Thursday, October 27, 2011

Off Season Post 24: DP IS LATE!

Hello, Readers.  Welcome back to what now amounts to an post for the week.  I've been traveling for work more than Jack Kerouac and I've scarcely had a moment to sit down and type.  Right now, I'm looking out of the window of my plush room at the Overton Hotel and Conference Center in lovely Lubbock, Texas.  

I'm sorry to say that I've got to rush out and meet some clients for dinner after working in town all day combing through documents.  It's back on the plane tomorrow morning and I'll make a quick run through Dallas before returning home, repacking, and heading to the flat state of Kansas next week.  I'll TRY my best to post on my regular Tuesday post.  

In the meantime, I'll entertain you with a couple seasonal jokes to get you in the Halloween spirit. Here goes. 

Did you hear about the two gay ghosts? 

They gave each other the willies. 


How do you get a witch pregnant? 

You f*ck her.  

Thank you, folks.  I'll be here all week.  Incidentally, that last joke works with pilgrims, elves, cupids, leprechauns, and whatever mythical creature happens to be seasonally appropriate.  You're welcome.  

Have a wonderful weekend!  DP

Monday, October 17, 2011

Off Season Post 23: Lessons at 30,000 Feet

Hello, Readers. Welcome back to this week's post. I'm starting to wonder if, aside from the guy who screens this thing for inappropriately foul content from his cubicle located on the third floor of Blogger Headquarters in some Midwestern customer service center, anyone is actually reading anymore.

Before I wow you with some observations from seat 3A I’d like to announce the winner of the Truism Contest. There were a few dozen entries and I have to confess that the vast majority of them were good. In the absence of an objective test to evaluate that sort of thing my general rule is to advance the ones that make me laugh upon my initial read and then go over those in order to select a winner.

This week’s winner of the Truism Contest, however, is a person who I can’t identify. Because of the comment problem, the comment disappeared from the site. Luckily, it made it to my Blogger email notification before that happened. The winning Truism is: “Always Stay Two Drinks Behind Your Boss.” Brilliant. If the person who posted that could please come forward, I’ll arrange an autographed something or other for you. Thanks to all of you who played along. The decision was a difficult one. When all the cards were on the table, I selected this one because it is indeed universally true. Congratulations, Mystery Responsibly Drinking Reader. Now, to the air travel.

I've been preoccupied as of late. Like most of you, the biggest source of stress in my life these days is my day job. It wasn't always that way, but it's been that way lately. I've been traveling quite a bit and, although the trips are usually short flights within the Great State of Texas, being up and down on a airplane a few times a week is like going to bed with triplets: it's pretty entertaining at first but after a while everything tends to get jumbled together and eventually you'd rather just sleep than do anything else. It gets expensive too.

For those of you who travel frequently, you'll understand it when I say that my (our) experience at the airport, on the plane, and in a different city is far different than it is for the person who packs a suitcase once a year and rarely, if ever, flies.

It was the once a year traveler who was on my mind as I was hit with the idea for this week 's post. I was standing in the Big Shot line with my fancy ticket and my Get Out of Jail Free card waiting for the two people in front of me to get their respective ID's checked before I could get through for the elastic stretching of my Fourth Amendment rights by the TSA agents with the razor sharp minds and the doughy soft bodies manning the security stations.

By the way, it seems to me there should be at least a nominal fitness requirement for that job. After all, these are the people tasked with taking down international terrorists. Aside from simply falling on them or temporarily (and accidentally no doubt) obstructing possible escape routes, I'm not sure that many of the TSA agents I regularly encounter could do much else in the face of danger. In fact, a good deal of them look like that only thing they've spent any time trying to tackle is the beef lo-mien on the buffet at the in-terminal Chinese restaurant.

Notwithstanding my lack of faith in our government's best and brightest airport employees, I made a mistake that turned out giving me some good seeds to sow in the way of blog material this week.

Normally, as I walk into the airport I pull out my freshly charged and loaded iPod in preparation for my big trip. The ear buds go in the second I make it through security and they don't come out until after I land and make it to the exit of whatever airport I happen to be in that day. As I made it though security last week, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my iPod. I was horrified to see that there was very little charge remaining on it. I assume my charger must have been unplugged; although I still haven't solved that mystery.

Regardless of how it happened, I was horrified at the possibility of facing even a short flight without the benefit of my iPod. Because my flight was boarding in less than 10 minutes, I had no time to put even a cursory charge on it.

I resigned myself to turning it off for the ridiculous instructional portion of the flight in addition to leaving it off until we hit 10,000 feet; you know, like Federal law requires. That way I'd have it for the bulk of the actual flight. Oh, and yes, I know it's against the rules to keep the thing on, but I do it anyway. That's not because I think I'm better than the next guy. I saw a Mythbusters once where they literally tried for an hour to take down a plane with a cell phone and an iPod. The iPod myth proved to be just that: a myth. My general rule is that if I get caught by a flight attendant astute enough to notice that I'm tapping my foot to the beat then I'll turn it off. Otherwise, like an ape in transport, the music soothes me.

Of the hundreds upon hundreds of times I've found myself in an airplane over the last few years, I rarely, if ever, listen to the preflight instructions from the flight attendants. You know, the ones where they pretend that they are "there for your safety" and that the arbitrary in-flight rules have been carefully created for a reason other than pacifying you into a false sense of safety.

My favorite instruction is the one where they start with "in the unlikely event of a water landing." First of all, commercial air liners don't "land" in the water; they crash in it. They should just call a spade a spade. If I'm 30,000 feet above anything and the pilot's only option is to put it in the water, we're not landing. That Sully guy might have done it once, but let's be honest. We're not going fishing in an isolated Alaskan village. Our plane doesn't have giant kayaks strapped to the bottom of it. The only true part about that statement is the word “unlikely.” It’s extremely “unlikely” that a jet liner loaded with people, fuel, and luggage screaming toward the open water is going to “land.”

Back to the other day.

I boarded and then I sat there annoyed at the prospect of listening to the Southwest flight attendant--who was an obviously homosexual man wearing those snug khaki shorts, a golf shirt, and some cute white ankle socks with his pristine white tennis shoes. I chuckled to myself at the thought of some sort of tragedy befalling the flight. "What is this guy going to do, shoulder carry me down the aisle through the flames and kick open the door in the event of a crash?" I thought. I had visions of him trying to save his accessory bag before me.

However, as I listened for the first time in a very long time to the instructions, it occurred to me that the preflight presentation given thousands of times a day to oblivious, cynical travelers like me who pay more attention to the status of the overhead bathroom light than they do anything else on the plane is the perfect metaphor for life. Let's break it down.

1. Like most things in life, the opening presentation is an event put in place by someone who doesn't know you and, in your absence, has decided what he thinks is best for you.

Life is filled with obligatory events and the best we can do is sit there quietly through most of them while avoiding the urge to bury a pencil in the nearest jugular vein--which sometimes happens to be our own. Still, hidden somewhere in the stack of garbage is occasionally a piece of treasure worth digging for. It's not often we find that treasure--on the plane or in life--but it's at least the belief that it's out there that keeps up in our seats, isn't it? I imagine that's what also keeps us from picking up that pencil.

Like fastening your seatbelt, stowing your carry on luggage in the overhead bin or beneath the seat, or powering down all electronic devices, our days are filled with rules we all have to follow. Most of those rules--absent the structure and uniformity they create--are meaningless. The real irony is that the people who create those rules are, in fact, responding to another set of rules created by another set of people in response to yet another set of rules about what the rules should be.

Perhaps Dr. Seuss was on to something in Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? when he wrote the following:

"Oh the Jobs people work at!
Out west, near Hawtch-Hawtch,
there's a Hawtch-Hawtcher Bee-watcher.
His job is to watch...
is to keep both his eyes on the lazy town bee.
A bee that is watched will work harder you see.

Well... he watched and he watched,
but in spite of his watch,
that bee didn't work any harder. Not mawtch.

So then somebody said,
'Our old bee-watching man
just isn't bee-watching as hard as he can.
He ought to be watched by another Hawtch-Hawthcer!
The thing that we need is a Bee-Watcher-Watcher!'


The Bee-Watcher-Watcher watched the Bee-Watcher.
He didn't watch well. So another Hawtch-Hawtcher
has to come in as the Watch-Watcher-Watcher!
And today all the Hawtcher who live in Hawtch-Hawtch
are watching on Watch-Watcher-Watchering-Watch, Watch-Watching the Watcher who's watching that bee. You're not a Hawtch-Watcher. You're lucky, you see!"

Life is filled with a lot of Hawtch-Watchers. Stopping to remember that life tends to move forward whether we always follow the rules or not is often more valuable than always following the rules. Dr. Suess knew that. That’s why he was Dr. Suess.

2. There is one way on the plane but there are six ways off the plane.

Notwithstanding that annoying two finger point that the flight attendants use and undoubtedly have to master before graduating from wherever it is one goes to learn to be a flight attendant, I found this part of the presentation extremely enlightening.

Woody Allen once said that 99% of life is simply showing up. As true as that is, the hardest part about anything in life is the 1% of the time we are called on to act. It's those of us who take the most advantage of that 1% that leave a mark on the world--or more importantly, the people in our little section of the world. Being great is not about the showing up part; it's about what you do after you show up that matters.

On an airplane, there is one door that you must go through to get on the plane. In order to get to that door you have to get to the airport early, wait behind a lot of other people, plan accordingly, and rely upon more than one person to get you to the right gate.

Trusting others while being self-reliant is a difficult balance to strike and all it takes is one person with an ill will and you find yourself halfway across the airport at a different gate headed for a different destination. After that happens once, it's a bit tougher to rely upon the kindness of strangers. I believe life teaches all of us that lesson more times than we'd like it to.

Opportunities in life often have one, narrow, conditionally accessible way in and when we get there things often get difficult. When they do we tend to look for at least six ways out. Sometimes it's better to remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened. In air travel as in life, bailing out too soon can prove disastrous. It’s always wise to figure out and remember where the exits are; however, it’s not always wise to run for them every time something seems wrong.

3. In the unlikely event of a cabin depressurization a yellow mask will drop from the overhead. Use the elastic strap to adjust the mask. Put on your mask first and then help the person next to you.

Helping people with their problems is an admirable thing to do. Self sacrifice, modesty, and charity are all wonderful things. However, no person is capable of living his life through another person. In order to assist someone, you have to take care of yourself first. Then, and only then, can you truly be useful.

Unlike an airplane, our lives often have a way of taking the breath from our lungs on a regular basis. Being aware of that depressurization and being prepared to help ourselves by staying alert enough to take the steps to get ourselves through it is a necessary part of life. A healthy body and a clear mind are two of the most powerful tools a person can store under his seat in the event that life drops that little yellow mask from the ceiling. Help others, but help yourself first.

4. No smoking, even in the bathroom.

This one needs no explanation. If you smoke, quit.

5. The pilots are behind a locked door and you’re not allowed to go near it.

Aside from the really important function of delivering your seven, vacuum-packed peanuts and 7.5 ounces of whatever beverage you desire, the flight attendants are simply window dressing. The vast majority of the important stuff on a flight goes on in that small space behind that innocuous door known as the cockpit. Once the plane is in motion, the best that you can hope for is to adjust your seatbelt, turn that useless air vent thing, and slide the window shade down to an acceptable level in order to make yourself as comfortable as you possibly can for the duration of the flight.

Most of what goes on in life goes on beyond the seat you’re given to sit in for the ride. As undesirable as that fact is to admit, it’s really the truth. Concentrating on what we can control and maximizing our comfort level is the key to a satisfying trip. It’s pointless to obsess over the stuff behind the door because what happens behind it is going to happen regardless of how much or how little we worry about it. Be grateful for the peanuts and the drinks that come your way and enjoy each one of them. Despite expectations, the ride is usually much shorter than expected.

6. Other Truisms from Air Travel

And now for the part where I brilliantly tie all of this together.

Aside from the five items in the pre-flight presentation, I realized that in the absence of my iPod and the Zen state it creates for me that there are many life lessons that can be gleaned from a simple trip on an airplane. Below are a few of them.

No matter what the circumstances are, in life, as in an airplane you will inevitably encounter people who cannot follow simple instructions. Whether it’s getting a grasp on the term “overhead bin” or matching a letter and a number in order to find an assigned seat, there is always a universe of people who will fail miserably at understanding basic things yet succeed immeasurably in annoying you. Learning to successfully navigate these situations is essential to maintaining your sanity on the ground or in the air. Accept that fact that you will regularly be in the presence of idiots but also understand that the day and circumstance will come when you are the idiot. Knowing the latter will help you stomach the former.

You will often have to listen to someone tell you what to do. Even the most powerful of the powerful have to follow instructions every now and then. Henry VIII beheaded a lot of people who told him what to do and Stalin simply sent them packing to Siberia. For every person sent to Siberia or every head to hit the basket after the fall of the guillotine blade, there will be two more people in line ready to tell you what to do. If you happen to be married, there will usually be only one person in front of you telling you what to do but it will certainly feel like two. Chopping that person’s head off is never a good idea. Ask Henry VIII.

Much of what is discussed never happens. Water landings, turbulence, depressurization, iPod interference, and emergency evacuations are all real, albeit small, possibilities when we choose to get on a plane and leave the confines of solid ground in favor of having ourselves and our luggage hurled through the air at 500 miles per hour in search of our destination. While these things are all possible and indeed need to be discussed, none of them will likely happen.

Life is filled with negative possibilities as well. Many people spend a large portion of their day worrying about negative things that could happen. While it is safe to say that something negative will eventually happen in any person’s life, the vast majority of the things we spend the limited time we have here worrying about never come to fruition. In fact, even less of those things seem to enter the world of the living if we consciously choose to focus on the positive things in our lives. Like I learned in Cub Scouts early in life, being prepared is the best solution to stuff that happens. It took me much longer to realize that I can’t prepare for every single thing that might happen.

You're better off carrying only what you need. There is nothing more frustrating for me than watching a clueless passenger attempt to yank an overstuffed, oversized piece of luggage down the aisle of an airplane only to realize that it won’t fit into the overhead bin. Simplification is a worthwhile exercise to undertake when packing for any trip.

We spend a lot of time outside of Tuesday Morning, Target, or Wal-Mart waiting for the doors to be unlocked so we can go inside and find that perfect what not to really tie the living room together. Valet parkers in any city in America carefully select the nicest, most expensive cars to back into the closest spaces to the fancy restaurant so everyone knows that important people eat there.

We are conditioned to accumulate “things” in the name of appearing “happy.” The more stuff we have, the happier we must be. The examples are endless. It’s usually not until one of those negative possibilities I mentioned earlier actually occurs that we are forced to look at our lives and determine what we actually need rather than what we actually want.

Simplifying our lives by purging them of the mental and physical clutter that we’re all force fed on a daily basis is a difficult thing to do. However, that process is far more liberating than a person usually imagines it will be. We’re all “Hoarders” in one way or another. Just because we don’t have feral cats hopping around junk filled rooms doesn’t mean we don’t have things we can’t get rid of in the name of making our lives a bit quieter.

We all, however, have those feral cats hopping around in our heads. Purging our minds of the junk is a difficult but necessary step to take. Fortunately for us, like the cylindrical fuselage of a 747, our minds offer more than one exit for us to use. The key is finding the gay guy in the tight khaki shorts and cute white shoes to point them out.

Well, there it is. It’s amazing what thoughts enter my mind in the absence of the iPod. May Steve Jobs rest in peace. He’s truly the Henry Ford of our generation and I can attest that my life is very different because he lived. Take care of yourselves, tell someone you love them today, and if you happen to be flying make sure and turn your iPod off for a bit. On the plane, as in life, never expect more than one free drink. Until next week, be safe. In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be ironing my khaki shorts. DP

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Off Season Post 22: Knick Knacks are Heavier than What Nots

Hello, Readers. Still mad at me? Yes, I realize that my inability to post last week probably sent some of you into a frothy frenzy; however, I've only got 10 fingers and most of those were busy typing various pleadings, letters, and emails to people much less accommodating than the majority of you. Plus, I traveled for work on Monday and Tuesday in addition to my myriad responsibilities here in Austin. For those of you familiar with the exciting world of civil litigation you’re aware that, like an A-list German porno star, things tend to come in spurts. For the past few weeks, I’ve been directly in the path of one of those spurts. Disgusting imagery aside, if you'll forgive me, I'll try and do better.

Despite the busy nature of my week, my weekend actually turned out to be a pleasant one. While I did make a trip to the office in order get organized for my upcoming Monday and Tuesday travel, I did manage to spend some time in the company of several of my closest friends. It's nice when life slows down for a few moments as if on cue and you're able to slow down with it. It's also nice of The Man to give me a break now and then. Until I find that subservient nymphomaniac with a trust fund that has heretofore eluded me, I suppose I'll have to settle for the brief indulgences that I was able to enjoy this weekend.

Before I move toward this week's subject, I wanted to announce the extension of the contest initiated in the last post concerning life's truisms. I've received about a dozen so far and I'd imagine that the sparse participation stems from my aforementioned tardiness in addition to the comment problems on the site. In light of that, please email me your truisms at if you can't post them in the comment section. I'll announce the winner in the next post. Incidentally, all of them have been funny. I'll post them all, but definitely decide on a winner. With that out of the way, let's get to it.

As I went merrily about my business last weekend, my phone rang and I recognized the number of my previously mentioned Special Lady Friend. I've mentioned before that I don't enjoy giving specific details about my personal life and I'm certainly not in the habit of giving out details of the people in my life--well, other than the ones who trespass and spontaneously defecate into public pools; however, I believe that if a person chooses to do that sort of thing, he's probably going to reasonably anticipate that his feat will be shared with other people into perpetuity.

Because she's graduated over time to my unwritten yet firmly hardwired "Always Answer List,” I answered. By the way, let's not pretend like the majority, if not all, of you don't also have an Always Answer List. That's the narrowly defined group of people whose calls always get answered and never screened. In fact, these are the people who inherently know that when they get your voice mail it was your choice to send them there. My list has no more than 5 people on it and my boss isn't one of those people. I tried that once. A word of advice: If your boss is on your Always Answer List then you work too much and there are other relationships in your life suffering because of it. Perhaps that’s another Truism.

Upon answering I was greeted by what all men know to be the universal--yet subtle--female demand for immediate help: "What are you doing?" She might as well have said, "bring your truck, a good attitude, a willingness to follow orders, and meet me at my place."

Her "place," by the way, was changing over the weekend. No, it's not the same as my place and I thought I'd avoided any chance at a stint doing manual labor by artfully suggesting that "she" would be much happier with the relocation if she hired movers to pack her stuff and move it for her.

"That way, all you have to do is leave your old place for a few hours while they pack, return and give them the thumbs up, and then drive over to your new place and watch them unload. You'll be done in a day and unpacked by the next day. Easy." That was the assumptive close at the end of my sales pitch. After she bought it, I frankly didn't think I had to fear recruitment; however, I might as well have been an 8 year old boy from Sierra Leone: I was going in whether I wanted to or not and I was destined to emerge a changed and bitter shell of the person I was before I joined. I didn't even have a chance of discovering a giant blood diamond with which to buy my freedom.

Rewind to about 10 days prior to the day of the big move and you'll see me sitting on my couch enjoying a cold bottle of water after a mid-afternoon run. I picked up the phone and dialed the SLF and she answered. I led with what all men believe is a reasonable inquiry when starting a conversation (nothing more. nothing less.), "What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm packing," was the answer. Mystified, I asked why in the world a person who just hired movers would need to pack. Apparently, I'm an idiot for not understanding that there are just certain belongings a woman possesses that are forbidden from being handled by third parties; particularly sweaty male third parties. Granted, I can see heirlooms, jewelry, and the unmentionables drawer being off limits; however, I quickly realized that her list extended far beyond these common sense items to, well, everything in her possession, custody, or control.

Now far be it from me to question a woman in that situation. That's like leaning over to inquire what kind of raw meat a lion has in front of it. I took the path of least resistance by gently lobbing a "do you need any help" over the fence all the while knowing that my half-assed offer would be refused. Satisfied that I had dodged another bullet I threw on a little Mythbusters and went about the rest of my day.

Fast forward back to the big move and I'm on my way over to the new place prepared to endure some "does this look good here" and "what do you think about red curtains for this window in here" and "should I put my shoes on this side of the closet or this one" types of inquiries.

Of course, every man is taught early in life that the secret to appearing sensitive and concerned about things as inane as these--and thereby keeping any hope of obtaining the affections of the inquirer alive--is to nod his head while knowingly wrinkling his brow and saying something like, "I trust your taste but what about over there" while pointing vaguely in any direction. Realizing she'll make up her mind ten times before deciding upon the first option to cross her mind is an important thing to keep in mind when fielding these inquiries.

When I got there I saw the moving truck expertly parked as close to the sidewalk as possible and I walked over and greeted the two men now in her employ. I knew we'd be sweating together as subjects of her kingdom for the next couple of hours and I figured that until one of us developed Stockholm Syndrome it would be nice to begin the male bonding that occurs in these types of situations. I then greeted the SLF and awaited my orders.

Now, before this post costs me more than the sweat that went into creating it, let me clarify a few things about the SLF. First, she's unbelievably calm and level headed. She's easy to deal with all of the time and indeed her ability to remain calm in situations that would frankly warrant a freak out is one of her most endearing qualities.

Second, she's not a ball buster. I believe it's been well established that I'm about as happy to have my balls busted as the Romans were to see the Huns trudging over the western hills of their empire in the third century. Incidentally, I read an article about the Huns recently that said that their reign of terror ended somewhat abruptly when they inexplicably broke up. Perhaps one of them started dating Yoko Ono.

Annnyyyyhooo . . .

At any rate, my point about the SLF is that if indeed I was going to be subjected to the despotic reign of any one person, her reign would be on my sort list of despotic reigns to subject myself to. I'm certain the movers felt the same way. Now, back to the big move.

After agreeing to "help in any way I could" and suggesting that she not worry her pretty little head about the big, heavy man work outside, she went inside to begin the unpacking process while, like worker ants in search of food for the queen, the movers and I methodically approached the truck.

Being much older--and theoretically smarter--than the two beefy movers with me, I decided I'd let them handle the bulky furniture and I would stick to the boxes on the truck in the name of saving my knees and back while maintaining the appearance of helpfulness. After all, I was technically the only person of the three of us moving that wasn't getting paid for my efforts. However, if I failed to provide adequate assistance, it would cost me far more than it would cost either of them. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

It took me one box to realize that I'd made a horrible error in calculation. Below are some of the things I learned about helping a woman move all of her stuff.

1. Women pack with no regard for the combined weight of the material going into the box.

As I lifted the first box--innocuously labeled "Decor for Living Room"--it occurred to me that the SLF gave no thought whatsoever to the ability a person who "chose" to lift the box would need in order to get it from the floor, onto the truck, and to whatever location she deemed fit. After all, it was never contemplated that she would be the one to lift it. Besides, all men are "strong" and can lift heavy things. The concept of relativity--not in the Einstein sense but in the strength to weight ratio sense--was clearly lost on her. "Does she think I’m an ant?" I thought praying my intestines would not thrust themselves beyond my inguinal canals. I longed for the tiny underwear I donated to that six year old in Bastrop.

Now granted, it is possible that she envisioned that I would be the one lifting the box and it was therefore safe to assume that, like Hercules and Samson before me, I could handle the task. However, I'm almost certain that my superhuman status didn't cross her mind. I'm certain of that because my superhuman status is, of course, bullshit; but don't tell her. I'm almost certain she still believes that.

2. "Miscellaneous" is a vague term

There were many labels I encountered as I made repeated trips from the truck to the new cabana. However, one of the recurring labels was simply "Miscellaneous." I soon came to learn that the term is synonymous with "heavy shit." I looked it up. It comes from the Latin root words “Miscell,” meaning “heavy” and “aneuous,” meaning “shit.”

In fact, after lugging several boxes replete with various miscellanea up the stairs, I began to surreptitiously open them all the while expecting to find bricks or perhaps lead inside. "Maybe this is some sort of loyalty test," I reasoned. I can think of nothing within the entire universe of my possessions that weighs so much yet occupies such a small space.

To my surprise, upon opening a couple boxes I discovered candles. Candles? Who in the hell owns 200 pounds worth of candles? Apparently, a lot of women as the look I was shot from the kitchen to the living room after I asked that question demonstrated. There was enough wax in those boxes to supply Madame Tussauds’ next exhibit. There were fewer candles in Sting’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” video. Those trapped Chilean miners used less candles during their month trapped below ground. Like those miners, I felt like chopping off my arm and eating it at this point in the move. Two. Hundred. Pounds. Of. Candles.

Now glistening with sweat like Secretariat after an early morning jaunt around the track, I returned to the truck in search of something heavy enough to avoid looking like a p*ssy but light enough to avoid having my tailbone rip through my lower back. That proved to be a difficult balance to strike even though that gray area seems immense.

After a subtle search I settled on a box labeled “Accent Pillows/Shams.” “Sham is right,” I thought. After being brought their under the guise of providing “a little help” I now realized that I’d been tricked into hard labor. I might as well have been asked to break rocks along an Alabama stretch of highway in August. I longed to be waist deep in the muddy waters of the Sierra Leone diamond mines.

“Accent Pillows?” To me, a pillow is something you rest your head on when you nap or settle down at the end of a long day. In a perfect world, it’s something that t-shirt and panty-clad sorority girls hit each other with during slumber parties, but that’s neither here nor there---unfortunately. As I labored up the stairs, I wondered what type of accent her pillows would have. I suppose that would depend on what country they were from and how young they were when they first learned to speak English, I reasoned as I carried the bulky yet thankfully light box and rested it upon a couch that was apparently in much need of accentuation. I wondered if the candles had accents as well and I made a mental note to tell the SLF that she should be careful not to commingle the ones with the French accents with the ones with the German accents. After all, you can’t have your candles surrendering in the middle of a romantic evening.

Yea, I know. She didn’t enjoy that joke either.

After sipping some water out of a glass but picturing myself sipping it out of a ladle like Cool Hand Luke on the side of that aforementioned highway, I returned to the truck for another box. I turned a box around to read the label.  To my surprise it read, “Accent Pillow/Shams."  I felt like Neo in that strange train station between the Matrix and reality. “I just carried this f*cking box,” I thought to myself. This place has more accents than a Swiss bus station.

It was then that I began to think about Apollo 13. Humor me here.

I have at least one reader who works for NASA (or did) and she’s likely laughing about this comparison right now. For the benefit of the rest of you who fail to see the connection, allow me to explain.

Space exploration is—as you might imagine—a tricky thing. Anyone who followed the Space Shuttle, for instance, knows that a tiny, seemingly harmless detail, if overlooked, can lead to disaster. If a major system malfunctions there can be irreversible trouble. A lot of these lessons were learned when Apollo 13 had its trouble and the major systems now have several redundant back ups in case of a failure. The same is true in airplanes, which can run on only one of several engines, for instance. So, how does this relate to accent pillows?

Like a space ship floundering in orbit miles above the Earth, women have a bunch of redundant sh*t. However, women’s redundant stuff—to me anyway—has no discernible purpose. Even if we allow room for seasonal shams and accent pillows, for instance, it seems that women will accumulate several versions of something that they only really need one of in order to survive. Several sets of China, several iterations of the same shoe, multiple sets of flatware, blankets, comforters, potpourri dishes. I could go on . . . and on.

What baffles me is that—after carrying all of it up the stairs—I was simply asked to put most of it in the spare bedroom out of the way so it could be dealt with later. For any man, anything that can simply be placed in a box behind a closed door for an extended period of time is not worth loading up and carrying from place to place. Men call that trash. Serial killers call that a dead prostitute. Women call that stuff they “need.”

Again, let me clarify with respect to the SLF. What gets me is that she’s as minimalist as a woman gets. She’s practical, modest, and she won’t be seen arguing with her relatives on her front lawn on Hoarders any time soon. Yet, she still somehow has more inventory than the 21st Airborne in Iraq. Go figure.

When I strategically posed this question to her well after the big stuff was put away, the furniture was in place, and the accent walls (to talk to the pillows and shams, perhaps?) were painted and dried, the answer I got had something to do with a woman’s tendency to “nest.”

I suppose that’s as viable an explanation as any other. However, as I pointed out, that’s one big nest. Big Bird could get lost in that thing . . . along with Snuffaluffagus.

Well, there it is. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comment section. Don’t forget to send me your Truisms and I’ll announce the winner next week. In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be tucking my intestines back up my inguinal canals. DP

Friday, October 7, 2011

Off Season Post 21: Just Do Your Job

Hello, Readers and welcome back to this week's installment of the world's best time waster. Wow, it’s been a hell of a week for me. This is the first week in about 2 years when I’ve actually not had the time to post (or drink heavily), and that disturbs me greatly. I’d almost rather be severely constipated. Actually, depending on how you view the content of this blog, I suppose an inability to write, for me, is akin to being constipated.

I do want to thank those of you who still take the time to comment despite the inevitable frustration created by Blogger's inability to solve what seems like a rudimentary issue. Your emails are appreciated as well. I try and give more than a cursory response to the ones I get; however, that's not always as possible as I'd like it to be.

Still, I've yet to create a canned email response, so I'll trust that most of you still get that special, fuzzy feeling when you see whatever name you've assigned to my email address pop up in on your screen evidencing that I've taken time to respond to you accordingly. Whether it seems like it or not, I actually care in an odd way about each one of you who reads this and perhaps gleans something from it each week.

As I sat here writing on Monday in hopes of finishing before my week started to get hectic, I was fresh off a mountain bike ride, a self-cooked meal, and a brief review of the Amanda Knox reversed conviction--thanks to the spot on reporting of that dreamboat Anderson Cooper. As a lawyer, I think the jury made the right decision. Let's hope so for the sake of that poor girl who can no longer speak for herself and for the family that had to sit there and watch this unfold. May she rest in peace and may Amanda Knox do something valuable with her own life.

I suppose now we can add "Don't travel abroad and immediately associate with African drifters who may kill your roommate" to "Never start a ground war in Russia in the Winter" and "Never Play Cards with a Guy who has the same first name as a city" to Life's Little Book of Truisms.

Speaking of Life's Truisms, why don't we have a contest of sorts? Of course, I'll offer some sort of meaningless prize. Send me your own truism via the comment section or email and I'll pick a winner next week. Actually, considering the vast knowledge we'll all gain by undertaking this exercise, I think we're all winners--or something like it. With that out of the way, let's get to it.

As I went through my week, I thought about my daily routine. Everyone has one. Of course, for people like me who travel for work and have a lot of things going on, that routine can differ greatly from week to week. However, even I have some cornerstone practices and some eccentric habits (some of which I'll share but most of which I'll keep secret) that get me through what would otherwise be a mundane existence most of the time. I suppose "mundane" is relative, but you know what I'm talking about. Everyone takes solace in their rituals.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned routine, there are times when I simply like to take a right turn off the path in order to just see what happens. No, I'm not sending "Brett Favre" pictures to underage girls over the Internet (yet), but I do like to keep things interesting.

As my still faceless yet very resourceful commenters Donna and Some Girls from Austin can attest, I am a creature of habit. I walk the same path to the elevator, park on the same floor in the garage, eat at the same place for lunch after walking the same route to get there, and I usually order the same thing. I hang out regularly at about 4 different places and getting me to go elsewhere is like moving a mule across a pasture without any carrots. I'm a big thinker and I don't like to be bothered with dozens of meaningless decisions on a daily basis. I revel in that predictability. Ironically, it's that predictability that allows me to keep things creative inside of my own head. Balance, remember?

Rather than walk down Congress Avenue to my favorite lunch spot on Monday, I chose to hop into the car and try my luck at a local place called Austin Java. There are several of them around town and the one I headed to has a nice patio. Since we’ve finally received a break from the 107 degree temperatures we had for 90 plus days in a row in favor of temperate October temperatures, I figured I’d give it a shot for lunch. As its name suggests, it’s a popular place for breakfast.

I’ll cut to the chase in the name of getting to the point of this post. The service was substandard. Check that. The service was f*cking terrible. As anyone who knows me can attest, aside from my almost pathological abhorrence for having to wait in line for anything my biggest pet peeve is bad service. Obviously, that includes restaurants, but my peeve extends to any interaction between me and someone from whom I’m either purchasing something or who is tasked with the job responsibility of providing me with something.

I’m neither arrogant nor unreasonable (my friends can also attest to this) and I agree that every rule has an exception, but I do expect a minimum level of competence in the person I deal with in addition to a lack of apathy. In short, I just want the person I deal with to “do his job.” A perfect example of this minimum level of competence would be having the waiter demonstrate a working knowledge of the ingredients contained in the items on the menu or the service guy at my car dealership being able to estimate within an hour or so when my car will be ready for pick up. Is that too much to ask?

As I sat there for literally 10 minutes frustrated at my table with no menu and no drink and no one to greet me--at the very least--with a “I’ll be right with you,” I searched desperately for clues in order to discover the person responsible for waiting on me. Several people wearing the tell-tale half apron and Austin Java t-shirt passed by using only their peripheral vision for fear of being identified as my server. The clocked ticked forward as my patience ticked backward. As I sat there steaming, I thought back to my days in college as a waiter, caterer, and bartender.

The bottom line is that there is no excuse for bad service. Surprisingly, I think it’s disingenuous to blame the actual servers. It’s really a management and culture issue in any company and the employees inevitably reflect management’s ability and often desire to provide whatever standard of service they see fit to provide. Companies who don’t care will hire and retain employees who don’t care. Companies that do care will weed out those who don’t in favor of those who do. It’s really that simple. That’s true whether they’re hiring waiters or attorneys. It’s not industry specific.

Eventually, “Mitch” fought through his hangover and did me the favor of taking my order after undoubtedly heading out back near the dumpster for a leisurely smoke and a few texts to his girlfriend who was probably doing the same thing in whatever restaurant she worked in thereby unknowingly linking me with whatever poor sap sat searching for her so he could order his lunch.

Eventually, I got what I ordered but unfortunately had to eat it without the benefit of my beverage because despite the fact that the glass containing my Diet Coke was opaque, Mitch remained oblivious to the fact that I drank it all during my 20 minute wait for my food. Of course, Mitch filled it up while simultaneously dropping the check and having the balls to write “Thanks, Mitch” adjacent to the “Tip” line on the receipt. Fortunately for Mitch, my prior years slaving away on the floors and behind the bars of several restaurants have made it impossible for me to tip less than 15%, even in the face of Mitch’s patent apathy for his job responsibilities.

Oh, and before I’m forced to read “give the guy a break if he was busy” emails, let me address that issue as well. Again, I see this as a management issue. Granted, there are times when a place gets unforeseeably busy and its service suffers as a result. The operative word in that last sentence is “unforeseeably.” Service in any customer facing business should never reach a point of abject failure. Any place that routinely serves customers should know within reason when it will get a rush of customers and they should staff accordingly in addition to staffing it with their most competent employees. That seems like common sense, but apparently that eludes a large portion of management meetings more often than it gets discussed in a lot of places.

At this point in the post I have to confess that rather than exercise my usual stream of consciousness writing method (I rarely, if ever, edit—ergo, the “Think-It” name of the blog), I have been piece mealing this post together for four days now in various airports, restaurants, and at home. I feel compelled to post today, so I’ll wrap this up in the name of giving you something to read on a Friday and a promise to do better next week.

As I was reading through the first part of this post with the help of my “Read Later Instapaper” app on my iPad2 on the plane, it occurred to me that I’ve been flying Southwest Airlines for quite a while now. I’ve earned Platinum A-List status for the past few years in a row. That’s 100 round trips minimum per year, so do the math. I fly quite a bit.

With the exception of the time Southwest put my luggage on the flight behind me when I was traveling to Colorado for a triathlon that forced me to check a bag (I never check a bag), I have literally never had a problem with any aspect of Southwest’s service. In fact, the lost bag was partially my fault because I showed up within 20 minutes of my flight and checked a bag. Even then, they brought the bag to my hotel and made sure that I was satisfied by making a follow up phone call to me shortly after its delivery.

I have been to virtually every major and most minor airports across the country at one time or another and I’ve made it a habit to routinely change my departure times, locations, and dates. Southwest has always been accommodating and eager to assist me. I was once summoned to the gate by an agent and offered the final remaining standby seat on an earlier flight simply because their records showed that I checked in early at the airport. If only my pal “Mitch” was as proactive in his approach to table maintenance.

The final note I’ll leave you with relates to a horribly bumpy flight I took from Phoenix to Houston on Southwest. After being tossed around the cabin like the new guy taking his first prison shower, I got off the flight and made my way home. About three days later I opened a letter I received in the mail from Southwest Airlines. It was signed by a Vice President and contained an apology for the turbulence in addition to a $200 voucher for my next flight. Perhaps I should have used it to fly Mitch to waiter school.

Thanks to all of you for understanding this week. I’ll try and deliver big next week.  Don't forget to send me your Truisms via the Comment section or Email.  Have a wonderful weekend. Until next time if you need me I’ll be refilling my Diet Coke. DP

Tuesday, October 4, 2011