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Monday, July 24, 2017

Fear and Loathing in Big Lots

Other Bill and I, sadly, spend more time than is probably healthy at Big Lots. It only makes sense for two people who are both gluttonous and cheap. Why spend $6.50 on two bags of vanilla Oreos at Publix when you can get three bags at Big Lots for less? Sure, the expiration clock is ticking faster on the Big Lots cookies. And it’s quite possible when you open the bag that all the Oreos will be crumbled into a sticky powder, but that just makes the cookies more amenable to serve as an ice cream topping instead of its intended use as a milk-dunking dessert.

It’s not rocket science to figure out why some things end up at Big Lots, otherwise known as the next-to-the last-stop-on-the-retail-train-to-the-dumpster. Things like chili con carne in a mylar envelope, and pumpkin-banana cake frosting were obvious losers. Hormel and Pillsbury are only human. Not every idea in the world food market will catch fire and sell like Starbucks. And things like half-priced giant bottles of Advil that expire tomorrow are only a natural for the store of the desperate and destitute. It’s always hit-or-miss with Big Lots. You never know what they’ll be stocking, which makes that the ultimate draw of the store. Maybe this time I’ll find those tins of anchovies for 60 cents again! Something that you can always depend on Big Lots to stock, however: Pop Tarts. That’s right, they always have a huge assortment of flour-encrusted jam slathered with jawbreaker icing. At radically-slashed prices.

At our Big Lots there is always one area in a dark corner under the $2 gallon jugs of white vinegar known as the Reduced For Quick Sale shelf. As if it’s not bad enough that you end up in Big Lots, this shelf always makes me a little sad. Products there look like they have been in trailers where domestic violence is the norm, and they have been returned to pay for bail. Boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix that look like they’ve been hit with a rolling pin. Dented little cans of Young and Early peas. So heartbreaking. Wrinkled, dirty bags of egg noodle crumbs. Sometimes I have to buy stuff from there just to show it a little love for products that lived a tormented life of abuse. Give the food a little dignity, for crying out loud!

When we were there recently, one of the first things I noticed was a huge box of rainbow-colored unknown chunks that looked like those tooth-cracking candy hearts with love notes on them. Only these were much smaller and asymmetrical and had no messages on them. They were in clear plastic cellophane bags with matte-finish, generic black and white labels. It looked like something that fell out of a government-issued military MRE.

Their labels made them seem almost as pathetic as the Reduced for Quick Sale items, but not quite. First of all, they were placed in the front of the store looking so colorful they caught the customers’ eye when they first came in. But you’d think they would have some fun and jovial name like Zip-Zaps! or Krazy Konfetti! (exclamation points not optional.) Sadly, whatever happened to these things, they never even made it to the marketing department. The label read, simply, “Asst Dehydrated Marshmallow Bits.” Not very appetizing, is it? And a far cry from creative.

Naturally I had to buy a bag, because a) I didn’t have my phone to take a picture of it, and b) They were only $1.25. And besides, you never know at Big Lots. You turn your back on something they have half a store’s worth of, and in no time, some kid who ran off with his mother’s SNAP card has whisked every one of them out of the building. You know this because the next day there’s a picture of a parti-colored, comatose child under a headline that reads, “Boy, 9, in Hyperglycemic Coma after Marshmallow Bit Overdose”, which would have been more eye-catching if it had instead read “Zip-Zap Overdose.”

So I blame the marketing department of these Bits. I picture a scenario where the national sales director gets on the phone.

“Look, Biff. I’ve got 620 thousand units of this rat-bait rotting in the warehouse. When are you going to get your marketing guys to come up with a goddamned name for them?”

“Just as soon as we can hire another marketing director, Maurice. You didn’t hear that Kevin emptied his desk and walked out without notice last week?”

Maurice does a face-palm and pops a Xanax. “This is the third marketing director in 5 months! Why can’t you keep someone in the job, for Chrissake? What was it this time? Pay, hours, or benefits?”

“Neither,” Biff says. “He wanted his office painted a different color, but corporate denied it.”

"Asshole Millennials," sighs the sales director.

Three weeks later, and Maurice is on the phone to Biff again.

“Goddammit, I told you months ago to get a name for these tooth-rotters, and—”

“How about Tooth Rotterz? You know, with a Z,” Biff suggests.

“What? Are you stoned? You can’t call them that. They’ll never sell. Mothers will be livid.”

“Yeah, Maurice? Well, what about Screaming Yellow Zonkers, or, or Fizzies, or Trix? What about those, Maurice?”

“Look you little weasel. No Tooth Rotters. With a Z or an S. Either you come up with a name by close of business today, or I’m just going to order them labeled ‘Assorted Dehydrated Marshmallow Bits’, and you’re gonna take the fall for their failure.”

And then, six months later, they end up at Big Lots, with a dwindling “Best if Used By” date.

Maybe one day we’ll be able to buy wholesome, fresh snacks at Whole Foods, and purchase name brand toilet paper that doesn’t dissolve on the first wipe, and cranberry juice I’m not pressured to drink before expiration, and drugs I’ll consume without symptoms because somebody should take these!


Until then, there’s Big Lots.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Senior Survivor

I’m not proud to admit to this, but I have watched every single episode of Survivor since its premiere on May 31, 2000. To my credit, it is the only reality show I have watched with any kind of frequency, because I find celebrity-based reality shows just as repugnant as those pageants that feature five-year-old Jennifer Lopez wannabes in hot pants. I also have no interest in shows that feature, for instance, poor white trash fat kids with racist, child-molesting parents, or Donald Trump.

I also take pride in the fact that I am not one of those statistic-spewing Survivor addicts who can name all the players from every season, where each season took place and accurately recall the theme of every season. I would rather use that space in my brain to remember jingles from fifty-year old cigarette commercials (“Chesterfield Kings taste GREAT…because the tobaccos are!”) Because that is far more important than being able to recall, say, a list of my current medications to an ER doctor.

And speaking of that, when Survivor first came out, I always thought I would make a pretty good contestant. My carpentry skills were sufficient enough that I thought I could build a decent hut, and I was a pretty good distance swimmer, so maybe back then I could have placed in a few challenges. And I was pretty secure with my masturbation skills that if I tried hard enough, I could start a fire. But those days are long gone. I’m too old to keep up with the young, strapping contestants on the show. People my age are seldom selected—for this show, or anything, for that matter. We are just too much of a liability. Not to mention the fact that we aren’t going to win any beauty contests.

Therefore I’d like to propose to the producers of the show Senior Survivor. Naturally it will be an abbreviated season, because no one my age is going to last out in the wild for a month. Two days without our Ensure shakes, and we’d be snatched up by birds of prey. Frankly, we’d be lucky to last a week. So the rules are this: Seventeen seniors are taken to a remote island somewhere in the Pacific. Each day, people will be eliminated by a majority vote or by breaking the rules. One person each day will be exempt from the vote by winning an immunity challenge, and people will also compete for reward challenges.

Day 1 reward challenge: Contestants will put together a jigsaw puzzle that reads: Outwit, Outplay, and Outlive. The person who completes the puzzle first gets a Lipitor and takes 9 others to be fed, leaving 7 to fend for themselves. 

Day 1 immunity challenge: The ten players will be given a lavish dinner of soft, high fiber foods.  Before dinner is served, Jeff tells them that anyone who talks about an ailment, a malfunctioning organ, hip replacement surgery, their bouts with cancer, their bowel movement status or how neglectful their children are will automatically be eliminated. This takes out all ten players out right off the bat. And then there were seven.

Hidden somewhere on the island is an immunity idol that a contestant can play at tribal council at the last minute to prevent him or her from being voted off the island. Sadly, no one can find the idol because none of the contestants can remember where they put their glasses.

Day 2 reward challenge: The seven remaining players will have to stand on one leg on a small block of wood in the blistering heat. The person who outlasts all the others wins a lifetime membership to AARP. Due to their declining ability to maintain their balance, all challengers fail the task of standing on one foot, even in the sand, thus giving the producers more time to air commercials for Cialis, pro-biotic yogurt, Depends, Super Poligrip, and the Neptune Society.

Day 2 immunity challenge:  Contestants are shown where they left their glasses, and each receive an iPhone 7 and are told they have 30 minutes to set up their email accounts on the devices. If no one is able to do it, immunity will be given to the one who can perform the most difficult task. After a half hour, the immunity idol is presented to the guy who manages to turn it on.

On Day 3, a special delight for the contestants has been arranged. It’s Family Day, and contestants are treated to a visit from their loved ones. Children of all the contestants have been invited to fly in to this remote Pacific island to visit their parents. Sadly, all these children are too busy with their own careers, children, and Facebook to make the trip. One contestant is lucky enough to be visited by his gay grandson, but due to jealousy among the other bitter parents, he is voted off the island that night at tribal council.

On Day 4, a special two-hour Senior Survivor airs. Tension mounts when two contestants are evacuated by the medical crew: one for a broken hip, and another who threatens suicide if she can’t go to the beauty parlor and get her hair done. The final four contestants must eat live worms, raw snake meat, uncooked bat livers and other putrid local delicacies. Surprisingly, all four consume all the snacks without even flinching. Their sense of smell and taste have long ago subsided, and everything these days tastes like wet flour. So in order to break the four-way tie, the players must make fire from flint and dried palm fronds. This takes up an hour and forty-five minutes of airtime, and each player at different times must be treated by the medical staff for exhaustion. Nevertheless, the episode wins the Nielsen ratings for the most watched show in their time slot. Jeff Probst runs out of discouraging things to shout at the contestants, so he tosses two Bic lighters a couple of yards away in the sand, and the two contestants who grab them and set their fronds on fire first get to stay for the last show.

On the last taped show, the two finalists must plead their cases to the jury members who will decide which one will be the sole survivor. The older of the two says, “Plain and simple, you should vote for me because I’m older than Nell over there.” Nell, in retaliation, speaks up.

“That is exactly why you should vote for me. Because I’m younger, I am more likely to live long enough to make it to the live season finale in a couple of months.”

The highlight of the evening comes with the jury member who had his grandson visit spews out a vitriolic rant, accusing both contestants of being “jealous bitches,” and says he’d rather vote for Satan than either of them.

The scene cuts to the live show in Studio City to a packed theater. Unlike Family Day, relatives of all the contestants fill the seats, because CBS has cut off their internet access, and they have nothing better to do. Jeff Probst dramatically reads off the votes, and announces Nell to be the Sole Senior Survivor.

The following night on the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley announces that Nell lost her million dollars to a bogus IRS phone scammer.

This comes as no surprise, because no one wins at Senior Survivor. 





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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Subscription Prescription

I guess I am going to have to stop listening to Pandora and go back to CD’s and self-made playlists. It used to be very relaxing to tune in to my Pandora chorus channel and get lulled into a state of Zen by listening to Gregorian chants and blissful boys’ choirs. So calm, so serene, so soothing, almost like a sweet narcotic lulling me to sleep. Ah, yes, delicious, heavenly, carefree sleep until…

HEY PANDORA LISTENERS! HAVE YOU SPENT HOURS TOSSING AND TURNING IN BED BECAUSE YOU JUST CAN’T GET COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR PILLOW?

I bolt upright on the couch, my heart racing as I gasp for air. What the hell? Where did my British choirboys go? After a few rounds of self-induced chest compressions, I reach for my iPad to mute the volume. What did this screaming pillow guru do to those mellow, innocent, falsetto voices, and why is the volume for this commercial three times the decibel level of St. Philip’s parish in South London?

Yes, I know I could save myself from being startled, and possibly from future cardiac episodes, by ponying up a few bucks a month for a paid Pandora subscription, but I think subscriptions are a pox on the world’s financial well-being. I don’t want to get to the point where I need a prescription to manage my subscriptions, like a lot of people I know.

I pay a subscription fee every month for my gym membership, my home alarm monitoring, and the cell phone I use less frequently than I attend the gym, and I refuse to dedicate any more of my salary to anything that offers “auto-pay for my convenience.” Yeah, for my convenience. Like they’re inconvenienced by not having to chase me down every month to pay my bill.

And then there’s the yearly anti-virus subscription which I refuse to use again, ever since I got a surprise bill from Norton for a hundred and something dollars. That wasted an hour and a half of my day, which I spent  trying to track down their phone number and then waiting on hold to be told, “when you signed up for the service, it defaults to auto-renew.”

“Well change the default to cancelled,” I told them. And then, of course, I got a virus on my laptop. Then I got an iPad.

The latest offensive subscription menace is brought to you by the wonderful world of Microsoft, which now offers “Office 365”, so you can make sure that the next time they create a new feature for Word, we won’t miss out. So instead of just buying the software, you subscribe, as in yearly fee for the rest of your life. Listen, word processing software has been around for decades. There is nothing more to invent. There are no more features, so quit trying to re-invent the wheel by screwing with the GUI by force-feeding us crap like “ribbons.” I still very happily use Word 6, the ribbonless, menu-driven version, which is faster and easier, and you don’t have to spend half of your time scrolling through an endless supply of buttons for crappy features no one ever uses, like styles or equations. Microsoft, if you are that desperate for my money, howbout reconfiguring that awful way your products import graphics and then immobilizes them, or even better, for the love of God, fix the way you handle page numbering. Every time I even think about having to do a document that doesn’t have the page number on the first page but starts the numbering on page 2, I start cutting myself.

Seems like everyone is jumping on the subscription bandwagon, because most people think: “Well, $10 a month isn’t going to send me to the poor house, so why not?” Click. And the commerce world is well aware of our gullibility. They think that no one multiplies the monthly fee by 12. Just look at Amazon Prime. Who buys into that? Subscribing to Amazon Prime at $10.99 a month is telling yourself: “I want to get free shipping on everything I order from Amazon, so I’m going to pay for it.” Is this Alice in Wonderland?  Where do they get their logic? That’s like saying, “I don’t feel like going to work today, so I guess I’ll just get in the car and drive to my job instead.”

Subscriptions are like heroin. At first they seem great. Everything is wonderful, but as time goes on, you get less and less enjoyment out of them, and they cause you anxiety, so you get more, and then they become impossible to cancel. If you are lucky and find the number to call to cancel, they wear you down with menus and an insane hold time. If that doesn’t have you tapping the “End Call” button and you do eventually reach a human, instead of just canceling your subscription, they try to upsell you on something different. “We’re sorry to lose you as a faithful reader of Playboy, but if you want to subscribe to Hustler at our special introductory rate of ten cents per issue for the first three months, we will give you Playboy for free up until the end of your current subscription. Does that work for you?”

Canceling a subscription is almost as bad as canceling a credit card. Recently I fell victim to signing up for one of those airline credit cards to get “up to four free flights” by paying the $75 annual fee.  What a butt load of crap that was. First of all, it took them 5 months to credit the miles to my account, and secondly, the four free flights evaporated into one free one-way flight to Atlanta. I could have gotten four free flights maybe if I wanted to fly from Minneapolis to St. Paul or LaGuardia to Newark or Tampa to St. Petersburg. So when I called them up to cancel this scam, they took it personally.

“Oh, I’m so sorry you have decided you no longer want to receive the benefits and rewards our card gives you. May I ask why you want to cancel?” Said the lovely Carol Merrill. On the rare times I get a woman who speaks discernible English, I picture Carol Merrill from the original Let’s Make a Deal. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because she spent her early years staying silent and pointing at things, and I hope now she has found a job where she can actually speak to people and interact.

“I don’t want to pay the annual fee,” says I.

“Well, Mr. Wiley, because you have been a loyal member of our program for almost six months, I’m authorized to waive the annual fee for you from now on, but you will still receive the same benefits you have been. Now, how does that sound?”

And then we go round and round and I end up telling her that a 32% APR should not, under any circumstances, be considered a benefit. When she refuses to take no for an answer, I tell her things that are not even credit-card related, like how they are the worst airline I have ever flown, and their seats are hard, and they charge for oxygen and they don’t pay the flight attendants a living wage, and just cancel the damned card already. And Carol runs weeping into the call center break room, which is just a toilet stall with a half sleeve of saltines on the shelf, rolled up and fastened shut with a binder clip.

So I keep my subscriptions to a minimum so I don’t end up like Other Bill. We have a joint credit card, but we also have our own cards that we use to buy our own clothes, nose hair trimmers and novelties with. For years there was a charge on his credit card for $14.99 a month for a website subscription that spread possibly nefarious content to its subscribers. He had only subscribed to get one set of irresistible photographs of an old erotic model heartthrob. But through years of declining libido and both short and long-term memory, he had forgotten what the site was or how to unsubscribe. So then he had to shamefully call his credit card company and admit, after being told that the vendor was Smut R Us, that his adolescent son must have used his card without his authorization.

“You know how teenagers can be, so can you give me their number so I can get them to stop billing me?”

I don’t want to end up in that situation, because I’d never be able to deliver that lie with a straight, so to speak, face.

But I would consider ending up in a career at a call center if I could be assured that I’d get all the calls from remorseful subscribers to websites of questionable taste. “So, sir, is your wife aware that you’ve been forking over a monthly fee to Wet Women of the West Indies dot com? And what would it be worth to you to ensure that she never found out?”

I could have a lot of fun with that. And maybe then I could meet the lovely Carol Merrill. So sign me up.

Or should I just click Subscribe?



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Home Sweet Garage

When I was a kid, my mother took us to South Florida for a beach vacation. We were in a place called Sunny Isles, which back then was a fun place with wall-to-wall mid-century modern oceanfront motels with window unit air conditioners and Magic Fingers on the beds and small swimming pools on the patios. Our motel was particularly luxurious because it had a pinball machine in the lobby.

I don’t know what happened to Sunny Isles, but I suspect Florida politics entered the equation. Usually this involves commissioners who get bankrolled by developers to rape and pillage existing zoning laws. The end result is that middle class people, the former inhabitants of and visitors to places like Sunny Isles, no longer stand a chance there, because the rules have changed. Ergo, all the cute motels have been demolished for ridiculously tall and unattractive high-rise condo buildings that are only affordable to the 1%.

The worst violator of the Atlantic landscape is a developer named Gil Dezer. In addition to their fortune in real estate, the Dezer family owns several antique car museums that you’d think might be of interest to middle class people if only the admission price to look at a bunch of old metal wasn’t exorbitant. Gil Dezer has licensed the Trump name on several of his Sunny Isles and other South Florida holdings, making him possibly the second most repugnant person on planet Earth.

If you drive down Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles after sunrise, the whole city is dark, eclipsed by the dark shadows of Gil’s and other rich developer’s towers, making the name of the city nothing short of ironic.

Gil’s latest abomination is the PorscheDesign building, a 600+ foot high glass oatmeal box that caters to people who really appreciate their expensive cars. Inside the paparazzi-proof building are three robotic car elevators. After a resident drives in, the car and driver are pulled into the elevator and whisked up to the resident’s home in the sky, where they are digitally parked in full view of the owner’s living room. The cheapest condos, the $4 million ones, have two parking places, whereas the $32+million abodes have room for four vehicles. Because no one that rich should be forced to drive the same car two days in a row. And where else but Florida can you fork over $32M to live in a garage? Up until now Porsche Design earned its keep by selling overpriced watches and sunglasses, and maybe they should have stuck to that, because if you look at the picture above, which is a rendering of the inside of the tower, and the picture below, which is the Hot Wheels Rally Wheel carrying case, it is clear that Porsche Design stole its idea from Mattel.

I don’t know, but I don’t think a view of my red 2007 Honda Fit (which is quickly fading to pink due to sun exposure) is something I want to look at from the comfort of my living room. Neither is Other Bill’s 2009 Civic that has been wrecked three times. This is why we plugged up the peephole in our windowless door that connects the garage with the living room. It’s not something we’re proud of. I guess the PorscheDesign residents will have more interesting and less damaged vehicles to swoon over: minivans or something like that.

The PorscheDesign building is already sold out, even though the building isn’t finished yet. And you know the people who are going to live there aren’t the type who will put up with any inefficiency or any error, human or mechanical, that will even slightly inconvenience them.  I just hope these elevators (okay, secretly I do hope these elevators) turn out to be like the debacle at Denver International Airport several years ago where their robotic suitcase placing system didn’t work for over a year, leaving passengers stranded in a sea of luggage to locate their property.  What if the elevator computers are hacked and your car ends up in someone else’s living room? What if the elevator tries to park two cars in one space? What is that wet slurping sound I hear? Sounds like lawyers licking their chops!

I imagine the average Porsche Design homeowner, besides being stinkin’ rich and expecting only the finer things in life, probably owns at least two high-end super luxury vehicles that they want to park under mood lighting and in air conditioned comfort. Probably a lot of them actually work in Miami in power jobs, even though I suspect quite a few live care-free, trust funded existences. So maybe a lot of the people who do work might have to leave their lavish habitues at the same time. The elevators hold only one car at a time. And these entitled people are not used to having to wait a couple of minutes to get down to the street. Has Mr. Dezer or Mr. PorscheDesign taken this into consideration?

What do you do when two people with Trump-like personalities want to leave their homes at the same time? How is that prioritized? Is the person who pushes the elevator button first the one who gets the first ride? Do you have to schedule the elevator in advance, like an appointment with your plastic surgeon? What if there are other luxury vehicles waiting ahead of you? What if there are five? That could be an entire five-minute wait for a ride to the street. And you know these are the same people who run their Maseratis through traffic lights just because they think they shouldn’t have to wait for 30 seconds to meet their personal trainers or delay their Elizabeth Arden appointment. Is it just me, or do others see this as possible high-rise mayhem? What will the Dezer employees, the Dezerettes, do when the complaints start coming in?

I picture condo owner meetings erupting in riots with savagery equal to a Trump campaign rally. People will be shouting their reasons why they should have elevator priority over their neighbors. This will no doubt be resolved by the creation of an Elevator Priority Club, which people can join for say, oh, I don’t know, a paltry $200,000 a year. The elevators will all then be reprogrammed, and the most devious of the residents will pay the programmers an extra fist full of cash under the table so that they will be classified as Super-Secret Priority Members of the Elevator Priority Club. Then the outsmarted, jealous, non-Super-Secret owners, in order to sabotage the elevators, will order their valets or personal assistants to place large boulders between the open elevator doors on a lower floor.

And what will residents do when elevator maintenance and the annual elevator inspections take place? Will the Dezerettes, like some deranged IT department, have to schedule down time? What if you have an emergency during the time your elevator is being inspected, or even worse, broken? Do you expect a personality like that to take the stairs and call Uber?  And will the generators be able to keep the elevators running 24/7 after a hurricane hits and cuts the power lines? The PorscheDesign Tower is, after all Atlantic oceanfront property and is considered, how you say—vulnerable—during inclement weather. These inconveniences are not something entitled rich people will take sitting down in their rich Corinthian leather massage chairs. Lawsuits will be filed. People will be forced to find parking for their precious babies in nearby buildings. Havoc will overtake the Dezers and the Dezerettes. The building will have to be razed. The next PorscheDesign building will have no car elevators, but will instead have parking levels just like there are in the rest of the condo buildings in the barrier islands, many of which, unbelievably, are underground. It’s a good thing people who live there are republicans who don’t believe in global warming.
 
I know, it’s only a fantasy. I’m sure everything will be fine, and no one will be discommoded. No doubt having the status of a PorscheDesign address will outweigh any inconvenience caused by a delayed elevator. There is plenty to do in your car while you wait for your elevator to arrive. For instance, if your car is almost a year old, you can just go online and read reviews of next year’s Porsche 918 Spider.

Just don’t buy a red one. It’ll fade to pink in the sun, should your car ever see it.









Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Goyim Guy's Guide to Passover

So your significant other invites you to partake in a Seder with his family. You are not Jewish and are wondering: what is this Passover thing, and how do I not look like a complete idiot during this dinner?

First of all, get hold of an advance copy of the Haggadah, which for want of a better definition, is the Seder user manual. Do not ask why it starts with page 44 and ends on page 1. This is not the Curious Book of Benjamin Button, but is instead, read from the back cover to the first page.  Go through this booklet, cover to cover, and write down all the words you can’t pronounce. Google them and learn their pronunciations. Also, practice dry hocking from your throat. This will help you pronounce words with “ch” in them.

To get into the spirit of things, go ahead and wear a yarmulke. There will probably be a selection of them that the host has swiped from past bar mitzvahs. Don’t choose the white satin one, or you will look like the pope. Also, it helps if you’re bald, because the yarmulke will stick to your head from all the nervous sweat you are emitting from your scalp.

Once you sit down to dinner, you will notice maybe that an exterior door is open and there is an extra place setting at the table. This is for the prophet Elijah. He is an invisible being who brings good fortune. He also is present at all circumcisions of Jewish boys, so don’t sit next to him. Those hands have been near millions of penises.

Yes, you will be called upon to read from the Haggadah. Make sure you brought your reading glasses, lest you get stuck with borrowing Aunt Yetta’s cat’s-eye trifocals. You didn’t come here to look like Dame Edna. Or the pope. And don’t mumble. Speak up. And don’t read the English words from right to left, you idiot. That’s for reading Hebrew, which are the hieroglyphics that the well-studied children at the table can read.

Note that this is not the average dinnertime pigfest that you are used to. This is a ritual. It will be a while before you get a crack at that pot roast you are smelling, which, in fact, is not a pot roast, but is called a brisket. You won’t get to eat anything substantial for quite a while, so hopefully you had yourself a little nosh before you got there. There are other foods that you might find scary or are unfamiliar with.

Don’t reach for those gigantic unsalted saltines in the middle of the table until you’re told to do so. That is matzo, and if you were smart, at the same time you got your Haggadah, you also brought home a couple of those copier paper boxes from work and chewed on them until you learned to like the taste. Even after all these years, you didn’t know that paper cases are actually made of matzo, did you? Matzo is a very versatile food. Even that mysterious looking cue ball in your soup is matzo. In many parts of the world, Matzo is used as pavement and is more durable than asphalt.

But the most frightening of foods put in front of you will be the gefilte fish. You are probably only used to fish that is white or pink but never beige. So be warned: gefilte is nothing special to look at. It’s not a perfect square of deep-fried seafood-like product you get at McDonalds, nor does it look like a lovely pink salmon filet you might get at a non-fast-food restaurant that serves edible food. Gefilte is something even the handsome, yellow-slickered Morton’s Fisherman refuses to acknowledge. To be honest, if you’re not lucky enough to be served homemade gefilte fish, it looks like a slimy little turd. It looks as if someone got a wad of filthy Play-Doh, rubbed it between their hands to form a narrow, tapered khaki wad and then blew their nose on it. Homemade gefilte fish looks much more attractive and is in fact actually edible. The stuff that comes packed in slimy gelatin from a jar is not. Nevertheless, so you do not embarrass the partner who dragged you to this affair, you must eat it. All of it. Hopefully you will be offered a bowl of horseradish to put on it. Take as much horseradish as you can get away with and ice that fish-turd like a cake, top to bottom, side to side. Turds are much more attractive when they are bright pink, so take a big bite and get it down your throat as fast as you can. Doing this will also help you prepare to be a contestant on Survivor. After this, you will be able to eat millipedes, larvae, and mammal eyeballs.

There will be songs sung that you don’t know the words to. You need not do a Muppet-style lip-sync, as no one expects you to be that culturally astute. Besides, you did not come here to look like Elmo, Dame Edna or the pope. Just smile and look pretty.

After the soup and main course is served, you’ll be offered a variety of unleavened desserts. Don’t call the mandel bread biscotti, and enjoy the fresh macaroons. You deserve them.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Quick Fried to a Crackly Crunch

Well I finally talked Other Bill into going to a free lunch sponsored by the Neptune Society, those guys who have been promoting cheap cremations for the last few decades. All I wanted them to do is tell me how much it ran to toast a dead body, but apparently you can’t be privy to that information unless you set up a visit with a counselor or attend one of these lunch things that are advertised in the paper.

Other Bill never wanted to deal with this. In fact, I had to twist his arm years ago to agree to getting our wills written. He likes to joke about wanting us to die together in a plane crash so no one will find our bodies, or just having wicks inserted in our heads so when one of us stops breathing, all the other has to do is light a match. But reluctantly he went along this time.

I’ve had a long-standing beef with the whole funeral home industry for years which I have previously documented here. Now that funeral homes and cemeteries have gone hi-tech, there is no end to the number of gizmos and gimmicks they will try to get you to sign up for. No one is going to be able to walk up to my final resting place and through the miracle of wifi and global positioning, see my professionally produced (at a huge fee) videography, because my crispy remains will be in some unknown place or at the bottom of some body of water, probably illegally. They won’t be on anyone’s mantle, either.

My feeling on the afterlife is pretty cut and dry; i.e., you’re dead. So why set aside an obscene amount of money for a satin-lined Posturepedic coffin to lie back and rot in? Your spirit, your love, your sense of humor, all the things that people will remember you for are also gone. All that’s left is your decaying vessel, so let’s deal with that as quickly and cleanly as possible and call it a day, shall we?

So we get to this tv-lined sports bar and go to the special event room, where a young Peruvian lesbian greeted us and gave us some paperwork (which didn’t have the cremation price on it). In a few minutes three more men, all older than us, sauntered in. Two of them, who clearly were in their 80’s (and probably not planning on living much longer), started hitting on her. Telling her what a beautiful woman she was. Asking if she was single. She handled it with grace and dignity, because not doing so could easily have cost her a sale. But c’mon, guys. Okay, so it’s not always easy to zero in on a person’s sexual orientation; I’ll give you that. But what did you think your chances were, being a half-century her senior, that after your death discussion that she’d go home, pack a bag and move in with you? 50-50? Not even close. So cut that shit out, for God’s sake. It’s 2016, not the year YOU were born.

One guy in particular was a pain in the ass from the get-go. Besides practically wolf-whistling and making goo-goo eyes at the presenter, he also, instead of sitting at the table set out for him, imposed himself on a kindly French gentleman, who, I suspect, would have rather sat alone.

The guy also gave the waitress a hard time. He wanted a full sandwich and a salad, when the menu option was for just half a sandwich and a salad. The waitress said he could add a salad to his full sandwich for three dollars, but then he played stupid, giving her the “I don’t understand why he gets a sandwich and salad and I have to pay $3 for mine” routine.

Then before the knockout lesbian could barely open the presentation, he started going on and on about how he wasn’t planning on dying, because he was happy just as he was alive.  If there had been a buttered roll on my table, I would have thrown it at him.

So the presentation went along well enough and was moderately interactive, with other Bill and I being the only other two in the room to verbally participate.

The presenter talked about how funeral homes will always try to “upsell you” by preying on your emotional state and talking you into things you don’t need, like a pricier casket or other extras they say your loved one would have wanted. This led to a discussion about pre-planning and making your needs known.

But the thing about the Neptune Society is, there is a base price (and I won’t tell you want it is. Go to your own old man lunch) that requires you to die within a 75 mile radius of your local Neptune Society crematorium. After that, it’s three dollars a mile, just like the $3 side salad that the waitress gave that old fart for free because she was sick of the harassment.

Three dollars a mile. Who knew that dying was like renting a car?

Okay, so we got it. In order for it to be effective, you had to really sign up with the premium account that was $500 more, and then you could die anywhere you wanted to, without incurring any mileage surcharges.

But what really frosted my fine hairs was that both packages came with a “beautiful cherry box” that held a commemorative picture frame and an urn to put your loved one’s ashes in.

If that’s not upselling, I don’t know what is. Before I could ask if it was cheaper to buy it without the made-in-China box and cheesy frame, she said it was all part of the complete package and could not be excluded from the deal.

So then they gave us the price of both versions. The annoying man who wasn’t planning on dying just got up, tossed his napkin on the table, and walked out of the room. His French table partner rolled his eyes, and I gave him a sympathetic look.

The patient presenter chatted with us for a few minutes, and acknowledged that we were a couple even though we didn’t use the secret gay handshake. We said we wanted time to discuss it, even though, for me at least, once she uttered the word, “urn” all bets were off.

One of the hooks to the program was how easy this would make things for your children. At the time of your death all they would have to do is remove your membership card from your wallet, call the toll-free number, and everything would be taken care of. No fuss, no muss. Our presenter said, “What would you rather give them: The card or the phone book so they could start calling funeral homes during their beginning stages of grief?”

I don’t think we’ll need either the card or the phone book. All we’ll need is Google. You can get a non-Neptune direct cremation for around $500. 

We’ll use the savings to pay for a full sandwich and a full salad. And dessert, please.

Photo Via Flickr User Justin Dolske