Monday, June 30, 2014


I got to thinking about destruction. Not the kind of destruction that happens when you’re playing that maddening game with the sticks that are all neatly piled, then you go and start pulling them out, the winner being the last lucky fool with a steady hand to wedge out a stick without the whole damn thing crashing down and making you look stupid for making such a mess. Nope, that’s not it. Similarly, I am not talking about the destruction that has become ubiquitous in today’s society – the shredder. It seems there are people, whose sole miserable existence is to preen through bags of trash, who hope to come up with a scrap of paper whereby some miracle a smidgen of enough personal information is available to virtually rob those people of identity. That people even have enough paper that ends in the trash in a mostly electronic society is a bit shocking. That those shredder bins are mostly full in the households they exist in is something of a modern day stunner.

I will admit, in the bad old days of my misspent youth in the Army one of the neatest things we were tasked to do was dumpster diving. The concept was to evaluate a particular unit’s operational security by extracting the trash from their unit dumpster, then going through it to see how much unit data could be assembled. Now the smart unit were on to when we did these ‘inspections’ and would find the nastiest things imaginable to throw in those garbage bins. Barf bags, long dead animals, condoms, you name it, they would throw them in there. The less sharp units, the ones with no grizzled old first sergeants and lieutenants with shiny new butter bars, those would usually yield bonanzas which when properly assembled would yield plans for the unit for the next fiscal year, not to mention upcoming exercises. More often than not, to avoid embarrassing the units, our grizzled old first sergeant would pull aside the noncoms from those units and ‘have a word’. No reports, no nonsense, problem fixed. The way it is done in Armies all over the world.

In any case my mind is on bigger destruction. I was walking in the woods the other day and came on this.

(Click to enlarge)

I realize it’s hard to get the scale of the thing there, but what you are seeing is two huge trees that a wind or tornado came through and, on the vagaries of fate, decided to toss around and make no more. When looking at this the very first thing that came to my mind was this. You know that old philosophy question, the one that goes “If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?” I’m thinking that the guy who though that one up, was not thinking of these trees. There is just no way you can look at this awesome destruction and think “Did that make any sound?” No, the question genuinely doesn't come up does it? More than likely you are thinking “Man, I bet that made a mighty crash! It would have scared the pee out of me to be here when that happened!”

I think we tend to be struck by scenes of destruction mostly because they are evidence of things we just could not imagine doing ourselves. But there is violence men do that dwarfs all that due to it's sheer godlessness:

Yeah... never forget...

Monday, June 23, 2014

Even on my worst days…

It’s kind of funny how a day can start out bad. Take this morning for example. First off, you have to understand that I commute in at a ridiculously early hour. I do this to avoid the crazy rush hour traffic that personifies the hubris of the Washington DC area. For those of you that do not live in the area, imagine thousands of people all attempting to arrive at the same time at one of the populous work centers that make up the DC area. Not so different from most metropolitan areas right? Now throw in a sizeable percentage of those commuters with over inflated egos and a sense of entitlement enjoined by officious titles and the money that flows this close to the seat of control of the (still) most powerful country in the world. Now you see my problem.

So this morning I arose late. This was planned to some degree. I say ‘planned’ when I really mean that I realized too late last night that if I was to get my required minimum hours sleep, I would have to move my alarm clock forward, pushing my whole day back this morning. This, in turn, would cause me to possibly miss my scheduled outside exercise entertainment this afternoon, throwing off my weekend plans, and RUINING MY WHOLE SUMMER! OMG! Thus, it was imperative that I move out this morning with the greatest acuity.

After groggily silencing my alarm, tripping over the dog, assembling my snacks, and gathering my wits, I still managed to exit the house roughly on schedule to hit office door at the regular time. As I started up the jeep, I sensed that something was amiss that would cause me to be late. Call it a dark cloud, an evil presence, or a sinister omen: something was nagging me. As I hit the main road out of Camelot, I centered on what it was: I needed to stop for gas! Arrrgh!

This was not the disaster that it seemed. I was planning on stopping at the Borg (Seven of Eleven) Shop anyway to pick up some coffee. My day was still manageable. Arriving at the Borg Shop, I went through the usual mechanization at the pump to get it to deliver the magic go juice. Push a button (or not), insert card, wait for screen to flash unintelligible gibberish, then remind me to get coffee, more gibberish, enter my pin, more gibberish then an ad for doughnuts, finally down to business – lift handle, select grade of magic juice. Needless to say, this particular pump has no handle to lift, just the phallic (and frankly somewhat intimidating) nozzle. I’m sure nine out of ten psychologists could milk something about me seeing a gas nozzle as an intimidating phallic symbol, but let’s move one, shall we?

The dance at the pump continues. The gas cap is removed and placed where I will see it in my rear view mirror in case I should forget to replace it after fueling. This could entirely happen should I be fleeing masked desperados who chose this Borg Shop at this particular moment in time to stage a shootout with their equally well armed rivals. In that case, I would thoughtfully return the gas nozzle to it proper place, leap into the driver’s seat, start and gun the engine in preparation for leaving the whizzing bullets behind. I would glance in the rear view mirror noting the gas cap in it woeful perch on the spare tire. Slapping my head I would be able to return to the back of the jeep and place the gas cap where it belongs – whizzing bullets be damned! The only thing worse than having to (re)face an early morning fusillade is having to sheepishly tell the auto parts guy that you forgot to put your gas cap on and drove off without it, then pleading “please, please, may have another if I promise not to be so stupid again?” He will of course respond with a wise and forgiving nod, almost exactly like a priest in a confessional does after hearing, once again, that your sorry you took the Lord’s name in vain while trying to drive to your very important job; knowing that your promise to not do it again is so much bunk, but bunk that you mean right here and now so it counts. But I digress…

After inserting the nozzle carefully to avoid sparks that would surely engulf me, the jeep, nigh the whole neighborhood in a conflagration of flames I squeeze the handle. This is the ultimate decision point for the veritable gas pump. Will it find me worthy of the magic go juice, or will it emit a sinister laugh, empty my bank account anyway, and leave me penniless, begging strangers for a crust of bread for me and my starving children? After a moment, the pump deems me worthy, deciding (today) not to ruin my life, and the magic go juice begins to flow. I am elated!

Now I am a pump-stander. There are people that are standers and those that are not. I have no truck with the non-standers. The instructions on the pump clearly state that it is your sacred duty to stand by the pump in case gremlins cause the nozzle to buck out, spewing gas all over the concrete, running across the pavement to where a bloodied Bruce Willis waits with a lit lighter, ready to cry “Yippi-Ki-Ya Mother F’er”, dropping the lighter and engulfing you, your vehicle, the Borg Shop, and neighborhood in a conflagration of flames. It’s just not worth it! What is so important in your car that you can’t stand drooling by the pump for the five minutes or so it takes? Stand there using your fancy smart phone – it’s ok. I saw where Mythbusters proved that a cell phone can’t cause the fumes from a gas pump to ignite. Don’t even get me started on the people that smoke or won’t turn off their engines. They are just evil, probably from eating too much watermelon (the devil’s fruit!).

Once the pumping is done, I move my jeep to parking and enter the Borg Shop to get my coffee. As I shut my door, I hear a disquieting extra ‘clink’. This sound continues to disturb be throughout the coffee prep and pay process. Upon returning to the jeep I go to open the door and nothing happens. Crap! For about a month the door has only been able to be opened from the outside, and now that is not working. I go in from the passenger side, trying (unsuccessfully) to not look like the dweeb I am. I make the decision to return home to jimmy the door open and make some field expedient repairs rather than deal with the humiliation of strange people be-smirking my misfortune there in the Borg Shop parking lot. Also I am pretty sure the curses I will be required to use might enjoin some gas pump conflagration danger. At home only the dog is up to look out the window and bark-laugh at me (which he does).

With all this returning home, cursing the door, cursing my scraped fingers covered in old door grease, then sighing with relief when I get the door to open (and close, then open and close several more times to ensure it’s working), I and hopelessly late for work, and it’s not even 4:45am! So, that was my bad morning. I know, it seems trivial, and it is. I am old and wise enough to know that even my worst morning is heaven when compared to what a great many people are facing, especially those in harm’s way serving our country. Those guys and girls are the ones that can have truly bad mornings. Or someone in a nursing home or hospital, unable to get out and enjoy all this glorious summer has to offer. No, I try to be grateful for my bad mornings. Some days I even succeed at it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Not my monkeys, not my circus..

I have been pretty devoid on political commentary here of late. It's not that I am not angered and dismayed by the capitulation that the present administration has displayed toward the obligation in blood and effort that my fellow soldiers have made to ensure peace in the world. I am as outraged over it as the rest of you. No, the simple fact is there is not a damn thing I can do about it. With the current administration having the Senate and the White House firmly in hand, the media kowtowed, and the Supreme Court missing in action, there is just not much a common citizen can do.

When faced with this reality, I am forced to admit that the commentary on it's shenanigans here will broker no difference at all. There will come a time to engage, and I fully intend to do that. Until then, I am going to try to side step the drama, and, as an old Polish proverb says, note "Not my monkeys, not my circus". That will of course not preclude me from engaging in entertaining (for me) satire as the muse hits me. With the current state of affairs, the whimsical muse is mostly on a train to Birmingham, drinking scotch and and muttering to himself. Not someone anyone really wants to see...

The Corporate Fridge

As a careful reader of this blog might surmise, I changed jobs a few months back. I went from “Tiny Company Overly Dependent On One Contract” to “Colossal Government Contractor”. The whys and mechanics of that move are the subject for another blog entry which, given enough time and wherewithal I might write. On to the important focus of today’s epic tome, The Corporate Fridge.

The transition has been an enlightening experience. On one hand, the anonymity of being another mere cubicle dweller in this vast enterprise has its advantages. I rarely see my boss and my work is mostly misunderstood by my peers, so there is little chance for conflict. In fact, I suspect that I can go days without having to speak to anyone directly. That makes for a very low pressure work environment.

That being said, there are certainly disadvantages to my new haunts. Let me set the stage for my latest encounter. First, since I labor in relatively anonymity, I can determine my own hours. Being a guy that actually enjoys taking full advantage of a lovely (and sometimes not so lovely) day, I have chosen to work very early hours, leaving my afternoons free for outdoor fun. What goes hand in hand with that kind of lifestyle is eating some disgustingly healthy (but tasty) food. I of course have documented my paleo obsession elsewhere on this blog, so I will leave it up to you to explore the tags and find out more about that.

Suffice it to say I had (as I try to do most days) brought my lunch. I know what you are thinking. “But Mike, since you work for a Colossal Government Contractor surely they have a cafeteria where you can buy a healthy meal?” I must admit that they do, and they have a lovely salad bar where I can assemble a very paleo friendly salad. The down side of that is Colossal Government Contractor has done the smart thing and contracted out their cafeteria to Small Company Leeching Off Of Colossal Government Contractor. This was a very good deal for Colossal Government Contractor and Small Company Leeching Off Of Colossal Government Contractor. The fact that a reasonable salad, self-assembled, containing perhaps two dollars of rough ingredients (if that) cost a mere $9 dollars makes it a win-win for all concerned… as long as you’re not the one paying for it.

So yes, I packed my lunch. What was for lunch today? Here’s the list..

First we have Asian Chopped Salad. The whole chopped salad thing is one I am trying to decide if I like. I have had the Southwest Chopped Salad, and I like the crunch, even though the size of the green stuff in the salad is more reminiscent of coleslaw than a real salad. In fact, I think most of the stuff in the salad is cabbage, giving the ‘chopped salad’ a close kinship to coleslaw, but significantly different from what I, as a southerner, recognize as such.

Let me explain. Back in the days of my misspent youth I worked in a restaurant that specialized in fried fish. I say specialize as if there were no other restaurants in the mid-south that made fried fish dinners. To the contrary, I would wager at the time there were not any restaurants in the tri-state area that served unfried fish, sushi not yet being a thing in the south at that time. The coleslaw there was made in the southern way. What did that mean? We threw cabbage and carrots into a big chopping mixer, and then poured in salad dressing and two heaping cans of sugar. In the south, man does not live by fried stuff and sweet tea alone. It’s amazing the whole southern US did not tip over with the massively obese people this kind of food produced. It’s probably because the massively obese people of the north eating their fried cod and pizza provided balanced. Thank God we all eat better now or the US would be facing a scary heath care crisis. What? Oh… never mind…

Next I had my snacks. I eat pretty much all day, so it is important that I am oversupplied with snacks. These consist mostly of fruits of various types. I had apples left in my desk from yesterday, so today’s haul consisted only of a small bag of strawberries and a smallish armored plastic container of rough cut pineapple. I note armored as there is really no other way to describe it. It looks deceptively simple to open. There is a plastic strip running along the top edge, with tiny words I can only assume say “tear me off to eat the delicious stuff inside. It’s so easy any idiot could do it. What are you, an idiot?” I imagine it says this as I do not have a scanning electron microscope to verify what is written there. Somewhere in China there is probably a sweatshop of tiny people with tiny little magic plastic writing pens scripting curses to fat Americans in a language they don’t understand. This is my limited worldview.

The clever manufacturer has also applied a strip of ‘never-open’ glue to the rim of the lid of the container. This is in case the pineapple contents decided to rebel against their incarceration, remove the plastic strip using their Jedi pineapple mind powers, and burst forth on the world as berserk blood hungry chucks of pineapple goodness. The alternative to breaching the armored top is to pull out my wicked pocket knife and start hacking away. I have found that when I do this in the break room the sight of a stabbing wicked pocket knife seems to make my coworkers nervous. It probably doesn’t help that I am grunting (screaming really) “Die you bastard pineapple!” under my breath (at the top of my lungs). Thus, I confine my armored pineapple container hacking to the relative privacy of my cubicle. While the container ensure the pineapple can’t escape, is does nothing to ensure that the fruit inside will not quickly rot if left at room temperature. For it and my fancy chopped salad, refrigeration is required.

You may recall that I noted at the top of this post that I work flex hours, arriving at my cubicle before the crack of dawn. At that hour, my entire floor is like a scene from a video game where everyone has turned into Nazi zombies and the vast caverns of hauntingly empty offices are inhabited by gibbering brain matter eating horrors. You can literally hear the stainless steel rats not moving. Being a logical person, you would assume that since I am literally the first (living) person on the floor in the morning I would have a completely empty fridge at my disposal. After all, these fridges are not for families, but for solitary workers who bring their lunch, consume it at the appropriate time, and then no longer require refrigerant services. Also consider that due to the size of my cubicle wonderland, there are two very large fridges in our break room. You would of course be wrong. Here’s what I found:

I can only assume that the containers and bags there have left over brain matter from the gibbering Nazi zombies. It is amazingly precognizant of them to store their goods in this matter. In the future, I believe I will have to be on guard and have my wicked pocket knife at the ready when I enter their domain. At least as long as I continue to have an edible brain.