Thursday, June 16, 2011

Epic Retail Sagas, Part II

Yup, here we go again...  Yet another charming story of my old college job working at a discount department store in North Scottsdale.  Like I said in the introduction to my previous poetic tale, a huge portion of the craziest, grossest things I've ever seen in my life went down at this one little store.  I have no way to explain it.  Sometimes I used to wonder if Scottsdale had a full moon every freakin' night.

I used to run the customer service desk at the front of the store, so I would have a bird's-eye view of everything that went down at any of the cash registers.  There was many a day that I witnessed something that made me wish I'd just stayed home.  Tonight's selection is a true account of one such horrifying incident...

Gather 'round, gather 'round,
And I'll tell you a story.
About some messed up shit,
That belongs on Springer or Maury...

You see back in the day,
I worked in a store.
Where people would shoplift,
And shoplift some more.

We were in a nice part of town,
I've never understood,
Why so many shoppers
Were up to no good.

But we'd never get angry,
And we'd never act pained.
Because this plethora of shoplifters
Kept us well entertained!

It was just like a game,
Of skill, luck and wit.
We'd try to catch them
While they stole our shit.

One cashier named Manny,
Was sort of our ace.
He loved to catch people
And get in their face.

He'd spot pilfered items.
He had an eye for switched tags.
And when people bought luggage,
He'd root through those bags.

See, items hidden in luggage
Are tough to see or feel.
And that makes buying luggage
A great way to steal!

Well one day two old ladies
Approached the front of the store
Looking to check out with luggage
And a few items more.

"I'm open here," said Manny,
I'll check you out quick!"
But if he caught them stealing,
He'd act like a dick.

He scanned what they bought,
Opened that luggage up wide,
And he must've seen something,
For he reached up inside...

"Oh gosh ladies, what's this?"
He asked with a smirk,
Obviously preparing
To act like a jerk.

He pulled out his hand
And waved it in the air
Grinning from ear to ear...
Until he saw what was there.

Three used tampons,
Or possibly four.
But my memory is hazy:
There could've been more.

With Manny's hand in the air,
Time seemed to freeze.
Then he realized what had happened
And dropped to his knees.

I knew that I had to do something
And do it right quick
So I handed him the trash can
So he could be sick.

The poor old ladies stood there
In a shocked sort of silence,
Watching Manny engage
In intestinal violence

I looked at their luggage,
Then looked them in the eye,
And asked if the luggage was something
That they still wanted to buy.

One of the old ladies gagged,
When she heard what I said.
They didn't say a word,
And out the door they fled.

I picked up the suitcase
And took it out the back door
While Manny still lay there
Sick on the floor.

Manny went home that afternoon,
I'm surprised he ever came back.
But now when people buy luggage
He cuts them some slack.

If you're wondering how this happened,
Then there's something you should learn.
When there's something that nasty in a store,
It probably came back as a return.

You see, people do gross things
When they take merchandise home.
Then they bring it all back
And what they did isn't known.

I can tell you this is fact,
For I've seen it myself.
There are some nasty, nasty items
That make it back onto the shelf.

It could happen to anyone,
So best open your eyes.
'Lest you be the recipient
Of a suitcase surprise.


*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.  

**For the love of all that is holy, if you know what store I'm talking about don't name it.  They'll probably sue my ass off, and nobody will ever shake hands with "Manny" again for as long as the poor guy lives.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Single Man Survival Guide Part II

As a single, 33 year old guy, I have a veritable black belt in domesticity.  I may not know the proper way to do things, but I know enough to get by in almost any situation.  This knowledge didn't come easy...  I picked it up through hard-won experience in the school of household hard knocks.  Over the years I've left a truly awe-inspiring swath of ruined clothing, jacked up-appliances, and atrocious messes in my path.

Since I try my best to seem like a nice guy, I'd like to spare as many people as possible from the pitfalls of modern domestic science.  Thus I present to you:

Pete's Household Hints

1. The locking handle on the dishwasher is good.  The locking handle on the stove is bad.  

Although they look similar, the handles on these two appliances are vastly different.  The handle on the dishwasher locks it shut, so that you can clean up the aftermath of having run out of paper plates and/or aluminum foil.  The handle on the oven is a whole different story.  Rather than locking it shut for safety, this handle puts your oven into something known as "self clean" mode.  Basically, this means that your oven heats up to a temperature sufficient to atomize any food residue stuck to the inside of it.  While this sounds awesome in theory, I've learned first-hand that self-clean mode will transform a frozen pizza into something suitable for use as a manhole cover.  Beware!  

2.  Soap is both a blessing and a curse: Use with caution!

I'll be the first to admit that soap can be very useful...  But damn it, why can't it just be soap?  Instead, we're forced to endure countless specific soap permutations, such as laundry soap, dish soap, and hand soap.  God help you if you mix two of them up.  Know what's especially asinine?  There are two totally different kinds of dish soap.  There's soap for washing your dishes in the sink, and soap for washing your dishes in the dishwasher...  And, although lord knows logic would seem to dictate otherwise, they are most certainly not interchangeable.  Although, admittedly, it IS a lot of fun to watch the kitchen slowly fill up with soap suds.

3.  Dog poop does not make good fertilizer.

I learned this one at a very young age.  My brother and I had gotten our mom rosebushes for Mother's Day, and wanted them to grow and blossom quickly.  Being grade-schoolers, we lacked the forethought to pick up real fertilizer at the store.  Casting about for a viable substitute, our young eyes settled upon our large, fenced-in dog kennel, which was littered with the fruitful bounty of our two enormous golden retrievers.  We carefully filled a couple of pails with droppings, and dumped them around the roots of our newly-planted rosebushes.  As it turns out, dog poop isn't fertilizer...  In fact, it's more like ANTI-fertilizer.  Within a matter of weeks, those poor rosebushes looked like they'd been microwaved.  No roses bloomed.  Not a single leaf survived.  They looked like bundles of dried, thorny sticks protruding from mom's flowerbed.  Naturally, we tried to revive them with constant watering...  Let's just say that the resulting aroma wasn't exactly "rosy."

4.  Although it kills germs, bleach is NOT a good antiseptic.

Once upon a time, back when I was drinking studying my way through Arizona State University, I fell down the staircase in front of the Hayden Library.  My fellow ASU alumni likely just winced in sympathy.  But for the rest of you, allow me explain:  The main entrance to the Hayden Library is underground.  To get to it, one must walk down a grand, wide concrete staircase that is probably a good 50 feet long.  This is where I took a tumble.  Although I miraculously survived, I tore one of my hands up pretty good.  It was bleeding profusely, there was a small flap of skin hanging loose...  It was superficial, but nasty-looking.  Although I'm normally not the worrisome type, something in the back of my head told me that I had best put something on my wound to prevent infection.  Now I had no iodine nor Neosporin in my dorm room, and all of the alcohol had long since been drunk.  Casting about for anything with germ-killing properties, my eyes came to rest on the bottle of bleach perched upon my counter.  Without really thinking about it, I took the bottle to the sink and doused my torn-up hand.  Never, ever do this.  It hurt like HELL, and small chunks of skin actually dried up and died over the course of the next few days.  To my credit, however, I didn't get an infection!

5.  The "hot" water setting on your washing machine is just for show.

Washing machine manufacturers are real pricks.  How else do you explain the presence of a "hot water" setting on every washing machine ever made?  You see, the first time I ever used a washing machine (I was maybe 19.  Don't judge me: Mom wouldn't let me NEAR the thing at home.  I still can't figure out why...) I wanted to do a good job.  Being a guy, I figured that I'd set everything for maximum cleaning effect.  If one little cup-thingy of soap is good, then three are obviously better, right?  Packing the washing machine full of clothes until the door barely shuts is a sign of efficiency, right?  Best of all, everyone knows that hot water kills germs, right?  Wrong, wrong, and wrong.  I kept my temper in check as I waded through the soapy mess on the floor to empty the washing machine.  I bit my tongue as I gradually broke apart the brick-like lump of tangled clothes that seemed to have bonded to the washing machine.  It was only later that I realized the true horror of what I'd done:  Hot water, it turns out, makes clothing shrink.  Roughly half of the clothes that I had washed (That's a LOT of clothes...  You should've seen me pack that washer.) had shrunk down to something spandex-like.  It was horrible.  The only thing worse than washing clothes is shopping for them, and suddenly I needed a ton of new stuff.  So mark my words: Hot water is the devil when it comes to your washing machine. 

Hopefully these little hints will help you to live the high life without having to experience the anguish that I went through.  Please join me next time for more suggestions on how to achieve housekeeping Nirvana.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Requiem for a pie.

This past Sunday afternoon seemed unremarkable.  Across the country, Americans enjoyed the end of their weekend.  Naps were taken on couches.  Ballgames were watched.  Beers were sipped.  Lazy afternoon cookouts ran late into the evening.  Everything was normal in the American Heartland...

Or so it seemed.

For a great evil had been brewing within the foul bowels of corporate America for quite some time now.  A big, stinky pile of evil, directed squarely at the post innocent victim one could imagine:


That's right, ladies and gentlemen.  This past Sunday some corporate bigwig decided that America had enjoyed too much of a good thing for too long, and so they sent forth their vile minions to assault one of America's foremost purveyors of baked deliciousness: Marie Callender's.  In total, the winged-monkey shock troopers of America's corporate titans shuttered 31 Marie Callender's restaurants across the nation...  Including every single location in my own state of Arizona.  

To the uninitiated, my mixture of sorrow and anger at this incident might seem a bit over the top.  To anyone thinking such a thing, I offer up two points of information:

1.  Marie Callender's didn't just serve pie.  Oh no.  Anyone who has ever tasted one of their delicate little slices of perfection is immediately afflicted with a sense of peace and contentment that's tough to shake.  Rough day?  Pie makes it better.  Road rage?  Pie is the cure.  Countless millions across this great nation are semi-dependent upon Marie Callender's delicious pies as a coping mechanism.  I fully expect an immediate spike in the rates of violent crime, prescription drug addiction, and the screaming of obscenities across my state.

2.  Normally, using the term "winged-monkey shock troopers" in regards to a restaurant closing would be at least somewhat out of line.  However, if this article from the Orange County Register is to be believed, "the closures were so sudden, some diners were forced to leave while they were still eating."  Seriously?!  These jack-booted thugs couldn't even wait for grandma to finish her last few bites of Sunday brunch?  The company is in such dire straits that it can't afford a few extra seconds of air-conditioning to allow people to swallow?  Bullshit. 

That's the reason that corporate parent Perkins & Marie Callender's Inc. gave for the closures, incidentally: Financial difficulties resulting from the economic downturn.


Where is the government in all of this?  We can spend billions of taxpayer dollars bailing out two of the shittiest, worst-managed auto manufacturers on the planet, but we can't break off a few bucks to save a true icon of the lost American art of pie-crafting?  If our government can bail out Wall Street, can't they at least help Main Street out a little by giving us a chunk or two of delicious pie to munch on while we watch the world go to Hell in a hand-basket?  Does that sound like too much to ask?  I mean, come on: People have been going on and on about America's obesity epidemic for years now.  Well, if that's the case, then shouldn't the number one pie-maker in America be considered "too big to fail?"  Sometimes the world makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

R.I.P. Marie Callender's.  Au revoir, my delicious pies.  I'm off to dream a dream of Chocolate Satin pie...  

And revolution.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Pop song remix?

Well...  Here's something a little different.  For weeks now, I've been hearing this damn song all over the place: ET, by Katy Perry and Kanye West.  Also, for the past several days I've heard nothing on the news but Congressman Anthony Weiner's internet pervert saga and how much Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants Weiner's dumb ass to resign.

If you don't know what I'm talking about so far, you probably don't want to.  We're talking about one of the worst songs ever written, and a political scandal that's embarrassing just to read about.  Just in case, though:

Link to the song "ET" on Youtube.

Link to the song's lyrics.

Link to the latest on Weiner vs. Pelosi.

And now, without further ado:

"ET," by Katy Perry and Kanye West...  As re-written for Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Weiner

[Anthony Weiner - Rapping] 

My Twitter got hacked
In all kinds of ways
I'm tryin' ta show you pics of my little Antho-NAY
I'm a pervert, when I Twitter blurt
Like Donald Duck I'm sittin' here in just a shirt
Welcome to the stranger zone
Not sure of my sanity
Pictures on the internet, where there are no pants on me
They calling me a predator
Just because I got caught
They say it's my fault, but I need treatment so it's NOT!

[Nancy Pelosi - Singing] 

You're so re-revolting
Costing us elections
With your damn erections

Your Tweets - incriminating
Press conference denying
Then you started crying

It's like a parade
First one then the others
Internet lovers
Weiner displayed
In your left and right hand too

Your story's all over the world
A dirty congressman
You told lots of lies
Now it's time to go
Only one way to make it ri-ight:

Re-sign, re-re-resign
You've had all of your fun
Turn in your resignation

I'll make you, ma-ma-make you
Your wife might work for Clinton
But I don't give a shit, son

Boy, you're a dirty one
And kind of a moron
It's not respectable
You're unelectable

Media showed us your nude pic
I wanna take a shower
The taste it left is sour
Wasn't Photoshop magic
Really was your Dick!

You're known all over the world
A dirty congressman
You told lots of lies
Now it's time to go
Only one way to make it ri-ight:

Re-sign, re-re-resign
You've had all of your fun
Turn in your resignation

I'll make you, ma-ma-make you
Your wife might work for Clinton
But I don't give a shit, son

Boy, you're a dirty one
And kind of a moron
It's not respectable
You're unelectable

[Anthony Weiner - Rapping] 

I know it sounds bizzare...
Flashed my junk around, went too far...
Now they're dissin' me on NPR.
Runnin' from the press in my car.
But let me check, try to save my neck
Sent you a text - need rehab: hooked on sex!
I'm gonna take an IOU, come back and start anew
See I ducked you, so you can't tell me what to do
You can't tell me what to do, what to do, what to do

[Nancy Pelosi - Singing] 

Re-sign, re-re-resign
You've had all of your fun
Turn in your resignation

I'll make you, ma-ma-make you
Your wife might work for Clinton
But I don't give a shit, son

Boy, you're a dirty one
And kind of a moron
It's not respectable
You're unelectable


Boy, you're a dirty one
And kind of a moron
It's not respectable
You're unelectable

Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to go work on my acceptance speech for the Grammys...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How do they manage to sell cable TV anymore?

Please note: The following post arose out of a strange (and probably passing) desire to attempt to write something useful.  I apologize in advance for the comparative lack of sophomoric humor, perverse stories, and/or poop jokes. 

Hi, my name is Pete, and I used to flush good money down the toilet by paying for cable television.  I have been clean for over a year now.

Know what's weird?  When we think of our utility costs each month, almost all of us include something odd.  Electricity.  Water.  Sewer.  Trash removal.  Telephone.  Gas.  Heating...  And cable TV?  Hmmm.  One of these things is definitely not like the others.  So how did we get into the habit of paying a recurring monthly fee for an entertainment service?

The answer is simple: Back in the day, you didn't have much of a choice.  Analog broadcast television was god-awful.  The reception would come and go, the picture was often crappy, and you usually didn't get very many channels to choose from.  When it first came out, cable TV was a godsend.  And it only got better...  As the years went on, more and more channels were developed and presented on cable.  The variety of programming available increased at an astronomical rate.  Flip through today's channel listings, and you'll find something designed to appeal to damn near everyone.  There's a show about a guy who whispers at dogs, and a show about a guy who intentionally gets lost in the woods and survives.  You can watch people repair and upgrade their homes, you can watch people drive big-rig trucks on ice, and you can enjoy the visceral thrill of watching people behave badly in "reality" situations...  The possibilities are endless.

Unfortunately, as the amount of programming available on cable has increased, so has the price.  Drastically.  The last month that I paid for cable TV service, my bill was upwards of $150.  No joke.  That's enough to put a substantial dent in my car payment, but I didn't really pay it any mind because cable is one of those "normal" utilities that you just have to get.


You see, I try my best to be careful with money.  Yes, I'll blow it on stupid things occasionally...  But I like to make sure that I'm not getting jacked on my monthly expenses.  And when I bought my house last year, I had a great opportunity to review everything and weed out or adjust the stuff that I didn't really need.

Cable at my new place would have been a pain in the ass.  Truly.  My house is new, and it came with exactly one cable outlet.  One.  In order to run cable to other rooms, I would've had to install more outlets myself (275 pound man climbing through the attic...  Sounds like a party, right?) or pay Cox to do it.  You know, pay them to install each outlet so that I could then pay them their monthly tithe of $150 for a service that I don't actually even use that often.  To be totally honest, I found that idea offensive.  I also don't really care for the Cox cable company.  It's a long story, and I'm not going to bore you with it...  But I used to joke with Cox's sales and service reps on the phone by saying that the company really lives up to its name.  (There's a great potential blog headline, incidentally: "PETER JOHNSON FIGHTS IT OUT WITH COX." Heh heh.)

Satellite TV looks cool on the surface.  You get a nifty little dish, plunk it in the backyard, and pick up TV signals.  The prices that they presented looked great, too...  At first.  After careful investigation, (by which I mean that I actually read a couple pieces of satellite TV junk-mail before tossing them) I discovered that Satellite television is like a shit sandwich.  They hold it at just the right angle to make it look appealing, so all you see at first is the bread and a little bit of the lettuce poking out the sides...  When you take a bite, though, you discover the hidden turd.  And in this case, said turd is twofold:  The great introductory prices that satellite TV companies offer expire after a while and become pretty damn awful.  What's worse, they generally try to hook you into a multiple year contract.  You know, so you can't run for your life when they up and start molesting your wallet.

So if cable sucks, and satellite sucks, and you still want something to watch... Then what do you do?

Simple:  HDTV antenna + Netflix + Internet = WIN.

Did you know that broadcast television comes through the air in HD these days?  Well I didn't.  Imagine my surprise the first time I hooked up my new ($40) antenna, and watched my screen light up with a brilliant, high-definition signal.  I was furious.  One of the main reasons that I used to pay for cable was so that I could watch football.  Most football games are on the major TV networks, all of which are available via broadcast with an antenna.  That $150-per-month cable TV I used to have?  It was analog!  

Next, I went online and subscribed to Netflix.  For about $25 a month, I get access to their enormous library of television shows and movies, all delivered via the internet.  (Most of which are also delivered in HD.  CURSE YOU COX CABLE!!!)  They also send me 3 Blu-Ray movies per month, which also eliminates the need to rent anything when I want to watch a movie.  Not bad.  If you want to stream Netflix's online content to a TV, you'll need what their website describes as a "Netflix-capable device."  This sounds intimidating, but you've probably already got one.  The Wii, the PS3, and the X-Box 360 will all stream Netflix.  You can also use a internet-capable Blu-Ray player, a laptop (preferably with an HDMI output), or even hook a desktop computer to your TV.  Personally, I use my PS3.  (Which I picked up for $175 on Craig's List, by the way.  I love CHEAP!)

Now I don't watch a lot of TV, because I'm more likely to play video games or surf around on the internet...  But my girlfriend does, so I needed something that would allow her to watch her favorite shows that don't come in via antenna.  This is easy: Almost all of it is on the internet.  If you can use something to stream Netflix to your Television, then odds are that you can use that same something to stream the internet in general.  Once you can surf the 'Net from your TV, it's just a matter of finding what you want to watch.  A lot of shows can be streamed from the websites of the various TV networks.  Others can be found on sites like Hulu.  You can also download episodes of whatever you're into, and stream them from your computer.

None of this is really rocket science, but still there's always the risk that it won't really work.  Well I can vouch: It does.  I ditched my $150 cable bill for a $40 antenna and a $25 Netflix bill, and I don't miss it a bit.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Epic Retail Sagas, Part I

Here's a little-known fact about me: Back when I was in college, I used to work at a certain well-known discount apparel store.  I used to do their cash accounting on weekends, and when I got done with that I'd go up to the front of the store and run the return desk.  Sounds pretty normal, right?  


I've never seen so much crazy shit happen in all my life as I saw go down at this store.  From the creepy to the gross to the crazy to the profane, we literally had it all.  (Sounds like a great slogan, right there.)  While I worked there I was constantly telling stories to my friends and family, and they'd always say that I should write them down...  Well guess what?  I couldn't think of a good topic for this evening, so I decided to follow everyone's advice and relate one of my many crazy retail stories...  And since, for some reason, I'm feeling all artsy-fartsy this evening, I'm going to tell it in verse.  Yeah, that's right.  So, without further ado...

Once upon a time,
I worked in a store.
You'd think it would be quiet,
and sort of a bore. 

T'was a discount shop,
In a rich part of the city.
We had many shoppers,
And some of them were shitty.

They did things that were crazy,
And things that were gross,
But there was one certain old man,
Whom we hated the most.

He wore a straw hat,
With a look of composure.
And the shortest of shorts,
For indecent exposure.

He spoke in a whisper,
Perverted and throaty.
And we all called him "Truman,"
Because he looked like Capote.

He'd follow female shoppers around,
Up and down each aisle,
And try to look up their skirts,
With the sickest of smiles.

People would get angry,
And we'd get many a complaint.
But when we'd follow him,
He'd act like a saint.

At least, that is,
Until one summer day.
When he grabbed one shirt,
And headed the fitting room way.

He checked in politely with the girl
At the fitting-room door.
And there he remained,
For three hours or more.

He emerged looking happy,
His face glowed like the sun.
He handed the shirt to the girl,
And he told her "I'm done."

The way that he said it
Left her somewhat disturbed
As did the way he ran for the door...
Without another word.

The man was a pervert,
She began to suspect,
So she went into the stall he had used
To have a little check.

I still remember the scream.
It echoed through the store.
I ran back expecting
To find blood on the floor...

Now this man was not a thief,
Or a violent attacker.
But I'd have taken a dozen of either,
Over a fitting-room whacker.

He'd ruined the curtain,
That hung 'cross the stall door.
The details would make you quite ill
So I shouldn't say more.

Our manager had to clean it up-
He looked like he wanted to quit,
But nobody else got paid enough
To handle that shit.

He wrapped the curtain in plastic sacks,
And tossed it in the trash,
And said to me, "IF TRUMAN COMES BACK,"

Then back to his office,
Our poor manager did slink...
To ask corporate for a new curtain,
And probably have a drink.

And so I was surprised,
When he came back out in a hurry.
His steps were loud and angry,
His face clouded with fury.

He told me what happened,
And my faith in humanity was lost.
When we went out to the dumpster,
To find the curtain we had tossed.

You see, corporate is nasty...
Like a mean older brother.
They told him, "Wash the curtain!"
"Because we won't send you another!"

And so we took the sticky curtain
Back into the store...
And the manager opened
The petty cash drawer.

He reached on in,
And took out three hundred bucks,
Then he looked me in the eye,
And said "This really sucks..."

"...But take this thing to the dry cleaner,
The one that's close by...
Tell them to wash it as much,
As that money will buy."

The cleaners washed the curtain
In every possible way.
And it still hangs in that store,
To this very day.

We never saw Truman again,
Which was lucky for him.
His odds of survival,
Would've been rather grim.

But I'll tell you one thing,
And this is for certain:
In a discount store's fitting room...


(P.S.  Some of y'all know exactly what store I'm talking about...  For the love of God, don't name it in the comments.  I don't want to get sued.  Gracias.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Single Man Survival Guide Part I: The Bachelor's Shopping List.

In case you didn't know, I'm an unmarried, 33 year-old man who can be incredibly antisocial at times and detests having roommates.  As such, over the years I've become something of an expert in the fine art of  living alone as a single man.  It was recently suggested to me by a friend that, since I had decided to take up word-puking (aka 'blogging') on the internet anyway, I might as well try to do something useful with myself and pass along those few bits of knowledge that have managed to lodge themselves in my cranium over the years...  And so, here we are.  This topic is far too large in scope to address in a single blog post, so I've decided to break it down into smaller chunks and sprinkle them in occasionally amongst my insipid ramblings.

For the convenience of my readers, (all two of them...  Hi mom!) I decided to write the first few posts in this series in the form of a shopping list that can be printed out and taken to the store.  Why?  Because men don't make lists.  We remember stuff.  Or at least we remember stuff until we get to the store...  At which point we forget stuff and pace the aisles in a state of grouchy fury, wracking our brains feverishly for our forgotten mental list and taking great pains to avoid the tampon aisle. So, without further ado...

Stuff to Buy Part One: Cooking and Cleaning, aka The Art of Domestic Bliss

Aluminum foil.  Yes, I know you read this and immediately thought "WTF Pete, have you lost your damn mind?!"  The words "aluminum foil" conjure up images of June Cleaver in a domestic little apron pulling a turkey from the oven...  But wait!  Do you enjoy doing dishes?  No?  Well guess what?  Aluminum foil precludes the need to do dishes.  EVER.  Do you have a plate?  Great!  Do you want to have to wash that plate after you use it?  Hell no!  So what do you do?  Wrap that thing in foil and grub out.  When you're done, just strip the foil off and chuck it in the trash.  The plate's still clean!  Freakin' amazing, right?  Well this next part will really blow your mind: What if you, like many guys, don't actually own a plate?  Are you going to have to eat off of the counter?  No!  Not if you've got a flat, rigid item and a roll of Reynold's Wrap!  Frisbee?  Plate!  Book?  Plate!  Random chunk of cardboard?  Plate!  Having guests?  Trash can lid + foil = FANCY SERVING PLATTER.  Scratch this item off the list at your peril.

Paper towels.  You know all of those fancy cleaning products that you see on television?  Do you actually want to spend money on that crap?  Worse, could you look at yourself in the mirror after BUYING all of that crap?  Hell no.  A single man knows where his financial priorities lie: In a badass automobile, not a pile of Swiffers and Toilet Duck.  For any of the cleaning products that you see advertised on television, there is a perfectly adequate substitute...  And that substitute is invariably paper towels and water.  Wet paper towels pick up hairs, smear away shower scum, and take that nasty early-morning splash ring right off of the toilet.  Have a tile or linoleum floor?  Wet a wad of paper towels down, drop it on the floor, and push it around with your foot.  BOOM!  Instant Swiffer!  The only advantage that so-called "real" cleaning products have over wet paper towels is the fancy smell.  Well guess what?  Up next we have something that'll take care of that...

Febreeze!  Have you ever been leaving for a date only to be smacked with the sudden realization that your house/apartment/cave absolutely reeks?  What if the date goes really well, and she ends up back at your place?  Girls can overlook some things.  In fact, to an extent they practically expect single guys to live like animals...  But an overpowering stench lingering about your place will have much the same effect as a medieval chastity belt.  That's why some genius invented Febreeze.  Just soak your cave (liberally) with this stuff, and the pleasant aroma will linger on and on...  Sometimes for a whole day!  With Febreeze, some paper towels and a working faucet, you can keep your place as spotless as a cheap hotel.

Downy Wrinkle Releaser.  What's this, you ask?  Well let me tell you: If you're into looking good without doing laundry, this stuff is for you.  Imagine a magic spray bottle that would let you pick stuff up off of the floor, give it the sniff check, and then, if it passed, make it look clean and pressed.  That's what this stuff does!  You spray it on your clothes, (it's amazing on khaki pants) smooth them out, and the wrinkles mostly go away!  It's like a washing machine in a bottle.  But it gets better!  What if you don't have a garment that will pass the sniff test when you grab it off of the floor?  Are you going to have to be stinky all day?  NO!  Why?  Look at the previous item on the list, and then think for a moment.  Yes, that's right my friend: If you have bottle of Febreeze and a bottle of Wrinkle Releaser, then you've practically got your own dry-cleaner right there in your bedroom.

The Foreman Grill.  HELL yes.  Do I even need to explain this?  If you're like me, then your residence probably came with a big-ass boxy thing that gets hot when you mess with the dials on top of it.  Allegedly, this thing is for cooking.  WTF?  If you want to use this "oven," as I've heard it called, then you need all kinds of crazy accessories.  Stuff like pans, oven mitts, recipes...  Who has time for all of that crap?  And it gets worse from there.  You have to delve into the arcane cooking sciences and set the temperature, "pre-heat" the oven, stir things...  It's a time-consuming nightmare meant to keep you away from your X-Box.  The solution?  Big George Foreman and the manliest invention ever.  The Foreman Grill doesn't have a bunch of fancy knobs to mess with; You just plug it in and go!  It has one temperature setting: Hot!  It cooks things from both sides at once, so they get done faster than they do on some stupid stove.  Best of all?  It was primarily designed to cook meat, the holy grail of man foods.  If you've got a Foreman Grill, you're always 10 minutes away from steak.  Remember that! 

Hopefully these simple items will improve your quality of life and keep you from wasting time and money on useless, "civilized" housekeeping junk.  Remember, when it comes to single man living: Keep it quick, keep it simple, and never, EVER end up like this poor guy...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I'm a rhinoceros.

I have something of an interesting nickname.  A significant number of my friends refer to me as "Rhino."  Sometimes I'll even refer to myself as a rhinoceros.  I'm not nuts, I promise.  But there is a story behind it.  A story that harks back to the days when the internet was young and new, when Facebook was not yet invading every aspect of our private lives, when AOL was the most popular ISP in the world...  And when internet chat rooms offered nigh-total anonymity.

In the early days of internet chat, many rooms were HTML-based and had no set "login" feature.  One would simply type in whatever chat handle they desired and click Enter.  Voila!  You could select any handle at any time, which was a veritable bonanza to the seemingly endless litany of cranks and weirdos in cyberspace.  (No, I'm not one of them.  I thought I already covered this...  Please stop thinking it.)

Those early days were amazing.  One would encounter super models and billionaires on a daily basis, in almost every room you entered.  I met the likes of Bill Gates, Carmen Elektra, and Michael Jordan on multiple occasions...  Although strangely enough, they wouldn't seem to remember me from meeting to meeting.  How odd.

Naturally, I knew that these people were fake.  Anyone with a brain knew that these people were fake.  Sure, there were quite a few of them...  But, mostly, they would simply blend into the background chat-noise and be forgotten.  I say "mostly," because there were a few amongst them who refused to blend.  A few obnoxious, phony jerk-offs who were so utterly, flamboyantly offensive that they could coach a snarl from the lips of the most stoic chatter.  These elites, when encountered, would clear out entire rooms.  They seemed to seek out chatrooms that lacked moderation or an ignore feature, and once such a room was located they would troll it up, luring people in with their phony online persona.  Some were dudes pretending to be chicks.  Some were nobodies pretending to be celebrities.  Some would pretend to be foreign dignitaries.  Some would pretend to be law enforcement.  And one epic jackass that I encountered apparently had his little heart set on pretending to be everything in the world all at once.

This gentleman was one of the most annoying folks I've ever run into online.  He claimed to be a multimillionaire with the body of a god and the endowment of a porn star.  He had fifteen doctorate degrees, a hundred cars, an IQ in the upper 300's...  And he presented it all in a manner reminiscent of a head-on collision between two florescent-colored semi trucks carrying over-sized loads of live peacocks.  He puked out flamboyant lies with a speed and efficiency that would've been dazzling had it not made me want to bash my head against my desk.  If this dude had been a Transformer, (which he may or may not have also claimed to be- it gets tough to remember his full shtick in all its trollish glory) his name would've been Doucheimus Prime.

Eventually I grew tired of his obnoxious routine so, cribbing from a famous internet chat prankster named Bloodninja, (Google the name if you don't know who I'm talking about - it's hilarious) I typed the words that were to create my future moniker: "Hi...  I'm a rhinoceros."

A few people laughed, but King D-Bag went immediately on the defensive.  He asked what I meant... 

I told him that I was a 2000 pound herbivore who liked to eat hay. 

He tried to ignore me, and started to launch into another imaginary story about his cars/money/girlfriends/etc... 

I countered with a long rant about how tough it is to type when you have big, flat rhino feet.

He told someone that he could bench-press 900 pounds...

I announced that I had solved my typing problem by perching my laptop on a rock in my pen and pressing keys with a chopstick held between my teeth. 

He started telling someone about an imaginary date with a celebrity... 

I told someone else about my latest wallow in the mud. 

He eventually started to get mad, and told me that I was jealous because his life was perfect... 

I told him that he couldn't possibly be that great, because nobody would buy a ticket to sit and watch HIM eat a bale of hay.

We went on like this for a while, and it was tons of fun.  I'd counter every lying, douchey thing he said with a rhinoceros-related comment, and, when he really started to lose his cool, I began speaking only in rhinoceros onomatopoeia...  Which mostly consisted of variations on the word "snort."  Know why that can get annoying?  Because SNORT! SNORTITY SNORT snort-snort SNORT!  ...Gruuuuuuunt SNORT!  Snort-SNORT?  SNOOOOOOORT!!!  You get what I'm saying?

Eventually he gave up and left, and he never came back...  But that's when I discovered the problem.  My rhinoceros persona, it seemed, had stuck.

A day or so later, I was riding in the car with my then-girlfriend when, out of the blue, I turned to her and said, "Hi, I'm a rhinoceros!"  She looked at me like I was crazy, (which I clearly am not) but I carried on, blurting out rhinoceros-related opinions on everything we encountered.  Things like "rhinos don't shop at 'Bed, Bath and Beyond,'" or "rhinos LIKE pie!"  After watching "The Fellowship of the Ring," I announced that the first wizards had clearly been rhinos...  Because their conical hats were originally made to be worn on a horn.  It all went downhill from there.

Eventually some of the folks I knew started calling me "Rhino," and it just sort of stuck.  That was around 10 years ago, and it's lasted to this day.  It's my favorite nickname...  But then again, I'm named "Peter Johnson," so you can probably imagine some of the other things I've been called.

I have to admit: I'm still not sure about this entry.  I mean, this isn't exactly the most exciting topic in the whole world...  But it's late, and certain rhinos needed something to blog about before settling down in their paddock for the night.

(I swear I'm a normal, well-adjusted adult.  Really.)


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Technical support for panhandlers.

A while back, I was having lunch at a local mall called Chandler Fashion Square.  It's a nice place to eat, and there's plenty of stuff to do there.  It's fancy and nice, but (mostly) without that snooty vibe that you get at certain malls up in Scottsdale...  But they still have a certain reputation to maintain (there's valet parking and a Nordstrom's, for God's sake) so certain types of behavior are frowned upon.  Keep this in mind.

Anyway, I had polished off my traditional Subway foot-long roast beef sandwich, and was meandering about aimlessly in search of something to do.  I decided to go outside to the courtyard and browse at Atomic Comics, so I walked out the food court exit that's near the aforementioned valet parking.  I had taken perhaps twenty steps out into the blazing Arizona heat when I was hailed by a rather rotund, sweaty fellow who was sitting on the edge of a large concrete flowerpot.  Out of curiosity I stopped, and he immediately launched into a long, stumbling soliloquy about how honest he is and about how asking for money is totally beneath his dignity...


His introduction was a minute or two long, and then, without even pausing for breath, he launched into an even longer story.  I'm going to paraphrase here for a reason, and said reason is that this gentleman probably holds the Guinness Book world's record for "Longest Winded Vagrant."  I've heard State of the Union speeches that were shining examples of brevity compared to the rambling mess that this poor guy stumbled through.  The gist of it all was that he had been in the hospital for some sort of crippling emergency medical procedure, had been released earlier that day before he could fully recuperate, and was trying to gather funds so that he could get home to his daughter in Gilbert.  Plausible?  Maybe...  If not for the small, non-medical grade "bandage" (this thing was made out of masking tape, no joke) wrapped around his arm, which he held up as "evidence."  Also, if not for the fact that he had somehow managed to go several miles in the wrong direction to get to the mall.  Also, he was presenting a problem that could literally be solved, in its entirety, for about a dollar with a Valley Metro bus ticket.  Or by simply asking someone for a lift.  Worst of all, when he finished his long story, he didn't even ask for money.  He just kind of sat there and looked expectantly at me.

I stared him down for a moment, pondering my options.  Normally I would have just shook my head politely and walked away, but I actually felt bad for this guy.  Not because of his story, or the masking tape bandage, or his lack of a bus pass...  But because he was literally the worst panhandler I've ever seen.  And I've seen lots of them.

As a small-town kid at Arizona State University, I had to learn several lessons fairly quickly.  Chief amongst them was "if you give a dollar to everyone who asks for one in the street, you'll go broke."  ASU has some truly professional-caliber panhandlers.  They're all quick, sincere, plausible...  Sometimes funny.  I distinctly recall one guy who used to stroll around campus with a cardboard sign that read "I won't lie, it's for beer!"  I wouldn't be surprised if that dude drove home in a Lexus every night and had a healthy IRA stashed away somewhere.  Sometimes, particularly on Mill Avenue on the weekends, there would be a line to hand him money.

In any case, I've been panhandled by the best...  And the long-winded fellow at the Chandler Mall was clearly the worst.  And, as he sat staring awkwardly and expectantly at me, I suddenly realized what I had to do.

"Dude..."  I said, "you're horrible at this!"

He started to protest, but I cut him off.  "Look, I don't mean that as an insult.  It's just a technical observation.  Have you managed to get any money today?  Anything at all?"

His answer was sullen silence.

"That's what I thought.  Here, look around...  First of all, your choice of venue SUCKS.  The Chandler Mall?  For real?  You realize that as soon as someone who works here spots you, they're going to call the police.  And the police won't be friendly.  At all."

He looked about suspiciously as I carried on.  "Worse, nobody here is carrying cash.  I don't carry cash on me, most of these other people," I gestured about, "don't carry cash here either.  This is the mall, not a bar or a sports game.  You can't take a credit card, can you?  Of course not.  You need to sit down and plan, and find a spot where people are likely to have actual money in their pockets."

He looked surprised but receptive, so I pressed on.  "Now let's think about your pitch.  Do you know how long you were talking just now?  It was a good several minutes.  Do you see how many people walked by in that time?  How many people, besides me, you could have made your pitch to if you hadn't been taking so much time with me?  What you're doing, dude, is kind of similar to telemarketing.  It's a numbers game.  Most people are going to tell you to get lost.  A few are going to give you money.  The more total people that you can pitch in that hour, the more receptive people you'll encounter.  And the more receptive people you encounter, the more money you'll make."

"Now let's talk about your prop."  I pointed at his arm.  "No offense, but if that thing came from an actual hospital, I'd suggest that you stop asking for change, and start seeing a malpractice attorney about a multi-million dollar lawsuit.  Dial the Wolf," I said with a small smile, referencing an infamous television ad for a local lawyer.  He smiled back.  Oddly, it made me feel good.  "What you need is something plausible that you can present as evidence of a problem that takes a bit of money to fix.  Something like a small, busted car part or similar.  Something that could happen to anyone.  That'll create empathy."

"I'd give you a couple of dollars just for standing here and letting me blow off steam, but like I said, I don't carry cash."  I shrugged at him.  "If I were you, I'd get down by ASU and hit Mill Avenue.  Look for freshmen.  They're gullible, believe me."

With that we smiled and nodded at each other, and I meandered off to the Comics Shop.  The incident has always stuck with me, because I don't really know how to feel about it.  In a way I did good, because I gave out some advice that probably helped the long-winded panhandler get by.  In a way I did bad, because I gave him advice that wasn't exactly of a virtuous moral quality.  Oh well, just one of those weird experiences that you talk about later because you can't find the right mental "box" to file it in, I guess.

But I have to say...  Those little freshmen at ASU needed someone to help them grow up to be jaded and cantankerous, like me.  I guess there's a silver lining after all.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Get off my lawn...

A little over a year ago, I bought my very first house.  It was brand-new, and as such lacked certain amenities.  I had no blinds, for example, so I put up some temporary (paper) blinds from the Home Depot.  I had no garage door opener, so I parked in the driveway.  I had no landscaping in the back yard, so I learned to enjoy looking at dirt...  You get the idea.  At the time, I didn't give it a second thought.  I rather liked my temporary blinds (Imagine a giant, accordion-folded Post-It note.  Totally badass, right?) and I thought that they looked rather stylish.  Heck, you could barely even tell the difference from outside...  Or so I thought.


As it turned out, I was putting out the wrong kind of vibes.  Vibes that made certain people think that I wanted certain things...  Even if I wasn't consciously aware of it.  They'd roll by slowly, creeping along and looking my house up and down.  Look at this guy, they'd think to themselves.  The car parked in the open, the dust-bowl out back, the phony blinds in the windows...  We know that he wants it.  Hell, he's ASKING for it.

Naturally, I didn't notice any of this nefarious activity.  I just went blindly about, minding my own business and doing my own thing.  As such, I managed to spend three whole days in my new home before I realized that I was being stalked.  It was early Saturday morning, around 8 or 9 AM.  All was quiet.  I was sleeping, my girlfriend was sleeping, the dog was sleeping, and my cat, Hercules, was silently plotting our deaths...  Suddenly, I was jolted awake by a hideous burst of noise.


Ok, so it was just my doorbell...  But I had never actually heard it ring before, and that thing is ROBUST.

So I lay in my bed for a moment, attempting to get my bearings and apply a bit of logical analysis to the situation.  Everyone who knows me knows that I'm not a morning person.  In fact, that's probably one of the greatest understatements that I've ever types.  I wake up with all the charm and grace of Godzilla with a hangover and full-blown PMS...  And I usually smell like a <content deleted so as not to make readers nauseous and destroy my sex life>.

Charming, eh?

So I'm laying there, wondering who might be at the door, and I find myself giving a crap less and less as I gradually slip back into the wondrous bliss of weekend slumber when all of a sudden...


Oh HELL no.  With the unique determination that one only acquires when they're both barely conscious and ass-kicking furious, I leapt from the bed, stomped into a pair of (dirty) boxers, (from the floor) slung on a (dirty) wife-beater, (also from the floor) stomped to the front door and threw it open.

In front of me stood one suddenly bug-eyed moron, clutching a small pile of pamphlets.  As the door flew open, a small snowstorm of other pamphlets (jammed into the crack of my door by previous morons who had not succeeded in waking me) flew across my porch.  As I stared the man down, my brain began to take in information.  The over-abundance of hair gel.  The beady, shifty little eyes.  The tell-tale reek of polyester and cheap cologne...

SALESMEN.  Good God almighty, I'm under siege by SALESMEN!!!

If looks could kill, mine would have already slain this pernicious little skunk and probably retroactively obliterated his entire line of relatives from the space-time continuum.  Nonetheless, he opened his mouth and began to make his pitch.

"Um...  Good morning, sir," he began, holding out a pamphlet from his pile, I couldn't help but notice that you're in need of-"

"WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!" I queried gently, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT F&^KING TIME IT IS?!  GET LOST!!!"  And with those friendly words I bid him adieu by torquing my entire body about and slamming the door in his face.

Don't get me wrong here; I'm an ardent capitalist and I love money as much as the next guy.  I'd never fault someone for trying to make a buck.  However, I'm also extremely territorial and don't appreciate being pestered, so if your method of making a dollar involves invading my domain and annoying me, things are going to get unpleasant.  To this day I still come home to find that people have stuffed crap into the crack of my door, and one of these evenings I swear that my molars are going to explode from grinding my teeth together so hard.

Bottom line: If I want your crap, I'll seek out your crap.  If you have to try to convince me to buy your crap, I'm never going to buy your crap, even if I discover a need for said crap in the future.  And, with God as my witness, if you come to my house and try to force your crap upon me, I'm going to make like Yosimite Sam confronting a varmint.

Or, as Clint put it...