Category Archives: Uncategorized

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

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Living in a Glass Castle

This isn’t simply a review of the movie “The Glass Castle,” nor is it simply a biographical reflection. It is, however, an unsettling hybrid of a portion of myself and the movie. Like all things observed, our own peculiar perspective discolors the content of what we occupy ourselves with: our own face and temperament are reflected in the things we deceive ourselves into believing to be mere entertainment. While I was entertained by the movie, I was also stabbed in a way that few movies can achieve.

I knew the movie preview was slightly misleading and that it had artfully avoided showing the underbelly of what pervaded Jeannette Wall’s life. To be honest, I had forgotten the memoir, even though it was a book that I very much wanted to read a few years ago. After seeing the movie, I can appreciate just how much of the grime, horror, and shock was dropped from it. People love great stories but often recoil when the truth is laid bare. When a good writer is determined to be both honest and unflinching, some stories become too overwhelming. It’s quite the art to begin telling a story that people want to hear, but cringe as they lean in to hear the words they know will hurt them in a way that’s difficult to see.

Perversely, I was relieved to know that my instinct about the movie being sanitized was accurate. Much of the nuance was powerful and authentic; as a student of family violence, a couple of the scenes seemed disjointed to me. Perhaps it is madness to expect continuity in craziness but once you’ve filtered out the normalcy, even lunacy has its rules.

In the movie, Woody Harrelson as the dad is arguing with his daughter, insisting that she’s a revisionist to history. This pathos is one I’ve long held close to my own heart in my adult life. While I sometimes fail to steer away from revisionism, I at least know that I’m not impervious to the tendency. So many others, though, they cling to their idealized fantasies about people in our lives. They frequently take out their acquired masks and repaint them, all to tell themselves that the monsters in their past weren’t really monsters, just tormented and troubled people. People who do their best to tell their stories and to unmask their monsters are a threat to their self-identity. I want to see the monsters, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It does no one an injustice if you are sharing a piece of yourself. Each one of us owns our stories, even those pieces which darkly silhouette our lives.

I’ve written before that sometimes I observe the world and am amazed that most people seem to be unpoisoned by their own secret boxes, the ones some of us have managed to swallow, surpass, and mostly overcome. In my case, I judge most other people to be novices regarding human violence. Knowing the box is there at all robs me of a portion of my ability to live freely. It’s ridiculous to assert otherwise. If you don’t have such a box, feel glad, rather than doubtful that others had the necessity of constructing one to avoid fragmenting into incoherence.

 

After the movie and during the credits, the dad Rex was shown in grainy black and white, peering out of an abandoned building’s window, ranting about capitalism and property. It was clear that he was much angrier, unmoored, and detached than the movie would have us assume. My wife wouldn’t know it as she sat mesmerized beside me, but it was a visceral punch for me. The flash of recognition I experienced in seeing Rex as he really was versus Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of him almost untethered me. Seeing his as a ‘real’ person somehow unmasked the subtleness and veneer of the movie. Gone was the pretense of nobility or great acts. I could only see the residue of a base life, like the yellowish tint which permeates a smoker’s life. No matter what good Rex Hall might have done in his life, he was a part of what allowed children to be damaged. That any of them took this stew of disaster and emerged with great lives is a testament to our creativity and resolve.

So many of us had family members who would only marginally fit our definitions of what it means to be human. We individually adjust, trying to come to terms with the insanity of anger, knowing in our own hearts that some people are permanently damaged. We fight against the ignorance of others, the ones who insist that forgiveness and acceptance are on our plate and must be consumed. We know that anyone who hasn’t been in a room with a family member and suffered the inconvenience of knowing that our loved one truly might kill us in that moment cannot ever be reached on an emotional level. Until you’ve felt the metaphorical knife, the blade is just a vague unknowable threat.

One of my demons in life has been my aversion to a return to the crucible of anger and those who live there. I’ve been happiest when I’ve been able to reject such associations and cut the strings, and in some cases to stretch them. It’s always a fight, though, because those still melting in the crucible fight to keep you tethered to it as well. I no longer judge as harshly as I once did. Each of us decides for ourselves how our lives should proceed. Seeing the strings is all too often the first step to either severing them or ignoring them. I don’t take kindly to the angry insistence that I pay homage to the monstrous portions of my own past. I’m well aware that I have more than a few people who would gladly bash my head against a stone if it would mean they could resume believing the fantasy that my stories expose as untruths.

I know that intelligence forces us to do strange things with horror and mistreatment. Most of us buttress our sanity by converting these things into humor. It’s a skill I’ve honed for a few decades. As the credits rolled, I watched as Jeannette’s brother joked about his father’s memory, even as he sat at a table with his siblings who shared his past. I can’t speak for him. I do note, however, the brush of nostalgia in his words. Time is what grants us peace and the ability to laugh. Because life goes on, the fists and shattered bottles on the kitchen floor fade. We count our scars, both seen and unseen, and put one foot in front of another.

And sometimes, we watch a flawed movie that somehow reaches a talon inside our clenched hearts and ruptures a piece of what we’ve imprisoned away from the light. Because I know that the author of “The Glass Castle” had a life which was much worse than the movie revealed, my memory is slightly more forgiving. It makes me glad that the grandmother’s legacy has been forever stained and that some things were allowed to slither out from under the rocks to be viewed.

That a memoir such as “The Glass Castle” was written warms my heart. Jeannette Walls overcame and used her gift to sling arrows out into the world. Arrows are both weapon and tools, and she has done a great service to her own survival. The discomfort people might feel is an acknowledgment of how much suffering happens in the world. Next door, across town, wherever people live and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Paisley Couldn’t Have Written This

The wind insisted on stealing my enthusiasm this morning. My cat G├╝ino had already sounded the alarm several times until I reluctantly got up. He’s lucky I’m able to overcome my fleeting urge to punt him into the next room. But I walked, cutting through neighborhoods, watching as endless security lights flashed on the houses of uncaring and slumbering folks. A dog ran up to me at one point, without barking, and I petted him, checking him for a collar. He accompanied me a block and then stopped. I gave him a few more rubs and off he went. We were friends for a few minutes. It was a mutual exchange of pleasantries, although he didn’t reply to my mutterings.

Feeling the urge to buy nonsensical items that I ‘needed,’ I went to the larger Wal-Mart on the west side of town. While it wasn’t quite a ghost town at that hour, I could hear echoes of Adam Lambert crooning. I needed a few trinkets for my yuletide project, the one I started yesterday, even as Dawn eyed me with suspicion, uncertain as to the intended scale of my efforts. Had she asked, I would have replied, “Think of the Eiffel Tower – only larger.”

I cut through the wide expanse of the store, observing workers hollering instructions and banter at one another. The night shift and the people inhabiting it have their own patois and rhythm. I wasn’t going to need any assistance, so I knew this visit was going to be stress-free. One of the reasons I feel like a rich man is that there was nothing in the store I couldn’t buy if I really wanted it. It sounds a little trite and dumb but I’ve come to believe it more forcefully.Once I got home, my wife might hit me with the rolling pin she hides under the couch, that’s true, but I could get it out of the store if I had the urge.

While standing near the Xmas aisles, I began to hear some terrible music. (As a Glee fan, I’m familiar with terrible music. There can be joy in music better suited to mask a garbage truck as it does its crushing. Brad Paisley fans can nod their head in agreement with this, too, as his voice sounds exactly like Tim McGraw would if someone punched him in the throat.) It grew louder and louder. I, of course, began to wonder what toothless cretin was shopping at that hour and what possessed him to believe anyone would want to hear that claptrapper music. Words became distinct. In the space of a few seconds, I heard the “N-word” 3 times, then “bitch,” followed by the even worse permutation of the same sentiment. Whoever the singer was, he was attempting to mimic George Carlin and insert every potential curse world imaginable into his lyrics.

It’s important to keep in mind that I am totally unaffected by profanity unless it is couched in denigration or anger. Words are just words, after all. Expecting to see a camo-wearing weirdo come around the corner undoubtedly amplified the surprise of the listener’s identity.

The music reached a crescendo and a male employee, pushing a cart, came ambling up at 1 mph. He had a music box in his cart, one which pulsated blue in rhythm with the alleged music. It was cacophonous and startling to see that the perpetrator was a Wal-Mart employee. He was walking so slowly that even a National Geographic slow-motion camera would not have been capable of catching his movements. He seemed to be in a catatonic state, listening deeply to the garbage emanating from his music device.

Despite the surprise, I bid the gentleman good morning. He looked at me, and continued on his way, without any acknowledgment. I stood at the endcap, observing him. About 20 feet away, another employee approached the first and passed him. I could see that he was shaking his head in disapproval after passing the employee with the bad music. I could still hear the music plainly as the somnambulist worker shuffled down the main aisle. Why I picked up my phone and took a picture as this employee passed, I’m not sure. When I hit ‘click,’ though, I was horrified to note that my flash went off – twice. Luckily, no one turned to glare menacingly at me. I’ll note though, given the employee’s apparent molasses feet, there’s no way he would have been able to catch me.

During checkout, the cashier and the younger man behind me in line had a great time one-upping each other’s crazy quips. It sounds a little unbelievable, but I think the young man was lonely. On a whim, I jokingly pretended to introduce the cashier to him, inventing a short, fake bio to accompany the introduction. They both laughed. I walked away, wondering if my impromptu introduction might have created new friends.

After finishing shopping, I found a female employee who seemed to be in charge. I asked for the manager. She, of course, asked me the reason and I told it was a sensitive issue and would be better suited to be only said once – and to the manager. She radioed in and after a minute, a tall gentleman approached, his face reflecting the dread of yet another customer interaction. Were I myself a manager, I think I would rather eat from the floor of a crowded bus station bathroom than field complaints or questions.

I introduced myself, as I didn’t want to make an anonymous complaint. It seemed like it was worth it for me to complain in full view of the consequences. After I told him what happened, his eyes widened a bit and he told me, “I’ve had this problem before. I will definitely take care of it.” He seemed both relieved and pleased that I had told him. Whatever this manager’s background, he listened closely, the single most important trait when a customer comes forward to say something, no matter how barking-crazy the person might be.

I won’t divulge the other details of the conversation, as it was sensitive. For those who might criticize me, it’s difficult to explain why I complained. There were a couple of details I omitted. I’m almost certain that the employee listening to the profanity-laden ‘music’ at high volume was going to be fired. I’m equally certain that he was already not only skating on thin ice but carrying an anvil on his shoulders while he did so. I requested that he not be fired – that a compromise solution was available. Whether the manager would heed my request was up to him and he seemed too familiar with the mentioned employee already.

As I exited the Wal-Mart parking lot, I considered putting the windows down and blaring some Brad Paisley music, just to torture anyone unlucky enough to be on the west side of town at that hour.

A Higher Dosage of Nothing

 

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Announcement: I am accepting appointments for my new R&B / Urban door singing service, just in time for the yuletide festivities. It’s called GIFT RAP.

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Time-saving tip #24: If you are sufficiently lazy, anywhere in the house can technically become a fireplace pretty quickly.

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Now that my mother-in-law Julia’s 82nd birthday has passed, she’s decided to have her eye surgery. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we switched one of her 2 “cats” with a raccoon last year.

We’ve decided to wait until after the surgery to tell her unless she figures it out sooner. We assume she will announce the discovery with a high, piercing scream, similar to the one which woke Darla from her 22-hour nap on Nov. 8th last year.

Once her eyesight improves following her surgery, she’s going to be surprised by a few other things, too. Those surprises though I will leave for another day.

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My mother-in-law’s cataract doctor, Dr. Marty Feldman, gives each patient of his a personal guarantee that their eyes will not only have improved vision but will also look as good as his once the procedure is completed.

Don’t be nervous, Julia!

We are all behind you. Hiding, but still – we’re behind you.

PS: How much do you know about raccoons?
Love, X

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I’m starting a hybrid fast-food place: Taco Bill. It fuses bbq and tex-mex, and the fabulous punchline I wrote for the end of this joke is unbearably insensitive.

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I too worked as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher for the City of Springdale.

…at least until some guy identifying himself as “The Captain” ran in and yanked my headset off my and reminded me that I didn’t work there.

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Life can be such a startling slap in the face.

As I walked around a building this morning, I heard screaming. I ran through the dark to find a woman being thrown out of a vehicle. As she vainly tried to extricate a bag from the back the car tore away. The woman sobbed. It was a heart-wrenching sound.

It was one I heard too often in my youth.

I calmed her down and listened to her. Another person walked by and I told her it was okay and motioned for her to get help while I listened. After a couple of minutes someone did come out and I wished the sobbing woman well.

But the sound of her scream will linger in my day. I’m sure of it.

Her life will need a lot of supoort in the coming months.

That man, whoever he was, he might not realize how closely he came to feeling the wrath bubbling from my youth.

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My colleague Jake Elliot just finished the course requirements for his Early Soviet Economics degree. He’s finally a Lenin-grad.

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I heard that the new guy James Covert was starting work today. But I can’t find him anywhere.

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I invented a new hybrid breakfast decongestant cereal: Halls and Oats.

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I walked a mile in his shoes because the parable instructed me to do so.

He had a lot of questions, such as “How did you get in my house?” and “Why do your feet smell like rotten avocados?”

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At work today, I pondered the Kennedy assassination – but only because my supervisor made me feel like I was with him on the gassy knoll.

(This joke won’t work if you misread it….)

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As you may have heard my good friend Chip Mhoon was in a collision on N. College.

He was exiting Whole Foods and hit an accountant head-on.

He is okay but his car was sub-totalled.

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Time-saving tip #24: If you are sufficiently lazy, anywhere in the house can technically become a fireplace pretty quickly.

A Humorous Anecdote

My cousin Linda went to college for two years and then dropped out when she had her child. Years later, she went to Cosmetology School and acquired her license to practice. A few months after she started doing hair, another family member died, leaving Linda with more than enough money to open her own shop.

After renovating the storefront for her new hair salon, Linda had several of us over to finish moving a few things and to have an impromptu celebration lunch there.

As we were standing around chatting, Linda approached me and asked if she could pick my brain.

“X, you love this sort of thing. Given the type of person who will visit my shop, I need some ideas to name it.” She asked me to go outside on the street-side and pointed up to the mostly white sign.

On it were the words B E A U T Y S H O P in evenly-spaced black letters.

I went around back and retrieved a 6′ ladder. I climbed up to reach the sign and made my changes to her current sign.

It now read “B E A U T Y” S H O P

The black eye will heal sometime in the next few days.

Drink It Forward

 

It was dark and I was driving carefully, unlike the demolition derby driver I impersonate when the sun is shining. As I pulled in to the Firewater parking lot, I had to unexpectedly yield to an older man riding his scooter across the parking lot in order to go through the drive-through. His face was one of determination. I laughed because I imagined that he had traveled far in order to get his liquor of choice.

By way of preface, Firewater is a strange little liquor store away from any residential area. A liquor store is a place where one can purchase, among other things, alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is one of those chemicals, when taken in moderation, which will drastically improve your ability to cope with everyone else but conversely will worsen almost every encounter you engage in with another living person, all the while blinding you to your own debilitating lack of judgment. A drive-through is a window at a liquor store in which all parties legally pretend that the person purchasing said liquor doesn’t have more than a 50% chance of imbibing on the way to whatever destination awaits him. (This paragraph will never be used in a Budweiser commercial.)

As I waited at the register to pay for my poison, the elderly gentleman on the scooter was outside, looking inside at the impatient manager, trying to find change to reach his quota in order to get his bottle of flavored vodka. The manager’s face told me the unspoken story of just how many times the man on the scooter had bottlenecked the drive-through like this. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that there was going to be insufficient change to pay for the bottle he had requested. I motioned for the man in charge to look in my direction and offered to pay for the bottle. He told the clerk helping me to add ninety-three cents to my total. I pointed out that I offered to pay for the entire bottle, not just the difference in change.

“Wow, that’s a nice offer. How do you know him? He’s a regular.” The clerk seemed to be asking out of curiosity rather than politeness.

“I’ve never met him. I almost ran him over, coming in as he drove his scooter across the street and into the parking lot. But I’ve known many, many people like him.”

“Well, he’s a character, that one.” The clerk laughed.

The manager at the drive-through window told the man on the scooter that I had paid the difference.

The old man froze and looked inside to see who I was. “Well, thanks, Mister.” He nodded his head in acknowledgment.

“Pay it forward,” I said, and smiled.

“I’ll most certainly drink it forward,” he quipped and cackled like someone who had just discovered a free pizza on his kitchen table, after already being handed a 6-pack of his favorite beer.

I nodded back and the clerk and I looked at each quizzically for a long second and then we both laughed, too. We had taken an awkward situation and made it one of frivolous merriment.

“Hey, you know what?” The clerk asked. “IF you want to pay for a bottle, I’ll give you an extra discount and hold it for the man on the scooter for next time. It will give him such a kick in the pants to be given a surprise.”

“As long as YOU don’t drink it forward, yeah, that will be great. And do me a favor when he comes in. Ask him how fast he can go on that scooter.”

“Will do. Have a great night out there, sir.”

So, on some future night, if you see an elderly black man riding his scooter, restraining an impressive smile on his face, you can think of me. Vodka can power a few smiles, for a little while.

May we all drink it forward as we pass through our respective places.

The Morning of Shoes

I walked down the middle of Pleasant Street this morning. It lived up to its name for once. There was a single shoe in the exact middle of the road. It wouldn’t have surprised me to find an unattached foot in it but it turned out to have a pair of sunglasses inside. I tossed it to the sidewalk, hoping that no one with sun allergies was wandering the metropolis sans shoe. I know it’s not safe or smart to walk in the road, especially when every fifth car is probably being navigated by someone smelling of the fumes of a Corona or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I’ve often mentioned how liberating it is to own the road and the slumbering town around it. It is a sensation that I already know that I’ll miss when infirmity eventually robs me of my ability to walk the abandoned nighttime roads.

Seeing the high school from every angle certainly amplified the size of the place compared to when I crawled the halls there. It is much more majestic in the deep night, each light inside highlighting a plaque, a shadowy doorway, or polished surface. It was the embodiment of an empty world awaiting its inhabitants, both timeless and anticipatory. It is a haunted place, its souls imprinted there from the thousands of students and faculty who’ve resided within, concentric lives centered upon a collective of buildings with a single purpose.

Walking around business 71, I couldn’t help but intercept a group of young people exiting an eatery. One of the young men had a mostly finished bottle of beer in his hand. He raised it in salute and then turned to laugh with his other friends. I couldn’t imagine drinking at 5 a.m. and still be laughing. It’s a sure sign of old age when a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair defeats the call of the wild and youth. Although they wouldn’t understand the joke, I wanted to yell, “Get off my lawn!” in mock humor.

As I passed McDonald’s, I had the momentary urge to run inside and order 15 breakfast sandwiches and eat them all, without even bothering to take the paper off the outside first. The aroma was momentarily maddening, like when you visit a pizzeria and get your first sniff of the yeasty crust, certain that you will literally die before getting a bite of it. After a moment though, the siren call of the aroma changed and soured in my head to one of cloying grease in a pan of cooling water.

Heading back to my car, my feet demanded that I walk another long circuit, this time around the circumference of Murphy Park, a beautiful place transformed by the recent modernization of its features. As I was watching the geese and the ducklings circling around them near one of the central fountains, I didn’t notice the form seated on one of the trailside benches. He was seated, motionless, a hoodie covering his head against the chilly air. Had he screamed “Boo!” as I approached, I would have undoubtedly needed a new pair of underwear. I said “Guten morgen” instead of “Hello,” and he didn’t reply, move or give any sign that he saw me – or indeed that he was even alive at all. I’ll admit I looked back at least twice as I moved away from him. For all I know, he was the grim reaper, having lost his scythe. I saw no reason to invite any trouble, despite that fact that trouble has me on speed-dial.

Peering into the library from a distance, it occurred to me that I’m a terrible criminal. I’d rather break into the library and sit among the million books than magically appear in a bank vault. At the heart of the matter is the insufficient number of minutes allotted in life. No matter how pronounced my greed to consume even 1% of all the books, life’s stop sign will reach me before I can fulfill such a desire. Even though I love libraries, I still dislike hoarding books myself. I have a very few at home, nestled in a box, ones with names like “Night of the Avenging Blowfish” and titles in Spanish. The best books live a little each day in my mind, memories of other worlds and people. They are far safer there, virtually comforting me.

If you find another solitary shoe in the road in Springdale, pick it up and drive by the park and library. Toss the shoe into the bushes. Just don’t make eye contact with the faceless void of anyone wearing a hoodie.