Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Nationals. A Curious Mix Of Pleasantry, Damp and Highway Robbery.

I hope the Washington Nationals enjoyed my first visit to their ballpark, because there likely won't be another. The ballpark was nice, the people were even nicer, for the most part, but I don't think I'll be in any hurry to gamble on whether or not I get to see a game for my money in the future.

Bluntly put, my interest in Major League baseball as a sport could be ranked as "microscopic" or perhaps "somewhere around non-existent, possibly stretching into actual repulsion". Baseball is about as exciting to me on television as watching paint dry, and accidentally catching some Sports Center highlights once a year or so is enough for me. (Lest you think I'm simply not a sports fan at all , let me point out how I have made sure my last two new cars have been University of Kentucky blue, because... CATS. I'll micro-analyze college basketball all day long with you. I even entertain some college football fandom when I feel like it. And the NBA finally has enough former UK players that it's worth watching if only for the nostalgia factor. I own multiple pairs of UK-themed Nike Tempo Shorts, for crying out loud.)

The lone exception is getting to see a game in person. I'll happily go out to a ballpark for a minor or major league game when the opportunity presents itself, because then it at least ranks as an experience. Give me some overpriced concession nachos and hot dogs, maybe some Dippin' Dots, and I'm content to watch some baseball with people who could actually call themselves baseball fans with a straight face even though I will watch C-SPAN over baseball on television. On a recent conference trip to the D.C. area, I was one of a group of four who tried to take in a Nats game. Since one of the guys is actually a rabid baseball fan and there was a possibility of rain, he talked the rest of us into springing for decent seats under cover. (Spoiler: We should have bought the $12 cheap seats. We would have seen exactly the same amount of baseball, but felt a whole lot less screwed over.) We arrived plenty early, took in some of the stadium and a tiny bit of batting practice as the actual fan took some photos. The employees were without fail friendly and chatty, even while being oddly territorial about where you could and could not go with your ticket. (To be clear, I get why, say, private club areas are restricted. But is there really that much chaos and anarchy unleashed by someone with a $12 ticket going up to the enclosed but still public area near the $64 First Base Club seats to pay three times what a Philly cheesesteak and bottle of water costs anywhere else?)

Long story shorter, it opened up and poured before the game ever started. Wind blew. There was lightning. Instead of passing the stadium by, it intensified. We saw one poor guy lose both his beer and his cell phone in a spill on the slick deck between concession stands. They called the game not terribly long after it was originally slated to begin and announced the park was closing in about 20 minutes. Great. So what does a person who is from another state do when the chances of you being around for another game are nil? Cue scavenger hunt for answers.

We get sent to Guest Services. Guest Services has no clue what the policy is and sends people to the ticket windows. The ticket windows outside in the rain. And the occasional lightning. And here's where the conflicting stories start up. Some of the employees milling around claimed you could only trade the tickets in for another game and either use them or Stubhub them. Some claimed you could mail your tickets in with a copy of your ID for a refund. Some ticket window agents were actually taking time to write said address down and hand it to ticket holders. Self-proclaimed box office manager comes along and angrily contradicts the story about mailing your tickets in. (Well, lady, not to tell you how to do your job, but maybe clue your employees in to that fact, then?) Some of the more annoyed out of towners are threatening to dispute the charge with their credit card company.

By now, I'm pointing out that if only the ballpark had some revolutionary technology to inform guests of their options in the event of  a rain cancellation, one that displayed it visibly, perhaps, one that could be reused in the event this happens again... Oh wait! We have that! It's called signs!

In all seriousness, Nationals... have you considered the power of the written word? You have expensive technology out the wazoo in that park. You have ads that turn into mirrors when you approach them in your freaking fan shop. You could have cut the annoyance, frustration and occasional anger of fans waiting in the ticket window line to at least half with three stand up sandwich boards and a marker. Also, maybe settle on a single, consistent policy?

In the event a regulation game as defined by Major League Baseball is not played due to weather, Act of God, or any other reason, then guests should retain their tickets until rescheduling information and ticketing policies for that game are announced. Tickets for the originally scheduled game may serve as rain checks and/or provide admission to the rescheduled game. Ticket holders are advised to check the Washington Nationals website at, local newspapers, or Nationals media affiliates for rescheduling information and ticketing policies. Policies vary based on the situation.

This paragraph from your website might as well read "We are making it up as we please. And not informing the employees. Out of towners, you're probably hosed. Maybe not. But probably. Check the website, which doesn't have any information, or the local newspapers you don't subscribe to for information on just how hosed." Eventually, the actual fan used his ticket on another game the same week and took care of exchanging the rest of the tickets for the July 6 game against the Cubs. We've put the three of them on Stubhub since we're, you know, not flying back to D.C. for a ballgame. So, basically, we may have paid $64 for a self-guided stadium tour, 2 minutes of batting practice, some chatting with employees, the opportunity to buy the $1 Good Humor ice cream bars (which were melted), and 30 minutes of conflicting stories about what to do with unused tickets. And a thrilling thunderstorm, I suppose.

Oh, and to add semi-amusing insult to injury, MLB takes another $1.50 per ticket for the privilege of trying to recoup part of your investment by selling them on Stubhub.

Guess I'll go with the $12 ticket from now on. It's almost cheaper than the cheesesteak and seems more disposable in the event of a rainout.

Or maybe I'll stick to watching A League Of Their Own.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Billy Ray, how the worm turns...

You know, some time back during the First Great Miley Cyrus Is Ruining Civilization flapdoodle, I stumbled across a slightly heartbreaking interview with Billy Ray Cyrus. Maybe Chris Heath just penned the most undeservedly sympathetic article ever and should be awarded the Pulitzer, or maybe it was partly because Billy Ray's a fellow Kentuckian who seemed genuinely grateful and even humble about his fame, plus he never took himself that seriously. He did not pretend to be an ar-teeste. I think I also realized after reading an insider's perspective on why child stars so often go off the rails that having a child with any measure of fame must be a parent's worst nightmare, because your child has become a moneymaking commodity for a heartless industry that will not hesitate to discard them like so much trash once they no longer turn a profit.

But now he's capitalizing on the Second Great Miley Cyrus Is Ruining Civilization[1] flapdoodle by appearing  in an entirely cringeworthy video [2] featuring a remake of Achy Breaky Heart. Sort of. Kind of a reboot/sequel/remix thing. It's mostly inoffensive as a musical endeavor, no worse than most music, anyway, but the video is a whole other level of offensive that includes a shoutout to Miley's twerking and features a large number of women dressed in, essentially, tiny strips of electrical tape. There's Billy Ray happily appearing in a video where a fellow performer proudly proclaims "Miley keeps twerking, Daddy’s song is working". I may have gagged at this point. I almost missed Billy Ray shouting, "Wrecking Ball!”

I think they'll have to invent a new level of infernal torment for the parent who can give the impression that he's worried about the people exploiting his teenage daughter then turn right around and exploit her name for the sake of his own career.

[1] - Or, I dunno, one of them. I'm losing count.

[2]- I take no responsibility for the fact that you cannot unsee this. Watch at your own risk. Maybe have bucket handy if you read that interview with that sensitive, caring dad character who admitted he hadn't been the world's best disciplinarian but worried about the welfare of his little girl. And some people claim Billy Ray can't act...


Ew. Nasty.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Miranda Recap: Season 1 Episode 1 Date

For what seems like eons, I've been hoping to catch the rather brilliant-sounding Britcom Miranda, starring Miranda Hart. After making the "Merry Christmas to MEEEEEEE" discovery that the entire run of The I.T. Crowd is now on Hulu and mainlining that series in about a week's time, I made the "Happy New Year!" discovery that Miranda's first two seasons are also available. 

Spoilers ahoy, obviously.

From the very beginning, Miranda establishes itself as a little different from the run of the mill sitcom. Thankfully, British television is a little more willing to break the "safe and easy" mold than American television. There's a bit of a "breaking the fourth wall" heart to heart with the audience and Miranda's character, conveniently also named Miranda, is the owner of a joke shop, purchased with her inheritance. There's also the firm establishment of three themes that will apparently run through the show. Miranda's long running romantic interest in Gary Preston, a wonderfully goofy/punny/naughty in a middle school sort of sense of humor and Miranda Hart's willingness to go for physical humor with charming abandon. In a flashback to a previous meeting with the aforementioned Gary, she accidentally shimmies out of her skirt while dancing with him.  Amy Poehler's been quoted as saying "There's power in looking silly and not caring that you do." Miranda Hart is willing to be silly on camera, and it's awesome because she owns it and because her character is just so darned happy most of the time, not "lonely, sad single girl". You can understand, as a viewer, why people would be attracted to her. You, as a viewer, want to root for her.

A great deal of humor is wrung out of several comedy standards, but somehow, it doesn't feel tired. Miranda has a dainty, much more petite best friend, Stevie, a snooty mother, played by Patricia Hodge, who sounds desperate to pair her off, and a tendency to lose all perspective on acceptable behavior when she's socially uncomfortable. As an example, she nervously tells her crush, Gary, that she's married and has two children, then blithely kills them off when she realizes he's still single. The 6'1" Hart wrings a lot of jokes out of being mistaken for a "sir", humiliatingly named specialty size clothing shops, accidentally wandering into a store that caters to transvestites, being nicknamed "Queen Kong" in school, and being unwillingly roped into trying on wedding dresses for two giggly, girly, recently engaged schoolmates. 

The thing that prevents it from feeling tired and rehashed is the refreshing number of molds it shatters along the way. Miranda's wonderfully at ease with who she is most of the time. Yes, she sometimes panics socially, but she's also obviously an intelligent character, if somewhat clumsy and goofy and excitable. She's not desperate to pair off with someone, anyone, nor desperate to have a baby, though, which are the usual Hollywood comedy staples. The best thing of all?

Gary, played by Tom Ellis, is a very attractive man. His Gary is well-traveled, a chef, polite, seemingly an intelligent and nice guy. He's not a rude jerk, not a greasy playboy, not a character that would cause you, the viewer to think, "Seriously? If he didn't look like that, would you have any interest in him?" at all. He, in fact, shows the first signs of interest in Miranda, asking her over to dinner at the restaurant where he works, which is handily situated next door. Of course, this being 1) a comedy and 2) the first episode, things don't go quite as smoothly as they seem to be when Gary heads up to Miranda's flat after the meal. I won't ruin the surprise totally, but let's just say Gary would probably not be alone in hurrying off before Miranda has a chance to explain why the apartment is full of some unusual items. Again, it's a nice change that he apologizes for doing so the next day. 

The first episode wraps up with Miranda on that wedding dress shopping trip. The giggly former schoolgirls talk her into trying one on, which she pronounces a "chiffon-based anaphylactic shock". Of course, Gary AND her mother happen by the shop window within moments of each other, leading the usual hilarious misunderstanding, with her mum fainting from pure joy and Gary being chased down the street by Miranda, in wedding dress and canvas sneakers, desperate to explain she's not desperate. 

Let's just say I'm also looking forward to the other eleven episodes currently on Hulu.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What (Not) To Buy Your (Sunday School) Teacher

There are probably a million gift-buying recommendations out there for buying teacher gifts. This is mine.

Despite being only 36, I've been a Sunday School/Bible School teacher in some shape, form or fashion, for more than 19 years. I'm sending many of my former charges off to college and careers at this point. I've seen a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts for teachers in my time and can list a lot of Do and Don't tips.


1) For the love of all that is holy, please do not have your child actually participate in the giving of a gift that is more appropriate for a bachelorette party. Yes, I have had to thank a four-year-old for gifting me sexy underpants. I get that you and I, Parent, know each other as adults, but... no. Just no. You can give me those and say it's a thank you for teaching your child and give me a card from your adorable little cherub at the same time, but maybe don't have your four-year-old watch me open them. That's hella awkward for the decidedly single young Sunday School teacher and frankly makes me kind of wonder about you when you later freak out over a piece of student literature intended for adolescents that mentions the mere existence of breast feeding as though it were describing, in graphic detail, the orgies Sodom and Gomorrah used to put on, with pictures. (True story.)

Like, if you can floss your teeth with any portion of the underpants, this might not be the best option. I'm not a prude by any means, but I'm having a hard time reconciling this gift choice of yours with your insistence that both Harry Potter and tattoos are evil. How do you stand on bikini waxes?

2) No dust-gathering tchotchkes that only perform the function of dust-gathering and being a tchotchke. If they've taught more than a year or already graduated high school, I guarantee you they have plenty of tchotchkes to gather dust. No one actually needs another angel figurine or another vague "this was the year I gave this to you, it had a Christmas in it" Christmas ornament. Exceptions are made for dust-gathering tchotchkes hand-crafted or decorated in some fashion by your adorable cherub with the intention of giving them to me and personalized ornaments that actually took ten seconds of forethought. Know I like to run and buy me a personalized runner ornament? Awesome job, you, this is a DO. Give me a one of a kind lopsided Popsicle stick stable held together with Elmer's Glue? I will cherish it. Seriously. Buy me a shiny ball that has nothing but the year on it for no particular reason? Then I feel like you mechanically ticked a box next to my name on a list of chores somewhere. Then I have to find somewhere to store it. 
Arthur Court swears this bunny snowman is "adorable". I'm leaning more toward "it's staring into my soul in a slightly disturbing way", but at least the engraving ensures I can accurately tell my therapist when the nightmares started.

3) No makeup, perfume, hair care or bath products without doing at least thirty seconds of research, please. At least ask a spouse or relative if there are allergies, strong pro or con feelings for any particular brand, or any preferred/hated scents. Or cunningly bring it up in conversation. "You know, I tried that Dove shampoo/vanilla lotion and I really like it. Ever tried it?" will probably provide enough of a response that you can pick out a shampoo or a scented lotion. I'm stupid enough to assume not everything in the world revolves around me, so I won't even suspect you're digging for information. I'm really not good at picking up subtle hints like that.

I'm pretty allergy-free and like most everything you can slather on, personally, but I did once get a lip liner that, seriously, made my lips swell. And not in a sexy way. More in a "the skin around the perimeter is missing and I'm oozing blood" kind of way.

Also, go light on the makeup if you do buy it. A person can only wear so much. This also applies to nail polish. I think I have a ten-year supply despite not being a huge makeup person, mainly from gift sets. If they don't wear full eye makeup every single day, maybe the eye shadow gift set is not the best choice. Especially if it has 20 colors. I love bath and shampoo stuff, though, and it's rare to find a clunker among those. It's the kind of thing you can easily find out about anyone in short order and can be really cheap.  A full-size bottle of a common shampoo and conditioner can be bought for less than five bucks at your local Mega-mart or grocery store, I'll get months of use out of it, it will be one less thing I need to remember to buy and as a bonus, I do not have to store it in perpetuity. You use it up and move on to the next thing, and maybe I try something I never would have bought for myself. It does not have to be some fancy-riffic gift set from an overly-perfumed shop with one of those oddball scrubby-net things to let me know you were thinking of me.

Razz Gentle Mini Net Sponge

You don't fool me, so-called "bath pouf". You couldn't hack it as a pot scrubber, could you?
4)  Don't feel like you're a bad person if you don't buy me anything. I don't teach your child exclusively for the really super-awesome Christmas gifts, I promise. Honestly, I probably prefer you maybe volunteer to lead a craft one night at Bible School or something equally constructive. You might be surprised how wearying it can be at times to Be Responsible all the time. 
Throw a girl a bone and maybe spend 30 minutes organizing gluing some stuff when I've already had a long day at work?


1) Try to think of something useful. Useful doesn't even have to be all that personal, so don't panic if you don't know the teacher well. Preferably find something that will be used and used up. This is why lotion/shampoo/body wash is a supremely solid choice. Most people practice personal hygiene or can find some kind of use for a product they don't like. Everybody eats, and I'm betting you've seen this person eat something they like at a potluck, unless you have the saddest church family ever. A tiny little snack bag of imperfect brownies or cookies or snack mix your kid helped with, tied with a ribbon is awesome beyond words. I make exceptions for storing snack foods on my hips in perpetuity, because at least that doesn't need dusting and does not need to be protected from squirrels in the attic.

Do they ever eat out at lunch? New restaurant open up in the city where they work? Ask if they've tried it out yet. If the review seems positive, a gift card from there might be welcome. If the answer is no or they don't like it, ask where they recommend eating when you're in town. Sneaky, sneaky.

Do they have a car or ride the train? Everyone commutes. Gas station gift cards or public transit fare cards are practical. Do they have a body? If you want something a little more pampering-but-useful, I've never seen anyone go "Oh, darn, someone got me a gift certificate for a massage, I hate when that happens..." when opening an envelope. Do they have hair? Most everyone gets their hair cut. Say, "Gee, I like your hair, where do you get it cut?". Listen to the answer. Buy a gift certificate from said salon for any service they offer. Get together with the other parents and suggest everyone pitching in a little bit of money for a more impressive amount if you can't stand the idea of a small gift card. The other parents will probably want to hug you for saving them from having to think up something to buy.

Also, you will be allowed to gloat about finishing your Christmas shopping early.

2) Thoughtful is good, too. Thoughtful doesn't have to be expensive, either, it just requires knowing a speck of personal information. Maybe you've heard them natter on about running. A good pair of SmartWool running socks can cost like $12 at your local sports store or online. You don't even have to know squat about running socks. Just go in and say, "What running socks do you recommend?" in a half-decent sporting goods retailer or search "best running socks".
Know they like to cook or that they make a mean casserole/dessert for all the potlucks? You can never have too many cookbooks or too many casserole dishes, Pyrex portables or cake pans. Feel impersonal? They make personalized cake pans that don't cost an arm and a leg! Google it!

Sunday School teachers are people, too. I bet if you ask your kid, they might even know about their hobbies or what they like to do in their spare time. Anyone can buy a Sunday School teacher the Devotional Book Of The Week. Truly amazing parents might actually spend enough time talking to their child or the teacher to find out that, hey, Miss Stacie really likes playing the piano/running/reading/that movie/that television show/that series of books/that color, too!

Discworld Stickers - Clubs and Societies 
Honestly, I'm not that complicated. If it can be described as "geeky", you're probably good. People who think runners are not geeky have never spoken to a run-nerd. Warning: Do not ask me about my geeky interests unless you're prepared for at least five minutes of gushing.

3) Feel free to write something priceless that no money can buy. Take five minutes, a piece of notepaper, and write all of three sentences thanking me for spending a block of minutes a week with your kid that make a difference and you will have hit me square in The Feels. It doesn't even have to be inside a Christmas card. Sunday School teachers worry about having an impact. They worry that maybe 90% of what they're saying doesn't make it beyond the classroom door. They worry that you might not approve of everything they teach or that they might inadvertently offend someone. They have to tiptoe around wide and varying beliefs, some of which they don't necessarily agree with, without belittling any of them. They worry that they're getting taken for granted. They worry that they're not going to be able to come up with a single freaking craft idea for the next Bible School.

Did your kid remember something about a particular lesson that impressed you? Do you think class is making them more mindful of being kind or thoughtful about others? Are you happy that reading Bible verses out loud in class has improved their reading skills and made them more confident when they used to be terrified of reading in front of anyone?  Are you just pleased that someone other than you is even willing to take on the frankly terrifying minefield that is Answering The Big Life Questions For Wee People Aged Roughly Six To Fourteen? Tell me. Bonus points for having your adorable child write a sentence or two. A "thank you for being so nice to me" from a kid can keep me going for months.
Yes, the retirement plan is awesome, but the occasional job review is welcome.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dear User... I Sometimes Do Other Things

Dear User,

I understand it can be frustrating when you have an issue and don't get a resolution right away. Guess what? It's also mega-frustrating when you assume that I have zero issues to deal with besides yours. Especially when your issue is of your own making and I have a backlogged pile of about three projects and twenty other issues that need seeing to.

First of all, I'm kind of amazed that you managed to forget how to do a thing that you've done, bare minimum, twice a year, for the past 20-plus years. Especially when you last did it just one month ago. You pull up a single record in a screen, change the dates, save and that's it. And forgive me if I'm extra-amazed that you managed to totally forget how to do this while attempting to train another user how to do this in your absence. Yes. That's right. You were sitting down with a fellow user to show them how it's done, and suddenly, you are unsure how to do the thing. You have no idea how this thing works. You didn't once take down a note, screenshot, or even, prior to sitting down with your trainee, whip out that brand new iPhone I know you have and take a picture of the screen? Apparently not.

So excuse me for kind of losing my mind with you on the phone because 1) You suddenly have no idea how to do a thing you've done on a regular basis since I was in middle school. We all have our off days and moments of "I can't believe I did that!", but this leads me to the second point... 2) You never once took notes on this very important thing that can hold up billing statements being sent out to students. Yet I'm supposed to drop everything and figure it out for you because it is, emphasis yours, VERY IMPORTANT. If it's so important, you think maybe you should write the steps and the values that never change down somewhere? Like maybe in case we all get hit by buses or something? Or in case my head actually does explode one of these days and I'm not around to figure it out for you? Or, God forbid, I actually take a day off and fail to notify the entire campus so they can cease forgetting how to do very important things in my absence? 3) You seem to expect that I should know how to do your job when you don't know how to do your job. Up to and including what is a policy question, not a computer question. If you don't know what your policy is, why would I know? Why should I know?
 Amazingly enough, I also have some other stuff to do. I'm trying to do about three IT jobs alone, because this college thinks just saying "lean and mean" enough means one employee can magically do the work of four. Because that extends to the other offices, not just IT, I'm in high demand. This is to say nothing of the project I've been attempting to work on, with zero success, for the last two weeks because people will not freaking leave me alone for ten minutes straight.

On occasion, I have to do things that do not include "hawking my email inbox constantly on the off chance that you have sent me another email message about this issue that I thought I had already resolved after a set of three highlighted screenshots and a fifteen minute phone conversation to explain what I already explained in writing". So, no, don't be so sure I'm already looking at your message when you phone me after I fail to respond fast enough for your liking. And please don't give me the "very important" line again, that is doing you no favors. The other five people breathing down my neck think their things are very important too.

And then I feel bad because I'm frustrated and sound frustrated.

And this, people, is one of the reasons why I run.

P.S. I figured out the one thing that needed to be changed on the screen somehow, despite the user's insistence that she had "tried everything", and the day was saved, at least until the next time someone forgets their own policy and decides it's my job to know their job even thought they have no clue how to do my job. Or theirs.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Plan? What Plan?

The last couple of weeks, the training plan has somewhat gone off the rails. The last Saturday of September was a 5K race day. It's my annual "slowest time of the year, but, hey, the last mile smells like country ham breakfast" festival run, so I hate to miss it, even for a better half-marathon time. Anticipating this, I banked on skipping one of the training plan easy runs, and time constraints meant that I couldn't quite get in the entire 10-mile long run before squeezing in two rest days. I still did about 8.67 miles and called it good. 

Then I left work on Friday afternoon. The plants were all apparently having an orgy, because my chest tightened up the moment I stepped out the door.

I'm guessing all the goldenrod and ragweed in Kentucky are having the sexytimes, because there are globs of pollen everywhere and the sneezing and coughing commenced. Coughing, mostly. I was a little wheezy and coughed a bit on Saturday, but I went into Monday only slightly choked up and my nostrils were 95% functional. My sinuses were being fairly cooperative, no pain, no pressure. 

I figure I'll head into the last cutback week, get over the allergies and cruise into the last month of training plan in pretty good shape. Only, The Saga Of The Monday Blue Laws happened.

I work in a fairly fun department. Good folks, friendly, funny, and most importantly, we can all throw down with some good eating. We wanted to buy some baked goods for a little celebration. And maybe buy a little lunch while we're at it. We head off for a neighboring town, their cupcake bakery and their extremely good local roadside barbecue joint.

We pull into the barbecue joint, only to discover it has recently changed its hours and is closed on Mondays. Right. So we'll pull down the street and pick up the cupcakes, right? Wrong! Closed on Mondays. The only other restaurants available in this neck of the woods are a Hardees that shares digs with a gas station, and a local restaurant that we're not quite sure is open. It once housed a combination Italian/Mexican restaurant that had since vacated the premises. We set off to see if that, at least, is open on Mondays.

Behold, it is open, and it is a little country cafe. We stroll in to discover that it is, apparently, the only non-cigar bar smoking establishment left in North America. Smoking is not only allowed, apparently it may be required to get in. There's a two smoker per table minimum, possibly, to keep the ashtrays on every table hot. We're starving by this point, so we decide to stick it out. From a "good  and affordable food" point of view, it wasn't bad. The beef stroganoff, cottage cheese, macaroni and maters, plus green beans went well with the very sweet sweet tea. From an "I kind of like breathing" angle, it was a terrible choice.

I'm 36 and have lived my entire life in Kentucky. My family raised tobacco when I was growing up, I've helped in setting, cutting and stripping it. I've never smoked, but in my childhood years, smoking was common and not many people hesitated when it came to lighting up in public. Somehow, in the ten years or so since "non-smoking" became the default choice and "smoking" practically became synonymous with "societal outcast", my lungs must have gotten spoiled rotten from all that fresh air. Just in case there were a few molecules of fresh air anywhere near our table, one lady helpfully took her cigarette along when she went to get a drink refill. I guess she was worried she would get lonely on the fifteen foot walk and couldn't bear to leave her cigarette in the ashtray for ten seconds. Maybe twenty seconds if she got winded. As soon as I finished eating, my tongue tasted of tobacco and my eyes felt gritty. Our hair and clothing reeked.  We all had the sinking feeling we had just shaved three to six months off of our life expectancies.

To add to the annoyance, they turned out to be a cash only establishment, probably because they can't be assured their customers will actually live long enough to make a payment on their credit card bill. We tried another cupcake joint back in town and it was also closed on Mondays. At that point, it was reaching the level of the absurd. We finally found a bakery that was open and bought cookies instead, since, clearly, the forces of fate did not intend for us to be able to feast upon cupcakes this day.

An hour after leaving the Den of Smoke, my respiratory system basically thanked me for bringing it along by trying to shank me. My sinuses and nasal passages more or less swelled shut, my cough became horrible and fits lasted for several minutes, my eyes were gritty, and in general, I was miserable, sleep- and oxygen-deprived for a week. I finally broke down and bought some Tussin Tab DM from Good Neighbor Pharmacy. I've spent a lot of the weekend taking some heavy duty naps and recovering. I'm back to running regularly tomorrow, I hope. It may be indoors, on the treadmill, and it may not be pretty, but I'm gonna run.


I mean it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Someone Needs To Turn Vivienne Westwood On To Some Pratchett

This Vivienne Westwood article seems to be doing the rounds of the internet lately.

The most discussed bit, it seems, is this:

Speaking after the show, Dame Vivienne said: "Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes. I mean, I know I'm lucky, I can just take things and borrow them and I'm just okay, but I hate having too many clothes. And I think that poor people should be even more careful. It doesn't mean therefore you have to just buy anything cheap. Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don't keep buying just for the sake of it. I just think people should invest in the world. Don't invest in fashion, but invest in the world."

And somehow, I feel rather vindicated that the majority of comments about this piece of advice seem to be saying, "Yes, that's all very well and good if you can afford it and feel like it, Dame Vivienne, but kindly take that piece of advice you've helpfully aimed at the 'poor' and shove it in your probably $5000 borrowed kid leather handbag, because a pair of your shoes may be half the rent". 

It's the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness, in other words. The non-Pratchett fans among you might be going "The whose theory of the what, now?" at this point.

Sure, many of us are lucky and comfortable enough that we can be choosy with how to spend our money. And the wise thing to do, if you're so inclined, is indeed to invest in better quality goods that cost more up front but are cheaper in the long run due to durability. But there's a fascinating, and quite real, economic phenomenon in which you can be too poor to save money. Not just in the "there's no money left over after paying the bills" sense, either.  You lack the resources to be able to effectively plan long term. 

You're living paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to pay your dental or medical bill early enough to reap a discount. So, you have to wait until payday and end up paying the full price.  You can't afford the Costco membership and buying in bulk, so you pay full price for those goods and make more trips when you have the money. You occasionally have to pick one bill to pay late and incur late fees, thereby spending more in the long run. You can't afford the good pair of leather boots that will last a decade, instead, you end up buying boots that cost a fifth as much but last only a tenth as long. It's something many politicians don't seem to grasp.

It's a phenomenon that cannot be explained more brilliantly and succinctly than it is by one of Terry Pratchett's characters, Samuel Vimes.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

I'm sure Vivienne Westwood meant well enough, and there's certainly a segment of the population that could probably save money and closet space over time by following her advice. You know, assuming you're also one of those people who are lucky enough to never fluctuate in size in addition to being well off enough to afford being choosy about when and where you're spending your income.

But the instant she brought the word "poor" into it, someone really should have handed her a copy of Men At Arms and suggested she read that passage.   

Sam Vimes as drawn by the brilliant Paul Kidby. Go buy all the things he sells at, Vivienne Westwood be darned. Also, read the Vimes books. Start with Guards! Guards! You won't be sorry.