Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Wednesday, July 31, 2002 Before I get started in rooting through this month’s reader mail, I need to make a correction. Yesterday I made some unkind statements about U-Haul when it looked like their incompetence was going to force my friend to make fifty trips in a four-door sedan between here and Chicago to get all of her stuff moved. That was my mistake. It turns out she had actually reserved her truck with Ryder. Which is probably why she got the truck only seven hours late instead of sometime next week. So, sorry, U-Haul. It’s not your fault my friend got screwed, other than the fact that it’s an indirect result of your relentless quest to lower customer service standards throughout the industry. And so, as a gesture of good faith, I’m going to do something about that inflammatory search engine bait I posted yesterday:
Screwed by Ryder.
Are we cool now, U-Haul?
Good. Now on to the mail. Things picked up a little this month, possibly because I put a clearer e-mail link over there on the right. As a result, this is the first time I didn’t have to make up any letters. Now, if I were a real journalist, that kind of thing would have gotten me fired. Fortunately, I’m not getting paid for this. Wait, did I just say that? Never mind. On to the mail. Again.
After I carped about a misbegotten systems upgrade at my office (7/15/02), you might expect that I’d get deluged with e-mails admonishing me that upgrades are an important part of corporate life and we all have to adapt to change and blah blah blah. You might be wrong. First of all, the only e-mails I get deluged with are spam about the “three D’s”: diplomas, debt, and dangly bits. And secondly, I’m obviously not alone in being unimpressed with the new stuff. Right, SillyRed?
This morning I came into work to find 2 pieces of paper attached to my screen monitor. One read: "Magic has been upgraded to Version 7.5 your password is now XXXXXXXXX." Then a list of all the problems that we are now having (which ran on to the second page).
I work for a helpdesk for a health insurance company. The helpdesk is the "call center" for the computer problems of the employees who work here- a call center for the call centers. I feel your pain. Last Thanksgiving they upgraded the major system that our customer service reps use and today we still can't tell users why they keep getting "visited" by Dr. Watson then get kicked out of the system and locked out simultaneously. Isn't that crap? A skill that I have had to hone is the one where I can come up with complete crap that sounds technical so that the user will believe me instead of just telling them I have no idea why their system keeps getting a blue screen and the people who are supposed to be researching the problem are coming up with nothing. The nice thing about my job is I don't have to fix the problems, I just pass them on to the next level.
Clearly, the people who make these kinds of decisions for your company and mine have forgotten an important lesson, which is this: entropy always wins. You try to take the battle to it with some damnfool tactic like an upgrade, and it’ll just smack you down all the harder. And then what? Another upgrade? Soon we can all look forward to a time when we spend our workdays huddled around a wan cube-divider bonfire in the middle of the office while the freezing wind whistles in through the blank, gaping windows, and we’ll have no way to even produce documents other than scratching our bloody hangnails across ripped-up scraps of carpet backing.
On a less optimistic note, let’s move on to Clear Channel (7/19/02) and how they need to be brought down, like, yesterday. Mcgyver5 can barely wait to get to the barricades:
Yes. I will join you in your war against Clear Channel. What are my orders?
Okay, the first thing you do is stop listening to broadcast radio altogether. Instead, get that satellite radio thingy for your car, so you can—wait, hang on, this just in from Tim:
I share your seething, utter hatred of Clear Channel. The worst thing ever EVER is that they own (though they attempt to hide this fact) XM Satellite Radio. SO…let me get this straight… I can pay ten dollars a month after spending hundreds on stereo equipment for my car so that I can hear the same dreck with alarming digital clarity? Lovely. Sign me up. Except, don’t.
Oops. Okay, forget about the satellite radio thingy.
As I told Mcgyver5, I wouldn’t ask any readers to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. So your orders are to do a great deal of public bitching. If you want to go further, buy music from independent record stores, and buy stuff you never hear on Clear Channel stations. Listen to your local Clear Channel stations to find out who advertises on them, then call those companies and tell them you’re through doing business with them until they can confine their advertising to radio stations whose owners don’t have a base of operations in the foul, smoking pit of Hell. Write letters to your congressperson about the results of deregulation. If your congressperson at time of deregulation isn’t a congressperson any more, tell him or her that that’s why. Tell your congresperson’s successor that, while you’re at it. Become a tireless evangelist against the Clear Channel cause. Just don’t blame me if they end up taking over the whole world and arresting you for sedition one day, because I’m going to be in the cell next door.
From that, I have absolutely no idea how to segue to Obb, who kindly explains the meaning of a business card I found at an ATM last week (7/23/02):
The HU business is courtesy of the eckankar people. They're like a really relaxed cult, into lucid dreaming and stuff. They attract a lot of elementary school teachers for some reason. Anyway, they say HU is the magical key to controlling your dreams and reaching God, who according to them is actually a strobe light, and getting in touch with the Living Eck Master, some creepy guy in South Africa who is supposed to come into your dreams and chat you up, which frankly would creep me out. It's all kind of like Scientologists on valium.
Oh, good. That means they’re less likely to sue me for having made fun of them. Thanks for clearing that up. Also, thanks for giving me the clue I needed to figure out that the weird dude I keep dreaming about is speaking Afrikaans to me. Time to call Berlitz, I guess.
That’s a wrap for this month, and it’s a wrap for this week. I’m going to be helping friends move to Chicago for the next few days and we’ll be spending the weekend there, so no updates until Monday. Feel free to check back anyway, not because I might unexpectedly get access on the road, but so I can keep my traffic up. See you next week.
posted by M. Giant 1:46 PM 1 comments
Thank you for the great blog. As I was looking for UHAUL comments on the net, I stumbled upon your blog. I have also found a great site that has collected a lot of UHAUL Complaints. Check it out - you will enjoy it as well
Tuesday, July 30, 2002 Here’s a question. It’s a bit sensitive, and I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way:
When Tim McVeigh blew up that rental truck, are we sure that the building was his real target?
Let me back up a bit.
On Sunday, my brother-in-law, his wife, and his six-month-old daughter Deniece moved to Iowa. Trash and I joined a small army of friends and relatives who had volunteered to load up the U-Haul. Everyone was there, everyone was ready, everything was packed and ready to go. Only one problem.
You guessed it. No truck. The customer service wizards at U-Haul had informed him that they should have a truck for him in about 24-48 hours. Which would work out fine, as long as he didn’t mind MISSING THE CLOSING ON HIS NEW HOUSE. Since he didn’t feel like forcing his family into homelessness to cater to the convenience of U-Haul, other options needed to be explored.
Forces were mobilized, and somehow he managed to procure the use of a truck that belongs to a friend’s dad’s ex-cousin’s roommate-in-law or something. Disaster was averted, but through nothing U-Haul did. If he didn’t have a friend whose dad’s ex-cousin’s roommate-in-law didn’t own a greenhouse that could spare a truck for a few days, there’s no telling what this might have cost my brother-in-law and his family in terms of time and money. It was bad enough that this was not exactly a moving truck, and therefore lacked a loading ramp or a truck bed with a reasonable elevation. If I’d known that I was going to have to help lift an upright piano five and a half feet straight up off the pavement, I don’t know that I’d have gotten out of bed that morning.
There were perhaps twenty people there to help with the load-out, and I’m pretty sure that all of them had a story about how they or someone they knew had been screwed by U-Haul. I’m going to use that phrase again just to make sure the search engines pick it up: SCREWED BY U-HAUL. Eventually they got on the road in their borrowed truck, looking forward to their new life of getting screwed by U-Haul in Iowa.
We told BuenaOnda (you know, the friend who’s moving to Chicago this week) what happened. She was already tense abut the move, but this news caused her to metamorphose into the Amazing Human Guitar String. She spent the rest of Sunday trying to get a hold of someone, anyone, at the rental office, to assuage her increasingly reasonable-seeming fears. No luck. By the time we met her at the bowling alley, she was emitting a constant high C#.
I don’t know if she reached anyone yesterday or not. Today is packing day. With the help of any number of people, the plan is for BuenaOnda and Astroboy to load all of their worldly possessions into the truck which will be on the road for Chicago tomorrow.
Do I really have to tell you what happened?
As I write this, BuenaOnda’s volunteers have had to abandon her to attend to other obligations, and the truck is not yet in her possession. Sadly, BuenaOnda doesn’t have a friend whose dad’s ex-cousin’s roommate-in-law can lend her a truck, and even if she did, the truck is in Iowa with my brother-in-law. U-Haul has promised her that she’ll have her truck in an hour, but I’ll be surprised if that actually happens. If it does happen, it certainly won’t be because of U-Haul’s legendary commitment to customer satisfaction. It’ll be because BuenaOnda called them on her cellphone in June and has been on the line with someone almost continuously ever since, like some kind of stressed-out Verizon guy:
“Do I have a truck now? Good! Do I have a truck now?”
U-Haul’s shameless policy of deliberately and recklessly overbooking is pissing a lot of people off, but it hasn’t reached critical mass. It’s probably still cheaper for them to pay off settlements for the breach-of-contract class action suits that get tossed at them than it would be to implement some kind of cost-prohibitive program of actually renting trucks to people whose money they’ve taken. God only knows how many people have stood helplessly in front of an apathetically powerless U-Haul employee while desperately doing the “Anyone can take a reservation” arm flail from Seinfeld. But U-Haul doesn’t care, because the impotent rage of their customers hasn’t affected their bottom line yet. And I say “yet” with a great deal of hope for a future in which my six-month-old niece doesn’t remember getting—say it with me—SCREWED BY U-HAUL.
Oh, yeah, I should probably come back to the Tim McVeigh thing. I know he used a Ryder truck. If he’d tried to rent a U-Haul for his twisted observation of the anniversary of Waco, he wouldn’t have been able to blow up the Federal Building until the following Saturday. So there’s that. Maybe U-Haul just consistently tries to torpedo people’s carefully planned moving schedules in hopes of preventing the next Oklahoma City bombing. But I doubt it. posted by M. Giant 2:17 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 29, 2002 Until this weekend Trash had never seen L.A. Confidential all the way through, at least in one sitting. She’d seen it the way I’ve seen Beetlejuice, i.e. in ten-to-twenty-minute chunks spread out over a couple of years and several cable channels. As everyone knows, the plot of L.A. Confidential is demanding enough when you don’t have to piece it together in your head using information from a previous scene you missed today but saw on TNT four months ago. Plus I wasn’t much help at filling in the blanks. Not only do I not remember everything that happens, but I also have this annoying reluctance to tell people what happens, because I enjoy seeing their reactions to stuff they don’t expect. So we put the movie into our Netflix queue and she looked forward to seeing it in its unedited, uninterrupted entirety.
I looked forward to seeing her see it in its entirety as well. But by the time we put the disk in the player on Saturday night, I was feeling a bit run down as a result of having a long day and perhaps a beer or two. What follows is my experience of seeing L.A. Confidential again, for the first time (warning: Spoilers!):
Danny DeVito’s voiceover prologue. Credits.
First act. Introduction of main characters, riot in police station, Guy Pearce gets promoted. In about the time it took you to read that.
By this point, I was thinking, Wow, I don’t remember the movie getting started this fast. The next thing I knew, there was a gunshot and Kevin Spacey was saying “Rollo Tomasi.” Almost immediately thereafter, the movie was over, the TV was off, and Trash was telling me that our friends had left and we should go to bed because our sofa isn’t drool-proof. Sorry, friends. Didn’t mean to crash on you there.
I don’t feel too bad about missing the movie because there are very few movies I need to see more than once anyway. But the experience got me thinking about how many other movies there are out there that could be drastically improved by a judicious infusion of unconsciousness:
Star Wars - Episode One: The Phantom Menace: Sleep through entire movie. Like you need me to tell you that. Optional: open one eye during moments when Jar Jar experiences pain or humiliation. Close eye before he starts talking about it.
The Matrix: Drift towards awareness during Morpheus’s speech about dreams and reality. Undergo a minor freakout without ever opening your eyes. Wake up for lobby shootout, and forget about sleeping for another four hours because that scene is so damn cool and you really need to see it again now, okay? Same with every scene thereafter.
Airplane: Drift off during every ten-second lull between gags. Not advised if you actually need sleep.
Titanic: Wake up when the ship hits the iceberg. Go back to sleep when Leo hits the Atlantic. Why won’t video stores sell me just the second tape?
The Sixth Sense: Just conk out ten minutes before the end. Once the kid and the mom have their little moment in the traffic jam, there’s nothing else you need to see.
The Usual Suspects: Doze vigorously throughout the film until the last three minutes. Compare Chazz Palminteri’s final, flashback-drenched epiphany with your own disjointed experience of the film. Decide that Keyser Soze was really, all along, Dan Hedaya.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: Wake up halfway through, insisting that you completely understood every word of dialogue up to that point, but now it’s just total gibberish.
You think I’m kidding, but there might be something to this. What we need now is a narcoleptic film critic, so the moviegoing public can make the most of its entertainment dollar while minimizing fatigue from lack of sleep. Someday the nation will thank me. posted by M. Giant 3:21 PM 0 comments
Friday, July 26, 2002 I gave up on being a movie star a long time ago. That’s not just because I’m short on talent and charisma; lots of people with less talent and charisma than I have are doing just fine in Hollywood. No, the main factor was a lack of commitment. I could never reconcile the opportunity cost of starving and spending years in a tiny apartment totally devoid of right angles just so I could regularly get shot down at auditions. I have nothing but respect for people for whom it’s actually worth it, people who are out there paying their dues to get into the business, not least of all because I don’t have their determination and drive. It’s just better for everyone if people who don’t have the fire in the belly (me) stay out of the way of those who do (people who aren’t me).
That’s not to say I didn’t go to an audition or two after high school. My last (and, really, only) big one was in response to a newspaper ad that said they were doing an open casting call for 16-20 year old guys for a Disney movie. This was right about the time that I’d heard that Robin Williams’s follow-up to Good Morning Vietnam would have him playing a high-school teacher, so I figured what the heck. If I didn’t take a shot at it, I’d never know. Well, now I know. I made it to callbacks and my video audition actually went pretty far in the process from what they told me, but they went with the other tall, skinny guy. Now, whenever you see James Waterston on the silver screen, know that that could have been me if only I’d been cast in Dead Poets Society instead of him. Ah, well. Now I look at Robin Williams and I think, “It would have been cool to work with Peter Weir.”
So, yeah. No movie career for me, which is fine because I don’t want one anyway. No, seriously, I really don’t want yer stupid fame and fortune and life of luxury and adulation. Not if you gave me a million bucks. Who needs it?
There is one part I woudn’t turn down, though.
There’s been talk of trying to make a biopic on the life of the Who’s late drummer, Keith Moon. Mike Myers’s name has been mentioned as a possible lead, and I can see it; not only can the guy do more British accents than Peter Sellers, his gifts for physical comedy will translate well in reproducing Moon’s frenetic flailing behind the drum kit. I’m thinking James Franco (warning: popups) would be a pretty decent Daltrey, with the chin and the cheekbones and all. I’m stumped on Townshend; dude’s been accurately described as a nose on a stick. As for my personal hero John Entwhistle, there’s a picture on the cover of the rarities compilation Two’s Missing, in which he looks exactly like a certain actor. Unfortunately that actor is a youthful Steve McQueen, so that just leaves me.
Not that I look at all like Steve McQueen, youthful or otherwise. And not that I look that much more like Entwhistle, come to mention it. And not that I’m English, or a good enough actor, or a good enough bass player, for that matter, to convincingly inhabit the role of the Ox. But come on, it’s not like Entwhistle’s going to get any lines in the movie anyway. He barely got any lines in real life.
I just think it would be a lot of fun to get to be onstage in reenactments of some of the Who’s greatest performances. I’d just have to stand there, completely expressionless and motionless (except for my hands) while guitar and drum shrapnel whickers lethally past my head. What a great gig. Plus I’d get to meet Myers, which would be a trip. And it would help me bring my bass playing to the next level, because I’d refuse to mime it. Of course, they would have to play my footage back at quadruple-speed, but you can’t have everything.
I wanted the part a lot more a year ago, when Entwhistle was still alive and getting the part would have likely meant getting to meet the man himself, maybe even for a bass lesson or two. But I’d still be willing to don a giant-mixing-bowl-haircut wig and a wardrobe of fugly-even-for-the-seventies outfits and that desperate “Boris the Spider” necklace and strap on one of those curvy, pointy space-basses he insisted on playing if it meant I got to meet Pete Townshend. There’s actually not much I wouldn’t do for that chance.
So who do I talk to about this? Can anyone out there hook me up with an audition? I promise I’ll stay away from the business for good afterwards.
* * *
Speaking of me strapping on basses, in case you’re wondering how our gig went (you know, the one I had a nightmare about in the 7/10 entry), you can read all about it here, at the band’s website. It’s like two entries for the price of one! I don’t think you people realize what a bargain you’re getting here.
posted by M. Giant 2:50 PM 0 comments
Thursday, July 25, 2002 A week from today, Trash and I are going to be helping our friends BuenaOnda and Astroboy move to Chicago. Me? I get to drive the moving truck.
I actually have a little experience at this kind of thing. Trash’s aunt moved to Des Moines a couple of years ago (yes, it’s a pattern) and I found myself behind the wheel of a Great White Beast for that project. Now that I’ve logged four hours or so at the helm of one of these Diesel-fueled, terrifyingly blind-spotted schleppers of households, that kind of makes me the expert. At least in our little group.
As you know, the most important thing to be aware of when renting a moving truck is that something will be wrong when you try to pick it up. They won’t have the right size, or they’ll overcharge you somehow, or something else will happen to completely throw your brilliantly conceived moving strategy and schedule clear off the rails. Uncle Bob knows what I’m talking about. Once Trash and I went to help one of her ex-professors load up her rental truck for her move to Kansas. One problem: no truck. So this poor woman had all of her stuff boxed up, including toiletries and a change of clothes, and she ended up not being able to leave the city for another two days. Not to mention the small army she’d drafted whose once-eager recruits were left standing around helplessly in her kitchen.
“Maybe we should all go down to the rental place and threaten to crack some skulls,” someone suggested.
We looked around the room at each other, a physically unimposing assortment of English majors and graduate students.
“Maybe at least one of us should take off our glasses first,” someone else pointed out.
Obviously, no skulls were cracked that day. Equally obviously, BuenaOnda has been calling the rental place to re-confirm her reservation ten times a day since she made it. They love her over there.
But I think the most useful knowledge will be something I learned during an experience about six months ago, when I wasn’t even driving the truck.
We were helping our other friends Dirt and Banana move into their new house. At some point during the afternoon, Dirt had to drive the U-Haul they were using out to one of the southern suburbs and pick up a table that somebody was giving them. Since the table was constructed of marble and cast iron, Dirt brought me and another guy along to help hoist it into the truck.
This was the first time Dirt had driven the truck on the freeway, and it wasn't what you might call the ultimate driving experience. Apparently, someone at the rental office had put a "governor" under the truck's hood, making it impossible to drive over fifty miles per hour. We figured this was something they do when the renter is moving within town and thus shouldn't be on the freeway much anyway. Not that Dirt was at all happy about this. After having to pay ten more dollars for the truck than the original quote, his feelings toward U-Haul were not rendered any warmer or fuzzier by virtue of the fact that other cars were passing us so fast that we saw them visibly redshift, while Dirt made helplessly apologetic gestures and the engine screamed like Jennifer Tilly on helium with her foot in a garbage disposal.
At one point he had to switch feet on the gas pedal, because his right leg had gone numb attempting to push the pedal through the floorboard. He was seriously talking about getting a cinderblock for the return trip.
After almost an hour, we finally arrived. We heaved The Heaviest Four-Person Table In The World up into the truck, which now rode so low we wondered if we should take off the muffler before it got scraped off. I'm serious, this was a round table maybe five feet in diameter, but some bright spark at the factory had decided it wasn't heavy enough and had therefore affixed a singularity to its underside or something.
So the table was loaded, doubling the weight of the otherwise empty truck. Dirt put the truck in reverse and we backed down the driveway. But then the truck stopped. Dirt gave it more gas, but the truck just revved ineffectually, with the back tires stubbornly settled in the gutter between the driveway and the street.
I'm like, "Dude, how heavy is that table?"
At this point, Dirt figured out that while the needle on the transmission indicator thingy clearly told him he was in reverse, he was in fact in neutral. Reverse was actually somewhere between park and reverse. Dirt put the truck in reverse--or more accurately, "perverse" (Ha! I kill me!), and finished backing into the street.
The bonus of this situation was that we also figured out that what looked like "neutral" was in fact "drive." Which meant, in turn, that we had driven all the way from the city in second gear.
Needless to say, even with The Table That Nearly Fell Through The Crust Of The Earth in back, the return trip was much quicker.
I’m hoping I get a chance to take BuenaOnda and Astroboy’s truck for a little test drive before we hit the road. I’d hate to get halfway to the Wisconsin Dells and suddenly find out some kind of unpleasant factoid, like maybe that the engine only works when you change the oil every fifty miles, or the wiper fluid reservoir is filled with ink. posted by M. Giant 3:43 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, July 24, 2002 A couple of nights ago, Trash and I spent the evening with someone special. I’d spent the evening with her before, but that was half a lifetime ago. Half of her lifetime, that is, because she’s only six months old. I’m speaking, of course, of my brother-in-law’s daughter, Deniece.
When her mom brought her in on Tuesday night, she seemed to be little more than a wide pair of eyes in a baby car seat, just goggling up at our ceiling. I “beeped” her gently on the nose and she smiled hugely at me. Ready to puke yet?
Deniece spent a while taking in her surroundings, looking as if she was trying to swallow the whole world with her eyes. She was clearly thinking, “What’s going on? Where am I? What the hell is that? Who are these people?” But then babies are always thinking that, at least when they’re not thinking “HUNGRY!” or “WET!” or “VAGUELY AND INEXPLICABLY BUT ENTIRELY INCONSOLABLY PISSY!” That last one’s my favorite, by the way.
She’s focusing quite a bit better than she was last time I took care of her. She noticed things more this time. I was holding her while standing in the living room, and she tirelessly tracked our cats’ movements around the floor while cutting her eyes back and forth between them. In turn, the cats seemed to sense her attention somehow. They were more interested in her this time, even regarding her with slight suspicion. “Hey, Orca,” I said to our congenitally prickly female kitty. “What do you think of your replacement here?”
My cats never think I’m funny.
I’d have to say that Deniece’s favorite game that we played was the one where I would hold her at arms’ length right up in front of the mirror, then pull her back towards myself. Then I’d do it again. And again. I think the reason she dug this is because she got to watch herself getting bigger over and over again, which helped her to visualize permanently attaining a size where she can lay down a little smack. In any case, it sent her into gales of hysterical laughter. Baby laughter is of course much funnier than grown-up laughter, because babies don’t have any appreciable vocal or respiratory control. So where you or I might go:
Ha, ha, ha.
EEEEHHAAIIGGHGHGHHG! KHKHULLLGGNGN! [sound that would deafen a porpoise] YYAAAAghgeaiuiaghjWOAIGANGAA!
That may not sound happy if you’re just reading it, but you can tell she’s laughing because she’s also smiling. Now why would anybody want that to stop? Oh, yeah, there’s the fact that my arms just fell off. Six months isn’t exactly in the featherweight category any more, my friends.
She’s also learning how to sit up, and she can kind of stand, if you don’t leave the actual balancing and weight supporting up to her. Sometimes you’ll sit and hold her in your lap, and she’ll start wiggling around, alternatively going totally limp and totally stiff in an apparent effort to slide onto the floor. What she plans to do after that, I have no idea. It’s not like she can outrun you or anything once she hits the carpet.
Her other big new thing is rolling over. Used to be that you could put her down and she would just have to wiggle and grunt and accept being helplessly immobile on her back. Now she has the power to take control of her situation and become helplessly immobile on her face. It must be quite liberating. Especially since she doesn’t have to give up the wiggling and grunting to do it. We did a thing where she would roll onto her stomach, and Trash or I would flip her back over, and she would be all, “Dammit!” but in a good-natured way, and we’d do the whole thing over again. That kept her happy for a few rounds, then “HUNGRY!” I guess the baby version of pro wrestling made her work up an appetite.
Deniece’s mom says that she’s starting to crack the mystery of crawling. Except she can only do it with her legs so far. That means her front end just sort of slides along, making her look like the world’s slowest, smallest, softest snowplow. Obviously she’s not going to cover a lot of ground that way. In fact, she didn’t cover any at all while we were watching her. I hope it wasn’t because we made her nervous with all the cameras and studio lights.
Her mom came to pick her up shortly thereafter. She was asleep before they’d gone two blocks. The baby, not the mom. This would be an entirely different entry if that were the case.
Listen, I’m not going to apologize, but if you’re worried about these Deniece entries becoming a regular thing, don’t. The reason we were watching her is because her parents were busy packing up to move to Des Moines. In, like, a week. And they’re taking the kid with them, darn the luck. So no more evenings of taking care of Deniece in the near future. We’re going to miss the little peanut.
All right, you can puke now. posted by M. Giant 3:18 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, July 23, 2002 Nothing good happened to me today while I was spending my lunch break running some errands. Except maybe in my head. Wanna come along?
At the ATM:
Someone left a card here. It’s the size of a business card, but it says:
A Love Song to God
It goes on to say:
“Singing HU can:
Expand your awareness
Help you experience divine love
Heal a broken heart
Offer solace during times of grief
Bring peace and calm"
There are more detailed instructions on the back. They basically consist of: “Sing HU. Sing HU again. Continue for up to twenty minutes.”
This is a new one on me. Is it a form of transcendental meditation with the text changed to avoid copyright infringement? Are they hoping that if enough people will try it they’ll be able to simulate an air raid siren? Is it a deceptively simple incantation designed to summon Scorpion King star Kelly Hu?
I kid, of course. I think I’m going to try this when I get home, but instead of singing HU myself I’ll just drop “Who Are You” into the CD player and put it on repeat. Same effect.
On the road
There’s a store called “Al’s Vacuum.” How does a business like that make any money at all? How did he get financing?
“Hi, my name’s Al and I need a business loan for my new store.”
“And what will you sell, Al?”
“Nothing. It’ll be called ‘Al’s Vacuum.’ It will contain absolutely nothing, not even air.”
“How do you expect to make money selling nothing?”
“It’s an entirely new paradigm.”
“Then why do you need financing?”
“Because airlocks are expensive.”
“Okay, sign here.”
At the Post Office
I can tell it hasn’t been long enough since the last postage rate increase, because I still have a bunch of one-cent stamps left over from back then. It would be fine if I had exactly three times as many leftover one-cent stamps as I do leftover thirty-four cent stamps. Then I could just keep sticking four stamps on everything until they both run out. But no, I’m going to have to buy a whole roll of three-cent stamps that I’m going to have to hang on to until the next three-cent rate hike, which, given the likelihood that the next hike will be one or two cents, probably won’t happen until 2168.
It would be even better if I had thirty-seven one-cent stamps left over. Then I’d cover the whole envelope with them, leaving just enough space for the address to show through. That’ll learn ‘em to hike the rates on me.
Oh, I can just buy six three-cent stamps and it’ll even out. That’s okay, then. What a relief that I’m not going to have to bust out the “going postal” joke, because I hate scraping off mold.
In the parking lot at work
Why are my coworkers staring at my car like that? Haven’t they ever seen a station wagon before? Oops, I guess this Bob Seeger song on my radio is a little loud. That’s kind of embarrassing. I didn’t mean to leave it there. Now they’re going to think I’m one of those guys who blasts classic rock out of my open car windows in the parking lot to show everyone what a “rebel” I am. Maybe if I switch back to the alternative station right now they’ll realize I really am a rebel. There, see? Dashboard Confessional. Quit looking at me, coworkers.
At my desk
Back in my chair, and back to work. I think I need a break first.
posted by M. Giant 3:15 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 22, 2002 Several years ago, I called up my wife to ask her something. It was mid-morning and we were both at our respective jobs. A question had occurred to me as a result of some idle work conversation, or maybe even something the hosts of the local morning show were talking about, and I thought Trash might be able to help me out with it. Mind you, this was before we had Internet access at work, so it wasn’t something I could research on my own.
“I have a question,” I opened.
“Okay,” she said excitedly, “but I have to tell you something first.”
Just reading that sentence doesn’t convey the excitement that was pouring from her voice while it was forming those words. Her electric mood galvanized everything it touched, causing my receiver to glow joyfully and the interconnecting phone lines to vibrate with unrestrained glee. I decided my question could wait in the face of whatever religious experience was going on at the other end of the connection.
“I know what I’m going to do with my life,” Trash announced.
The reason this was news was that we’d both been suffering a sort of career-related malaise for the past year or so. We’d both been laid off from our first real, “grown-up” jobs and we were feeling a bit discouraged, even though we had new jobs by this time. Trash’s situation was further complicated by the fact that her previous employer had been so negligent about matters ergonomic that she had been left with chronic tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Now she was working at an insurance company, nursing her injured arms and hoping that voice-recognition software would become standard before her hands were irrevocably palsied into gnarled, wizened claws that rendered her entirely unemployable. Any way out from under the situation was to be snatched at with whatever strength her atrophying fingers still possessed. She continued:
“You know how I’ve always dreamed about owning a used bookstore? Well, I’m going to go back and get a second degree, in English this time, and then I’m going to go to grad school and become a librarian. Then I can work in a library for a few years and learn all about it and then open my bookstore!”
This was about the best news I’d had in a year. She was actually excited about her professional future for the first time in years. She still had a job, but now she had a vocation as well. A long-term goal. One thing about my wife is that she does what she sets out to do. On the phone that morning, I didn’t know with absolute, one hundred percent certainty that Trash would make the Dean’s List nearly every quarter of her second undergrad career, or that she would get into the top Library Science program in the country, or that she would excel so brilliantly in grad school, or that she would finally end up years later with a Master’s Degree and a job she adores. I couldn’t positively predict that, but only because of external variables like whether the planet would continue to spin. And even the total destruction of all life on Earth wouldn’t do much more than slow her down. She’d been wandering in the dark career-wise when she woke up that morning, but now there was a shining beacon on the horizon, and with a direction in mind, it was only a matter of time until she got there.
“That’s wonderful,” I said sincerely. I congratulated her, shared her excitement, and assured her that I would do whatever I could to help her realize a dream that was suddenly, if not within reach, at least within sight. She told me what the first steps in her plan were, and how she planned to put them in effect that very day. It was electrifying.
“So that’s it,” she concluded, exhilarated. “Now what did you want to ask me?”
“Oh. That. Actually, never mind.”
“Well, suddenly it’s just not that important.”
“No, seriously, go ahead.”
“Uh. Well, we were just talking here, and we were wondering…”
“Um…Was Tori Spelling ever on Saved by the Bell?”
One of the best parts of having a librarian in the family is that now she can answer questions like that all the time. Being married to me, I’m not sure if she always considers that a good thing. posted by M. Giant 3:16 PM 0 comments
Friday, July 19, 2002 If you’re going to hold a longstanding, irrational grudge against someone, it’s helpful when they keep giving you new reasons to do so. For instance, I used to have this coworker, the Village Idiot, who once screwed something up so bad that I had to come into work on the weekend and fix it. I try not to be judgemental, but things like that kind of put me in a snit. Now, I could have nursed my resentment over this one incident for the whole time that I worked with him, but that would have started to feel a little petty. He spared me that kind of bad karma by maintaining a constant pattern of screwing up things that I later had to fix. That way, so my hatred for him was kept plump and healthy by regular infusions of fresh grievances. Made me feel so much more mature.
The importance of regular anger maintenance also applies to corporate entities. There’s one company in particular that I hate more than any other. No, it’s not Enron or Exxon or WorldCom. It’s a company that I hadn’t even heard of two years ago, but its nefarious influence is felt in our everyday lives more profoundly than many of us realize. Even the message on the front of its homepage is a sinister, looming threat proclaiming unquestioned dominance over the helpless members of the proletariat. I’m talking of course, about Clear Channel.
Clear Channel’s practices have been getting more attention in the past year or so, ever since Salon started reporting on them. But here’s a little background, in case you’ve missed it. Clear Channel owns more than 1200 radio stations nationwide, more than any other company. They’ve used their stranglehold on the American ear (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?) to leverage positions in concert promotion and venue management, which gives them the ability to regularly blackmail record companies, artists, concert venues, and competing radio stations into doing their evil bidding. Needless to say, they’re not shy about exercising that ability. Their goal is nothing less than controlling what you listen to and making sure that the largest possible chunk of revenue from the nation’s entire music industry goes straight to them, while giving back as little as possible in return. The overarching story has made for some of Salon’s best reporting of the past year, and sentiment against the company is starting to come out into the open, complete with a well-deserved antitrust lawsuit or two. The RIAA makes a lot of noise about how file-sharing applications are stealing food out of the mouths of the defenseless recording artists they’re just trying to look out for, but that’s because they’re scared to piss off the real source of the problem, which is Clear Channel. I could go on and on about this, but Salon already has, and presented the issues in much more detail than I could. If you don’t feel like following the link, let’s just say that the guys in charge at Clear Channel are a bunch of power-drunk, greedy, sexually-harassing, freshmanic bullies who don’t come close to deserving the degree of control they have over what we all hear on our radios. I’d call Clear Channel the Microsoft of radio, but that would be like calling Hitler the Charles Grodin of Germany.
For a while I was actually starting to find the situation less frustrating, becase I dared to hope that Clear Channel’s time was running out. It’s getting more attention and more people are starting to complain about it to the media. For example, Entertainment Weekly recently published an item that was fairly (and I do mean fairly) critical of Clear Channel. This prompted someone at Clear Channel’s upper management to write a pissy letter to the editor, which was published in the most recent edition. I don’t have it in front of me but the sense of it was this: Quitcher bitchin’ about the homogeneity of Clear Channel’s stations. If you want variety, give a listen to your local college radio station. “After thirty minutes of pure hell, I guarantee you’ll switch back to a Clear Channel station. People listen to us because we play the hits.”
Yeah, all ten of them, you condescending jerkweed.
This is their defense? “We’ve lowered the bar not just because we own the air, not just because we can do whatever we want, but because y’all are a bunch of ignorant sheep who’ll listen to whatever we tell you to.” What a relief to know that Clear Channel stations across the country have fired hundreds of DJs and replaced them with cheap remote broadcasts because of their selfless commitment to you, the listener. Hard to believe that radio listening could be down by 10-15%, isn’t it?
It’s bad enough that Clear Channel has behaved with such consistent arrogance toward other players in the music and radio industries. Its open contempt for not only its listening public, but also the very concept of radio as a public service, has fanned the previously guttering torch of my enmity towards them into a mighty beacon. Radio has sucked for a while, but it’s sucked a lot harder in the past few years. Blame the 1996 Telecommunications Act and Clear Channel for that.
Needless to say, I’ve taken up Clear Channel on their thoughtful invitation to start listening to the local college radio station. That’s KUOM 770 AM, for those of you in the area. I kind of wish they’d play the same song twice, or tell me who I’m listening to more than twice an hour, but at least they’re not pulling stunts like secretly threatening to make sure that no MCA record ever gets played on American radio again. Not that Clear Channel’s doing that yet, but if everyone keeps listening to them it’s only a matter of time before they do.
posted by M. Giant 3:37 PM 0 comments
Thursday, July 18, 2002 Trash and I were in the middle of enjoying our tape of Monk the other night when the screen abruptly went black. As did the display on the VCR. And the DVD player. And the overhead lights. With my nine years of homeowning experience, I was able to diagnose the problem instantly as a power failure. Impressive, no?
We headed right for the cabinet where we keep the flashlights. Not only were they there, they had live batteries in them. Now I could look up the number for the power company. I had to find a non-electric-powered phone to actually call the power company, but that didn’t take too much longer.
Normally during an outage you get an automated system that allows you to report the situation by pressing buttons on your phone, whereupon caller ID technology checks whether the outage has been reported and gives you an estimate as to when you can expect to finish watching the show you taped. In this case, the outage seemed to be affecting the outage reporting system. Instead, I got hold of a flesh and blood—albeit harried-sounding—employee of the power company in human form. Hearing an actual voice on the other end threw me for a second.
“Uh…yeah, our power’s out?” I stammered.
“Okay, where are you located?” he asked. I told him.
“Oh, yeah, we got trouble there,” he said. Something about feeders and switching stations and grids followed, but I didn’t get it all. Normally I get irritated when people throw jargon at me, because their next move is usually to try to make me feel stupid for not knowing what they’re talking about. This guy knew perfectly well I didn’t know what he was saying, but his tone made it clear that he didn’t hold it against me. I actually appreciated that in a perverse way.
“That doesn’t sound encouraging,” I remarked honestly.
“Yeah, we got big, big trouble,” he executive-summarized.
“Do you have an ETA for when it’ll be back up?” I asked. Did you like how I dropped that “ETA” in there? I just wanted to prove that I’m not totally jargon-impaired.
“No idea,” he responded, sounding like Han Solo wishing you’d stop asking questions so he could get back there and bring the hyperdrive back on line already. We wrapped up the call and I barely contained the impulse to wish him luck, as if he were personally going to clamp a pair of cutting pliers between his teeth, strap on an acetylene torch and start climbing poles, when the greater likelihood is that he just put his feet on the desk to wait for the next call. He was good, though. He had me convinced.
I went to Target to pick up a bunch of candles so we could sit and read in the living room. I called the power company again; the automated system was back up and estimating that our electricity would be restored at 3:17 a.m. I thought that if they were able to predict it that accurately, maybe they should reallocate some of their resources to actually fixing it. I don’t mind if they round the ETA (see, I did it again) to the nearest half-hour if that means I have to spend one less half-hour in the dark.
When full dark came, our living room looked like a Police video or one of those “first time” scenes on a soap opera. Our bathroom had tea lights burning on the toilet tank to prevent anyone from falling in in he dark. Our bedroom is upstairs and poorly ventilated, so it’s uninhabitable in the summer without air conditioning. I dug out the air mattress we use when camping and manually inflated it. Trash collected bedding and spread it out in the living room. I made sure the fire extinguisher was handy because all those candles started making me nervous. We found our wind-up alarm clock and set it so Trash wouldn't be late for her 8 a.m. meeting. She also figured out how to program the alarm on her cellphone as a backup. We left a spare flashlight in the entryway next to a single lit candle and a note for our roommate, explaining the situation and asking her to please not trip on us on her way to bed. I cradled a shotgun in one elbow to discourage looters. At 11:30, we flopped onto our makeshift bed, savoring the romance of the situation and congratulating ourselves on our own resourcefulness and adaptability.
One minute later, the lights came back on.
I’m starting to suspect that the power company just adds four hours onto every repair estimate. This happened one morning a couple of weeks ago as well. On that occasion, the outage line said that power would be restored in four hours. I hung up and relayed the info to Trash.
“Okay,” she said.
“Or perhaps now,” I said, over the sound of my computer rebooting.
I’m familiar with the idea of “underpromise and overdeliver,” but it stops working when people figure out you’re underpromising. It’s like customer service by Scotty from Star Trek.
Now, in addition to being tired, we just had a mess in our living room and way too many candles going. So we blew them out and went back downstairs to finish watching Monk, because it was really good.
How about that? You thought you were getting an anecdote and it turned out to be a TV review all along. I love keeping people guessing.
posted by M. Giant 3:38 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, July 17, 2002 The oven in my house is really old. Really, really old. My house was built in 1950, but I think the oven is even older. I think the house was built around an oven that was already there, standing in a cabinet in an open field, where indigenous peoples used it for millennia to bake their pies. Then, when the area was developed for residential use, the placement of the street was based on the optimum depth of a kitchen and a backyard, and the Minneapolis route grid—streetcar rails and all—sprang up around that point. That's the oven I bake stuff in. The door is covered with flat beige enamel with brown streaks towards the bottom, as if it’s been in contact with actual flames several times. The temperature is uneven and has a fairly independent relationship with the worn numbers on the knob. I always have to put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to act as a heat shield; otherwise the bottom of everything gets burned before the top is even brown. The insulation stripping is beginning to fall off in sections. The clock doesn't work. The light doesn't work. The gravity barely works. Did I mention the oven is old?
In a seemingly unrelated story, a couple of years ago I heard one of those news stories that actually gets you up off your patoot to do something. Seems this family had gotten a household carbon monoxide detector. The very night they got it, the sucker went off, waking them all up in time to get out of their house safely. Without that detector, they would have all woken up dead the next morning. So I got a carbon monoxide detector. Unfortunately it didn't go off that first night, so I woke up the next morning wanting my forty bucks back.
Don't worry, these two story threads will soon be woven together into the rich tapestry you've come to expect here.
The novelty of our carbon monoxide detector kind of wore off in a hurry. When you get right down to it, it's something that's only nice to have in your home when it's not going off. Unfortunately, it went off every time we used the oven (told you). We'd already been using the oven pretty regularly for five years or so, and it never killed us once. But now, if we wanted to bake something, we had to either remember to unplug the CO detector in advance, or grab enough cotton to stanch the bleeding from our ears when the thing started letting off a screech that made a smoke alarm sound like James Taylor. I'm not kidding. It sounded like freaking DefCon 1 in our house.
At some point, we forgot to plug the thing back in. You know what? Still not dead.
Anyway, a few months ago, Trash was cleaning the oven, and we finally realized that we're sick of this relic taking up space in our kitchen where an actual appliance should be, and we decided to call the local gas company to have them come check it out and see if it was enough of a hazard to justify replacing the ugly thing. A good rule of thumb for expensive appliances: if they’re ugly, you can keep them. If they’re trying to kill you, you probably shouldn’t. Interestingly, this advice also applies to cars and friends.
So I called the gas company and gave them the sitch. The guy transferred me to the emergency line.
I repeated my story to the emergency operator, emphasizing that I really didn't think this was an emergency, as this oven had had over eight years to kill us, and if it was going to do so, it probably would have already.
"Is anyone at the house right now?"
The answer was no, and her manner gave me the clear impression that had it been otherwise, she would have ordered an immediate evacuation. I explained that I'd be home later, as in after business hours. She said she’d send someone over as soon as I got home. I said, "Wow, that's great! Thanks!" I'm used to good service from our gas company, but not this good.
Lesson? When you want something from your gas company, remember the magic words: Carbon Monoxide. It works like 20,000 volts shot through their cerebral cortex.
Cut to that evening. The gas guy comes to look at our oven, punctually as promised. He turns on the oven to check it, goes blue in the face, and hits the floor. I'm left standing over him going "WTF?" I call the gas company to ask them to send another guy. They do. Same deal.
By sundown, my kitchen is littered with the bodies of asphyxiated gasmen. Finally, the gas company figures out that years of living in this house with this oven has caused us to build up a resistance to the effects of carbon monoxide. We could spend an hour taking turns sucking on the tailpipe of a '72 Vega with a bad carburetor and not suffer anything worse than burned lips.
So does this mean I have to become a superhero or something?
Okay, that didn't really happen. The guy fixed the oven in about two minutes and we were stuck with the hideous monster. The oven, not the gas guy. He left under his own steam.
But now we’re glad that we didn’t trash the oven right then and get a new one. Serendipitously, my grandmother just moved into a new house and she wants to switch it over from gas to electric. Guess who gets her practically new stainless-steel oven and cooktop? I don’t want to say too much in case it doesn’t work out for some reason, but WE DO!
Watch this space in August for “before” and “after” pictures. I’ll do the “before” in advance, just in case I blow myself up on the “during.” posted by M. Giant 3:16 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, July 16, 2002 Something has changed in the world.
I noticed it yesterday, at a local incarnation of a certain gigantic electronics and entertainment chain store. I was striding purposefully towards the section I wanted when a shelf-stocking yellowshirt spotted me out of the corner of his eye, stopped what he was doing, and turned to say to me:
“Are you finding everything you need, sir?”
He was friendly, attentive, and genuinely interested in helping me out. Naturally, he gave me the wiggins.
“So far,” I answered, even though I was clearly empty-handed.
“Let me know if I can help,” he called after me as I accelerated past him. I thanked him, but I was probably out of earshot by then.
I quickly regained my equilibrium. New guy, I thought. He’ll learn.
But then the blueshirt at the cash register greeted me with equal warmth and sincerity. “How are you today, sir?” she asked with a smile. I didn’t tell her that I was starting to get the cheevers. She completed the transaction with evident pleasure and efficiency, then wished me a nice afternoon. I later realized that she had completely neglected to grill me about my ZIP code, as is the normal custom at this store. “She won’t last long,” I assured myself, but it was beginning to sound hollow.
It’s also normal custom at this store to speak with one more employee before you escape into the open. There’s usually an imposing bouncer type sitting by the door, whose purpose is to inspect the still-damp ink on your receipt like a short-tempered KGB agent with a foreign passport, then root through your expensive new possessions searching for unauthorized mousepads or batteries. For years I’ve been putting off buying that Cosmo Makeover software for fear of this guy knowing about it. There’s still a guy between you and the entrance, and he’s still bouncer-shaped. But he’s not perched on a stool like a tightly coiled doomsday weapon any more. Now he ambles happily back and forth, smiling and saying, “How you doing today, sir?” At least that’s what he said to me. If I’d known I was going to catch him in such a good mood, I might have liberated a camcorder for myself.
The obvious question is, ”What the hell is going on here?”
Normally, shopping at this store is an experience to be endured. I can’t tell you how many times Trash and I have walked to the parking lot kvetching about the emotional violations to which we’ve just been subjected in there, and I can’t help but imagine that many other people have come out saying the same thing. If there were a cage by the door with a parrot in it, the only thing it would ever say would be, “BAWK! We’re never buying anything here again! BAWK!”
My first thought was that some kind of company-wide initiative is in effect. It’s taken the form of an edict from on high, and it’s personally aimed at every minion who dons the official polo shirt and khakis: BE NICE. Of course the corporate suits in every company are always telling the people on the front lines to be nice to the customers, which is easy for them because they don’t have to answer the question “Does this computer have the Internet?” twenty times a day. For the same reason, such directives tend to be largely ignored. Perhaps this one carries more force because the store’s new worldwide corporate headquarters is two exits up the freeway, and thus the ignorant yokel looking for a disposable digital camera might be an incognito CEO. But I suspect something more sinister. What, I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.
One of the most important tenets of customer service is the importance of managing expectations. When I go to this store, I expect to deal with people who are surly, withdrawn, introverted, and deeply cheesed off that they even have to be there. People like me, in other words. I’ve gotten to the point where I can just switch on my obligatory black mood as the inner doors slide shut behind me, as if the organ-scrambling death rays from the anti-theft scanners are causing an instantaneous adjustment in brain chemistry. The upside is that when I emerge, the comparatively healthy clouds of carbon monoxide billowing off the nearby eight-laner instantaneously restore my usual sunny mood when they fill my lungs. That was fine when the people helping me in the store were quivering columns of barely suppressed rage, but now that management has apparently issued tinfoil hats to store employees, the unnerving level of cheer and friendliness just makes me feel all alone in my battered metal trash can. When employees of an electronics superstore can make you feel that way, it’s only a matter of time before the earth jinks clean out of its orbit.
Although there’s clearly cause for concern, there’s still hope. Sometime in the next few weeks, I’m going to have to bring in our VCR so they can fix whatever’s causing it to imbue every voice and sound on recorded TV with a strident, high-speed vibrato (don’t tell me about head cleaners, because that didn’t work). If that turns out to be a pleasant and satisfying experience, we’ll all have no choice but to panic, for verily, the end of days will be nigh. posted by M. Giant 4:02 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 15, 2002 We just recently upgraded most of the phone equipment and hardware in our office. This is a pretty big deal for a business with a Call Center at its heart. I help run that Call Center, particularly its technical aspects, so I’m in a good position to see everything that affects it. And even if I’d been out of the office for weeks and came back today, I’d still be able to tell that there’s been an upgrade because of the staggering number of things that don’t work any more.
The upgrade wasn’t my idea. As far as I know, it wasn’t the idea of anyone in this office. Instead, people who are in charge of telephone communications for our whole company, people who work in a building 1500 miles away, decided we needed an upgrade. And so, during the last weekend in June, a group of them flew in, tore apart our voice communications hardware and software, and put in practically all new stuff. They, and other people, and I have been trying to get it all to work right ever since.
Apparently this was necessary because we’re going to have a new infusion of personnel over the next couple of months, and the old system couldn’t handle it. That may be the case. However, I can think of a few things that the old system could handle. Certain vital reports, for instance. Printing those reports, for another. Twelve screens at a time with a refresh rate of three seconds, as opposed to the current maximum eight screens with a five-second refresh rate (that may not seem like a big deal, but those missing seconds add up. A twenty-four hour day is now only 17.5 hours long because of those lost seconds). Plus nearly every phone number into and out of the building had to be changed for reasons that were never fully explained. And these are issues that will still exist even after the new system is completely functional, which so far nobody has been able to accomplish. Not to get too technical here, but the combination of these and other factors have contributed to a condition I like to call a Pain In My Ass.
I know that glitches are to be expected, but what kind of upgrade has the end result of making everyone’s job harder instead of easier? And doesn’t it behoove people to know what to expect when they undertake this kind of operation? Before you yank the slats out from under a business, you better be pretty damn sure you know how the new ones are going to fit in. The people who did our upgrade promised a smooth transition. Instead they put in a hundred-hour weekend trying to figure out how to get the pieces back together. That doesn’t even count the time they spent leaving desperate messages on my voice mail at home. Unfortunately for them, I was attending to some pressing personal obligations at the time (namely, imitating Fred Schneider at the karaoke bar).
Then they spent the rest of the week trying to dig out from under an avalanche of complaints from clients and coworkers about all the interesting and frustrating and endlessly creative ways that the “upgrade” was preventing them from conducting their business. I know this because the majority of those complaints were channeled through me. I would say that everything imaginable went wrong, but that statement grievously overestimates the human imagination. To say that we were better off with the old system would be an absurd understatement. To say that we would have been better off with string and tin cans isn’t true either, but not by much.
Things are still being fixed, and my coworkers and I are still figuring out workarounds for the stuff we used to do but can’t any more. Next time someone offers to do an upgrade for me, I’m going to spit in his toes, stomp on his eyes, and run away very fast.
I was always under the impression that an upgrade implied some kind of improvement, but that hasn’t been the case here. Instead of a major upgrade, we got a major upyours.
posted by M. Giant 6:56 PM 0 comments
Friday, July 12, 2002 My friend The Engineer co-hosts a late-night radio show in the Quad Cities. It’s actually the top-rated radio show in its time zone for that market, which is pretty damn cool. Of course, I didn’t know that when I was on the show, or I probably would have talked even less.
This was about a year ago. The show, which The Engineer hosts with his old friend The Phantom (I’m calling him that because the nickname he normally uses has totally supplanted his real name) is three solid hours of hardcore Metal music. What, you thought Nirvana killed Metal? Tell you what: put a big, flat rock on top of a bug, then look under the rock again after a decade. That’s how dead Metal is now. You just don’t see as much of it. And no, I’m not talking about Nu-Metal or Rap-Metal or anything you see during late nights on MTV2. I’m talking about Speed Metal, Black Metal, Death Metal, Christian Metal, Goth Metal, Jazz Metal, Sex Metal, Congressional Metal of Honor, Metalcore, Grindcore, Noisecore, Marinecore, Peacecore, and any number of other Metals and Cores. Just writing this paragraph has caused the word “Metal” to lose all meaning for me. I had no idea there were so many subgenres of Metal. And all of them are thriving, with countless bands putting out CDs and playing shows all the time. Regular readers of Pit Magazine already know all this, but it was something of a revelation for me. I lifted the rock expecting to see a squashed bug and found a scene teeming with life. And it’s life that plays its instruments reallyreallyfast!!
The Engineer is a part of this scene, although he’ll downplay his role at every opportunity. He’s a member of as many as thirty-seven different bands at any given time. Once, Trash and I found a CD called Quad Cities Rocks at a used record store here in Minneapolis. We bought it, planning to ask The Engineer if he knew about any of the bands on it. Turns out he was in most of them.
Every week, The Engineer loads up his car with several CD carriers the size of Igloo coolers (full of Metal! Nothing but Metal!) and hauls them up to the studio from whence he and The Phantom rule the airwaves until 3 a.m. When I was in the Quad Cities a year ago, The Engineer invited me up to watch them do the show. I’d like to say I helped them do the show, but there was a great deal more watching than helping on my part. Basically, they were Mr. Wizard and I was Timmy.
It’s technically a college radio station, but it’s still subject to FCC regs. The Engineer explained to me how they used to have a lot more leeway, language-wise, but management was cracking down and they had to be a lot more careful about what they said and played on the air. Which means they have to screen every song they play before it goes on the air, since some of these Metal bands aren’t exactly Ned Flanders. There’s even one band they can only refer to by its initials. Never mind what they’re called.
So the very first song of the show I visited was a pre-screened, radio-friendly ditty called “In for the Kill.” The Phantom dropped the needle on the live version, which they hadn’t previously listened to. And the evening’s show started with the band’s lead singer howling, ad lib, “IN FOR THE F#@&ING KIIIIIILL!”
It’s to The Engineer’s and The Phantom’s credit that they dissolved into laughter instead of panic.
Later on, Baron and Blade from the Star Wars Metal band Hoth Wampa dropped by for an in-studio interview. I’m not making up a single word of that.
When Trash and I visited again last weekend, The Engineer invited me back to the show. Of course, he also invited Trash and Corpkitten and the Latvian Lover, but I was the only one who took him up on it. The Engineer's S.O., The Disqueen, wasn't about to go, so it was just me. Since I wasn’t planning to stay until he signed off at three, I decided to follow him to the station in my own car. I waited by the curb until his SUV pulled around the corner from the alley where he was parked, then smoothly dropped in behind him.
I’m not real familiar with the Quad Cities, so I just latched onto his bumper and let him do the steering. At the same time, I was futzing with my radio dial to try to find his station, a task complicated by the fact that I couldn’t remember the frequency and by the fact that the Quad Cities has radio stations at every decahertz increment. Also, I was trying to dig out the correct change for the bridge toll and why is The Engineer turning here?
Oh, well. He knows what he’s doing. This is his town, not mine. Maybe he’s stopping to pick up the Phantom. Except the Phantom doesn’t live in this neighborhood. Hmm.
This isn’t really a side street, anyway, so I guess we’re still on the way…This, however, is a side street. What the hell? Why is he turning again? Why is he turning back the way we were going before? Why are we just circling some random residential block?
When did his Durango become an Explorer?
Yes, I was following the wrong damn car. That’s what I get for not paying attention to what I was doing. I not only missed the show, I made The Engineer late by making him drive around looking for me, and I totally freaked out some poor Explorer driver who no doubt thought he was going to be greeting the sunrise in pieces from the back of my station wagon. Sorry, Explorer driver. Didn’t mean to stalk you there.
So much for my illustrious career in radio. This Internet thing is working out a lot better.
* * *
If you’re in the Quad Cities some Friday, check out the show at midnight on KALA-FM, 88.5 and 105.5. The request line number is 333-6216. I’d give you the area code, but you don’t need it if you don’t already know it.
posted by M. Giant 4:11 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, July 10, 2002 My band (and I say “my band” not because I’m the leader or manager or owner or whatever, which I’m not, but because saying “my band” is easier [not to mention more grammatically correct] than saying “the band I’m in…
Okay, that parenthetical was getting a little out of hand. Let me start over.
Our band has a gig tomorrow night, as I mentioned last week. I had an anxiety dream about it last night, which is odd because I didn’t think I was all that anxious.
In the dream, it was the night of the gig (in other words, tomorrow, Thursday, July 11) and it was time to set up (in other words, around sevenish). But instead of playing where we’re really going to be playing (in other words, Mueller Park in Uptown Minneapolis, on 25th street between Colfax and Bryant), we were going to be playing in my back yard. That meant I had to stress not just about my performance, but about playing party host as well.
Especially considering the people who were showing up. I’m talking about former coworkers I haven’t seen in years, friends who’ve moved to New York (hi!), people I’d never met but still expected me to know who they were, et cetera. And none of them seemed to be in a particularly good mood. It was like Willow’s nightmare from the fourth season finale of Buffy: “Your whole family’s in the front row, and they look really angry!”
At seven o’clock, I tracked down the only one of my bandmates who’d bothered to show up so far. I offered to help him set up his drum kit, intending the offer as a not-very-subtle way of saying “let’s get this going, already.” He just said “Eh,” and turned his full attention back to the snack table. I should mention here in all sincerity that our drummer would never do that in real life.
At this point I decided to haul out my saxophone and get it ready to play. This was cause for concern for three reasons: 1) I couldn’t seem to get my reed properly aligned, 2) the reed kept morphing unhelpfully into a pencil, and 3) I play the bass guitar.
By now my other two bandmates had arrived, but they didn’t seem to have any more interest in setting up than the drummer did. They didn’t even bother unloading their gear out of their cars, if in fact they’d brought any. Apparently they’d just come over to use my Internet connection (which, again, they would never do, not least of all because they have perfectly good Internet connections of their own).
At around seven-thirty, we’d made absolutely no progress towards taking the form of an actual band. I looked out the back window. A number of our guests were frolicking in several inches of freshly fallen snow.
Any non-Minnesota readers who don’t know any better than to think this is perfectly feasible in this city are welcome to Shut Up at this time.
“Screw it!” I said to my bandmates. “We’ll set up in the garage.”
“Whatever,” they said, and went back to what they were doing.
Did I mention that several characters from the movie Dogma were also in attendance? Somehow their presence indicated to me that our little gig was of such great metaphysical import that if we didn’t rock the house, the entire universe would cease to exist. How’s that for pressure? In my case, it woke me up.
I’m not a dream expert, but you don’t need to be Freud to analyze this sucker. Clearly, unbeknownst to myself, I am losing my mind.
Only you can save me. Come to our gig tomorrow night, Thursday, July 11 at Mueller Park on 25th Avenue between Bryant and Colfax in Uptown Minneapolis (not my house). We’re going on some time between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. And it’s absolutely one hundred percent free of charge. You have the ability to rescue my mental health before I give myself an aneurysm in my sleep. All you have to do is show up, dance, clap and cheer wildly, and approach us afterwards to offer us loads of cushy gigs and lucrative recording contracts.
See you there.
posted by M. Giant 3:55 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, July 09, 2002 Hey, how about that traffic jam on I-35 south of the Twin Cities on Sunday afternoon? Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about, because that kind of clusterfuck could only be the result of all of humanity being on the same stretch of road at the same time. Alternatively, the problem may have been criminal incompetence on the part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. What’s that? You weren’t there? Well, I guess that leaves MN/DOT holding the bag, then.
I get that the climate here not only causes a lot of damage to the roads, but leaves crews a very limited window in which to fix said damage. Here in Minnesota, you can’t even get a laugh any more out of saying that the two seasons are Winter and Road Construction because it’s too true to be funny (not that that’s going to stop me from using it to cadge for chuckles from people who don’t live here). Once I saw an editorial cartoon of a guy trying to back out of his driveway, only to find the end of it blocked by a “Road Closed” sign. Sometimes that doesn’t feel like an exaggeration. Some inconvenience is unavoidable, I know, which is why God invented alternate routes. However, I maintain that it is possible to coordinate maintenance projects in such a way as to minimize disruptions. It’s just that that would require giving a rat’s ass.
Lest you think that I’m bitching just because I wasn’t able to race my Saturn station wagon from Des Moines to Minneapolis in three hours flat at unbroken autobahn speeds, let me clarify: the fourteen miles of single-lane freeway between the state line and Interstate 90 didn’t bother me that much. Resurfacing happens, and you just have to accept the fact that fourteen miles is plenty of time for everyone to catch up with the idiot who thinks that orange barrels=a 30 mph speed limit.
The bridge work at I-35 and Highway 19 in Northfield shouldn’t have bothered me either. Ditto whatever they’re doing fifteen miles up the road in Lakeville. I’m fine with doing the crossover/bypass thing for a quarter mile and then doing it again later. What pisses me off, what chaps my hide, what clouds my vision with the crimson mist of a mindless berserker fury, is the fact that nobody seems to trust me to be able to handle that, and everyone thinks that it’s a better idea to SHUT DOWN HALF OF THE TRAFFIC LANES SOUTH OF THE TWIN CITIES FOR FIFTEEN WHOLE MILES FOR NO FUCKING REASON.
I’m no traffic expert, but you don’t have to be Campbell Scott in Singles to know that this is a terrible, terrible, terrible plan. You want to fix a bridge? Fine, fix the bridge. You want to fix another bridge at the same time? Okay, go ahead. You want to turn the fifteen miles of road between those bridges into a single-lane parking lot? Not with my tax dollars, Hoss.
According to MN/DOT’s website, there are actually three projects going on. The first one (if you’re coming from the south, like I have three times in as many weeks) is the Highway 19 bridge. They also just happen to be doing some road resurfacing starting just north of the Highway 19 project. You know, while they were at it. That accounts for another ten miles or so. The part that constitutes a crime against humanity is the ADDITIONAL FIVE MILES where ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is being done.
Here’s what the MN/DOT website has to say about that:
In addition, northbound I-35 single lane restrictions have been extended to the I-35 bridge improvement project at Lake Marion in Lakeville. The restrictions were extended to improve motorist safety between the two I-35 improvement projects.
Hey, MN/DOT? Kiss my ass.
Is it really so dangerous to open up the second lane for a few miles, just to loosen things up a little? Even if two drivers crash into each other trying to merge back into a single lane because they’ve forgotten how to perform such a tricky maneuver in the fifteen miles since the last time they pulled it off, whose problem is that? Theirs. To be fair, it’s also the problem of everyone who’s racked up behind them, but you know what? That’ll also be the case under any number of circumstances that are more likely to come about under the current situation. What if someone’s car overheats? What if someone’s body overheats because their car doesn’t have A/C? What if someone runs out of gas? Sneer if you want to, but I burned a quarter of a tank while “driving” these fifteen miles. What if someone has claustrophobia or panic disorder and launches into a psychotic episode? What if someone becomes so overcome with impotent road rage that he takes out an AK-47 and goes on a leisurely stroll along the shoulder putting rounds in heads? Based on the way things looked on Sunday, all it would take is for one car or driver to be taken out of commission and traffic would be backed up all the way to San Antonio. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me like MN/DOT would want to reduce its exposure to a lawsuit from something like this when it would be so preventable.
I’m not suggesting that MN/DOT wants us all to kill each other so they don’t have as many potholes to patch. I’m more inclined to suspect that this foul-up is a result of bureaucracy. See, Minnesota is divided into several regions, and each of those regions is the responsibility of a different section of MN/DOT. Which region does the Death March fall into? You guessed it; it straddles two regions. I figure that the Southern Region decided to do its project independently of the Metro Region, and neither of them realized what the other was planning until the barricades went up. So, to save face, they decided to make their completely separate deals look like one big project. The only problem is that fifteen miles of single-lane driving gives motorists plenty of time to notice that the empty lane RIGHT NEXT TO THEM isn’t having anything done to it at all for five miles or so. Kind of a giveaway there, guys. Fifteen miles of single-lane driving also give motorists plenty of time to get worked up into a frenzied lather of rage. I speak from experience.
This is beyond irresponsible. It’s a disgrace. It's mortifying. It's unconscionable. I’ve driven during weekday rush hours on the freeways of Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, and I’ve never seen traffic as bad as it was on this Sunday afternoon in rural Minnesota. And all because the right hand doesn’t know which lane the left hand is closing down. This is beyond inconvenience and well into hazard.
I plan to write a strongly-worded letter to that effect to the two MN/DOT departments in question, possibly the county commissioners, and probably the Governor’s office. If you’re planning to spend any time at all on I-35 between Lakeville and Northfield this summer, you may want to do the same. Because “any time at all” is likely to become “a very large chunk of your life.” How large a chunk?
I drove fifteen miles in ninety minutes. I could have done that on foot.
posted by M. Giant 5:40 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 08, 2002 In my experience, one of the areas where states tend to differ most widely from one another is in their liquor laws. You might live in a state where it’s legal to drink beer and wine in restaurants, but you won’t find anything stronger on the menu. Whereas, across the border, you might be able to get a scotch and soda with dinner, but only if you bring your own scotch. Maybe the state on the other side will allow you to have plumbing in your house with warm and cold running Guinness, while the next state over will only sell you a case of beer if you buy a box of ammunition at the same time. There might even be states where the bars have to kick you out at 1:00 a.m. and the liquor stores are closed on Sunday, but there’s no reason to get ridiculous here.
Drive-up liquor stores aren’t really common where I live, so something about them seems kind of odd to me. There’s some part of me that wonders why they don’t all just change their names to “Drive-up N Drink” or something like that. It’s not like other liquor stores discourage customers from driving to them; they all have parking lots, and they generally don’t lend out hand trucks so you can cart home your cases of firewater on foot. Maybe I’m just putting too muck stock in the stage of the liquor-buying transaction that forces you to actually transport the stuff to your car. Like if you can hold off on cracking the seal during the thirty seconds between cash register and driver’s seat, you’ll probably be able to make it home sober, but if a cashier just reaches out a window and hands you a fifth of Jack Daniel’s with the cap already off and a straw poking out of the top, that’s too much temptation. I’m aware that my position isn’t entirely rational, but then attitudes toward alcohol seldom are.
So it was kid of fun to spend part of this past weekend in Illinois, where we actually had a chance to patronize a drive-thru liquor store. Now, this wasn’t a drive-thru liquor store in the sense that McDonald’s has a drive-thru. Technically, those are more like “drive-pasts,” but they don’t call them that because it sets up unreasonable expectations for people tooling by on the street out front. This, on the other hand, was an actual hangar-style building that you actually drove into, then actually chose and paid for your purchases without ever actually turning off your engine. Once inside, the aisles were wide enough to allow drivers to browse through them and grab stuff off the shelves from driver’s side window height.
Okay, that last part isn’t really true.
Trash and I were inordinately amped about this rare (for us) opportunity to buy joy juice from behind our seatbelts. However, our host and chauffeur, longtime Quad Cities resident The Engineer, had other plans. Being a longtime Quad Cities resident, he knows just about everybody in town (or, more accurately, towns), including the guy working at the liquor store. For some reason, in the course of buying the liquor, The Engineer placed a higher priority on walking into the store and talking to his friend than he did on letting his friend see him driving through the store with a couple of grinning rubes from out of town pointing dorkily at bottles of Pucker from his back seat. Go figure. As it was, he walked into the store, leaving us sitting in the car and hollering, “Hey, where are you going? Get back in here!” Eventually we admitted defeat and followed him into the store, but not before I swore to avenge us by saddling him with a dopey Internet pseudonym like “The Engineer.”
Actually, we do want to thank The Engineer and his lovely SO for putting us up this weekend. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the phrases “putting up” and “putting up with” are so similar? Perhaps they have similar etymological roots. That would certainly be appropriate in our case. Anyway, we’re grateful for their hospitality and the next time they come up to see us we plan to repay them by talking them on a Minneapolis bar crawl at half past midnight. posted by M. Giant 2:19 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, July 03, 2002 It’s not uncommon for bloggers and website operators to get a few laughs out of the Google search terms whereby some surfers come across their sites. In fact, it borders on de rigeur. Generally, I’m not one for doing things just because other people do them.
On the other hand, I’m stuck for ideas today.
1. As I mentioned last week, my Watergate entry yielded a surprising amount of traffic from people doing searches on both “Deep Throat Pat Buchanan” and “Deep Throat Ben Stein.” I’m now convinced that this was a mere accident of timing, as those parameters now turn up over a thousand results each. I just had the dumb luck to stumble on the story reasonably early, and now everyone’s talking about it. I feel like I’m in a stadium, and there’s a Wave going, and although I didn’t start it, I was a few rows away from the person who did. I'm just glad nobody seems to have taken my contribution seriously, as I wouldn't have had time this month to be a talking head on a cable news channel anyway. But the traffic was fun while it lasted. I just hope I can resist the temptation to pimp for more visits from political conspiracy theorists by brazenly dropping in phrases like “WorldCom anthrax airline wildfire Britney Islamic Freemasons.”
Whoops, look what I did there.
2. Lucasarts’s Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is still a new enough PC game that the net isn’t overflowing with walkthru files. Or maybe it is, and my site just comes up for people who don’t know that “walkthru” is one word to the people who write them. I’m certainly not trolling for such surfers, since I used the word “thru” in an entirely separate entry. Either way, one hopes that they’ll chuckle knowingly at some of my comments about the game, which will hopefully make up for the people who saw what that day’s post was about and skipped it entirely. Now that I think about it, that might be a good niche for me: doing to PC games what Television Without Pity does to TV shows. On the other hand, it takes me about two months to finish a game and I do, after all, have a day job.
3. It doesn’t scare me that this page comes up when people do searches on home improvement topics. The fact that some people actually click on it, however, turns my blood to freon. I can only hope that such readers understand that I’m not trying to pass myself off as some kind of expert just because the search phrase “renting a floor sander” or “clogged downspout” led them to me. The last thing I need is to be the Internet’s version of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. Maybe I should put up a disclaimer saying I am not a home improvement expert. Or maybe I should just go back to the entries in question and sprinkle them liberally with the word “duh.”
Or perhaps that would be redundant.
4. Here’s my favorite: “Marcia Brady spanked.”
I have nothing to add.
* * *
Except this: have a good July 4th, everyone. That does include readers outside the United States, because it’s not like the rest of the world goes into suspended animation during what happens to be America’s Independence Day. Although that would be kind of cool for American expatriates; can you imagine how much less traffic there would be? You guys should suggest that. Even though it’s a little late for any Yanks in New Zealand, since your July 4th will be half over by the time I post this. Think about it for next year, though. It’s not like the rest of the world wouldn’t appreciate an excuse to take a long nap. Plus the cryogenic capsules would provide a nice break from the summer heat in the Northern Hemisphere. Speaking of which, have you ever noticed the number of countries that celebrate their Independence Days in the summer? Do you think that’s because people are more likely to revolt against oppressive governments when it’s hot and muggy outside? Personally, I can barely take out the garbage in this kind of weather, let alone run through a soldier with a bayonet. But maybe that’s just me. Or Independence Days might tend to be in the summer because our forefathers figured that future generations wouldn’t be able to get into celebrating their freedom if they had to do it huddled around a fireplace. Or a stove, as the case may be, because just because they could foresee a future where their nation’s people would have the chance to determine their own destiny doesn’t necessarily mean that they could foresee central heating.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Happy 4th, and have a good weekend. posted by M. Giant 3:40 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, July 02, 2002 I've worked in call centers pretty much my entire adult life. Talking to people on the phone for a living for years means that I've had conversations with a lot of idiots. Not just people who say stupid things, but people who are permeated with idiocy down to the last fiber of their benighted existence. People who have asked me to fax money to them. People who have refused to fax paperwork to me because "I still need it." People who expect me to give them detailed information about their retirement accounts when they call from the flight deck of the USS John F. Kennedy.
So it's a little sad that in all my years of experience, the stupidest person I ever talked to was in the first month of my first phone job ever.
That job was at TicketMaster. Yes, I know. Bitch all you want about how they gouge their customers, but don't bitch to me. I was only getting $4.25 an hour, so it's not like I'm going to be handing out reparations.
Anyway, if you've ever ordered tickets over the phone, you know how it works. You tell them what you're buying tickets for, then give your name, address, phone number, credit card number, and expiration date. In that order. This was important because in 1989, we were all using dummy terminals that were so dumb, if you had to change something in a field you'd already completed, you had to start the order all over (obviously those "service" charges weren't getting invested in software either).
So, this guy. I got him to the point where he knows what he's buying tickets for (I don't remember what it was, so don't ask). I started entering the order.
Me: Can I have your name as it appears on the credit card please?
Me: Can I have your name as it appears on the credit card?
Him: The name on the credit card is MBNA Bank--
Me: No, sir, I need your name.
Him: My name?
Me: That's right.
Him: Firstname McLastname (I don't remember his actual name. Lay off).
Me: Is there a middle initial on the card?
Him: The card number is 4482--
Me: I'm sorry, sir, I'm asking if there's a middle initial on the card.
Him: The expiration date is October--
Me: Actually, what I'm looking for here is whether there's a middle initial on the credit card.
Him: My address is--
Me: Sir, I need your middle initial if it's on the card.
Him: Zip code?
Me: No, your middle initial.
Him: My what?
Me: Your middle initial. Does the middle initial appear on the card?
Him: My phone number is--
Those of you who've read some of my past entries are aware that I'm prone to exaggeration every now and then. I assure you that is not the case here. If anything, I’m sparing you.
Finally I tired of asking for a middle initial when the very concept of a middle initial was clearly alien to this brainiac. And keep in mind that I couldn't skip ahead and enter any of the other information until I was sure that I had the name in the system as it appeared on the card.
Me: (through my teeth) Sir, what's your middle name?
Me: And is there an "S" on the card?
Me: Is there an "S" on the card?
Him:....................There's an "S" in "Visa."
I left the field blank, hit my TAB key as hard as I could with my forehead, and took the rest of the order.
I've never, in my entire life, on the phone, via e-mail, or in person, encountered an individual as stupid as he. That's the guy by which all other idiots in my life have been measured. And they've all come up wanting.
posted by M. Giant 3:28 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 01, 2002 I know two people who’ve died in as many weeks, but it’s not my place to go into much detail about it here (not to mention that anything I might say would suffer in comparison to Omar's well-written tribute to his great-grandfather). That grief belongs to the families, one of which I’m part of. The death of a third person I never met is also a tremendous loss to his family, but since he was a public figure, it seems less inappropriate to talk about him in this slightly more public space.
I’ve been gladdened by the tone and volume of the John Entwistle tributes and eulogies that have been floating around. I suspected that when my favorite bassist died, he’d get about the same fanfare that some non-John-Fogerty member of CCR would get. The Who is over, people might say, and he was just the bassist anyway. So it’s been heartening to see the zeitgeist’s reaction. Aside from VH-1 suddenly becoming “The Who Network” over the weekend, there’s been a lot of talk about the event, not to mention the unusually high concentration of Who tunes coming out of the jukebox last night at the bar (only half of which were picked for me by my wife).
Say what you will about the Who (and God knows some of you will), but their influence on rock & roll is undeniable. Some people hear “the Who” and all they think of is a bunch of guys smashing their instruments onstage. Some bands could just be lifted clean out of music history, but not these guys. Pete and the guys contributed, to varying extents, to the invention of heavy metal, punk rock, 80’s synth-pop, long-form rock composition, and MTV Unplugged. Chances are you like at least one of those things, and if not for the Who you’d probably be doing without it right now. There may be some parallel universe where the Who never existed, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Pete gets most of the credit for that, and he should. Any musician could be forgiven for just hopping aboard the Townshend genius train and just holding on for dear life. Doing what Entwistle did—i.e., doing for the bass guitar what Eddie Van Halen did for the lead guitar over a decade later—was well above and beyond the call of duty.
That’s one of the things I respected most about the Ox: he never coasted. The man who invented the rock bass guitar solo in 1964 could do things in 1989 that he couldn’t do in 1975, and he could do things in 1997 that he couldn’t do in 1989. I was lucky enough to see him perform live on a couple of separate occasions, and each time was all but a religious experience. The bass isn’t the most conducive instrument to high-speed playing, but the way Entwistle handled it, it was like watching someone bang out a hundred words per minute with a chisel and stone tablets. His fingers moved over that unwieldy fretboard so lightly that he didn’t seem to be playing the bass so much as using it to cast a spell, effortlessly flinging out notes faster than mere mortals could even hear them.
I’m not saying the man was a god. One hopes that if gods exist, they didn’t dress so hideously in the seventies, or write songs that alternate between the two modes of “pedestrian” and “silly,” or wear a large spider necklace to remind people of all of their hit. But I will say this: in college, I dedicated several months to learning how to play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” like John Entwistle did on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack. Thirteen years later, I still don’t have it down. I might still be a bassist if it weren’t for John Entwistle. I’m certain I’d be a much worse one.
Pete and Roger are going ahead and touring; with refreshing honesty, Pete’s not claiming to be doing this because “John would want it that way.” No, he’s doing it out of a sense of duty to the fans, the promoters, and everyone involved with the tour (translation: “We’ve got bills to pay and it’s too late to back out now”). I feel bad for John’s family and friends, but I also wouldn’t want to be the guy who’s going to be “replacing” him. That poor dude’s going to have to fill some big, big, ugly-ass boots. There may be better bass players than John Entwistle, but there are none greater.
* * *
If you’re going to be in Minneapolis on Thursday, July 11 and you want to hear for yourself just how far under Entwistle’s shadow I am, come check out the band I’m in. We’ll be playing at Mueller Park in Uptown, on 25th Street between Colfax and Bryant. We’re going on between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. Love to see you there.
posted by M. Giant 7:35 PM 0 comments