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In my case, the cognitive map was outdated the day forty or so new pieces of equipment arrived to replace the old.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


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An Open Letter To WalMart

Let me start by saying that I love to explore. Whether it's the terrain around the next curve, some topic under the letter K in the encyclopedia, or the source of that creaking sound emanating from some unseen portion of my home at 4:47 AM, I want to know what it's about.

It was that passion for exploration which led me to apply for work at WalMart online recently. Well, that, plus I'd like to earn a little more money.

Online job applications are typically straightforward. Questions such as, "Where have you worked most recently?", "What skills do you have which best suit you for the position you seek?", or even "How many years has it been since that last bottle rocket incident led to four thousand hours of community service?" are pretty routine. In fact, the sense of exploration has long since evaporated regarding filling out applications for Barney's Jigsaw Emporium's stockroom.

And then there's WalMart.

Allow me to correct and qualify that. And then there was WalMart. My application experience was, in a word, traumatic.

First of all, WalMart assumed, on page two of the process, that I'm a woman. Not that I'd necessarily mind, assuming that the company's sales associates get employee discounts on clothing which must surely be inexpensive, if of a very low quality. And it would have to be inexpensive since I'd need a whole new wardrobe to cover up my huge, hairy back.

Then there's the issue regarding my numerical identity. Having finally convinced WalMart Online that I am, in fact, a man, the next step involved contorting myself in order to enter my oh-so-lengthy social security number. My electric bill's account number is even longer than that. WalMart, apparently, has questionable bandwidth issues for any number exceeding 1. In a mere fifteen minutes I was finally able to sway WalMart into believing that, as a US citizen, I do in fact have a social security number. Thank you, WalMart. I appreciate your willingness to accept the obvious.

The following step in this exploration was to list my work experience. Specifically, this step didn't include glitches, frustration, and wasted time listing my employment history. Within mere moments of having entered Habitat For Humanity as my most recent employer, WalMart rewarded my efforts with "WalMart web page expired during application process". Having shared this on WalMart's Facebook page, someone in IT was kind enough to issue a "so sorry" response which fell on the deaf ears of perhaps a thousand or so disgruntled customers, which equates to approximately two thousand ears if my public education hasn't completely failed me.

In the end, I have a little more fodder to include in an upcoming column. For that I'd like to thank WalMart for providing me with some very rich material. My frustration with WalMart will likely lead to rewards for me later. I look forward to that.

When you're finished reading this, WalMart, please press the forward button at the bottom of the screen.

Thank you for reading.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Which Way Is Out?

I'm frustrated.

Let me qualify that. I'm frustrated because I have writer's block. Not in the sense that I can't think of anything to write about, but because there's too much.

There seems to be an overload of topics, issues, observations, and experiences -a veritable glut of potential conversation fodder. I could prattle on about politicians' proclivities regarding balanced budgets, snarky debate comments, and toupees. I could expound on how "if I were elected, I'd..." is tired old speculation best reserved for the young who have yet to hear empty promises of lowered taxes, world peace, and global prosperity in our lifetime.

Then again, I could write an entire column about those nifty small shopping carts they have at Kroger -the ones which are the metaphorical equivalent to Smart cars -those nerdy little golf cart-looking commuters which look like something you'd actually enjoy slapping while feeling grumpy. I'd delve into how maneuverable they are, slaloming deftly around those Hummer-sized carts which were apparently designed to accommodate enough groceries to feed Houston. Heaven knows the thirty dollars' worth of groceries I cram into my polite little cart gives me a smug sense of satisfaction, especially when I see those bulky Hummer types slam into one another at the ends of the aisles. This is usually followed by the requisite "excuse me, didn't see you" and the bag of Doritos which comes dislodged from Gladys' cart and nearly takes out a stock clerk rotating cans of green beans.

One topic I've considered is what it's like sitting in the waiting room at the veterinarian's office, but since I don't have a pet I'd probably look kind of creepy sitting there with a pad and paper. "Nice St. Bernard. What's his name, and where are you going?" would make for an entirely discomfiting read. Even so, the potential for the chaos theory to unfold as Rugby the Boxer chased Fluffy the Persian cat around the room, creating special forces-level havoc and terrifying toy poodles could provide some rather satisfying afternoon news.

If I weren't worried about being perceived as a whiner (with my nasality, it's a given), I could talk about how my former upstairs neighbor threw a foot stool through her living room window at three in the morning, but since we all have our own problems to deal with, no one would want to read about that. But if I did bring it up, I'd expound on the broken glass still laying in my window well along with an entirely bizarre-looking toy frog which stares at me in utter disbelief whenever I open my blinds. (Apparently, she really needed to vent that night.)

An interesting thing to write about is my slow learning curve when it comes to exploring my Motorola Android Turbo. I'm pretty sure that I'm a poor student of the thing, taking into account that calling a friend who lives exactly 4.6 miles from me frequently leads to "international rates don't apply to your calling plan" being intoned from a computer in Verizon's basement in Passaic New Jersey.

In all, there's an entire universe of discussion points waiting to be discovered, explored, ablated, analyzed, and even laughed about. I intend to write about all of them. Either that, or I'm going to write about writing about them. Or would that be redundant considering the point of this article?

I'd better get started. The earth alone has exactly 3.7 trillion topics, not counting any life forms which may somehow be able to survive and hide in the Marianas Trench and my high school GPA.

This must be the way out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Waxing Frustrated

I was at my wit's end.

My home has the usual amount of clutter. A few newspapers, some dirty clothes piled up, conveniently enough, in the corner next to the clothes hamper, and a microwave oven which should probably be wiped down soon. In general, I keep my home clean.

And that's what had me in a snit.

You see, I've been a fan of a certain furniture polish which smells like lemons. It's a nice fragrance, reminding me of warmer days when it's snowing outside and the world seems to turn in early. In the summer, however, it isn't such a pleasant thing to use the polish.

That's because the polish had attracted fruit flies. Not a few, mind you. Enough to make me realize that a full scale invasion has occurred.

I killed perhaps two hundred, not that I kept a body count tally. No matter how many I wiped out, more seemed to have flown in to replace them. It had become entirely frustrating, knowing that they had such air superiority early on. I swatted. I batted. Once, in an act of desperation, I even chased one around the coffee table with a can of Right Guard Sport Scent. At the end of the first campaign the fruit flies had increased their numbers exponentially.

Then I decided that, if spider spray could kill spiders it would virtually dissolve fruit flies. Dumping pesticides into the air of my home was an act of desperation for me; the thought of achieving a pyrrhic victory over the pesky things at the cost of my lungs' healthy functioning wasn't something I was willing to leave to chance. Not that it made any sense, but in order to ventilate my home for my own safety, I opened the front door.

You can see where this is going.

Did I mention that the fruit fly population had become exponential? It was like the insect version of the big bang theory as untold numbers of fruit flies exploded in to the cause of their brethren courtesy of my involuntary open door policy. In a last ditch effort, I set aside the furniture polish. I had had a somewhat radical thought: spider spray is kind of greasy. Furniture polish is also kind of greasy. Therefore,...

I opened the front door again, spraying the doorway with spider spray in two-minute intervals -long enough to keep the fruit fly national guard at bay long enough to set up a protective barrier on my furniture. Stepping back and forth between the front doorway and the living room furniture brought to mind the footwork which fighters learn early on in their careers. Either that, or I was discovering the Samba.

It worked. The few surviving fruit flies retreated, preferring to take their chances with the birds. The furniture was nicely dusted, even if somewhat toxic (not that I lick my furniture). In the days that passed, I resumed using the furniture polish; the insecticide had long since gassed out, and was no longer present on the end table or the TV stand. The fruit flies' leaders must have had a joint chiefs meeting to examine cost-benefit analyses regarding whether or not to mount a counterattack. The decision was that they preferred to move on and breed an entirely new invasion force against a neighbor. Victory had been accomplished, peace of mind, achieved.

My furniture positively glistens now. Interestingly, the wax buildup on the end table had been corrected. Best of all, it isn't covered with hundreds of little winged casualties.

It was good to return to the great scent of lemons.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Breakfast: Story of A Cereal Killer

The other night I was hit, nay slapped across my psyche, with a craving for cereal.

For the past couple of years I've contended myself with that oh-so-grownup oatmeal. Flavor? Save that for the kids. Cereal is serious business. None of that "magically delicious" with leprecahuans would do. No sir. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest foods you can shovel down your gullet. Want flavor? Slice up a banana, Jerry. We're talking hardcore fiber here.

I've been on a diet for the past fifteen months, and you can tell it's tough on me because I'm counting by the month, as though that sounds like more of an accomplishment than a year and three months.

It was with that in mind that my mind began to wander while I trudged up the grocery side of the behemoth retail store. Walking past the pizza, cracker, and candy aisles (it's best to leave past love interests in the past), I began first to ruminate, and then to rationalize, about happier times. "Why shouldn't I enjoy the occasional sweet flavor of Cap'n Crunch?" echoed through the predominant prefrontal cortex of my cerebrum as I recalled spooning through two bowls of that marvelous cereal (part of a complete breakfast, if diabetes and heart murmurs count) while watching the latest goings-on with Scooby Doo before Dad admonished me to go rinse out the bowl and mow the lawn. "And clean up after the dogs" invariably followed while my ten year old version of me was at work digesting high fructose corn syrup, vitamins B6 and B12, and, for all I know, formaldehyde 97%.

It was almost a homecoming, looking at the Cap'n's mug itself spread over Quaker Oat's most colorful breakfast carton. I remember the early commercials -the Cap'n had a nervous laugh, as though he feared a mutiny occurring on his ship and his crew sailing the commander up Battle Creek to Kellogg for interrogation. Those commercials somehow made me crave the product that I'd yell upstairs. "Mooomm! If you're going to the grocery store, can you get me some Cap'n Crunch?" It was as if I had hit the jackpot when she returned, triumphantly, not only with the Crunch, with Crunch Berries.

Admittedly it was an impulse purchase. I craved the comfort of something sweet, though I felt like an idiot watching Scooby Doo reruns on YouTube while articulating the spoon around the Crunch Berries, saving them for last. For that matter, I felt like an idiot letting my OCD lead me to eat first the red berries, then the dark blue (Black?) berries, and finally the red ones. Should it take forty-five minutes to consume a bowl of cereal?

I'm still on a diet. I diverted from the course to take a mini vacation along memory lane. The cereal wasn't the healthiest thing I've eaten for the past, well, more than a year. It did serve as a "cheat" day on my diet. Considering that most of the contents are still in the box, I have a choice: I can eat another bowl in a couple of days and stretch out the elapsed time necessary to finish the box until August 6, or I can toss it out for the birds with the hope that they don't grow too fat to fly. The last thing I need is for birds to give me the evil eye for making them so obese that they have to walk.

I can't do that to the birds, even though I should considering what they did to my newly-washed car last Tuesday. No, I think I'll eat another bowl tomorrow.

Even if they don't stay crunchy even in milk these days.