State Of My Fat Ass
February 28, 2001
Besides wildly exaggerated characters
created by professional writers to amuse us on television, I've never
encountered anyone like my mother in law. I don't have the energy or
desire to try to paint the whole picture for you here, that would
require a whole other website (is crazyasfuck.com taken?), but I'd like
tell you about a couple of recent incidents that are a pretty good
representation of the whole experience.
She told us she never bought into all that "responsibility bullshit", and insinuated we've been conned because we own a house and make car payments and go to work every day. She said she'd rather live in the cheapest apartment she can find, drive "shit cars", and not owe anyone anything. That way, she said, she can blow her money and not be tied to any one job, and "be able to leave town at a moment's notice." That last part really made me laugh. Yeah, she's quite the rambler.
She said blowing money is the one thing in life that makes her happy, and she's not going to "waste" her dollars on a mortgage "and all that bullshit". And, naturally, we shouldn't either. She's the type that thinks everyone should lead their lives exactly as she does, and any deviation from that is a judgment of her. Don't judge the judge, goddamnit. Of course, the concepts of investment and stability and self-control are completely foreign to her, so there's no point in arguing about it. It's best just to weather the storm, and move on.
Toney did ask her if she ever gets jealous of other people, and their houses and savings accounts and retirement plans. She spat out an angry, "No!" with a look of complete contempt on her face. She admitted she'd like a nice house, but only if somebody would give it to her -- a telling remark. She said she wasn't interested in something if it required a lot of effort to acquire. And she said this in a bragging, self-satisfied tone, as if she were an elderly Thomas Edison reflecting on a life's work.
Of course, all of this is a load of crap. Toney's mother is jealous of people who've lived responsibly -- like my parents -- and she hates them for it. They're just rich bastards, and she'd like to see them all run over by busses simultaneously. She's one of the angriest and bitterest people I've ever known. It's true she's lived a life dedicated to instant gratification, but not because of some well thought-out and agonized-over worldview, like she'll tell you now. She's spoiled, like a kid. She's more than just a little lazy, and has a deep-seated sense of entitlement. These lofty ideals of hers, the dropping out of society and avoiding the rat race and all that garbage, are justifications arrived at after the fact. One of her favorite tricks is to re-write history, and that's exactly what she's doing here.
This stuff used to drive me crazy, but after ten years it's now mostly amusing. Some of it's downright hilarious. What mother lectures her child for being ambitious? That's just good comedy. I wish I had it on tape.
Yes, most of it's funny. But some of it still infuriates me. For instance, on Monday she called Toney and tried to get some shit stirred up between the two of us. She wanted to know why I only bought stuff for myself on Saturday, and didn't let Toney buy anything. Why I didn't let her buy anything -- like I'm some tyrant that lays down the law and tells my woman what she can and can't do. It's none of her goddamn business, but the whole point of the trip was so I could get some new clothes to wear to work. She knew that in advance. Anyway, our money is not my money. Toney doesn't have to approach me for permission to buy a friggin' shirt or something. Give me a break. But her mother wants to believe these things about me, so she constantly has her radar set for evidence of it.
She wants everybody to be miserable, because she's miserable. So much so she'll try to cause problems in her daughter's marriage. And her profound unhappiness is pretty hard to understand, since she's developed and implemented so many solid and sound principles for living over the years.
What could've possibly gone wrong?
I bit the bullet and went shopping for clothes over the weekend. This is something I almost never do. I know most people buy clothes continuously, and it's a never-ending mission by design. Not me. It doesn't occur to me to even walk into a clothing store, until my "wardrobe" gets so shabby I start feeling mildly embarrassed by it. And that's exactly where I had arrived. I was wearing the same four or five shirts to work every week, and they were beginning to fade from too many washings. My jeans were starting to get brittle, and knee and/or crotch holes were but a few days away. I bought a pair at Target last weekend (with my underwear on) but I needed a few more. So I reluctantly took a couple hundred bucks out of the bank on Saturday, and hit the outlets with Toney and her mother.
I probably would've put it off a month or two more if I didn't work with a couple of guys who, when they're not yelling and berating their employees, critique people's fashion sense and grooming. These men walk around with their chests puffed out, and their anger barely in check, but they dish the dirt in private like a couple of old ladies at the beauty shop. I've heard them say things like, "He looks like he packed his suitcase out of a hamper," and "Her shirt has never seen an iron." One of these guys presses his jeans, I shit you not. I know I've been the focus of their ridicule for many things, and I don't need to give them more ammo by letting my shirts lose some of their vibrancy.
The outlets in Stroudsberg, PA are better than most of the other outlet "malls" I've visited. It's still a cluster-fuck, and a lot of the stores are not really outlets at all, but as these things go, this one is pretty good. It's huge and always teeming with people. Buses from God-knows-where continuously deposit more and more over-caffeinated shoppers into the mix, and parking spots have almost monetary value. It's like Disneyland, or visiting a Major League ballpark, without all the pesky distraction of fun. We got there when the place opened at 10 am in an attempt to minimize the pain, and it actually worked for a while.
Things started out well. I bought a few shirts at the Gap store for ten bucks a piece, which I felt good about. They would've cost fifty each at a real Gap in a mall somewhere. This is why I say these outlets are pretty decent; you can find some real deals there. We continued on and I picked up a few more things here and there, and the crowds were not yet suffocating. But eventually my mother-in-law could contain herself no more and started wandering off by herself. So we were forced to do a lot of standing around waiting on her, lest we get separated for good (I'm not exactly sure why that would've been a bad thing, but I was told that it would be). She doesn't believe in starting at one end of the mall and working your way to the other end systematically. She likes to bounce around with no rhyme or reason. She's like a kid in a toy store, just going from one thing to another. It was making me crazy. She threw my whole shopping rhythm off, and things started going downhill fast.
During all the waiting around, buses were continuously spewing forth large groups of space-taking shoppers, and the place started to get crazy. I got the feeling that most of the people were from New York, based on their accents and attitudes. My level of irritation and blood pressure began to creep upwards. At one point I was in a store that sold lamps and household crap, and I found a desk clock that I wanted. There were butch women all around me at the checkout for some reason, and one of them dropped a giant fart bomb. It smelled like an outhouse in there. It was absolutely disgusting, and nobody else acted like they could even smell it. I pulled my shirt up over my nose, paid for the damn clock, and power-walked out. Standing around smelling lesbian gas is not what I had in mind when I got out of bed on Saturday morning.
We tried to soldier on to the end, but we finally gave it up about two-thirds of the way into it. It was like some kind of Morrocan street fair at that point. It was literally hard to walk, and you had to jockey for position whenever you found something of interest. And some members of the population smell better than others, I'm sad to say. Now I know what they mean by "the great unwashed." Screw that. I don't care if they're giving shit away; nothing's worth that hassle. So we trudged back to the car and gave up our premium real estate in the parking lot to some lucky bastard, and headed home.
I wish I had time to go into it now, but my mother-in-law launched into one of her patented diatribes on the drive home. It was one of her better efforts, I must say, and I'll write about it next time. I swear to God I feel like I'm living in a real-life sitcom sometimes...
February 21, 2001
A few things:
-- I was in a Target store over the weekend and I couldn’t remember what sized jeans I wear, so I just grabbed the biggest ones they had and went into the changing room. On the wall inside was a sign that said something like, “Please do not remove undergarments when trying on clothes.” Apparently they’ve had a problem with this in the past, since they went to all the trouble of printing up the signs, and that instantly brought up several questions in my mind. First of all, why would a man take off his underwear in a Target changing room? And how would they know if he did? How did they know to print up those signs? Did they find skidmarks in a pair of khakis? Or do they have those creepy two-way mirrors? Is there an article of clothing that would necessitate the removal of underwear to make an informed buying decision? Surely people don’t try on underwear itself do they? Then I started thinking about a guy walking up to the girl at the changing rooms and holding up a three-pack of Hanes briefs and saying, “Does this count as one or three?” Then I imagined him coming out with the package ripped open and two pairs still left in it, and another old worn out pair with the elastic coming loose and a giant skidmark, and handing it all back to her and saying, “No, they just don’t look right on me.” I was smiling like an idiot when I came out of the little room, and I’m sure security kept an eye on me until I left. Also, I washed my new jeans in HOT water when I got home, since that store is apparently crawling with people rubbing their naked balls all over the merchandise.
-- When the hell does baseball season start? It seems like it’s been a year since the World Series. Baseball is the only sport that matters. All the rest…don’t matter.
-- Speaking of “sports”, Toney and I were talking about Dale Earnhardt yesterday, about the entertaining spectacle of seeing grown men blubber on national television and all that stuff. I know almost nothing about NASCAR, and I wouldn’t be able to pick a driver out of a lineup if a gun was pressed to my head. I just have no interest in it, so take that for what it’s worth. But the man obviously meant a great deal to a lot of people. I don’t have the connection to the guy, so I didn’t have the profound reaction, but it’s obviously sad whenever anybody is cut down so young. It’s even sadder when the person has kids, as Earnhardt did. But Toney said something about all of this that made me laugh. She said, “I don’t know…I guess he was their Kurt Cobain.” That’s an analogy that I’m sure would make Cobain fans cringe, not to mention Earnhardt fans, but it’s probably close to being true.
-- And now for the second installment in a series I’m calling The Ugly People of Scranton, click here. This is an undoctored photo taken directly from the Scranton Times. I shit you not.
February 19, 2001
It looks like Napster is teetering on the edge of existence. A court ruled last week that they cannot aid users in the downloading of copyrighted material, and they must take steps immediately to block people from doing so through their operation. Napster argues that this is a nearly impossible task, and will almost certainly lead to their extinction. I don't like this prospect at all but, at the same time, I can understand the concerns of the record companies and artists. Whether people want to face it or not, somebody owns the rights to those songs and money is being lost by the rampant and unregulated sharing of MP3 files. I know that some artists don't have a problem with it, but some do. Why should one group carry more weight than the other? An argument I hear when I talk to people about this is, "It's no different than recording a CD onto a cassette." There is, of course, a huge difference. Making a mix tape for the cute girl at the yogurt shop is pretty far removed from offering free copies of that tape to forty million people. Plus, if you want to get technical, making the tape itself is illegal. You're not supposed to copy music for somebody else's use, it says so on every CD you buy. Another argument I hear is, "Those people are rich enough. They just want to stick it to the little guy. Stinkin' fat-cat record execs, how much money do they need? blah blah blah." This is not an argument so much as emotion, and I doubt very seriously if it would hold up in a court of law. "Your honor, it is our feeling that Metallica has made enough money at this point and we ask you to stop their crass and blatant demands for royalties and turn the music they wrote, performed, and promoted over to the public domain." Penalize the achievers, reward the non-achievers by rule of the state. People who think like this most likely voted for Ralph Nader in the last election, and dream of a socialist utopia. I have a feeling that if they owned something of great value, they'd do everything they could to keep other people's dirty hands off of it. But people who think like this rarely own anything of great value. So, I can see the downside of Napster very clearly. On the other hand... It's an incredibly cool program, and now that it exists there's no going back. If Napster is crushed, ten or twenty replacement sites will pop up. This has already started, in fact. There's no way to suppress it. The record companies are going to have to deal with it eventually; they're just putting off the inevitable. And I think they're making a big mistake by refusing to negotiate with Napster, who has made it clear they're willing and eager to come to some kind of agreement. Napster's not the pig-headed party in this dispute. By smashing them into oblivion, the record companies will be killing off a cooperative centralized would-be partner, and making way for hundreds of rogue operations they'll never be able to police. Huge mistake. And I'm convinced that Napster could actually help record sales in some cases. It serves as a giant sampler, and could lead people to go out and buy a CD by a band they discovered through a recommended download. Why not look at it as a powerful marketing opportunity, instead of a threat that must be eliminated? Also, it really sucks that something that is so much fun is now going to fall under all kinds of regulations, and will almost certainly start costing money. I hate that part of it, but I don't think there's any way around it. But, hey, it was fun while it lasted. The glass is half full, right? I've got some cool-ass stuff saved on my hard drive because of Napster. I'd even be willing to pay for the service, as long as the price is kept at a reasonable level. It's cool as hell, and most things that are cool as hell don't remain free for long. That's just a fact of life.
February 14, 2001
-- A few weeks ago Toney signed us up for digital cable, at one of those kiosks in the middle of a mall. The guy there spun a tantalizing tale of thirty extra channels, crystal clear reception, and a cool interactive remote - all for only ten extra dollars a month. The selling point for her was Turner Classic Movies, and she knew I’d like ESPN Classic. Well, we got the cool remote, and that’s about it. The moment the box was installed the local channels all went snowy and weird ghosts started creeping across the screen. And on top of that the new channels aren’t even there. The only thing new is a bunch of Discover science stations, and BBC America. There’s nothing duller than BBC America. And fuck science. We called the cable company and complained, and they promised to send a guy out to check the bad picture. He showed up nearly a week later, and couldn’t find a problem. He acknowledged there was a problem, he just couldn’t figure out the source of it. Somebody who works outdoors would have to take a look at all our outside connections, he said. We’re still waiting for the outdoors guy to show up. Also the company says we should see all the fabulous new channels in a few weeks, that they’re just being added to the system now. This little detail wasn’t mentioned at the kiosk for some reason. It goes without saying that we're not paying the extra ten bucks this month, and if they keep it up I’m buying a goddamn satellite dish. You’d think that since they’re not a monopoly anymore, they’d treat customers a little better. Some self-help pinhead recently said we shouldn't sweat the small things, but a few asses clearly need to be kicked here.
-- I'm pretty upset that I missed the second night of the special "rock 'n' roll" episodes of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I saw night one, and it was a hoot. The guy from Sugar Ray did OK, but Lars from Metallica looked like a prancing elf. He was wearing some kind of weird black body suit and Regis, who is roughly the size of your average fourth grader, towered over him. I guess Lars is a pretty smart guy, but he should go in for some smugness reduction surgery. I was glad to see him lose. And then things just got better. I tuned in late, and didn't know exactly who was participating in this magical event. When they showed the prospective contestants during the "Fastest Finger Contests" I kept thinking, who's that old Arab guy? When they announced that Gene Simmons from Kiss had won, and the old Arab guy stood up, my mouth fell open. It couldn't be, but it was. The blood-spewing, fire-breathing maniac from my youth looked like a district manager for Dairy Queen. He took his spot in the "hot seat" and was absolutely humorless. He sat there with his lips pursed and answered the questions like he was a prisoner of war. He eventually bit the dust around $32,000, and calmly got up and walked away. It was freaky. I'm still not sure it was really him. The whole show was a blast. Hell, just to hear Regis misread one of the answers as "An Eddie Van Heusen guitar solo" was worth the price of admission.
-- When I was driving to work this morning I saw an old battered pickup truck with a bumper sticker that said, "I (heart) my goats."
-- I read an article the other day on the internet that quoted some doctor as saying the average size of an American male's erect penis is roughly the length of a Nokia cell phone, without the antennae. I own a Nokia cell phone and I don't appreciate this at all. Every time I make a call now I feel like I'm slapping some guy's schlong to the side of my face. The silver lining is, my airtime charges will undoubtedly plummet this month. But I'm not really a fan of the analogy. Why do I get the feeling this doctor is on the payroll of the Motorola Corporation?
-- How the hell could anyone actually watch Third Rock From The Sun? I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating: reciting lines louder than normal is not comedy; excessive volume is not humor. I hear radio commercials for this thing on the station they play at work, and it's like a thirty-second visit to the dentist. I used to like John Lithgow as a movie actor, but he sends me into a full-body shiver now. He's simply not funny. And is it just my imagination, or has this show been on since the '70's, or possibly the late '60's?
-- Speaking of Eddie Van Heusen, I read some more rumors the other day about his band. It's well-known gossip at this point that Van Halen is recording a new album with David Lee Roth, and they plan to tour this fall. If you can believe the scuttlebutt this hasn't exactly been a reunion made in heaven, and they supposedly have a full-time counselor on hand to help deal with whatever personality conflicts come up. How bizarre is that? These guys will be out on the road later this year promoting hedonism, and acting as if the world's a party, and then retire to the backstage area to hash out personal "issues" with their shrink, and lubricate their newly-installed hips and hairlines. It sounds pretty weird on the surface, but I can't fucking wait.
-- I'll post my feelings on the Napster court ruling next time. I have some things to say, but I've hit the wall tonight. I'm going to need to re-charge before I tackle that subject. So, nighty-night.
February 11, 2001
A few more things:
-- I mentioned my current Napster obsession, and while robbing artists of even more royalties a few nights ago I was reminded of a story (pretty much everything reminds me of a story). For some reason I decided I needed Surfin' Bird by The Trashmen saved to my hard drive, and while listening to the tune following a particularly arduous file transfer, my first day as a retail manager came rushing back to me. It was at a big-ass record store in Greensboro, NC called Peaches, and I had been promoted hastily from weekend cashier to night manager. I was literally an idiot kid fresh out of West Virginia, with little self-confidence or know-how. And as the store director was getting ready to go home for the day, to leave me alone to run the place for the first time, I overheard one of the other employees whisper to him, "Are you sure this is going to be OK?" A real ego boost, to say the least. But things went pretty well for a while. I OK'd a few large checks from customers, and made some cash-drops from the registers. It seemed like it was going to be a relatively painless evening. That is, until the busload of retarded people arrived. I later learned that Peaches was a regular stop on the route of a group of severely retarded citizens out on the town. I think there was a home nearby, and every week or so they rustled them into a van and took them out to make the community feel uneasy and guilty. When they busted through the front doors and fanned out into the store, everything instantly went from being calm and orderly, to a state of utter chaos. People were screeching and running up the aisles waving their arms above their heads, writhing on the floors, and sobbing. It was mayhem. I didn't know whether to shit or wind my watch. I felt like Barney Fife. At one point one of the "students" seemingly hurled herself into a pyramid of wooden cassette crates and flopped around in the resulting mound of kindling with gusto. As I was helping one of the handlers return her to an upright position, I heard Surfin’ Bird start up on the little record player by the vinyl 45s: “Well, everybody's heard about the bird. Bird, bird, bird, the bird’s the word…”. Apparently there’s something in that song that agitates the retarded mind, like a deer repellant, because it touched off a frenzied panic throughout the store, and one young lady literally began screaming and hurtling toward the door. I think she would’ve kept right on running through the glass if she hadn’t been intercepted. People started hollering, “It’s the song! Turn off the song!!” And after the needle was ripped off the record, things instantly calmed down to a relative murmur. It was the damndest thing I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of a corral of horses in a cowboy movie getting spooked by a snake. So keep that in mind, for future reference: Surfin’ Bird is like kryptonite to the retarded. You never know when that might be useful.
-- Today I was in Toys R Us and I saw something that completely baffles me. Mixed in amongst the Power Rangers and X-Men paraphernalia were action figures based on the nerdy but violent Hanson brothers characters from the movie Slap Shot (?!). When I got home I looked it up, and that movie came out in 1977. I don't think it was exactly a blockbuster then, and I'm not aware of a cult following building up around it in the years since. I sincerely don't understand. Isn't it a little late to start a merchandising campaign for this movie? Never mind that the film is rated R, highly graphic, and contains the word "fuck" roughly 10,000 times. No kid in 2001 would have a clue as to who the Hanson brothers are, and they shouldn't. So it's completely logical that some company would make a series of toys based on them, right? Truly bizarre. What's next, Ordinary People Gameboy cartridges? Clockwork Orange Ultra-Violence playsets? On Golden Pond plush toys? Can somebody explain this to me?
-- My mother-in-law: "The Black Crowes aren't rock 'n' roll, they just play that new wave shit."
-- I saw that a TastyKake outlet store is going up close to our house. My ass doesn't stand a chance in this world. Mmm...day-old cut-rate chocolate Creamies... Here we grow again!
-- I hate to keep harping on this, but more and more evidence continues to pour in that I'm getting really old. The last few days my back has ached, and this morning I could barely walk when I got out of bed. Lightning bolts of pain flashed from the base of my spine whenever I attempted to stand up straight, and when I put weight on my right foot it felt like somebody was plunging a steak knife into my back. I was walking around the house grimacing and flailing my arms like Joe Cocker. It was a pathetic display. Indeed, whenever the act of putting on a pair of underwear becomes a job equal to say, building a small birdhouse, it can only be viewed as pathetic. And on top of that I received an e-mail the other day concerning my twentieth high school reunion. Twentieth! I can remember when my parents went to their twentieth, and I thought they were older than dirt. And if this weren't enough, I watched on old Paul Newman movie last night on DVD called Fort Apache, The Bronx. I knew little about it, but it looked pretty good. It turned out to be only OK, but the real disappointing part was when I learned when it was made. The movie looked really dated, the cars and hairstyles were big and ridiculous, and the inner-city slang made me guess it was from around 1974. But it came out in 1981 -- the same year I graduated from high school! It looked like a fucking period piece. How utterly depressing.
A few things:
-- Today I actually missed California a little bit. Usually when I miss a place it's tied to food or drink in some way, and this was no different. Toney and I decided to go out for lunch, and we were both craving Mexican for some reason. As I mentioned in my previous entry, this place is absolutely lousy with white people, and it's mighty difficult to find good Mexican or Chinese food -- both of which were available in abundance in southern California. We decided on a place called Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen, which is presumably a chain restaurant. It looks cool on the inside, if a bit contrived. It's open and airy with Christmas lights strung from the ceiling, and colorful mismatched furniture: a little bit of Tijuana right here in Scranton (yeah, right). The food wasn't bad, but it was a long way from good. Kinda bland, in an Olive Garden sort of way. And I'm almost certain the tacos had garlic in them. What the hell's that all about?! It made me long for LA, and the incredible burritos and enchiladas that could be had at a million little Mom and Pop establishments all over the city. As they say, you don't miss your water 'til the well runs dry.
-- To be fair, northeastern Pennsylvania has its own lineup of kickass regional specialties. Specifically, cheesesteaks and pizza and Yuengling lager. If (when) my company calls and informs me my family and I will soon be living in yet another city, these are the things I'll miss. I need to enjoy them while I can. Lord knows, I've already done my best to enjoy the lager as much as possible.
-- Speaking of regional foods, I stop in a coffee shop/bakery on my way to work two or three days a week. It's very NYC, and they sell big loaves of marble rye and black & white cookies and have stacks of the Times and the Post and the Village Voice lying around. And unlike the Mexican place, it's authentic. The women who work the counter are even angry bitches. It's uncanny.
-- One last food item, before moving on. McDonald's, and other fast food joints, should immediately institute a policy barring cashiers from working if they have big purple hickies on their necks. I won't go back to the Mickey D's close to my work until enough time has passed for one to fade from a cashier's neck that works there. She's overweight and sassy and wears pink frosted lipstick. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but I don't want to imagine a woman of this sort making out right before I eat my lunch. It's nasty -- and they're really shooting themselves in the foot by alienating a man of my size.
-- As everyone probably knows by now, Napster announced last week that they will begin charging a fee for their services beginning this summer. This will enable them to pay royalties to artists and record companies, and thereby diffuse the many lawsuits pending against them. So I, like a lot of other people, am in a downloading frenzy right now. Time is of the essence, and I'm burdening my hard drive with a ton of music. I'm concentrating mostly on older semi-obscure things that aren't readily available on CD, songs I had on 45s when I was a kid, and various one-hit wonders. Here's a partial list of some of the gems I'm getting reacquainted with, thanks to modern technology:
Jay Ferguson "Thunder Island"
& "Shakedown Cruise"
I've only just begun...
-- I moved from California a few months before my wife, and I joked with her during that period that I left LAX looking like Homer Simpson, and landed in Scranton as Leonardo DiCaprio. Walking through a mall here is like visiting the Museum of the Ugly. I recoil in disgust several times a day, and I know it's mostly because I lived amongst the Beautiful People for so long in southern California. However, I do think there's an unusual concentration of unsightly people up here. If you think I'm being harsh, take a look at this couple from the marriage announcements in today's paper.
-- It's supposed to snow another eight inches tonight. I might stick my head in the oven, if it weren't electric.
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