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.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Out of The Closet

One day a couple of years ago I decided to clean out and reorganize all of the stuff which I had tossed in my walk-in closet for four years.

That's kind of like saying I decided to join the Army so I could learn a trade, and somewhere along the line ended up in Special Forces. Not that I've ever been in the Army, unless taking a wrong turn while looking for an interstate on-ramp and ending up in Fort Bliss counts.

"Deciding to clean out and reorganize" my possessions is an understatement; among the dangers and other perils awaiting me, it's something of a God-Given miracle that I'm alive and writing this, albeit with a substantial does of nervousness while recollecting the events of the evening. First of all, for some reason  a television cable had become inextricably woven around the legs of a chair, a plastic milk crate, and an old vanity light. Since these items were closest to the closet door, they'd have to be moved out of the way first.

At least, that was the hypothesis. A hypothesis which failed as unwinding the cable required tugging on it, resulting in an old floor lamp falling over and beaning me on the forehead as I continued freeing the chair from Cox Cable's wiring amidst some eyebrow-raising epithets. After enduring hand-to-leg combat with the chair, I was able to liberate the torchiere which had moments prior been a mortal enemy. Old car magazines, suitcases, cans of spray paint, and clothes hangers had conspired to create a second line of defense against anyone brave enough to step in and reach for a tee shirt.  My foot never bled despite having stepped on something which I couldn't see due to the shadows caused by metric tons of stored junk. I have a high threshold for pain. Stepping on what turned out to be a dulled hobby knife didn't phase me.

What did phase me was noticing something moving on the wall to my right. While I never saw it again that night, I took in the fine detail of the eight legs, the glossy body, and the red hour glass of a spider which to this day has successfully played a mind game with me. It didn't help that the spider was approximately six inches from my face and scuttling into a cardboard box filled with documents which suddenly became unimportant as they were tossed, immediately, into the dumpster on the other side of the building.

That may be the only time I ever sprinted with a container of old bank statements to a dumpster in my boxer shorts.

Eventually, I began to restore some semblance of order as shirts were rehung, car magazines were organized by title, painting supplies were relocated to a different closet, and my beloved Steelers memorabilia was placed in a more prominent position among my other things. It was around the time I began to wonder if all of that work would ever pay off that I noticed a few pennies clustered near the back of the closet. Initially I meant to throw them away -nine pennies can't buy anything.

On the other hand, loose change amounting to one-hundred twenty-seven dollars can.

That's the amount of loose change which I had absentmindedly tossed through the doorway whenever I returned from a Taco Bell foray. It had become a part of my routine. From my observation later, the change-taking machine at Kroger jammed up more disastrously, from the sheer volume of coins which I fed it, than the Pacific Coast highway during an 8.6 magnitude earthquake. The assistant manager was very helpful, digging the thousands of coins free with a screwdriver so the machine could tally the rough equivalent of my next payments to Verizon and Geico.

It was a hard-won victory that night. I had literally turned trash into gold. My creditors would be paid. My FICO score would rise. My possessions were finally accessible.

I was no longer ashamed of the mess in the small storage area. I had attained peace of mind.

I was finally out of the closet.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

It Applies

I'm looking for work.

I'll qualify that. I'm looking for a simple, part time minimum wage job which doesn't involve scraping dried cheese from dishes while a stressed-out manager badgers me to stack, wash, and return approximately four-hundred plates within .03 seconds lest his restaurant go out of business for the denizens of customers who wouldn't have starved to death in that massive time span.

I'm also giving serious consideration to returning to grad school, if only to indulge in my favorite hobby: seeing how high I can  take my student loan debt. The last time I did that, I rivaled Paraguay's gross national product and the value of the US dollar plunged by fifteen percent.

Why, then, do I keep shooting myself in the foot? By now I'm pretty sure that neither Kmart nor WalMart would hire me, not that I blame them for feeling that way after the messages I left their customer dissatisfaction escalation teams -comments which likely induced post-traumatic stress disorder in the unfortunate souls who answer the phones at corporate. Seriously, being carded simply for attempting to purchase household glue was ridiculous. I should never have mentioned to the cashier that it was for my Poodle. "Yeah, I can't get him to stay in the living room. Maybe Gorilla Glue will work. Perchance is it hypoallergenic? Because Dexter sheds very easily."

I had no idea a cashier's eyebrows could shoot so high.

I also want to stay away from any position involving cash registers. Not that I can't figure out how to operate one of those (I set speed records at the now-defunct Hill's Department Stores back in the 80s with nary a penny over- or undercharged), but because the thought of being chained in one small spot for an entire shift seems like being the corporate equivalent of a Wagyu cow. I'm a free range kind of employee. I worked at Habitat For Humanity's store for seven years. There were some things which I didn't like about the store, but at least I had the freedom to monitor the various departments and organize the merchandise. I walked three miles every day, approximately, while doing my job. There was something nice about getting to choose where in the store to work, even when that meant being stopped by customers who first observed the pricing gun in my hand and then asked if I worked there.

I've given serious consideration to doing volunteer work in the hopes that it might open a few doors. I can see it now: "Hey Rob, I love how you stacked those four thousand bags of oil dry compound. Very neat and precise. But next time, please use the stockroom. I can't get to my desk!" If nothing else, I'm known for my work ethic -when I work.

The next time I fill out an application, and the question "What type of experience do you have?" pops up, I'm going to reply with a couple of questions of my own. "Exactly how much experience should a successful candidate have regarding stocking merchandise so that the labels on those cans of green beans faces the customer?" and "Although I didn't declare a shelf-stocking major while pursuing my undergraduate degree, do you offer a nationally accredited testing program so that I can prove I know which way the DelMonte label goes?"

All of the above speaks of my experiences and, I'm sure, of tens of millions of other people who share similar plights. It's only a matter of when I find that job.

When I do, it'll apply.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hungry For Success

The other day I dropped by a local restaurant to place a to-go order. As is my weekly habit, I opted for a steak fajita salad. (I'm a firm believer in eating any meal which comes in an edible bowl.) They always cook the steak strips to perfection, and the salad does to the taste buds what Jackson Pollack did to canvasses amidst drinking bouts and fits of rage. The toppings included tomato chunks (which I toss due to citric acid waging war with an old ulcer), olives, and a couple of different kinds of cheese. All of these are chopped, shredded, and diced as though choreographed for the Broadway hit "A Chorus Line". The meal is, in a word, unbelievable.

And then there's the silverware. Or, as is often the case with takeout, plastic ware.

Plastic spoons, forks, and knives seem to have changed over the years as their manufacturers seek ways to cut material costs. Recently this seems to have led to thinner (and less reliable) utensils.

That isn't so bad until one tries to slice a strip of steak which apparently missed the chef's personal Wustoff Ikon steak knife. I tried, at first, cutting into it with a plastic knife which was likely sold in a thousand-for-a-dollar bulk. I've seen some weird things in my life. I've never seen a piece of beef wear down the serrated edge of a knife until this past Thursday.

"Ah, well", I thought to myself. I'll have a bite of some of this fantastic-

That's when the fork "wonked". That is, it bent approximately forty-five degrees, looking eerily similar to a spoon after an evening with Uri Geller, immediately before pitching back and showering my freshly-laundered shirt with Italian dressing and croutons, and the latter of which likely won't be discovered until five years after I begin collecting social security checks. I was eating in my car, enjoying a beautiful afternoon at a public park. After the culinary rebound inside of my sedan, it occurred to me that my only remaining option would have to include the use of the spoon.

This turned out to be a metaphorical "strike three" as the spoon, molded in an inappropriately thin plastic, torqued so much that I punctured not only the tortilla bowl but also the Styrofoam container. Laundry day would prove to be that very afternoon as an ocean of salad dressing, grated cheese, and several other ingredients oozed through a hole seemingly smaller than a grain of sand. Amidst sharing more than a few rather rude epithets (and thereby startling an entire flock of birds), I quickly inverted the container in a desperate attempt to avoid having to include my Accord in laundry day. Having regained control over my rebellious meal, it occurred that using chunks of the bowl as scoops might save the day.

Alas, the plan betrayed me, as had every previous attempt to gain sustenance. Shards of fried tortilla shell showered me in an explosion. The headliner, the dashboard, my clothes -everything not associated directly with my digestive system- was now going to be triaged at the local car wash while I'd amuse myself with the rumblings of my now very hungry stomach.

As for my car and my clothes, both turned out clean enough to pass boot camp inspection. I settled on microwave spaghetti a few hours later. A stainless steel fork ensured me that the meal would be safe from any disasters attributed to tension, torque, or torsion. I had spent the entire day for that meal, and I had finally conquered it.

I was hungry for success.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dialing In

Recently I got a new cell phone.

I'm not sure, but I think the reason they're called cell phones is because the people who market them know that it's only a matter of time before we all end up in a cell following a near-homicidal rant amidst trying to learn how to use them.

Take my new phone, which is a gift from my mom. Now, let me admit that I've become a spoiled brat, especially as of late. Mom wanted me to have a good, reliable, up-to-date phone, and for that I'm grateful.

Having said that, this new phone dwarfs, dimensionally, my old flip phone in the same way that a drive-in theater screen dwarfs an early seventies portable nine inch television. The photos I took on my flip phone were so small that I had to take Verizon's word that they actually existed. On the other hand, the old phone was simple and straightforward; calling a friend was as easy as opening the phone and pressing the buttons until "why are you calling me at such a late hour, Adcox?" came through the speaker. When finished, I only had to fold it and let it drop, nay fall, into my pocket.

In contrast, this Motorola Droid Turbo Bentley Mission To Mars Supreme is so involved that it requires something akin to a certificate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn how to access text messages. (Speaking of which, my favorite feature is the voice activation unit; speaking into the phone, I can now say "Hi, Mom. I love you and I hope you're having a wonderful day" while watching the screen interpret that message as "Hi Moom. I love the wonderful day you're having and Hi day moom".)

My mom has been incredibly patient with me as I skip the instructions, as befits we guys, and explore this very involved piece of electronic wizardry. By now she's quite accustomed to receiving phone calls from her son who imparts such communications as, "Hi Mom. Sorry to bother you -I was looking for Google on this thing and somehow ended up calling you. I thought Google had some kind of ring tone app to let me know that it was about to appear on the screen. Turns out it was actually calling you. I love you. 'Bye mom."

I mentioned pictures a moment ago. Being a car show kind of guy, I had approximately two-hundred show car pics transferred onto this phone, which was nice since the screen is so much larger than that of the flip phone. That's nice, because after having spent the better part of two years trying to remember why I had a photo of what appeared to be bright green fungus the pic was large enough for me to see that it was actually a beautifully restored '69 Camaro. At least I assume that it is, unless General Motors used photosynthesis to paint its cars back in the day.

In all seriousness, I love this phone. If I sound cranky about it, please forgive me. It's because new technology frightens me the way that the discovery of gravity frightened villagers who ended up burning scientists at the stake before realizing that such discoveries would only make life better. I love to explore things, which always leads me to getting stuck when it comes to anything involving computers. Even so, I won't give up until I've figured this thing out, MIT certificate and all. I'm learning my way around this phone, sliding my finger across the screen, issuing voice commands, and even making phone calls.

Be patient with me.

I'm dialing in.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seal Training: I Quit!

You know those tamper-proof seals they put on condiment bottles? I'm referring to the nasty little "peel-and-toss" kind which promise that you'll be chowing down on that sour dough-and-pepperoni masterpiece you slammed together the other day during a commercial break.

Those seals are, in a word, evil.

Let me qualify that. Those things are designed, apparently by someone working in the psyops division of the National Security Agency, to test the approximate elapsed time necessary to reduce a normally sane person into a raging lunatic.

Now, I'm all for keeping our food products as safe as they can be. I also understand the potential liability issues associated with such tamper-proof seals. And, I understand that if they're so tamper-proof that the consumer can't remove them, then the whole point of squirting that fancy Chez Snitty Poupon-And-Fescue mustard on your delicately-toasted bread becomes moot.

Take Monday. Amidst the balancing act of timing toasting some bread, microwaving a small portion of spaghetti, and pouring a glass of apple juice, I had several minutes' worth of time to peel and remove the seal.

Didn't happen.

What did happen is that, for the first minute or two, I struggled to remove the seal. The bottling company's accounting firm must have been in a generous mood, given that they apparently approved forty dollars' worth of glue to be spent on keeping my condiment of choice from being breached by anything less than trained professionals from MI6. As I was in the process of removing the seal, the clear plastic part finally gave, however grudgingly. The heavily-foiled underlay part of it, however, remained in what can only be described as a condiment bottle's equivalent of a Super Maxx prison during lockdown.

The toast popped up, issuing its wonderful come-hither aroma while I began issuing a very rude litany of words which I won't repeat here. (You're welcome.) And, while that was happening, the microwave began beeping its desire for my attention even as I knocked over my glass of juice which flowed all over the kitchen counter amidst my struggle with the seal.

The remainder of the seal, however, remained the one constant in what was quickly becoming in the kitchen what the Broncos became in their Super Bowl quest against the Seahawks the other year. It became all-out pandemonium as I tried stabbing the seal in a vain attempt to puncture it, bending the tip of the knife blade instead. People don't normally engage in hand to hand combat with mustard bottles where I come from, by the way.

In a valiant, if desperate act, it occurred to me that the only way I'd ever be able to enjoy my mustard would be to cut the top of the bottle off using a hobby knife, and dumping the contents into a plastic food container.

It worked. Out of sheer determination I had achieved victory. Never have I made a sandwich which tasted so good. I could simply have settled for just the spaghetti and apple juice, but I was in a mood for a sandwich on the side as well. And let me say this: when I want a sandwich, a sandwich I shall have. One wouldn't have needed a background in forensics to determine the cause and effects of events in my kitchen that afternoon. Even so, I did calm down and enjoy what was a very satisfying meal.

If I call the bottling company to share my experience, that might lead to another column. It might also lead to a quick trip to a mental hospital if I have to relive the experience again.

As for these condiment seals, I quit. From now on I'll eat my sandwiches plain.

It certainly wasn't a flavorful experience.