Monday, February 1, 2016

Random Thoughts 10

  • My wife came back from Kroger a few days ago with a can of value-brand Pork & Beans. What caught my attention was the fact that the can’s label identified the contents as “Extra Fancy.” Don’t patronize me Kroger. I am buying off-brand pork fat in a can, I think that we can drop the pageantry. Just give me a generic label, a lower price, and a reasonable facsimile of the name-brand counterpart. 

  • A week or so ago, I was approached on the street by an older gentleman requesting financial assistance. Following closely behind him was a much younger bearded male who wore dark glasses and seemed to be perpetually starting into the sunset. The younger man’s wardrobe (which consisted of a hoodie, jeans, and canvas sneakers) indicated that he was either truly destitute or a college hipster. The older gentleman asked for some money to get food. I handed him the change I had on me and assured him that I did not have any cash. He asked again reminding me that he was hungry and I again told him that was what I had. Just as he was about to ask a third time, his younger companion softly announced “that’s enough” before instructed the older gentleman to thank me. He issued all of these directives without ever averting his gaze from the sky above us. As instructed, the older gentleman hastily thanked me and continued upon his way.
I immediately suspected I had witnessed some sort of panhandling mentorship program. Was the hipster acting as a consultant? Did he get a percentage? If approached again I think I should be able to ask. After all, if I am giving to charity I have a right to know what kind of overhead and administrative costs are eating into my donations.

  • I admire the idea of businesses printing the name of the cashiers on the receipts. I suppose the intent is that the customer feels more connected to the employee and, by extension, the company that employs them. However, if this system is purchased but not updated it can have the opposite effect. Recently, I approached an event ticket window and was helped by a young bearded Caucasian male. My receipt identified him only as Laticia.

Since this event featured rides for the kids, I had to wonder how thorough their safety inspections are if they don’t even put forth the effort to document the individuals handling their money. The true irony is that most of these places give you a receipt that asks you to fill out a survey. I was tempted to fill one out and in the comment section and allude to the fact that Laticia kept replacing the cash in his drawer with ketchup packets and mumbling that the owner “was going to get what he got coming.”

  • Like any married couple, my wife and I have occasional disagreements; but one of the greatest points of contention in our marriage would have to be the proper use and storage of oral hygiene products. My wife tends to wander while brushing her teeth so I often find the toothpaste in the kitchen, in the shower, or basically anywhere except the bathroom counter. I feel like I am participating in a mandatory Colgate scavenger hunt after every meal.

As if that was not enough, we cannot agree on the proper method of administering mouthwash. I prefer to swig directly from the bottle (which she finds distasteful and backwashy) and she will pour a few sips into the bottle-cap and drink from there (which then allows the residue to seep down the sides of the bottle once the cap is replaced and make it sticky). She will argue that drinking from the bottle is unsanitary and spreads germs and I would counter that if Listerine can’t kill it, my immune system certainly isn’t equipped to. Just today I opened a new bottle of value-brand Listerine and, since the plastic bottle is much thinner than the real thing, I squeezed too hard as I tried to drink from it and the mouthwash shot directly into my nostrils causing acute nasal distress. My wife responded that perhaps I should attempt to drink from the cap like a grown up.

  • The home screen on my Roku often suggests content that I might be interested in. I assume these suggestions are based on complex algorithms that take previous viewing habits into consideration. So imagine my surprise when I find myself constantly bombarded with a streaming channel of “Free Asian Romantic Dramas.” I realize that we are in an age of granular customization, but have we gone too far? Who is so specific that they are only willing to watch a particular ethnicity fall in love? What if I want to see a Turk and a Dane who have feelings for one another?

  • My son has a talent for locating strange children’s shows on Netflix. A few weeks ago, he started watching “Baby Genius” videos in earnest. I was unfamiliar with the brand (I suspect it is a poor man’s Baby Einstein) but the segment he enjoyed the most was a collection of beloved children’s songs. Most of these were familiar to me (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Row, Row Row Your Boat, etc..) but then we were subjected to “Vinko the Dancing Bear.”

I immediately suspected Vinko was re-purposed Soviet propaganda and in the video he is flanked by a tiger and a dinosaur in a wizard’s hat. It turns out that Vinko is a rather common Croatian name that was given distinction by a film director and a notorious serial killer who died in a shootout with police. I watched the video several times, and while I was unable to identify any specific nefarious content, as soon as my son starts referring to me a “comrade” I am shutting that bear down.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hollywood 16: A Movie Theater Review

Recently, my wife and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Hollywood 16 Theater. As is the case when seeing a feature film, our first task was to visit the establishment’s website to determine show times. For those who have ever wondered what cutting-edge web design looked like in 1997, look no further. The garish juxtaposition of lavender navigation buttons and an ill-advised twinkling star backdrop are a fascinating illustration of minimal effort paired with sustained indifference. As an added bonus, it renders beautifully on your smartphone.

The facility’s exterior serves as a harbinger of the apathy housed within: a sign featuring perpetually un-lit syllables, overgrown shrubbery planters, a neglected parking infrastructure. Customers are then compelled to wait outside under a token awning so inadequate it borders on parody. I can only imagine how infuriating such a structure must be during inclement weather as it channels the precipitation into the faces of customers.

Eventually, you are able to approach the window and procure your tickets ($10 or $7.50 for a matinee as of this writing) before entering the lobby. Immediately to your left you will notice an alcove labeled “Game Room” but containing nothing more than an artificial tree and a decommissioned change machine. A morose employee tore my ticket and vaguely indicated the direction of our theater.

My wife and I then stopped into the restrooms which were akin to a “before” picture from an extreme makeover program. The soap was gone, the laminate counter-top had long since succumbed to the onslaught of moisture, and the hand dryer appeared to be jury-rigged to an outdoor electrical outlet on the wall. The entire area smelled of diluted cleaning products and shame.

Emerging from the restroom, one is confronted by a large, circular seating area enwreathed by cushions so soiled they could have easily been purloined from the dumpster behind a Budget Inn renovation. The concession area offers the usual fare at only marginally-exorbitant prices. The popcorn and fountain drinks were fine, but we weren’t brave enough to sample any of the entrees that featured meat. The remaining lobby is carpeted with a dark cosmic pattern in keeping with the galactic theme of the website.

Finally we made it to the entrance of our movie. The credits from the previous movie were wrapping up and were asked to stand outside by a female supervisor while she and a young male employee cleaned the auditorium. They emerged about 2 minutes later and we walked in to choose our seats.

Short of visually scanning for a deceased patron, I am not sure what had transpired during this “cleaning session”. There were still abandoned cups in the cup holders and popcorn scattered among the rows along with a sampler of the candy offered at the concession stand. One got the impression that the space would have benefited greatly from the combination of a leaf blower and an open emergency exit.

It is stadium seating, although the steps on either side are so awkwardly spaced that anyone navigating them assumes the gait of someone whose legs are of dramatically different lengths. The seats recline slightly (some at the behest of the patron, others because their structural integrity has been hopelessly compromised) and a choice few of the armrests feature the remnants of padding. The upholstery, having absorbed years of flatulence and regret, has long ceased to display a discernible pattern. Even in the low lighting, one perceives that the speakers and hanging tapestries have not been cleaned or dusted since the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Keep in mind, I was there for a screening of Stars Wars: The Force Awakens yet was subjected to a preview for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Daddy’s Home (both of which were already released, showing in that very theater, and likely qualify as cinematic hate-crimes). Given the dust, a commercial for a mesothelioma class action suit may have been more apropos.

I can report that at least the projector and sound-system functioned properly for the duration of the film and there were no technical issues. From other reviews I have read this would appear to be a matter of luck.

The best way to summarize this theater would be institutionalized indifference. It is a business that continues to operate and turn a profit simply because those patronizing it have no convenient alternatives and/or lack the collective will to demand some. The only other theater in town is operated by the same ownership group and I imagine that its facilities will soon succumb to the same malaise that has already claimed its older counterpart. The disposition of the employees is likely nothing more than a reflection of a proprietorship whose passion for operating a theater ended long before their ownership has.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fun With Potty-Training

The time has come for potty training. You don’t realize how difficult it is to convince someone to stop soiling themselves until you really have to put it into practice. Here I am, a grown man, attempting to convince my son that he should willingly trade the convenience of being able to relieve himself at will and have someone else clean him for the physical discomfort of delaying his bodily egresses and cleaning himself. Even as I make the argument I am not sure that I really believe it. The best response I could muster if asked “Why do I have to potty train?” would be something vague about societal norms and the ongoing financial burden of diapers.

Despite all of this, we purchased a special toilet seat, some officially licensed Disney underwear, and 2 pounds of M&Ms. The idea was that each time our son successfully utilized the toilet he would receive a treat. Although I knew better, some part of me expected the entire process to take place over a 2 minute conversation:

Son, you have reached the age where you are cognitively able to defer your bowel movements and your mother and I would like you to do so from this point forward. As a reward, you will be given name brand chocolates. Does you find this agreeable?

Yes father. That is a perfectly reasonable request. Shall I also refrain from screaming NO! and begin eating my vegetables with gusto?

Of course, my son had several demands. The most important being that he wished to “see big poo-poo” before it begins its voyage through the municipal sewer system. He also wished to be allowed at least one square of toilet paper per urination. The problem is that to amass more toilet paper he will force himself to stop mid-stream so that he can count each intermission as a new session. This leads to the type of ridiculous negotiations all too familiar for those with a toddler:

I pee-pee! Toilet paper!

Okay son, you can have one square.

I pee-pee again! More toilet paper!

That was a dribble at best and you nearly gave yourself a hernia producing it.

But more pee-pee……..

Fine, you get half a square but no more until I see an unbroken urine-stream.

Since we began, my wife and I have been second-guessing ourselves on timing. Some people have commented that he was ready for it months ago (we just potty-trained Timmy during weaning) while others will tell you that you are only frustrating yourself if they are not ready (they wouldn’t make size 6 Pampers if no one wore them) . To paraphrase George Costanza, we want our son to rest in the meaty part of the curve; not showing off, but not falling behind either.So far we have had a few accidents and there are just days where he feels overwhelmed and says, “No big boy underwear today.” 

In a cruel bit of irony, it seems that for every step closer we get to potty training my son, the more frequently my daughter poops in the tub.I have begun building in an extra 20 minutes or so on bath night in order to evacuate and sanitize the tub with bleach. There is nothing quite as terrifying as clearing a bathtub full of water toys. Every time I flip a boat over there is a distinct possibility that I will be confronted by a stowaway. It is the worst aquatic shell game ever. 

Most of the experts agree that you should exemplify the habits and behavior you wish to see in your children. For that reason, I have started eating M&Ms after each successful trip to the restroom. 

If this doesn't work I may have to revisit "Elimination Communication."