Nastygrams and changing tastes

I go to the same McDonald’s by my house all the time, and they constantly fuck up drive-through orders. They forget to do special orders (no onion, no pickles), they give me the wrong salad, they make a single cheeseburger into a double and vice-versa, and one in four times, they forget to give you the sandwich. I wrote a really pissy letter to corporate, just to see what form letter they would send back. A day or two later, a regional manager is calling me at home, wanting to talk about the situation. Then a letter arrived with great apologies and coupons for two free meals. Squeaky wheel, but the next time I went, they forgot my salad dressing.

Similarly, Sarah has been sending nasty mail to American Airlines since we got back from our honeymoon, over their inability to actually ship luggage correctly. To ensure success, she got on EDGAR and sent copies of the letter to each person on the board of directors. We got an apology letter on Saturday, along with $500 in vouchers and 10,000 miles. The only thing I wonder is how do you spend a paper voucher for a plane ticket? I don’t think I’ve ever bought a plane ride in person as a cash transaction, unless I was flying it or jumping out of it.

My other random train of thought lately is all of the stuff I used to like that I don’t like anymore. It’s odd, because when I was in New York, I really craved certain things that weren’t available without renting a car and driving to Pittsburgh, and I used to constantly bitch about not having them. Now, for the most part, I do, and a lot of them, I don’t care for anymore.

Case in point: Denny’s. I used to absolutely love that place. Went there for my birthday every year, and spent many a late night there. In Seattle, my Friday night routine after waking up from my post-work slumber was to drive across the 520 bridge to Bellevue, eat a dinner at Denny’s while scribbling in a spiral notebook, then head over to B&N to browse the books and buy one or two or ten. Then stay up reading or writing all night, wake up Saturday afternoon, and sit in bed reading, and basking in the sun through my giant window next to my bed. And New York broke that routine, even though there were a lot of diners. Denny’s was moved to that special treat when I was traveling somewhere else, and I wanted to catch a grand slam and some writing when it was 3AM in Vegas, or Tampa, or DC, or whatever. (Actually, don’t go to that one in DC at 3AM.)

But now, I really don’t like Denny’s. Maybe the food has changed, and I know the menu has changed. Maybe I don’t have any tolerance for the run-down interiors. Maybe it’s because I always accidentally show up on the insipid “kids eat free” night, when you always see a Mexican family with 28 kids who should probably be medicated for their hyperactivity, and of course the guy always leaves a 12-cent tip and the servers are so pissed off, it’s impossible to eat there. But seriously, I used to be able to tell you exactly what I wanted from the menu, and now I stare at it forever, thinking “I don’t know…” and I’m never happy with the end result. Maybe I’m growing up/old/stupid.

Other examples: 7-Eleven. I used to go there every night in Seattle, when I finished writing, to get a slurpee. Now I never go there. Nothing there really interests me anymore. And after bitching forever about not having one in NYC, they finally got them, and I think I went twice.

The McRib: used to love it. It never came to New York, but I remember flying home from somewhere, and ending up in the Cincy airport and the McD there had them, and it was pure joy. I ate one in Germany and it was horrid, because the pork is cured weird there or something. They just got them back in CO and I had one – no good.

IHOP: similar to Denny’s. I want to like it because I have some nice memories of the place, as stupid as that may sound. But it also gave me food poisoning this year. And none of the IHOPs here are those little A-frame chapel-type things. The only two I remember in NYC were way the hell out in Queens (I remember going to that one with Julie after we saw Twisted Sister at L’amour) and the one up in the Bronx. I remember eating at one with SiD in Kansas City. My old friend Tom Sample lived across the street from one in Indy in like 95. When Ken Rawlings swung through Seattle once, that’s where we hung out and talked. Me and Marie ended up at one on a Thanksgiving night, because everything was closed. Many nice memories. And memories of spending a week hunched over a toilet, puking my guts out.

The one thing I always missed that I have now is Target. And I wish I didn’t, because I spend about $200 a day there. They do have nice motorized carts there, if you’re a cripple. Even if you aren’t, go borrow some crutches and check it out.

The other thing is Coke. I mentioned the holiday Coke bottles a few posts ago, but they did this new thing this year: they released Coke bottles that look like the old, turn-of-the-century, non-hourglass bottles. They’re from when Coke was a patent medicine filled with cocaine and whatever else, and was in those rubber stoppered bottles that look like old-timey whisky bottles. Well, they’re selling six-packs of those bottles, slightly miniaturized, with a modern crown cap on top, and they are cool as hell. Same Coke as ever, but it always seems to drink better in glass. And they make a nice Molotov cocktail, too. Try doing that with a plastic 2-liter.

Giving thanks for the products of Chinese slave labor

Thanksgiving. It’s another one of those things I don’t really care about either way (other than the day off of work), yet other people get completely bent out of shape over. Everyone that is a complete and utter prick is converted into a Nice Good Christian that acts like he cares about his family. Everyone gets all worked up into a frenzy over the idea of waking up at three in the morning to go stand in the freezing cold outside of a big box store, so they can get a $40 DVD player made in China by slave labor that scratches disks and will go completely dead by March. You have to have these specific foods. You have to watch the floats. You have to watch football. You have to gorge until you pass out. And then on Monday, you have to waste 200 man years of labor by telling every person within shouting distance that your grandma’s secret recipe for sweet potatoes involves Mountain Dew, as if we give a fuck. And all of this is to celebrate a group of puritanical, evangelical fuckholes that aren’t my ancestors and probably aren’t yours, who basically stole this country and are used as a touchstone by bigots who waste our time and money by going around and saying it’s okay to beat the shit out of gays, and by the way, the earth is only 47 years old, and it’s proven because it was in a Mel Gibson movie.

So yeah, I have no great love for T-day. I don’t like the attire (“let’s dress up so we can go to grandma’s and pass out!”), I don’t really care for the food (turkey is the one thing that’s the most easily fucked up that you could cook. Hint: if the meat is as dry as a piece of cardboard, you fucked up, no matter how much gravy you hide it with), and I’m not into the whole gorge thing. Thanksgiving does not offer me much in that respect.

My fondest memories of Thanksgiving were going to my former stepfather’s parents for the day. His mom could not cook worth a shit. She seriously couldn’t make a glass of water without fucking it up. If you remember the movie Better Off Dead, the mom cooked this shit that was like a green slime; that’s basically her deal. And since she had 50 years of people lying and saying “everything’s top notch!” she kept making her marshmallow green bean jello oyster surprise. So we’d load out there every year, where my stepfather and his brother and their dad would get completely fucked out of their minds on manhattans, which they drank like I drank Cokes on a hot July day. The other adults would engage in mindless gossip, and if I was smart, I brought a book or something else to do. We then endured the minefield of food, I got a lot of shit because I didn’t eat 29 pounds of overcooked turkey, and then everyone passed out or whatever. The TV had to remain on football; if I touched it, everyone would wake up. Also, the step-grandfather was a blazing racist and would not allow anyone to watch a TV show with “colored entertainers” in it. (Seriously.)

And so I guess that soured me on the whole nostalgic memory thing. And it got even worse when I was required to shell out the gas money and waste hours of driving time to get back to Elkhart for this memorable occasion. And so now, I guess I like some of the idea of food, but not the usual stuff. We had indian food last year, and that was great. New York doesn’t shutter itself down for the holiday – plenty of Jews and Hindus and Chinese to keep the thing running. I just went out here to grab some pre-dinner McDonald’s, and I had to drive about ten miles to find one open.

Blah. A bunch of other stuff is going on. We got two cats last weekend. One is about a year old, all black, and she gets into absolutely everything. The other is about six months old, a mackeral tabby, and is very sick. She had an upper respiratory infection, plus conjuctivitis, and wasn’t eating. She’s almost better, but we have to give her antibiotics and eye medicine, and if any of you have experience in doing this with a kitten, you know our pain. Also, she is almost litter trained, but will occasionally decide to piss all over for no reason. So the house smells wonderful, and we also have this two-front war going on, in that we have to keep the small one in the bathroom or our bedroom 24/7 so she doesn’t piss all over and to keep her germs from the big one. We also have to keep the big one away from the little one, while also keeping her out of the laundry room, the computer room, the outdoors, the trash, the sinks, and so on. And I am certain that the big one thinks she owns the house now, so when we have to let the little one out in a week or so, it will be world war 3. So that’s pretty much been my week.

Not much else. I am slowly reading Denis Johnson’s new one, and I’m digging it. It makes me want to keep writing on my current (I think) project, but I’m not. I need to figure that one out. But John Sheppard just posted a clip of that awful Star Wars thanksgiving special, and I can’t not watch…

Food nostalgia

I’m currently consuming two food items of great nostalgic value.

The first is the Hormel roast beef and mashed potatoes microwave meal kit. (It probably has some other more markety name, but I threw out the package already.) It’s a vaguely oval plastic tray with a peel-off lid, and it’s one of the most perfect meals ever designed. It needs no refrigeration. It’s a hot meal. You can put it in a backpack easily. It is hearty. It only contains 3 grams of fat. And it’s the kind of meal that I could eat regularly without getting bored of it.

My first memory of eating these constantly was when I worked at the Wrubel Computing Center in Bloomington one night a week. I’d trudge across town from my Colonial Crest apartment to the 10th and the Bypass building. It usually took an hour to walk there, an hour to walk back, the weather was usually shitty, and for the entire shift, maybe one person would call with a problem. On the walk, I was armed with the Konrath walkman, the Konrath black leather jacket, and a backpack of food, and usually a book to read. (I think I was working through Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifiction trilogy for a good chunk of that semester, although I also remember re-reading The Grapes of Wrath in there, too.) Almost nobody was in Wrubel after five on a Sunday night, except for the machine room operators like Robin, who spent most of his night changing tapes and talking to me about Jimi Hendrix or chili. So I ate many a Hormel meal kit at a desk while bitnetting people on an outdated Mac IIsi.

(I’m pretty sure I wrote a short story about this, although it’s probably horrid. One of the things I tried to describe was the feeling of being isolated in this strange envoronment where I had to walk through a sterile, all-white machine room to get to my desk, and it always reminded me of something out of 2001. There was a very specific smell to the environmentally-controlled space, more than just a clean air conditioning smell. I recently ran across the same smell when I was in a hospital getting an X-ray or MRI or something, and it was one of those instant time machines that I always babble about.)

I must have bought my Hormel kits at the Marsh grocery store up the road from my apartment. And that’s the drawback to these Hormel things: not all stores carry them, and that adds to the nostalgia. I don’t think I saw the things once the entire time I was in Seattle, because if a store carried Hormel, they had the cans of stew, and maybe chili, and that’s not the same. The Duane Reade drug store by my old place in Astoria would stock them, and every time I went there, I bought all of them. Last night, I saw them at a SuperTarget, so I bought a half-dozen of them. I feel like Mel Gibson’s character in Conspiracy Theory, who always had to buy a copy of Catcher in the Rye every time he saw it.

The other food item on my desk is the 8-ounce glass bottle Christmas edition Coca-Cola. Those of you who knew me back in college knew I had an unhealty obsession with Coke. I collected bottles from around the world, I read books about the company, and I had one of the earliest web sites about the beverage. I had this shrine of cans and bottles from China, Japan, Italy, Greece, Poland, France, and a dozen more countries. And of course I drank the stuff every day.

When I moved to Seattle in 1995, I was in a really weird place. I had friends at my job, but I spent a lot of my weekends alone, going to movies by myself, going to malls and looking at stuff I couldn’t buy because I was broke. I didn’t have a TV, and I was basically living on changing phone companies every few weeks, and selling CDs I got from Columbia House. I didn’t even know how I would try to date, and by halloween, it was getting dark at like 4:00 every day. I was feverishly writing Summer Rain and thinking back too much to my days in Bloomington. I didn’t want to go back, but I wished the present was different.

I used to drive to Southcenter Mall a lot, just to look at stuff and look at people, and that got even more interesting once the xmas season started. Malls used to have a hypnotic effect on me, and I enjoyed going even if I didn’t need or want anything. (This isn’t true anymore, for a million different reasons, which can all be summaried as “I’m getting old”.) I was going back to ELkhart for the ’95 santa day, and had to gather up a few presents for the family with that month’s check from MCI thanking me for the switch. And when I was at Target, I saw they had a bunch of six-packs of Coke, in little bottles, with Santa on the label.

There’s debate about Coke in glass, and Coke with cane sugar, and I don’t care anymore about the non-HFCS version, but I do love a beverage in a glass bottle. This has become a big fad as of late, and many hipster doofuses in New York were paying top dollar for Hecho en Mexico Coke. But back then, aside from a trip to Europe or Latin America, the only way to do glass was the xmas bottle. I picked up two six-packs, one for the shrine, one for the fridge, and drove back to my tiny little studio apartment at 7th and James.

I’m almost certain I probably drank that whole six on that Friday night. I used to stay up all night writing, and listening to the same six CDs. I had one of those Kenwood 6+1 CD players (this was long before the days of MP3), and of the 6 always-loaded writing CDs were the soundtrack to the Naked Lunch movie, the first Tori Amos album, and the first two Nine Inch Nails albums. There were also two new age or jazz albums, maybe some Windham Hill artist like Shadowfax, or Chick Corea. All stuff I’m half-embarassed to listen to, but it worked, and I’m not in the “I’m more metal than you” mode anymore, so fuck it.

Anyway, I got another six-pack from Target last night, and just drank one. It reminds me of that whole Seattle xmas season, listening to one of those Windham Hill solstice albums, looking out into the darkness outside my patio, the big sky gone black, the Kingdome and the SoDo neighborhood just past the ribbon of I-5. I don’t get nostalgic about event-driven Christmas celebrations anymore, the opening of presents, the driving to grandma’s in the snow. But those little touchstones of nostalgia are something I always enjoy, and it’s even better when it’s something I can pick up for a few bucks at Target.

Too much stuff

I have too much stuff. Every morning, the trip from the shower to my car involves about 200 items: keys, namebadge, ipod, phone, food, drink, wallet, books, turning on computers, turning off computers, checking the weather, checking my email, checking the traffic. My keychain has only seven keys, but it also has a keyless entry fob for my apartment, a key remote beepbeep thing for the Subaru, and an army of those little plastic things from grocery stores that you scan to save an extra dime. But the keychain is FULL because car keys are now so bulbous and coated in plastic-rubber and contain microchips, so there’s no room but there’s also a lot of room because of the space between the not-key things, and anyway my keychain barely fits in my pocket now.

Getting into my car takes forever, because I need to reassemble this environment every time I drive to work. I have to wear a coat, because it’s 30 out, but my garage is about 65 or 70 inside, and my car instantly heats up because it has an electric heater, and I can’t wear my coat driving because of that, so basically, I carry around a coat for the walk from my car to the inside of my office. I plug in the iPod, I set up the bag, I put the drinks in the holders, I put my food on the dash, and I realize astronauts do less when they climb into a space shuttle.

The iPod is the only real solution that does work for my situation. I used to carry around dozens of MiniDiscs (or, earlier, tapes) and I would spend between three and six hundred minutes a morning trying to decide what to bring with me, what five albums would fit in my pocket and keep me going for the day. Now, all of my music is on one device. Plus it holds podcasts, which is a new way to keep from going nuts on my drive. But it’s another thing to charge, to sync. I almost never use my phone, because it’s another device with a rechargable battery that is immensely useful, until a few hours later when it becomes a lifeless brick. I will spend a year of my life docking and undocking and charging and plugging in and changing batteries. Maybe I could get a power cord in the car, a power station, but I still need to sync the iPod. And all of that crap is basically like putting a “steal my shit” sign on top of my car. And yeah, some of you are saying “go get an iPhone”, but I would need twenty iPhones to hold all of my music, plus I’m too blind to read the display, plus here’s a little secret: I seldom if ever use a cell phone, let alone texting and paging and all of that shit.

I can’t get to my computer from work anymore. And I now use a mail program that doesn’t let me telnet home and read my mail. And using my mail from a central place is fucked for 28 other reasons. So now I send my mail to both my home and to gmail, so I can read mail during the day. The two are completely unsyncronized, so when I read 20 messages at work, I have to come home and mark 20 messages as read. And the little arrows that tell you when you’ve replied to a message are now useless, because maybe I replied on gmail, maybe at home. And I almost never get to sit down at my computer at home, because I’m either at work or don’t want to be in front of a computer. And the laptop is a portable, but it has an external drive, so when I go on vacation, I don’t have iPhoto, iTunes, or Time Machine backups. So I can’t sync my iPod when I’m on vacation – I have to bring an external charger to juice it up.

I have a laptop at work. Every night, I have to unplug everything (power, ethernet, external mouse, external keyboard), shut everything down, and lock it in a drawer. Every morning, I reverse the procedure. You could torture terrorists down at Guantanamo by forcing them to shut down and restart Windows a few times an hour. I’d rather leave it on my desk, powered up, forever. Plus my laptop doesn’t start the first time you start it – the BIOS thing goes to 70% and locks up, then you power it up again. This is the same laptop that, about once a week, locks so hard, I have to unplug it and remove the battery to restart. This typically happens 20 seconds before a meeting where I have to present something.

No problems with my car. It’s great. See the pictures. Also, I posted pictures of our honeymoon. Yes, I’m aware I look like a mongoloid in every single picture ever taken of me. I’m also aware of Flickr, and I know it would be neat and hip and Web 2.0 of me to post everything there, but it’s a pain in the ass, and so is my method, but it’s another one of those “too much shit” moments. Life would be easier if I took one picture a year, and just emailed the jpg to everyone else, but it doesn’t work that way.

I now have to maintain two wardrobes, and have twice as many clothes to wash. Granted I am not wearing a tuxedo and top hat to work every day – I think my best pair of pants, or at least best fitting, were bought from either Old Navy or Target – but I can’t wear jeans and t-shirt anymore, and I hate wearing dress clothes at night. Too much stuff – we now need to throw out or reogranize and get some more space so I can buy more clothes I don’t need.

There was a guy in my dorm in college who ran into some trouble with the bursar, and one day he threw open the door to his room and yelled “everything’s on sale!” and he meant it. People went in and were buying his tapes and clothes, and a friend of mine bought the watch off his arm for $20. And sometimes I think that’s a pretty noble thing to do. (And yes, I realize Larry has been preaching the “dump on eBay every god damned thing not screwed down” mantra for a long time, so credit where it’s due.) When we were in the Bahamas, when I was watching families gathered around the communal well (which was basically like a drinking fountain at the 44th Street Port Authority, but not as clean) with their plastic jugs so they could go home and mix up some stone soup and feed the goat in the back yard, and it just hit me that I have far too much shit. I have hundreds of books I’ve read once and will never read again. I have at least 15 items on my desktop that run on lithium ion batteries. I have at least 500 DVDs, and I watch an average of one every other month. I have a car that, when I pay it off in 2012, will be worth about $100. My land’s first contract had me making payments until 2022. (I got a shorter contract that ends in 2014, but I’ve been making higher payments for a while, so the debt is below four digits now.)

Comedian Lewis Black talks about the Enron/Tyco/Global Crossing crowd on one of his CDs I was listening to last week. He marvels at how these people stole billions of dollars, and used it all to do nothing more than buy crap. (I mean, if I had billions of stolen dollars, I would parlay it and buy Somalia, not a house with 200 gold-plated bathrooms. Instead of playing Halo on Xbox, you could start a real war with Ethiopia every weekend.) And I guess I think more and more about how stupid it is to play the “he who dies with the most Lord of the Rings commemorative glasses from Burger King wins” game. Some of it is that any time I’m in a store and see something that looks neato, I think “where the fuck would I put this?” and then I set it down. Like all of the baseball stuff – there’s suddenly an insane amount of worthless stuff available: commemorative chunks of plastic, car flags that say “NL Champions”, minted coin sets in display cases, and don’t forget the signed balls, bats, jerseys, hats, shoes, socks, gloves, jocks, bags, and luggage. If it can be made by sweatshop labor in China, it’s now available with a “2007 Wild Card” logo on it. Now if it’s something I can use for something, maybe I’ll get it. Like, I bought an NL champion t-shirt at Target last night for $9. I’ll wear it – I’d wear almost any t-shirt for $9. I’d even wear a Dallas Cowboys shirt if I was certain it wouldn’t feel like fiberglass insulation against my skin. But what use is a chunk of plastic molded into a three-inch tall likeness of Carlos Beltran? It’s six square inches of space in your house you will have to pay for but never have back.

I’ve babbled about this too much. I’ve started a new eBay pile, and I think I’m starting a new joint bank account that will be the “buy a house fund”, and I’ll see how much I can collect. I have at least a thousand dollars of computers I’m not using in this room, which is a start.

Of course, if you disagree with me and think it’s great to collect a lot of stuff, you’re always welcome to go buy a bunch of books.