Monthly Archives: November 2014

Service With a Sneer

Yesterday The Curmudgeon needed some minor electronic stuff for a home project but decided against doing the requisite shopping because he just wasn’t in the mood to be talked down to, like he’s a complete idiot, by a kid at Radio Shack who’s still looking forward to the day when he can get a real job.

An Interesting Bit About Chris Christie

In the household of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Mrs. Christie does most of the cooking.

Except for the mashed potatoes, for which the Mrs. steps aside and lets the gov take over.

And Chris Christie’s mashed potatoes recipe, which his wife says is the best ever?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,

So what does it involve, besides peeled potatoes? Boiled and pureed rutabaga, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, Romano cheese, milk and heavy cream.

Butter?

And sour cream?

And creamed cheese?

AND cheese?

AND heavy cream?

And four hours after eating this, when the people who ate those mashed potatoes are finally able to move again…

At the very least, this may give us a little more insight into what makes Chris Christie tick.

And also what is probably jeopardizing his ticker.

And speaking of tickers, while The Curmudgeon would like to speculate about what else this recipe may mean, he’ll have to do that another time because just reading this list of ingredients makes him think maybe he should stop writing and start searching for a cardiologist who can give him a good once-over because he thinks he can feel his arteries clogging just thinking about a plate of Chris Christie mashed potatoes.

 

 

A Thanksgiving Short Story

thanksgiving - closed(Last year The Curmudgeon used this space to express his dismay over the proliferation of stores that are open on Thanksgiving and their insistence that their employees spend this day standing behind cash registers serving customers instead of sitting at dining room tables serving turkey and stuffing. He is pleased that this situation appears to be receiving more attention, and while it is at least a little encouraging that some stores are making a big fuss over not being open, their numbers continue to dwindle and he suspects they are fighting a losing battle.

The Curmudgeon thinks about this often; as you know by now, he has much too much free time on his hands. He used some of that free time to explore another way to approach this issue: through fiction and a new short story, hot off the presses, about a couple for whom the work-Thanksgiving-or-else ultimatum becomes all too real. Enjoy – and have a good Thanksgiving.)

 

“Squeezed”

 

Danny and Colleen McBride were sitting at their dining room table, eating dinner with their three children, when the telephone rang. Colleen rose to answer it, going quickly into the kitchen.

Danny noticed the look on his wife’s face when she returned.

“What?” he asked.

“It was Marion,” she replied. Marion was the owner of Sissy’s, the girls clothing store where Colleen had worked part-time for the past four years.

“What did she want?” Danny asked.

“She said she needs me to work on Thursday from twelve to eight.”

“What?” Danny asked.

“You heard me.”

“Since when is she open on Thanksgiving?”

“That’s what I asked. She said she had just decided, that Walmart and Target and Macy’s and Kohl’s and a lot of the others were going to be open and she felt that she needed to be open, too, that if people are going to go Christmas shopping and spend money on Thanksgiving that she couldn’t afford not to compete for their business.”

“Of all the stupid ideas,” Danny said. “So you said no, right?”

“Well, I started to, but…”

“Col…”

“And she said it wasn’t a request, that I had to work it.”

“Or?”

“Or I wouldn’t have a job anymore. She apologized, but she said she couldn’t do it to her full-time girls, that in the end, it was more important for her to keep them happy than it is to keep me happy.”

“Why that piece of…” Danny started saying.

“Danny!” Colleen interrupted, moving her head and eyes almost imperceptibly from side to side to indicate that he needed to watch his words in front of the children.

“So what did you tell her?”

“I said I’d be there. Oh, Danny, what choice do we have?”

Working at Sissy’s was Colleen’s second job; she worked one or two three-hour shifts on weeknights and a six-hour shift on alternating Saturdays and Sundays. This was in addition to her full-time job, as a billing clerk for a small group of orthopedists.

“We need to talk about this,” Danny said. “It’s Thanksgiving, for pete’s sake. We’re expecting how many?”

“Sixteen,” Colleen replied.

“I can handle that with our sisters’ help, but that’s not the point. It’s Thanksgiving. Who works on Thanksgiving?”

“I know.”

Danny, too, worked two jobs. He was a butcher for a local supermarket, and after work every Friday night he headed across town to the food distribution center, where he worked an overnight shift breaking down carcasses for early morning delivery to many of the butcher shops in the city’s bustling Italian Market, where Saturday was by far their busiest day of the week.

Even with the four jobs the McBrides were barely making ends meet. Between tuition for Danny Junior and Kathleen and day care for two-year-old Amy and the mortgage and the health insurance, they seldom found themselves with two spare nickels to rub together. When the transmission in Colleen’s car went over Labor Day weekend and the shop said it would cost $800 to repair, they scrapped the car and Danny started taking two buses to work. Every Friday afternoon Colleen would pick him up at work, drive home, and then Danny would take the car across town to his second job and then hurry home the following morning so Colleen could get to work on time when her Saturday shift at Sissy’s started at ten o’clock. Ever since Danny started taking the bus and it took him longer to get home from work, Danny’s widowed father, who lived three blocks from them, would come to the house on the nights Colleen worked in case Danny didn’t make it home before Colleen needed to leave for the store. At times they talked about asking Jimmy to move in with them, it would be so much easier with him around to help with the kids and the bills and they knew how lonely he was since Danny’s mother had passed away three years ago, but the house was so small, just three bedrooms, one of which was more like a large closet, and only one bathroom, and it seemed impossible to squeeze in another person and they were already concerned about what would happen when Amy was finally potty-trained and needed to use the bathroom, too. They had been talking about adding a powder room in the unfinished basement and even started saving just a little money for that, but it was only a little and they thought it was so important that they had agreed not to raid the bathroom kitty to help pay for the transmission – not that what they had saved so far would have put much of a dent in the $800 cost of making the car run again, especially after they had raided the powder room fund the month before when the eye doctor told them Danny Junior needed glasses.

Two hours later the children were in bed and Danny and Colleen were in their living room, Danny with a bottle of beer in his hand as he sat on the recliner and Colleen on the sofa, occasionally sipping from a cup of decaf. The only light in the room came from the television. When the program they were watching went to a commercial, Danny spoke.

“What if you said no?” he asked.

“What?”

thanksgiving - work“What if you called Marion tomorrow and told her no, you won’t work on Thanksgiving, that it’s a terrible idea to begin with and to do it with two days’ notice is especially unfair.”

“She said she’d fire me.”

“And if she did?”

“You know the numbers, Danny.”

Danny and Colleen were far from poor. The both made about $30,000 a year from their main jobs, and together they brought home another $7500 a year from their part-time work. If someone had told them on their wedding day that together they’d be making nearly $70,000 in ten years they would have smiled and thought they’d be living it up on easy street, it seemed like such a huge amount of money, but time had shown them that a house and three children made easy street part of a far more costly neighborhood than they ever would have imagined.

“Tell me.”

Danny didn’t know the numbers as well as Colleen; she was the partner with the bookkeeping skills. She paid the bills, kept an eye on the checking account balance, and maintained a constantly updated index card with a list of every major expense for which she thought she’d need to write a check in the next three months. Too often, she found herself adding unexpected expenses to that card.

“It’s Thanksgiving, Danny, and that means Christmas is a month away. We could scale back, sure, but we can’t eliminate it entirely, so that means the credit card bill will be higher than most other months. A St. Matthew’s bill, too: two tuition payments due January 10. I put some money aside for that every month so we have most of it, but not all of it, not yet. Plus it’s getting colder, so the gas bill will go up. That reminds me, I need to call the gas company and ask them to put us on a budget. And if I leave Sissy’s, I lose my discount on the girls’ clothes. With some work I can make up for that, probably by going to my sister’s house and using her computer to shop on the internet. It’s not terrible, but it’s not pretty, either.”

“Yeah, I’m hearing that,” Danny said. “This is just so…wrong. Even at the supermarket we close at two on Thanksgiving so everyone can go home, and the people who work that day all knew months ago and only after they finished asking for volunteers. This is such shit.”

“I know. But I can’t quit. We need the money.”

“You can’t find ways to cut corners, save a little money?”

“I can always find little ways to save a little money here and there but the thing about cutting back little things is that no matter how much you do, little things never add up to much. I think we’re stuck.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just pissed, that’s all. We all belong together on Thursday.

“After the new year, though, I want you to start looking for a new part-time job, and when you find one, I want you to go into that Marion and tell her to go fuck herself.”

Colleen sighed.

“What?” Danny asked.

“First of all, you know I’m not going to say that. Second of all, get what other job? Stores opening on Thanksgiving’s been going on for a few years now, so getting a job at Walmart or Target or Macy’s or Kohl’s won’t be any better. Marion’s open because they’re open, it’s self-defense, you know it’s not her and not something she wants to do.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“Come on, Danny. I’m going to be in the store on Thanksgiving and she’s going to be there, too, the whole day, and you know she’s got four kids of her own and eighteen grandkids and the store’s the last place she wants to be on Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah, I guess. But still…”

“But what?”

“It’s those people who run the Walmarts and Targets, Col. They’re not working on Thursday, that’s for sure, and they put their feet on the throats of people like us because they can, because they know we need them, and because they think if we won’t do it they can pull someone in off the street who will.”

“I know. A few of my friends are in the same position.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Karen Reilly. Suzie Leonard. A few others.”

“These people don’t quit. They just keep squeezing us and squeezing us. Sooner or later there’s not gonna be anything left to squeeze.”

“Tell me about it. Remember, I’m the one who does the checkbook.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know, maybe I can look for something that’s not in a store.”

“Like?”

“I don’t know, but I can look. Maybe some kind of call center job or another doctor’s office at night, or maybe night housekeeping in an office building or waiting tables somewhere.”

“No to those last two. I don’t want you doing that.” Danny got up from his chair and sat close to Colleen on the couch; he put his hand on her thigh. “You do enough cleaning up and waiting on people around here without doing it for other people, too.

“This just isn’t the way I thought things would be. We’re doing better than a lot of our friends, but it never ends. Whether it’s the supermarket making us kick in more for the medical or your boss deciding he wants to extend his office hours an extra half-hour without paying you any more or tuition going up or our kids getting bigger and eating more food and needing new clothes, the pressure never ends. I don’t remember it being like this for my folks.”

“I don’t think it was for mine, either. My mom didn’t work and my dad didn’t make that much, but it was always enough.

“And it never ends. The kids want cable, the school wants them to have a computer at home, and Kathleen’s second teeth are coming in so crooked…”

“Stop. Let’s just get through this one and we’ll worry about the next one when the next one happens,” Danny suggested.

“Yeah, I guess. But when we do it that way, we never have a chance to get ahead.”

“I know, Col, I know.”

 

A Governor-Elect Off to a Dubious Start

Earlier this month Pennsylvanians elected Tom Wolf to be their next governor. The guy’s not a career politician, which some people think is a good thing but The Curmudgeon thinks is more likely to lead to people in important positions who don’t know how to get things done in a sphere of endeavor in which for many of the participants doing good things and doing the right thing often are not priorities. Sure, there are exceptions – Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, comes to mind – but they’re just that: exceptions. In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that Wolf won his election largely because the man he defeated, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, isn’t a career politician and was totally lost in the political world even though he was a Republican governor who had a Republican majority in his state’s House and a Republican majority in his state’s Senate.

Now, Wolf looks like he’s heading down a similar path. Two weeks ago, for example, he announced that he had appointed a seven-member transition team.

And last week, he announced the creation of an eleven-person steering committee.

A seven-member transition team needs guidance from an eleven-member steering committee? What’s next? A committee to guide the steering committee? A blue ribbon panel to develop long-term goals and objectives?

It could be a loooonnnnng four years, Pennsylvanians.

About Mark Twain

The Curmudgeon spent a little time on YouTube recently watching some of the ceremonies honoring the winners of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor – remarks by the people introducing the winners and then by the winners themselves. Past winners include Carl Reiner, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Tina Fey, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, and others, and while The Curmudgeon would be happy to debate the merits of some of the past recipients – Will Ferrell? really? – it’s pretty hard to argue against any of the winners based either on their ability to bring the funny or at least the impact of their funny.

mark twainBut that brings us to the man after whom the prize is named: Mark Twain.   According to the people who sponsor the prize,

As a social commentator, satirist and creator of memorable characters, Samuel Clemens – the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist also known as Mark Twain – was a fearless observer of society, who outraged many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly.

Now The Curmudgeon realizes this is a sensitive subject for some people because once someone is considered great, and a classic, it becomes impolite to question that status, but…

Mark Twain?

Have you read Twain? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

Did you enjoy them?

Did you even find them readable?

And in hindsight, did you find any humor in them? Did they elicit even a simple smile?

Didn’t think so. And they didn’t for The Curmudgeon, either.

If anyone, The Curmudgeon thinks the prize should be named after the man he believes really IS the foremost humorist this country has ever produced: Calvin Trillin. Or perhaps James Thurber. Or maybe even Will Rogers.

But Mark Twain?

The Curmudgeon, for one, thinks not.

The Telephone

When he was in elementary school, The Curmudgeon recalls, a representative of the phone company – THE phone company, there was only one in those days – came to his school every year to teach his class about the telephone. These were the later years of the rotary phone era, and the class learned how to dial, how to answer the phone, and how not to use the phone as a weapon with which to bludgeon their siblings. They also were told about something that would be coming soon: the picture phone, which never came as advertised but finally arrived more than forty years later but in a form no one imagined in the mid-1960s. In third grade, The Curmudgeon recalls, he and his class walked ten minutes to a phone company facility just down the road from his school, where they were given a tour of switches and more wires and cords than any of them had ever seen.

switchboardObviously, there’s wasn’t a whole lot to learn about using the old-fashioned telephone. Cell phones, and then smartphones (and by the way: surely you have no trouble imagining how much The Curmudgeon dislikes that word), certainly changed that, and while The Curmudgeon still doesn’t have a smartphone and his success rate in answering incoming cell phone calls the first time has only recently climbed past the fifty percent mark, he’s certainly capable – well, at least sometimes capable ­– of carrying out its basic operations. It doesn’t hurt that as far as he can tell only about seven people in the world have his cell phone number, so his success/failure rate doesn’t cause too many raised eyebrows and hard feelings.

As he has noted in the past, The Curmudgeon works at home, which is a good thing, because his employer’s two offices are both more than 100 miles away and the commute would be a bear. You can’t beat working at home: the dress code’s great (shoes? who needs shoes?), there’s never any traffic between his living room and the spare bedroom in which he works, and he never needs to worry about a hungry co-worker swiping his peanut butter and banana on whole wheat out of the company fridge. The company provides him with a computer, a printer, an internet connection, a phone line, and all the toner and paper he can use, and really, what more could a boy want?

Recently, the company decided to update its phone system to take advantage of various technological advances. The new system is an internet phone system and it almost immediately looked like it would end up improving the quality of office life for a merry and hard-working staff of ten.

But it has required more learning and study than anything The Curmudgeon has experienced since his train wreck of an encounter with Accounting 001 in the spring semester of 1976.

First, the new phone arrived in the mail with an instruction booklet that The Curmudgeon needed to read just to learn how to connect the phone to the internet. When that didn’t achieve the desired result, he called the home office for more direct assistance.

digiumThen, a memo from the home office directed him to the internet and a series of eight videos posted on YouTube – eight videos! – explaining how to use the phone.

And then a conference call – the sound has never been better, The Curmudgeon can literally hear when one co-worker who has a particularly heavy hand is taking notes – in which The Curmudgeon was routed directly into the laptop of a colleague making a presentation demonstrating the phone’s various features.

And next back to the internet, where the company has a dedicated space on the phone vendor’s web site on which individual users can log in and learn about and select various options and apply them to their own phones.

Finally, to wrap things up, two cheat sheets from the home office reminding everyone how to work the phone’s most popular features. The cheat sheets are important, too, because there’s nothing very intuitive about some of those features.

All this – to learn how to use a telephone!

The Curmudgeon, moreover, has it easy: all he has to do is pick up the phone when it rings and, when he wants to call one of his co-workers, hit a single button. The sound quality is so good that he’s discarded the headset he’s used for years and simply uses the speaker 100 percent of the time. His co-workers, on the other hand, need to learn how to place calls on hold, transfer them with and without announcing who’s calling, transfer work calls to their cell phones when leaving the building, transfer their cell phone calls to their work phones when they’re entering the office, “park” some calls (don’t even ask, because The Curmudgeon has no idea what that actually means, he only knows he’s heard people talking about it), and more. Now, The Curmudgeon has one concern: every year, the company generously gives employees a few days off between Christmas and new year’s day, with everyone staggering their days off to ensure phone coverage in the offices. The Curmudgeon has never been asked to pitch in with that chore, probably because he’s more than 100 miles away from those offices. Now that he can see every phone line at a single glance and the calls could easily be forwarded to him, he’s starting to get worked up about the possibility that he’s going to end up getting company-wide phone duty for a half day this coming December.

Ultimately, learning the new phone system will be a lot like learning how to use a computer: if you try to learn it all at once there’s no way you’ll succeed but if you just wait until you need various features and learn them then, you’ll do just fine. After all, no one merged letters, imported graphics, and created custom keyboard commands the very first time they opened Microsoft Word, but eventually, you learned the tools you needed and paid no attention to the rest. And in the end, just like you realized that Microsoft Word or Word Perfect or Multi-mate (the word processing software in the first workplace at which The Curmudgeon had access to a computer) was light years better than the old, reliable IBM Selectric, the new, complicated, you-really-really-need-to-be-smart-to-understand-all-this-stuff phone system will come to be viewed as a quantum leap beyond anything you’ve ever used before.

But it sure would be nice if the guy from the phone company could come by once in a while and go through all those new features again.

Lawyers and…Ethics?

The city of Philadelphia has a Board of Ethics, and this week Mayor Michael Nutter appointed the dean of Temple University’s law school to fill a vacancy on the five-member board.

Wait a second.

A lawyer…on a board of ethics?

Why would anyone think that someone from a profession that generally believes that anything that’s legal is therefore ethical could possibly have anything of value to contribute to an entity created to foster ethical behavior in government?

Time to Invoke the Mercy Rule?

In many baseball little leagues they have what they call a “mercy rule,” which says that if a team falls behind its opponent by a large number of runs – usually, ten or eleven runs – the game is ended to spare the children on the losing team any further humiliation.

Well, the National Basketball Association season started just three weeks ago, the Philadelphia 76ers have played ten games, and the Philadelphia 76ers have lost ten games.

They lost one of those games by 53 points.

Another by 32 points.

Another by 26 points.

Another by 25 points.

And another by18 points.

All told, they’ve lost their ten games by a combined total of 185 points, or an average margin of 18.5 points a game. (As you can see, The Curmudgeon is quite proficient in higher math.)

76ers tankingOf course, as The Curmudgeon has written in the past, all of this losing is by design: the 76ers have assembled the worst team they possibly can so they can lose as many games as they can and “earn,” if that’s what you want to call it, the right to select the best player coming out of college basketball. The process of doing this is known as “tanking.”

The 76ers have played ten games and the only victories they’ve won are moral victories that come when they leave the court not in a state of utter humiliation. The players are demoralized, the fans are demoralized, the news media is demoralized, and it’s gotten so bad that the mother of one of the team’s players took to Twitter to refer to the 76ers as a “screwed up program” and to declare – please excuse both the profane and lousy English, readers – that

hi im kj mcdaniels mom , yes they are tanking the season fucking over my son and yes I and kj fans are livid

Under these circumstances, don’t you think it might be appropriate for the National Basketball Association to invoke the mercy rule and just send the Philadelphia 76ers home not just for the day but for the rest of the season and put everyone out of their misery right now?

 

An Interesting Assessment of the Obama Legacy

If there’s one kind of journalism The Curmudgeon dislikes more than others it’s reporters interviewing other reporters instead of going out and, well, doing some reporting. The liberal magazine The American Prospect had such an interview in its July/August edition, of a reporter whom it cited as an expert on all things Hillary.

While the subject of the interview had remarkably few insights about The Woman Who Would Be President, he did have one very interesting observation about The Man who is President:

Obama leached the sense of political excitement out of an entire generation with the gap between his campaign style and his governing style.

True dat!

Government Helps the Unemployed Find Jobs as Strippers and “Escorts”

One of the main features of Obamacare is that it enables states to expand their Medicaid programs and insure more people, with the federal government, not the states, picking up the tab for expansion. About half of the states simply expanded their existing programs, about a third insisted that hell would freeze over before they’d expand their programs, and a small group of states decided to try to expand their programs using what they are calling a “free-market approach” to providing health insurance for low-income people.

Pennsylvania is one of those aspiring free-market states, and part of its plan for expanding its Medicaid program called for requiring all new Medicaid recipients to search for work. To prove they’re searching, it wanted to require them to sign up for the state’s internet “job gateway” through which thousands and thousands of jobs are posted.

It’s not a terrible idea: after all, if the state can link people who need work with jobs, that would be good for the people who need work and possibly good for taxpayers, who might be freed of the cost of providing Medicaid services for those people.

Recently, though, the Philadelphia Daily News took a look at some of the 250,000 job listings the state boasted of having on its job gateway. Among them:

  • Casting Couch – Looking for M.I.L.F.S . . . hot mom & daughter combos!!! Young busty females between 18-45. Please attach pic. Thank you ladies!!!
  • VIP Hostess – I have two visiting VIP gentlemen coming to town. Need a couple of female hostesses to join them for cocktailing, dinner and clubbing. Send me a couple of pictures of yourself – under 30 please, if you are highly attractive and in need of $$ . . .
  • Bachelor Party – Looking for one or two dancers for a bachelor party in June. Please send photos and other info/rates.
  • Dancing – We are planning a private party for 15 to 20 guys, looking for 2 girls to dance for us. Cash plus tips.

It turns out that some of the state’s job listings are pulled directly, and automatically, from other job sites, with these particular jobs coming from Craigslist. While the secretary of the state’s Department of Labor and Industry told reporters that the department uses software to remove offensive content, that software apparently is still a work in progress. The offensive listings were removed once they were brought to the attention of state officials, but that doesn’t mean similar postings won’t eventually find their way onto the site in the future.

So all of you aspiring strippers, prostitutes, and exotic dancers in Pennsylvania: if you’re looking for work, forget Monster.com, employment agencies, and headhunters; ignore LinkedIn because it’s not really linked into the kind of gig you’re seeking; and turn instead to your (very) friendly state government, which apparently doesn’t care how you earn a living so long as you earn one.

Back in 1980, Pennsylvania built its tourism marketing campaign around the phrase “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.” Who would have guessed that thirty-four years later that campaign could be restyled as “You’ve Got a Friend (With Benefits) in Pennsylvania.”