Sunday, January 28, 2007

Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors, Please.

Welcome back to another fun-filled hour of “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?!” - the game show that makes you want to sell all your worldly possessions, hop on a plane to Rarotonga and spend the rest of your life cultivating taro with the locals in utter silent reflection that America is completely and unconditionally lost.

Here’s how it works, sports fans. First, read this article from the NY Daily News. Ok? Done? Great. Now, count the statements which made you want nothing more than to claw your own eyes out with rusty, pitted gynecological tools. Did you get six? No? Well then, you’re either an ultra-liberal, bleeding heart or a complete and utter moron. Sorry, you lose; get back there in the pits with the rest of the blind, mindless automatons.

For those of you playing the home version of the game, here’s the correct answers:

1) The Federal Government, you know, the group to which you pay upwards of 30% of your salary every year, is giving half a million dollars to the MTA, a privately held company, to assist them in installing fences along their train tracks. Why?

2) Because two weeks ago a 13 year old boy was hit and killed by an eastbound LIRR passenger train. Tragedy? Hardly. Seems young Ari Kraft was spray-painting the train signals at the time and dashed across the tracks directly into the oncoming train. I, for one, think this is the best disciplinary initiative since the “Three Strikes Law,” and it behooves us as civilized people to follow it to its logical conclusion. Graffiti, made popular by “urban culture” (read: thugs, criminals and society’s bottom-feeders) is nothing but a blight on our landscape, and for years those who choose to desecrate public edifices with their juvenile scribblings were merely fined a few dollars or a couple of hours of community service (ironically, removing graffiti). The recidivism rate for vandalism would drop incalculably if, instead of fines, we shove all graffiti “artists” directly in front of the Number 6 Bronx Local.

3) As if this wasn’t a ruinous enough waste of taxpayer dollars, Rep. Anthony Weiner (a Democratic Congressman from Queens. Did I mention that he’s a Democrat?) is planning on proposing something he has creatively dubbed “Ari’s Law”, which would earmark $20 million (once again, of your hard-earned dollars) to “securing tracks around homes and schools.” We already had something like that when I was younger, Mr. Weiner; it was called “parents.”

4) The Executive Director of the MTA chimed in on the non-event saying that it was “incumbent upon the MTA to take as much preventative action as we can.” I don’t know, those “Authorized Personnel Only” and “Danger” signs, not to mention the flashing lights and 200 ton steel projectiles moving at 55 miles an hour seem like warning enough to me.

5) Another Democratic representative, “Councilman” Eric Gioia (did I mention that he’s a Democrat, too?) threw his two cents into this three-ring circus, saying that he has known for some time about the “problem areas” of the MTA, but declined to share them with the public because that might be giving a “road map to terrorists.” Terrorists! Only in America can a city official completely fail to do the only job for which he was elected, namely protecting the safety and interests of his constituents, and rationalize that failure by invoking the malevolent appellation of “terrorists.”

6) Number six is a bit of a stretch, so bear with me. If you read the original news report, you will discover that Ari Kraft, prior to his encounter with the Huntington Rush Hour Express, had recently celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Hmm. And following his death, who is there to fleece the taxpayers? Why it’s Anthony Weiner, one of The Jewish Daily Forward’s 50 most influential Jewish Americans. The same guy who said that it was “not the place of the Department of Health to be deciding on religious practices,” referring to an 2005 investigation into a Rabbi who may have transmitted herpes to three infants during the ritualistic oral suction of the circumcision wound. Color me suspicious, but do you honestly think that anyone would give a shit if “Devon Jones” or "Tyriq Williams” had been hit by that train? I submit that, no, they would not. Politicians in New York only become concerned about black people who have been shot by the police more than twice.

Look, out of all the ways to die, being hit by a train is the only one where it 99.99% the victim’s fault. Trains don’t come careening around an intersection or sneak up on people in the darkness. They are deafeningly loud, they are brightly lit, and most of all, they ride on two fucking rails which are fixed in place. If you don’t want to get hit by a train, stay the hell off the tracks, it’s that simple. The fact that two elected officials should squander millions of taxpayers’ dollars simply because a spoiled, dim-witted vandal was too busy breaking and entering, trespassing and vandalizing private property to notice the speeding train bearing down on him should be enough to make you sick.

And if that doesn’t, then consider the fact that Rabbis routinely go down on infant boys as part of a “religious ceremony”, and yet it’s the Catholic priests who are vilified. At least they have the self-control to wait a couple of years.

I’m going to get letters on this one, I can just feel it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

F**K The Machine!

In my neverending quest to make myself miserable, I decided this past Saturday to go shopping. I’m not a consumer whore, and don’t need every latest bleeping gadget; in fact, I wasn’t even looking to purchase anything for myself. The DVD player we use at school was broken (yes, we have ONE fucking DVD player. The NYC Board of Ed spent more money last year on photocopies than on supplying the teachers. But that’s a story for another day), and I wanted to pick up an inexpensive machine. Plus, I needed a copy of the movie Lord of the Flies as we had just finished reading the novel in class, and what better way to kill two hours than with a little cinema. Lastly, I figured I’d get a set of headphones for my bass amplifier to redirect the slap, pop, thump my neighbors have been hearing for the past two weeks. Don’t say I’m not a considerate guy.

As I have mentioned before, I consider myself to be a rather efficient shopper: I know what I want, speed myself directly to the store most likely to carry the merchandise, make my purchases and go home. But for whatever reason - call it fate, call it karma - I have been thwarted in almost every attempt to do this very thing. I blame this on the fact that I still have a miniscule shred of faith in humanity.

Knowing that the country’s idiots are still mostly sleeping before noon, I get up at 9 AM and head to Best Buy, the nation’s largest consumer electronic store and principal employer of high-school drop-outs (well, behind Wal-Mart, anyway). And before all of you “knowledgeable” Best Buy employees write to me and attempt to prove what experts you are in your field, let me stop you here and say, “No you’re not; you are troglodytic morons who couldn’t get hired digging cesspools even if you were born with a shovel up your ass.” And even though I already know this, I still managed to put myself through the torture that is shopping in a retail establishment.

My first contact at Best Buy is a tired looking black teenager at the door who attempts to greet me by breaking down his corporate-office-supplied script into a monosyllabic drone, accented in the brogue of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn:

“Hel-lo-and-we-come-to-Best-Buy. If-there-any-thing-you-need-be-sure-to-axe-a-ass-o-ci-ate.”

Frankly, I don’t want people greeting me at the door. Anywhere. For any reason. I see it as nothing more than retail welfare; for all intents and purposes, big box stores are providing employment opportunities to people with absolutely no tangible skills. Consider this:

The Best Buy near me is open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 9 PM and Sunday 11 to 7. That’s 74 hours a week, 296 hours a month. Considering that the New York State minimum wage is $7.15 an hour (and assuming that the robotic greeter doesn’t command a higher salary) that would mean that Best Buy spends $2116.40 a month on a person who cannot pronounce the word “ask” correctly. According to Adecco, a temp agency, greeters in Idaho make between $10-$12 dollars an hour. That’s an average of $40,000 a year wasted on employees whose jobs are essentially meaningless. However, as we will soon see, all employees of Best Buy are essentiality meaningless.

Like I said, I only needed to purchase three items, an activity that should take no more than 20 minutes. Plus, I knew exactly what I wanted, as I had looked them up on Best Buy’s website before coming into the store. My first stop was the DVD section. I don’t usually buy a lot of DVD’s, mostly because once I buy the latest movie, a week later the studio releases the “Super Deluxe Nine-Disc Platinum Collector’s Remastered Criterion Screaming Orgasm Edition” of the very same film. They actually had one of these for Clerks II. Who in their right mind would need two discs of director’s commentary on an hour and half movie about two fat guys making penis jokes? Other than people who work at Best Buy.

In any case, I perused the “Drama” subdivision of the DVD’s because Lord of the Flies is indeed drama. Not there. Then I tried “Action”. Still nothing. As I was looking, an employee with a painfully vapid expression on his face approached me and we had the following brief conversation:

Employee: Finding everything all right?

Me: No, but mostly because I’m not looking for “everything.”

Employee: (Failing to grasp my subtle humor) Can I help you find something?

Me: Yeah, I’m looking for the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies.

Employee: Oh, it’s right there in “Sci Fi”. (points me to it and walks away).

Why, I asked myself, is Lord of the Flies in the Science Fiction section? Could this be yet another example of the boundless stupidity of the Best Buy staff? I got my answer when I saw that the “associate” had directed me to a copy of Lord of the Rings. Which is a great movie, but I already have the “Twelve Disc Special Extended Widescreen Manic Obsession Edition” of that.

Long story short, they don’t carry Lord of the Flies. So I move on to the “Home Theater” section hoping that they don’t try to sell me an 8-track player. Luckily, this particular area was a barren wasteland, devoid of any “knowledgeable staff” and I was able to browse unmolested. However my frustration continued as, even though they had 23 different models (yes I counted) of DVD players on display, it turns out that they were sold out of every single one except for, you guessed it, the most expensive model. How fortuitous.

I’m not even going to point out that Best Buy, whose slogan is “Thousands of Possibilities” had exactly one model of headphones for sale and they appeared as though they were manufactured in Turkmenistan and crafted out of surplus ham radio components.

Alas, it seemed as though my quest was at an end. Dejected, I headed back to my car and faced the crushing realization that I would not be buying anything that day. As I drove home, however, I spotted the familiar sign of P.C. Richards, which, for those of you who don’t live on the East Coast, is a family owned chain of about 50 electronic stores scattered throughout the Tri-State area. According to their website, they have been in business for 97 years, which is quite a feat for a store selling merchandise which requires electricity.

Surely, thought I, a much smaller store would have a greater merchandise selection. Such displacement of logic can only truly manifest after spending an hour in a gargantuan retail wonderland such as Best Buy. Besides, I’d rather give my hard-earned shekels to Mom and Pop than to a soulless, avaricious corporation hell-bent on cornering the electronics market. So, with my hope elevated, I swung into the parking lot.

This was mistake number one. Upon entering the store (without the cheery harangue of a minimum wage greeter, I might add), I immediately realized why Best Buy was flushing these guys down the retail toilet. Most of the merchandise they had on display indeed looked as though they had been in business since the turn of the century. They had Walkmans. They sold car stereos with tape decks. I think I saw a Victrola marked down to 300 Green Stamps. And worst of all, they were completely sold out of any DVD player costing less than my weekly take home salary. And the only headphones they had in stock were pink. Enough said.

On my way back out of the store, I paused at a display of a $7000, 50” flat-screen television just long enough for one of the ravenous salesmen to catch a whiff of my existence. Mistake number two. Without an introduction or even a simple “hello,” a middle-aged salesmen sporting a JC Penny’s shirt and tie combo had sidled up endeavoring to persuade me, using every technique in his arsenal of marketing, that my life would be nothing more than a façade of tenuous fulfillment concealing a rotten core of failure and contempt unless I forsook my debt-to-income ratio and immediately purchased this particular television. Here’s the actual transcript in its entirety of our conversation:

Salesman: You know, that’s the new XBR KDL!

Me: Yes, it’s all clear to me now. I’ll take it.

Salesman: Are you serious?

Me: Yes. Can I have it delivered today?

Salesman: Well…no…actually, it’s not in stock. We can have it by Thursday, though!

Me: What a shame. I’m taking a vow of poverty on Thursday. Have a nice day.

Poor Shelley Levene. He actually followed me to my car with a calculator clutched in his hand.

The epilogue to this story is that Amazon.com had everything I was looking for and will deliver it on Thursday. I love happy endings.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Your Mileage May Vary

So as I was getting ready for work this morning, I had the television on in the background, as I am wont to do. Usually, I just try to get a few soundbites of news, weather, traffic, that sort of thing -- arming myself with snippets of knowledge before heading out into the world. This morning, while lacing up my footwear (triple-ply leather, steel-toed, Croatian army surplus tanker boots. I work in the Bronx; form follows function), I managed to catch something that made me want to crawl right back into bed and pull the covers over my head.

Toyota has some new gadget they’re trying to push in their line of cars that are apparently named after children from the inner city (Yaris, Corolla, Tercel, etc) – just another useless toy that can only serve to further distract a driver who already is swerving into my lane so he can call friends on his flashy cell phone and tell them all about his new iPod dash charger / coffee warmer / anal vibrator. Toyota’s particular gizmo apparently offers both a hands free cell phone and automated map directions for people too stupid to look up where they are going before they leave the house. Remember the days of pulling into a gas station to ask Achmed how to get to the freeway?

In any case, I wasn’t as much concerned about the useless doohickey, but more about how they were marketing it. I present to you, in its entirety, the transcript to the commercial.

Man driving in shiny red Toyota Shaquille or whatever the fuck it’s called along a twisty road under a clear, blue, cloudless sky. He uses the Lazy Idiot 3000 to plot his course to some destination and then decides to call home. After pushing a button mounted in the dash, he crisply orders the car to “Call Home.” Within a half a second, as if she were waiting breathlessly for his call, his wife picks up.

Woman: “Hello?”

Man: “Hi Honey, I’m going to be late; I have a conference to go to.”

This cheerfully mundane conversation is interrupted by a pleasant female voice muttering something about “making a left turn.”

The wife, despite the distinct probability that she was with her husband when he purchased the fucking car (or at least has been privy to its electronic peripherals’ capabilities since), asks: “Do you have a woman in the car with you?”

The man attempts to answer, but is cut off by the car’s voice informing him that “the hotel is ahead on the right.” (We, the audience are supposed to assume that he’s attempting to find said hotel with the intent of attending the aforementioned conference. Perhaps he’s really got a trunk full of garter belts and camisoles and is going to meet his crossdressing lover, Phil. We don’t know).

Upon hearing the word “hotel” from the digital trollop, the wife shrieks “Hotel!?” and immediately hangs up.

The man, with a look of resigned dismay, punches the cell phone button again and sighs, “Call Florist.”

Then the scene ends and the viewer is treated to a “special financing deal” with an APR so high it would make Shylock gag.

End commercial.

Within that space of thirty seconds, even a foreigner with a rudimentary grasp of the English language is able to discern the following about what corporations think of their customers:

1. American “businessmen” go to conferences in the middle of the day, unplanned, at out-of-the-way-hotels.

2. American wives do not work during the day, but instead sit at home waiting for their husband’s call. They also have no idea what sort of electronic widgets their husband has had installed on their $30,000 car.

3. American men are so full of infidelity and hubris that they would brazenly call their wives while sitting directly next to their mistresses.

4. American mistresses are so stupid that they would verbally point out the hotel in which they are planning their carnal activities while their paramours’ wives are on speakerphone.

5. American women are shrill, illogical, over-emotional beings who jump to conclusions and hang up on their husbands without a shred of plausible evidence or without giving their lifetime partner even five seconds to explain.

6. American men are so whipped and cowed by their spouses that instead of calling them back to fully clarify a case of faulty logic, they instead resort to spending ludicrous amounts of money on overpriced floral arrangements in an attempt to mollify their idiotic wives.

7. Both American men and women agree that a bouquet of carnations and daffodils can simultaneously placate morons and repair obviously defective marriages.

You think I’m hyperbolizing? Turn on any network sitcom and you’ll see the same formula : Stupid father who is always wrong + Stupid mother relentlessly over-dramatizing every situation, + their Stupid, spoiled, precocious children = Comedy Goldmine.

This is one of the reasons I don’t watch TV and will never buy a Toyota.

I will, however buy a car from a company whose advertisements are geared towards cynics and realists:

Man driving his shiny new convertible, the "P-Nys NV", on his way to work. He pushes the button to activate the speakerphone and dials his house.

Wife: “Hi honey!”

Husband: “It’s 2 in the afternoon. What the hell are you doing home from work?”

Wife: “Oh, I, uh, had to pick up little Dakota from school before dropping her off at her tennis / swimming / piano / ballet / meaningless structure lessons. Thought I’d get a head start.”

Husband: “That sounds like bullshit to me. Dakota has soccer / macramé / fencing / contrabassoon lessons on Thursday…”

Man is cut off by female computer voice informing him that the hotel is ahead on the right.

Wife: “Do you have a woman in the car with you?? Are you going to a hotel?”

Husband: “It’s the car, dumbass. And I’m going to a conference that happens to be in hotel. That’s what I do for a living – I endlessly attend useless meetings and show PowerPoint presentations using words like “Brand Awareness” and “Synergy” so we can afford to buy talking cars and Dakota’s peanut allergy shots. And don’t change the subject. You’re the one who is mysteriously home in the middle of the day. What are you doing, fucking the gardener again?”

Wife: “Phil’s a landscaper, not a gardener, and I wouldn’t have to if you weren’t so busy at all your meetings, you worthless prick!”

Woman hangs up phone. Man nudges the car up twenty MPH faster and hits the phone button again.

Husband: “Call Gun Shop.”

Finis.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tempus Fugit

It is never too late to begin rebuilding,
Though all into ruins your life seems hurled;
For see! how the light of the New Year is gilding
The wan, worn face of the bruised old world
.
---Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Modo liceat vivere, est spes...
---Cicero