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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cell Division

It’s the end of July, and although it’s sizzling hot here in the northern hemisphere, temperatures are in the mid-twenties in Hell. On a related note, I’m getting a cell phone.

I’m not happy about it, though. In fact I am being dragged, kicking and screaming into the early 1990’s. For over 20 years I have been unwavering in my pledge to never own one. I’ve saved thousands and thousands of dollars by refusing to become one of Those People. I have prided myself in being a stubborn curmudgeon, lashing out against all those people who say, “How do you live without a cell phone?” The real philosophical question is: How well do you live with a cell phone?

My early relationship with cell phones was dysfunctional at best. I was required to schlep one around when I was on call 24/7 at work. The phone was the size of Shaq’s shoe (gesundheit), and along with it I also dragged a “laptop” computer that weighed as much as a bag of topsoil. Back then, I think engineers were instructed to create a “laptop” that would fit Mama Cass.

When I was on call, production workers used to call me at 3 in the morning because they had forgotten their passwords and had to get into their work e-mail so they could show off pictures of their new children/grandchildren/puppy/cat/pickup truck. When I left that job, I renounced cellular technology and swore I’d never fall into that trap. That was a decade ago, and I’ve held my ground. I did say that I might consider a cell phone if they came out with one with a rotary dial.

I believe cell phones are responsible for the collapse of civilization that I see happening today. They turn normal human beings into rude, selfish, dangerously inattentive robots. They are responsible for an increase in traffic fatalities. They are destroying traditional grammar by turning nouns into verbs (as in, “He texted me yesterday.”) And even if research is inconclusive about them contributing to brain/ear/salivary gland tumors, why take the chance? Should I mention the cell phones that have caught fire, cell phone batteries that have exploded or overheated and burned people? Terrorists use them to remotely set off bombs, and they even make guns that look like cell phones that can go undetected at TSA checkpoints. They have spawned the art of “sexting” that has brought down government officials and embarrassed parents of teenagers. Want me to go on? They are harmful electronics, pure and simple, and I detest them. Don’t tell me they’re a necessary evil. They’re just evil.

This is not to say that I don’t fully understand the benefits of having a cell phone for an emergency, but why do I have to pay $11 a month (my half) for something I might never use? For years this has been a point of contention between Other Bill and me, and after a lot of insisting and complaining and whining and me giving in, I say, “I’ll get one as soon as I find a cheap enough plan.” And then I never go looking for a plan, and it is forgotten about until some event happens where having one would have been useful, and Other Bill takes it to task again.

I am as stubborn about this as he is about direct deposit. For 19 years I have told him it would save time and gas if he eliminated standing in long bank lines on Saturdays by signing up for his salary to be electronically transferred into his bank account. He also waits for 3 or 4 checks to pile up before he gathers up his loot and takes it to the bank, so he’s also losing interest on that money. He seems to think if he doesn’t see or touch the check, (or leave it on his dresser for six weeks) he won’t get paid.

So we have both reluctantly agreed. I will get a cell phone if he gets direct deposit. He has 30 days to do the paperwork for direct deposit, and my Jitterbug phone has a 30 day free trial. So if one of us (i.e. Other Bill) fails, the phone goes back.

That’s right: Jitterbug. You’ve seen them advertised on TV and in Parade magazine. It’s the phone that caters to the greater AARP community because it has big readable buttons and displays. When you order it, they will even pre-program frequently used numbers that you give them, because you’re too old and stupid and can’t read a user guide to do it yourself. My favorite part of this service is that the phone has a dial tone to give you a false sense of security and make it seem like you are home on your hospital bed with your oxygen mask on and ordering take-out from Wan Fat.

I prefer the Jitterbug because it’s the farthest thing from a smart phone. In fact, it’s downright stupid. It doesn’t do anything but pretend to be a land line. It doesn’t send or receive texts. It doesn’t have a clue what the Internet is. You can’t download ring tones for it. And when you press zero, you get to talk to a Jitterbug operator for free. It’s been decades since I’ve called an operator just to ask her the time, so I look forward to that. As far as add-ons go, I was overruled when I insisted I didn’t want to pay the extra buck-fifty a month for voice mail, so instead, I have taken a secret vow to never check it. I’ll contend I don’t know how, because I’m too old and stupid to read the user manual. And after a few months, I’ll press zero and tell the operator to cancel the voice mail. That way my Jitterbug will turn into something even stupider.

Part of my giving in to this ridiculous plan is that I get to waive the right to learn my cell phone number, because I am still planning on telling everyone I don’t have a cell phone. And if I don’t know the number, I won’t be able to give it out. The only one who will know the number is Other Bill, and the 911 operator who will take my call during the alleged emergency I will be having somewhere between today and death. You will only be able to get this number if Other Bill betrays me or you bribe the 911 operator who will tell me that sometimes it’s good to make yourself cough when you’re having a heart attack.

We have also agreed that I will not be obligated to carry the phone around with me on my person. I plan on leaving it in the side pocket of my car door. Note to thieves: It’s a red Honda Fit, and the door will be unlocked, so please don’t break the window. That way I’ll be able to go for months without realizing it’s been stolen, provided the thief does not use over 50 minutes a month, which, incidentally, are rollover minutes, whatever that means. Hopefully these minutes won’t trip over the dial tone when they roll over it.

I know there are a few friends out there who will be gleefully trying to rub it in with told-you-so chants, malicious greeting cards and Facebook postings (which will be deleted). So I would like to remind these so-called friends that I am a master of, and pride myself in, the art of retaliation. So expect to get something ten times worse thrown back at you, and if you’re smart, you’ll hide your precious iPhones if you know what’s good for you. I accidentally discovered a liquid you can buy in any grocery store, which will literally dissolve your cell phone while giving it the overpowering smell of a urinal cake. With Glade Plug-In icing. And just because Other Bill’s cell phone melted and is unusable because this liquid accidentally coated his former phone does not mean that I did it in retaliation for his insisting upon my having a cell phone. Or did I?

Is it clear I am not happy about this?

I have agreed to get the phone solely in the event of an emergency during my lengthy 7-mile commute to or from work. And since it’s illegal to drive and talk on a cell phone in this state, the only time I can use it is when it is illegal to do so. (Note to fact checkers: Actually, we don’t have any laws in Florida which ban phoning and driving, but since I work in law enforcement, I can say anything I want, and Other Bill will believe it.)

So yes, I have a cell phone, but if anyone asks me to my face if I have a cell phone, the answer is still no, and I will deny it until the day I die.

So if you want to talk, call me at home.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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And yet another reason to own one.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who's Your Daddy?

For an entire lifetime, I have been whining about the devastating effects of growing up fatherless. I probably will still continue to do so, although the older I get the more I realize things could have been worse. A LOT worse.

For example, I read recently in England’s seedy, albeit legitimate tabloid, The Sun, that a guy who was born in 1967 and was given up for adoption decided, later in life, to go hunting for his birth parents. Matthew Roberts found and began corresponding with his birth mother, and he eventually got her to admit that his dad was none other than Charlie Manson. He had been conceived, she said, when Charlie raped her at one of his famous drug-laden orgies.

This startling discovery could spawn (Spahn?) at least two TV events that I can think of: 1) A public service announcement to scare the pants off any adopted kid who’s hell-bent on finding his or her birth parents; 2) A game show called Who’s Your Daddy?

Based on Queen for a Day, Who’s Your Daddy? would bring out 3 adult male adoptees who would take turns telling their tales of woe before a live studio audience. All the contestants share their mournful memories, such as sitting alone on father-son lunch days at school; sleeping in a one-man tent at pop-and-son camp-outs in Boy Scouts, and the humiliation of jockstrap shopping with mom. The contestant who has had the saddest life, based on the results of the Applause-O-Meter, gets to meet his dad and also receive a year of all-you-can-handle psychiatric services. The losers get fifty bucks and some lovely parting gifts. And of course, they all receive a copy of the home game.

So yeah, things could have been worse. Instead of growing up without a dad, I could have been the proud son of a man with a swastika tattooed into his forehead. Imagine how popular he would have been at PTA meetings.

I also picture this familial introduction:

Mom, Dad, I’d like you meet my future in-laws, Harriet and Marty. Harriet and Marty, these are my parents, Charles and June. We want to thank you so much for including us in your Seder this year.

Frankly, I think it would be endearing to watch Charles Manson try to shovel down a plateful of cold herring in cream with a side of gefilte fish. I suspect the food in prison is much more stomachable.

The news report said that Charlie’s son had sunk into a serious depression after learning that his dad was one of the most psychotic people on the planet. Call me crazy, but when I’m depressed about something, the last thing I want to do is alert the media about it. I just want to stay in bed.

The Sun article goes on to say that Roberts had written to and received replies from Dear Old Dad, and the article includes the obligatory images of undecipherable, meaningless, nutcase sentences and signed with a sad attempt at drawing a swastika, which looked more like nothing more than a zigzag. They were written on college ruled notebook paper that had been ripped from the three-ring binder.

Charlie’s boy also said that Daddykins gave him his prison phone number, but Roberts couldn’t bring himself to call his pop. I am guessing the end of that sentence would be “…until the Oprah Network offers me a million dollars up front, half of the pay-per-view and live audience’s gross and a really good speakerphone.”

Well, of course he’s depressed. Who wouldn’t be with that kind of thing in your genetic soup? And how would you go about finding a support group for children of famously horrible parents, and who would be present? Well, for starters: the two dozen Bin Laden kiddies, the Qadaffi Nine, Sitha Pot, Iman Amin, the lesser-known Palin children, Donald Trump’s kids, Miley Cyrus and the Bush twins. Unfortunately, there would be serious language barriers, especially when it came to making sense from what spewed out of Miley, Jenna, and Little Barbara.

Although I sympathize with the biological son, I’m curious as to why he decided to go public with it. If I had received that news, I’d have cut my long black hair, shaved my beard, found a good plastic surgeon who could make me look more like, I dunno, the Pope, maybe. And I would find a really good psychiatrist to help me deal with it.

Like his dad, Roberts is a poet and artist. They are unmistakably similar in appearance. With a little makeup, he could make a fortune jumping out of the darkness and yelling, “Death to Pigs!” and scaring little children at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Night. I’m sure they would pay him top dollar, and Roberts would be on every Florida billboard on I-95 during the month of October. But other than the monetary rewards, what good could come out of going public with this? Maybe it would make you attractive in some women’s eyes, but I would think that most of these women would be more interested in the cash they could rack up by prancing around the talk show circuit with their firstborn, the third generation of Manson.

Will you just look at those eyes? He looks just like his grandpa on the cover of Life.

Maybe his hope is to find other Manson offspring, his half sisters and brothers. I read that Manson admits to three sons, and according to eyewitnesses, Manson was notoriously, tirelessly virile, so Roberts isn’t the only Charlie-bastard running around depressed. Probably more than a handful of them are scattered around the country. They could all get together, commiserate and, with a little musical coaching, form the Manson Family Singers. On Ice. They could sing some of their dad’s tunes, old Country favorites, remakes, and their own compositions. What else could piss off their dad more than making it big in the recording industry, which was Charlie’s biggest dream, but just one of his thousands of failures?

I recommend these tracks for the playlist of their debut CD, with the working title of “Meet the Mansons.”

Hey, Hey We’re the Mansons
Papa Don’t Preach
Nothing Compares to You
We are Family
Love Child
I Don’t Know How to Love Him
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Medley: The First Cut is the Deepest/Cuts Both Ways
Have Mercy on the Criminal
I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)
Killing Me Softly

Read the article.

Thanks to Mary and Chris for their contributions to this post.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Samurai Junkman

At the tender age of 30, even though I was working as a Kelly Girl without benefits, I had decided it was time to break down and buy a new car.

I had never owned a new car before. I had a thousand-dollar Volkswagen that I’d kept for ten years and then sold for $1200. Then I had a $1200 Rabbit that I abandoned shortly after the master cylinder blew out while I was speeding down a steep grade in West Virginia. Not having any brakes, at the bottom of a hill I flew through a stop sign and plowed into a corn field. Then I got another used bug, a convertible, that was fond of rocketing out the oil pan plug, immediately draining all the oil onto the street and illuminating a red light on my dashboard. I was lucky to have never been fined by the EPA, nor did I ever file an environmental impact statement.

Then I bought, for $700, a rusted-out 4 wheel drive Subaru, which was brown. The hatchback, clearly taken from junkyard skeletal remains, was blue. I couldn't deal with driving a spare parts car, so I ended up spray-painting the hatchback almost the same brown as the rest of the car. Although it did get me in and out of the snow, every time I shifted gears, let my foot off the gas, or turned off the ignition, it would emit a sound similar to a cannon blast.

As a temporary Kelly Girl, I was earning in the single digits per hour, so economy was at the top of the list of must-haves for my new car. And four wheel drive. I lived at the bottom of a hill on a dirt road. I could be trapped for days in the winter.

It would have made sense to buy a Jeep, but that was cost-prohibitive. I needed something less than the cheapest four wheel drive on the market.

Enter the Suzuki Samurai, which looked like a shrunken-down version of a Jeep CJ. And like the Jeep CJ, it was convertible. Well, at least the top came off. Buying the Samurai would, I concluded, make me look like the tough, rugged, Marlboro Mannish stereotypical Jeep driver, but on a smaller scale. As my friend Jack told me, “You want to be butch, but you don’t want to be that butch.”

So I drove 150 miles to Maryland to the closest Suzuki dealer. I had my checkbook, and I wasn’t leaving without a black-with-a-black-top model. If I were going to be not-that-butch, I wanted to be the butchest of the not-that-butch.

I went into the showroom and asked the first salesman/leech who approached me if I could test drive a Samurai. He got the keys and sent me on my way. It was a little sluggish, and maybe a little loud, and it had sticky vinyl seats. But it didn’t explode or shoot out the oil plug or lose the brakes, so I was sold. I went back to negotiate.

Samurais, at the time, believe it or not, were a hot-ticket item and selling like hotcakes. The arrogant leech/salesman flat-out refused to negotiate because I wanted your basic stripped model. No pin striping, no air conditioning, no radio, no power steering. Just the car. He said if I would consider adding on options, he could find some wiggle room there, but that would still have been more money, so I agreed to pay the asking price, which was $7000-something. He ran the credit check, and drawing up the bill of sale said, “Oh, I forgot to ask. Do you want a back seat with that? It’s $500 more."

I took a spatula and scraped my jaw off the floor. What car company considers the back seat a luxury, or worse, optional equipment? In the end I bought the back seat, and anyone who ever sat in it would grow to hate me for it.

I was saddled with a car payment for the first time in my life, and I didn’t like it at all.

But I did have my first new car! For the first week I was so proud of it. I brought it home, gave it two coats of expensive car wax, cleaned the windows, and Armor-Alled the black vinyl top, the seats, the dash, the gearshift knob. During the second week of ownership, it was announced by Consumer Reports that the Samurai, with its short wheel span and top heaviness, was a severe rollover risk. Demand plunged, as did the prices.

My little dream car quickly deteriorated into an unpleasant driving experience. When ever you sped up and got into fifth gear, the cheesy vinyl top would flap and slap, sounding like high-speed applause. I had put in a radio-cassette player and powerful speakers that could barely be heard at full blast with all that flapping going on.

On careful inspection, I sadly realized that the majority of the car was made out of what normally comes on long rolls in which to wrap food. The doors, thin and tinny, made a clank noise when you shut them, like a teaspoon tapping an empty tuna can. Clearly, the metal on this machine was nothing more than Reynolds Wrap. The plastic windows in the vinyl top were weak and deteriorated quickly, so they were pretty much Seran Wrap. The vinyl upholstery was brittle and made a crunching sound whenever it was stressed, especially in winter. In other words, Cut Rite waxed paper. The “carpeting” was pretty much the consistency of kraft paper.

The weak engine was made by the Ideal Toy Corporation and was formerly used in the Karmann Ghia Motorific car. I took it on one long road trip that required navigating through some rather steep mountains. The car could not even climb to the top of an overpass in fifth gear. It would stall or shake until you downshifted into fourth or third, and then the engine would whine while the vinyl top applauded. Climbing over the Blue Ridge mountains, I was left in the dust by passing tractor-trailers, Vespas, and grandmothers on roller skates.

A special feature on the car: When you drove through gusty winds, the car magically turned into a box kite.

On most convertibles, you undo a couple of latches, press a button, and in seconds you are driving with the top down. The Samurai was a little different. Each time I wanted to put the top down, I would have to hire a mechanical engineer for two hours to help me get it off and again when I wanted it placed back. There were snaps and slots and Velcro loops and zippers. It was important to have a supply of Q-Tips on hand for cleaning out the gunk in the slots. Eventually in the summer I would just leave the top off and stick a big beach umbrella in it while I was at work, and that, for the most part, kept it relatively dry until I got it home and parked it safely in the garage.

It was not by any means a comfortable car, especially if you were a passenger in the back seat. Every time you hit a bump (and by “hitting a bump” I mean “running over a cigarette butt”), the rear passengers were sent flying skyward, so seat belts were more than mandatory. They were life-or-death. In summer, the vinyl seats demanded your sweat. If you wore cutoffs and went shirtless (which 30-year-old, not-that-butch kind of men tend to do in summer), extracting yourself from the seat was often a painful experience which yielded a sound similar to Velcro being separated. Only if you were lucky did you get out with all your skin still in place.

Nevertheless, mechanically, the car stayed the course. I had to replace the muffler twice, and someone stuck forks in the rear Seran Wrap windows and broke in and stole my stereo twice. It would have been just as easy to get in by unzipping the back window, but I suspect the thieves didn’t have ready access to a mechanical engineer. As long as it got me from point A to B, I was fine with it. I faithfully crawled under it every 3000 miles and changed the oil, and I never had any engine or transmission problems. I drove it for 10 years, or 100,000 miles, whichever came first.

By then I had a permanent job and was making three times as much as my Kelly Girl job. I was growing older, and I was tired of chipping my teeth whenever I went over a speed bump, so I went shopping for a newer car. I was over the new car obsession and ended up with a two-year-old vehicle.

It was a 1995 Suzuki Sidekick. It's shown in the picture, above, between the Samurai and the Motorific Karmann Ghia.

Some not-that-butch guys never learn.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Deleting the Dead

The electronic lady who prompts me from our voice mail system told me yesterday that I was about to run out of message space, and she strongly encouraged me to delete some of the Forty! Seven! old messages that I had been too lazy to review over the past several months.

This, of course, required me to listen to all of the Forty! Seven! messages, or at least the beginning of them. I ended up deleting all but three of them. The ones I kept were from people who are dead.

I don’t know why I can’t bring myself erase them. The messages were from good friends, and one of them died just months ago. Maybe it seems like some final act of betrayal to delete them to make room for messages from the living, most of whom are strangers since it was my work voice mailbox. Yet, I can’t press that number 3 button on the phone, knowing I’ll be unable to hear their voices again. I find it odd, and just a little bit macabre, because I don’t intentionally go back and play their old messages to hear them speak again. That is, until the electronic lady tells me it’s time. And then it's surprising, because I have forgotten I've intentionally not deleted them.

Many years ago, in an early version of Microsoft Windows, there was an applet called Cardfile, which was nothing but a digital version of a Rolodex. Instead of flipping through tiny pages of real Rolodex cards, you would click your way through virtual pages to find the contact information of anyone you put in there.

It was during this timeframe that my beloved Aunt Dorothy died. She lived to be 95, and whenever I went to visit her she would always make a cheese ball, nut rolls and her famous calico beans. Because I have never been a very good file clerk, her name was alphabetized under “Aunt” instead of “Dorothy”, and hers was the first “card” that appeared whenever I opened the Cardfile program. Seeing it after she died would always make me a little sad (and hungry), so one day I decided to get rid of the virtual card. I clicked the button on the screen, and a dialog box appeared that read: “Delete Aunt Dorothy?” with Yes and No buttons underneath the question.

Microsoft no longer includes Cardfile in its operating system, and frankly I’m glad. I felt resentful that some computer was throwing salt on my wound. Well, no! I thought, I don’t want to delete Aunt Dorothy! Why is that left up to me to make that decision? I pondered a couple of things: If I deleted her, I thought, I would soon forget about her jovial cackle and hard Pittsburgh accent. And of course, the cheese ball, nut rolls and calico beans as well. If I didn’t delete her, would that bring her back? In the end, I kept Aunt Dorothy, although I cloaked it under a card with merely the letter “A” on it, so she wasn’t the first one to appear. That was stupid, because every time I saw the “A” I knew what it stood for, and what it was covering up.

Today, with a Contacts section in every e-mail program, when you delete a contact, it just goes away without a requesting a confirmation. That’s the way it should be. This does not mean that computer programmers are becoming kinder and gentler, otherwise why would they have created autocomplete?

Just about any e-mail application now has autocomplete enabled to reduce your keyboard strokes. For example, in composing a message to Other Bill, I just have to type a “B” in the “To:” box, and his complete e-mail address pops up for me to select. I just hit the Tab key, and the software fills his in his address automatically, saving me sixteen keystrokes.

But dead people show up in the autocomplete list when you begin to type in something that looks like their e-mail address. They are easily deleted without any sass from the computer, but most people don’t know how, and the dead remain as reminders. I recently deleted from that list someone I never talk to anymore (a CPA who used to do my taxes for me—badly!) She disappeared completely after I highlighted her name and hit the delete key. The computer didn’t ask me, “Are you sure you want to delete That Lousy CPA?”

These little unthoughtful computer annoyances are nothing compared to physically cleaning up after the dead. In my 54 years I have never had to clean out the belongings of anyone who died. My mother took care of my dad’s clothes and other possessions. Later on, my sister handled my mother’s affairs. Other relatives and friends who have died, naturally, had their spouses or children take on that depressing deed. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to throw out Other Bill’s “Tuff Guy” t-shirt that was given to him by a friend who died years ago. How do you go through someone’s belongings that evoke so many memories when you’re already suffering such crippling pain? I’d have to hire someone to do it, but someone who would do a lousy, incomplete job so it wouldn’t look like anything was missing. The only person who could half-ass that task would be Other Bill, but he’d be deleted. Maybe That Lousy CPA would offer to botch that chore, just as she had my income taxes.

As I age, the impact that death has on me has diminished. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve sat through scores of funerals since the 1980’s, or if the Prozac just works well. I still hate being the one who has to click the mouse or erase the voice of a close friend. Maybe funeral homes could recognize significant revenue by offering a digital deleting service. For a stiff fee, they could delete every recording and every computer account and all of the family’s autocomplete entries.
Before I die, I want to turn over my passwords to a trusted friend who could freak people out by sending humorous musings from me on what it’s like being dead via e-mail and Facebook. I would write several years’ worth in advance. My Facebook status could be changed periodically.

For example:
  • Bill Wiley is dead, but really, it’s not that bad. A little dark. I could do with a flashlight.
  • Bill Wiley is just visiting hell. Honestly, it’s no worse than Orlando in August. In fact, it’s better. People here are so much more interesting than your typical Disney tourist, with the exception of Mom. She is still complaining and criticizing. I sure am glad I brought that Get Out of Hell free card. There are a lot of people just walking around trying to find their lost car keys and glasses.
  • Bill Wiley just found his first Siamese cat, Mr. Ling, playing Deathville.
  • Bill Wiley got his first look at God today. She looks a lot like Moms Mabley. That explains a lot.
And then an alert reader could collect them and publish them in a bestseller. They could call it Heaven is for Real.

Oh, that’s been done, you say? Damn. I am always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to becoming another Jacqueline Susann.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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