Archive for February, 2012

Just Thinkin'

Just Thinkin'

Something about the supermarket, bus stations, the subway, doctor’s waiting rooms, the gym and the laundromat gets my creative juices flowing. Perhaps it is taking part in something with the general public. I am back from a stop at the supermarket and lo and behold I am now inspired. I got to thinking about way back when, before cell phones when it was socially acceptable, in the event of a pressing matter or emergency to ask a person on a pay phone politely “Are you going to be long?” It was a way to test the waters, or to nudge someone along, without being rude. I suppose “Are you going to be long” is still used in some social situations. People say it at the gym.  “Can I work through?” they say when someone is resting between sets, yet occupying one of the coveted workout benches. I never ask if I can work through. I just make several dozen impatient glances at the person I am waiting for. How dare they use the bench I wanted to use at that moment? Actually, I am reasonably patient with people working out. It’s the people who sit on the benches and text message, that I fantasize about braining with one of the 25 lb dumbbells and immediately after taking a bow to the thunderous applause of the rest of the room.

I guess it isn’t appropriate to ask someone in or entering a bathroom if they’re going to be long, although I seem to remember people asking if they can go before me when they feel there might be an impending accident. It is leaps and bounds more socially acceptable for a person to ask if they can go first when it’s “#1”, than when it’s “#2”.  Numero Dos is almost always a tricky situation. I am close to and fond of my current roommate, but even I; Mr Potty Humor would feel awkward telling her “You better go first.” if I had to lay some cable. Leaving a bathroom after a particularly noxious boom- boom when someone is waiting to use it after you is never an easy situation and almost always lacking in couth.  It’s interesting to note that my cat Chong often has intestinal callings when I am on the throne reading a book and Lamaze breathing…but Chong and I share a special level of closeness and familiarity. His sandbox is 2 feet in front of my toilet.  Maybe our crapping together is some kind of feline bonding ritual that I have been lucky enough to be invited to. But I digress . . .

Nothing to worry about here, I'm not a patient man.

Nothing to worry about here, I'm not a patient man.

Back to the supermarket and the consistent source of inspiration it is to me…I got the idea while scouting a check out line to join. I must say, I have the world’s worst instincts in these matters. I know better, but I guess I am a hopeless romantic. I always think that this time, the little old lady with the four items won’t take more than 45 minutes in line, and I step in behind her, hopeful, wide eyed and moments away from inevitable disappointment. You’d think I would have learned by now, but apparently I have not.  Wouldn’t things be better if it were socially acceptable to ask the person in line in front of you; “Pardon me, but are you going to be an absolutely oblivious and clueless pain in the ass?” Then the little old woman, mother of 6, or whatever room temp IQ person would turn and say “Oh yes, I’m going to be a tremendous  pain in the ass. I plan to argue with the cashier about the price of every other item. I have coupons here in my purse, but I’m not sure where in my purse and at least half of them have expired. I am going to wait until the cashier has scanned every item prior to snapping out of my stupor and paying for my purchase…via check. I will have to ask the date and who do I make the check out to, because surely it can’t be the same entity I made last weeks check out to. For a finale, I will stand back as the cashier bags my groceries, because God forbid I should help or do it myself. Then I will take another 20 minutes to pick the bags up and move along. Sometimes to keep things fresh I leave the line and go looking for something I forgot, giving you the chance to share looks of disgust with the cashier.”

After that onslaught of painfully refreshing honesty, I’d thank them kindly and find another line to get into. In my careful research over the years, I have determined that a thoughtful, intelligent person with many items to check out takes the same amount of time as a clueless person or annoying old lady with only a few items. Maybe I get in these lines out of some subconscious need to be annoyed which, would speak volumes as to what a poorly adjusted little man I am.

This kind of blunt yet time saving honesty could be used in many different contexts. Of course I instantly thought of my own job, waiting tables. As I do so a smile is creeping across my bitterness lined face and I think of a party of eight coming in to my restaurant…

Me: “Hi folks, are you here for dinner?”

Dad: “Yes.”

Me: (gathering menus) “How many?”

Dad and Mom: (in unison) “Eight.”

Me: “Eight…ok, if you’ll just follow me..”  I lead the large party toward the dining room before I turn and say.  “Oh I’m sorry, I forgot to ask…do you people suck?  I see you’ve brought an infant in with you, so I’m inclined to think that you do, but I just wanted to make sure.”

Dad: “Oh goodness yes. We suck tremendously.”

Mom: (nodding) “Yes,  you will need to get drunk tonight after dealing with us. We’re a nightmare. First the baby is going to scream throughout the meal. We’re used to it, but other good customers will get up and leave.”

Small Child. Age 4: “I’m going to run around and get underfoot, I will also knock things over which neither me nor my parents will pick up.”

Young Teen Girl:  “I’m going to be a spoiled little princess brat with a lousy attitude. I will make disgusted faces at every dish you bring and I will be text messaging throughout the meal, ignoring you when you ask if you can take my plate or if I’d like another soda.”

Grandmother: “I’m going to complain about the temperature.”

Grandfather: “I’m going to complain about the prices.”

Mother: “I’m going to be staring at the menu 5 minutes after everyone else has ordered, I will ask you questions that I could find the answers to by looking at the menu…oh, and I’d like my water refilled 9 times.”

Uncle: “I’m an inappropriate and mean drunk. I will be making bad jokes throughout dinner and repeat them until you’ll have to placate me with your well practiced waiters fake laugh.”Baby: Screeches.  My nose begins to bleed.

Dad: “Oh, and I never leave more than a $5 tip regardless of the cost of the meal.”

Older Teen Daughter: “I’m going to mumble my order and not touch my food.”Baby: Screeches louder just in case someone 10 blocks away might have missed the first screech. Mom smiles. Mothers are the only creatures in the universe who can tolerate the glass shattering screeching of babies.

Grandfather: “My daughter has been known to write lengthy emails of complaint, filled with lies and warped exaggerations to the owner that will get you in trouble.”

Mother: (nodding) “So don’t forget to keep that water glass full sonny boy.”

Grandmother: “It’s cold.”

Uncle: “Can I get a Jack and Coke…easy on the coke…haha…didja hear me? I said easy on the coke…get it, easy on the coke…Regardless I will complain about the amount of alcohol in every drink.”

Grandmother: “Why is it so cold?”

Me: “OK folks, right this way, let me get the new server for you.  They need to be initiated in a trial by fire.

If only…

Fun for everyone!

Fun for everyone!

This is dedicated to my best friend Gow, who manages to put up with me, in spite of everything. (Har!)

I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day, and if you’re expecting some original reason for this…well, you’re going to be disappointed. I actually have a few reasons for hating Valentine’s Day, but none are terribly unique.

1. I’m single, with very few romantic prospects at the moment. (With the possible exception of my incarcerated lady pen pals that I have been corresponding with, and that tree wont bear fruit for at least another 16-24 months with good behavior.) Valentine’s Day serves as a reminder to every single person who is taking part in the dating nightmare that they’re alone. It’s not automatically sunnier when you are romantically involved or dating. It can serve as a reminder if things aren’t going well. Plus it’s easy to get into a fight on Valentine’s Day. Hallmark and various confectionary companies have set some kind of bar that most people can’t agree upon. If you do too much, it’s awkward. If you do too little, you look like an ass.

2. Valentine’s Day is quite literally a bad luck day for me. One year I was fired from a job. Another year I was arrested. On one Valentine’s Day I awoke to a note from my mother saying that she had taken herself to the hospital with blood poisoning, which was quite scary for both of us, not to mention how horrible she must have felt. Three horrid experiences on this joyous “holiday” of love? I’ll stay in bed and hide, thanks.

3. Then, of course, there is the tried and true belief that Valentine’s Day is a bullshit holiday made up by greeting card companies, candy makers and florists to boost business.

Yeah, that about sums it up right there.

Yeah, that about sums it up right there.

What one does to celebrate Valentine’s Day is a bit of a social tightrope. If you buy a card for your partner, then surely someone that they or you both know will go balls out in a Valentine’s Day frenzy and make you look cheap or uncaring. Most of the standard Valentine’s Day gifts are useless, expensive or unhealthy, and often a combination of all three. Stuffed animals, candy, flowers. Sure they’re all nice, but the flowers die, the candy isn’t healthy and the stuffed animal is about as useful as …well… a stuffed animal. Speaking of candy… I hate those “assortments” that include about 50 disgusting mystery chocolates to every one halfway decent one. Let’s cut the crap. Give me a heart shaped box full of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and you can skip the box too.

Getting back to the cards for a moment. Who writes this cornball crap? I get nauseous just reading them. Surely Hallmark or American Greetings can come up with something better. Maybe a checklist type of card, where the sender can check off the things they want to “say” to their love interest. Maybe it’s not terribly romantic, but it’s clear and concise and beats those maudlin poems and messages that Hallmark is obviously paying lonely, unattractive people to write.

Wow. . . just . . . ummm . . yeah.

Wow. . . just . . . ummm . . yeah.

Years ago I was living with my girlfriend we were very much in love. I was making decent money at the time and thought it would be nice to send a dozen long stemmed roses to her at her office. She adored the roses, and that made me feel good. However, later I came to realize that part of the reason she had enjoyed the roses delivered to her at work, was because it gave her a chance to stick it to the girls she worked with, but didn’t care for much. Now that’s fine too. I’m a big fan of any, every and all petty torments to those who make our work life a little harder every day. Hell, if I thought it would piss my least favorite co-workers off, I’d be sending myself roses or Godiva chocolates all the time. I understand and enjoy being occasionally spiteful as much as the next guy, but let’s call it what it is then, and not disguise it as a celebration of love.

So this year I have decided to forgo Valentine’s Day in favor of Petty Spite and Bitterness Day. Instead of sending expressions of affection to those we love, like or are interested in, let’s send them to our friends to make their catty co-workers green with envy. Valentine’s Day was named after St. Valentine who, after extensive research I found, had little to nothing to do with chocolates, roses, love letters, or romantic dinners…then again, what do marshmallow peeps and jellybeans have to do with the execution and re-birth of Tim Tebow’s personal lord and savior? (See what happens when advertisers get their claws on a concept? They warp it completely out of recognition.) Since “Petty Spite and Bitterness Day” doesn’t really roll off the tongue or fit in most calendar slots I shall have to think of a more marketable name for this new holiday.

In the UK, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by sending anonymous cards, flowers or trinkets to whomever one has a secret crush on. That’s kind of cool, although I want to take it a step further and send anonymous messages of paranoia and depression to people I dislike. Mail someone some deodorant, soap or mouthwash anonymously. Spend an evening cutting out words from a magazine and paste together a poem with a ransom note panache.

A year ago I wrote a piece called “Really Bad Valentine’s Day Ideas” and it was probably the best received piece I have ever written and one that I felt really good about. I have had a few more really bad Valentine’s Day ideas that I wanted to add to the list.

Oh, the humanity!

Oh, the humanity!

1. Mail yourself 20 or 30 Valentine’s Day cards. Wait by the mailbox for them to be delivered and the inevitable comment from your postal worker about how popular you are. Smile and agree with them, then go back indoors and cry.

2. Make a reservation for two at a popular and expensive restaurant on Valentine’s Day. (Do this well in advance as many places fill up quickly.) Buy a nice new suit or dress for the occasion and sit pretending to wait for a date. Have a bunch of flowers with you. Glance at your watch often while looking forlorn. Fill up on breadsticks and rest assured that all the happy couples in the restaurant are discussing the poor loser who has been stood up. If you’re a true pro with a vivid imagination who has watched and believed too many romantic comedies…try to get into a conversation with the waiter or waitress, certain that they will have some brilliant insights into your situation, or will hook up with you.

Only thing missing is the shirt, right?

Only thing missing is the shirt, right?

3. Buy a “Free Hugs” t-shirt 5 sizes too small and stand on a busy sidewalk or at the exit of a subway station. Have a video camera set up behind you to catch the reactions of disgusted, annoyed or frightened people you encounter after smiling and extending your arms open wide to them. Then go home, make popcorn, play “Air Supply’s” All Out of Love over and over again while watching the tape of the general public’s rejection of you.

4. Call one of your parents and ask if they will be your Valentine. Go out to dinner and a movie with them and tell everyone who will listen that “My mom is my valentine today!”

5. Buy 6 huge bags of those little candy hearts that taste like saccharine flavored chalk. Go to a wine bar and buy and overpriced bottle of red and consume it quickly. Order another bottle and while sitting at the bar, pour the bags of candy out on to the bar in front of you. Between large gulps of wine, read the little hearts messages aloud, then sob or make sarcastic commentary and throw them over your shoulder one at a time. “Be mine….pfffft” “Real Love…doesn’t exist”….”My Baby….My ass” “Let’s Kiss…Let’s not…” You will be asked to leave after a short time. Promise to stop, and then start again until the police are called or a burly doorman escorts you out.

6. Spend the day watching depressing love stories on DVD. My Left Foot, 1984, Leaving Las Vegas, La Strada.

I don't think that's the look of love in his eyes, do you?

I don't think that's the look of love in his eyes, do you?

Happy Valentines Day Everyone.

Bad Writing Habits

Posted: February 1, 2012 by S. Trevor Swenson in General, Me & Mine
Tags: , , , , , ,

I have terrible habits as a writer. Oh, I know all the things I’m supposed to do. I just never do them. It’s a pity, as I seem to excel with bad or self destructive habits. The drinking? Going strong since 1984. Smoking? I took that up for a New Years resolution the very next year. I routinely read what good writers are supposed to do. What I read makes perfect sense, and I intend to do it, I just seldom follow through.

One thing that I keep meaning to do, but I have difficulty remembering is to carry a notepad with me and write down the ideas that pop into my mind. In class this isn’t such a problem as I have paper and pens in front of me and rather than concentrating on what I am paying the teacher to lecture me on, I write cute and clever anecdotes about Irritable Bowel Syndrome or UFO/Alien Abduction. I learned quickly and sadly that classes that involve facts, formulas, procedures, science and math are usually the classes I need to be paying close attention to. I can literally hear my mother’s voice “Maybe if you spent more time paying attention and taking notes and less time writing your little novellas about poop and drinking, you wouldn’t be failing algebra, biology, medical dosages, chemistry.” (Sadly, this list of subjects goes on and on.) Like many mothers, my moms disapproves of a great many things that I do. The truly irritating thing is, that she’s frequently right.

Certain places are conducive to good comedy writing, but I am often too wrapped up in the negativity of the experience to take good notes. I remember what I can and sometimes the pieces come out strong…sometimes not so much. Doctors waiting rooms are generally good, as are buses and trains. Grocery stores and laundromats run a close second. I’ve never taken notes in a bank as I feel “watched”. I don’t need some over zealous cop sticking a gun in my face after suspecting me of writing a lengthy, 250 word stick up note/essay. I had an excited police officers gun in my face just a couple months ago and the experience was surprisingly not the roller coaster of thrills, chills and spills that I’d hoped it would be. An armed robbery suspect had run into my building, and the Blue Meanies burst into my apartment with guns drawn looking for him. I didn’t even have a clever remark to make like they do in the movies. I merely obeyed the officers instructions and after he took the 9mm out of my face and left, I calmly changed my underwear and made some Tension Tamer herbal tea.

Sometimes I think of the same funny concept over and over during specific moments or in specific places, but then I forget to write it down. Recently for example, every time I use the bathroom at work and have to wash my hands afterwards (like the little sign says) I have been thinking about where I read someplace that a person should sing an entire version of “Happy Birthday to You” while washing their hands to insure that you have washed long enough. I got to thinking that perhaps people sing too quickly. Like how we counted for hide-and-go-seek as children before adding the “Mississippi clause” to the rules. One had to count “One Mississippi…Two Mississippi, etc”. Of course the kids who had little regard for fair play quickly turned Mississippi into a one syllable word, so we’d have to hide more quickly. I came up with the Sinatra/Lounge Lizard version of “Happy Birthday to You” to be quite certain that I was killing all the nasty germs after my urinal experience. I don’t just blurt through Happy Birthday, dry my hands and go. I take a few minutes of scrubbing like a surgeon while working the imaginary supper club where I am crooning. “Hey everybody, how are y’all tonight? You’re a great looking crowd….I’m a little late tonight to the Porcelain Lounge because I had some crazy woman wake me up late last night. At 3 in the morning there was a pounding on my hotel room door, pounding, pounding, pounding, and this was at 3am. Finally, I had to let her out . Ha ha! But seriously folks, you are a gorgeous crowd. Anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary out there tonight? Yes, you sweetheart? How old are ya honey? 67? Oh, God bless ya. Let’s give this young lady a round of applause, huh folks? This first number is just for you, sweety….”Happy Birth-day….to yo-o-o-u doobie doobie doo. Thank you folks, thank you…Happy Birthday tooooo  you-ou-ouou….Happy BIRTH-day dear….what’s your name, honey? Dear Marie-eee…..Happy Birthday…to-o-o-o-o. you…let’s hear it for Marie on her special day. Thanks, folks and don’t forget to take care of your waiters or waitresses tonight…You’re beautiful…no really…Thank You….”

By the time I’m done my hands are quite sterile, and on the rare occasion where I lose myself in the day dream, and sing out loud, some poor fellow waiting to drop a deuce will pound on the bathroom door screaming, “Uh, hey Ole Blue-Eyes,  You coming out this week, or you gonna sing “Summer Winds” next?”

I should probably invest in one of those mini tape recorders and speak into it when oh-so-clever ideas pop into my head.   “Idea for a sitcom….two paralyzed hospital patients have to share a room and one is a black democrat, the other is a white racist republican…hilarity ensues…possible name “Bedpan Alley”.

The problem with that is that I hate the sound of my own voice and it makes me cringe while robbing me of any and all creativity when I hear it played back. The other reason is on the rare occasion I witness people who speak into those little things, I think they should be arrested and sentenced to hard labor for gross and willful pretension.

I really need to find a way to get into some better habits as a writer.