Monday, June 26, 2006

The Past

Now that my husband plays baseball on a local amateur league, I now find myself at weekly games cheering from the stands. I share the bleachers with the wives and girlfriends of other teammates and sometimes fall into conversation. Last week, the girlfriend of the center fielder and her friend were giggling and "oh my goshing" over a magazine. I asked them what they were reading and they told me it was the Cosmo equivalent of Post Secret. They were particularly offended by one woman's admission that she didn't shave during the winter. "Can you imagine? How disgusting!"
Both girls, however, were in complete agreement with another submission, in which a woman admitted to finding and destroying all of her boyfriend's pictures of past girlfriends.
Ok, now I ain't the most ethical person around, but to me, personally, this is just me talking, DESTROYING YOUR BOYFRIEND'S PERSONAL BELONGINGS OUT OF A FITFUL RAMPAGE OF INSECURITY IS COMPLETELY WACKED!"

Of course I am the same girl, who when single, didn't shave her legs during the winter, so what do I know?

Morbid Musings

My husband and I, on the drive back from a major league baseball game, wondered aloud what would happen if the members of our favorite team were all killed in an airplane mishap.
Upon getting back to our computers, we did a little research and found that the list of celebrity aviation deaths is vast. For team deaths, see "collective":

ACCIDENTS

Capitalist Poetry

I stumbled onto a blog this morning whose creator has never taken the time to remove spam comments. And I have to say, some of them were really evocative:

lovelies localized involves:barked islets ringingly haunch phentermine

careers metamorphosis leech trilled handkerchiefs,gypsies

crediting macroeconomics,histograms?negotiable.marshmallow unsatisfiable

dales,making petition.unequaled excited nausea debt consolidation

niceness Greenfeld betroth constellation forearms affricates congregated credit card applications

Saturday, June 24, 2006

OCD

Working at a small store in a smallish town, I have the opportunity to see customers on a weekly basis. And being the sort of closet analyist that I am, I like to try my hand at learning something about who these people are. There are some things you can learn from a person's reading preferences. One guy who mainly buys Civil War histories is a reenactor, who's actually an extra on more than one History Channel documentary. Another, who buys mainly Boy Scout manuals, is predictably a Troop Leader. One guy managed to confuse me for over a year. He'd show up like clockwork each week wearing the exact same low-key outfit; his hair was always cut very very close to his head and never seemed to vary in length, and he'd always spend right at 50.00. He never spoke during that year and the books he bought were all over the place. I imagined him a monkish type with a passion for knowledge and a deliberately simple lifestyle. Once we got him talking though, he blew all my assumptions. He was a pastry chef, was trying to teach himself German, and had a really unexpected annoying laugh.

One thing for which I seem to tune into though is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It's not hard to spot when you know what you're looking for, although the people who have it are quite adept at trying to hide their quirks. They'll usually distract you with corny jokes, an overabundance of small talk, or normal sounding excuses. After having dated a guy with an extreme case of OCD, as well as overcoming some mild symptoms of my own, I feel I'm more attuned to the signs.

There are three main forms that OCD takes, the checkers, the ritualists, and the germophobes. I was a ritualist. My rituals, while annoying, were mainly centered around putting things back in the right place (or bad things would happen). I'd also assign bad luck or good luck to pieces of jewelry or clothing based on my experiences while wearing them. A bad pair of earrings might never again see the light of day.
A checker, on the other hand, can never truly be confident that on is on and off is off. They are compelled to keep flipping switches, setting alarm clocks, and the oil level in their car until some illogical sense of completion or assurance is achieved.

One of my customers falls into the third category; that of the germophobe. Think of the character on Monk. He comes into the store and heads straight for the bathroom to wash his hands. Once he brings the books to the counter, he likes to make sure that I touch them minimally to get the price, and then wraps each book in two plastic bags sealed with tape. This went on for some time under the guise of "humidity and moisture damage", but one night, sensing I was a bit exasperated, he confessed that he had a problem with OCD. My exasperation hadn't been so much with the corrective procedures, but with the farce that he had been keeping up. We now have a good open understanding and I think he feels more comfortable asking for what he needs.

Another customer has trouble leaving the store. I'm not sure how much his movement through the store is dictated by OCD, but it's pretty obvious when he tries to leave.
He goes through a long drawn-out verbal interaction with both our store cats; has to track them both down and talk with and pet them. Then he goes out the door. Only to return and pretend he forgot to check on something. Then he leaves again empty handed. Then he comes back in. Sometimes he lingers just outside the door and fingers the handle for a moment. He usually gets it right after no more than three re-entrys. Once he's set, he's off like a shot to his car. I like to imagine he's trying to escape the evil pull of the store door.

I had one guy go into a hissy tirade when I put a bookmark inside his book and another eccentric always arrives wearing headphones and keeps them on during his entire visit. Yet another customer keeps ten check-books and ten pens under his sweater and chooses which ones to use based on a system only he understands.

So it makes me wonder sometimes; is the person that I just think of as an extensive browser instead actually "trapped" in the store? Did the person who bought a particular book buy it because they wanted it or because they were compelled to buy it? Is the person who's been browsing the outside books for over an hour in 90 degree heat doing so because they love a bargain or because the conditions haven't yet been met under which they can enter the store?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bad Service

I saw my first major league baseball game this past weekend in Atlanta. Red Sox vs. Braves. My husband is the more passionate knowledgeable fan between us and he arranged the trip as a belated first anniversary gift. Not knowing how to get around in Atlanta, we booked a room within walking distance of the stadium. A hotel that touted itself as "Select", hosting a conference center and an "executive chef". We had high hopes. The hotel was indeed within walking distance, but that was about the only thing it could boast as having above and beyond any other hotel at which I've stayed.

After having been on the road for four hours, we went down to the lobby restaurant to have dinner before the evening game. It was early and there were only two other occupied tables. Nice decor, great overstuffed curved booth, nice menu. Our waitress was friendly and brought us water and asked us what we'd like to drink. We both enjoy a good beer, so we inquired about the beer selection. "Do you have any dark beers?" I asked. "We have Budweiser and Miller on tap", she replied. We asked what else there might be to choose from and she said she'd check with the bar. She comes back, happy to inform me that the restaurant has Bass, which is a "pretty dark beer". It's not. At all. But since we figured that that was the extent of the selection, we ordered two. She takes our food order. I ordered the stuffed flounder and my husband ordered a burger and fries. Cooked medium. She doesn't think the restaurant has any more flounder, but needs to go check. She comes back ten minutes later and tells me that yes, they do have the flounder. Ok. Order in. Ten minutes later, a different server arrives to tell me that no, they do not have any more flounder and hands me a menu to re-examine. As I'm trying to figure out what I'd like, our waitress returns to ask my husband again how he wanted his burger cooked. Our beers still haven't arrived. We decide to leave, rather than endure the entire incompetant overpriced experience. My husband, nice guy that he is, asks a restaurant employee for change for a 20.00, so that we can leave a tip for the waitress, despite the fact that all we consumed was some lemon water and some stale yeast rolls. TEN more minutes later, someone manages to track down change. We leave her a five and take off in search of dinner. Outside the hotel was a makeshift burger stand where most likely the same burger that we had just ordered for 12.00 inside was being cooked and served at record speed at half the price and none of the pretense.

The same night after walking back to the hotel after the game, we stopped in the hotel bar for a couple of beers. Not a large bar, but the room was packed. Three bartenders manned the bar and not one of them seemed to know the first thing about what they were doing. Each order was written first on paper and then the server would confusedly wander up and down the bar, trying to put it together. Once the drinks were poured, the server then consulted with both other employees and the computer for an eternity before the sale could be completed.
We first asked a server who seemed to be working the floor if we could order four Coronas to take up to our room (we still didn't know they had anything darker to drink). He referred us to "that girl on the end, who would take care of us". We sat at the end of the bar for half an hour waiting for that "girl at the end of the bar" to notice us before the same floor server came up and asked us what we wanted to order. We placed the same request and waited a while for him to bring our beers. Once the beers were in front of us, he then told us to "hang on" while he "got a price on that". Ten more minutes of waiting for our bill while he consulted the computer and his co-workers. Rather than endure whatever ridiculous wait there might be for change, we simply gave him our twenty and took off.

Day two. We get up at 8:00, shower and decide to order some room service breakfast. The menu proudly states a "Promise of Quality Service" or some such bullshit on the back. I place the call and our order at around 9:30; bagel and cream cheese, coffee, steak and eggs. The server tells us to expect a 25-30 minute delivery time. At 10:45, our food still hasn't arrived, nor has an explanation. We have a game to get to and we need to eat. My husband by now is furious and calls the restaurant, telling them to cancel the order and calling them inept. We eat hotdogs at the stadium.

Later that afternoon, back at the hotel bar after the game. After ordering yet another disgusting Budweiser, I look over and see that a customer is drinking *GASP* Guiness. I order a Guiness. It's actually cheaper than the Budweisers we've been choking down. The woman they have on duty this day is by herself and it's quickly obvious that she's far more skilled than the three morons from the night before. She's serving a room of 30-40 people and no one is having to wait more than 5 minutes for their beer. When she runs out of Guiness, she points me to a *GASP AGAIN* beer selection that includes my favorite beer, Beck's Dark. I'm finally happy. They had it all along, but no one before could figure it out. How hard was that?

How does a hotel that's trying to act all fancy pants with a stupid long-ass title, NOT prepare themselves properly when it's a HUGE baseball weekend with thousands of guests in from out of town? Why in God's name would you fill the work schedule with people who don't know jack squat about food or drink or how to find the answers to your basic questions? How do you run out of the ingredients for one of your five "specialities"? Why, on a night when your bar could efficiently serve hundreds of people and make a huge profit, would you staff it with imbeciles who only speak Budweiserese and can't work a room or the computer?

I'll probably never know the answer, but I do now know the name of a competing hotel nearby with lower rates, a free breakfast, and a free shuttle to the game.
To the hotel's credit?, they did offer us a free breakfast (which we declined) to make up for our bad experience, but my view on that is what good is it to give me more of your bad product/service to make up for your bad product/service?

Music (the minority report)

I have a dysfunctional relationship with music. I like it for the most part, I own a hefty volume of albums and CDs (which are gathering dust) and I've been to my share of concerts. What I don't get, is what feels to me like a societal obsession with it. Most everyone I know is fanatical about music. And probably most everyone I don't know. A local band can play the same venue every single week and not bore their fan base. Hundreds of new releases can hit the market monthly and music fans keep scrambling to sort the wheat from the chaff; to claim a new artist as their "latest discovery". Americans are kookoo for American Idol.

Most public places pipe in music for atmosphere. I get my hair cut to european techno (cause with this new doo, I'll be able to pull off clubbing with Paris and Lindsay), I buy groceries to Vivaldi (because I'm so damned cultured for choosing 2% milk), and I watch baseball to Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks (cause I love freedom dammit). A road trip comes up short without an exhaustively planned mix of tunes. And now with MP3 players, there doesn't seem to be a minute of the day that isn't accompanied by a soundtrack.

My co-worker is one of the aforementioned obsessives. He pulls up to work listening to something new he just burned on CD, walks in the door humming whatever he had just been listening to (the humming and soft-singing continues off an on all day), furtively checks several music related websites on his lunch break, including researching whatever bands are playing that night. At the end of the day, he immediately heads over to the local music store to plug in and sample some new releases and then it's off to see a band at a local club til' 2:00am.
I really just don't get it.

What is it about music that keeps people of all ages so continually enthusiastic and engaged? It seems as if people just can't own enough of it. I'm amazed that there's a huge market for a portable device that will hold 5000 songs. I'd be hard-pressed to put together 100.
My experience of the music scene is like having over 1000 channels of cable television, of which most are over-hyped crap, and the thought of sorting through them all to find one good show is simply exhausting.
I know there are countless bands and albums out there that I would adore, but I just don't have any interest in doing the research. And I probably wouldn't make the time to listen them much if I did own them.

Ok, I know I'm a freak. I like silence actually. A lot. I won't wear jewelry, handbags or shoes that have jangly parts, because I hate to hear the rhythmic noise they create when I walk.
I rarely play music at home. I have a really hard time thinking clearly when too much outside noise interferes. I can't even sleep when any music is playing; my brain just refuses to disengage from it. So maybe it's the way I'm wired.

I appreciate good music, but I just don't necessarily feel the need to own it. I kind of enjoy randomly stumbling upon a song I haven't heard in years, but I'm more like the kind of fisherman who removes the hook and throws it back. Maybe I'll catch it again, maybe I won't.