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Manifest Doofusry

(Jump back, it's science time!

As always, that's Secondhand SCIENCE. This week, come and meet mitochondrial Eve. And be cool to her; she's, like, your mom. I don't care who you are -- she's basically your mom. Seriously.)

So I'm thinking of taking a page out of the Chinese government playbook.

No, really. Hear me out here. I know they've had some crazy ideas in the past. And the present. And most every alternative universe anyone's ever imagined.

And sure, Chinese policies like government-sanctioned censorship -- very bad. Oppression and discrimination of citizens via polcies like the Hukou system -- reprehensible. Rigged political processes, sham labor organizations, picking on Tibet, naming a puppet Lama, widespread use of capital punishment, repressing critical discourse and alleged dissident organ harvesting -- all of these are pretty awful practices, and not the sort of things I'd want to implement around my own neighborhood.

(Though I bet that loudmouth asshole across the street has a nice healthy liver. I could make an exception.)

"Even I don't want to live in a nation where everyone wears rugby shirts and listens to weird music and doesn't know what to do with their hands at dinner parties."

Still. It's not like the Chinese government is always off base. Take that "one child" policy they've been rocking the past few decades. That's not so bad. Yes, the implementation is horrendous -- rampant strong-arming and gender-selecting and human rights violations -- but the idea could work. One child per couple; a nation of only children. I'm an only child -- just imagine a whole country full of me.

Okay, scratch that. That's a terrible idea. Even I don't want to live in a nation where everyone wears rugby shirts and listens to weird music and doesn't know what to do with their hands at dinner parties. We'd be terrible at national security. And we'd have the most awkward parades on the planet.

So that doesn't build confidence in adopting a Chinese government policy, either, really, but I have high hopes for this other one. You may be aware -- as it's been going on for years -- that China is in a territorial dispute with... well, pretty much everyone on their side of the planet.

(No, but seriously. It's been going on for years. The timeline in that linked Wikipedia article about it goes back to the third century B.C..

Seriously, who holds a grudge over fighting that started twenty-four hundred years ago? Back then, even the Christians, Jews and Muslims were getting along, I bet.)

(Yes, I'm aware. Move along.)

Currently, most countries bordering the South China Sea -- Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, you name it -- claim a modest swath of ocean off their respective land borders as their territory. There's some international maritime acronym-or-another who says that 200 miles out from your coastline should be yours, and generally speaking, these countries are cool with the rule.

But not China. No, China basically says:

"if it's not a wave you can physically surf onto your beach, then it belongs to us."

China's made a claim -- a dubious, greedy, Scrooge McDuckesque claim -- on pretty much the entire South China Sea, and any lands, islands, peninsulii, isthmuseses, archipelageese or post-apocalyptic Waterworld-style floating cities that might be found there.

(I'm sure Kevin Costner will be happy to know somebody is finally interested in that nightmare.)

But lately, China hasn't even worried about claiming the islands that are there. Instead, they've gone and made some new ones.

It's a total dick move. A resource grab. A bullying, brazen, "my naval dick is bigger than your naval dick" play for all the marbles they can get.

And it's genius. I'm totally getting me some of that.

Not in the South China Sea, of course. China's naval dick is way bigger than mine. They've got a fleet of warships, probably. I have a rubber ducky and a pool raft that sinks if you don't blow enough air into it. So I'm not expanding my borders there.

But around my neighborhood? Why not?

I figure the first step is claim all the "common area" in my condo building. Hallways, porches, the basement, any interesting parts of the rooftop -- those are mine. Nobody else is using them, so I'm staking a claim.

Of course, I might have to physically mark my new territory. I can move an armoire outside the upstairs neighbors' door to let them know. Maybe some desk lamps through the main hallway -- nothing too obstructive. All the foot traffic can still move through. If they pay the tolls, of course.

But that's just the start. None of the neighbors on the block are using their yards; they're just littered with plants and bushes and nonsense. I'll take those over, too -- everything right up to their doorsteps. Or maybe their front walks; some of the actual doorsteps around here are pretty ugly. I don't really have the furniture to stake out those claims, so I'll just do what China's doing: I'll truck in a bunch of dirt and dump it on their lawns.

Sure, they'll be pissed. But it's my lawn now. And my dirt. Take it up with the U.N., sporto. Yo shit's been annexed.

I figure I can get at least to the next block before I run out of lamps and dressers and money for claim dirt. That's not quite a whole "south sea", but it's a start. You might think I don't have the military force to keep all these extra lands -- but I've got that covered.

This is the Boston suburbs we're talking about here, not some gulf in the Asian Pacific. Remember that ducky and the pool float I mentioned? In this neighborhood, brother, I'm navally hung.





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Taking Out the Trash (Talk)

(It may be April, but there's no fooling science. Unless it's Secondhand SCIENCE, possibly.

But let's assume not, and form a single-file line to click over for this week's discussion, all about orbital decay. It's the only science article you'll read this week that mentions the Hubble telescope, Paula Deen and a hockey mask-wearing horror movie murderer. No foolin'.)

I'm not really a trash talker. Mostly, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I mean, first of all, most trash talk people do is about something they have no control over in the first place. "My dad could beat up your dad," for instance. That's ridiculous. Nobody's fathers are going to go at it in a cage match because their nine-year-olds got in an argument over whose Pokemon would win on Jeopardy or whatever.

(And anyway, my dad's got a bad knee. He can still jab, probably, but his footwork's not what it used to be. I can't take that risk.)

But worse, the kids have no say in whose dad would come out of that tussle on top. And most trash talk is like that -- not only are you bragging out your ass, it's someone's else's ass you're bragging about. The red sports team I like is better than the blue one you cheer for. My Miss America favorite eats your favorite's lunch -- or would, if either of them consumed solid food in the six months before the swimsuit competition. And my base-pandering, corporate-sponsored double-talking politician of choice is twice the man/woman/programmable talking robot your base-pandering, corporate-sponsored, double-talking politician will ever be.

Frankly, I don't see the point. You might as well whip your wangs out to measure over who can predict a coin flip.

(Don't do this, by the way. Besides being poor etiquette in general, you don't want to be whacked in the willie by a tumbling coin. Especially a quarter. Trust me.)

Of course, some (tiny) percentage of trash talking is done to back up something personal. Whether it's a race or a bet or a challenge over who can stuff the most live lobsters down their pants, before some people do it, they want to talk about it. How fast they're going to run. How much money they'll win. Their special secret underpants, which are way more crustacean-friendly than yours. Yak yak yak.

It all seems pretty exhausting to me, and I steer clear for two reasons. First, it's an awful lot of extra energy going to waste that I could be using on winning whatever nonsense we're doing. Stretching my calves or planning a strategy or supergluing a lot of lobster claws shut, for instance.

But also, I don't trash talk because I'm pretty uniformly bad at everything. And when you run your mouth and lose, it's a great deal worse than losing without running your mouth at all. Do your talking with your poor performance and pouty demeanor afterward, I say. Take the high road. Relatively speaking.

(Also, make excuses. Did I mention my father's knee? I probably inherited that, so that's why I lost any speed-related thing. Also, the sun was in my eyes. And I'm wearing those Fruit of the Lobster boxers, which can't possibly help.)

It is for these reasons -- and the doubtless ensuing shame and ridicule I'd likely endure -- that I don't engage in trash talk, as a rule.

"It was a big bug, though skinny -- like Andre the mosquito giant, or a wasp that's really into cardio, maybe."

However. I do make one exception, and it happened this morning.

When I climb into the shower and there's a bug inside -- insect, spider, any-kind-of-crawly-pede -- then shit is ON, brother. And I'm going to talk about it. Trashily.

When I stepped in this morning, I caught a glimpse of some winged something-or-other buzzing the shower head. It was a big bug, though skinny -- like Andre the mosquito giant, or a wasp that's really into cardio, maybe. But size doesn't matter, in this situation.

(I mean, under moth size, obviously. Let's not go overboard. I'm not Batman over here, for crissakes.)

I knew I could take this buzzing bozo -- but I was going to let him hear about it while I did. So I yapped. I barked a bunch of stuff that ended with "MY house" and a waggly no-no finger. And I postured for effect.

As well as one can posture while standing naked with one foot in the shower and a bottle of Pert Plus in the non-finger-waggling hand. Which, if I'm honest, is not a lot.

Still, I trash-talked that bug, and I trash-talked him good. I don't get a lot of practice -- which is good, because otherwise it would mean a parade of crawly assholes were setting up shop in my showering spot -- but I came through. It's like riding a bike.

Or like berating a bike with "yo momma" jokes, maybe. I'm actually not sure how bicycles apply here, exactly.

Anyway, I told this waspy-legged interloper what for, and then I turned the water on and washed him onto the shower wall. He wiggled for a while, but I hosed him again -- and talked some more trash, natch -- and he mostly stopped. So I washed him down, into the shower and down by the drain, talking at him all the way. Like, in his face. Only from the other end of the shower, because ew.

I don't know whether the bug made it down the drain all the way. It was pretty big, and I wasn't going over there to look. I've seen horror movies -- and especially ones where somebody trash talks the big ugly monster out to get everyone. If you go looking at it when it's dead, then it's definitely not dead, and that's when it stings you or barfs acid on you or lays eggs up your nose while it slaps you around with a thorax or something.

So obviously, I didn't take a shower today. And maybe won't tomorrow, just to be safe. But I gave that bug a piece of my mind, and washed it onto, maybe down-maybe not, the drain. Where I trash talked it, but good. Like it was someone else's favorite base-pandering, corporate-sponsored, double-talking politician, right before the swimsuit competition.

Aw, yeah.





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Radio Dazed

(Science marches on like a lion... or a lamb. Or something. Anyway, it's spring and a new week and that means a new Secondhand SCIENCE.

Hop on over to learn all about glial cells, and what they have to do with Scooby Doo, training gyms and everyone's favorite mushmouthed Hollywood boxer. It's a champ!)

Friends. Family members. Former coworkers.

(Also, random Googling internet weirdos. In fact, probably mostly that.)

Lend me your ears.

(Actually, don't lend them to me, because I won't be the one talking.

Or rather, I will. But I'm not the one in charge. Of your ears. Or the talking into them.

Look, this has gone sort of sideways here. Let me start over.)

What are you planning on doing tomorrow (Thursday the 26th) at noon?

Uh huh. Okay. Gotcha. Yep, that sounds great.

Now, don't do any of those things you just said.

Instead, tune into BreakThru Radio online and DJ Jess' Biology of the Blog show.

Every week, Jess showcases a weblog and chats with the wild-eyed lunatic behind it -- and this week, that wild-eyed lunatic is me!

"I just wanted to feel better about the ridiculous nonsense I spouted in a public forum, is all."

(I can't actually speak to the lunacy or eye-wilderness of the previous guests. In the shows I've listened to, they've seemed pretty sane and composed. I just wanted to feel better about the ridiculous nonsense I spouted in a public forum, is all.)

The link above may not work until the show actually airs, I think. Which maybe I should have told you somewhere before the link, in case you clicked it right away. But how would that work, anyway? If I put a warning up there, like:

HERE COMES A LINK, BUT FOR THE LOVE OF UNBROKEN ANIMAL CRACKERS, DON'T CLICK ON IT YET!

Then you're totally going to click on it. Probably twice. I know how this works.

Also, I'm not entirely positive that the show airs at noon. But you should maybe cancel all of your plans starting at noon, just to be safe. I know I will. And that's a lot of afternoon sleeping to give up. I'm just saying.

That pretty much covers it. Tomorrow, noonish (probably). Check out DJ Jess for some great tunes and a little Q & A with me on Biology of the Blog.

(Full disclosure: we didn't actually talk about biology; that's just the name of the show. Although we did chat a bit about colonizing Mars.

I mean, not us colonizing Mars, obviously. We're both way too busy for that. She's got radio shows to do every week, and I... well. Those forty-three episodes of the Simpsons sitting on my TiVo aren't going to watch themselves.)

So this has been a mess. But if you thought this post was rambling and tangential and awkward... oh, there's plenty more where that came from. Tune in tomorrow.





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I'm the Guy and I Don't Know Why

(March marches on, and so does science. Namely, Secondhand SCIENCE. This week's wackiness is all about tectonic plates. It's an earth-moving experience. Probably. Check it out.)

There's a troubling development at my office recently. It would seem I've become "the guy" for a thing.

Now, to a point, I'm okay with that. I've been "the guy" for things before. I scrap together little bits of software for people, and cram numbers into databases sometimes. So when one of those stops working or catches someone on fire, then sure -- I'm "the guy" who has to fix it and clean up the mess and rub aloe vera on some poor users' ruined fingers. That's part of the job.

But this is different. This is not my thing, nor a thing I know much of anything about. It's a big scary set of interlocking systems, all talking to each other -- in Swahili, for all I know -- and a couple of other guys built it and babysat it and kept scripts and monitors and pipelines full of aloe running for when things went haywire. For years, they did this, and nobody really knew -- or wanted to know, frankly -- exactly how those particular sausages were being prepared.

Which was fine.

Except now those guys are gone.

(Cost-cutting thing, from what I understand. You could keep the system or keep the people taking care of it. And since the people couldn't remember as much data as the databases or spit pretty numbers into a spreadsheet, the people got the boot. And the system sputters on.

Sometimes.)

With the people who had any practical knowledge of this thing gone, the company turned to the next best thing: someone with no earthly idea how the thing works or which bits of string are glued to which other bits, but who sat down with one of the guys who built it for five minutes before he left to learn one very specific instruction for one tiny corner of the system, in case that bit looks like it's going to crack and fall off some day.

In other words, me. "The guy".

In fairness, I'm not the only "guy". Other people learned little snippets of this monster from the builders, and they're "the guys" and "the girls" for those pieces, and probably all sorts of surrounding bits they have no idea about. But not being alone in this really doesn't help that much.

Basically, this is like that old parable where a bunch of blind people -- or blindfolded, maybe, if this particular parable author was uncharacteristically generous about infirmities in the story -- wander around feeling up an elephant.

"The tusk-toucher is magically the resident expert on tusks, horns, fangs, spikes, ivory, ebony, piano tuning and Beethoven's Fifth."

(I'm noting here that if you're unfamiliar with this parable, the above description probably gives you a way kinkier impression of it than is really warranted.

Noting it, but not changing it. Because some Bollywood skin flick director will be all over that, and I want credit for the idea. But if you need the actual elephant story details, Wikipedia's your huckleberry.)

Only our situation is a little different. Whoever touched the tail is now assumed to have encyclopedic knowledge of all things elephant ass. The tusk-toucher is magically the resident expert on tusks, horns, fangs, spikes, ivory, ebony, piano tuning and Beethoven's Fifth.

I don't have it the worst. I only brushed a wrinkly leg, figuratively speaking, but now I'm fielding questions about pants pressing, Oil of Olay and grandma gams.

Again, figuratively.

Still, these are questions I can't answer. I'm looking at one corner of a giant black box covered in buttons and switches, and I know the one I can push to make a gumball come out. If you want a jelly bean, I can't help you. If you're looking for surf and turf, you'll be sorely disappointed with what I know. And if you need your hair extinguished and a nice aloe vera shampoo, then I'm probably no help at all.

So it's unfortunate. The only thing worse than being "the guy" for a thing is being "the guy" for a thing you really aren't especially "the guy" for. And the people coming to me for help aren't getting anywhere, either. Because I can only give them the same answer:

"Go ask elephant-ass guy. Maybe he knows something."

But probably not. Dude's blind, so Dumbo's probably sat on him by now. I'm just saying, it's a mess.





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Local Incapacity

(Spring forward -- into Secondhand SCIENCE.

This week's nonsense dives into Alu elements. It'll get you ready for a genetics test -- and spring training. Play science!)

I'm being driven into the arms of a monster.

And not a fun monster, either. Like Grover or Mojo Jojo or Kang.

(In fairness, I never found Kang all that appealing.)

No, in this case I'm being driven -- thrust, really -- into the hairy, wartified arms of one of modern society's most hideous and notorious monsters:

Comcast

For the entire lifespan of this site -- nearly twelve years now; and boy, it doesn't seem like a day more than eleven and a half -- the internet onramp via which I fling nonsense onto it has been provided by DSL.

Antiquated technology, I know. Slow. Copper line-limited. Quaint. But at the time I had it set up -- we're talking year 2000 ancient history here, people -- it was fully state of the art.

Way back then, it was all the shit to have in-home DSL. We privileged few would trade notes on our Beanie Babies on Usenet groups by the glow of our gaslight lamps and GIT OFFA MY LAWN ALREADY!

Anyway.

At the time, cable and DSL interwebbery were fairly comparable, speedwise. As in, both were punk-ass slow, like a snail on Valium with a charley horse. But DSL was yours -- all yours! -- while cable connections were shared with your bandwidth-hogging, vid-pirating, porn-grubbing filthy neighbors.

I don't know if my neighbors at the time did all that stuff, mind you. I'm just quoting the DSL ads.

I tried getting DSL installed through Verizon. But they turned out to be a bunch of incompetent syphilitic donkey-humping lying jackholes -- no ads here; this one's from experience -- and they jerked me around in not-the-fun-way for three months and got me nowhere. As Verizons do.

So I turned to a company called Speakeasy. They weren't a monolithic mega-corporate utilityco; just a medium-sized ISP on the West Coast that offered services in my area. Good reviews. Snazzy name. I gave them a shot. And I had DSL installed in less than three days.

God, I hate Verizon. Did I mention they cut service on my regular phone line, while they were Abbott-and-Costello-ing their way through not installing the DSL line? Assholes.

(And yes, at the time we also had a landline. Because it was the Middle Ages, we all wore sabertooth tiger skins and worked on discovering fire in the basements of our caves, and I've already told you: My lawn. Git offa it.)

For ten years, Speakeasy treated me right. I moved -- twice -- and the second call I made each time was to my trusty ISP to have a line run and service moved over.

(The first call is for pizza. Always. You've got to have pizza on moving day.)

Five years ago, I got a scare. Speakeasy was being taken over by some big company with a name right out of Office Space: MegaPath. I didn't know these people. I don't like my bytes and packets being manhandled by strangers. I even looked into cable packages for internet -- but not FiOS, because in all honesty, screw Verizon with a grappling hook backwards, please.

"From the reviews I've read online, the only thing keeping angry mobs of townspeople from storming Comcast's offices is the high price of pitchforks at Home Depot."

But I got some emails, from the Speakeasy people. They said it was okay. MegaPath is cool, they're friends of ours, and everything's going to work out. So I stuck around, and for the most part, they were right. People around me had faster connections, maybe. But I had a dedicated line running into my living room, shared with no one, it nearly always worked -- and on the rare occasion I had to call for something, it was quick, painless and instantly resolved.

I hear the same isn't quite universally true of Comcast. From the reviews I've read online, the only thing keeping angry mobs of townspeople from storming Comcast's offices is the high price of pitchforks at Home Depot.

But I didn't have to worry about that with Speakeasy, or with MegaPath. A little bandwidth always is better than more bandwidth sometimes, I told myself.

(Also, with SpeakPath or whatever they started calling themselves, I got a static IP address. That means I could run a server of my own, from my very own home office.

I never actually did that, really. Once or twice, to move some files around pre-Google Drive. And I might have spent six hours once figuring out how to demo a homemade web site for a half-hour meeting.

The point is, I could have run my own server, any time I wanted. I had the power. Not the need, perhaps. Nor the patience. Nor the resolve, adequate infrastructure nor adequate hardware. But the power, you see. The power is what matters. For twelve idle years. Apparently.

Shaddup.)

So when MegaEasy passed my account along again this winter to yet a third company, I wasn't concerned. My DSL would now be served by a shadowy Orwellian entity known as Global Capacity, which sounds much more like a marketing bullet point than a company in its own right. But I assumed things would chug along, more or less the same. And MegaPath's emails assured me it would be so; the friend of my friend said his friend would be all right.

He lied. The friend of my friend's friend is an idiot.

(Which is not a saying you hear too often, but I suspect it's true an awful lot of the time.)

Global Capacity officially took over -- meaning accepted my money for their services -- in late February. And to be fair, I didn't really notice anything different.

Until this Wednesday morning, when the connection crapped out.

I called Wednesday evening, and the tech rep said there was some sort of failure in an office in New York, which was apparently affecting their whole New England operation. Everyone in New York and Massachusetts, at least, was out of luck, but the problem would be fixed the next day. Sometime.

Not exactly "scrambling" to get the issue solved, it seemed. But I assumed there were other factors at work. They're Global Capacity, after all. Maybe all of their technical staff were busy fighting network outages on the Iberian peninsula, or snaking transcontinental cables to the Pacific Rim.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and patiently waited Thursday for service to return.

On Friday, I waited less patiently.

Today, I gave up, cancelled service -- or lack thereof -- and called the evil-but-not-as-evil-in-my-eyes-as-Verizon empire of Comcast and told them to come and extract my soul activate cable internet. Because more bandwidth sometimes is better than less bandwidth not at all for four days. I hope.

In the meantime, I learned what I could about this "Global Capacity" I'd been foisted off on, and given the two words in their company name, I'm fairly convinced they're neither -- at least when it comes to residential networking.

For one thing, the tech guy told me on the phone that around 150 people -- that's less than 200, in at least two states -- were affected by this outage. I don't know what sort of "capacity" that suggests, but it's probably less than the number of active Bronies in the same square mileage. That's not a pretty picture.

And maybe the company is "global", in some respect. But the info I could find suggests they employ maybe a couple hundred people in total -- fewer than one for every country a truly "global" company would serve. Maybe they put sent one guy over the border to Canada with a walkie-talkie to qualify as international, but otherwise I'm not seeing it.

Likewise, I've retracted my optimistic views on where their technical resources might be spending their time during this outage. I'm less convinced they're solving other problems; it's more likely they just couldn't afford overnight shipping for the new networking part at Amazon.

So within a week or so, this site's going Comcast. You shouldn't notice any difference -- apart from more bitching, possibly, over the state of my local internet connection. But it's possible any "soul" present in these pages is soon to be sucked out. Probably during a three-hour phone call on hold with Comcast tech support.

It's been a good run. But the internet's a bitch, yo.





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Perfectly Rational Fridge-a-phobia

(This week's Secondhand SCIENCE saga is all about radioisotopes. It sounds like some itchy disease you'd get from listening to NPR. But no. It's another thing entirely. Go see.)

I've never been drugged in my sleep, kidnapped and whisked off to another location that's a near-exact replica of my home.

Well. Not so far as I know, anyway. Though I have wondered who keeps getting crumbs all over my couch, which I usually notice soon after I've eaten dinner on it.

I'll keep an eye on that.

In the meantime, I assume my kidnap-slash-disorient scenario hasn't ever happened. To me. Probably.

But I did buy a new refrigerator recently. And it's pretty much the same thing. Everything seems normal, but something's a little... off.

It wasn't that way right away with the new fridge. No, at first, it was waaaaay the hell off, because it sat, half-dismantled, in my living room for three weeks. Because math. Or hinges. Or narrower-than-regulation Victorian era doorways or some shit like that. I don't know. And I don't really care.

What I do know is that one day some large men from the appliance store came back and, for all I know, opened a goddamned wormhole in my living room and shoved the fridge through it into the kitchen. Or maybe they miniaturized it with a shrink ray and recombobulated it in the next room.

Or they learned how to measure a doorway.

Something. But when they left, the new refrigerator was sitting nice and neat in a cozy corner of the kitchen. And no rifts in the fabric of spacetime near my crumb-covered sofa have opened up in the meantime, so it counts as a "win".

So now there's a fridge back in place, and restocked with milk and beer and sandwich pickles and a three year old nearly-full jar of capers that no one remembers using or buying, but don't throw those out because as soon as you do, you'll need a bunch of capers for something.

"It's an odd feeling, like accidentally using someone else's phone or discovering your underpants are on backward."

Like, I don't know, inducing vomiting, maybe. Or playing a game of tiny soft marbles. How should I know what you do in your kitchen?

The point is, everything is back where it should be, and things are back to almost-normal. But they're also... different. It's an odd feeling, like accidentally using someone else's phone or discovering your underpants are on backward. All the regular stuff is in the fridge, and the fridge is more or less where a fridge used to be. But nothing is exactly right.

Take the sodas, for instance. Two liter bottles go on the door. They've always been on the door. I've lived in this condo for six years, and it's been exclusively a sodas-on-the-fridge-door experience. But no. The sodas don't fit in this fridge door. Now sodas are middle shelf. You reach for a fridge-door bottle of soda in this fridge, and you get a handful of Newman's Own Italian dressing. You don't want a glass of that with your pizza. Or with your anything else.

For that matter, the whole orientation is different. The old fridge, a built-in that came with the place -- because there was no good way to get it out, I'm guessing -- was a righty-fridge, lefty-freezer model. All the coldest stuff was in the left hand door. Ice cream. Microwave burritos. Vodka. Penguins. Anything you wanted to keep extra-cold.

But no more. New fridge isn't lefty-righty; it's uppy-downy. The freezer is a big-ass drawer on the bottom you pull out, like from some kind of bedroom dresser. Only instead of old sweaters and backup swimsuits, you pull frozen peas and Otter Pops out of it.

Maybe that's not odd to you. Maybe you've gone uppy-downy with your fridge for years. Or maybe you keep your bathing suits in the freezer. Again, your kitchen. How am I to know?

For me, it's weird. And oddly, weirder than when I'm somewhere completely different. When I'm in someone else's house, rummaging through their fridge -- as one does -- I just assume things are going to be in odd places. That's half the fun of it. You put your butter there? Why is the jelly on the condiment shelf? What kind of monster are you, anyway?

But in my kitchen, I should know what to expect. And let's face it, I need to know what to expect. Most of the time I open the thing, I'm half-asleep because it's:

a. three in the morning, because I've stayed up doing something stupid like complaining about refrigerators for fourteen hundred words, and I need a glass of water before bed -- or milk, or Hidden Valley Ranch Low-Fat Thousand Island, thank you very much; or

2. seven in the morning, because I'm up for some godforsaken early meeting at work, and I need a dozen eggs or a wheel of cheese or one of those delicious frozen penguins in me to make it through the nightmare.

If I can't autopilot my way through these scenarios, then I'm in big trouble. And I'm in big trouble over here. I went for ice cubes yesterday, and wound up with three squirts of mustard in my glass. What I thought was jelly for my toast was actually sriracha for my sinuses -- and don't even ask me what I just sucked on that was in no way an Otter Pop. I threw it in the trash before I could make a positive I.D.

Eventually, I'll get used to the new fridge layout -- the wacky spot where the tall bottles go, the basement chest of frozen drawers and the weirdo cubbyhole just big enough for a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, like that's a thing you'd bother to designate a special place for. Honestly, this fridge. I don't even.

So yeah, I'll adapt. If I make it that long. In the meantime, there's a fair chance I'll chug something gnarly that was in an unexpected spot, or chew through a glass jar because it's sitting where we used to keep the leftover pizza. What I'm saying is, if I die in the next few weeks, I'm sure I know who the murderer is, and I can give you a clue up front:

It was the refrigerator. In the kitchen. And probably with that stupid-ass jar of capers.





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Soon, I'll Say the Darnedest Things

(Hope over to Secondhand SCIENCE for this week's nonsense, and learn about the zinc finger. I promise it's the least frightening finger I'll ever describe to you.

Unless you have a phobia about metal-binding proteins. Or frogs. Or formalwear made from garbage. Then you're on your own.)

I can be socially awkward. This should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever been within thirty-five feet of me in public. It can be a burden, and embarrassing -- but I've finally figured out my problem. And better, how to solve it.

You see, I've discovered my particular brand of awkwardness doesn't stem from having nothing to say. Some people have that; a loss for words -- blanking out in conversation, or shying away entirely -- but that's not exactly my pathology.

Because I have things to say. Oh, I've got plenty of things to say.

They're just not socially appropriate things to say.

And that's the crux of it. I'm a smartass, I don't like small talk and I take most things people say at face value. And the problem with that -- insofar as there's a "problem" with being totally efficient and awesome in conversation -- is that nobody wants to hear the reactions that come most naturally to me.

Okay, I suppose that is a "problem". Assuming I ever want to interview for a job or meet new friends or order a cone at the local ice cream shop. Which I do.

(Wellll. Two out of three. In the summer. At best.)

"Statements like these are the conversational equivalent of rice cakes."

Anyway, where I falter is when some friendly socially-forward goober wanders over for a conversation and says something like:

"Sure is cold today."

Or:

"Thank god it's Friday, amirite?"

Or my favorite:

"You got a haircut."

I have responses for all of these statements. Not that they require responses, semantically, because two of them aren't questions and the middle one is really rhetorical, but I've tried not responding to these sorts of things, and the speakers tend to look at me expectantly, with raised brows and drooly chins, until one of us breaks the impasse and walks away.

(It's always me. They never walk away. Why do they never walk away?)

(Don't answer that; it's rhetorical. Which I'll tell you up front, because that's what people ought to do; what the hell is wrong with society?)

Ahem. Sorry. I got a little caught up in my pathology. Please forgive.

The point is this: Statements like these are the conversational equivalent of rice cakes. If you want to have them in private, that's your self-hating prerogative -- but don't drag other people into your nightmare. Munch your semantically null sentiments off in a corner somewhere, and come back when there's something substantial to say.

That's the dream. It's never going to happen. And I'm the dick for dreaming it. Fine.

It turns out, I'm also the dick for responding in the way that comes naturally. Like to the "cold today" quip, what I'd like to reply is:

"Actually, it's much colder on the surface of Neptune, where your flapping lips would freeze together and shatter and we wouldn't have to have this inane conversation. So no. It's actually not quite cold enough."

Or to "TGIF":

"According to most religious texts, the various gods seem to favor either Saturday or Sunday as holy days, so you'd get the most out of thanking your deity of choice for one of those. Also, since Friday is not the weekend, I'm stuck here at work listening to you regurgitate slogans you read off a coffee mug, so whatever deity you worship, I hope he, she, it or they cast you into the abyss, snake pit or lake of fire that's used by your magic sky person, animal totem or transcendent pot-bellied vagrant to eternally torment the souls of unbelievers, heretics, baby slappers and people who turn left from an optional turn lane without using their signals."

Those sorts of responses, I've come to learn, are "not appropriate".

I disagree, of course. The responses are completely appropriate to the statements; they're just not conducive to remaining an employed, married, non-incarcerated, (marginally) respected member of society. Which is also kind of important.

So I can't say the things I want to say, a lot of the time. I also can't say the things that I'm supposed to say -- "it's dang chilly, brutha!" or "all them hairs got cut!" or "only thing better'n Friday is Huuuuuump Day, baby!" -- because I just can't.

For one thing, it kills me a little bit on the inside. And also the outside, where I'm sure my look of abject horror shines through like an endoscopy scope peeking up out the throat of Edvard Munch's Scream.

But mostly, replying in the usual way never seems to end the conversation. It just encourages more of the same -- "was it hot enough fer ya yesterday?" -- and nobody wants that, particularly if there are any sharp pointy objects in the vicinity.

Hence my awkwardness for four-plus decades. My instincts are wrong. Social convention is way wrong. So I've always been stuck.

Until now.

Now I've figured it out. I don't have to be a jerk (other peoples' label; not mine), nor do I have to be a soulless slave to societal convention lacking creative gumption enough to try to share genuine personal thoughts and feelings (okay, that label's mine). I can choose a third way:

Word of the day.

That's my new plan. Every day, I'll pick a word. A fun word. Nothing mean or meaningful or relevant; just something fun to say. Like "persimmon". Or "Sasquatch". Or "mumbletypeg". And when I'm in one of those stuck moments, caught between expectation and excoriation, I'll say the word.

Nothing else. Just "peccadilloes". Or "alabaster". Or "lollygag".

And then I'll nod, as though I've said something perfectly reasonable, and see what happens next. Probably a "what?" Or a frown. Or more small talk, since that seems to be the "go-to" for a lot of people. And that's okay. Any of those will simply get a smile and a repeat of the day's word. Whether it's "applejack". Or "dirigible". Or "onomatopoeia".

And that'll keep me sane. (-Er.) Also married, non-incarcerated, and slightly-but-maybe-not-completely-less respected.

Employed, I'm not so sure about. Maybe it's best I don't unveil my new plan on a Friday. Because TGIF, baby. T. G. I. F. Apparently.





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