Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Spy School

                  Image result for we're all being spied on
by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
A new course must be added to the High School curriculum, Spy Craft.

Every day we are spied upon.  It begins with our computers.  The internet tracks us, what web site we visit, how long we stay, what we do there.  I often visit Macy’s web site to see the sales of the day. On the next ten web sites I visit, I will see adds target to me for Macy’s menswear.  My cell phone spies on me. The GPS tracks me like a cat stalking a mouse.  Coupled to Google Earth, somebody knows where I am and what I am doing.

Cities are spying on you too.  It began easily with toll tags.  Now they watch you all the time.  The City of Baltimore has drones watching the streets 24/7.  When a crime occurs, the police “go to the video tape” for suspects. Your neighbors are spying on you too.  There was a break-in at a home down the block from me.  The police knocked on my door, not to find out if I saw anything, but to ask if the cameras of my home security system recorded the robbery.

We need a Spy Craft course in the High School because we do not know how to defend ourselves from these intrusions.  Worse, some of us have no idea we are spied upon.  It’s not the police or the government you have to worry about.  It’s your husband looking for where you spent “our” money, your girlfriend looking for your new girlfriend, your boss looking to get rid of you, or your nosy neighbor looking for gossip.

I can see a time when we are all a community of Jason Bournes, with six internet IDs rather than six passports or always aware of where the cameras are and walking in a zig-zag pattern to avoid them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

                      Image result for gas lines
by Vol-E

I think this week, we'll be partying like it's 1979.

If that reference doesn't ring a bell, it means you're under the age of 40. At that time, some of the middle eastern countries with the most oil to export got into a snit and cut off our supply. Gas was rationed; you could only buy it on days that corresponded to the number on your license plate. People got into fist fights at the pumps (more on that in a sec), and Jimmy Carter started seeing what was left of his presidential career fade with each passing day.

That was when prices went up over one dollar per gallon {gasp!}.

So now we have a ruptured pipeline from Alabama and the entire eastern seaboard will be affected. Here in Tennessee, the pipeline apparently bypasses us, but stations are already out because once people heard the news story, they all rushed out to fill their tanks, so now we have plastic bags over our pumps too!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Climbing to New Heights

            Image result for airplane with training wheels -bicycle -bike
by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
It started when I was ten.  I was riding shotgun with my father when a small plane crossed the highway in front of us.  The plane floated gently to its landing, like it had all the time in the world.  It was beautiful.  I knew then I wanted to be a pilot.  

I dreamed of soaring with the clouds and flying through them.  I could go anywhere the crow flies.  No stuck in traffic following a road as laid out by some anonymous engineer.  I could fly with the birds, although, I never thought myself a bird.  I loved the freedom.

But, I fear heights.  

It's not just any heights, it's low heights, the kind you get with stairs, balconies, bridges, and landing airplanes.  When I fly on airlines as a passenger, I look out the window at thirty thousand feet, no fear.  Somewhere between six feet, my height, and thirty thousand feet, airplane's height, lives my fear, a mysterious feeling that emerges from my stomach and rises up into my chest.  I can't describe it. My jaw is clenched right now and my face is scrunched into an ugly frown as I tell you my story.

I signed up for flying lessons.  I was fine at two thousand feet up.  Looking out the side window of the Cessna 150, the ground slowly passing by, I was just floating along with the clouds below, although a bit noisily.  The world is different when you look down on it as a series of roof tops and black roads.  

The instructor and I went up to practice take-offs and landings, touch-n-go in aviation parlance.  As I pushed the steering wheel forward, the plane's nose pointed down for the landing, and I flew straight towards the ground at one hundred miles per hour.  The ground started to come up at me.  I stared out the windshield at it.  The runway disappeared and the windshield filled with this dirt brown and grass green blob, the black tarmac runway in the middle like a tongue.  The muscles in my biceps tingled, my arms went weak and start to shake slightly, as I held the nose down.  I was flying into the ground.  The instructor took over.  Not entirely unexpected for the first lesson.  I attempted three more landings but my anxiety grew worse and the ground grew bigger and bigger until it took off and came up to meet me in the air.  

I took several more lessons and each time, the instructor took over.  I came to the conclusion that I liked the ground beneath my feet and not in my windshield.  I gave up learning to fly -- no crashing, no broken bones, no excruciating pain, and no dying.  I should have taken up racing cars. Much safer. 

As self-therapy, I have ridden the roller coasters at Great Adventure Amusement Park near my home. Roller coasters are perfect. They are fast, close to the ground, and I am out in the open but securely strapped in place.  I ride round after round.  I figure that by excess exposure to my fear of heights, I will get over it.  I look for the scariest, longest roller coaster ride with the biggest drop from the highest possible point straight down to ground.  If there is the word Nitro in the ride's name, I am on it in the front seat.  Once, the Park offered to sell me pictures of myself on the ride.  I had a clenched jaw, a scared ugly, frightened rabbit look, holding the seat bar with a vise grip while the woman next to me was smiling happily, her arms raised in the air.

In my old age, I am still in therapy at Great Adventure.  I have concluded that all this fear is the result of my imagination run amok, the same imagination that I will now use to write amazing and awesome stories in this blog.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

"...and You Believe That?" Skepticism vs. Cynicism

                         Image result for bullshit detector
by Vol-E

I can recall many days during my school years when I would rush home and eagerly share some new information with my mother. I'd tell her about a classmate who said her father was the president of General Motors, or a teacher who claimed to have been in the profession for 20 years but was still only 30 years old. Mom fancied herself as my protector. She wasn't going to let anyone make a fool out of me if she could help it. I got so used to her responding to any such report with "And you believe that?!" that I finally did learn to filter information in a quest for truth.

Our last name was so unusual (an Ellis Island original, I believe, where some multi-consonant moniker from Ukraine or Latvia was simplified in order not to strain the intellect of immigration officials) so as to be virtually unique in the U.S. And yet, a friend insisted, when I was eight, that she shared that surname. Damn, she was convincing! But Mom held firm, and once she began threatening to "have a talk with" the girl's mother, she finally relented and admitted that her name was her name, and not mine. Amazingly, I'm still close friends with this person. We know all each other's secrets, because honesty has proven to be the most entertaining policy.

But my gullibility got me into trouble plenty of times. It seemed to attract a certain type of kid, who would work on finding out just how much they could get away with.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Barbecued ... What?

                     

I'm not from the South, but I got here as fast as I could.

I recently passed a milestone of having lived below the Mason-Dixon Line for 30 years - longer than I lived north of it. My roots will always be in New York, of course, and I sometimes experience spasms of missing it terribly ... but during my freshman year at Hofstra, when I didn't have a car at my disposal and stood at the bus stop, quaking in the cold wind, I decided I wanted to live somewhere warmer. But life (in the form of boyfriends, mainly) got in the way, and so it was another nine years before my plan came to fruition. By that time, I was married, and one camping trip in Virginia and North Carolina planted the idea in both our heads that the world didn't begin and end at opposite ends of the subway line. We could live in a place with clearer nights, more green grass, a slower pace, cleaner air, and best of all, more realistic real estate prices. The milder (albeit dreary) winters were a given. They spoiled me: After 15 years or so, any trip to New York around Christmastime meant enduring those Arctic winds that feel like a storm of needles assaulting your face. My ex was immune to this, however; he is currently preparing a permanent move to Prince Edward Island in Canada, where things are frosty, the way he likes it.

Living in the South brought me innumerable experiences with an "exotic" culture that I had never dreamed of in my youth. I'm on a Facebook group made up of people from the same neck of the woods, and those who ultimately moved away love to amuse the ones who stayed with the quirky differences in terminology ("Buggy" vs. "shopping cart" and "license tag" vs. "license plate" are two examples). But the one that I encountered within weeks of moving to Atlanta is the one that really stands out for me. I can always tell where someone is from, based on how they use the word.

Barbecue.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

It Doesn't Run in the Family, It Walks Slowly

                        
By Vol-E

I always thought I looked like my mom from the nose up, and my dad from the nose down. My head is larger than average, like Mom's and those of her father and sister, and a couple of cousins. But it's rounder, like Dad's.

Both my parents had blue eyes; each was the only blue-eyed sibling among six! I inherited that eye color, and so did my son, despite his dad being a hazel from a family of nothing but browns. We have a new grandchild, by the way. It's too soon to tell what his eye color will be, but when he makes his little furrowed-brow frowny face, as though thinking of a particularly tough problem in string theory, he takes directly after his pretty mom.

We can talk about earlobe shape and the presence or absence of a tongue-roll. I never noticed whether or not my mom could turn her tongue into a taco, but I'll bet she could. She could also roll her R's, which I never could. I got the talentless-tongue trait from Dad, apparently.

As I grow older and observe the behavior of those around me, I've become much more aware of one specific trait that both sides of my family share equally.

Slow, deliberate movements and speech.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

1984 was another year

         
by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
In last night's speech,  Big Mommy, the Chairman of the Party, our wise leader of the government and the beloved leader of our community, announced her latest brilliant initiative.  In her beneficence, Big Mommy decided that, "The only sure thing in life is death and taxes," was wrong and the correct aphorism is, "There is no death only taxes."  Apparently, the income of  the government, really the income of the  Chairman, was falling.  Big Mommy declared, "there is no death.  People do not die anymore and so, they must pay their taxes forever."  It's brilliant.

Big Mommy's proper name is Jennifer Government* but we citizens affectionately call her Big Mommy since she is always look out for our best interests.  My name, Georgiana Orwell, on the other hand, is not as distinguished.  In a hundred years, who will remember me?  I work for the Ministry of Free Speech.  My job is to make sure that all the people hear Big Mommy's speeches and that they repeat her words often.  The Ministry has microphones, listening devices, all over the cities, to make sure that the people are repeating Big Mommy's speech.  Our computers count how many times each citizen repeats Big Mommy's words.  If a citizen reaches the Word Goal, they get and extra day off from work.  As yet no one has ever reach the goal.  Perhaps it is because Big Mommy, in her infinite wisdom, decided that this information was on a need to know basis and the citizens did not need to know.  

The slogan I will be using to remind the citizens of the new initiative is, "There is no Death, only taxes.  Did you pay yours?"    Like how I incorporated Big Mommy's words into it?  That will earn me some Word Goal points.   A straight forward and effective slogan.  The citizens will not have to think on the slogan, especially since Big Mommy decided twenty years ago that the citizens should not be burdened with thinking.  She said, and I quote, "If you are busy thinking then you won't have the time to be busy enjoying yourself with the all the pleasures that the government creates for you.  Therefore, I will take your burden upon myself and do your thinking for you."  Her reasoning was so intuitive that I am astonished that no one in all of human history has implemented this before.  Good thing we have Big Mommy.

Since no one dies any more, I am not sure what happens to you when you permanently stop breathing.   If you are not breathing, then how do we collect your taxes?  Really puzzling.  I eagerly await Big Mommy's next speech.  I am sure that she has already worked it out.

Well, Big Mommy has amazed us all once again.  She has the solution to all our problems.  In last night's speech, Big Mommy has informed us the that since there is no death, we cannot become an un-person, we will instead become an un-dead person.  Yes, you read that right, we are all now vampires and we cannot die and we must now pay our taxes forever.  Big Mommy was quite pleased.

* Jennifer Government - character in and title of a novel by Max Barry

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Dreaming of Retirement

                       
by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
I have decided to become a professional athlete when I retire.  I don’t know yet which sport I will choose.  Ridiculous, you say. “How can an old man like you compete with the twenty-somethings?  They are faster and most likely, better skilled than you are!”

I say Phooey to that.  I just read in the newspapers that mediocre basketball players are getting five-million-dollar-a-year contracts.  Well, I can be mediocre too.  I can sit on the bench for most of the games and when the lead is big enough, ask the coach to send me out onto the court so that the stars, the better players, can rest.  I will not stink up the place because the opposing team will also send their mediocre  players out on the court so that their star players can rest.  I will be playing against other mediocre players.  I think I can manage that.

Of course, the game aficionados will be bemoan me out there but what I say is,  “I make your life more interesting.  If I were not out there, showing off my mediocre moves, you would be bored with nothing to fuss about!”   Now that I think about this, I should ask for a pay raise.

My  plan is that I will be on a team with great players, the kind of players who win championships.  I, as a team member, will get a championship ring too.  My name will still be listed in the record books amongst the winning team members.

By the way, just so you know, during the basketball off-season, I plan to bring about world peace.

Friday, July 29, 2016

List-O-Mania

                 
by Vol-E

I.
How many people make a daily to-do list? And breaking down that question, when we say "people," do we mean Americans? Residents of first-world countries? Do Nepalese water-carriers make to-do lists? I sometimes wonder about things like that. People for whom writing and reading are not part and parcel of ordinary life -- how do they organize their time? I'm inclined to think that in many cases, there are few "optional" activities. You either get up and carry the water, or you die. No need for "reminders." That's something to think about.

I suppose that people for whom life is slightly more complicated but does not include literacy, the lists are kept in one's head.  Or social structures make it possible to check in with the family or the village so that everyone is coordinated and everyone's role is clear. People for whom writing things down is second nature, is this really an advantage? Does the ability to make lists encourage mental laziness? It's a matter of concern that for many societies, the old story-keepers are dying, and none of the history that they remember is being written down. When they're gone, it's gone. And we know what happens to civilizations that lose track of their history. For too many Americans, despite access to books and archives, it's happening anyway.  ...But no, today is not for political musings.

II.
From time to time, I've run across books and websites that encourage the following exercises:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Saturday Night Fever

                 
photo: https://www.spreadshirt.net

by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
Tony Manero always danced. He would walk through the rooms of his home twitching some bodily part to the tat tat tat taaa beat pulsing in his head. Sometimes he would meet his mom in the living room and he would grab her hand and dance around her while she stood there and laugh at him. At the moment, Tony's biggest dream, in fact his only known ambition, was to be the Dance King of Brooklyn.

His plan was to first win the monthly disco dance competition at his local dance hall, Club 2001 Odyssey. For months now, Tony came in second to someone better.

To improve and to win, Tony would visit other dance clubs to see what other dancers were doing and what exciting choreography he could pick up from them. Once, he made the effort to go into Manhattan to the famed Studio 54 club. He did not learn any new moves from there but he did catch a quick glimpse of the infamous owner, Steve Rubell.

He worked at his dancing every spare minute he had yet he could not win the competition.   Sure Tony got better but just not enough.  You see, Tony's competition was not sitting still either.  They too wanted to become better and they too practiced every day.  As Tony got better, they got better.  Tony's relative position remained second place.

In desperation, Tony would to go into black dance clubs.  It was a risky adventure as white Italian boys were not so welcomed by the Black patrons.  He did understand their animosity towards him as a stranger, an intruder, and as a white man among them.  This was their refuge from the travails of the world and here he was, a white man, invading it and bringing all the reminders of a harsher reality into their fantasy room.  Tony wanted to win his dance competition and if that meant taking a risk, braving their hostility, the assault of looks, words, or fists, then so be it.

Tony did learn from his excursion into the black clubs how skilled and creative the black dancers were.  He hurried home to practice and the next day, rushed to the Phillips Dance Studio to continue his workout.  Despite the hours and all the effort, Tony could not emulate the black dancers.

One evening while practicing in his room, Tony cried out in frustration, “I can’t, I can’t.  I wish I could but I can't.  I wish I could dance like a black man.”

Suddenly, in a bright light, clouded with smoke, appeared a black man.  He was dressed in an outlandish outfit, a rose colored leisure suit, a light red Hawaiian shirt with large white flowers imprinted all over, and red platform shoes only to be outdone by the blood red top hat perched on his head.

"Who are you?" asked a surprised Tony.

"Tony, my darling boy, I am called Baron Samedi," said the black man, as he, top hat now in hand, swung his arms out in an welcoming manner and bowed.  "I am here to help you with your dancing."

It may seem strange that an African prince of voodoo would appear to help an Italian kid from Brooklyn.  But, this is New York City, the great melting pot of the world and that also applies to mystical and magical creatures. They could not be so selective in the New World.  In three generations hence, Tony's family will have many non-Italians members - Irish, Jewish, and yes, a black woman or two.  Mystical and magical creatures had to keep up.

"How can you help me?" asked Tony

"I can grant you dance skills beyond any you have seen.  You will have moves that astonish and amaze.  You will win your contest, become the king of your club, and if you want, greater fame."

"And the catch is?"

"No catch just a straight forward bargain.  One year of service to me and you get your championship."

"Service?"

"Oh nothing illegal or difficult.  Mostly delivering packages to my clients for me.  I make and sell magical charms.  They are very valuable so I need people whom I can trust to deliver them for me."

"OK, I can do that.  It's a deal," said Tony.

There is no need to go into the dramatics of the next disco dance contest for there were none.  Tony won easily.  His choreography was beautiful, complex, and a grade better than his competition.  It was obvious to all that there was a new disco dance king.  Tony paraded around the dance floor with his trophy held high to the praise and accolades of the audience.  As he sat at his table with his friends, Tony received his competitors like the king he now was and they bowed to him and express their admiration of his dancing prowess.  If he did not think it profane – for it was a papal gesture of respect - Tony would have made his competitors kiss his ring in supplication.


Throughout the night as The Hustle or one of Donna Summer's songs played, Tony leaped onto the dance floor and commenced to dance his signature move of the night, known today as The Manero.  He would swing his arms across his torso with his index finger pointing at the rotating disco ball glittering in the club's ceiling then swing his arm again across his torso to point at the floor flashing with strobe lights.  The move was accompanied with wild erotic gyrations of his hips, the heat of which could be felt by the women present as well as the men, who of course interpreted the feeling as hero worship.

In the early morning as Club 2001 Odyssey was winding to a close, Tony and his friends were leaving for their customary and now celebratory trip to the  Verrazano Bridge, when Baron Samedi appeared.

Tony greeted him,  "I won, I won, thanks to you.  You kept your part of the agreement.  It was better than I imagined."

"Congratulations and you are welcome," said the smiling Baron Samedi.  "I still have to fulfill the second part of your wish."

"The second part? What second part?" asked Tony.

"You wished that you could dance like a black man.  So, tomorrow morning, you will awaken as a black man."     


Friday, July 15, 2016

Wontcha let me treatcha?

                     
by Vol-E

Getting right to the point: I'm tired of people doing for me. Yes, you read that right. I want to pick up the tab for a change.  I just spent about a week with friends, and didn't get to contribute anything. These are people I've known forever, and about 15 years ago, when my finances were about as low as they were going to get (and stayed that way for a LONG time), every time I was with them, they paid my way. And that's fine, because if they hadn't, there would have been no visits, no dinners, no sightseeing, no entertainment, no nothin'. I was the original Brokey McBrokeface. These friends bought me a VCR. Which, in those days, was kind of a big deal. DVD players were barely becoming popular, but we had no DVDs, just plenty of tapes and nothing to play them on.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have nothing to fear from me -- and if The Urban Blabbermouth can persuade Mr. Gates to adopt his giveaway plan and put me on that list of 80,000, I will take it without a syllable of protest. I'm still paying taxes I owe from about 8 years ago; I still budget very tightly, and I still only go to the movies 2-3 times a year. But having been "there" for so many years, I'm in an excellent position to know that things have improved. 

I can pay my own way. I'm tired of pulling out my wallet, only to have the friend, the cousin, the person who goes "way back" with me give me that look and ask "Are you sure?"

Yes, dammit. I am NOT a charity case.

I was playing around with Facebook Messenger a few weeks ago, and learned that you can send people money with it. I got hold of my buddy (she of the VCR) and decided to test out the app. I sent her a dollar. Or, as we used to say when we were growing up in NY together, a dolla. 

She sent it back. 

*#@&!

If I'm out with someone and have a reasonable expectation that they're going to pick up the tab (people who are traveling on business and have an allowance, let us say), I find the cheapest thing on the menu with no add-ons. But if you see me ordering the Delmonico ribeye and a mixed drink or two, would you PLEASE  assume we're going "Dutch" at the very least? I might not be able to pay for you, but will be very insulted if you presume to pay for me. I am not a moocher. I felt like one for too many years to ever go back.

And, as an aside to The Urban Blabbermouth: Thank you very much for the pizza and ice cream last October. Next time, it's on me.


Monday, July 11, 2016

How to give away a billion dollars



by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
Bill Gates is the world's richest man with a net worth of eighty billion dollars.  He has set up a foundation to use his money to help humanity.  The Gates Foundation sponsors things like medical research, education scholarships, public schools, and mosquito nets in Africa.

I have an idea for another way for Mr. Gates to use his money.  I confess that I like my idea much better than his.  What if one morning Bill Gates got up and decided to give away one million dollars to every person in the world until his money ran out?  That would be EIGHTY THOUSAND new millionaires.

I don't think Bill Gates knows eight thousand people so how could he do this?   Since it is my idea, I pick the time tested and honored con man trick, a Ponzi Pyramid scheme, but in reverse of course.  You can appreciate this method for its irony as Ponzi Pyramids are used to cheat people of their money and not enrich them as Mr. Gates hopes to do.

This is how the Reverse Ponzi Pyramid will work:  Bill Gates, at the top of the pyramid, would start things off by picking out all the people he knows and writing their name into the second level down of the pyramid.  He would then divide his money into equal shares to each person.  Those lucky people on the second level now get to choose the people for the third level down.  The people on the second level will keep one million dollars and then pass the rest to money to the people on the third level. 

The lucky third level people would choose the people for the fourth level down and again all the money but one million for each person on the third level would go down to the fourth level.  The pyramid scheme would continue this way as the money trickles down the levels, until at the very bottom; the last of the eighty billion dollars becomes one million dollars to each person.  In the end, there will be a total of eighty thousand new millionaires in the pyramid scheme.  How many levels is that anyway?

To forestall the greedy people who would not give any money to the lower levers of the pyramid, the Gates Foundation can act as the Keeper Of The Money -- we know them as banks -- and write checks to the lucky folks in the pyramid.

Now I just have to work out how to become one of the lucky eighty thousand in the pyramid.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bathroom Paradise





by The Urban Blabbermouth
~
I hate the bathroom at work.  Most of the time, it stinks.  I realize that's just how bathrooms are and the building's vents clear the air fairly quickly.  But in the few minutes that it takes to clear the air, I am in there and it stinks.

There is more to my distaste for the bathroom than this.  My colleagues are a mess.  They leave newspapers in the stalls, are sloppy about insuring complete flush, and are far too careless about placing the hand wipes in the waste basket.  Can these folks be this dirty and so unsanitary in their home?  I suspect not.  Senior management also uses the same bathroom.  Maybe my colleagues are angry at the company for something or other and try to take it out on the company in this way.  Maybe that works for them but it's a terrible annoyance to the rest of us.

Using the same bathroom must be horrific for senior management.  Imagine that you are the all-powerful boss and you have to use the same bathroom as the lowest employee in the company hierarchy.  I imagine that as the supreme boss, you cannot go into a stall and commence to loudly pass gas, grunt as you poop, and to stink up the place.  Then you have to go outside and become once again, the supreme boss.  How humiliating.  I suppose that bosses everywhere have to do their business in the quietest way possible or hold it until they get home.  Hmm, explains some things.

At one time we had just the urinals on the wall.  No problem there.  We would use it and respect each others' privacy.  Well, one day, barriers appeared separating the urinals.  We speculated that one of the bosses must have peeked and noticed that some of us lowly employees are quite gifted in the manhood department and that no doubt stirred up huge amounts of envy.  Well, that's a boss for you, always measuring something – productivity, performance, and … 

   
And what of women’s bathrooms?  I have never been in there but Urban Legend is that women have a lounge in there --  sofas and coffee tables; vanities with lights and mirrors for applying make-up; flat screen TVs with surround sound in the stalls; and best of all, automatic air fresheners.