All posts by X Teri

Two-Factor Authentication For Everyone

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If you don’t have two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for social media (much less your financial accounts and email), I hope elves visit you in the night and pluck your nose hairs with tweezers. If you don’t know what 2FA is and you’re using the internet for anything, you’re probably not going to like me telling you that you’re almost certainly giving away all your entire identity. 2FA isn’t perfect – but it is the minimum standard for anything you value.

Parking Lot Oscar Goes To…

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We stopped at Conway to eat. Interestingly, I had an interaction with a homeless man wrapped in a large, dirty blanket. He spoke with such a soft voice that I could barely hear him. I gave him $5. He reminded me so much of Omar from “The Wire.” As I waited for my wife to go to the restroom again, I watched the cashier take the bill from the young man and hold it aloft with the very tips of her fingers of her left hand. She didn’t realize that she was also making a very disgusted face as she did so. I’m not judging her. The young man didn’t either. He was laser-focused on getting something to eat. Whatever else was going on, his hunger was real.

After departing Conway, my wife and I had another conversation about being careful around people. Being a hypocrite, I ignored my advice several times already. I used to joke that someone beating me up might accidentally render me better looking.

I don’t worry about getting killed by a stranger, either. It’s obvious to everyone that pepperoni and Mexican food will be my assassins.

As my wife and I arrived at the hotel, we heard a car horn beep a few times. I didn’t see anyone. My wife thought it might have been directed toward us. In general, I ignore all horns until I have reason to believe they’re directed at me, such as the case when the hood of another car suddenly comes through my windshield. This behavior will serve me well, provided I survive to an older age.

On the third trip back to the car, I heard someone shouting. “Hey, you from Arkansas?” I heard a deep male voice shout but couldn’t discern from where it emanated.

I heard it again. As I walked toward the exterior of the hotel, a large man exited his car. Jokingly, I said, “Yes, can you tell by how dumb I sound?” He responded by saying he was from Arkansas, too, and proud of it. He couldn’t be a hog fan. It seemed odd. We were both in Arkansas.

The man had tears running down the right side of his face. He held out his right hand. In it, his driver’s license. My alarm bells rang like they might at a fancy wedding. He began to weave a tale about where he was from, his brother, a pastor, and his mom in a hospice home somewhere in what seemed to be at least two different places.

It’s important to note that in general, I’m a softie. There is an element of danger in these encounters. There are unicorns – cases in which the person truly needs a hand. Honestly, almost all of them are scams.

I gave no sign that I was aware of the long con unfolding in front of me.

As he talked, I already imagined his turn at the podium as he accepted his Oscar for Best Actor. He made Jennifer Love Hewitt look like an amateur as he spun his verbal gold to me.

I love a great scam if it’s creative and intricate. I consider it to be performance art.

He proceeded to tell me about his mom in hospice. He turned and said, “____, give me that envelope.” I didn’t catch his wife’s name. Until he said her name, I didn’t realize anyone was seated in the front passenger seat, despite it being fully light outside. I didn’t need to see proof of anything. His license had blown up the facade of his performance for me. I would have been a fool to cut his act short, however.

Nevertheless, his wife made an angry face and fished an envelope out of the console. The man reached inside the car to retrieve it. He opened it and then pulled out a letter that had seen much use. Across the top, it read “Hospice” something. He then mentioned his daughter in the car. I didn’t see her. His speech then went up three gears, and he recapped his initial spiel and fluffed it up with an additional fifty details. It was impeccable. It’s the best such rehearsed plea I’ve heard.

I got out my wallet and handed him a $20 bill. On a whim, I stepped toward him, very close, and reached out to him with my left hand. As his hand came up, I crossed my right hand over to shake his hand and gave him the bill. It’s difficult to describe, but the veneer of desperation he had on his face disappeared for a split second. I was watching his wife from the corner of my left eye. As I stepped toward her purported husband, her head swiveled rapidly toward me; her disinterest vanished as she seemed to go on high alert. In her defense, with my head freshly-cut, I do look like a skinhead weirdo. The reactions of them both convinced me they thought their scam was successful.

“I just wanted food, sir,” he said, even as the bill expertly vanished into his right front pocket.

I shook his hand and nodded. “Good luck on wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing,” I told him. “I mean that.”

Before I even got back to my car, I looked back. Their vehicle was already disappearing around the backside of the hotel parking lot.

I don’t know how they’ll find him to let him know about his Oscar nomination.
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P.S. I hope his mom stops violating the laws of physics by being in multiple places simultaneously. Had it not been dangerous to bring up, I would have gladly critiqued his story for him so that he could adjust from the errors I caught and improve his act. Practice makes perfect.
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Cursed Crossed Crosswalk

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Due to a medical condition known as laziness, I didn’t take a bona fide pre-dawn walk this morning, as is my custom when I’m out of town.

I did take one later. It was coolly fresh and the riverwalk was mostly devoid of the pests otherwise identified as “other people.” It was divine. I listened to music and noted a few clever hiding places that homeless people had managed to find and use in the chilly weather.

Having miscalculated how far down I walked, I traversed an expanse of wet grass and exited onto a busy arterial street. Due to construction on the right, the entire swath of the sidewalk was gone.

Given that the road was marked with substantial 4-foot white letters, a series of bright white perpendicular lines, as well as signs on all sides indicating “Crosswalk” for both sides of traffic, I thought it would work like I’m accustomed to. The Indy 500 roar of engines proved me wrong. I waited. I waited some more. Because I’m brilliant, it dawned on me that I might have to dash to the middle and then proceed the remainder of the way if traffic abated. It was obvious no one was going to stop, despite the multitude of indicators they were supposed to.

I waited for a couple of minutes. As a considerable gap appeared ahead, I waited and stepped from the curb. Just as my foot hit the pavement, a car miraculously zoomed out of a parking lot on the left and took the right turn onto the arterial street, going at least 30 mph. It was very close when it popped out. The driver of the compact and ornately decorated Honda hit the horn and brakes. He came to a complete stop, a little inside both lanes.

As expected, his morning cup was filled with angst and cow manure. He opened the driver’s door and stepped out. He looked like his car if you can imagine what I mean. His hat was on backward. He, of course, wore a bright blue sports jersey advertising an unknown athlete.

“What the f you doing, man? This ain’t a crosswalk!” He seemed excited to see me – except for all the wrong reasons.

I pointed at the markings literally at my feet and then the diamond-shaped “Crosswalk” sign.

“Whatever. I got places to be. Get the f out of the road!” He started to get back in the car.

As he did, my mouth did what it does best: it overpowered me. I’m proud of it, though, if only because it didn’t get me killed this time.

“Jesus loves you!” I shouted.

“Yeah. And?” He asked. It was perfection.

“And everyone else thinks you’re an asshole!” I shouted as he stood there, shocked I had one-upped him.

Behind him, a driver honked his horn, which ratcheted up the man’s obvious anger issues. I hot-footed it across to the median as the Honda driver slammed his door and hit the gas, screeching away.

I’m going to miss him. Jesus misses him, too.

But really.

Everyone else assuredly thinks he’s an asshole.
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P.S. I’m glad this happened because it resulted in a great story. Plus, the Honda jerk will live forever on the internet. I sure hope he figures out what those strange lines on the pavement mean, though, if not those weird signs dotted along all the roads. It’ll save him some trouble.

Robin Hood of the Retailers, Version Aldi

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I’m not going to share the ‘why’ of my previous oath to avoid Aldi grocery stores. Suffice it to say that they earned my dislike. Unfortunately, I carried the prejudice forward for years. Once bitten, twice shy, at least for this guy. It’s for the same reason I don’t buy meat products at a Dollar General. Russian Roulette is a game I like to watch in action movies – not participate in when my gastronomical choices are at play.

Aldi has many fans. People like blood sausage, too, as well as watching baseball on television, so popularity doesn’t equate to sensible. The store chain does have a few things going for it. It’s like the “Frugal Hoosiers” made famous in the tv show “The Middle.” The chain does have the “Twice As Nice Guarantee.” I’ll take the expectation of a safe, quality product or my money back. You don’t have to sing and dance for me – just meet expectations. Anything else strikes me as a means to acknowledge that you’re cutting corners on a square house.

“There’s a sense of discovery at Aldi that you don’t find in a traditional grocery store,” say many fans.

Yeah, like discovering the off-brand version of the mustard I had to buy tastes like a chicken fart.

I don’t mind that an Aldi store doesn’t have staff answer the phone. I don’t need to talk to a head of lettuce before I shop. It’s stupid, though. Just my opinion. Any corporation which reduces a customer’s ability to interact isn’t customer-focused, no matter how prettily they paint such an arrangement.

Location quality varies, as is the case for many retailers. Even I often forget that it’s unwise to compare one location of a business with another. There’s too much volatility between managers, cleanliness, and adherence to quality standards. Sometimes, a great manager can rescue an otherwise failed store. The Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs, for example, is spectacular, while the Kroger in my original hometown is… not. One of the Springdale Neighborhood markets is operated as if it’s a psychological experiment geared to determine how much people hate themselves. Harps Foods is so inconsistent in quality that I’m still incredulous that the individual stores are operated by the same system. I dare anyone who visits the Gutensohn and Lowell locations to challenge me to a pie-eating contest to decide the truth of my opinion.

On a whim, I stopped at a local Aldi earlier in the year. I went home a different way, and Aldi was locationally convenient. It didn’t hurt that I had recently suffered blunt-force head trauma. I don’t know what came over me, but the urge to eat a bowl of fish aquarium pebbles and stop at Aldi penetrated my reptilian brainstem.

The smaller footprint of the stores and parking lots of an Aldi store make a trip less invasive than a similar trip to the airfields found at Walmart. The smaller footprint of the stores means you might not find everything you need, either. Like your sanity.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I did the hands-full shuffle. I found some interesting items. One of the items I bought was inedible. (No, I didn’t attempt to return it.) On the next visit, I had a quarter. I stuck it in the slot for the cart, and it literally stuck. None of the carts would come out. I went inside and waited a couple of minutes for an employee to make eye contact. I told them the cart corral was needing attention, and I couldn’t get a cart. Eye roll. “There’s no one to deal with it.” Back to checking. Aldi’s employees often must do multiple jobs simultaneously. It’s not their fault: it’s corporate’s fault. Like Walmart, they ‘save’ money by eliminating jobs. Many of those jobs lost would have allowed for attentive customer service and real-time listening when things go awry. I didn’t get irritated at the cashier.

I can only hope that this attitude of cost-cutting doesn’t one day find me in the O.R. needing a suture to sew up my own abdomen.

For my next trip to Aldi, I withdrew $20 from an ATM and then stopped by the car wash and made change for quarters. I drove back to Aldi and parked on the outer perimeter of the parking lot.

I then went to the cart corral nine times. Each time, I inserted a quarter and ‘rented’ a cart. I took each cart to the edge of the parking lot and used the nine carts to make a large arrow facing the store. I’m no Banksy, but I did feel a twinge of stupid pride when I finished my artwork with the shopping carts.

I then went back to the cart corral and took out ten more carts, one at a time, by paying a quarter. I left them loose to the left side of the return corral. Because I always carry white index cards, I left a card on the first few indicating, “Free Cart. Please leave loose.” People observed me doing all this but didn’t comment.

Was it petty? Yes. Worth it? Yes. I was also paying it forward, though, even as I entertained myself.

One of the women shopping exited the store and told me she had watched me assemble the arrow on the other end of the parking lot. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? Just hire a person and keep the store tidy.” Due to her appearance, I was sure she was going to scold me. Her face was pulled back so tight I could hear her ears yelling in pain. She was nice, in any case.

People saw the loose carts with the cards on them, and each smiled and grabbed their free cart.

I felt like Robin Hood of the Retailers.

Imagine. Free carts, with each of us leaving them for the next person. Like a typical store not corraling us into doing their jobs for them.

If I can enter a store and not worry about expired food or being unable to shop easily, I’ll pay for the entirely reasonable expectation of a normal shopping experience.

When people ask me, “What do you like best about Aldi,” the only thing I can tell them is, “I don’t have to go there.” The second-best thing is, of course, the feeling of walking out of one of them.

If I have to choose between Aldi and Walmart, I’ll choose a lobotomy.

If I make the mistake of going to Aldi again, I plan to take 500 quarters with me. I’ll let you imagine what I might do with such a quantity of quarters.
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P.S. If you’re a fan of Aldi, I’m not worried about you reading all of this. It’s a lot of words.
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The Tenderfoot Allocation Hyprocrisy

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A bit over-the-top, stereotypical, and harsh comment designed to derive a rise in people’s blood pressure:

Regarding those “Bring back home economics class so that millennials can actually learn something” memes… Given that 1/2 of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, I’d say that the problem isn’t young people not knowing how to change their oil, bake a cake, or sew a button. I’d say it’s the majority of their elders failing to understand real economics – or having practical views and solutions for pervasive economic policies that benefit everyone.

The younger generations didn’t get us to here.

We did.

The Unknown Life

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I was in a hurry, busily checking minor and mundane necessities off my mental checklist as I hurried through the building. The day was still unborn, and shadows blanketed everything that modern lighting couldn’t touch. To my right, a series of vertical windows rose above me. Ahead of me, someone sat in the shadows, in a small grouping of uncomfortable chairs, the type which serve their function but provide no real invitation to linger. His head was bowed, and his hands were clasped between his legs. His body language seemed to exude defeat. He seemed to be waiting for something unseen, an event to unfold, or for some greater force to expel him from his chair. The soft aura reflecting from the windows cast a curtain of gauze on the interior.

Despite my feet treading quietly on the institutional floor, his head rose, and he looked up. His eyes met mine. I noted a huge yellow, black, and discolored splotch around his right eye. His blond hair lay wildly around his features.

“Are you okay?” I asked, without even realizing I was about to speak.

“No,” he said, his voice cracking. Due to some triggered instinct, I realized that if he said a few more words, he’d likely either start shouting or sobbing.

I raised my left hand as if to stop him from speaking. “It’s okay.” I walked within two feet of where he sat.

“I think I need to leave before I react.” As he spoke, fifteen different scenarios filled the canvas of my mind. None of them were joyous explanations for his demeanor or appearance.

He fell silent in recognition of the fact that I knew what he meant without him saying the words of explanation. Because we’re human, it could only be one of four or five stories.

I removed my phone from my left front pocket. “Where do you need to be, other than away from here? By the way, my name is X.” I asked.

He told me. I typed the destination and found a ride that would be there in less than five minutes. I showed him the screen.

“I’m paying. Don’t stress it. I’ll go wait outside. When the driver shows, I’ll make sure he’s comfortable with it.” The young man nodded and didn’t speak.

As the sun burned the rim of the horizon, the driver pulled up. I handed him a tip and explained that someone needed a hand – and I was that hand. “No problem. He’ll get there.”

The young man slowly walked outside and opened the rear door of the waiting car. He did not look up, for which I’m glad. Seeing the side of his face again would undoubtedly cause me to commit the sin of asking questions.

“Thanks.”

Before he could say more, I said, “Pay it forward. You’ll remember this one day and have the chance to help someone.”

He shut the rear door and the car pulled away.

I don’t even know his name. But he knows mine. And that gives me hope.

An entire life, unknown and unknowable to me.

I fear we have things in common, though. I hope the young man’s journey is dotted with people interested enough to help him push forward.

P.S. I don’t deserve a pat on the back or words of encouragement. I needed this more than the young man did. Truth be told, my mind was filled anger that morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Extremely Unlikely Opinion

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Regarding ‘the’ video/picture. It’s easy for excessively wealthy people to overlook disregard from others. I absolutely guarantee you that if I had half a billion dollars, I could ignore the most heinous of considerations. You could call me anything you want, as well as vilify my very existence.

Let’s Trade

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I see so many social media posts from people advocating that young people choose a trade over college. These types of posts seem to be multiplying. It’s rare to see such a post from a young person, however. The memes annoy me a little, though, if it’s okay for me to say so.

Because I watch with a keen eye when my instincts get stirred, I turn my attention to note how much of people’s enthusiasm for a trade translates to their children or grandchildren. Whether it is my jaundiced eye or a convenient conclusion, my observations tell me that college is almost always the preferred ideal over learning a trade. Likewise, most parents don’t enthusiastically endorse the option of the military, either, even though it often provides multiple benefits for the person willing to choose it.

Ideology in the abstract is a strange, contradictory thing.

Why not both? Educated minds are to everyone’s benefit. What’s wrong with a plumber, electrician, or mechanic with a college degree? The odds we’re going to change careers several times increases with each generation.

A shadowy truth embedded in this conversation is that most people want careers that do not tax their bodies – and they wish the same for their children. It’s not a revelation of laziness. For some, it is a belief rooted in class distinction. For most, it’s merely reasonable.

It’s not denigrating to tradespeople to say that you’d like a job using your mental ability rather than your hands and back. Most technical trades take a toll on one’s body. Combined with long hours, a competent tradesperson is much more likely to harm his or her ability to do such a job well for their entire career. No one disputes that many people make an outstanding salary by choosing a trade.

Imagine a society in which 17 years of education is ‘free,’ rather than 13. How many would choose a trade if their educational path were open and guaranteed? How many parents would encourage them to select a trade instead of college? How many would embrace the option of the military?

I get that you agree it is a worthy choice to learn a trade instead of college.

First, though, let’s give everyone a democratic chance for college by making it universal for everyone. Afterward, we’ll see how many parents jump with joy when their children or grandchildren choose a trade instead of college. Or, let’s encourage everyone to do both. Getting an education won’t make you unable to learn a trade. You’ll still have the education – but more options once you’re finished.

I realize that there is an inherent imperfection in my argument. I’m not proposing an airtight, elegant solution – just a request that you think about the issue logically.

Our path toward college and careers itself is flawed.

As well as our thinking regarding the issue.
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Dust Eddies In Time

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While I will get the words wrong, my recollection is at least correct for tone and content. Many parts of the day I write about are a blur. It was a complex day for more than one reason. Like a few other days, the day sits on the calendar of our minds. I will write around the fringes so as to avoid treading upon the loss which brought us all together. All of our lives are complex. Our memories, reactions, and ability to interact fluctuate with an erratic ebb and flow.

I was in the geography of my childhood, sitting in the church that seems to ‘the’ church in my memories. It sits in silence off a highway between places travelers seldom slow enough to notice, surrounded by the relics which once thrived. Like so many rural places, it fights the bubble of time that envelopes the area. It is the nexus of memories for many people, benchmarking people’s faith and sense of family and togetherness. This church remains, across the highway from the place my dad once ran his gas station. The surrounding field has reclaimed every trace of the station. One day soon enough, it will overtake everything else in the area.

Those who can remember will fade too, leaving dust eddies as they pass through the area and this world. To me, this is a comfort, even as I am unable to exonerate the existential discomfort of the knowledge. We’ll all pass this place, regardless of the velocity of our lives.

In front of me, two older ladies sat, each nervously chattering about the multitude of overlapping recollections in their lives. The further back one went into the wooden upright pews, the louder people felt comfortable talking. Whether it is always fair, funerals serve as a social outlet and gathering place for most people. Oddly, even as we grieve or grapple with loss, we sometimes find our hearts swelling with the smiles and faces of people who were once integral to our identity and lives. Loss ignites our connection to the shadows of our past; the demands of daily life usually blur that enthusiasm soon after.

I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth countless times as I attempt to navigate the mysterious awkwardness of interacting with people, especially ones I either once shared a deep connection to, or strangers who echo an odd familiarity. I later found out that I got roped into a hurtful conversation without being aware of it. I can’t take it back, so I will forever be someone’s anecdote. In a roundabout way, that is also what each of our lives does for everyone else.

“I never attended this church. I only came here for funerals. White Church was the only church for us back in the day,” said the older lady on the left.

“We should get back to the cemetery there. Not today, though. It’s Hell’s furnace out there. The old church was something. I hated to see it go. We lost the community when it left.” The lady on the right half-whispered it with a bit of pain and nostalgia in her voice. “Remeber the potlucks? The summer singing?”

When she said it, I thought of the mosquitoes, the blistering heat, and the discomfort of hot, uncomfortable Sunday-best clothing that churches like the White Church once required of members. I also recalled celery in potato salad, mind-numbingly long sermons sending all to Hades for our indiscretions – and cars with no air conditioning. Nostalgia certainly and capably erases the memories that more accurately convey the complexity of living in the past.

“The last time I was here, it was Carolyn’s funeral. Kak or Kakky they called her. I remember playing with her when she was younger. Their dad was a mean drunk back then. Carolyn took after her papa and married that no-account Bobby Dean. What a mess.”

The lady on the left was unaware that Carolyn was my mother.

The lady on the right nodded her head solemnly. She almost visibly shuddered. “Remember how she looked? That funeral home that got caught stacking bodies in the hallway did her funeral. That place out of up north, wasn’t it?”

I knew what was probably going to be said next. I wasn’t mistaken.

In her best gossipy whisper, the older lady on the left leaned in and said, “That horrible gravestone with the Bud Light can engraved on it is still down there. Can you imagine? Lord knows she was a drunk, but can you picture someone’s daughter thinking a beer car is a good idea for a tombstone?” She laughed.

“That daughter! Remember when she about gave Harold, or was it Howard, a stroke when he tried to adopt those two precious boys?” They both nodded toward one another.

I leaned in and said, “She’s still alive, too. Hasn’t changed one bit.” I told them in case they wanted to know. Neither registered that I might be closer to the people they’d mentioned than they realized.

I was unbothered, however.

Before arriving at the church, I drove the long loop around Rich. The roads were scorched with heat. Though I half-expected it, I choked up a bit as I neared the place where my grandparents once lived, off Highway 39 near Cook Road. I stopped at Upper Cemetery. An older man was outside in the heat, spraying the weeds and ditches. His dust-covered truck blocked the arch entrance, so I left my car along the artery of Highway 49 and walked out over the slight rise to the place where my parents are buried. As I crossed the top of the rise, my lungs filled with a pungent dust cloud, clotting my lungs and rendering my throat raw. I quickly walked down to the edge of the swamp and pondered the place for a moment.

I noted the Bud Light can on my mom’s gravestone and laughed. I think my sister chose well; some of the reasons for my agreement are based on amusement and aptness. The Bud Light can, at least, is an open salute to an essential truth in my mom’s life: more than anything, she lived for a drink. Even now, so many years later, I’m still discovering the mass of hidden lies and secrets in my parent’s lives.

When I got back to the car, my voice was almost gone. A million little pieces of this place remained in my mouth, nose, and lungs.

The cemetery embodies the communities around it. If the traffic becomes still, you can hear the insects, fields, and marshes for miles as they simply pulsate. Time doesn’t interfere in that place. I can hear it now, feel it in my bones, and feel it call me softly across the distance. I suspect you can too if you focus inward toward the places of your youth.

Truth sits outside of us. Every other person on this planet carries his or her own idea of each of us, independent of the facts and circumstances of our lives. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to amend their mental biographies of us.

I hope that you can find a good life if you don’t have one, embrace the parts that can enlighten and lighten you, and forgive or ignore all of us who may trespass against you. In this world, it is the only way forward.