Friday, September 20, 2013

Hanging on the Telephone

Part of my job involves talking to old people and service providers on the phone. This might seem funny to those of you who have talked to me on the phone and heard me doze off after about three minutes or have waited on me to return a call, sort of knowing in the back of your head that it ain't never gonna happen.

But I'm professional and courteous, and get called "Hon" a lot.

One morning I helped one of our customers with his account. This happens fairly regularly - people want to change the frequency of the mailings, or change one of their selections, or want to re-listen to something they had years ago.

After the usual small talk, we get into it.

"Well, I'm looking to see which ones of the Jedi series I've read before. I know I'm about halfway through with one series and WOULD YOU KEEP IT DOWN, YOU BITCH? I'M ON THE DAMN PHONE!"

I was pretty sure this previously nice old man wasn't talking to me, but something had obviously tripped this switch over to Hyde mode.

I don't like being around people getting yelled or yelling. It always reminds me of being at a friend's house as a kid while they got in trouble and you just had to sort of sit there and act like you're not hearing anything. On the funny side, when he screamed, he sounded remarkably like the angry dad  in the D.R.I. thrash classic "Mad Man."

"Just a second, please. I TOLD YOU I'M ON THE DAMN PHONE! WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT? So, I think I finished all that New Republic stuff, but I can't remember. Could you see what I've read?"

"Uh...yeah...uh..certainly. It looks like you did finish most of  --"

"YOU GOT ENOUGH MANURE IN YOU TO FERTILIZE ALL OF KANSAS! YEAH, YOU KNOW IT ALL, SURE YOU DO! Say, do you have "Dune" on digital yet or is it still only on tape?"

This went on for a few more minutes, him screaming at some unknown person, returning to me as a nice old man, me looking up book series for him, and neither one of us acknowledging the screaming. Should I say something? Should I ask if he needed help? These are were all great options running through my head as I ignored the yelling and finished the call.

I found out later that I did the right thing by ignoring the problem - he's been calling for years and almost always gets into it with whoever he's sharing a house with. As always, my strategy of ignoring problems and having good telephone skills continue to work like a charm.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quicksand! Dang, Now We Are In Trouble.

Growing up I thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be.

OK, I totally stole that line from an ecard thingy my girlfriend posted on the facebook, but truthfully, I was fascinated and terrified of quicksand as a kid. It took up a large part of my fears - probably a smaller part than getting eaten by a shark (we lived in Mississippi. The chances were pretty slim.), but still something to look out for.

It seems a large portion of entertainment geared towards kids had people sinking slowly into quicksand, generally British explorers puffing on pipes and uttering something like, "Oh, bother." Quicksand was everywhere in cartoons and old movies - if you were outside, chances were pretty good, at least according to TV, there was a pit of quicksand just waiting for you to fall into.

These old movies also taught me that gorillas and skeletons were somehow the most terrifying things ever back in the old days, but that's another story.

I asked my parents what quicksand was exactly, and they told me it was just water and sand. TV was right! The stuff was all over the place.

A few months later, I had an enemy. I can't remember exactly why we were enemies, just the usual little kid stuff, I suppose.

Wait! I remember! He totally called bullshit on my cyborg story.

See, during this time, "The Six Million Dollar Man" was was a popular television show. The hero was an astronaut who almost died until the government implanted super-strong robotics in him so he could solve crimes and beat up Bigfoot.

Cashing in on that popularity, I had half-convinced a group of kids that I too, had robotics in my arm. Luckily, nobody asked me to lift anything heavier than my 6 year old muscles could handle. Maybe there just wasn't anything heavy enough for me to lift to impress them with, or maybe I got out of it because, hey, kids are dumb.

But this one kid wasn't buying it. He wanted proof. I explained that peeling back the fake skin on my arm and revealing my circuitry would cause an explosion that would kill us all, but he was skeptical. Worse, I could see the other kids were losing faith in my robotics, also.

I don't recall how I got out of my lie, maybe my timing was right and everyone had to go home to eat before I had to whip out my circuitry, but I could sense that the crowd had turned against me.

I couldn't eat my dinner that night. Who the hell did that kid think he was, ruining my story and calling me a liar? The nerve! And he turned all my other friends against me! How dare he slander me like that! I had to get back at him, but how?

I had the answer. Quicksand.

I was able to get out after dinner and run to the back of his apartment building. There was a sandbox outside. I set a hose into the box and turned on the water.

I got the quicksand to a good consistency then went home in the dusk, secure in the knowledge that I was gonna make that kid pay for doubting me. Like a mini Walter White, my enemies would perish due to my knowledge of science.

I had trouble sleeping that night. What if that kid didn't know not to struggle against the quicksand and drowned? There were only about 7 inches of the stuff, but who knows how powerful quicksand is? Maybe it ate a hole in the bottom of the sandbox or something.

What if some other kid went in the sandbox? What if a baby crawled in there? I only wanted to punish my rival for his slander, not kill any innocent babies. And I didn't even really want to kill that kid, just sort of punish him a little. I might have gone a little overboard with my revenge.

My stomach was really churning now, but it was too late for me to go back and fix my trap. All night I was haunted by thoughts of innocent people drowning in my quicksand trap. One after another, they all fell in - a mailman, my parents, my sister, my teacher, friends - who knows how many people would die before the sun came up and I could fix things?

As soon as I could make an excuse to get out of the house, I ran over to the sandbox. In the light of the day, my quicksand trap didn't look all that lethal. In fact, it looked like a bunch of wet sand in a plastic sandbox. I might have poked around just to be sure there were no babies trapped in there, but everything seemed OK.

Walking home I reflected on the beauty of human life, the futility of revenge, and more importantly, the importance of always being honest in storytelling. This was going to be a new start.

OK, not really. I was like 6 or 7 years old. I had a lifetime of revenge fantasies, lies, and exaggerations to go. But I did learn a vital lesson. If called on my bullshit, I could totally whip up some quicksand.

P.S. When doing a Google image search for British explorer in quicksand, about half of the images were cartoons of scantily clad ladies up to their chests in quicksand. You people are weird.

Tales of Rock and Roll Glory

A disclaimer: as with many of the stories here, I can not 100 percent verify the following tale's accuracy. I'm almost positive one of the band members told it to me right after the tour, but my age-ravaged memory could be making that up as well. I don't want to submit it to my usual thorough, hard-hitting investigative reporting, because I really like this story, and want to believe it is true.

Let's proceed.

Panthro United UK 13 were a Gainesville punk rock band in the late '90s/early '00s with a long name. They were awesome.

Jimmy the bass player had been growing a beard on one of their tours. One day out of boredom or funniness, he shaved it all off except for a mustache. The band pulled up to play a show at some little bar in the middle of nowhere. While the opening bands were playing, Jimmy sat silently alone at the bar with his mustache and some aviator glasses, drinking, and occasionally blurting out, "Don't look at me. I'm an undercover cop."

Now I might be a simple country lawyer, but I'm pretty sure most undercover cops don't usually yell out their status in bars.
Here's Jimmy in some snazzy blue pants. Picture by
Most of the people at the bar/show were younger than the band, and they were starting to get seriously weirded out by this older mustache guy. They were pretty sure he wasn't really an undercover cop, but he was still being a big ol' mustached weirdo down there at the end of the bar.

Meanwhile, the rest of Panthro is getting ready to play. The kids are still eying Jimmy, wondering if they're gonna have to do something about this guy before the band starts. Finally, Jimmy finishes his drink, runs up to the stage, puts on his bass, turns around to face the bar, hits a chord, and the kids start gong nuts. Crazy undercover cop guy was a rocker!

I'd like to think that those kids learned a lesson that night. That maybe even the quiet square (or weirdo calling attention to him/herself) might be an undercover star, ready to rock faces off at a moment's notice.

Even if they didn't learn a lesson, they still got to see an undercover cop play bass.


Since I can't completely verify that story, here's another Jimmy story from an earlier tour with Don's Ex-Girlfriend and Highway 66 that is 100% true:

This tour was so long ago we used covered wagons to cross the country, and once we got to Chicago Jimmy was running out of money. We were in Chinatown and he's counting his remaining funds, and says, "Alright, I can't buy any more stupid stuff." Ten minutes later he bought a $15 T-shirt with a big smiling face of Andy Lau, with huge letters saying ANDY. Of course, the largest shirt they had was designed for a Chinese girl, so you could see his lungs working through the thing. He wore that shirt for years, and it was always awesome.