The Post Office Can Freeze Time!

I need to give it up to the USPS: They are way beyond the rest of the world in technology.


Postal Machine

Deep inside is a cutting edge Intel 8086 processor and at least 2K of RAM

They had automated postage machines when I was a kid, too. I actually saw my dad try to use them a few times.

In each case it ended in frustration and near-rage. He lost his money (they offered to send him a refund at some later date after “review”) and he had to wait in line to mail his package or letter anyway. Also, the machines didn’t make change, so if you happened to only have a fiver you were out one-eighty for a book of ten stamps back then. Thus, early on I learned to ignore whatever machinery was in the lobby of the post office. It’s there as part of some government contract, and it preys only on the occasional fool or keeps the homeless people sightly warmer in winter.

But things change — Moore’s law and all that. Everywhere but the post office. No, see … the post office has either found a way to make time stand still, or to bring all the frustrations of 1970’s technology present to us today in real-time.

As I stood in line today at the office near me just to mail a priority envelope, an employee approached and asked if all I was doing was mailing a package. Yes. Did I have debit or credit? Yes. She could help me out in the lobby. Great!

Of course, I could have printed my own postage from home — I guess. I had other things to mail and I’m out of printer ink. Again. So I relied on my friendly neighborhood USPS location.

So we approach the machine and she handles the transaction, walking through the semi-dazzling (for 1995) displays. She enters all the relevant info. She has me run my credit card. I’m watching and thinking that wow, things really have improved at the USPS! I’ll have to use this machine on my own next time!

Then she hits the “Print Postage” button.

We wait. Nothing happens.

I have a feeling that the dazzling screens were just a front-end interface calling back to the machines from the 1970’s, and they weren’t answering. Buffer overflow. $5.60 for a flat-rate priority stamp didn’t make sense to it or something.

Fortunately, there was a human there to help out. With an “I got this. You can go,” the lady took the envelope to the backroom, supposedly there to lick a stamp and manually affix it to the envelope.

The USPS can make time stand still!

Poem: The Irish Dishwasher

“The Irish Dishwasher”

Her hair pulled back into a bun of coal-black humility,
She spoke in soft tones while the servers raged around her.
Her blue eyes never wavered, her step was always sure.
And in her ruddy cheeks I saw knowledge that life,
Any life at all is to be grasped and firmly carried,
Just like the dishes in her bin.


Poem: The Rule of Forty-Two

“The Rule of Forty-Two”

The built-ins offered solace
That wistful Sunday morning.
And the wife hadn’t yet come to.
The sunrise-sparkled glassware
And the new day promised chances
To blind-eye what we both knew.

“Not enough to get you lit,
And sprawled out on the floor,
For that’s what trailer-people do.
Just enough to take the edge
Off of your togetherness,”
Said the Rule of Forty-Two.

So many ways to take this
Even number that’s so odd.
The protons in molybdenum.
The Kabbalah, by God!
The months the beast will reign over
Smoldering ashes of this life.
The months it takes to realize
The truth of man and wife.



Disaster at the Hands of the Phony Elite

I am an elitist. I love the elite. We need elite people.

Teddy Roosevelt

He was elite. And he could castrate bulls.

Look back through history and realize that the great treasures of civilization — civilization itself — has always been maintained by those set above others in some way.

They were elite. Not nice. Just elite.

They were elite. Not nice. Just elite.

Just try to name a masterpiece of collectivist art produced under forced egalitarianism. Sure, some of the posters are pretty stirring:

soviet art

Hey, let’s do stuff to Eastern Europe for 50 years! That’s what it’s telling me.

But even this unremarkable. I can’t seem to find a single masterpiece produced outside of an elitist culture.

Anyway, we need our social elites, even in America. We need our standard-bearers of society: the ones who really know how to do life well.

They need to hold the rest of us to a higher standard. Their lifestyles should be something to which any of us should aspire, and should incorporate charity, goodwill, concern for the nation and the world, and a compassion for people in general. By most human measures, the elites should stand above the rest of us and lead the way, while being acquainted enough with the life of the common man or woman to relate to them.

They should know how much a gallon of milk costs.

I’m not idealizing the elite as saints, here.  They’ve never been saints, but they aren’t called to be. They just need to do things well, show some human grace, and be able to relate to life in the larger world beyond the gated community — and beyond their own puny lifespans.

Why? Because the elites must lead. They are going to be making decisions that affect you, whether they are elected or not.

Generations of the American wealthy grew up at least spending summers on ranches or in doing some menial tasks meant to humble them. There was at least a nod towards well-roundedness and exposure to the life of the common man, which was expected to benefit the child through life.

But that’s not what we have now.


The rich kid syndrome has seen to that.

For me, that sums up the great paradox with today’s rich and their kids. On the one hand, they made their fortunes themselves and want to enjoy that by living large — after all, they’ve earned their jets. Yet the rich also expect their kids to grow up with middle-class values and a passion for hard work.

There’s currently an expectation that the “gifted” and “elite” running our institutions never were called to dirty their hands in such pursuits. There was an account by an investment banker who learned not to mention that he had worked at a McDonald’s during summer breaks from Wharton. And this was after he was hired and had established his place in the organization. Any real knowledge of the inside workings of an actual commercial endeavor puts a person on the outs and threatens their obligatory meteoric rise within the organization.

Knowledge of the real world is actually considered a detriment. It’s bad to know the price of eggs.

So when something happens like the financial crash of 2008, or the next crash (whenever it happens), I think to myself: “Have the people in charge ever had any chance to fail? Were they ever given a chance to develop common sense?” I believe in many cases the answer is “no”.

I think increasingly our “elites” are sheltered little curiosities unable to reason beyond the sphere of their own tormented egos. They embody a sort of sad mental and emotional retardation, and essentially must live within the confines of well-funded institutions with rubber walls.

And if that’s the case, then the elite are no longer the elite, and we are looking at disaster.


Quiz: What You Want is Who You Are. So What Do You Want?

Desire is an ontological category that reveals our true being.

ontological desire

Hey, the post is about desire. Ok?

Wow. Dude. Sometimes I just get too heavy for my own good.

But it’s simpler than it sounds — far simpler.

Do this quiz. It’s only one question with some follow-ups:

Question 1:

What do you really want most of all? Choose one below:

1. Material wealth
2. Health and/or the perfection of your body
3. A happy family
4. Artistic fulfillment
5. Security (whatever that means to you)
6. Pleasure
7. A feeling of personal importance and significance (dominance in some way)
8. To be with God
9. Just money, pure and simple

However you answered, now ask yourself this:

Are you really acting like you want those things? Looking back over the years, have you acted like you wanted those things?

If you haven’t been acting like you really wanted what you say you want, then how have you been acting?


. . .
. . .
. . .

Ok, now that you’ve thought about it a bit, chomp on this:

Your true desire and therefore your true being show up not in what you claim to want at any particular moment, nor in what your culture tells you to want, but in that which you have proven yourself to move towards over time.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Humans naturally move towards pleasures. That’s why they’re called “pleasures.” If you’ve spent your time  favoring pleasures, that just means you’re human. You deserve love, and you are loved. Don’t worry.

But see, most pleasures don’t last. Most of the pleasures we know are based on the good ol’ eros. Once we’ve experienced that pleasure, we dispose of it in our minds. Sometimes before we do in any externally-identifiable way. That’s why most marriages really end long before the papers are issued. We disposed of the idea when it was no longer pleasurable and we were just hanging out before being forced to move on. The idea got used up and discarded when it was no longer pleasurable, then the person was discarded in real life.

Yeah, it sounds harsh, I know. . .

So what I am saying is this: Who you really are involuntarily shows up in what you do and what you move towards, and that shows what you desire. You can’t change what you desire. It’s as immutable as the path of the planets or the forces holding atoms together. You can fight it and divert it and hide it for a while (at great cost), but you can’t permanently change it.

Wait: This post is about careers, really. Let’s talk about that.

So in interviewing potential employees, I always tried to get a sense of what they really wanted. I would usually ask in some direct way: “What do you want? What are you working for?” Some interviewees were very clear they were only in it for the money. Others definitely wanted attention and affirmation. Still others wanted the pride that came with being enabled to do a good job. It was only those the last group that I willingly hired, provided I sensed they actually meant it. Some of those who offered the other answers worked out, too. It’s not a perfect system.

But the reply that was most frequent, and probably most honest, was something like “I really don’t know what I want.”

So I am telling you for a few different reasons: Learn what it is that you really want, and thereby learn who you really are.

Because everything depends on that.

photo credit: Mait Jüriado via photopin cc

Deny Me My Self-Declared Specialness, Please. . .

I recently lost a friend. A Facebook friend. I’ve been coping well enough, thank you.

chronic pain

Not her. But looks painful.

At first, I noticed her departure only indirectly. It occurred to me that I suddenly wasn’t as pained through the hours I spend online as I had been previously. I had grown to expect that every once in a while I would get some dull throbbing feeling in my side or my legs as an image passed up the screen. It wasn’t intense enough to discourage me from using Facebook. I guess I had just accepted it.

Then one day I recalled that this one Facebook friend — an online friend I knew from some group or another — had seemed to post nothing but reminders of her chronic pain condition. There were cool little graphics and status updates stating how much pain she was suffering as she went through her daily duties. All day long it was pain, pain, pain. . . I started to hear it in a cheesy ’70s radio announcer voice: “Nothing but pain all day on 101FM K-PAIN! Coming up after these painful announcements, more pain!”

She had become one with her condition. She had become a pain.

And I had been feeling it too. With her departure from my list, that pain had disappeared from my life. That means I’m empathetic. Seriously. Look it up.

Looking back on it, I think she really felt she needed the diagnosis as a mark of distinction–something to set her apart and give her otherwise apparently-drab life a bit of drama. I know many other people living with diagnosed conditions that demand treatment and medication. Their lives are as full as they can make them, and they share their wide varieties of interests online. They are valued friends of mine on Facebook and even in real life–in some cases. There’s a delight in knowing them.

Usually, the only reason I know of their conditions is that they might occasionally let it slip that they’re going back to the doctor for X and won’t be online, or that they had a bad night due to X. They are special to me because they are individuals with their own insights, experiences, opinions, not because of their conditions.

So in the cyclone that is my social media life, people who are cancer survivors float past people paralyzed in accidents who are floating past people with seizures and intense migraines who float past bipolar people who are floating past people born without proper kidneys and in each case, I see them first as “friend who is tall/short, older/younger, conservative/liberal, funny/serious. . . oh, who has this condition, I think.”

Except in the case of people who demand that they be seen as one with their condition. Those people stand out.

And not in a good way, I’m afraid.

I’m blessed because currently my only two chronic conditions are being fat and somewhat of an asshole. My cholesterol numbers could be better. My back occasionally goes out of whack. I hope and pray that I never have occasion to post a graphic sensitizing others to the plight of those, who like me, suffer from some dread condition or disease. But I kinda don’t think I would. I don’t want you to see the condition. I want you to see the person for better or worse. Whatever value I can offer you isn’t contained in a proclamation of my condition.

But if I ever get that way, please do me the favor of denying me my self-proclaimed specialness.

I beg of you.

photo credit: califmom via photopin cc

Whole Foods is the Lair of the Damned

I was reminded of this post yesterday when I walked through the local Whole Foods around lunch hour. It’s difficult not to notice me, but several people walked into my enormous frame anyway. I came home for lunch instead.


“I myself am hell” — Robert Lowell, The Skunk Hour

whole foods confrontation

Thugs pure and simple.

A new Whole Foods store just opened in my neighborhood. It’s directly across from the gas station/car wash where I usually fill up.

Traffic’s gotten almost dangerous there now. The intersection was questionable before, but now one needs to be on guard against some biz-school grad in a high-powered German SUV lunging homeward out of the parking lot lest his investment in a $10 magic head of lettuce start to wilt.

Whenever I drive past it I am reminded of this poem by Robert Lowell, which I think of as a meditation on the same sort of make-a-perfect-world-for-yourself pretension I see in a parking lot overfilled with new BMW’s with stickers in their back windows.

I wonder how long it will be before they need extra security in the parking lot.

When I lived in Colorado I heard that Whole Foods had hired extra security for their store in Cherry Creek. This was not to protect against thieves and interlopers in that tony part of of town, but to break up fights over parking spaces. I didn’t believe them at first.

Then one day I was walking around Cherry Creek. I happened to see the store in question. There was a Denver cop standing near the door. I asked him what kind of action he usually saw there.

“Oh you know, the usual.”

“Suspicious characters? Break-ins?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. . . ” he laughed. “Just confrontations over parking and that sort of thing. They get pretty crazy.”

So I’m just waiting until I see someone in expensive yoga pants getting run over by a wan-looking woman in a Prius while trying to rip off the car’s side-view mirror, or witness a sissy-boy slap party between two guys, their electric bicycles in a mangled mess behind them. At that point I am going to have to insist on asking for Sheriff Joe Arpaio to post someone there to keep the peace. I might even suggest Steven Segal, who lives less than a mile away.

I am coping as best I can with the recent incursion of this negative influence in my neighborhood and the undesirables it’s bringing with it.

Whole Foods is truly the lair of the damned.

photo credit: david_shankbone via photopin cc

Friends or Multi-Level Marketing: Choose One

“He is truly a visionary, my Mr. David. Oh my God, you need to talk to him. Promise me you’ll give him just one hour–just one hour will change your life! And it is NOT multi-level marketing!”

multi level marketing

The official slogan of the MLM association

I nodded and smiled. I don’t like to displease people, usually. Especially when they are people with fascinating stories and a sense of panache, and Betty definitely has both. It’s very hard to find panache in the desert. “Ok,” I relented. “I’ll listen for one hour. But I am telling you that I won’t be doing multi-level marketing.”

“It’s NOT multi-level marketing!”

This is probably multi-level marketing, I thought to myself.

The marks were all there. This grand older lady whom I had admired for her grace, pluck, and former opulence had told me that this company offered everything under the sun, with solutions for weight loss, memory impairment, mildew stains, furniture scratches, scaly bathtub build-up, and so on. They had all the secrets to human happiness. And it was like one big family! Everyone supported each other in a community of household product sales.

And her adviser–this man–Mr. David  (not his real name) was a true up-by-the-bootstraps philosopher-king if one ever was. She made him sound like the bastard son of Nikola Tesla and Ayn Rand.

I was gettting an odd feeling about it as the appointment for the call approached. My relationship with this lady had always been casual and drinking-buddy like. We had war stories to share. Most of hers involved being the disgraced widow of a billionaire–a guy who owned a chain of supermarkets and could afford to anchor his yacht in Cannes. She had stories of partying with Adnan Kashoggi and other people not really sufficiently dignified by money. She had lost all of that when her husband died 20 years before, and she had been ejected into the desert, penniless and alone. At first she made a living off of breeding little dogs, then selling antiques. Lately she had gotten into this company, the one which was NOT multi-level marketing: the one represented by that visiting god, Mr. David. I got the feeling that she had fallen victim to a hopped-up, high-demographic version of the bane of cubemates and co-workers everywhere: Multi-level marking.

So I humored her by taking the call. I really shouldn’t have.

The appointed time came. The conference started. Horns announced the arrival of Mr. David (not really, but I’m sure SHE heard the horns). Pleasantries were exchanged.

I started off, trying my best to head off any ill-will. “I understand that Betty is very interested in your company. I have a job. I don’t see the need for any other income at this point. I also won’t participate in multi-level marketing. Just so you know. . . “

Almost in a chorus they responded: “This is NOT multi-level marketing!”

And with that we were off. A run down of their products which were best in the industry and had innovations that had somehow escaped all the leading brands. Check! These were products I bought all the time at the store but could save money on by buying through this company. Check!  Potential income unlimited. Check! An appeal to making money while doing nothing, just through my friends. Check! Don’t I want to pay off my house/provide for my family/retire early/get a boat/buy hookers? Well of course. . .

“I’m not interested,” I said, probably a bit too flatly.

“But. . . but . . . ” Mr. David was a taken aback.

“I don’t do multi-level marketing.”

“This isn’t  . . . “

“Does your company work on the principle of developing downstreams? Is Betty in your downstream, David?”

“Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean . . . “

“That’s the definition of multi-level marketing. That’s exactly what it means.”

“But. . . but. . . the money. . . “

“I have enough.”

“How much do you make?”

“Enough. I don’t need any more.”

So after about 10 more minutes of groveling and near-shaming, Mr. David finally succumbed. He was no fool, that Mr. David.

“Well, see: you are different than most of our customers. You are strong-minded. Think of what you could do with those skills when used on people who don’t have those qualities–ones who don’t suspect a thing. You could really turn this into a great . . . “

“Good bye. It’s time for lunch.” I hung up.

And since then, Betty goes out of her way to confront me and to call me a “jerk” whenever she sees me. I comfort myself with the consolation of philosophy.

Because see–you can have friends, or you can do multi-level marketing.

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