Saturday, October 29, 2005

Thanks for Pointing That Out

The last bit of moving into the knob and tube palace was finished the other day and as usual, it was much more complicated than it should have been and as usual, there's a story of woe and misfortune in it.

I had rented a small storage garage in town last summer when the house was being shown for sale and filled it with things that should not be shown for sale.

No, not that! I can toss those videos in a drawer!

I filled the storage garage with some large garden tools (a scythe for starters) and a lot of rough lumber I have been saving up for special projects, like building that parallel universe I keep dreaming of. The one where things like this happen to somebody else instead of me.

It took one large pickup truck load to empty the house and fill the garage. It was a twelve mile trip but I took it slow and over level ground and weighted all the lumber down with bags of mortar and cement. I mean, I'm going to have to anchor my new universe, aren't I?

No problem. Now all I had to do was empty the garage into the same borrowed pickup and take it less than two miles to the crumbling structure behind the palace I keep my car in.

Easy right? Wrong. I'm the bunny. Nothing is ever as it seems.

The same day I decided to finish the move was the day some excavation contractor decided to move a gas pipeline. Only he didn't bother to check with the pipeline as to its wanting to be moved. It didn't and basically reacted to the accidental encounter by rupturing. This of course called out the authorities including Hazmat who shut this corner of the state down, including the main road to the storage yard.

Fortunately, there is a back way. Unfortunately, it has a hill on it. Not a long hill, but a steep one. Very steep. I am convinced that the Air Force has potential pilots drive up this hill so that they can wash out those who faint during sudden ascents.

That steep.

Now a sensible bunny would have taken the time to seek out another route.

And that would describe me not at all.

So I load up the pick up. To the brim. Weigh the whole thing down with mortar and cement and put her in gear and get a going.

Up the side of Mount Crumpett. In the truck. Did I mention its a standard? Yep. Four on the floor.

There's a mild cramp in my leg, the left one servicing the clutch, at the base of the hill. It's what passes for rush hour around here and there are five cars ahead of me, pulling up to the crest of the hill and stopping to wait for a break in the traffic on the main road that the hill ends at. The routine is simple. Wait. Guy pulls into road. Cars all pull ahead one car length. Wait. Mild cramp is getting a bit worse and I should, if I were sensible, pull over and massage it out.

And that would describe me not at all.

Two cars pull out. Two car lengths advance. Release clutch, you are now on the steepest part of the hill, advance slowly, little bit of clutch, little bit of gas, little bit of clutch.

Lot of bit of leg cramp. Shark bite pain intense as a matter of fact. The leg starts to seize, the clutch is let loose and to compensate the primal brain orders the right leg to push on the gas so the truck doesn't stall.

It doesn't. The truck now has more brains than I do. It lurches ahead and promptly rids itself of all that extra weight its been carrying by dumping the entire load of lumber out the open gate onto the road. Thankfully, the top weighted concrete bags are giving the lumber enough momentum to go flying out the back completely and not hanging off the bed in any sloppy manner.

You got a complete picture now?

Truck gets pulled onto main road and parked in breakdown lane. Angry bunny starts to shuttle spilled load from road to side of road to clear road off before other drivers get into a finger exercise contest with angry bunny. Then load gets put onto truck for the last level ground journey to home.

Ok, it all got put right and I decided to make the best of it. I'd come clean with my friends and tell them about the stupid thing I did and we'd all have a good laugh about it which, during Friday's five mile run, we did.

We were coming to a pause at the main intersection in town. The one with the traffic light and the traffic and the stores and the sidewalks with all the people on them either coming out of or going into stores or standing at the street corner waiting for the light to change.

That busy corner. We only have one in town.

Jogging in place, a car pulls up and the window rolls down. Its our running coach. Man, what luck! He's sure to commend us on our dedication to fitness.


In what can only be described as the mother of all outside voices, he says to no one other than me:

"Hey, I saw you dump your load yesterday. Man you looked angry. Funny though."

Yeah. Funny though. Everybody on this block and a couple of others now seem to think so too.

Thanks for pointing that out.

Bunny on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Perfect Road Trip From Hell

I could tell you travel adventures I have had for hours but you don't have hours and neither do I.

What's more each little adventure would be a snippet, an element of a single trip and I'd have to string trip upon trip upon trip together to the point that you would be confused and wondering why we're hopping an overhead tramway in Olathe, Kansas.

Every trip has an element of hell in it. A traveller's nightmare that is unpleasant and you want to get through and only if you look at it in retrospect does it become funny.

There was the old man's misreading p.m. for a.m. that had us sleeping on the floor of the train station in Switzerland until the next morning. It being Switzerland, we were also obligated to do a little light sweeping and dusting of the lobby.

Or the bed and breakfast from hell in rural Kentucky wherein I posed as a Senior Director of a company I knew to be headquartered a few towns away and we feigned urgent calls to get me (and us) out of there. Hopefully with a few of our pre-paid nights refunded us.

And of course there's always changing in the Detroit airport men's room or sprinting through Atlanta for the seven minute connection. That comes with the territory.

But there was one trip, a road trip, where the elements of misfortune combined together into a perfect storm of discomfort, misfortune and trouble. All in three and a half hours in a Chevette from New Jersey to Rhode Island.

We were moving from one state to the other, from Jersey to Rhode Island. Its impossible to say why, even now. Neither is a garden spot of anything. Rhode Island has some lovely beaches if you like to sunburn to Bon Jovi with radio static. Fortunately, if you extort, print or bleed your own money, you can always pick up some lovely shorefront property from the last guy who's house blew away during a hurricane. Plus the entire state is corrupt as hell. Grifters from New Orleans hone their skills in the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

New Jersey is, well, New Jersey. If you'd like me to elaborate, you have not been paying attention to any movie made by a native New Yorker in the last fifty years.

Essentially, we were leaving one mistake for another. With the cat. In a 1978 sinus infection green Chevrolet Chevette. Rumored to have an engine.

Now cats, for those of you who do or don't know better, don't travel well. My current furbags get irritable going from room to room. So to make the journey manageable for you and the cat, the idea is to distract one of you, preferably the cat, from the uncomfortable aspects of the trip.

You tranquilize the animal with a mild depressant. One that has the effect of concentrating the "don't give a shit" gene all cats possess. After two hours of cornering the animal in a one-bedroom apartment, also applying pressure to areas that are bleeding profusely once you've given the animal the pill (you're bleeding, not the cat, check it out; He: claws. You: zilch) and stuffed the little monster into his plush travel case, you realise you should have taken the pills and let him freak out.

So the cat is sedated, it's lovely Saturday morning with temperatures in the mid-seventies and an early fall opportunity to don shorts and a t-shirt one more time. The car runs. Not well. Not fast. But it runs and with Chevettes you count your blessings.

"Thank you Lord we got to the Tappan Zee."

"Praise be to God, we made it through Westchester."

Somewhere in Stonington though, we were completely and entirely foresaken. The perfect storm began to form when a mechanical front made the entire exhaust pipe fall off the car.

No shit. No catalytic converter either. No muffler so a '78 econobox with a can of bees for an engine now sounds like one of the cast extras from "Mad Max."

Not to mention venting carbon monoxide into the passenger cabin. Solution: Open the windows.

That of course would let fresh air course through the car and fresh air is of course the antidote to cat tranquilizers. This low pressure woke the furball up with a fury and a fury is what he turned into. When he wasn't trying to claw his way out of the cage and into your body cavity, he was howling at the top of his lungs. So loud that it drowned out the Toecutter's muffler-free ride out or more likely made me think we were being pursued by a SWAT team with sirens on.

Finally we introduced tropical moisture that completed the mix.

Rhode Island, and this is entirely non-scientific so don't even think of posting comments of a meteorological nature, this is a humorous blog. Get with it. But Rhode Island has a microclimate that can be evidenced in that it is the land surrounding Narragansett bay, Narragansett being a native American word meaning "Rains here a lot, keep going to Massachusetts."

The moment we got to the border from Connecticut, and I mean you could almost draw a line in the poor soil. The nanosecond that I-95 went from Radar Detector prohibited to drive like hell, we don't care. That moment...

the temperature dropped 25 degrees.

A solid line of cloud hung over Rhode Island and mid seventies went to low fifties and we were in shorts and t shirts and goosebumps the size of baseballs and teeth chattering in unison to the chatter of the few mechanical parts left on the car that were still working and we had to have the windows open and the cat was howling and the car was roaring and we did not take this as a clue that maybe, just perhaps, the move was not the best of ideas?

It was the two bowls of Obtuse Crispies we had that morning. It had to be.

If it didn't go wrong, it was because we didn't have it that day.

We finally pulled into the driveway of the new house, put the cat in the bedroom to let him acclimate one room at a time, forgot that there wasn't a litter box in the bedroom forgot about the cat for awhile and threw out a perfectly good new pair of fleece slippers that day.

We eventually warmed up. I think it was two days later.

It took forever to lose the car. In fact, it took us moving and "forgetting" the old thing in the driveway.

And it made sleeping on the floor of a Swiss train station seem like a night at the Waldorf.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Closet Space

You can never have enough closet space and I can never have enough because I am convinced that when I am away, the cats go fluff my sweaters and shirts, making them take up three times the original amount of shelf space and flowing out onto the floor when I open the closet door.

This is an irrational conviction, I know because in truth the cats merely re-arrange the furniture and order pizza delivery when I am at work.

But something is happening in the closet because I don't remember it being ransacked the last time I left it.

All my closets have one thing in common: No light. Not a shred of visible bandwidth illumination anywhere to be found. You've got to go in with torches and breadcrumbs to stand a hope in hell of coming out in less than three weeks.

The bedroom closet is the worst. It's deep, a walk in. It holds a lot and it is, like the rest of the bedroom, dark as a cave at midnight. Getting ready for work is not a routine, it's an exercise program.

1) Run into closet, feel around for a shirt.
2) Take the shirt into the light. Is it solid color, pinstripe, clean? Remember the shirt.
3) Run back into closet and grope out a pair of pants.
4) Bring them into the light.
5) Mix and match colors, running back in and bringing clothes out until you have a winner.

Now that's not entirely fair. The closet gets some light. In the summer months, I found that a ray of light beams straight into it between 6.24 and 6.27 in the morning. I don't know what happens in winter yet.

The light shines down like some messenger from the heavens. Lights up the whole back of the closet. Shoe rack and all. Reminds me of a scene out of Raiders of the Lost Ark: "Now Indy, quick, pick a matching pattern!"

There's a door in the basement that leads to a closet as well.

At least that's what I tell everyone.

It's easier than the truth.

Which is that it leads to a hot tub.

Oh the shame of it! I live in a house with a built in hot tub in the basement. And this is no luxury spa. No, don't think Blue Lagoon. Think Silence of the Lambs.

The hot tub is a four seater, brown and white stripe monster from the seventies. If you hold your ear to it, you can hear the Bee Gees and gold chains. It's built into its own little room, under the front porch. The room is paneled in some sort of sauna-esque wood, has excruciatingly low ceilings and a wooden floor. It weirds me out and that takes a lot.

Its fucking embarrassing is what it is. "Wanna see my hot tub in the basement?" Yeah, that's going to draw them in, isn't it.

What's more, the place is fairly lousy with hookups of one sort or another. There is one, count it, one electrical outlet in my entire bedroom. ONE!

There are three plus a phone jack in the hot tub room.

A phone jack? This is rural Pennsylvania!

"Amen, call me if the corn futures go verrukt. I'm a-being in the hot tub."

When I was looking at the knob and tube palace with my realtor, we happened across the hot tub room. Judy was a lovely woman who had gotten to know me well at that time. She was a tall, elegant lady who had emigrated from England and still retained most of her cultured way of speaking.

"Well, we certainly know what you're going to do with this, don't we?" she said as we looked the hot tub over.

"What's that?" I asked, wondering if she maybe thought that single life was going to create a Hyde to my then Jeckyll.

"Weeeiiirrrrrughhh!" she said, doing perhaps the most perfect impersonation of a chainsaw I've ever heard a woman, English or otherwise, do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Refreshing New Look

Just can't help but tinker somedays.

Monday, October 17, 2005

French Tiki

Dave is a magician, and a good one.

Not in the sense that his tricks are stunning and breathtaking, they are not. But rather in the sense that when his tricks go wrong and all to hell, he can still make them look well, like tricks.

Dave could pull a rabbit out of a hat and it could be insane and rabid and the audience would recoil and Dave will launch into an impromptu monologue and a little slight of hand and in a few minutes folks in the bleachers would be poking each other in the ribs and saying "See him pull that rabbit out of the hat, you ever see anything like that?"

One of the reasons Dave's daughter goes about wide-eyed a lot is that she is constantly amazed by daddy's antics that make a rainy day fun or make the dogs look silly or daddy himself.

I know these antics and I know his tricks go all wrong and I still keep falling for them.

A few years ago, Dave came up with an event called "French Tiki." It was simple: a group of us would go mountain bike the trails at French Creek State Park, a local 700 acre preserve where mountain goats either make it or wash out of their final intense Marine Corps training progam. Then a group of us, presumably the survivors, all go to the Tiki Bar, a local roadhouse known for, well, check the site out and make your own mind up.

Simple? Right. Reach into the hat, pull out the rabbit.

First rabbit out was an old guy named Murray who was just standing in for the rabbit which was out taking a piss.

Joachim showed up at the mountain bike rally on a road bike. With a kiddie seat. With son August strapped into aforementioned kiddie seat. "Hey, it'll be fine." said Joachim and off we went and it was. Joachim is a hell of a rider and can do things on a suspensionless road bike that most of us can only envision in cartoons. Trouble is it's still a suspensionless road bike. Joachim had to quit after forty minutes of heading over rocks and logs with August in the kiddie seat having his brain bounced around his cranium. August could have strapped a shaker to his helmet and mixed martinis all afternoon. Instead, he went balistic in less than an hour and let most of the surrounding wildlife know that he wanted to go home or the air raid siren of his screaming was going to get a lot worse.

Second rabbit out was drunk and obnoxious.

JT had mounted a bell on his handlebars and he rang it whenever he could free his hands up. That usually meant an uphill where we were all straining but didn't have to grab both brakes for fear of endo'ing. So as we scrambled up the loose rock in the dry wash, trying to get one wheel spin that actually held onto firm ground and propelled the bike another silly foot forward instead of sending rocks backward into the next rider-as we all sweated and strained and groaned and tempers grew short because there was no end in sight-as we all wondered just why the hell we were out here in the first place, JT regaled us by ringing that silly ass bell!

It didn't last long. Even JT, who could be obtuse on a good day and just plain thick on a bad one, figured out that bells would hurt when placed there on his body.

Third rabbit out bit the magician's finger.

Jen and Brian were newlyweds. Brian was a pretty good rider, Jen was just starting but put all her heart and soul into it and was keeping up nicely. When we broke and stopped for food and water, some of us opened up the energy gel packs.

Now these are a few ounces of emulsified, carbohydrate-laden something or other that you just kind of squirt into your mouth and get riding again. Pretty easy, except for Jen who wouldn't hear of it.

"I just can't bring myself to swallow that gooey stuff. It's gross."

Most of us stood quiet and embarrassed until Brian broke the silence.

"Well there's a salient detail of our sex life revealed to the world."

Amazingly, they're still married.

Happily too.

Last rabbit out was insane and rabid.

I had been riding on what I thought was enough nutrition to keep me going all day. Now I've never been a big eater but I've never been a big mountain biker either and I didn't realize that mountain biking can at times be positively Sisyphean in it's demands for futile exertion.

Witness trying to get up a dry wash with an idiot ringing a bell.

I bonked.

For non bikers, bonking is a condition of simply running out of energy, will and ability to do anything more complicated than sitting down and wimpering.

Thats bonked. Not boinked. Something else entirely and a really neat trick in the middle of the woods without getting poison ivy on places too embarrassing to scratch.

So I sat down. And I wimpered. And Dave happened along and realized what had happened and sat down too and told me a story and then we got up and walked the bikes to a fork in the trail and then we took a big downhill to a Ranger station where we had water and food and the next thing you know, the bleachers were poking each other in the ribs and saying "See him pull that rabbit out of the hat, you ever see anything like that?"

The ride was meant to be an hour and a half.

Four hours later, we gathered up the survivors from various points along the road. Of fifteen riders, nine had quit along the way.

And Dave made sure they all got home safely but not before they had stopped at the Tiki bar for at least some refreshments.

And of the fifteen riders, sixteen vowed to do it all again.

Nice rabbit, Dave.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fancy Footwork

Running seemed simple.

Pair of shoes.


T shirt.


I had just quit smoking when I went out to visit my friend Jerry at the Jersey shore. He was a pretty good runner and had a Sunday morning regimen of running the boardwalk in his town just around sunrise. The only thing I ran at sunrise was a few snoring decibels louder but I agreed to get up at some unholy hour to join him.

Jerry and his wife and I had been up the night before and the good lady had relented and uncorked another bottle of wine when I commented that she had put pineapple juice in my pineapple juice.

The next morning, as Jerry was lacing up and I was hoping his ankle would spontaneously sprain itself I kept repeating the old mariner's rhyme about the color of the sun and the weather.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Red sky at morning, fuck does this hurt.

Off we went. Ran three miles. Which is to say we ran to the end of the boardwalk, Jerry turned to run back, I stopped to suck up every available oxygen molecule and wait for him to come back.

Surprisingly, he did. I would have abandoned me. But Jerry has always been a bigger man than I and he probably couldn't get enough in trade for my car.

We finished, got back home, went out for breakfast, had a fine rest of the day and Sunday night, I drove home.

Then Monday morning I tried to climb stairs with legs that most certainly had been tortured in some cave in Afghanistan.

And people do this for fun?

Have you ever seen a runner smile? If vacuum cleaners had faces, they'd look like runners. Always on the move, trying to suck in every useful particle of air they can find.

We only smile when somebody else in the race stumbles. One less potential cadaver we have to trip over. Remember when Jimmy Carter crashed and burned in a Georgia 5K back in '78 or so? Do we learn nothing from our leaders?

Admittedly, we learned a lot of how NOT to do things from Jimmy.

But I still run. And I keep pressing distances and speed and wondering if Dave aspirates transdermally or chews Oxygen Brand gum. And some days are great and some days you hit the wall which brings to mind a truism that my running buddies and I cooked up the other day.

Reflecting on our checkered running past we waxed that while everyone tries to be the face on the Wheaties box, most of us wind up the face on the milk carton.

Sucking wind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Sporting Life

It may be really hard to believe, but I was an awkward (goofy, uncoordinated) child. That awkwardness has carried itself forward through adolescence (poor dancer, shy, reclusive) to young adulthood (bad stock choices, apartments in weird neighborhoods) to what I will euphamistically call early to mid-adulthood (still catch myself wanting a Corvette).

But seriously (and if you believe that, you're reading the wrong blog), physical lack of coordination that manifested itself in just being awful in gym class and getting picked last for every team activity still curses me. The trouble is now lack of coordination usually shows up when I have some speeding power tool in my hand. Stop, drop, count to ten. Got ten? Good, you haven't lost a finger.

And I still get picked last. Trouble is, it's women doing the picking and the game is "Couples".

An exciting board game where some folks walk off together, some close the bar alone, and most of us wonder what the hell just happened.

I played the usual sports when I was a kid: Baseball, some football but, being one of the smaller kids and getting picked on a lot, I quite frankly found football redundant. I played hockey. At least there was an unconcealed intent to maim.

I walked away from sports in my teen years and stayed away for a while. I was partying with the Marlboro Man and his pet Camel. There was no point.

When I finally quit that nasty, dirty habit that I wish could be made safe so I could smoke and look cool again, I decided to get into physical activity to fully renounce my checkered past. Trouble was, my past wasn't quite ready to renounce me.

We used to have a company-sponsored running event. When I first started working here, I hadn't become Joe Healthy just yet. Joe Camel was closer to the truth, and Joe Camel buddying up with Joe Six Pack pretty much hit the nail on the head.

I remember someone asking me if I was in the race that coming weekend.

No, but I can be. Can I take my car?


Silly, that's where the drink holder and the ashtray are.

We had a running/walking path available to us. Didn't make sense without motorized vehicles. Which reminds me, last Sunday I ran my regular route past the local cemetery. There was a teen something riding on the cemetery paths on a motorized scooter with a smoke hanging out of his mouth. Taking this foreshadowing thing a little far, aren't you?

I started playing soccer with a local lunchtime pick up team. It was fun. We were good and got better. Some of us started investing in proper cleats. Then team jerseys. Then kneepads. Then some of us took the equipment thing too far and just broke off to play football. We liked the euphamism of trying to maim that football offers.

Like I said, we were good and got better. To the point of wanting to take on another pick-up squad. We found an engineering firm a town over and took them on.

Rule One: Never believe your own press clippings. Yes, we were good but that was in comparison to...


These guys were immigrants: Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis, Russians. Guys to whom soccer was a misnomer for football and football was life.

The game, and it was only a game in the name-a real game is where two teams show up-was fun for someone, not for us. We were dachshunds in a room full of shepherds.

Soccer fell apart when most of the players either left, got laid off or decided that adults with families don't come home with bruises like that anymore.

So I played softball. Trouble with that is, I don't quite throw like a girl, I throw like a girl in the middle of a grand mal seizure. I used to bean the shortstop. Throwing to first after a bunt.

On top of which, after playing soccer, I didn't quite get a sport you could put your beer and cigarette down on when your turn to play came up.

I used to like to cycle when I was a kid. So I bought a bike.

On the advice of a friend.

Who was a mountain biker.

I bought a mountain bike.

I had no idea what mountain biking was.

For those of you who don't know what mountain biking is, it is the following.

Envision a landscape so harsh and foreboding that it fairly screams "Zero Chance of Survival" at you.

Now take a bicycle across it.

Those big knobby tires make the neatest noise as I ride them on the pavement. In town. And no where else.

So I decided to take up running. Easy, right?


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Being Caustic Bunny

A few weeks ago, I got sloppy and threw out some bank statements that had my name on it.

Bad idea. Someone rummaged through the trash and stole my identity.

On Monday, the electronics store called to confirm where they were going to deliver the big screen LCD TV, DVD player, theatre surround sound system, satellite hookup and power sub woofers. They gave me "his" address and I let them go right ahead and drop it all off.

Then I sent in a forwarding address card to the post office. "I" was moving.

Tuesday he got a card from my lawyer. Since you are now Bunny, Bunny needs to pony up another couple of bucks to put in the divorce settlement escrow pot and, oh, you've chewed up your retainer. Bring your checkbook. The car got a flat.

Wednesday the tax audit came in the mail. IRS now stands for "Irreplaceable Revenue Stream". The persistent drip in the faucet reappeared.

Thursday, his girlfriend inexplicably broke it off. Sent him an email and left. The electronics store confirmed the address they were going to pick up all the returned merchandise from. "Too complicated. Up to my ass in wires and plugs." The water stain in the kitchen ceiling came back.

Friday his insurance went up when they found a shred of knob and tube wiring in the garage. Oops.

Saturday his knee gave out. Ouch.

Sunday I saw him walking in the park. He looked frazzled. Copies of bank statements stuffed in his jacket, a dunning notice from the tax people, lawyer's letters, hobbling and he looked like he hadn't gotten any in weeks.

So I snuck up behind him.

"Did you remember to call Mom?" Then I ducked behind a tree.

Monday night I checked my mailbox. Somebody had folded up my identity in a manilla envelope and stuffed it in the post.

I was me again.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Les Singes De La Merde*

Unlike an earlier cashmere reference, my friend is in fact the inspiration here.

Got to thinking about Sea Monkeys, which I believe are brine shrimp in another life. They were in fact advertised in the back of most comic books in the sixties and early seventies when youth was still something to be financially exploited for it's relative stupidity.

Soon as we got past '74, the ads became more ominous in their shuffling of adult responsibility onto us. "Save your dad gas while you pedal your bike! Amazing battery recharger costs pennies per day!"

In the '80's there were probably recruiting ads for third world guerilla bands, the nineties were looking for a few good hackers and domain-raiders.

Today I think we're back to the gas-saving battery recharger.

Brine shrimp are crab like things that live in cocoon form in Junior Microscope Sets. Soak them in water overnight, slap 'em on a slide and watch them sort of flail about under your developing scientific eye. That's good for about an hour, then you start to wonder what a booger really looks like up close. Time to find little brother.

It's a testatment to the power of advertising that something you'd sooner describe as cooties can be pawned off as a pet.

Now, look at Sausage up there. Pet. Right? Says so right on the label. Google brine shrimp and tell me you're not looking at the cast of the new Broadway hit "Lice!"


There were other comic ads, if you care to remember.

One hundred and one soldiers for only $1.99

You get:

50 infantry
10 machine gunners
5 bazooka launchers
8 deserters
2 guys who pee their pants when something explodes
19 men who are trying to stay alive until they finish their tour and can safely go to college
1 satisfied mail order marketer

Later these ads showed up in Soldier of Fortune. You got the same amount of soldiers for a little more. The difference was you now had to feed them.

Then there were the sales gimmicks. Greeting cards, I think some were. Sell 18 dozen hundred count boxes, get enough points to trade in on a card game. Oh and let's not forget Grit. America's Hometown Paper until USA Today rolled into the game. Can somebody tell me if grit is still published? And who read it to begin with?

The real rag when and where I was growing up was something called "Allo Police." A scandal sheet of who had done outrageous bad things to whom in the remote corner of the universe we lived in. The paper sounded like the soundtrack to one of the Cousteau specials where the zodiacs go charging after some school or another and the men basically keep trying to get the ship to shore going by shouting "Allo, Allo?" into the non-functioning radios.

Maybe they shouldn't have bought them from the back of a comic book.

*for you non-Francophones working in the corporate world this translates to "Monkeys of the Shit". You may not have known the phrase but I'm sure there's one of them in one of the offices around you.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lisa, Not Jim's Wife

Harry Moss kept trying to steer his editorial meeting away from the distractions of the bovine growth hormone argument that had spilled in from the hallway, the new Target store announced to be built shortly, the drunken "personal assistant" to the diet doctor Helmut the photographer had just shot, who had shoved her foot not so discretely under the restaurant table so far into Helmut's crotch that he contemplated cancelling his prostate exam out of a sense of redundancy, but Harry was not doing a good job of it.

He felt like he was at the wheel of one of those kiddie pirate boat rides. You could spin it a thousand times in any direction and the damn boat would still travel down a predetermined path. The wheel, like the pretense of Harry running this meeting, really existed just to keep someone feeling comfortable and in, even if delusional, control.

Lisa, Not Jim's Wife began a reality check of that delusion.

“I just want to know how many people will be bringing spouses or significant others to the picnic?” Lisa did not ever relent from her pursuit of the meaningless.

Lisa Not Jim’s Wife was clearly not her real name. It was Lisa Jones. And nobody called her Lisa Not Jim’s Wife, at least not to her face. They, the rest of the magazine’s staff all referred to Lisa as Lisa Not Jim’s Wife even though there was only one Lisa in the entire company.

But there was another Jones and his name was Jim and he was head of maintenance which was to say he was in charge of the janitors. Jim was a quiet, kind fellow who generally saw that things were done right and well from the start and only got a little testy when the magazine ran late and staff had to be called into work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That meant Jim had to be called in as well to unlock the offices and check that they were locked up correctly at day’s end. Jim tried hard to understand why a magazine that he had nothing to do with in terms of writing, illustrating, printing or selling, called the tune of his weekends when it ran late. Furthermore, nobody on the magazine stayed late or came in early when his cleaning crews ran behind and when a pipe burst last winter flooding the basement he didn’t recall a bucket brigade of editors and designers baling.

Nonetheless, that was the way of this world. He was head of building services and the buildings, more appropriate, the tenants, needed his services.

Lisa thought Jim was a fine fellow as well and spoke with him often, sometimes several times a day in times of climactic extremes. The office was too hot? Call Jim and tell him to stop being so cheap and turn the AC down a few degrees. Too cold? Jim needs to get down to the boiler room and crank up that heat. A girl could freeze and I can’t wear this sweater all day, it’s covering the rest of my outfit and let me tell you girlfriend, I didn’t spend hours at Nordstrom’s matching tops to skirts to hide the whole thing under some sweater, even if it is cashmere.

Jim was useful to Lisa but he was not her class of person and certainly did not hang out in the same places and with the same crowds has she did and they certainly weren’t married. So Lisa always introduced herself as Lisa Jones but I’m not married to Jim Jones in maintenance or Lisa Jones but I’m not Jim’s wife and if anybody’s told you otherwise, well somebody just isn’t being as funny as they think.

For all her pretensions, Lisa Not Jim’s Wife was not what Harry exactly considered at the top of the social heap. She was petite, very attractive and dressed impeccably, even Harry who thought there was nothing wrong with wrinkled khakis and blue button down Oxfords five days a week, had to admit. She carried herself well but, at the end of the day, Lisa was married to a town fireman, named Jim.

Harry didn’t get the aversion to building services. Jim Jones, the janitor’s boss, had a job taking care of buildings. Jim Jones, the fireman, took pains to save them so that the other Jim Jones could keep earning a living keeping buildings that Jim the fireman could eventually save from destruction. The whole thing was wonderfully symbiotic and how Lisa Not Jim’s Wife-at least not That Jim-drew the social distinction between building services and the fire department remained a mystery.

Lisa ran the magazine’s production department which, to Harry’s trained eye, really meant that Lisa delegated to the production department as it’s titular head. Not much else. Not that she did a bad job, it was just that she didn’t really do a job at all. She delegated it. All of it. Lisa was fortunate in that the previous production manager had made a series of well thought out hires of incredibly talented people before dropping out of the publishing game to open an eclectic pizza parlor with her lesbian lover. Harry promoted Lisa from assistant to manager when she showed incredible insight into higher management skills by retaining all the staff rather than replacing them with her people.

Harry knew and Lisa was honest enough to herself to realize that her people, while her friends and fun to be with and talk to an loyal, were just like she was which was to say not very effective at all. So she kept the staff just the way it was because they all made her look good and kept stress at a general minimum given what it could be when the book ran late.

Lisa had taken delegation to a new, higher plane. There was not a job, large or small, vital or passing that did not get promptly shunted off to some technical artist or layout designer. Find a low resolution image from the library? Liz, can you look? Count overset, the part of the story that ran over the allotted space in the magazine? Mike, take a look at what we’ve got, will you? With all the work safely out of the way, Lisa Not Jim’s Wife could focus on the more important business of Keeping Morale and Spirits Up and Making This a Fun Place to Work.

Yes, Lisa had made herself the Social and Events Queen of Towards Better Health.

Most of the staff appreciated it. The group was an eclectic one and as such, discordant and non-functional when it came to group activities. That was not to say they didn’t get along, they did. It was just that they were all so different it was hard to get consensus on how to make office coffee, much less where the annual picnic was to be held.

Even Harry deferred to Lisa on most matters social. But he did, as Managing Editor, retain and exercise veto power over some of her sillier ideas.

The Towards Better Health Fall Nature Hike was one such idea. Not one person on staff had a clue on what to do in the woods. On the inaugural and only year it was held the hikers promptly got lost three miles into the trail. It had taken another hour and a half to find a power line swath cut across the mountain they were hiking on and then they had even argued which way to follow the high tension wires. Logic and downhill prevailed. Motorists on the interstate were treated to twenty two bedraggled hitchhikers in a straight line at the side of the road where the power lines crossed the highway that day.

The picnic was not a silly idea. Harry rather enjoyed it. That was not the case with last December’s Secret Santa raffle though. Harry had been against that from the get-go.

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