Category Archives: Opinion

Nothing Is The Same

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My 4-lb. book arrived today: “The Stand,” by Stephen King, the uncut edition. I’ve read it before, although the last time was many years ago. Given the backdrop of the lunacy of the superflu in the book, this book seems both macabre and appropriate.

It’s fitting on several levels. Most importantly, there’s a minor character in the book who shares my birth name. The Walking Dude kills him. After 53 years and 5 days, my footprint on this world isn’t much more lasting. My greatest achievement has been to avoid the certain path that my upbringing imprinted on me.

When I opened the packaging imprisoning the book, I handed it to my wife, saying, “It might be the last book I ever read.”

“Don’t say that!” she chided, even as the weight of it surprised her.

Like everyone else, we both knew that it could indeed be the last book I buy. I said it in humor, an absent-minded quip, motivated mostly by its length.

We may have all passed innumerable and unseen last experiences.

It’s always been this way.

The difference today is that few of us can keep the curtain closed  – or our furrowed brow of concern camouflaged behind busy lives. It’s the pace of our previous lives that kept us from sitting in silent concern.

For many, the whirlwind is subsiding, leaving the evidence of unexamined lives and unappreciated pleasures.

The Stand ended with victory for the world,  as it continued on.

Nothing was the same.

And so it will be for us, if we are lucky.

 

W E

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On Saturday, Dawn and I watched 1995’s “Outbreak,” followed by 2011’s “Contagion.” Whether it sounds ridiculous or not, watching the movies made everything better in a way that probably sounds ludicrous to a normal-minded person.

Even the opening graphic for “Outbreak” seemed fitting: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.” (Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate.) For a movie made 25 years ago, it still has much to say.

I’m amazed by how quickly the dynamic of the entire world has changed. Each of us is attempting to find a stable landing place, one from which we can find a sliver of tranquility. I know many people who are barely cobbling together the ability to move one foot in front of the other. I know many who are guilty of conspiracy theories, hoarding drugs and essentials that take it from the hands and veins of those who actually need it. I see it every day.

For my part, I’m forced to go out in the word daily because of my job. I’ve never feared exposure. Everyone around me has heard me say that I assume I’m exposed every single day I walk around. I don’t wish to needlessly expose others to the virus. But I have to say, my personal efforts are dwarfed by the decisions of large agencies and businesses around me, ones who’ve made questionable choices. I’m at the mercy of every person I intersect with. It’s always been that way. The only thing that’s changed is that the reality of it is now one that can’t be ignored.

We are all our weakest link.

Dawn and I didn’t hoard anything from day one. Looking toward the horizon, it’s pointless. We are not islands. If you hoard, you are hurting the people that don’t have what you have amassed, whether it is a can of tuna or a vial of Hydroxychloroquine. If our situation deteriorates, only those who embrace a total dedication to taking only what they need will survive. If the situation morphs into a worst-case scenario, no one will be able to thwart the madness that will take what you have.

If you are looking for a silver lining, I can only hope that this results in all of us appreciating science and education more, as this is a warning shot that shouldn’t be ignored. To embrace the idea that we are dependent on one another, a dependence that surpasses our local hospital, state line, or national border. To understand that the person cleaning the floor is as integral to our survival as the three piece suit who seldom gets his hands dirty but makes triage decisions about our supply systems during emergencies.

There may be no silver lining to this. It might just be a harsh lesson. We already had the tools needed to lessen this crisis. We took too much time and effort fighting for our fiefdoms instead of looking toward the world map and seeing ‘W E’ spread across all of it.

Of all the hopes, I hope it leads us to stop bickering over oil, sand, and land, or that we find ourselves able to willingly give everyone health care without regard to payment. If we forego war and aggression, we can pay for it. Our economy will not look the same once this fades. Everything we’ve learned will be meaningless. Hard hearts must soften.

I’m already looking beyond the peak of this emergency.

It’ll be us, still. I hope it is a different us. I think most people were dissatisfied with what we were, for wildly and contradicting reasons. Some of the facade of our differences has vanished. Each of us looks toward the microscopic threat of a virus and wonders what will become of us.

Whatever ‘that’ is, it is our choice.

It’s always been our choice.
Love, X

Not-So Super Tuesday

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I declined the GOP primary ballot this time because my vote against Trump would be meaningless, much like a vote for most of the Democrats. (Unlike 2016, when I voted against Trump twice.) In Trump’s name, I did trip someone, mocked a dozen people, and took another person’s wallet and flung it across the parking lot, so it was like Trump himself was there in spirit. Voting on the Democratic side, every candidate I chose was female. The one school board race without a female, I skipped. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Bernie due to his desire to outlaw lined notebook paper and his refusal to nominate Tom Hanks to be the Vice President. That last part isn’t true, but we’re living in a post-truth dystopia, so I can say whatever I want. The truth is that Bernie never mailed me the check he promised to get my vote. Like all liberals, I’m in it for the free money and services. (As always, I put that in to irritate at least one liberal.)

I was relieved I didn’t have a poll worker ask me which name was my first name, as if the laws governing states IDs had suddenly been rendered arbitrary, or based on what kind of flower we feel like. I recited my name, address, and date of birth as if I were reciting poetry without any meter to it.

I did give strange answers to the questions the ‘pre-screener’ asked. “Do I have the right to remain silent?” isn’t something they are accustomed to hearing. She walked away very quickly, wondering why no one had noticed my dosage wasn’t sufficient.

The strangest moment happened as I walked away after voting, paper tally in hand, headed toward the ballot box. “Sir!” someone kept shouting. After four or five repeats, I turned. “Sir? Did you already vote?” I looked down at the completed ballot in my hand and then back toward the voting machine fifty feet away, the one I had stood at for sixty seconds while I voted. It took everything I had to not say, “No, this is my CVS Pharmacy receipt.” Instead, I just smiled and nodded. I wondered about HER dosage at that point. When I reached the ballot box, the worker gave me redundant instructions. I said, “The Phoenix sees the mouse, all clear” and winked at him. I suspect he was very sad to see me leave, even though he was laughing a bit.

In November, my vote won’t matter. You can howl and moan all you want to about it. G̶i̶l̶e̶a̶d̶ Arkansas is a solid lock for Trump. Even if the Democrats ‘win’ the popular vote by some impossible miracle after stumbling around while the GOP puts them in the ditch one by one, our beloved constitutional democratic republic will award the presidency to him for a second term, if the hysteria from the latest plague doesn’t kill us all.

We enjoy boasting that we voted as if participating in the process elevates us. That’s not the case. We pick our team, our camp, our tribe and throw knives from the sidelines. I’ll vote for a bad case of derriere acne in November if it keeps Trump from office.

But I’d give my middle fingers if the Republicans would have picked anyone to run in Trump’s place. And gave Tom Hanks the Vice Presidency.

If you’re a Trump fan, just remember that I’m a liberal in Arkansas, which is about as rewarding as eating lunch in the bathroom.

Harp’s Violin

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One of the surprise Xmas gifts I bought Dawn was a tiny violin for her to play when her mom and sister whine.

My wife and I went to the Gutensohn Harps yesterday. Our main purpose was groceries. We ate lunch from the delicious deli bar upfront. The food was amazing. As always, we took a minute to cry and complain about the disparity of quality, selection, and presentation between Gutensohn and the store over by our house. I could hear tiny violins playing in the background as I whined. Harps, if you’re reading this, I’m asking you to replace the entire store in east Springdale. After I ate, I found the manager and heaped praise on her for the incredible store.

I have only so many tears to cry. I may need to take Dawn’s tiny violin to the grocery store with me from now on.

The Insufficiency Of Proof Postulate

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“Regarding human affairs, the expectation that you can heal someone’s inability to be open to new information is among the most foolish.”

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Recently, I’ve watched and listened as an otherwise intelligent person has descended into obstinate ridiculousness. The specific subject isn’t the issue.  (It’s not politics, though.)

It’s important to note that I don’t claim to be devoid of blind spots and outright ignorance. It’s human nature. I sometimes fall short but try to remind myself that opinions can and should change with new information. Facts, if verified, should not bend to opinion.

Because of the hysteria of the issue, my acquaintance has a new series of stories to tell me each day: new videos, facts, and opinions. Fairly early in the development of his obsession and the story, I had doubts as to the legitimacy of many of his claims. Because I’m naturally inquisitive, I noted the videos and claims he mentioned. I realized that simply telling him he was mistaken would not yield any change in his ideas. I listened over several days as he told me stories related to his new obsession. I did so without mocking him or challenging his assertions. (Which damn near killed me.)

Today, I brought a summation of the ‘great debunking.’ I had sources showing that the videos weren’t real – and for those that were, they were misattributions. Some of them were brilliantly done. As for the facts my acquaintance had amassed, none of them were entirely accurate, and most were outright fabrications designed to grab headlines.

After my acquaintance mentioned yet another ‘fact,’ I decided to forego handing him the summation and sources. Instead, I explained in less than thirty seconds that all the initial videos he’d recommended for me to watch were not actually what he thought they were. I briefly told him what the actual circumstance was and that the videos had been misattributed either due to ignorance on the part of the source or willful deceit for gaining viewers, readers, and dollars.

“What? No! You’re wrong, X.” His face had turned red.

“Listen, I’m not trying to put you on the spot. It’s just that this thing is easily explained,” I told him, trying to soften the blow and get him to accept the idea that he might have taken a wrong turn.

“That’s stupid. Of course it’s true,” he replied, getting ready to launch an ad hominem attack.

“Slow down. Look, here’s a link to a source you’ve said you trusted in the past.” I held up my phone and pressed the saved bookmark on the home screen of my phone.

Even by reading the headline on my acquaintance’s trusted news source, it was obvious that the video wasn’t ‘real.’

“See? I’ll send you the link so you can decide for yourself. Don’t stay mad at me. All of us get boxed in sometimes by our presumptions and ideas, me included.” I hoped that would appease him.

“Don’t send me that link. I know what I know and no amount of proof otherwise will sway me.” He looked at me, defensive and upset.

I let his own words hang in the air for a moment.

I know anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, people who believe horoscopes, weirdos who insist Hillary killed people, and Illuminati. I’ve never given up hope that each person could let a demonstration of each idea reveal a new truth to them.

Today, though, that hope diminished a bit.

Welcome to 2020.

 

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

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Apparently, many Facebook users are unaware that they can easily block messages from a person WITHOUT also blocking them on Facebook.

Think of it as being able to go out and meet a friend without worrying about them calling you at midnight – or when their cat needs a taxi. Because they can’t. That’s how blocking on Messenger works. You choose. You don’t have to rip your phone out of the wall if you’re not giving people your phone number to call you.

Let’s face it, we all have a few friends who can’t resist sending the modern equivalent of chain emails via Messenger. They probably need to read the directions for a box of toothpicks. They just can’t help it. You can’t change them. Others, for whatever reason, seem to be prone to sending viruses to us, or getting hacked/cloned and sending malicious links with titles such as “Video Of You I Found!” or something politically charged like “Obama Killed Your Grandfather” to grab our attention and make us click the link before we turn on our brains.

Sidenote: for those of you who don’t know, it is always wise to start a new Messenger chat by using personal words that inform the recipient that it is from a ‘real’ person, rather than a bot or hacker. Something like, “Hey, this is X. I really like the idea of you wearing a sweater made of pink insulation” will do nicely.

There’s no reason you can’t use Messenger safely. It’s no different than being friends with crazy people. You don’t just yank open your mailbox without listening for a timer in there. Instead of throwing the baby out with the rose-scented bathwater, I suggest a more reasonable approach: block each offender as they send you nonsense, instead of punishing yourself and all your other friends. Get a suspicious message? Get 2,652 gifs that would give anyone a migraine or cause convulsions upon viewing them? Block the person who sent it.

I don’t know how many crazy and clueless friends you have, but I think it would take less time to block each person as they behave stupidly than it would to misuse the incredible communication platform that works on almost any platform or device, from anywhere in the world. We have our problems with social media, to be sure, but most of the consequences are our own fault, precisely because we aren’t using them as intended.

I could be wrong – but it seems like you might be over-reacting or not thinking clearly about how you’re dealing with this.

If you post “Stop sending me stupid messages on Messenger!” the idiots are not going to realize it is them you are referring to. That’s what being stupid does to us. It explains voting, comb-overs, and wearing tight clothing. They don’t get it. Stop preaching to everyone. Target each offender when they send you a message. It only takes once, and you’re done.

P.S. You can use Facebook to private message someone without using Messenger. All you need to do is post and set the privacy control to that specific person. Only that person will be able to see.

And if you’re going to say something ridiculous like, “But something could go wrong!” you’re already using the wrong platform. Something did go wrong. You’re making it hard for the rest of us to contact you when you should be only making it hard for the idiots to do so.

Signed, An Idiot

Where The Crawdads Sing

“Writing a book demands so much specificity, in disagreement with the obvious truth that our most profound moments and memories call to us from inside the gauzy shrines of cheap childhood blankets, our tiny, unlearned hands clutching portals to the world disguised as books. We remember the creeping heat of a wood stove in the middle of a room, the silence before grandmother could shout at us for slamming the screendoor, or the interval between day and night when the fields slowly darkened as lightning bugs began to dance, granting us momentary amnesia from the remembered itch of an army of mosquitoes. And yet, we ran outside to greet them, no matter how hot the air or tired our bones. Another moment awaited, even if the moment drummed its fateful fingers to get to us. If you find a book that effortlessly draws you into another state of feeling, you should add it to your list of gratitude. If it does so while not shying away from the lesser of our human failings, it is okay to weep for the time when the book will be finished and its last page revealed.” – X

I see no need to mention the plot of the confines of the book I’ve mentioned.

These words speak, as did the words of the book.

 

Subway

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I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.

It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.

Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.

Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.

If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.

That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.

Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.

Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.

Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)

Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.

As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.

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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