: Yes, what?

Me: The Who sings that song.

Daughter: I don't know, that's why I'm asking you. Don't you know?

Me: Know what?

Daughter: The band that sings that song.

Me: No, The Band sings something else I can't remember right now. The Who sings that song.

Daughter: Daaaaaa-aaad, stooooop it! I just want to know who sings that song!

Me: I knoooooowwwww, and I answered you. The Who sings that song!


Me: And I already told you!

Daughter: You told me who's the band that sings that song? The name of the band?

Me: No, The Band doesn't sing "Who are you." The Who does. They also sing 'Pinball Wizard.'

Daughter [emitting some primal, guttural noise]: Fine. Whatever. Don't tell me then.

Me [calling after her]: What? I told you! I did! It's The Who.

Daughter [voice fading]: I'm not lissstennniiiing..

Lost In Translation

What the motocross video game says when a character goes off a jump and lifts his legs off the pegs: "Look Ma, no feet!"

What my son hears: "A-pondo feet!"

What the Genie says just before the confrontation between Aladdin and Jafar: "Al, I can't help you; I work for Senor Psychopath now."

What my son hears: "Al, I can't help you; I work for Sr. Psycho Pants now."

[editor's note: imagine the little swoop above the "n" in Senor, denoting the Spanish word for Mister. I tried to copy it in but every time I publish the swoop turns into "A+*". I guess A+* is the blog equivalent to the Spanish "nya" sound.]

Saturday, September 10, 2005

This Guy Sorta Says It All

I came across this in my travels today and thought he just about summed up perfectly how I feel about our governments response to the horror in LA.


One Extra Step Now

I turned on the extra word step for comments today. I'm tired of getting all excited about someone reading my blog only to discover it's a canned reply that's really trying to get me to read more about Viagra. Is someone trying to tell me something? It's like "hey, great blog! I just read it all and I think it's obvious you suffer from erectile disfunction. Click this link to find out how to do something about it. Maybe then I won't have to satisfy your wife for you."

Hmmm... that Viagra's cheap though.... I wonder what shipping is.....

Thursday, September 08, 2005

It's a Cow's Opinion; It Doesn't Matter

Some time ago I was sitting at the computer desk, searching for music downloads (back when it was still legal), when my daughter came into the room with a question.

Daughter: Daddy, what's a 'moo point?' Does it have something to do with how dumb a cow is?

Me [trying not to laugh]: No, Puffin.

Daughter: Oh, I thought it had something to do with a cow not being smart enough to come in from the rain.

Maybe He'll Still Solve That Sock Problem

We homeschool our children. Acutally, I homeschool them, BuddhaWife un-schools them. Her general opinion is that if it's not relevant to their chosen life, there should be no compulsion to learn it. BuddhaWife is a free-thinker. She refuses to take anything at face value and routinely questions the relevance in forcing our kids (or herself, for that matter) to learn something that's unlikely to have a use later in life. To her, there's no way to learn it all anyway, so you're better served sticking to the relevant than what will ultimately be considered "trivia."

I believe that that may be true for some things (e.g., do they need to know plane geometry if they decide to be zoologists?) but they should also have a healthy understanding of the world around them, both present and past. It's my belief that you can't envision the future if you neither understand the present or respect the past. I'm big on math, history, science, and geography primarily, with a smattering of penmanship and typing sprinkled throughout.

We also try to raise our children to have independed personalities; to find their own place in the world and learn what they think instead of being told what's important by the talking heads in Washington, Hollyweird, or the collective media. Every so often, however, I see a glimpse of the woman I married in the personalities of the spawn we produced.

The other day our son was beginning his assingment for the day. We have a deal whereby the kids can earn an extra hour beyond bedtime if they've completed one homework - or research - project that day. Our daughter is currently honing her cursive skills, while our son is reading a book about the history of the world. From my position at the computer I noticed him scanning the pages of the book, which I thought meant he was finding where he left off or, perhaps, skimming what he was about to read to gain an overview of what was to come. What a schollar. Images of valedictorian awards from Harvard - or most likely MIT for him - floated through my head. Maybe he'd become the anthropologist who finally settled the missing link debate. Perhaps he'd develop a working solution to the problem of fusion energy, providing a virtually free, inexhaustible, and clean source of energy to the world. Or, closer to home, he'd discover what that force is that consumes one of my socks every time we do the laundry (and why it always chooses one of the good socks, leaving the old, threadbare pairs in tact). My fatherly pride swelled.

"Why do you look over the chapter before you read it?" the pride-swollen father asked.

"Because I think it's important to be in the right state of mind when doing homework."

"You organize your thoughts?"

"No, I ask myself 'do I care?' "

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Don't Sell That SUV; You May Be Living In It

Now that the world has decided to release much of its oil reserves, the price of gas in the U.S. has begun to retreat somewhat. As a side note, I find it curious that every gas company claims that the current high price is based on shortages due to the war in Iraq, increased demand by foreign nations, and, most recently, Hurricane Katrina. However, the oil that was used to produce the gas that we're all pumping into our vehicles this week was purchased loooong before Katrina's first storm cloud ever formed. Similarly, the oil purchased today won't show up as gas in the station's tanks for some time to come. It is nothing but the perceived shortage of gas that's causing the price to skyrocket, precipitated by traders and speculators in gasoline and oil futures. Yet everyone from our government to the major oil companies would have us believe that all consumers of oil products are being forced to raise prices by similar amounts. But this dollar for dollar price passing is deceptive because while a 25% increase in costs for the oil companies does result in a 25% increase for consumers, the oil company's 25% includes profit margin. Therefore it should be no surprise that oil companies have historically reported record profits when gas prices experience a sustained increase. Anyone want to predict what they will all be saying come the end of their current fiscal year? I know some CEOs who will be receiving multi-million dollar bonuses this year.

As a result of all this I'm not convinced that they have no control over the price increase or that they are merely passing on a dollar for dollar increase that they incur; not after witnessing how the two stations closest to my house reacted to the price increase. They sit on opposite corners of the same intersection. One is a Mobil; the other Exxon, which if memory serves is the same company. In the year or so I've lived here these two stations have charged virtually identical prices, every so often varying by a penny. Prior to the hurricane, they were both charging $2.54. During the post-Katrina spike, however, the Mobil station topped out at $3.45 a gallon whereas the Exxon station across the street never rose above $3.19. If all these increases were supply driven, how did the Exxon station remain so much lower than the Mobil station right across the street? Especially considering they are part of the same oil company.

This morning I noticed, as I passed all the stations during my morning commute, that they all seem to have retreated to $3.19 a gallon range. But before everyone begins thinking this means gas is going to retreat to it's previous level, ask a question: What do you consider cheap? $2.75? $2.50? $2.35? What if we all remember that at this time last year a gallon of regular in my area was going for $1.79? The sad fact is that once we normalize paying these inflated prices, the market won't allow the price to drop to historical levels. In other words, gas will never again be below $2 a gallon. The longer it remains over $3, the more we become used to paying that amount, so when this perceived shortage is over and supply resumes, it'll drop to, say, $2.50 or so, but never to the below $2 level it was before.

If you're an oil company it makes perfect sense. You can claim that you're only charging what people are willing to pay and besides, the prices are ultimately set by futures traders on the world market. If people are used to paying more than $3 a gallon, dropping it to $2.25 will seem like a real bargain. Never mind that at $2.25 it would still be more than 40 cents higher than it was before this all began.

I make the same comment about house prices. In many areas of the country a modest, single family starter home is selling for $300,000. If you're lucky enough to be in the market for a custom home in my area of the country, you'd better be willing to shell out a minimum of $450,000; and that's if you forego many of the usual upgrades custom home buyers typically select.

When we lived in L.A. we had a modest but nice - and nearly new - home that just by luck happened to be listed for far less than comparable homes. Three years later we sold that same house, having done absolutely nothing to it to improve its value, for nearly $80,000 more than we paid. I'm now told that that same house is worth a further $70,000.

If you're a young couple just starting out, how exactly are you supposed to afford even a modest home? Paying more than $350,000 for a 1,700 square foot tract home is all fine and dandy if you're also selling a home in which you've got $200,000 in equity. But what if you're just starting out? What if you don't have the $150,000 to $200,000 required to make the payments possible? I've been told that the housing market is the 00's internet market, that is to say the housing market today is experiencing the same kind of explosive gains that internet stocks did in the 90's and that when the bubble bursts there's going to be hell to pay for all those people paying a third of a million dollars for a Gran Turino on blocks. I don't think that's possible for the same reasons I don't think gas will ever be "cheap" again.

People have grown used to paying inflated prices for homes in these areas and as such they'll jump at a chance to purchase for $250,000 a house that was previously listed for $375,000. But what if that house historically went for $180,000? If pricing homes nearly $200,000 over historical levels is a problem, a decline that makes it only $70,000 over priced isn't much of a solution. It's still over-priced.

And don't even start trying to insist that homes in these areas are so pricey because of the cost to build them. Developers are making a mint on new home sales in places like New Jersey and California. It seems to me that they'd have to be. After all, they're using timber from the same sources, largely, as those building homes in the south. If the increase in price were due to cost of production, you'd expect home prices in Houston to be somewhat on par with those in Los Angeles. But a 1,700 square foot, 50 year old, starter home in a moderate neighborhood in L.A. will cost you at least $250,000. But for only $150,000 you can buy a 2,800 square foot new home, with a good sized yard, in a nice neighborhood in Houston.

Prices in general inch upward over time. We all expect it. And as long as it happens slowly we don't give it a second thought. But every so often something happens to jerk prices upward dramatically. This leaves most of us upset and dismayed, but we still adapt. It's that adaptation that causes the problem going forward because, while absolutely necessary, it makes us change our paradigm for what "normal" prices should be, in turn adjusting upward our definition of a bargain.

When wages are only increasing at single-digit rates (provided you've got a job that isn't being sent overseas), yet standards like housing and fuel are increasing at double digit rates, how long do we think it's gong to take before a vast swath of this country can no longer afford housing or transportation? Or worse, they're affording them by spending less on other things like food, college, or retirement?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

One Way to Get Yourself Fired

I know a guy at work who's friends with someone who, well, let's just say he's not big on working. According to Doug [name changed to protect the guilty], this friend of his has had 10 jobs in the last two years. Each time he decides to leave a position, however, he tries to get himself fired so he can collect unemployment benefits. I won't go into the various opinions I have about this man's work ethic, though. I only bring it up because Cart- er, Doug, told me how this friend of his pulled off his last spectacular firing and I thought it too interesting to keep to myself.

This guy apparently works - rather, worked - in a sea of cubicles, much like your typical Dilbert cartoon. Sitting at home one night, he found a website that allows you to download any number of hundreds of various ring tones for your cellular phone. Some of these ring tones are, shall we say, "adult only." That night he selected a particularly nasty rendition of two people having graphically vocal sex.

The next day he put his plan into action. He updated his ring tone, cranked the volume up all the way, and left his phone on his desk as he stepped out for the restroom. Instead of going to the men's room, however, he popped out into the hall and dialed his cell phone from the pay phone in the lobby. When voice mail picked up, he hung up. Then he dialed his cell phone again. After voice mail, he hung up and immediately dialed it again. And just to make sure everyone heard it, he redialed a fourth time, finally hanging up and strolling back into the office. When he arrived in his area, he was greeted by a sea of shocked faces.

Imagine inviting a new date over to your place for a home cooked dinner and a rented movie. After dinner the two of you move to the living room to watch the "Terms of Endearment" tape you rented in hopes of displaying a side that will score you mega points with your date. You insert the tape, push play, and sit down on the couch. The movie starts with the picture blazing onto the screen mid-scene; and it's then that you discover someone has not only replaced the "Terms of Endearment" VHS with a copy of "Nasty Anal Action," but left the movie right at the climax of a particularly graphic scene. Imagine the look on you and your date's faces just at that moment between when you realize what you're watching and your brain forces your muscles to leap at the VCR. That's the look that greeted him when he returned to his desk. And everyone in the office witnessed it.

He filed for unemployment last week.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Other Things the Road to Hell is Paved With




Some kind of genetically modified fiber-reinforced composite, and you just know the Chinese have a hand in that one

Four feet of snow

Pink plastic flamingos and garden gnomes

Passive-aggressive commentary from my former boss intended to be “motivational” but really designed to remind you that the company is always looking to scale back the workforce.

Weekends at work

Political platitudes

The souls of the girls who rejected me in my youth

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why I Own Stock in Tylenol

My son came downstairs in an angry tizzy.

"AAAAGGGGGHHHH!!! This video game cheats!!!" [tears and much carrying on]

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"It cheats, that's what's wrong!" More tears and general carrying on.

"Yes, Son, so you’ve said. But HOW does it cheat?"

"It told me I had to perform three combo tricks in two minutes, which I DID. I DID!! AND IT WON'T LET ME MOVE ON! Aggghhh! [more crying and hyperventilating]."

"Ok, son, look," I said as the voice of reason “there’s no way the game is programmed so that you can’t beat it. We have this conversation every time you get a new game and can’t immediately be a pro. But every time, you also figure it out. This time won’t be any different. Just take a break from it and calm down. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You always do.”

“No, I try that all the time and I don’t think it’ll be different later.” [sobbing]

“All the time? Son, you got that game less than 24 hours ago. How could you possibly have tried everything already?”

“I just have, Dad.”

“Son, that game was not programmed to be unbeatable. It’s supposed to be hard so that you’ll continue to play it day and night, which, by the way, you’re already trying to do. Just take a break and calm down. All the games you’ve gotten that you beat immediately sit in the cases for a year until we get rid of them. Why? Because they’re too easy so you get bored with them. But the games that are harder are still among your favorites.”

“But dad, I’ve tried everything” stressing the word “everything.” [sob sob sob sniff].

[Patience waning] “So what you’re saying, son, is that the game is purposely programmed to piss you off and that there’s absolutely nothing – not ONE THING – that you haven’t tried and nothing – not ONE THING – works. Then why keep it? We should just return it to Blockbuster and be done with it like everyone else who’s rented it and been defeated. I guess that means we won’t have to worry about you saving your allowance to buy this one since apparently you’ve already advanced as far as can be done because they intentionally wrote the game to be unbeatable. Obviously, son, you haven’t tried everything. So work on trying combinations you haven’t tried yet and I’m absolutely certain you’ll figure it out.”

“But dad-“

I revert to the I’ve had enough with reason stage: “alright that’s enough with the game today. Go outside and play. Now.”

“I don’t wanna, Dad.”

“I don’t care, son. You need some exercise. Now go.”

He trudged to the door with the head low, heavy-footed gate of someone who recognizes the injustice of his entire existence and feels helpless to change it. Ten minutes later I heard the back door open and close. My son tossed his shoes into the shoe basket next to the door, looking for all the world as if his ten minutes outside is all the fresh air he needs. On some level I understand the feeling. I apply the same principle to my workouts, biking only so far as to burn off enough calories to justify the Dr. Pepper I intend to have as soon as I dismount that stupid thing. At least he’s gathered his composure again.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m coming back in.”

“No you’re not. You’ve only been outside for ten minutes.”

“But dad-“ I silently point in the general direction of the backyard. My son gave me a look of consternation, but grabbed his shoes and sat down on the couch to put them back on.

“How long do I have to stay out?” he asked, like a convict wanting to know how long his latest infraction was going to land him in solitary.

“I’m not going to give you a schedule. Just go outside and play.” Then I pulled an ‘I’m my father’ moment: “You know, I don’t get it. When I was a kid you had to drag me inside at the end of the day. I’d be gone from dawn to dusk and still beg for more time outdoors.”

“Yeah, Dad, so you’ve said. But times are different now. This is the future. There’s better technology than you had 60 years ago.”

Woah, wait. 60 years? Sixty?! Do I look 60, for crying out loud? Do I act 60!? Can you tell by my mixing of punctuation how incredulous I am? I realize I appear ancient to them, but I still insist I’m younger to them than my father was to me when I was 10. Then I realize, no, from a purely chronological standpoint I am, in fact, older. When my father was my age, I was already in high school. But that’s different, right? I mean, my father was old when I was my son’s age. He’d already started wearing black socks with shorts and had long since been listening to twangy country music. I still dress in blue jeans, only wear black socks to work and listen to the likes of Pearl Jam, Linkin Park, and Green Day, among others. His taste in cars centered around big and boat-like; his taste in motorcycles leaned more toward touring. Conversely I like sports cars, Jeeps with no doors, and riding motorcycles built for speed, like this one, my most recent toy:

Sadly, however, this toy didn’t survive it’s confrontation with that SUV on the 91 Freeway in Los Angeles, but hey, at least I did. Old? P-sha. I'm not old. I'm seasoned. I'm wise for Chrissake.

Thirty minutes later. FlyBoy came in to insist that I come outside to see what they’d been doing for the last half hour. Sure, why not? They had raided the storage shed and stretched my good tow straps between the trees to make a “ride” for their stuffed NeoPets toys. Oh man, couldn't they have picked something else to play with? See, we have trolls in our neighborhood. It can't be anything else because anything portable and strangely looking like a toy will disappear if left outside overnight. I didn’t want my expensive nylon tow straps to share that fate. The kids insisted they’d ensure they were back in the shed when they were finished. And hey, they were now outside and seemingly enjoying themselves so I guess I should be happy.

Several minutes later I'm at the computer writing this blog when my son came back in.

“I’m bored. Can we come in yet?” WTF? You two were just outside having fun. Now ten minutes later it's 'can we come in?' Where's the Tylenol?

“No, you’re only bored because you’ve handed your brain over to the likes of television producers and video game programmers and as a result have lost your ability to entertain yourself.”

“No, dad, I just can’t think of anything to do.”

“Ok, how about some ideas? You can go upstairs, get your Hot Wheels cars and some Lincoln logs. Build a town in the back yard and pretend to drive around. Or, go get your army men and you and Salem can set up two opposing forces and toss pebbles at each other’s army to see who wins.”

A look of skepticism from Flyboy.

“Or,” I continued, “you could get your Bionicles. We have a big back yard with all kinds of terrain. You could pretend that each area of the yard is the habitat for each kind of Bionicle. Or you could go to the shed, get the sidewalk chalk and draw on the front walk.”

“Can’t we do those things inside?”

"No, you can't use sidewalk chalk inside."

"That's not what I mean, Dad. Can't we do those other things inside?"

“No, you can’t. Now go on, Bud; go get something to do.”

He started for the stairs. I knew that when his brain once again took over for itself and abandoned the expectation of being pandered to by the television, they’d come back in laughing and looking for all the world as if they’d just had the time of their life. I toyed with the idea of laying some philosophy on them when that time came. “See?” I’d say, “now you have a memory of something you did, not just something you saw on tv.” To which I’m sure I’d receive the infamous eye-roll they genetically inherited from their mother. So I decided to keep my fatherly – nay, worldly – statements to myself, complete in my certitude that history would vindicate my actions as instances of true leadership.

“You guys going to be ok for a while tonight?”

FlyBoy stopped halfway up the stairs. “Where are you going?”

“Your mom and I are going out tonight on a date. Someplace without kiddies.”

“You are?”

“Yes truly. We’ll only be gone for a few hours though.”

“When are you leaving?”

“In a couple hours.” [I thought, he’s going to be upset about being alone that long or perhaps that someone else was going to be having fun without him.]

"WHAT!! Two hours? We have to spend two more hours outside?!" [there’s that mixed punctuation again.]

"No, you don’t have to necessarily be outside until we leave, but you’re not coming inside just yet. It’s a beautiful day out today; you should be happy be to have that chance because it’s going to start turning cold soon.”

He gave me a look of weary exasperation.

“Ok, I’ll tell you what. You can go outside for a little while longer or come in and I’ll give you some chores to do. The house could really use some extra cleaning.”

He continued up stairs for an outside toy “Fine, I’ll go outside.”

“Smart kid.”

Saturday, September 03, 2005

On Weekends We Play The Accordion

I'm a little perturbed. I'm sitting here watching coverage of Hurricane Katrina, one part of which is the White House stumping for how eager they are to help, when Bush suddenly makes a comment about the war and how we're going to "stay the course." Why is it that Bush seemingly cannot go a day without mentioning his resolve to "finish the job in Iraq?" No matter what the situation, he always squeezes in a comment that suggests we're crusaders for all that's good and just in the world and Iraq is the melting pot of world evil. And when exactly is he going to settle on the REAL reason we're even there. Let's recap the reasons we've been force fed so far.

In the beginning, there was 9/11. Saddam was an evil dictator (no argument there) who was actively aiding and sponsoring radical groups who would seek to do us harm, including the terrorists responsible for 9/11. Remember Bush and his staff standing at the podium brandishing so-called proof that the 9/11 attackers had been in contact with Saddam? Remember their insisting Iraq was funding them? Then do you remember the intense investigation that revealed no, in fact there was no proof he'd done either?

Next was the weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was a man bent on using chemical and biological weapons and, God forbid, had embarked Iraq on an active course to obtain nuclear weapons (and by the way, if Bush pronounces it "nuculer" one more time I'm going to scream). Another investigation ensued, but nope, no WMDs were located. Remember the White House insisting technology and documents had been found that proved Saddam was seeking to acquire or develop WMDs? Remember Bush and Rumsfeld claiming that investigators had found large aluminum tubing used in the WMD (read, nuclear) process? Remember the site they claim to have found that was being developed into a nuclear accelerator? Or the power plants that were supposedly being converted to process enriched uranium? After repeated pressure from the media and public to produce something concrete that showed the WMD program, the White House reverted to it's typical sanctimonious, pat-the-public-on-the-head, "we know what's best" approach but in the end had to admit WMDs may, in fact, have never existed.

Then we heard "he's a threat to security for the region" and the Administration started claiming we're in Iraq because Saddam was a destabilizing force in the region and we needed to deal with it. Except the only way you can claim that Saddam's unpredictability had to be addressed would be to insist that his removal would create stability. Has it? Is there anyone outside the administration who believes Iraq is safer or more stable now than it was when Saddam was in power? If anything the cowboyish, flip-the-bird-at-the-world approach Bush uses as his foreign relations policy has drawn terrorists to Iraq from all over the globe. Except they call themselves freedom fighters, opposing the occupation of the Muslim state from the infidel invaders. The longer we're there, the more it appears to the Arab world that we're planning to stay permanently. Have you heard it referred to by Arabs as a new "Crusade by the Christian invaders?" I have.

Now we have the latest incarnation of why we're fighting in Iraq. Not WMDs or Saddam's support for terrorists or said leaders destabilizing effect on the region (if that's justification for war, I guess we'll be heading off to North Korea, Iran, the Kashmir, and any number of African nations just as soon as we've "planted the seed of democracy" in Iraq). No, now we're told we're there because if we pull out it'll leave all those vast oil fields in the hands of terrorists. I gotta hand it to him, Bush has figured out a way to tie the war to the sudden, recent spike in gas prices. His plan, I can only surmise, is to insinuate that if the U.S. doesn't "finish the job" in Iraq, gas will remain this high-priced forever. Way to go, you elitist frat boy, claim that you're continuing this lunacy is a valiant effort to lower the price of gas (which, by the way is NOT due to an actual shortage, it's due to a shortage that's perceived to happen at some point in the future).

But enough of my ranting. On to the point of today's entry. I heard once that there are hundreds of groups classified as at risk by the State Department. Not all can be on the same level as Al Qaida though, can they? Some have got to fairly harmless, right? So here's my list of harmless terror groups:

* Abu Nidal Ladies Muffin Club
* Hamas and Garfunkel
* The Log Cabin Martyrs Brigade
* MujahaDianetics
* Gene Loves Hezbollah
* The Al Axsa Coffee Clutch
* Al Jarreau
* Basalmic Jihad

and my favorite,

* Weird Al Qaida

Friday, September 02, 2005

Quote of the Day

My daughter loved learning contractions. She loved that you could take two different words and combine them into a shorter word with the same meaning. From her car seat in the back she'd entertain us with her command of how to combine CAN-NOT or DOES-NOT or COULD-NOT, etc, always stating it as if she alone possessed the knowledge. And like any true master, she routinely tried to push the envelope of her craft.

One day we were on our way to the mall - a common pastime for those who live in L.A. One of the stores in the mall parking lot is Shoe City, which, by the way, has excellent deals on brand name shoes. I've got a pair of Reebok tennies that I bought there sometime around the dark ages and they're still wear-and-tear free despite my regular use. Try that with a pair of Wal-mart cheapies made by some nine year old in Malaysia. I wish they had the same kind of place here in New Jersey, but I've yet to find one that doesn't force the tradeoff between value and durability.

Anyway, as we turned into the lot past the shoe store, we hear this from the back seat:

"Shoe City... Well, if I had that store I'd call it 'Shitty.' "

- The Number of People Stunned by My Mediocrity