Sunday, April 29, 2018

“You’re welcome” or “No problem”—Which is the right response?

It finally happened. One of those signs of age which let you know, definitively, that you are losing it. 

When someone thanked me recently, instead of saying “You’re welcome,” as I have for 50 years, I slipped and said “No problem.” Like I was some kind of Millennial. Soon, no doubt, I will accidentally utter that other conversational abomination of the age, “No worries,” as if I have gone straight-up marsupial. 

That’s when you can just push me off a cliff. I only ask one favor—right before I go over the edge, let me clasp to my chest one of those people who responds to “Thank you” with “Thank YOU.” We’ll go together, and deserve it. 

Which reminds me of a joke. How many curmudgeons does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to screw it in, and one to complain to him that light isn't as bright as it was when he was a kid, back when light knew some respect. 

One of these days we are going to find that the word "Please" has been replaced with "Wouldja already?" These days we are sloughing off social norms faster than a lobbyist sheds moral objections. 

And while I am on the subject of norms, may I propose we find a replacement for the celebratory word "Woo"? Yes, it meets the requirements for joyful exclamations—one syllable, heavy with vowels—but it has outlived its prime. At concerts and ball games, half-hearted "woos" outnumber full-throated ones 10 to 1. And let's face it, "Woohoo" has come to sound downright ironic. 

How about "Baa!" Somebody hits a home run, "Baa!" Great guitar solo, "Baa!" It brings to mind sheep, yes, but what's more appropriate for the political-bubble times we live in? "Baa" is a comfortable cry everybody learned in childhood, and thus easy to remember. Plus, like "Woo," it has the benefit of not meaning anything, but in a fresh way. 

Imagine the annual State of the Union address by the president, interrupted repeatedly by Congresspeople standing to clap and shout "Baa!" That I would watch.

Well, I have gotten the word from my newspaper editor that the budget has been tightened yet again, and this column will be a victim of the cuts. There is space for one more, next Sunday, a “best of” from my last 13 years. It promises to be a good one, so don’t you miss it. 

. . .

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fed up with life’s cacophony? Strap on a raccoon

There are basically two types of people--those who write little reminders to themselves, and those who forget to. In junior high I would write myself cryptic cartoon ideas in a little spiral notebook. Years later when I came across it I had no idea what "refrigerator crocodile explosion" meant. I bet it would have made a funny comic, though. There were dozens of notes just like it, never drawn. 

Now I add ideas to the Notes app on my phone. Evidently I have not changed much since the 8th grade, because I recently found this pithy scribble from nine months ago: "Column idea: Noise cancelling raccoon." The visual is pretty great, especially when pictured in use on a plane. All it would take is one celebrity, maybe Beyonce, and we would have a monster fad on our hands. There would not be enough raccoons in the world to satisfy it.

Then would come the inevitable knock-offs; noise-cancelling possums, weasels, beavers. Their use would be met with disdainful side-glances by those who know the difference between Louis Vuitton-level mammals and Marc Jacobs-level ones. It's not about using the most beautiful animals, either, not about chinchillas. Raccoon is an attitude as much as a genus. A raccoon's very posture says "You want some noise cancelled, boss? Point me in a direction."

You can spend $400 on headphones, easy, and it is true that headphones will never claw your face or poop down your neck. But you have to ask yourself if you are the kind of person who takes pride in living your life in a way which demands your constant vigilance or not. 

I am not sure where this raccoon idea came from, except that maybe as my head has lost its insulation I have enjoyed, more and more, warm items on it. I can also endure noise less and less, as if at birth we are gifted with a finite tolerance and it gradually wears away, like brake pads. I remember a time when I could tolerate a baby crying in public. These days I am ready to strap on a raccoon in 10 seconds. On a plane, five. 

It would have to wear the little red vest, of course, "service animal" emblazoned across its shoulders. But what better service can one animal provide to another than a little peace? Sure, fleas would be an issue. I am guessing they would not be the main one. 

. . .

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Cancelling a subscription is no easy phone call

After the election of 2016 I thought I wanted to stay on top of the news more than ever, which just proves how little I know myself. I subscribed digitally to several papers of various political bents, I downloaded apps. Recently I decided to cancel my subscription to the one I read the least, let’s call it the Wonk Gazette. They do not make it easy. While the conversation below is not an exact transcription, it does truthfully convey the overall experience.

Wonk Gazette: “Hello. How may I provide you with excellent service today?”

Me: “Today’s no good for me, but I would like to cancel my subscription.” 

WG: “All right, sir. Let me just confirm some information. I see you have been a loyal subscriber for 15 months. We are having a promotion right now, and I can let you skip a payment for an entire quarter.” 

Me: “That’s a great deal for somebody not cancelling their subscription.”

WG: “This is our most popular discount, sir, a savings of $45.”

Me: “You are witnessing my most popular feature, which is my patience. Can you cancel my subscription?”

WG: “Most people...”

Me: “Is there a number of times I need to ask you to cancel my subscription before you’ll do it? Because just give me the number. I’ll ask it five times or eight or whatever. What’s the number?”

WG: “If you find that your busy schedule does not permit reading the WG at this time, I can put you on a hold for this quarter and resume your access in the summer.”

Me: “Look, it’s nothing against your paper. It’s a quality read. I have just, over the last year, realized I am defenseless against the siren suck of Facebook. Turns out I’d rather watch a tiny hedgehog eat baby corn than read about how the world is losing its mind. You feel me?”

WG: “Would you like to upgrade to Premium Slackoff? For just $35 more a month you keep your subscription but we block access to your account. So it’s guilt-free.”

Me: “I just want you to cancel my subscription. I can say it in my high school German if you prefer.”

[Puts me on hold for two minutes; a ploy designed to make the weak hang up]

WG: “O.K., sir, I have cancelled your subscription. I just have one more question.”

Me: “Shoot.”

WG: “Would you be interested in hearing about our introductory New Subscriber rate?”

. . .

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Hubbub about 2020 Census question a lot of hot air

There was a lot of hubbub this week about the 2020 Census, because when it comes to American fads, hubbub is the new kale. 

The president suggested asking a person's citizenship status on the Census form. That is certainly a better question than this actual one from the 1990 Census: "Is your dwelling connected to the public sewer?" Not to mention the obvious followup question, "Would you like to donate $1.00 to a political party?"

The citizenship question has, in fact, been part of the Census for decades; it just wasn't in 2010. So the hubbub feels manufactured. Really, adding this question back to the form is just one of about, oh, 178,000 ways the president is trying to roll back Obama's legacy. 

Here's an idea. Let's convince him that Daylight Saving Time was Obama's idea. Please get behind me on this. 

I worked for the Census in 1990, so I am an insider. I recall signing an agreement, however, in which I had to swear never to reveal what I experienced. I am still not sure why, although I suspect it had something to do with the spirit conjuring. (The sewer question above is public knowledge, though.) And let me take this moment to say that the entire Census process was smooth and the federal government was an ideal employer. 

Census questions reveal a lot about their times. In 1810, one question asked if the person was deaf, blind or "idiotic." In 1910, we had the cheery "Of the children a person has mothered, how many are still alive?" 

In 2000, if you randomly received the “long form,” you had to answer a whopping 53 questions, but in 2010 this was pared down to only 10, one of which, strangely enough, was simply “LeBron or Kobe?”

Sure, a lot of people won't return the questionnaire if it means revealing they aren’t citizens. That was true in 1970, and it’s true now. The omission of this question in 2010 did not, I understand, result in a noticeably higher return rate. 

I know from my experience, it is hard to even get citizens to respond. Maybe if they offered to mail respondents a free gun or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg pillow, their choice. 

We feel hinky about giving personal information to the government yet we feel no qualms about posting a picture of ourselves on Facebook in a bunny costume chugging carrot vodka. Maybe they should add one more Census question: Dude, what were you thinking?

. . .

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday Wa Pic - What a difference one letter makes...

One of those coin-operated kiddie rides. Note the pay slot at left. (See closeup in photo below.)

I am pretty sure the ride maker meant "rental use." But hey, keeping an open mind, it could be the best dollar you every spent.

. . .

Special thanks to Susan Tripp for this beauty. :-)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shedding dog single-pawedly keeps lint roller industry afloat

As spring arrives I begin to wonder if there is any place in my house, on my body or perhaps in space, that I can’t find dog hair. 

Skipper’s winter coat apparently sheds at the rate of 1000 follicles per second, and is dispersed throughout my universe in a method that even string theory cannot explain. At work I glance down at my shirt and there are dog hairs. In the car. On the dinner plate. In the shower. On the pillow at bedtime. 

It is as if the old boy is getting a commission based on sheer coverage. He is not a long-haired dog, so he sheds short, fine little buggers, which float up onto your nose and settle, causing you to slap your palms down your face like one of the Three Stooges. 

(If there are any young readers who do not know who the Three Stooges are, here is what you need to do: ask for new parents. Or go on YouTube. But the former choice makes a stronger statement.)

There are many benefits to having a dog, but none involves breathing. 

There is a certain doggie dander factor which creates a kind of haze in the air, especially in the spring. Combined with the pollen wafting in through the many cracks in my old house, the audible sniffling from my family is at, like, “Hamilton” Act II levels. (Not as many people die in Act II as do at the end of “Hamlet,” but you care more, because they’re Americans.)

One benefit to having a dog is decorative; one’s window sill looks so bare without one. Skipper mounts a chair and then takes his position on the sill, like a general. There he will stand sentinel for an hour, or, more accurately, lounge sentinel, chin resting on paws, vigilant but not trying to show off or anything. 

To the letter carrier, to a passing jogger, to a delivery truck, he barks the following outrage, without variation: If this window were not here, I would now be in possession of your ankles. To a dog, a delivery truck totally has ankles.

This time of year I brush and comb Skipper's fur, which you'd think would take care of the shedding, but the Fates just laugh. Every pleasure in life has its cost, and a canine's cost is a fortune in lint-removal-rollers. 

It’s O.K. I just tell my coworkers I moonlight as a furrier. Nothing surprises them any more. 

Ankles. I give you fair warning.