Thursday, August 7, 2014

Computer Blue

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love that I can track down and download a song from some obscure band's 7" I heard once in 1986. I love the fact that I can find the answer to whatever question has been bugging me in a matter of seconds.

However, I have the tech skills of your grandma. I had to buy a replacement for my five year old phone recently and I had to listen to all sorts of stuff about coverage and 4G and 5G and Warren G and holy crap, I don't care anymore, here's my credit card just give me a phone.

That's how most technical conversations go with me. Just like when someone's giving me directions, after about the second sentence my mind checks out, except for a nagging thought saying, "Hey, dummy, you better pay attention to this, it's important," which luckily I can distract pretty easily.

Not only am I barely functional, technology-wise, but I have a deep distrust of our robot overlords, probably formed through my childhood exposure to science fiction stories where whatever it was that promised to make our lives easier was really going to enslave or eat us.

I don't think technology is going to enslave me, but I do think that my devices and websites have somehow learned just enough about my personality to understand how to send me over the edge.

Last month I was looking through my Ipod. Somehow I noticed that I was missing two songs, "You Got to Move" by the Rolling Stones, and everything but one song off that second Arcwelder album. This kept me searching for hours, wondering what else had disappeared. And these were songs I ripped from CDs I owned, not borrowed from work or ̶s̶t̶o̶l̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶  totally paid for. Luckily, I still have the physical CDs, so I was able to rip them, and probably go months without thinking about them again.

I've also been having problems with Shelfari, this page that keeps track of the books you read. Since I read pretty fast and have a terrible memory, it's a good way to keep track of what I've read so that I don't pick up something interesting at work, take it home, then realize I've already read it. When entering what I've read, it also hipped me to the fact that I'll read just about anything about shipwrecks or people having to survive in shitty conditions, which I had never really noticed before.

However, Shelfari will occasionally drop books from my list for no real reason. To me, this means that if I caught one or two, there's probably more that I've missed. So I'll think of authors or titles, and spend hours trying to fix my list.

Then recently Facebook decided to drop people off my friends list. I had no beef with these people, but after I noticed we weren't friends any more, I figured the problem was with me. I understand I'm sort of an acquired taste, and some squares just can't handle my telling it like it is.

Once again, I spent hours entering friends' names, wondering who else got dropped, only this time having to deal with the anxiety of wondering if they think I hate them now.

Look, I realize that we're moving into a post-ownership world, where everything is going to be on the cloud, and the simple joys of looking through a friend's music, movie, and book collection to silently or not so silently) judge them will soon be a thing of the past. That's probably a good thing, in that it cuts down on plastics and hurt feelings.

But for those of us with just a tetch of the OCD and who like repeated assurances that our stuff (or data) is still there, it can be a trying time.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Echo and the Bunnymen

When I started this foolishness, I had a simple goal. I wanted to document some of the stories that had been getting laughs or gasps from astounded listeners for years before the ravages of time left me unable to pass these tales on to the next generation.

Along the way I discovered my destiny - to bring a divided nation together through the power of story. While you might not have had the same exact experiences, you likely had something similar happen, and through that we can drop our differences, mellow out and groove together, discarding our hangups like I threw away my suit and tie from my square, plastic nine-to-five gig.

Which is why it always feels so strange when I find what I thought were universal experiences are anything but.

For example, for years I've thought that everyone had the same experiences falling asleep in the car as a kid. You'd be in the backseat, fighting to stay awake, and as you get sleepier and sleepier, the songs from the radio would get bassier and more echoey. Certain songs can still recall that feeling, like "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh, "American Trilogy" by Elvis, or "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits. Apparently my parents' car had a faulty bass speaker or I was making my own dub versions, because every time I try to explain this phenomenon, people just look at me weird and walk away puzzled.

It wasn't just the songs, although those were the main catalysts. Sometimes it would be my parents gossiping on the way home from a family event or the TV set from the other room. Either way, things would get all deep echoey and bassy and I'd slowly fall asleep. Just like Dire Straits, the theme from "The Bob Newhart Show" will get me feeling sort of sleepy and spacey, especially there in the little breakdown when the organ starts. Hey, for a square psychologist, Bob Newhart had a pretty funky theme song, huh?

While this was a pretty cool effect for the few minutes I could keep consciousness, it's one of the reasons I don't like falling asleep to music or TV now. My dub versions are relaxing, but in the back of my head I feel the struggle to stay awake which can be distracting and a little stressful.

So I put the question to you, loyal readers. Was this the universal experience I thought it was, or was this just a weird little kid who was somehow channeling Jamaican record producers, and if so, why didn't I make any money off this phenomenon?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Turn On Your Heartlight

What follows is a work of creative non-fiction. This conversation happened many times throughout the '90s, a decade when I was notoriously dumb. The setting could be a car, a room, a bar, anywhere I interacted with people. The other speaker can be male or female, or a group of both. Neil Diamond's hit "Heartlight" is playing.  Let us proceed:

Person: "Hey, the E.T. song!"

Me: "Ha, yeah, it's the E.T. song. Hey, wait. You're serious."

P: "Yeah, it's about E.T. Everybody knows that."

M: "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

P: "Are you insane? It's right there in the lyrics: "Gonna take a ride across the moon?" "Turn on your heartlight?"

M: "Yeah, he loved E.T. so much he wrote a song about him. You're thinking of Michael Jackson.
 Neil Diamond was a grown-up. And that stuff is just metaphors and shit. He's in love so he feels like he's riding across the moon. And the heartlight know, like, love and feelings and stuff. In his heart."

Exhibit A. Although I'm not sure which side this helps.
P: "Did you not see E.T.?"

M (agitated): "Of course I saw E.T. ! And I cried when those astronauts turned him into Grey E.T. But that doesn't mean I think every '80s song is about E.T."

At this point, if the other speaker was male, I might affect a humorous "dumb guy" voice to drive my point home. For example: "Duh, all songs are about movies. 'Back in Black' is about Star Wars. 'Purple Rain' is really about The Color Purple. Duh huh huh."

As a gentleman, I would not employ the dumb guy voice if the other speaker was a female. In that case, I would employ a high pitched "lady" voice, as follows: "My name is (arguer's name). I looooooove Neil Diamond and E.T. I think about them all the time."

This argument was repeated many different times throughout the '90s, with many different people. I'm not sure exactly when I realized that the rest of the world was right and I was wrong, but I remember an overwhelming feeling of shame and embarrassment when the scales finally fell from my eyes.

I mean, it's right there in the song! Turn on your heartlight! How could I have missed that?

I'd like to think that by now I have apologized for everyone I argued with. If I missed apologizing to you in person, please accept my humble online apologies at this time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Are You Ready For Some Football?

I had an idea this morning. I wasn't fully awake yet, so I guess technically it was a dream, but I was aware enough that I could sort of watch over everything and tell myself that I needed to remember as many details as I could, as this was going to be the million dollar idea I had been waiting on.

In this dream, two guys decided to start a football league. Not like the XFL or anything, more like an adult intramural league, only with a Super Bowl involved. Actually, the more this dream unwound, it appeared that they were more trying to hijack an existing kid's league, like Pop Warner or something, but since their team was made up of adults (which somehow wasn't against the rules), they could crush the competition with no problem, and win all the money, fame, and accolades the Pop Warner Super Bowl awards.

As this dream was unspooling, part of me was watching, waiting to see what happened so that I could use it as a screenplay in my real, non-sleeping life.

The guys build a team full of grown-ups, including a huge fat guy who was originally going to be on the offensive line, but then they discovered he had an amazing arm, so the fat guy got promoted to quarterback.

There were some parts that didn't really make sense, like this guy who would pop up now and then wearing a white button-down shirt. He had a quarter-sized bloodstain on his shirt that would grow until his white shirt turned red. Nobody seemed to be alarmed by this. Maybe he was the coach.

Throughout the dream, another part of my subconscious was poking me, saying, "Did you get all that? Did you see that fat guy quarterback? Make sure you remember that. Fat guy quarterback is your ticket to a money-making screenplay."

When I finally woke up, I realized that my dream was a mish-mash of a bunch of different movies that pop up on cable on rainy Saturday afternoons, and I was much too lazy to write a bunch of scenes and characters or whatever it is you have to do with a screenplay anyway.

So I did the next best thing. By documenting the idea here on the internet, I have now registered a copyright, which I believe is how those things work. So when Fourth and Long starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson appears in 2015, I should get a sizeable paycheck.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


You realize you're getting older when the simple and wonderful act of sleeping causes aches and pains.

I would wake up sore occasionally when I was younger, but I could always pinpoint the cause, whether from skating, running, criminally excessive yardwork, or in older years, drunken hijinks. Other than the yardwork, I figured this was the infrequent price I paid for fun, and besides, for the most part, whatever aches and pains I had would fade away throughout the day.

Now that I am old and boring, there's a fifty fifty chance that I'm going to wake up in the morning with a sore neck. Which doubly sucks, since I can't take it as my penance for fun, and I don't even get any psychological peace out of it.

As far as I know, I'm just sleeping like a normal person. A friend once told me (kind of angrily, for some reason) that his dad insisted that nobody should ever sleep with their head higher than their body, but his dad was a chiropractor, which I'm still not sure is quackery or not. Still, that sort of stuck in my brain, so I try not to have a huge tower of pillows under my head.

Now that I think about it, this pain actually started when I was in the prime of my youth. I was about 25 or so and woke up one morning with a pain on the right side of the neck. Pain so bad that it hurt to straighten my neck enough to put on a shirt for work.

I made it to work like a responsible employee, where the pain got worse, so much so that I was  typing with my head resting on my shoulder. Some of my female coworkers gave me some cramp medicine, but that didn't seem to do anything. I tried a few times to straighten my neck out through the pain, but it wasn't happening.

There was a party that night, and I was in my twenties, so of course I had to go, even if my neck was clamped at a 45 degree angle. Maybe I looked like I was deep in thought.This would be my life from now on, a guy with his head fused to his shoulder. I should get used to it. I'd have to wear special shirts from now on, like in those movies where evil doctors transplanted another guy's head on some poor sap's body.
Hey, the guy on the left even looks sorta like me.

I was pretty sure that my neck vertebrae would eventually fuse to my shoulder blades or skull or something and I'd end up in a freak show like the Elephant Man. I drank a few beers that night which helped take my mind off my disfigurement and future carnival employment, then walked home and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up like a normal person. My neck was fixed! All it took was some alcohol and self-pity to fix things up, just like always.

Those were dark, pre-internet days. Now, within seconds I can find that I just had a pulled neck muscle. Pulled neck muscles are fairly common and it could have been solved by massage, which wasn't gonna happen, since the thought of massages sort of creeped me out at the time, and truthfully, kinda still does.

I'm still not entirely convinced, however, and still think that my morning soreness has something to do with the fusing of my neck vertebrae, which will reduce me to Elephant Man status in another 10 years or so. 

Eh, I was probably gonna end up working in a sleazy carnival in some capacity anyway, thanks to my laughable financial planning; at least this way I'll be in showbiz.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Poison Arrow

The opening day of Mowing Season is always bittersweet. Sweet, because after my lawn looks nice, I am free to judge my neighbors' shabby landscaping skills; bitter because I have to actually do work before getting down to the judging.

This year, as I was mowing around the flowers on opening day, I found an arrow. Yeah, an actual arrow, as in bow and arrow. I immediately blamed my shitty neighbors across the street, but their arrows were usually sonic. A few minutes later I found another one hidden in the grass. It didn't look like anything on the porch had been punctured, but it's not everyday that you find a quiver of arrows on your front lawn, so I was a little concerned.

I knew that there hadn't been any Indian attacks here in at least a hundred years, and even if the warpath had heated up, why start with me? Why not hit the sheriff or the ... stagecoach manager or something? I'm just an innocent homesteader, trying to scrape out a living here on my property.

Of course, they might not be recent arrows. They might be mystical revenge arrows launched from an ancient burial ground that was razed to build my house. That would explain quite a bit, actually, like why I've had to replace my TV 3 or 4 times, or why that faucet drips blood occasionally.

The cursed arrows. Hey, that's an awesome band name!
Using knowledge of the ancients, I submitted the arrows to a lengthy and intense cleansing ceremony, sort of like the one Billy Jack had to endure before kicking the crap out of those rednecks.

And hey, as an aside, ever notice how many southerners will claim some microscopic amount of Native American blood to make some tenuous claim of...well, I'm not sure exactly. Like, "Well, I'm actually 1/32 Cherokee," or "There's some Creek blood on my mother's side." Who do they think is buying that stuff?

Actually, I just left the arrows on the back porch and sort of forgot about them. 

Last week I put the haunted arrows in a bag of yard trash. You could see the tips of them poking out of the bag. I was a little concerned about the garbagemen getting cursed, but figured they probably had to take training on that sort of stuff, what with people regularly throwing out possessed dolls and ouija boards and whatnot. 

Yesterday when taking in the recycling bin, I noticed something was amiss. The trash bag was still there, but the arrows were gone. Some mystical Native American spirit took them from the Hefty bag and transported them back into the Land of the Dead. That, of course, is the only scientific answer to what could have happened.

With the arrows gone, I'm pretty sure any and all curses on the house have been lifted, but I might have to undergo another purification ceremony just to make sure. Or I might have to embark on an epic quest, like the time I searched for my niece in Comanche territory for five years. But that is a story for another time.

The view from my porch

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Arrested For Driving While Blind

I've received a lot of tickets in my driving lifetime. A few for speeding (thanks, 301!) , a failure to come to a complete stop which was totally made up, and a stack full of stuff on my last night in Bradenton, including driving without shoes, dim taillights, failure to produce license, and probably driving while being too much of an outlaw for the Man to deal with.

For the most part, I've accepted that I've been at fault, paid my debt to society, moved on, and wondered how many more points I can afford on my license before my insurance skyrockets.

But it came as quite a surprise when I was going to have my car searched on my way home from Atlanta earlier this week.

I was driving back to Jacksonville after another successful trip to see my girlfriend. I was keeping it around the speed limit, even though I feel that these unnecessary rules cramp my style.

I was probably doing about 76 when I saw the two cop cars up on an overpass. I was able to slow down without making it too obvious, and continued on my way, nervously checking the rearview mirror every few seconds.

After a few miles I figured I had it made. "Sorry, suckers," I thought to the cops. I was still under the speed limit when I passed another cop on the side of the interstate.

"Can't do anything about driving 3 miles under the speed limit, copper," I said in my best '30s gangster voice, as I mentally flipped the double bird.

A few miles later I saw that the cop had his lights on and was chasing some poor sucker. Hey! That sucker was me!

I pulled over, confused.

"The reason I pulled you over is because I think your windows are darker than Georgia law allows."

What the hell? I bought the car at a Honda dealer, not a crackhouse. They would have told me if it was illegal, right? And besides, I lived in Florida. Your Georgia rules don't apply to me.

He put some sort of weird device on the window.

"Yeah, see, this reads an 11 and Georgia law requires a 30."

"Wait, so I'm lower?"

"No, you're higher. 11 is less than 30. Do you have anything illegal in the car, like drugs or weapons?"

"No. No. Just some clothes and trash."

"Well, I have to ask you, do you consent to a search?"

Aw, crap.

As an ex-journalist and current librarian, I'm a firm believer in America's civil liberties. I mean, what else is gonna stop some English king from quartering soldiers in our houses or telling us what to print in our broadsides or searching our taverns and public houses for bootleg tea? I also think that the drug war has opened a whole can of worms involving quasi-legal search and seizure, asset forfeiture, and a host of other bad stuff. But thinking about how much I wanted to get home, all that ACLU stuff flew out the window.

"Yeah, sure."

He took my license. Shit, I wonder how long this is gonna be? Hey, I've only had this car for like three years. What if someone stashed a bunch of cocaine somewhere and forgot about it? I could have been driving around in Tony Montana's car all this time and wouldn't know it til I got searched and ended up in prison. Hey, what if the cop plants something in the car? He seemed like the type to do that. I mean, I am in Georgia. Do they still have chain gangs here?

He walked back and asked for my registration.

"Now, I'm not gonna find anything illegal in here, right?"

"Just clothes and trash. How long will this take?"

"It'll take as long as it needs to."

He studied my registration. "What year car is this?"

"'98. Oh, wait. '09." Shit. I was thinking of the old car. I'm totally going to prison now.

He walked away again and came back again after what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like 4 minutes.

"You know, if you have any sort of misdemeanor stuff in there, you can just dump it out here on the side of the highway, no harm, no foul."

What the hell sort of trap is that? Does anyone actually fall for that? He's totally gonna plant some cocaine in the car. That's how they got Dolemite in that documentary.

It was totally gonna escalate like this if I had been there a few more minutes.

"I don't have anything," I said, mentally preparing for hours in the Georgia sun watching my car being taken apart and waiting for my spot on the chain gang.

"Well, I thank you for giving permission for the search. Here's your license and registration back, along with a written warning. We just have to check every now and then with all the suspicious characters out there, you know?"

Yeah, you mean because I'm white, right? I thought super-aggressively at the cop. That showed him.

Whether it was institutional racism, my non-criminal wussy looks, the cop's laziness, or some combination of the three, I got let off with a warning. A really kinda bullshit warning, but at least I didn't have to wait while my car got taken apart, and was able to keep off the chain gang.

So if you're driving to Atlanta from Florida, watch your speed, make sure your windows aren't tinted too much, and don't fall for that misdemeanor trick. That's gotta be a trap, right?