4/30/2007

Im Meowmoriam

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:29 pm

Scamper died around 9:00 Friday evening, with a little help from Margaret’s associate and close friend DogEDoc. The end could not have been any better for him: he died in his favorite place in the world, on the hood of our snake cage bathed in the warmth of the incandescent bulbs beneath, in no pain, being petted and stroked by us until he was gone. I will miss him terribly for the rest of my days.

I thought I would take a moment to relay some of the amusing bits of lore regarding Scamper that have accrued over his close-to-sixteen years. Not for you folks, really—as I have said numerous times before, I don’t write this stuff for anyone but myself—but to help me remember them.

We brought home two brother kittens in June of 1991. We named them according to the characteristics they exhibited at the time. Scamper was the one that would charge around the house for no apparent reason, while Scrum was a pugilist of the two, challening his brother on the furry field of honor with that hilarious, stereotypical sidewinding boing-boing-boing BATBATBAT attack that anyone who’s ever owned a couple of kittens will recognize. As things turned out, other names might have been in order. “Scamper” might well have been named “Lumber” as he grew to linebacker proportions. Looking at his potato-like physique, I later opined that I should have named him “Gourdon”. Scrum is still a bit of a scrapper, but he has no real lust for battle. He’ll take an experimental swipe, then hiss and bolt like a bunny as soon as things aren’t going his way.

Cats ala Snake Cage

They took on many names over the years—Gourdon and Archie, Lard Butt and Skinny Britches, Whirdle and Gickle (it’s onomatopoeic, maybe I’ll explain it some time)—but one of may favorite terms for them as a couple, referenced in the title of Margaret’s previous post, was “The Futon Torpedoes”.

Being only a few weeks old when they came to us, Scamper and Scrum were tiny things when we got them. Margaret found that the two of them could comfortably perch on top of her waist pack while it was strapped to her. Their handy portability resulted in a couple of amusing instances:

  • During the first few weeks of their time with us, we allowed the cats to sleep in our bedroom (if “sleep” is the proper word for it; more on that in a moment). I awoke at oh-dark-thirty one morning with a strange sensation. Once I had it pegged, I gently woke Margaret and told her to take a look at me. When she turned over and opened her eyes, she saw me lying on my right side, with Scamper curled into a contented, furry little pill, fast asleep on the plane of the left side of my head.
  • It soon became obvious that we would not be able to let the cats bed with us as a regular thing. Having spent eighteen hours of the previous day sleeping, by eleven that night they were up for some action. For Scamper this took the form of demands for attention, mostly by way of standing on your chest/shoulder/carotid artery, staring holes through your skull and blowing warm little kitty purrs into your face until you woke up/turned over/suffered a stroke. For Scrum, “action” consisted of opening things, a passion that he has pursued with zeal all of his life. With the studied, merciless single-mindedness of an Indian fakir with OCD, Scrum will open anything that presents an obstacle to his curiosity, be they dresser drawers, kitchen cabinets, closet doors, gun safes or bank vaults. Neither of these pursuits were particularly conducive to getting a full night’s sleep, so we started closing the door to our bedroom. Needless to say, the cats were not happy with the situation. One night I was awakened by a bizarre, breathy scraping noise coming from the door. I bolted upright just in time to witness Scamper pulling himself through the inch-and-a-half gap between the door and the carpeted floor. How he managed to avoid accordioning his ribs into bone meal I will never know. but I had to give him credit—and some extra people time—for his valiant efforts.

During the first couple of years of their lives, we lived in a trailer in the middle of a wheat field in Pullman. The 14 x 70 foot trailer was augmented with a 12 x 30 addition that served as a den/storage room. The addition was accessed through a large entryway from the living room, but there was also a small windowlike passthrough from the long central hallway. Scamper liked to hang out in this little cubby and “mug” people passing him as they walked down the hall, reaching out and batting at us with a paw. In fact, right up until the last few days of his life, Scamp would often be up for a round of “boxing”. I would assume the stance in front of their large carpeted cat structure (a sort of jungle gym for felines, with stands, tubes and platforms for their delectation) and Scamper would arrange himself on the topmost platform, turned on his side so that both front paws were available. I would then throw light, slappy punches at him and he would bat at my hands, often drawing a bit of blood if I weren’t exceptionally quick or careful. This is just the kind of shenanigan that his brother, despite his name, would never go for. He’d take one look at the odds, hiss angrily and bolt for the door. Pussy. 😉

Being on the husky side (much like his owner), Scamper was prone to overheating (much like his owner). The summers in Pullman were particularly brutal for him. There were many a day in July or August when I would find Scamp curled around the base of the guest bathroom toilet, his tummy pressed snugly to its water-cooled porcelain sides. Kind of icky, but who could blame him? He also took a passion for the sink in there, and I showed one of the better angels of my nature by never once turning the faucet on him.

Scamper in the sink

At some point Margaret bought me a small stuffed gorilla (toy, not taxidermy). It sat on my nightstand for a few days, until I came into the bedroom one afternoon and it was missing. I eventually found it under the table and put it back in its place. Some thirty minutes later I happened to catch Scamp in the act as he was dragging the gorilla under the nightstand, where he would sit and clean it. I retrieved the somewhat soggy stuffed simian simulacrum and sequestered it in Margaret’s office, where cats were allowed only under adult supervision.

Scamper had an amazingly annoying habit when it came to cuddling. So long as he had the strength to do so, he would never, ever just sit the fuck down and be petted. I would be sitting on the couch and he would come up and stare at me until I snapped my fingers at him, then he would climb up on my lap. Then I would start scratching him behind the ear, and he would start purring. Then he would stand up, turn around on my lap until he was faced the other way, then sit down again. Then he would stand up and take a couple of tentative steps down my thigh, digging his piton-like feet into the soft, nerve-festooned crevices between the major muscle subgroups of my quadriceps. Then I would stop petting him, because I had blacked out from the pain. When I came to he would be standing between my thighs, starting imploringly at me. I would begin to pet him again, and he would start to purr, then he would walk halfway up my chest, knocking the wind and maybe my dinner out of me. Then he would turn around, giving me a bit of the old pink wink, and proceed back down my gut towards my lap. Where he would remain for perhaps as long as four minutes until a) Margaret came home from work, or b) he decided he needed a drink of water. Either way, his parting gift to me would be to vault off of my lap, using at least one of my testicles as a launch pad.

This same feline would spend hours motionless beneath the covers at Margaret’s feet, or perched on a cushion in her lap. But for me, petting this cat was a constant (and aerobic) exercise in frustration. And pain.

Scamp was an extremely loving and uncomplicated cat. All he needed to be happy was food, a warm lap, his brother and a scritch or two—hundred—behind the ears. In the tradition that we started with the Torpedoes’ step-sister Baird, we will bury Scamper’s ashes under a climbing rose, along with a selection of his stuff that he may need in the next world: his collar, his food dish, his catnip pillow and his favorite Troll doll. Godspeed and good rest, my kitty.

Scamper's Paw

4/28/2007

The Era of The Futon Torpedoes Is Over

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 2:41 pm

Futon Scamper
Scamper May 7, 1991-April 27, 2007
There is a hole in our hearts that exactly fits his shape.

4/27/2007

Things Are Kind Of On Hold

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:08 am

I’m not going to be doing a lot of blogging until my cat decides whether he wants to die, so bear with me. He’s in the end stage of renal failure with a nice cancer to back it up, and he’s approaching the end. More on this story as it develops.

Scamper

4/25/2007

Comments Contained Here…..

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 12:17 pm

Do not necessarily reflect the views of me in my D.V.M. disguise, employee of VCA Antech Inc.
Margaret Lynn Hammond, private citizen, however…..

My lawyer told me to leave well enough alone with my employers and in a professional sense I have done. This being the US I am, at least for the immediate moment, afforded certain constitutional protections with regard to free speech which I am desirous of exercising. I am also willing and able to accept the consequences of my speech, since this is technically a private discussion in a public place, but really, what can my employers do? Fire me?

That disclaimer having been disclaimed, the sub-title of this post is “Or, Why Margaret Quit Her Job.”

When I graduated WSU in 1994 I went to work almost immediately for a miserable miserly SOB in Olympia who, through his outdated ideas of what consituted good medicine and his truly bizarre notions of what constituted good business management gave me an ulcer and made me want to quit the profession. After much soul searching I decided that being unemployed and/or being forced to take a job at the local supermarket to pay the rent was probably better than staying with him and so I got the satisfaction of calling his house one night and telling his wife (the office manager for the practice) that I was leaving for Hawaii in 10 days and wasn’t coming back. That was December of 1997.

I floated around for a few months (after we got back from Hawaii), interviewing for jobs and squeaking by some sort of income by working as a relief doctor for various practices for whom I had interviewed. During this period of time I was startled to learn that not all practices worked the way Dr. RatBastard’s had. In the real world there were licensed technicians who were capable of doing things like placing IV catheters, taking radiographs, doing dental cleanings and surgical preps; things that I was capable of doing, but since I had trained as a doctor, I wasn’t that good at doing. In the real world there were modern anesthetic protocols, modern pain control drugs, referral hospitals to take care of your patients overnight so you didn’t have to leave them on IV fluids with no monitoring.
I discovered that I really did love medicine and, although inexperienced and unsure of myself, I had the potential to make this career work for me.

In March 1998 I took a week’s position at a hospital whose name I was familiar with. Five Corners had been owned by one doctor for the last several decades. And, with all due respect to one of my seniors in the profession, the man was over ready to retire. His management style and the nature of the practice was such that he hadn’t been able to keep doctors for several years and nothing will kill a veterinary practice faster than clients not being able to see the same doctor twice. A local company, Pet’s Choice, had purchased Five Corners from Doctor OldDude in July 1997 and had rapidly installed a disasterous series of medical directors. By March 1998 they were on their third medical director and still didn’t have a stable DVM staff to get the day practice back on its feet, to say nothing of a stable DVM staff to keep the emergency practice going. Dr. R (the third medical director) recommended me to the corporation for a full time position within two days of my taking that week long relief shift. And so I found myself with a full time position at a practice that seemed promising with a capable staff working for a corporation that seemed somewhat reasonable.
I was transferred to a sister hospital in Redmond for December of 1998, but was back to my position at Five Corners by January 1999 when the corporation decided that Dr. R was a loon and he quit. Around that time the emergency practice died, mostly because of Dr. R’s mismanagement, and so Five Corners was left to Melanie and I. A building built for a 7 doctor 24 X 7 day/ER/ICU practice had turned into an overwhelming white elephant with two doctors and a feeble, struggling day practice.

For two years we split six days per week and managed to get to a point where we had a dedicated client base, a full schedule and, glory be, a crowd of local veterinarians pestering us to re-open the emergency clinic. In June 2001 we hired Laurie and for two years we three split seven days per week which further strengthened our client base and encouraged more local veterinarians to pester us about re-opening the emergency clinic. The white elephant was actually making a profit, we were attracting dedicated, if eccentric, staff members and the demand was loud to open our emergency service again.

In June 2003, with five doctors, a staff that didn’t know what was about to hit them, and an enormous building that had been built for exactly that purpose, we re-opened our emergency service. The white elephant practice with no client base and no local veterinarians that would refer emergencies to us had gone from being the least profitable to the most profitable practice in the corporation. It was a hard haul, but we were proud of what we had done.

I was in my office one day in May 2005 when the then office manager called all of us to an impromptu staff meeting in the middle of the afternoon. She had just been notified that the investors in Pet’s Choice (i.e. the bankroll behind the corporation) had sold the corporation to Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) effective immediately. Pet’s Choice wasn’t profitable enough and they wanted to finally get some return on their investment. Our small, homegrown corporation had been assimilated into the Borg collective and resistance really was futile.
Over the next several weeks there was considerable weeping, wailing, hair tearing, teeth gnashing, and other melodrama. A series of very carefully planned and attendence mandatory meetings were held introducing us to the parent company.
And at first it didn’t seem all that bad a change. Yeah, we’d have to wear different colored scrubs, yeah, they’d want us to change from Five Corners Veterinary Hospital to VCA Five Corners Animal Hospital, but overall there was nothing really threatening. We’d still work with a local management team, the decisions about medicine would still be made by doctors and each hospital would be able to determine how they would practice medicine.

Then the changes started happening in the support staff’s employment agreements. Several full time people weren’t able to make enough money to be able to afford the “group rate” that was offered for health insurance. Don’t you think that a large corporation with over 300 hospitals around the country and literally thousands of employees would be able to negotiate a group rate that would allow full time employees to be able to afford health insurance? Hospital management was effectively neutered in their decision making capacity. Our very skilled office manager was reduced to little more than a paper pusher, unable to make decisions about what suppliers we used, what vendors we would purchase things from directly, and which local services we would, or would not, choose to have our business represented by. Management on the medical side of the practice was taken away from the doctors of the practice. Oh, we were told that we’d still have the absolute say on what we would or would not use/perform/recommend, but we’d get “suggestions” from corporate and if we resisted those “suggestions” we’d have to come up with a bloody good reason for our resistance and even then we’d face censure. The doctors’ employment contracts had to be re-negotiated too. We were informed in September 2005 that we had to sign a VCA employment contract by December. I don’t remember what the “or else” was, but we were all handed an insulting document masquarading as an employment contract and were told to sign. That, at least, was open to some negotiation. We banded together and authorized Melanie to negotiate on our behalf. She got her barracuda to go over the contract with a fine tooth comb and presented corporate with an alternative contract which, barring a few non-negotiable points, was actually accepted.
I was aware that there were some parts that we asked to be changed that corporate wouldn’t change for us. At the time I didn’t think they mattered so I signed the contract.

There are three parts of the contract I signed that I should have gotten more pissy about before signing. The first being that I agreed that the contract as signed in December 2005 was the employment contract I’d work under for the rest of my term at VCA. There was no provision for yearly review, especially no provision for salary review, and no real provision for appeal.
The second being that my base salary was capped at the rate at which I was being paid in December 2005. Reasonable, in some lights, considering that I agreed to be paid on a “base plus production” rate that would guarantee me a base salary and would pay me a bonus of 21% of what I brought into the practice per month. In theory, I never need cost of living adjustments in my base salary because if I’m working hard and the practice is successful then I’ll be getting a bonus every month. Right?
That takes us to the third portion of the contract that I should have gotten more pissy about before signing. The very least negotiable portion of the entire VCA veterinary employment contract says that they’ll pay you a salary at a set rate per month, but if you don’t bring into the practice the amount of money it takes to pay your salary each month then you end up owing the corporation the difference and you won’t get a bonus check until you pay it back. Or, to put it another way, you can take the vacation or sick time that you earn and you’ll still get a paycheck since it is “paid” time. But if you aren’t bringing in any money during that time you’re not in the office, you owe the corporation that paycheck.
We went to Great Britain for three weeks last spring. I was out of the office for a month. It took seven months for me to produce enough each month to pay my salary for that month and work off the “debt” I had incurred getting paid for my earned vacation time.
And this was paid vacation time, how? I have a colleague who is paid a somewhat higher base than I am who “owes” the corporation oveer $15,000 because she takes “paid” vacations fairly frequently. She is afraid that the corporation will cut her base salary because she doesn’t bring enough money into the practice to pay her salary.

Somewhat miffed over this, and deep in the grips of the tummy weasels, last December I sent an e-mail to our regional manager asking if I could re-negotiate parts of my contract. I mentioned that I had been a dedicated employee for 8 years and had every intention of staying in my current position for the forseeable future. I purposely did NOT mention that I needed to re-negotiate my contract because I was sick and needed to stress out less about how taking time off affected my salary. If they weren’t willing to re-negotiate my contract in respect for my loyalty to the corporation I didn’t want them to re-negotiate just because I was sick.

The answer I got is reproduced, in part, below (comments in parentheses are mine):

“Pet’s Choice went out of business and VCA has a different compensation structure for the doctors – bottom line.” (i.e. put up or shut up)

“Vacation pay was determined by what was produced and a reimbursement percent was calculated on an hourly basis. There was no gift for continued employment.”

“What I mean is that there is not a financial reward for being someplace for three or five years but there should be continued opportunities for growth that will allow each of you to succeed in whatever area is important.” (does anyone hear a Dilbert-like “you won’t get paid more, but your intangible benefits will increase” Maybe I should have been petting the hospital cat more frequently.)

I spent two hours at the hospital last week from 8-10 am and not one GP client walked in the door. What is up with that? We are a combined practice that is in part dependent on the GP for the health or our ER service. What are we doing to grow the GP? The practices feed one another, currently the ER practice is down and the GP piece has eroded and cannot make up the deficit. (or: I was the one who was responsible for hiring the absolutely disasterous manager that we just fired and since she was the one responsible for hiring most of the front desk staff and promoting the practice the fact that clients of the General Practice don’t want to come in anymore has to be someone’s fault, but it’s sure not mine!)

People who have known me for a while will realize the futility in such a response. I threw a lot of temper tantrums as a child and so am quite familiar with the best response to them. Mom used to grab me by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and chuck me into my room then shut the door until I cooled down. Issuing such an ultimatum is not the way to get any rational response out of me. I haven’t yet told the author of the above letter exactly where, and exactly how high to stuff it and maybe I never will, but I sure have fun composing e-mails in response.
Besides, as I mentioned at the top of this (very lengthy) post, I did quit my job. I’ve got a hot prospect with a friend from WSU and the regional manager is going to be the one answering to corporate as to why the profits from the day practice (the GP) are going to take a big hit for a second summer in a row. I almost look forward to it.
I’ll be working three 13 hour days per week with no weekends and no emergency work. I’m REALLY looking forward to that.
I’ll miss my support staff and I’ll really miss my doctor team, but I can’t love the people I work with and not trust the people I work for. So this summer look for me on weekends. I’ll be the one with the wistful look and the big grin.

4/24/2007

HAH!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:20 am

I spied this article on Slashdot this morning: Dell Computer, one of the largest computer manufacturers and the world, is bringing Windows XP back to many of its systems due to customer demand. Good for them! If they had just continued to offer it on their business systems, I wouldn’t have had to return a brand-new laptop to them.

I’m sorely tempted to go down to my local computer parts store and stock up on OEM licenses of XP Pro while the gettin’s good. XP may only be available for another year or less; that’s barely enough time for Microsoft to work out everything that seems to be wrong with Vista and for the base of useable drivers to grow to acceptable levels. I sound kind of retro-curmudgeon, I know (“why in my day, we had cartoony candy-colored windows with only a little beveling to pretty ’em up, and we were luck to have that!“). But Jeebus, all I want out of my PCs is for them to work. Now that it has been acknowledged that Vista will not be the cure for the ‘ware that mals you (“dun Dun DUUUUUNNN“), all that’s left for me to focus on is base functionality, which I have to admit XP does pretty well. Oh, and gaming.

I could care less about eye candy. If I want to look all cool and cutting edge, well, I have my Macs. 😛

4/23/2007

Such things that occur to me….

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 11:00 am

I came up with this (why won’t any of you find this surprising?) on a relatively dull day at work last week.

ASS-trophy: adjective, describing that unique sensation that occurs when you’ve been sitting for so long that you feel as if you’ve developed a flat spot on your buttocks. May be used to describe a very boring lecture, movie, etc. i.e. “Man, that lecture was a serious asstrophy!” as the description of the sensation is sufficient to convey the relative dullness and/or length of the presentation in question.

4/22/2007

Funnier Than The Funniest Funny In Funnydom On A Funny Jag

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:02 pm

Muchas Mahalos to YakBoy for sending this my way.

Dr. Tran (YouTube)

It’s long (over 7 minutes), and not safe for work, if your work is populated with bluehairs. No boobies or nuthin’ (hey, it’s YouTube), but some bad words. And HUGE laughs. 😆

4/21/2007

My God….It’s Full Of Starbucks

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:29 pm

I dropped by my local grocery store for a few items this afternoon, and was accosted near the bakery by a pert young Starbucks employee with a tray, who glided out from behind the walls of her Formica fortress to ply me with free samples. “Would you like to try our new Dulce de Leche Latte?” she asked me, holding her tray a little higher. The burnished metal surface was peppered with diminutive, Dixie-cup-sized containers bearing the familiar mermaid logo, each one topped with a strangely frilly dollop of some sort of whipped-type topping and drizzled with a caramel-colored syrup, presumably of the caramel variety. I begged off.

I’m not 100% sure why I spurned her sugary wares. It’s not like I hate the Starbucks corporation or anything. After all, they almost single-handedly saved my life on our trip to the UK last summer, when the air conditioning in our hotel broke down and the only place to find succor against the persecuting heat of a London summer was in the many, many Starbucks located….well, everywhere. In London, no establishment smaller than a Royal Museum of Somethingorother seemed to offer climate control of any sort. The fact that these particular oases also offered good coffee and decent scones was only the dusting of cocoa on my cappuccino.

So it’s not the product that turned me off. I think instead it was the delivery. I’m not prone to taking things from people–particularly complete strangers–who try to force whatever it is upon me. My initial impulse is to decline. This is one of many things that make a trip to Costco so vexing for me. Here I am, harried, misanthropic and a little claustro, trying to negotiate this rabbit’s warren of hyperthyroidal commodities, collect my purchases and make it back out of there in as little time as possible. Meanwhile all around me, cow-eyed somnambulistic moochers are thrombosing the aisles, wandering aimlessly from item to item like smoke-dazed honeybees in a flower shop and forming massive, grease-slicked clots of impulsive greed around the free sample tables. I always daydream about bringing my own shopping cart; diesel powered, tank-treaded, with an electrified cow-catcher welded to the front. Hell, to the back and sides as well.

So I was personally predilected against this sort of tactic to begin with. To make matters more complicated, it’s not only the strategy behind this one retail interchange that gave me pause. This game plan has been duplicated in macrocosm by the coffee stand’s mother ship, because this is the second Starbucks to be built, not in my town or even on this block, but in this very piece of property.

Starbucks 1

Here is the Starbucks kiosk recently constructed inside my grocery.

Starbucks 2

And here, some 120 degrees to the right and perhaps 100 feet in the distance, is the Starbucks coffee shop that has been here at least as long as we have lived in the neighborhood, just under six years.

This is not the point where I start screaming about corporate America spamming our pristine commercial landscape with metastatic copies of itself. (Not that I don’t think that’s exactly what’s happening; just that this isn’t the point of this particular post.) I can in fact completely understand the logic behind putting a coffee stand inside the store. The sign for the Starbucks over yonder is almost invisible from this angle: the shop happens to reside in the same building as a drug store, which was there first and presumably retained the right to keep the overhead signage space for itself. (And ooo, how that must have pissed off the Java Juggernaut!) Starbucks already had a presence in the store in the form of a small Seattle’s Best Coffee (an independent coffee company Starbucks acquired a few years ago) stand embedded in the bakery. But their equipment was old–almost as old as the nonagenarian running the thing–and produced lousy coffee. I saw very little in the way of sales taking place at the SBC counter. By convincing the grocery to let them move over to a standalone kiosk right by the doors, I’m sure they are raking a tidy sum in impulse stimulant sales.

This pattern is repeated just about everywhere that can actually support a retail gourmet coffee industry, which at this point would appear to mean approximately sixty percent of the available planetary landmass. It comes as no surprise whatsoever to see mirror-image coffee shacks kitty-corner from each other on busy intersections around the globe. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make them money. I’m sure it makes good business sense.

What it doesn’t make much of is common sense. I guess I’m just depressed by the thought that we as a consumer society are so flighty, so scatterbrained and yet so prone to suggestion that this sort of tactic works. To admit that we are willing to buy–if it is dangled in front of us–that which we wouldn’t have bothered to walk a hundred paces out of our way for is more than disheartening. It’s a little disgusting.

I think I’ve decided on some weird level of my consciousness that I am not going to buy any coffee from that stand, that if I am going to blow three dollars on a cup of coffee when I’m three blocks from home that I will at least expend another three calories in the process of acquiring it by going to the shop across the lot. Better yet, maybe I’ll hop across the street and down a couple of blocks to the Olympic Coffee shop. They have better coffee anyway, plus free WiFi instead of the usurious TMobile service offered at the ‘Bucks. Even better yetter, maybe I’ll just suck it up and go home, where I have all the coffee I could possibly want, plus all the other comforts of home.

As a white middle-class male in the richest country on Earth, my opportunities to prove my valor and self-discipline are few and far between. As a result I have to take these opportunities when they present themselves, lame and flaccid though they may be. This would appear to be one such instance. Excelsior! 😛

4/18/2007

Blood (Boils) On the Highway….And In The Parking Lot

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:32 pm

I’m sure this scenario will be familiar to many of you.

So I’m on my way to my favorite local Mom-and-Pop office supply store (just kidding: I’m going to one of the megalithic corporate supply barns like Staples or OfficeMax). I taxi in on approach to its football-field-sized parking lot, driving parallel to the storefront until I’m about where I want to be on the X axis, then take a right turn down the nearest convenient lane in order to park in a desirable spot higher up on the Y. Only before I am able to complete my journey I am forced to screech to a halt and make way for someone who has elected to cross fifty-five lanes at an oblique diagonal whose endpoint approximates the parking lot exit. He takes time out of his busy lawbreaking to fire a disapproving glance my way as he passes.

Okay, to be perfectly correct about it, I don’t know if this sort of behavior constitutes a violation of the law or not. But it certainly represents, at the very least, a lapse in judgment on the part of the perpetrator. He is putting his need to live life unfettered by societally-determined conventions of driving protocol over my need to not be T-boned in a parking lot.

There is a–well, sort of a joke about Seattleites, a visual gag that is supposed to showcase and satirize our basic lawfulness and passivity. The image is that of a lone person standing at a crosswalk in a presently uninhabited part of the city, at three o’clock in the morning….waiting for the walk signal. That’s me to a “T”: with very few exceptions, I am spring-loaded towards a tendency to obey the law rather than to break it. One might argue that this is due in no small part to the fact that, being a white middle-class straight male, the law is inherently designed to support my safety and prosperity. This is no doubt to some extent true. On the other hand, the corollary—that those who blaze a trail across the parking lot must therefore be disproportionately represented by low-income minority homosexuals—does not seem to hold true, and therefore this is probably not the defining difference between myself and these transgressors.

In my salad days, I was a big fan of the writing of Robert Heinlein. (While I still hold much of his work in high regard, I have come in what I might call my “maturity”—and others might call “growing fuddyduddaeity” or even “creeping liberal wimpitude”—to think of Heinlein as either 1) a brilliant, bloviating blowhard with a fecund imagination and a talent for writing, 2) a brilliant, dangerous weirdo with a fecund imagination and a talent for writing, or 3) a bit of both.) In one of his later (and in my opinion greater) works, Job: A Comedy of Justice, the main character describes a tableau completely alien to him in his particular culture and place in the space/time continuum: that of roadway intersections controlled by stoplights. The character describes these amazing devices in detail, and marvels at the notion that people in automobiles obey these lifeless mechanical arrays of lights as though they were actual traffic cops. He wonders aloud what sort of sheep people in this particular universe must be to do so.

As impractical and almost Darwinistically libertarian as the above sentiment might be, If I thought that the average driver who casually and deliberately violated accepted convention and established law in this universe actually put this amount of forethought into his antisocial actions, I would feel some measure of relief. However, I am unshakably certain that these people do not. This ties in well to a long-running conviction of mine, namely that the average person in this country (maybe other countries as well; I haven’t spent enough time abroad) doesn’t spend nearly enough time thinking about what (s)he is doing, or reacting to, or even thinking. Some masochistic part of me would love to sit down with one of these parking-lot scofflaws and ask them why they drive across the clearly-marked lanes instead of following the prescribed layout. The time saved in doing so must be minimal at best: in a parking lot that is three hundred yards long and one hundred yards deep, driving diagonally from the very first parking space across all of the intervening lanes will shave a little over 80 yards off your total drive. (This will only save you time, it should be noted, if you do not run over some child on a bicycle and end up going to jail or beaten to death by an enraged mob.)

So actual, practical cost/benefit analysis would not seem to enter into it. Is it the acting out of an urge to rebel, to go against the grain and provoke controversy? A traumatic experience with a coloring book early in life that leaves one emotionally incapable of staying inside the lines? Ocular damage? Leaky car exhaust?

In fact, I would guess that the most cogent thought running through their brains regarding their decision to flout custom and endanger others would be something akin to, “I don’t wanna”. This saddens and angers me at the same time. It’s the kind of frustration that, over time, can bring despots to power. I want these yahoos to follow societal norms, and I’m almost to the point of being willing to pay someone to make them do it. That doesn’t automatically mean the institution of a Parking Lot Enforcement Brigade (or “PLEB”, the sound of a cigarette being forcibly ejected from the mouth of a violator as he suffers a truncheon to the solar plexus). The application of a simple set of concrete berms would discourage all but the most hypersteroidal motorist, and would add but a nominal surcharge to the cost of a ream of typing paper or box of ball-points.

Heck, I’d even pay for the first one out of my own pocket, if they’d let me have the naming rights. 😉

4/13/2007

Brain Fart, Trapped In A Virtual Jar

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:21 am

As great reading goes this isn’t, but it hit me yesterday and I wanted to write it down, if for no other reason than to have it serve as a (?)permanent(?) record of the event in question. I don’t trust hardware or software that much, but I think I might trust it more than my wetware.

A passenger-airliner-sewage-dump-sized chunk of memory fell out of the sky and crashed into me on the road yesterday. Margaret and I were driving through the Kent Valley area returning from an errand, and the phrase “Kent Valley” started bouncing around in my mind, deforming a bit with each ricochet. Kent Valley….Valley of Kent….yea, though I walk through the Valley of Kent….

Finally, I started giggling as I flashed back on a day when I was maybe age ten or eleven, when I walked around the corner to my friend Gavin’s house. His older brother Brian had just finished putting the last touches on a large color poster. Unlike his usual fare of KISS color-by-number jobbies, this was 100% handmade.

It featured a large, angry-looking caveman type, wearing the standard animal-skin wrap and brandishing a club. Above him were the words,

YEA, THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY
OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL
FOR I AM THE BIGGEST, MEANEST SON OF A BITCH
IN THE WHOLE DAMN VALLEY.

Brian and I never had what I would call a cordial relationship, but I did always admire his sense of humor. 😉

4/11/2007

A Neologism Especially For Cat Owners

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:52 pm

This particular neologism has been in rattling around in Margaret’s and my vocabulary for some time, but she mentioned having recently incapacitated a colleague at work by using it in front of him, and this made me realize that I had not shared it with the rest of you.

Unlike many dogs, cats spend a lot of time at approximately eye height with their owners. They jump up onto your desk, climb up into your lap, insinuate themselves between you and your book/TV show/delicious sammich. This puts one in highly intimate contact with their various ends. Some ends are more, well, mannerly than others.

‘Round these parts (and those parts), the south-bound end of a north-bound cat is commonly referred to as a “Pink Wink”. 😀

Or, alternatively, a “Cat Ass Trophy”. Say it fast. 😯

4/9/2007

How I Want To Grow Old

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 5:01 pm

On a recent trip to Olympia I stopped in at Orca Books, probably the best non-chain used bookstore in the greater Puget Sound area.

I can’t remember how many books I bought, I just wandered and grabbed. And in the process picked up two new (to me) books by one of my favorite authors.
Florence King first caught my eye with her autobiographical “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady”. I found the book to be quite wonderful. Miss King’s story is compelling, her style of writing a joy to read, and her wit (“No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street.”) is at once biting and enchanting in its brutal honesty.

Note that I refer to her as “Miss” not “Ms.”. A self described old maid, I suspect that this is the prefix she would prefer.

Regardless I’ve been reading “Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye” which is a collection of essays published in, oh dear, 1989. Okay, so I’m a bit behind the times.

Reading Florence King is rather like being in an intense discussion with a person absolutely passionate about their point of view. It’s like arguing with a zealot. So long as you agree with their point of view the discussion can be fascinating, stimulating, educational. If you don’t agree with their point of view you should prepare to be thoroughly offended. That’s part of what I love about Miss King’s writing. She is unapologetically the original feminist. Not PC, not New Age, and certainly not the Earth Mother brand of feminist. Independent doesn’t even come close. Having grown up in the ’40s and ’50s with a family dominated by viragos in the most classic sense of the word, this woman is firmly of the belief that there is nothing that women shouldn’t be able to do if we’d just pull our heads out of our asses.

What Molly Ivins was to political diatribe, Florence King is to social diatribe. Railing on and about women who have no identity of their own except by how they are defined by their families is one of her best subjects.
In a chapter titled “Does Your Child Taste Salty” the discussion turns to the state of the world in relationship to how it seems impossible in the modern day to get through life without the interference of some group or another bent on helping you. People trusting in organizations, including the government, that tell them how to improve themselves, how to raise their children, how to interact with their families, and how to care for their aging parents. Now granted I find that I disagree with some of Miss King’s points in this particular chapter, but one paragraph struck me in particular.

“At fifty-two I have no need for the ministrations of the Menopause Seminar because I am not afraid of getting old. Living with Granny taught me that aging does not make women powerless objects of pity but colorful and entertaining individuals and, on occasion, fire breathing dragons that wise people don’t cross.”

God grant me the grace to grow into a colorful, entertaining individual with tendencies towards being a fire breathing dragon. A noble definition if I’ve ever heard one.

Late Breaking Edit:
No, I’m not sure why the chapter is titled “Does Your Child Taste Salty”. I haven’t finished that particular chapter though and the answer may be forthcoming.

Another One For the Books

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:10 am

‘Round 8:00 on Friday evening, someone in a cluster of IPs belonging to the Nashville office of Columbia HCA made it to my blog via the following MSN Live search:

rent jet skis at strom thurmond

As is so often the case with Refer Madness posts, I was initially unable to even parse the language of–or the motivation behind–the request. Turns out the late Senator has a body of water in Georgia named after him, but at first my mind was reeling. Does Strom Thurmond’s estate rent Jet Skis? Is Strom Thurmond himself actually available for rental as a recreational watercraft?

Come to think of it, he was pretty lightweight even in life, doubtless more so now. Bend him into the proper shape, give him a couple of coats of marine lacquer and shove a high-powered impeller up his ass, he might just be seaworthy. One longs to try, anyway; makes me smile just thinking about it. 😀

4/8/2007

Irony Supplement, Part 13

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:33 pm

Irony Supplement Part 13

Courtesy of my local QFC. Ironic indeed; do any of the three women depicted on that bag look like they spend any time at all at their local McDonald’s? I suppose they could all be bulimic….

4/5/2007

Why Aren’t I this Smart?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:12 am

My brother sent me this video clip yesterday (QuickTime format):

It’s amazing that a creature could simultaneously be so smart as to find a way to get to the ball, yet dumb enough to care about getting to it at all. That describes “dog” in a nutshell for me. But it is an amazing piece of video. 🙂

4/4/2007

Food Fright, Part 16

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:54 am

Food Fright Part 16

I snapped this picture in my local grocery store earlier in the week. Where to begin, where to begin….

First of all, one wouldn’t think that Oreos and organic anything would be capable of peaceful coexistence on the same shelf, much less the same cookie. I would have thought that such an endeavor would be like handing a thirsty vampire a glass of holy water. Upon introduction of the offending additives, you’d expect the cookie to emit an anguished squeal and hurl itself bodily out of the baking tray, like the alien-contaminated blood sample in John Carpenter’s The Thing. (Off topic: did you know that The Thing was banned in Finland when it first came out? Whoda thunk. It’s amazing the kind of useless crap you can learn whilst trawling for a hyperlink to reference.)

Secondly, what marketing genius decided that what Oreos really needed was organic ingredients anyway? What’s next, animal-testing-free rat poison? Fair Trade Certified hollow-point bullets? Dolphin Safe Strontium 90?

At 160 calories and 7 fat grams per cookie, you’d be better off eating the strontium.

Junk food is junk food, and nothing in the cookie arena is junkier than an Oreo. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with letting a little junk food into your life. Just don’t let it get out of hand. To this common-sense proclamation I would add a codicil: don’t try to tart up your junk food and pretend it’s something it’s not. Like healthy. Or good for the planet. Or even food, really.

I am reminded of that sage old adage, “You can’t polish a turd”.

4/3/2007

A Must-Read For Those Who Know Their Towels

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:04 am

In case you missed it, online SF mag Darker Matter has started posting installments of a heretofore-unpublished 1979 interview with Douglas Adams. It’s nice to read his voice again. Go check it out.

4/2/2007

Mwaaa, Ha Ha Ha….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:27 am

In case you missed this April 1:

Google Announces Google TiSP Beta

Mahalo Nui Loa to Mike for sending me the link. *snort* 😀

UPDATE: Leave it to Slashdot to one-up me on this and post an article regarding a real-life attempt at a sewer-based data network. Truth is stranger than fiction….

4/1/2007

This Isn’t An April Fool’s Joke, But It Should Be

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:22 pm

Margaret got hold of a new catalog of scrubs somewhere and was leafing through it at the dining room table the other day. In case you have been asleep for the last twenty years or so, scrubs–the ubiquitous shirt-and-pants ensembles worn by doctors, nurses, dental hygienists and most other non-administrative folks affiliated with health care–are now available in a staggering array of colors, patterns, cuts and styles. I myself have a royal blue scrub shirt covered in brightly-hued poison dart frogs that I love. (The scrub shirt, that is, but also poison dart frogs. They’re just adorable.) Scrubs are comfortable, durable and easy to clean. I don’t think there’s a single person who wears scrubs at work who doesn’t also wear them outside of work at least part of the time. And the industry has responded to this sentiment, marketing an ever-expanding line of these useful, utilitarian duds.

Did someone say “marketing”?

nurse-victorias-secret.jpg

Um, okay, so I’m fully aware that the style and visual semantics of pornography have become totally embedded in the rest of our culture and particularly our advertising, but come on. (Hmmm….on second thought, change that to “give me a break”. No, no, I retract the suggestion, keep it as is. Namely, a come on. [No, the noun phrase, not the verb. Jeez, get a grip. {!}]) This thing looks like it was cribbed directly from the Vivid Video catalog; the wind-tousled hair, the hand on the shoulder, the come-hither looks on the models’ faces….it looks like the jacket for a DVD called “Right Away, Doctor”.

Heck, just the fact that there are two women on the cover and no men. This company does sell scrubs for men too, in case you were wondering.

I’m not offended by this catalog cover by any means. I don’t care either way. But as someone who makes catalogs for a living, I have to question its effectiveness. It may stir up some initial interest, but after the brief soft-core biracial lesbian nurse porn thing fizzles out on page 1, you’re still left with a kind of, “What the heck was that all about?” taste in your mouth.

Frankly, there are some things I’d rather not have advertisers incessantly try to associate with sex. Drain cleaners. Cold remedies. Firearms. To this woefully incomplete list, despite any residual “Naughty Nurse” undertone, I would include the commodity of health care. I think health care in this country is–ahem–fucked up enough as it is. 😛


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