Search This Blog

Friday, August 31, 2012

Hotel Roach

Maybe a couple of times a year, Other Bill and I will get out of Florida and take a week or so vacation. For the past several years, we’ve gone to San Francisco.

San Francisco is expensive. It is Manhattan/Tokyo-expensive. If you can find a condo the size of a shoebox for less than a million dollars, consider yourself lucky.

One of the best things about Other Bill is that he scores in the negative numbers on the High Maintenance Personality Test, and fortunately for him, I’m pretty much in the same area. We are not well-to-do in any sense of any word except “love,” and our needs are simply met. Consequently, when we go away, we tend to stay in the cheapest fleabag hotels that the least amount of money can buy in sketchy neighborhoods. We have rewards cards at the following hotel chains: Spitting Shower Suites, Dripping Faucet Inns, Motel Sex, Bedrooms & Bugs, Helliday Inns, Detached Toilet Courts, the Singing Toilet B and B, and as of the last trip there, the Why-Can’t-The-Two-of-You-Sleep-in-One-Twin-Bed-Until-Tomorrow-When-Another-Room-Becomes-Available Hotel. That one, while we were staying there, changed its name to the If-You-Want-To-Schlep-Up-Another-Mattress-From-The-Garage,-Here-Are-Your-Sheets Resort. And so we did, after a 10 hour-trek.

As I said, our needs are simple. We have 3 requirements for a room: a bed we can fit in, a shower, and Internet access. No phone, no pool, no pets, no gym, no chocolate on the pillowcase or turndown service. Look, if you can’t buy your own Hershey bar or yank your sheet down, you should be staying in a critical care unit, not a hotel.

We take good earplugs in case of noise, as well as a couple cans of 2 ounce pepper spray in case someone tries to get smart with us. And because the TSA won’t allow it, our first stop in the city is always at a Walgreens to buy a pair of toenail clippers so we can stab any bath-salts-snorting nut case who tries to get aggressive with us.

We are about to head out to that other coast soon, but this time, the rules have changed, because Other Bill’s employer is paying for his flight and 3 days of lodging while he attends a seminar there. This will enable us to get the host hotel’s group rate, which is still about double what we’re used to paying, but what the hell.

This hotel, according to its website, is a four-diamond hotel. I don’t know what that means. Four on a scale of how many diamonds? And are diamonds the same thing as stars? The hotels we normally stay in are measured in turds, and the fewer the turds, the better the ambiance of the joint. I’m not sure how many turds are on the scale, but I would say for the most part, we’ve stayed mostly at below five turd joints, assuming the turd scale apex is 10.

You may ask why we stay in such dumps. Why do we lodge in places with shared bathrooms? Why are our inns of choice walk-ups and non-ADA compliant? Why are their vertical transport units called elevators when they are really dumbwaiters?  The theory is, and I’m sticking to this, is that if you’re staying in a nice place, why would you want to leave the room? Why would I pack anything other than clean underwear?  I suspect that after we return from this luxury trip, friends might ask, “So what did you do in San Francisco?”

And our answer will be, “Stayed in bed and ordered from room service for 9 days.”  Why would we force ourselves to get dressed and go sit in a chair at the Top of the Mark and eat a meal when we could call someone could bring us burgers while we watch That Girl reruns in our underwear in bed. Not that we would ever eat at Top of the Mark, mind you.

In 20 years, I can’t remember paying to stay in a hotel that had room service. The only thing delivered to our regular room is a virus brought up by a cockroach. Here’s your Ebola, sir; can I give you anything else?

So this trip we are going to be upscale cultural tourists, peons swimming in a sea of the well-to-do. I’ll send you a postcard to report on the progress, provided a waiter can bring me one up from the lobby. And later drop it in the mail.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Remember all the products Wile E. Coyote bought from Acme in his failed attempt to foil the Road Runner? The first thing that comes to my mind is the Acme Do It Yourself Tornado Kit. You just added water to a tornado seed, and a funnel cloud formed.

I’ve always admired anything with a “just add water” label on it. When ingredients are dehydrated and mixed with magic chemicals, you can create a perfect treat using only tap water. Cakes, Jello 123, instant pudding, mud. All of which taste the same.

But what if you ran into Acme Instant Water Kit―Just Add Water?

I recently ran into something similar at the Institute of Retail Last Resort.  Otherwise known as Big Lots, it’s a place where dented cans, crushed boxes, time sensitive goods about to expire, foods with foreign labels and made by manufacturers exempt from FDA regulations, and merchandise that just didn’t catch on―go to die. Or if they’re lucky, they get bought up by desperate consumers like us who are trying to stretch a buck.

Other Bill actually found it first and immediately thought: Here’s some material for Bill to write about.  

Like so many things offered by Big Lots, this item, which was called Chicken Caesar Dinner Kit, and actually said on the box, “just add chicken and salad,” was slashed to the low, low price of one dollar. So curious was I and so insistent was Other Bill, that we both coughed up fifty cents and purchased it, just so I could take a picture of it. Did it come with Caesar’s toll free number, so you could call him when you want him to come out and prepare it and possibly teach your dog some manners? Not for a buck. I guess they were hoping people wouldn’t read the box. If it says, “add chicken & salad,” You can pretty much bet that it will be, for the most part, salad dressing.

Since the purchase, I have decided to market a bag of air and call it, “Steak Tartare Kit.” All you do is add chopped raw meat, and it’s ready.

I think the world needs to slow down. Sure we’re busy and depend on the World of Ready Made to save us some valuable seconds in the day. But where do you draw the line between “convenience” and “Really, you lazy-assed-good-for-nothing? That’s the best you can do?”

I would be so good in marketing because I am so lazy that I think up several things a day that could make my life less tedious.  More ideas are generated when Other Bill goes away for a weekend, and I am left to fend for myself. I would truly rather not eat than have to open the refrigerator and go through all the leftovers to decide which one I have to tediously pull out and put in the microwave and actually wait 30 seconds until it is warm. What a bore. How taxing.

I am too lazy to look on shelves lower than the second one. And if an offering isn’t front and center, I’m certainly not going to dig for it. That’s why I want a refrigerator that, instead of having square glass shelves, inside there is a rotisserie… like those big cake and pie wheels all clean and pretty and lit up in restaurants. If I had one of those as a fridge, I’d be much more apt to pick something out to eat when someone nicer than me is unavailable to bring it to me.  Maybe it could stream food-related music when you open the door. See? Marketing genius! I want the job of the idiot who decided to build a flat screen TV into the door of a refrigerator. Those never took off. Fire that jerk, and hire someone lazy, like me. I’ll sell a million units before you finish reading this.

They actually make prepared meals that come in self-heating boxes.  For people too poor or bothered to use a stove. I tried one once (they were handed out as a post-hurricane emergency meal ready to eat, or MRE once.) The only thing keeping from me from stocking a collection of them on hand is that I worry about what is preserving them. Well that, and the fact that I burned myself when I tried to heat it. The same with those shelf meals like beef stroganoff in bags that don’t need refrigeration. WHY don’t they need refrigeration?

Every time we go to the grocery store and we walk through the chilled processed meat area and I wonder just how many decades it’s been since I had a bologna-on-buttered-Wonder-Bread, I express my disdain at the enormous amount of space provided for Lunchables. I despise them, even though I’ve never had one, so I have no concrete reason to find them offensive.

Instead of calling them Lunchables, why not just be honest and label them “Unhealthy Snacks for Children with Alcoholic Parents” and call it a day? Oscar Meyer should sell them with vodka miniatures that zip off the box. (Again: marketing genius!) Full of sodium, nitrates, preservatives and sugar, these abominations take the worst foods (cheap hot dogs or other processed meat), fat-filled cookies, a processed cheesy-like substance, some white flower disaster and sometimes a sugary drink) and put them in an attractive yellow box.  Millions are bought every day by fat, irresponsible parents with rotund children. Really, just how tough is it to put an apple, some crunchy sweet vegetables and a whole wheat peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a paper bag?

But then, even spreading two things on bread has been usurped by that god-awful peanut butter and jelly squirted in stripes in one bottle. Oh, thank God for Smuckers Goober! If I had to open two jars to make this sandwich, I would have had to call the suicide hotline!  And if two slices of bread, a knife and one jar of spread are too much for you, Smuckers offers these PB&J pressed-together pie-like empanada things you can buy frozen. They’re called Smuckers Uncrustables.  Uncrustable, indeed. Picky kids who hate bread crust have nothing to worry about with these health hazards, but I have seen people I work with eat these things. People over 40. Perfectly sane people over 40. Exactly how late to you have to be to not have time to slap together a peanut butter sandwich? How much more Facebook browsing time will Uncrustables net you? Will another 30 seconds get you fired? Damn, if I had just bought a Lunchable for the Beaver, I might still have my Wall Street job.

I always play Judgmental Johnny in the grocery checkout line. I make all sorts of biased, pre-determined demographic assumptions about the people just by perusing their carts. If they are buying any kind of single-use packages, like juice boxes or little cereals, or a stack of Lunchables, I brand them wasteful and environmentally toxic. If the mom has more than one toddler in tow and I see white bread, frozen pizza, gallons of generic fruit punch, anything that could be bought fresh for less, and a large supply of cheap beer, I think: white trash. I predict payment with food stamps.  If I see a nicely-dressed woman carrying unbleached flour, milk, vanilla, brown sugar and butter, I think: Martha Stewart mother of spoiled children. Probably left her behemoth Luxus SUV running with the air conditioner blasting in the parking lot. No one is safe with me looking down on them and their purchases, while I haughtily pose behind my basket full of ice cream, potato chips and Voortman orange artificially-colored vanilla waffle rectangle cookies. I’m sorry, there is just no way to make those by hand, even if you have a waffle iron. Sometimes if they are about to expire, I can find them at Big Lots.

There is neither shame nor judgment at Big Lots.  I never play Judgmental Johnny there.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Last Mattress

We recently bought a new mattress. The old one was 20 years old, and the springs were starting to pop out of the sides.  It was time. We had bought one of those foam covers when we started getting poked by springs.  Our dog, Satan, had played Regan MacNeil on it way too many times. She has these episodes where she unloads all three bodily excretables, liquid, solid, and semi-solid all over the house, but saves the lion’s share for the bed. The foam cover was thrown out, and to get the mattress into useable, unscented condition again, we had to brush Comet into it, over and over, until the mattress screamed, “You’re killing me!”

Let’s face it. Buying a mattress is one step below spending an evening with an insurance salesman. Discount mattress store ads, with their blazingly bright neon backgrounds and bold red fonts say one thing to potential customers: Come in and get ripped off.

Discount mattress salesmen are, for the most part, a sad lot. No kid wants to grow up and have a career in commissioned sales. It is a last resort job when everything else has failed. Your typical mattress salesman is a late-middle-aged white guy, bald or balding, and overweight. Our second salesman actually introduced himself to us as “Big Bob.” The adjective, if you’re not blind, is redundant. I also imagine the guy as divorced and having been taken to the cleaners by his ex-wife. Having handed her over the house, he now lives in a studio or one bedroom apartment and watches ESPN and drinks generic beer on his days off. He drives, if he’s lucky, a 1990’s-era Pontiac Catalina; otherwise it’s a 1974 Chevy Vega or Ford Maverick. They are all cum laude graduates of the Columbia School of Lying.

We went to one mattress shop where they boasted being the largest mattress dealer in the country, while another one boasted being a small, family owned company who offered more personal care and service. Really? Would they be willing to come over and scrub out a giant puddle of vomited-up dog-doo from the mattress? I think not.

We went to Macy’s, where the salesman lied to us not once, not twice, but three times. That degree of his really paid off. When we realized the bed of our dreams was going to cost over five grand, we had to go back to the drawing board.

The $5K bed was a split king with two individual remote-controlled reclining gel memory foam mattresses. The remote had a setting called zero gravity that felt so glorious that we wanted to stay there forever. If the salesman had wheeled in a large TV and brought us some nice snacks, we probably would have. It was that amazing. The bed also had a massage feature, which was just a doctored-up Magic Fingers that I knew we’d never use. I was once given a Magic Fingers machine. I used it once and found it most annoying, so I unhooked it and sold it for a buck at a garage sale.

Other Bill didn’t want the split king mattress. When I realized what a pain it would be to have to change four sheets instead of two, I easily surrendered on that feature. He really wanted the recliner option, but there are times when he wants to recline and watch TV in bed, and I want to just sleep flat. Plus that option was half of the $5000 price tag. So we nixed that option as well.

It was about that time when I realized that because the mattress came with a 25-year warranty, this would most likely be the last mattress I’ll ever buy.  If I’m lucky, the next one will be paid for by the Medicare-run nursing home I will end up in. Although being gay is loads of fun, it doesn’t automatically come with children who will care for you in your declining years.

This the-end-is-near experience was certainly daunting and a little nerve-wracking. There have clearly been indications that the road to ruin is a one-way street: hair loss, wrinkled face, flab expansion, and the never-ending decisions to nap instead of vacuum. But there hasn’t been an actual milestone as cut and dry as the last mattress.

There will be a last car. I can easily say that Satan will be the last dog, but I said that about her predecessor and didn’t follow through. A next roof will hopefully be the last one. A last Viagra prescription will occur one day when I realize I’d rather use the co-pay for a couple gallons ice cream instead of six artificial but guaranteed erections.

So do you think when these milestones pop up, I should celebrate them by splurging instead of “making do” which has been my mission statement all my life. Will my last car be the white Porsche 911 I so wanted as a teenager? Hell no, things have changed since then. I’ll want the most gas-saving hybrid or maybe even hydrogen-fueled vehicle.

And since I realized, prior to closing on the deal, that this is my last mattress, do you think we  went ahead and splurged on the 5G bed?

Not on your life. We were out the door of the mattress shop $1600 poorer. Still a gel memory foam king sized mattress, but not split in two. No zero gravity, no Magic Fingers. No built-in lullabyes. Just flat.

That’s because when I wrote the “make do” mission statement, I knew it would be my last.

Photo credit:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

No Speakie Young

It’s lonely at the top of the age bracket. I work for an organization with 144 employees. 140 of them, including the chief of police, are younger than I am.
It’s as if the only language I speak is Swahili. I’ve worked here 11 years, so I am trying to keep my mouth shut to avoid embarrassment. In a world where every other sentence in a conversation starts with “Dude,” ends up with “bro,” and the primary adjective used is “awesome,” I sometimes feel washed out to sea on a fragment of contaminated Japanese tsunami waste.

Not long ago, Other Bill and I went to a Judy Collins concert. As a side note, I hadn’t been to a concert in a long time, and I was expecting the audience to be the same age as the audiences who went to her concerts in the 60’s. You know: young like me. Turns out, they were the same people, but not the same age. It was like seeing a cousin you haven’t been around in 35 years. You think she’s still parading around in diapers, when in fact, she has a Ph.D. and is CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. The Judy Collins crowd was old. We’re talking oxygen tank schlepping and walker-pushing old. Not to mention the prescription-laden old like the people in our house.

So the next day I went into work and realized that if I told anyone I had gone to see Judy Collins, the name recognition factor would be at the same level as if I’d said I’d gone to see a Mary Pickford movie. “She some friend of yours, bro?” They might ask. So I didn’t tell anyone. 

Years ago, thinking my employer wouldn’t buy me anything more than a crappy $79 desk chair, I went out and bought my own bungee cord chair and brought it in to work. It has become a point of mock contention and ridicule. “Dude, you better not sit in Bill Wiley’s chair, bro,” they say in teasing. “It’s his very own special chair, bro.”

So the other day I walked into my office.  A young rookie was sitting in my very own special chair, and my captain said to him, ”Uh-oh, dude, you better get out of Bill Wiley’s chair. You'll soon learn how he is about his chair, bro.”

“Yeah,” I said, “It’s like Archie Bunker’s chair.”

Chirp, chirp, chirp went the crickets.

It should come as no surprise that they were born after All in the Family went off the air.

I try to keep up. I went to two Google-suggested sites after I'd entered "famous TV chairs." Archie's chair wasn't on either list. The best I could get was Norm’s stool in Cheers and Martin Crane’s chair in Frasier. Neither of those would have resulted in a ding, ding, ding of the bell with my coworkers. Listen, Archie Bunker’s chair is in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. As far as I’m concerned, it should be a question on the SAT’s.

My father was in World War II. A lot of the cops are are veterans or come from a military family.  I never mention anything about my dad’s service. But once I got into a discussion of the South Pacific, and I mentioned what a miserable hell-hole New Guinea was for my dad. 

“When was he there?” the officer asked.

“During World War Two,” I said. (I didn’t say it the way Archie Bunker said it: Dubya, dubya two.)

Chirp, chirp.

“Really!” he said. “My grandfather was in Vietnam.”

Immediately after hearing that, I went to the bathroom to re-Polygrip my dentures and then called my doctor to schedule a bloodletting by leeches.

People say I am quiet, an introvert, reserved, or I keep to myself. There’s a reason for that. Deep down I know that there is a dark shadowed skeleton in a full-length hoodie, carrying a sharp sickle that will one day come down on me. And I don’t need any reminders of that.

But at least I know what a hoodie is.

Free Hit Counter