Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Friday, April 30, 2010

An Encounter With The Underbelly Of Pop Culture - Fo Rill (for real)

I like to think that I can get my head around pop culture. Today, however, I ran head long into one neighborhood that continues to befuddle me…white kids acting black. “Wiggers” is the term, right? Anyway, when I walked into the bank today, I almost left due to the line, it would have been a huge mistake since it would have sapped me of the opportunity to observe…a white “homey.”

He was wearing the requisite long black t-shirt and baggie, black sweatpants, of course resting mid-thigh. Beyond the prototypical dress code, I was more fascinated with his speech. First, he is standing with a two-hundred pound female and I am not sure of their relationship. The first words I pick up go like this; “I told her, yo, if I see dat number on the cell again, I am coming to dat house an draggin you outside. Den, you are going to da hospital.” And then for emphasis, “Fo rill.” Now he starts his shucking and jiving…playing with the t-shirt, fiddling with the pants and bouncing around like he quite literally has ants in his pants….or crabs.

Next, a younger female comes in and I hear this; “Yo, where’d you get dat heart on yo chest?” Apparently a tattoo is visible. (Note: I am not shy, at all, about glancing at cleavage…but I just can’t rally this time. If you were looking at what I was looking at, you would understand.) She tells him something and he says, “Der better not be anyone touchin’ dat tattoo, or dey are going to da hospital.” I hate to be redundant, but apparently he doesn’t when he again says, “Fo rill.”

The funny thing about all this hospital talk is that the kid looks like he needs to be in the hospital or at least on a feeding tube for awhile since he weighs in at probably 140 and is as tall as me.

I really wanted to question him. Firstly, I would ask if the home-boy talk is at all authentic. I mean, is it real or a character he plays? When he wakes up, does he have to get himself into “costume” like Michael Corleone? If he does, I would applaud him because it must take an extraordinary amount if effort to keep up the ruse during all waking hours. I can’t imitate the Geico Gecko for more than a few minutes without slipping.

When he and his posse saddled up to the teller, he did so like the floor was uneven…up and down and up and down. Of course his transaction involved much crunching of numbers, available balances, and something about what someone told him on the phone…always complicated. I of course had my deposit slip filled out and my driver’s license handy. I so much wanted to say, “Got my fat stacks…fo rill!”

Monday, April 26, 2010

And I Approve This Message

Next week I will be in Washington DC lobbying on behalf of a trade association I am affiliated with. While there are plenty of fun topics to speak to our lawmakers about like pension reform and the misclassification of workers (zzzzzzz) I thought it a perfect opportunity to do some real grass roots work on behalf of my friends. Please leave your bitch (not her), I mean policy statement, below and I will see what I can do.

The best suggestion left here will be rewarded with a prize...don't forget I will need your email.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Because the Pirates got whooped, and I can't do the NBA...

A few notes on sports…

• The most reliable and consistent use of hardwired phones in the world remains the dugout to bullpen phones in baseball. In fact, this may be the most reliable part of a Pirates game. You can’t count on us getting a pitcher past the fourth inning or throwing out a runner, but you sure can count on us calling the bullpen.

• I don’t care much for auto racing, but would be infinitely more dialed in if they had a race that included cars that had no equipment that slowed or regulated speed. They need to have a race where teams could build cars that could go as fast as possible…and let them roll at the brickyard. That, I would watch. And while they are at, no templates for design.

• I am still puzzled that plays that result in no penalty and are deemed legal after the fact can still result in suspension. “You didn’t run a stop sign or speed through a school zone, but you know, we just don’t feel right about this.”

• Curling is a great sport for two hours every four years. Tops.

• The two sporting events that are overexposed to the point of utter saturation are the NFL draft and The Masters. Way too much man love going on for both.

• A homerun highlight tops my list of things that I don’t like to see on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays.

• Most players you absolutely hate are the exact ones you wish your home team could build around.

• Some of the most exciting games are not played at stadiums or arenas; they are played on your local fields.

• My boys are becoming very skeptical of professional athletes…thanks guys.

• Old baseball players have the best stories. Steve Blass spoke at an event I attended. I was fortunate enough to sit with him at dinner. If you ever get the chance ask him about the Panamanian catcher and Colonel Sanders.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Adult Bathroom Humor

Helpless moments may come along more than we like in life; a sick child, the home team losing. Few, however, rival a toilet that overflows in front of your eyes. But this morning, that was exactly what happened – so here is that story.

About 9:30 this morning I had to siphon off four cups of dark roast. I saddled up to the urinal in our small office bathroom, went through the motions and apparently hit the flush lever with a bit more enthusiasm than was necessary. You get used to the sounds of toilets you are familiar with, not unlike I can tell on a Saturday morning by the sound of footsteps on the stairs which of my kids is coming down. I knew within seconds something was amiss; things didn’t sound right – and they sure as hell didn’t look right. In those fleeting few moments before a cascade of water and urine breached the lip of the urinal, I held out hope that Our Lady of Flushometers would intervene on my behalf. It wasn’t to be. The pee water was overflowing and creeping across the tile floor, pinning me against the far wall like I was in that room full of snakes in Raiders of the Lost Arc.

I admit, with the waters now placid, I considered scooting out on the whole, soupy mess. But like I said, I am in a small office, so escape was impossible and at the very least, I could be easily traced. I realized too, not only did I have to own up to this and sop up the “water” but I would have to abate the smell that was sure to set in. I considered the mop, but soon understood that I would only by “moving” the issue to another medium, not actually “removing” anything, thereby doubling my efforts. Instead, I started to unfurl paper towels like Greenpeace banners at a Republican Convention. For the record, dumping undiluted Pine Sol into an enclosed space is a sinus clearing, eye watering exercise. The bathroom was as clean as it has been in a long time.

Later in the day, not long after lunch, I considered walking downstairs to our shop to pee. Instead, chanting the “lightening never strikes the same place twice” mantra, I walked into the lemon, pine, citrus aromatherapy chamber of the office men’s room. I pulled the lever gently and I may have even closed my eyes in anticipation. Yes…I knew who was coming down the stairs.

(As a fun note, who among you have a file stored on your computer called “backed up urinal.doc”?)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Would Someone Say "Sorry!"

When I was twelve or thirteen, my friend George and I were altar boys for a wedding ceremony at our church. Afterwards, the Monsignor came to us in the sacristy and pulled out an envelope clearly marked “Altar Boys.” He pulled out the four, five dollar bills and handed one each to George and me. The other two bills went back in the envelope never to be seen again. That was the limit of any abuse I suffered.

Growing up in the Catholic Church largely meant two things; first, ask forgiveness and repent your sins, and two, priests were beyond reproach. The first meant countless times in the confessional, revealing such earthshaking things as “swearing,” whereby you were sent to the altar with your list of prayers to ask God’s forgiveness. The second was that it was perfectly fine that the same Monsignor who pocketed ten bucks was probably using it to tip the starter at the golf course…I am assuming this because on more than one occasion I lifted his clubs into the trunk of his Oldsmobile.

However, it’s precisely these two tenets that have led to the current dilemma the Church is facing. First, the Vatican has done everything accept ask forgiveness. While I fully understand that the Pope cannot be held responsible for the individual acts of rogue priests, the Church can most certainly be held accountable for not publicly asking forgiveness for its failure to openly engage these pedophiles within their ranks. The Vatican PR machine, in hyper-overdrive, has only deepened the chasm between many of its followers and itself by not following the biblical teaching of “do unto others…” I have searched long and hard over the past several weeks to find someone, anyone, within the church to say, “We are sorry.”

Most recently, Pittsburgh Bishop Zubik, in a Post-Gazette opinion piece, lambasts the media coverage (though doesn’t call it inaccurate) and goes onto state that the church now rigorously screens its employees…including priests. Something is wrong when a Church has to assure its priests aren’t pedophiles. He does not, however, apologize.

I have been blessed in many ways in my life, but maybe the greatest blessing of all is being surrounded and loved by people who know that I am not perfect. When I screw up, which is often, I apologize. More importantly I am forgiven. This has also given me the insight that people are fallible, and it makes me want to forgive also. Instead of ducking real responsibility and casting the media as witch hunters, the church should truly practice what it preaches. The Pope should insist that all of its practicing Priests, the next time they take the pulpit, to look their flock in the eye and tell them that they have failed to protect its most fragile asset, its children. They should tell the congregation that they will exhaust every resource to bringing these pedophiles to justice. Then, they should look every parishioner in the eye and ask for forgiveness. The Pope, as the leader of the Catholic Church should go first.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Continuing Saga Of Customer Service Reps - Healthcare Style!

I phoned the boys pediatrician today to schedule their physical. Since last year it was performed in June (sports related) and I was trying to get back onto their birthday, the receptionist suggested I contact my health insurance carrier to make sure they would cover two physicals ten months apart. This seemed appropriate and dare I say, simple. Following is the timed blow-by-blow, thanks to the running clock on my office phone.

0:01: When I dialed the 800 number I was prompted that they needed to verify who I was “in two simple steps.” This should be the first sign that things are about to go drastically wrong. The first auto-prompt was to state my relationship to the member. I am on my wife’s plan and was really tempted to say “cocks-man,” but settled on the more appropriate, “spouse.” The second was to key in my ID number. I was promptly transferred to a customer service rep (CSR if you remember my previous post…though this gal was decidedly in the US). The first words out of her mouth were, “what is your relationship to the member?” And you guessed it; I then had to give my number again. So, while still pretty simple, it is actually four steps and not two.

1:45: I stated, almost verbatim, this very simple inquiry: “My two kids had their physicals last June but I’d like to get them back near their birthday and have them this month. Will these appointments be covered since they are less than a year apart?” Stunned silence, then, “please hold.”

9:38: “Can you continue to hold I am checking with a supervisor.” Cue a chamber music rendition of Penny Lane. I was now rubbing my hand briskly over my face and felt trapped. It was like being halfway through a forty-five minute wait at a restaurant. I wanted so bad to leave but was so invested at this point.

20:32: This is where I am reconnected but am having a hell of a time relaying succinctly what was said since the explanation was extremely contorted…nonetheless, it went something like this: “I checked with a few supervisors and they said that if their birthday was in, like, November of 2010, then they could still be covered for their physical the next year.” Wha, wha, what? I asked my question again and kid you not, received the same, twisted anecdote about some phantom November birthday. Was there a staff meeting involved…perhaps a pharmaceutical drug trial going on in the office? I rephrased my question, “Is their physical covered this month?” “Yes,” was the answer.

I envision the “Explanation Of Benefits” statement now. “These physicals are not covered, if only they were born in November!”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Less Than Casual Observer

Convenience stores provide the most interesting of transactions. It could be the proximity to the buyer that makes this so; you aren’t really in a queue like at a grocery store or waiting at felt ropes like in a bank. It could also be the availability of such a diverse range of products; coffee and soda, gas and lottery tickets. I usually pay very little attention to what my fellow consumers are buying but I find myself drawn into the microcosm of the exchanges that happen at convenience stores…and I am not sure why.

Here are a few character studies I have observed recently:

1. The person who pays with a debit/credit card for purchases under three dollars. Those commercials are lies that try to show how cash holds up a line. No way. Paying with plastic holds up a line. I can’t imagine not having a few dollars.

2. The person who pays with cash who insists on putting away their bills in sequential order by year, mint and Treasury Secretary, and their coins like they are loading a six-shooter. Can you step to the side?

3. The person who pays cash for their fuel. Maybe not such a big deal in the larger sense; but with the convenience of pay at the pump…come on. I wonder if these are the same people who pay for their Juicy Fruit with plastic.

4. The Lottery grazer. The convenience store I go to has all those scratch off tickets at the main counter, so we can’t separate this person. They gaze at all those ways to give the state money like six year old trying to decide on a stuffed animal at a carnival.

5. The varied purchaser. This is the person who, at six in the morning is buying a 64oz Diet Coke, three packs of Marlboro Reds, a protein bar, a loaf of white bread and a can of cat food. Every time I see this person, I wish I had a contract for a reality show pilot. Nonetheless, they leave looking as satisfied as I do when walking out of Brittner’s Smokehouse with two giant Delmonico steaks for the grill.

What does this all mean? Well, I guess, upon reflection, I am the guy who stares at people at cash registers.