Monthly Archives: June 2011

Life Without the U.S. Mail

I am saddened by what appears to be the imminent implosion of the United States Postal Service.  All that rain and snow and dark of night, and the kill shot comes courtesy of the Internet and an underfunded retiree trust.

Photo: Aranami

Imagine life without the U.S. Mail.  No more kitchen tables blanketed daily with seventeen credit card offers that each must be opened and shredded at intervals lest the shredder seize up.  No more catalogues from the previous homeowners to geriatric medical supply companies.  No more pleas from alma maters for money on top of the money they are already owed.

What will we do with those extra hours not spent waiting on line at the post office, while one customer devours everyone’s lunch break by reviewing every type of stamp offered to mail a postcard?  I’m going to miss gazing through the glass windows with wanton desperation at the postal workers strolling in the background.

Wedding invitations will have to be by email or text.  The grandparents and Luddites who insist on living life without computers will have to miss the party.  At least they won’t need to be sent a thank you note.

Another casualty will be the handwritten letter.  I last received one in 1992 at a sleep-away gulag in the Berkshire mountains.  It was from my best friend, and in the letter he described all the cast-away junk he had been smashing and setting on fire in my absence.  In the margins he had drawn caricatures of teachers he disliked, set in violent and lewd situations.  At night, when I was homesick for a good meal and a bathroom with a closing door, I would re-read the letter by light of my calculator watch.  I’d still have the letter today if an ogre in Umbro shorts hadn’t used it to wrap his trout.

Such a personal letter could not be transmitted over email or Facebook today.  The most we can hope for are emoticons, “xoxoxo,” and advertisements for Netflix.  Perhaps someday technology will allow people to fill electronic messages with stylized handwriting and doodles.  Curlicues, flourishes, and hearts over lowercase ‘i’s will return to written communication.  Perhaps some genius will figure out a way to transmit the scent of perfume over the Internet.  And we think the pop-ups are annoying now.

The only thing missing then will be the stroke-inducing wait at the post office.  Someone will have to create a website for that, where your avatar brings a heavy package, and then waits on line during its lunch break with billions of other avatars on their lunch breaks.  There will be button-commands for a cross of the arms, an exasperated sigh, and a glare at the unhurried postal workers.  And logging in will cost only $0.44.

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Filed under Current Events

You’ve Been Sued Via Facebook

Photo: Bill Bradford

Courts in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are starting to allow lawsuits to be served over Facebook.  This has got to be the best idea since the Magna Carta.  Imagine signing in to Facebook, and right underneath an invitation to “Gwendolyn’s Fourth 29th Birthday!” is “Motion for Summary Judgment” from the parents of the kid who fell off your swing set two years ago.

Maybe they could just dispense with the need for serving a lawsuit and place a “sue” button on everyone’s profile page, right next to the “add as friend” button.  “So-and-so would like to sue you for $500,000.00 plus interest and attorneys’ fees.  Accept service?  Yes-No-Maybe.”

In most jurisdictions, serving the initiatory papers in a lawsuit have the most burdensome service requirements; any papers after that, known as interlocutory papers, may be served by regular mail, overnight delivery, or carrier pigeon.  So if a summons and complaint can be served through Facebook, it makes sense to allow other legal documents, like motions and demands for incriminating photographs, to be sent the same way.

But why stop at just documents?  The whole trial could take place over Facebook.  The judge would have his or her own “Fan Page,” with a photograph of the judge in the upper left-hand corner.  The lawyers would post evidence on the page’s wall, and any Facebook user who liked the page, anyone at all, could post comments, such as “ha ha there’s the smoking gun LOL.”  The witness’s testimony could be liked as well, and whichever witness gets the most likes would be deemed the most credible.

Turning Facebook into a legal forum would have the greatest utility in divorce proceedings.  Freeing oneself of the old ball ‘n’ chain would take nothing more than changing one’s relationship status from “married” to “single.”  Divorce papers would automatically be served, via Facebook messaging, upon the soon-to-be ex-spouse.  To the extent that the spouses in litigation have friends in common, those friends would be given an option to choose one spouse or the other, so that things are not awkward.

The Facebook staff would have to add a photo editing feature so that people could be untagged and erased from group photographs, and comments referencing the former spouse would be automatically edited to reflect the new-found independence.  So a comment underneath a photograph of the former spouses that once said

“You guys make such a cute couple!”

 would be changed along with the edited photo to

“Watch out, fellas!  Cougar on the prowl!”

What do you think about suing people through Facebook?  Is this a good use of social media?  What other public goods could Facebook provide?

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Filed under Social Media

Remember Your First Summer Job?

This year brings a scarcity of summer jobs for America’s youth.  It is unfortunate that so many will miss the tremendous learning opportunity that summer jobs present.  I don’t know where I’d be today without such opportunities.

My first summer job, other than making spin art and being forced to play kickball, was at for a supplier of home security devices.  My task was to assemble and mail marketing materials.  The work was routine, and I was soon able to stuff, seal, and put postage on the envelopes while reading the books that my English teacher had assigned over the summer.  The system went fine until I accidentally sent one of our paranoid customers a copy of 1984 with our catalog.

The next summer I answered the calling to sell high quality cutlery.  We were trained to use the bonds of love to convince our family and friends that the wisest move they could make in their lives was to plunk down $600 for a set of butter knives.  If they balked at the price tag, we reminded them that the knives’ warranty could be bequeathed to later generations, like the estates of English gentry.  To seal the deal, we would demonstrate that the knives could cut pennies in half, perfect for salad or guacamole.

The most educational summer job was working at a convenience store.  My first day on the cash register I produced an error of $900, and the IRS showed up and demanded free Slurpees.  There was so much to learn.  I had to remember which cigarettes were running promotions and which ones prevented osteoporosis.  I had to know the price of every size of soda cup, from the 12-ounce regular to the 20-gallon Mega Gulp that included free use of the store’s dolly.  I had to serve hot dogs to customers without scrunching up my face.

Selling alcohol required extra vigilance.  Minors would try all sorts of tricks.  One time a young man told me he was 45, but that he suffered from a rare disease that made him look 19 and wear his baseball cap backwards.  I asked for identification.  He said he forgot it at home.  When I told him that, despite his condition, I could not meet his request, he threatened to sue me and then pedaled away on his bike.  I am still waiting for the summons.

Approximately 90% of our business, it seemed, was selling lottery tickets.  A man once gave me a list of six numbers to play, saying that those were his magic numbers.  I informed him that, statistically, he would have the same chances of hitting numbers one through six in order, and I showed him the math on a napkin.  He dismissed me as crazy.  I was about to pull out the calculator, but the line was getting long and people were starting to throw packets of Equal.  The next day the man played his magic numbers and the numbers one through six.

My shift was eight hours long with no break for lunch.  When a friend of mine saw me snapping into a Slim Jim between coffee station drills, he said that the law entitled me to a half-hour paid lunch break for every eight-hour shift.  I didn’t know if my friend was right, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me, and I told my co-workers I was forming a union.  That night at home while I stenciled my picket signs, a black car drove by and lobbed stale doughnuts at my front door.  I had gotten the message, and took a few of the doughnuts for lunch the next day.

I hope that the economy turns around soon, so that young people can have the same learning opportunities that I did.

Did you have any memorable summer jobs?

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Filed under Sappy Reflection

Mash-Up, June 11: Graduation

This week we review a few humorous posts involving graduation.

Chase McFadden, over at Some Species Eat Their Young, was chosen by the high school he teaches at to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2011.  His speech, titled “Go Find Your Rock,” demonstrates how to combine enough meaning so that the graduates go away with something more than a diploma, with enough humor to keep the graduates’ attention while they bake in the blazing sun under dark caps and gowns, wondering when they are going to eat lunch and get money from their relatives.

It reminded me of Woody Allen’s speech to the graduates, titled “My Speech to the Graduates,” first published in the New York Times in 1979.  I would have sat under two caps and two gowns to hear the Woodman deliver this speech.  I don’t think he would have enjoyed the heat, though.

I saved the best for last.  A recent MBA graduate named Debbie posted an eHarmony video in hopes of, I imagine, finding companionship en route to everlasting love and affection.  The first 35 seconds of the clip are a little slow, but the content after that makes me wonder how anyone could resist asking this young woman for her number.

And that’s a wrap.  Enjoy the weekend.

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Filed under School

Of Ice and Men

A few weeks ago I came across a story about a turf battle between two ice cream truck drivers in Pennsylvania.  Evidently one of the drivers tried to run the other drivers off the road.

Image courtesy of Roadsidepictures via Flickr

In my investigation of the webpage reporting the incident, I found this comment posted by a “Miss Polly,” the wife of the victimized driver (all quoted material is sic) :

Hi Everyone, this is Miss Polly, I am the owner of the Ice Cream truck that actually called the police because the other Driver ran my husband off the road and almost hit children…The other driver has ran me off the road in another instance last year….[and] is intimidated by a female. I would never let my kids get ice cream off the trucks in our neighborhood b/c they were so scary lookingAnd so you all know…we are the ONLY ice cream truck business licensed in Uniontown, Pa…the other owner is not licensed and is operating illegally. The permit office is sending him a complaint letter. If you would like to see pics of our truck, us, our children and our fans, visit us on Facebook 🙂

Does anything arrest a child’s attention like the music of an ice cream truck coming down the street?  During summer evenings, it did not matter how deep we were into a Monopoly game, or large random hole in the backyard; we would drop our little plastic hotels or little plastic shovels, shake down the closest adult, and run out to meet the truck, screaming “ice cream man” and shoving slower kids out of the way.

As I reflect on those innocent days, when the ice cream cost under a dollar, and could be consumed with digestive impunity, I try to imagine what it would have looked like to see another ice cream truck coming down the street in the opposite direction at the same time.

The first signal would be the music.  The same tune would crackle from the trucks’ speakers – Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic, “The Entertainer” – but one measure out of phase, so that as the two trucks converged in front of my home, the dissonance would intensify, signaling that something dramatic was about to happen, and that there would be more than enough Bubble O’Bills with the red gumball nose to go around.

But instead of stopping, the two trucks would accelerate towards each other.  Out of each driver’s-side window would emerge a lance in the shape of a waffle cone.  The change in my hand would grow sweaty as I watched the ice cream men joust on my street.

Time would slow down.  My friends and I would look from one truck to the other, and instead of the loud engine and crackly ragtime, we would hear galloping horses and the drums and strings from the Battle of Stirling scene in Braveheart.  And one of the drivers – the one who came everyday, the one we knew and loved, the one who I had shortchanged on more than one occasion and who never called me out or told my mother – shouts to his enemy:

“You may take my route…but you’ll never take my Good Humor!”

Then each lance would pierce the opposite windshield, and the two trucks would collide and be annihilated instantly, like matter meeting anti-matter in a particle accelerator, leaving us kids with a puff of smoke, and a scattered and smoldering pile of Pop Rocks, over which we would fight to the death.  Or until our parents called us in, whichever came first.

And to mark the end of an era, we would keep the money meant for ice cream, and never speak a word about it.

Did an ice cream truck grace your neighborhood?  Did you run out to meet the truck like your pants were on fire?

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Filed under Eating and Drinking

Is Your Dad Embarrassing?

Yesterday I read a story about a man who dressed in a different costume every morning, stood in front of his house, and waved to his teenage son going off to school.  The man did this for all 180 days of the school year.

It reminded me of the times my own father wore a costume.  He stopped trick-or-treating for Halloween in his 30s, so I only remember him wearing a costume for Purim, a Jewish festival that commemorates the triumph of the Jews over a Persian named Haman, who had tried to annihilate them with cookies filled with apricot preserves.  It is the one holiday where Jews are commanded to drink in addition to sitting through a long reading from a scroll of parchment.  And it is traditional to dress up as characters from the Purim story: the beautiful Esther, the resourceful Mordechai, the kind King Ahasuerus.  My father dressed up as Pinocchio.

My father’s Purim costume, minus the cricket

He wore a green Tyrolean hat with a feather sticking out, a white button-down short-sleeved shirt, lederhosen that buttoned up the sides, red suspenders, and a long fake nose.  He wore this when we walked in and saw my Hebrew school classmates and their parents; he wore this during the Rabbi’s reading of the Purim story, enthusiastically shaking his noisemaker each time “Haman” was mentioned (as is the tradition…among children); he wore this as he served cake and ice cream to the congregants after the service, saying to each one, “When I’m a real boy I want a Bar Mitzvah with a DJ!”

I’ve often said that males over the age of 10 should not be allowed to wear shorts that end above the knee.  My father does not sign on my theory.  He wore his Pinocchio costume proudly, frequently swinging his arms and kicking up his legs as if controlled by strings, and seemed unmolested by thoughts of the social consequences to his teenage son.

“Hey, that’s a pretty cool costume your dad has on there,” said a friend.

“What costume?  Whose dad?” I said.  My friend pointed towards my father while I dove behind a stack of prayer books.  I stayed there until I heard the sounds of people leaving and car doors slamming.  Soon I heard people calling my name, and I emerged.

“Oh, there you are,” my mother said.  “Where were you?”

“I was looking for my self-esteem,” I said. “It had rolled under a table.”

As we walked outside to our car, I hoped to see my father already behind the wheel, sunk down low in the seat like the drivers in Florida.  But he wasn’t.  He was standing in front of the synagogue, still in full costume, waving to the congregants as they got in their cars and drove away.  He looked so happy.  And as I looked to the congregants, I noticed that they looked happy, too.

Perhaps I was wrong to be embarrassed.  The following year, I picked up a top hat, umbrella, and grasshopper costume, and father and son rejoiced together.  And then waved to everyone.

Do you have any embarrassing dad stories?  Share them here so I can pretend they’re mine and turn them into blog posts!

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Filed under Family

Staying Sane at Chuck E. Cheese’s

Remember childhood birthday parties?

I do.

My most memorable childhood birthday party was venued at a kid’s party place called Chuck E. Cheese’s.  It was tagged as “a place where a kid can be a kid.”  They could have added, “and where a parent should be on Xanax.”

Chuck E. Cheese’s, like Gaul, was divided into three parts: the video arcade, the restaurant, and the pit of plastic balls.  For a brief period of time in my life, it was the place to be.  Nintendo was still a few years away, and a room full of video games was a fantasy that most kids had only heard about in books.  There was also skee-ball, and a mechanical seat that spun vertically on an eight-foot disc, just so that no parent would be deprived of the anxiety that a kid would fall on their watch.  There were no windows, and the dim lighting punctuated by glowing neon beckoned children as they ran from game to game, their little pockets filled with tokens that bore the visage of Mr. Cheese.  It was a lot like a casino.

The restaurant area was next to the arcade.  I don’t remember them serving anything other than pizza.  Even then, it was not so much pizza as a child’s conception of pizza.  It was as if someone had taken an already baked crust, poured on tomato sauce straight from a jar, threw on a few individually wrapped slices of cheese, and placed it in a microwave that said “Fisher Price” in the top right corner.  A pie of this toy pizza cost only $15, with an additional $3 for Maalox.

Whilst dining, the children were entertained by band of robots dressed to look like Chuck E. Cheese and his entourage.  When the music played, the robots would jerk their heads and shoulders around, and their arms would hold up instruments.  If you ate enough pizza, you could pretend you were seeing Joe Cocker dressed as a mouse.

The best part of hosting a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s was that the kids were constantly running around and screaming.  In the melee it was hard to keep track of which kids had been picked up by their parents, and which ones might be still be snorkeling in the ball pit.

My father went looking for the missing, but he was told that you had to be under 4 feet tall to enter the pit.  So he had to rent an ocean-floor sonar scanner to find the rest of my guests.  While the machine was on someone thought it was a video game and lodged a token in the circuits, and my father couldn’t get his deposit back.

Finally, the guests had either left or the search ended, and my parents and I sat amidst a pile of wrapping paper, pizza crusts, and a cake that an aspiring acupuncturist had poked with a thousand stabs of a plastic fork.  I don’t remember blowing out the candles, and I don’t remember unwrapping the gifts.  But the look of relief on my parents’ faces as we walked to the car will stay with me forever.

Did you have a memorable birthday party as a child?  Did you ever throw your child a birthday party and survive?

Inspired by “The Birthday Party, by the numbers,” by Leanne Shirtliffe at IronicMom.com.

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Filed under Childhood Memories