Monday, July 4, 2016

Living Simply

I don't understand marketing.

I'll qualify that. I don't know whether or not I understand why certain brand names sell and others don't. I'm certain that no one would buy a laxative called "At Least It's Laundry Day".

Names for products and services are trendy because their originators are intent on capturing the most up-to-date fads and styles in an effort to appeal to a specific market. Really savvy businesses not only conduct surveys, they also invite potential customers to take part in "focus groups", which seem to me to be a fancy way of saying "representative sample of a desired population". Put another way, focus groups appear to be created by business people as a means to tell a given group of people, "you should eat Bongo-Bongo Peanut Butter And Vodka Corn Flakes because two guys and a gal from Boxers Or Briefs Idaho seem to like them.

This bothers me for multiple reasons. First, I feel left out. I have never received an email, phone call, or postcard inviting me to determine the future success of some up-and-coming company. I think it would be pleasant to be ushered into some corporate setting, invited to sit on a corporate chrome-and-fabric office chair, and asked, on a scale of one to ten, how much I enjoy taunting fish with neoprene rubber swim fins.

Secondly, the names of some products and services are so transient that one wonders what their originators were thinking. I can tell you that I literally had to swallow my Bongo-Bongo Corn Flakes the other day when I came across yet another long-hackneyed "Creative Concepts" business logo. That was uber hip in the nineties. Not so much now.

I'm also bothered by overused motifs for business products. The other day while en route to a supermarket I passed a beauty salon called "Simply Coiffed". Perhaps the salon owner decided to take a minimalist approach to advertising his or her services. (I noted that there was no "Simply Lipstick" sign on the shop next door.) Normally, this wouldn't have registered in my memory. But I began to notice a trend when I opted to buy my favorite brand of citrus drink. I began musing about this as I placed three bottles of "Simply Lemonade" in my basket. I can appreciate the desire to "get back to basics". Maybe the word "simply" in a logo is meant to convey the message that the economy is weak, so we're cutting back to less-involved kinds of product names. I'll worry when I see "Simply Defibrillators" on sale at medical supply houses. I know that it would be a real letdown to see "Doesn't Smell Like An Old Fireplace" laundry detergent retailing at a lower cost than the good stuff with the teddy bear and Febreeze on the label.

Why can't we drop the nonsense and give names to goods which encourage consumers to buy them? I'd much rather head to the checkout with a bag of "Cookie Addiction" than with "These Almost Have Flavor". While we're on the subject, every shampoo I've ever used promises to make my hair "manageable", "silky soft", "radiant", and "luxurious" -practically to be nominated for an Oscar due to my gorgeous tresses and their "swingy, vibrant" qualities. (And I thought power words were for resumes. Silly, radiant me.)

The whole issue has me feeling tired of the pretense, including the disingenuous appearance to "harken back to a simpler time" with pseudo-honest branding. As far as I can tell, no one seems to be interested in either grandiose product names or Spartan ones. My favorite brand of lemonade might as well be called "Here's Your Drink, Pal. Try Not To Spill It On The Rug This Time." Living simply doesn't necessitate depriving ourselves of interesting brand names.

I simply wanted to make a point.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Dube Memoirs

The other night I was reminiscing about Dube.

If only you had known him. Dube (pronounced "Doo Bee", as in the Romper Room Doo Bee) bounded into our lives Christmas Eve 1974. My parents said they had some "last minute" Christmas shopping but would be home in a couple of hours.

To this day I'm unclear why his former owners gave him that name, especially considering the spelling. My memory is clear, however, of how we met.

At age thirteen, I was going through a tough time at school. The eighth grade isn't easy for anyone. For me that included the onset of a Bipolar disorder (which to this day I swear that dog somehow incorporated into his own psyche). I was in the living room with my grandmother playing Chinese Checkers. I was sitting on the floor, half-engaged with the game which was on the coffee table. My back was to the front door.

I wasn't sure whether my imagination was playing tricks or not. It turns out that it was the sound of a one year old, galloping ninety-five pound Boxer -a sound which lasted for perhaps half of a second before impact. What felt like the entire defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly on my back was followed quickly by a forced faceplant into the carpet and a cold, wet nose in my ear. As quickly as I had been tackled, I was on my feet and marveling at the rapidly disappearing hind quarters of my soon-to-be best friend. We let him roam the house, investigating all of the rooms (and stealing clothes from my clothes hamper).  In less than one second, our lives were forever changed by someone who would engage in no end of antics, including eating (and I do mean eating, not merely chewing) all four corners of the coffee table when his palate didn't fancy a window pane, linebackering my poor dad, eating apples from an apple tree in the back yard -leaving the cores still hanging on the trees (!), joyfully dragging bags of trash through the house when we were all at work or school, leaving all of mom's shoes on the stairs with various degrees of chew marks, sleeping on the sofa and/or using it as his personal napkin, constantly egging me on to an infinite number of wrestling matches, and putting an exclamation mark on all of this by charging across the basement at full speed and headfirst through the patio door.

That was the first time I discovered that mom took valium.

My closest friends all knew and loved him. And what wasn't to love, from that docked tail to those pointy ears and permanent mischevious facial expression which was a spot-on match for the earliest Marmaduke comics. He loved all of my friends and treated each one of them differently. His intelligence level constantly made me rethink everything I did at home. Leave food on the counter? He reached it no matter how far back one pushed it. A bowl of cereal errantly left for a moment at the kitchen table was a near-certain casualty. He couldn't reach the top of the table, but that didn't stop him. On more than one occasion I returned to find him sitting at the table eating my breakfast! This was a real feat since the chairs swiveled. One morning I thought I'd get even by spinning the chair, effectively chasing him out of it. In true Boxer spirit, he hunkered down a little and gave me a very mischevious "make it go faster. I dare you" look.

They say that the first year of development in a dog's life is equivalent to fourteen years in a human's. That might explain why in our household I had to compete with him for pack status. I'm sure that in his mind, anyone who can learn to open doors and gates, get even with the Beagle who lived down the street, and keep everyone within four blocks in any direction on their toes must be worthy of some serious Boxer street cred.

I miss him to this day. I'm convinced that he's in Heaven, waiting for the rest of the family and friends to catch up. Not that I'm in a hurry to die, but seeing him again will bring closure to some loneliness I've felt without him for a long time. On the other hand, I'm happy for him. He's in Heaven, he's surely a delight to God, and he's with my dad.

I just hope he hasn't linebackered dad again.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Worst of The Best

Life was turmoil.

I was the least coordinated and least athletic kid who ever played Little League baseball. I made the team, I suspect, because some other kid's dad was offered a raise and a promotion which necessitated moving to another state. Being one left-handed kid short, whatever rightie got stuck with the unenviable task of playing first base while being right handed would likely have to think his way through the play whenever he had to throw to third base.

I empathize. I had to play third. Playing third while under the influence of Southpaw should be a crime in all fifty states and commonwealths. That extra half-turn meant Albert had just time to get to first. Worse, having to think one's way through throwing a ball usually had the consequence of throwing it so wildly that parents would occasionally duck and umpires would give me very stern looks.

My teammates all seemed self-confident, if not ready for tryouts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I envied them. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only kid who felt outnumbered when at bat. Don't get me wrong. I loved playing the game. But there were times when I'd be at bat, noticing teammates on base with two outs and feeling the butterflies. in my stomach. That's usually when the pitcher would go into his windup and the entire world would disappear except for the baseball. And in that one magnificent moment, with the ball hanging in the air for a compartmented eternity I swear I could count every stitch on that baseball. 

That reverie would then be broken by a cracking sound -I was usually completely unaware that I had swung and made contact with the ball. The moment was sometimes capped off with a good friend admonishing me from the dugout to "RUN, stupid!!" and me jogging my mounds of baby fat around two-hundred forty feet of baseline lovingly donated by some company looking for a tax write off.

The first time I ever played baseball, I noticed that all of the right-handed batters who didn't get called out went to first base. Being a rationally thinking kid, or so I thought, being left-handed must mean that I needed to run to third. I was perhaps halfway there before I heard my teammates and the line coach frantically telling me to go to first. I can still see, in my mind's eye, the look of absolute confusion on the opposing pitcher's face as I short-cutted across the pitcher's mound en route to being called out by an umpire who looked for all the world like he wanted to get out of retirement and escape this type of nonsense.

One learns a lot about baseball simply by playing it. For instance, I learned that daydreaming and playing first base is incompatible. One lovely June Saturday afternoon I was feeling on top of the world; school was out, I was playing baseball, and the only concerns I had in the world were cleaning my room, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn. Granted, to a kid that's probably the adult equivalent of writing contracts for a major corporation or selling the company's product to a major wholesaler. For me, life couldn't get any better. I hadn't missed Scooby Doo that morning, I got the lawn mowed and out of the way, and I was already thinking of ways to blow my allowance (that '55 Chevy drag race car model kit is molded in yellow, so I should probably buy that one. Then the money I save on spray paint could go toward three or even four bottles of black paint for the chassis, and...) While I was ruminating about those kinds of things, in addition to worrying about whether or not I'd have enough money left over for candy bars and Coca-Cola, my left foot was resting comfortably on the first base bag. Staring slack jawed into my glove and marveling about how the day couldn't possibly get any better, my reverie was again broken by the crack of an opposing player at bat. The ball appeared in my glove before I could shake the self-debate between "Which is better: Hershey's or Nestle's?" from my mind. As if to put an exclamation mark on the moment, the ump standing near me yelled "YOU'RE OUT! at a very disgusted batter.

To this day, I have no idea how that ball found my glove. I was probably from a supportive teammate who wanted to win in spite of my cognitive magic carpet ride, but I occasionally wonder if it was a million-to-one short fly ball which happened to find just the right trajectory.

My apologies to all of my former teammates. I hope adult life has found you well and vice-versa. And if your church or business needs a substitute first baseman, you know where to find me.

I'll be at the concession stand where it's safe.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Clean Sweep

Holy cow.

My mother bought me an early birthday present -one which was badly needed, in fact. A vacuum cleaner with every bell and whistle sans headlight, this thing picks up so much dirt and dust in its self-contained plastic "tornado box" that it's a miracle I was able to breathe these past seven years.

Don't get me wrong. My old vacuum was a vacuum in the academic sense. It was an upright. It had a handle. It had a brush rotor which I believe actually spun until sometime in the late nineties. For some odd reason, it never seemed to pick dirt up from the floor although it always found a way to clog itself like a bus in a roundabout. The only good thing I can say about it (and I'm being kind here) is that it was a blinding solar yellow, so misplacing it was sure never to happen, assuming misplacing vacuum cleaners are common occurrences among American homes.

The Hoover MegaHemiTurbo II Upright Vacuum entered my home, ready for duty and its first "sweep and destroy" mission, some assembly required. An unassuming light green, this Clark Kent color belies the machine's true character; once the power button is clicked, I have to engage in hand to hand combat techniques imparted to me some three decades ago in security specialist training at Lackland Air Force Base. This is to protect my new coffee table, my television, and my bookcase, all of which my new vacuum apparently seems to want to devour in an all-out manic charge. If you've ever had the opportunity to block, trap, and redirect an upright vacuum cleaner, you'll know where I'm coming from. I may be developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I may have the cleanest carpet in the neighborhood.

Uncrating the new arrival was a bit of an ordeal; I immediately recognized the man body of the vacuum, but was at once both immediately horrified and fascinated by a tiny micro attachment which is reminiscent of the monster which pops out of the abdomen in "Alien". I still haven't used it.

Another feature which is nice -and scary- is the retractable cord. It's nice not to have to wrap the cord around and around as though I'm weaving a basket. On the other hand, after I stepped on the cord release pedal and the cord whipped from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room, I'm pleased to say I was able to pick the toaster off of the floor and put it back on the counter. And my cheek will make a full recovery.

I can't help thinking, as cruel as it may seem, what it's going to be like the day I'm vacuuming and the vacuum picks up some insect. I mean. the whole middle of the vacuum is clear plastic, so you're looking right at all of the dirt you're picking up. Poor insect. It's going to be a Hoofer F5 tornado. I bet I can make it spin fifty miles per hour.

Actually, I hope that never happens. All I want is a clean home. This vacuum is a Godsend. Thank you, mom. The air in my home is immeasurably better. My lungs no longer feel as though they have a restrictor plate on them due to the dust.

Now if I can find some mag wheels for this baby...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Well Equipped For Weighty Issues

Recently the health club I belong to replaced most of its exercise equipment. Evidenced by the looks on club members' faces, this was entirely unexpected. The expressions were reminiscent of several friends' faces in middle school when pop quizzes guaranteed a bad grade and a scolding by their parents.

Once one is used to the layout of a gym, knowing exactly where all of the equipment is located becomes a subconscious part of the routine. Somewhere, way down in the nether regions of one's predominant prefrontal cortex a long-established map reminds one that the crunch machine is directly across from the oblique machine currently occupied by that cute brunette number who seems perfectly content to show off her ability to occupy it for the next forty-five minutes while receiving no fewer than thirteen dirty looks from frustrated sales reps, underwriters, and guys named Eddie, all of whom had aspirations to firm and tone their midsections within the next three minutes or so.

In my case, the cognitive map was outdated the day forty or so new pieces of equipment arrived to replace the old.

To say we got lost would be an understatement. For some reason, the club thought it would be fun to mix everything up such that lower body machines would be interspersed among bicep-builders, bench press-type equipment, and the occasional fly machine (that's the one which makes you look like you're having an obsessive-compulsive episode trying to move your arms like the windshield wipers of a '39 Buick). An exercise routine which heretofore took an hour and fifteen minutes to complete became a two hour ordeal as we negotiated with other patrons, asking if they knew the whereabouts of the rowing machine, and informing them that the cute brunette number previously mentioned has already located the new oblique machine, in case they were looking for it. One of the members -a physician- alerted me to having used the new crunch machine too quickly. "You'll twist your back -and then where will you be?" was almost answered with, "most likely in your waiting room, reading the July 7th, 2012 edition  of Sports Illustrated".

I noticed that they also changed the Muzak, which was a welcome relief from the badly-flogged rendition of "Cool Kids" which has a way of sneaking up on me whenever I'm anywhere near the treadmill. Judging from how well we patrons pulled together to help one another locate the new gear, I was mildly surprised not to hear the theme music from "Band of Brothers". I cannot imagine how much ibuprofen one would have to ingest in order to endure the same songs all day, every day, in order to earn an income. Then again, whenever they play "Hey Brother" perhaps it's meant as inspiration to coworkers to soldier on through an overabundance of synthesizers and tone-deaf singers.

The equipment is wonderful; there's no play due to new steel cables which won't have stretched beyond their capacity before Donald Trump takes over the Treasury Department by 2020. There were times when I would lift the handles on the old shoulder press machine, only to discover that the weights didn't actually move until my hands were almost scraping ceiling tiles. The workouts are honest. Guesstimating a workout, as it turns out, won't guarantee physical fitness unless getting in shape is theoretical.

Everyone seems to be settling in; as we familiarize ourselves with the additional (and entirely alien) handles on some of this stuff, we discover muscle groups which we were unaware of. And that's good. It's a weighty issue to have to rethink through one's fitness routine.

For that, we're well-equipped.


Friday, September 25, 2015

On The Ball

That's a phrase which has always bothered me. As a kid I was a daydreamer, a dawdler, and an idealist. On occasions too numerous to mention I was admonished by my dad to "get on the ball", usually in regard to receiving a bad grade or carelessly going over a small tree branch while mowing the lawn. These days, I recall The Cliché when it occurs to me that I'm in slacking mode. That's why I felt it my duty to share that bit of advice recently -to a pen.

Having a Bipolar disorder is often a hassle for melodramatic reasons I'll spare you from (you're welcome), but occasionally a mild form of manic episode (called a "hypomanic episode") leads me to say some pretty impulsive things. And that, of course, draws the kind of attention which makes my socially anxious self want to blend into the wallpaper. One day, amidst a hypomanic episode, I was feeling very productive. I had completed several online grad school information requests and was in the process of taking notes of which schools I had sent those requests to when my pen inexplicably seized.

Now, I'm not exactly sure how to loosen the ball of a ball point pen when it stops turning. For that matter, I'm not exactly certain how, or why, the dumb thing knows how to spin in the first place. Seems to me that it would collapse under the pressure of being applied to the sheet of printer paper you're using to take notes on because your printer stopped working four years ago, mysteriously turning itself on and off between 2:37 and 4:12 AM., and because you actually think it's easier to write down the info than to hit "file" and "print". I am sure of my frustration over having a brand new pen collapsing under the sheer emotional pressure of seemingly having to takes notes. (Or am I projecting?)

I'm even more certain that stage-whispering at one's pen to "get on the ball!" is awkward, especially when others turn to see what the heck is going on, and should we call the rubber truck? "I've never actually seen someone pick a fight with a pen", they seem to muse while gathering their things as quickly and as quietly as possible, lest the big crazy guy with the grubby gray t shirt yells at them to "get on the ball", as though I'd somehow feel prone to chase them out of the county library shouting that command while weaving around SUVs and an occasional Fiat. More to the point (no pun intended), yelling at one's failing ink pen for not getting on the ball is even more awkward, considering. Seriously, not much is more irritating than having a need to make notes only to have a pen freeze up right when you're about to write down an important contact number. It doesn't matter that I had purchased an entire pack of Bics. It had become a matter of principle. I refused to lose a battle of wills to a stubborn punk pen. Digging in, I resolved to bear down on the already-overtaxed writing instrument.

Did you know that you can actually cause a pen to collapse? Specifically, if you really put pressure on one, you can make the tan-colored part "turtle" its way up into the shank. Seems to me that they'd be designed not to be susceptible to hypomanic note-takers. The paper was furrowed, literally, by the bottom of the shank, leaving a telltale blue line of ink on the table underneath, and where the now-displaced, furrowed paper used to be.

All was not lost; I managed to control my temper, successfully resisting the rather powerful temptation to further my wrath by yelling at public furniture. I took stock of my victory, and was thankful for it.

I was on the ball.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

It Applies

Ah, the joys of online job applications, said no one, ever.

All right, that little bit of snarkiness is old. It does, however, fill me with a certain comfortable degree of smugness.

Last night, while my exercise clothes were in the washing machine (thereby precluding a potential crime against humanity, judging from the odor of my socks), I took it upon myself to fill out an application for a low wage, part time job. In my day, one went to the place of business, requested a paper application (back before trees were on the endangered species list, apparently), sat in the parking lot while the radio belched out "Knight Fever", and quickly devised smooth ways of explaining exactly why you left your previous job. "Building accurate-scale models of the Eiffel Tower with forks during work hours" might explain how you came to be unemployed, but it doesn't allow much room for "upon further reflection, I feel that I've grown since that incident, for which I take full responsibility".

Online applications have certain advantages that paper ones lack. For example, making an error on the paper application leads one, inevitably, to an "uh-oh" moment. Oft-times I've had to perform surgery on a misspelled word, my Bic ballpoint pen being the scalpel of choice. Turning an N into a G is possible IF one minored in linguistics. I did. Online applications, of course, preclude the applicant from having to perform consonant surgery without a license. In fact, the backspace and delete buttons have saved more botched words than I care to recall, and have certainly saved me from anti-grammar lawsuits filed by Edwin Newman. Another favored word-surgery implement I cherish -cut and paste- has guaranteed that I wouldn't have to return to the business, quietly approach a different employee than the one I met the first time I requested an application, and ask for a second, all the while doing my best to appear competent despite evidence to the contrary.

On the other hand, submitting applications online has rather cheapened the job-seeking process in that one never can quite follow up to determine whether or not the job is still available, and to impart that NO one ever stocked green beans quite as well as I can.

Another issue regarding online applications pertains to an entirely misplaced screening process which I encountered the other night. Having completed the application process for kitchen work, I was directed to some unholy conglomerate of psychological testing to determine both my intelligence and my character. Excuse me. I'm not the smartest person around, but I'm familiar with the administrative scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory II when I see them. The items I encountered, repeatedly, were set in place to test for consistency of responses, in addition to temperament, honesty, and emotional stability. I believe I was answering "sometimes it's okay to steal a little bit since everyone does it a little. Please choose true or false" while my now-clean socks were twerking about in the dryer. Somehow, it seemed more congruent to answer "false"; after all, how can one agree to that's okay to be dishonest when one has clean socks?

I'm still shaking my head. I'm pretty sure that a kitchen job shouldn't require a psychological background check rivaling that of a CIA applicant. Who cares that Jason has "had very peculiar and strange experiences" (item 33, MMPI II) as long as the dishwashing machine hasn't run out of soap? On the other hand, if he answered true to item 39, "At times I feel like smashing things", I'd feel more confident about the conglomerate's content validity. In any event, such testing is a bit high-falutin' for a minimum wage job, much like cloth napkins at McDonald's.

Seeking work is a fascinating, if sometimes aggravating, experience. I've learned a lot about how businesses sometimes respond to a sluggish economy by directing job seekers to take poorly-constructed psychometric tests which, hopefully, at least make Human Resources feel productive and weed out as many Jasons as possible. More to the point, I've learned not to give up. That goes for life in general.

It applies.