The Day My Hair Dryer Tried To Kill Me

April 21, 2008

I have had one of the first truly defining moments of my life.

My hair dryer tried to kill me.

Now, to set the stage of this incredibly traumatic experience, let me first state that it was a mere few days ago that I went and engaged in another incredibly traumatic experience, getting my hair cut. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly non-metrosexual guy, inasmuch that I haven’t really taken care of myself in any sense of the word since about 1985, which, coincidentally, is the last time I updated my haircut. But I do have a lot of hair, and it does have a certain level of maintenance so I don’t walk around looking like a cross between Alfalfa and Sanjaya. So while I don’t fuss over my hair—I try to keep my yearly spending on hair products about equivalent to my nearly expenditures on calendars—I also don’t want to walk around looking perpetually like everyone in the world’s younger 9-year-old brother who is in that awkward stage after they give up wearing that wrestling T-shirt every single day but before learning how to use a comb.

As such, I prefer that my hair to be left a little longer than normal, since if it’s cut too short it tends to stick up, and I have to shove enough chemicals in my hair that Hans Blix wants to inspect it. (Wow, a Sanjaya joke and a Hans Blix joke all in one day. Time to update the Rolodex.) And yet every single hairdresser I’ve patronized since I learned to walk has taken me saying “Please don’t cut my hair too short” to “cut every single piece of hair on my head to the minimum length molecularly possible.” Seriously, I’m like a six year old in that chair, sulking while she tries to chat me up about the weather to distract me from the fact that she’s chopping off waaay too much hair. What’s left is an atrocity wrapped in a disaster, at least until two weeks are up and it either grows in or I kind of forget about it. Granted, it’s sort of my fault, since I’m not assertive enough to say anything and instead just throw a big wad of cash at her as I leave so she doesn’t see me tear up, partly because it’s not worth the hassle and partly because I don’t trust women who are holding sharp objects.

So I was already kind of torqued off when I woke up Saturday. I woke up late after staying up the previous night either partying hard with my ladeez or doing crossword puzzles (I don’t recall which) and was getting ready to greet the day at a somewhat reduced pace, in the sense that it took longer for me to get ready than it took Dostoevsky to write The Brothers Karamazov had he had to invent each Russian word as he wrote it.

So after my shower, I start to dry my hair. To sketch the profile, the hair dryer, which had recently attended to its eighth birthday, was mauve, which also means it was a gift, since I would never electively acquire such a color. But while drying my hair this day, it tended to switch between the high setting and the low setting primarily at will, something that should of set off alarm bells like it was an ELO concert but instead I assumed it was just one of those things electronic devices do because they hate me more than they hate their own life, as evidenced by my DVD player that is currently solely powered by its own sense of self-loathing.

Alas, with the motor grinding away and sounding more and more like a cat choking on the Empire State Building, I did something I knew the moment I did it that I should not have done it. I peered deep into the nozzle of the hair dryer while it was still running in the extraordinarily likely case that between the time I finished my shower and started drying my hair I had earned an engineering degree and would know be able to both diagnose and fix the problem.

Instead, I was greeted with the hair dryer catching on fire. OK, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but saying that “I caught a modest burst of flame as the dust and accumulated hair burned up in about two seconds” just makes me sound like a pussy. I did, however, quickly do what all of the emergency medical personnel tell us to do when we are holding malfunctioning electronics in a room full of water, which is to scream like a little girl and throw the thing on the floor. I also believe I complemented my heroic acts by loudly stating something along the lines of “Goshen gee willikers, my hair dryer has caught on fire! Heavens to Betsy!” Or something conveying those same sentiments; it’s all a hazy blur at this point.

My hair dryer, having finally taken its stand in protest of eight hears of hard labor of working for four minutes every day, let out a few last whimpers in the form of what in hindsight were probably highly dangerous sparks, then just stopped, dead. I lifted the limp carcass and carried it outside so the house wouldn’t smell like a Dutch masseuse, then promptly went to the drug store to buy a new one. I wasn’t going to let an attempted assassination stop me from exercising my American right as a citizen to go through life with dry hair.

There Goes Another Candidate: Pennsylvania Dreams Edition

April 17, 2008

I have the misfortune of living in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Well, that’s not really fair. I rather like this state of mine, of course, what with growing up and living here and all. But it does come with one major drawback, aside from having roads that are about as well-kept as a Namibian mountain pass and a winter season that lasts upwards of a decade or so, is that we are currently in a midst of a drag-down, knock-out, piss-cutter of a primary battle for the Democratic nod for the presidential campaign.

In decades past, the Pennsylvania primary was relegated to comfortable irrelevancy. With an election all the way the hell in April, candidates knew full well they wouldn’t have to bother with pandering to Pennsylvania’s former steelworkers, cranky social conservatives, and Amish radicals. Since the national primaries tended to be front-loaded—2012’s primary actually just started last week—most nominations were all wrapped up by the time the Keystone State bothered to have a say.

Which, normally, is a good thing, since the average Pennsylvanian’s opinion is pretty much boiled down to two sentiments: “Give me my Social Security check,” and “Give me my Social Security check right now.” Sure, there are other considerations, such as guns and the NFL playoffs, but these tend to be drowned out by the sheer number of old people that live in Pennsylvania, where the average age of a newborn is about 45.

Pennsylvania’s always been a bit of a dry rot when it comes to national politics. Despite being one of the original thirteen colonies, they’ve had a rather small percentage of national prominent politicians. We’ve only had one President, and that was the blank-face James Buchanan, known mostly to historians as the guy who actually invented a way to freeze time for four years. And the only members of the current congressional delegation to be noteworthy as of late is Arlen Specter, the guy who tried to sell the fact that a bullet went from the grassy knoll to Hanoi and back en route to its deadly target, and Jack Murtha, who would have had a front-row eyewitness account of the Haditha attack had it not been for the fact that he’s been clinically dead ever since he turned two hundred years old.

Enter Mssrs. Obama and Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton is looking at a do-or-die situation in Pennsylvania, with “do” being “still having only a 50/50 shot of getting the nomination” and “die” being “drop out and make around $4.5 million per year on a speaking tour.” Under normal circumstances, Pennsylvania would be a shoo-in for her. It’s a big, clumsy, industrial state, the kind she does well in, with one foot in a decaying industrial economy and one foot in the high-tech boom, assuming that assisted living facilities are classified as high-tech. Blue-collar workers gravitate towards her, much like they did in Ohio and would have in Michigan had Michigan held an actual primary.

Hillary also has another powerful supporter in the governor, Ed Rendell. Rendell has been an energetic campaigner for Hillary, and somehow manages to translate his political capital and position into mass popularity. No offense to the man, but if anyone were to create the image of a politician from scratch that is the personification of the slouching, tie-askew, back-slapping, smoke-filled room occupying, cigar-chomping, OTB-dwelling, deal-making, fast-talking confidence man, that person would be dead after Rendell hires some guy to put a slug in his temple.

Then again, the story of Pennsylvania is really a story about Philadelphia, where Barack Obama is doing extraordinarily well. His message of hope and inspiration appeals greatly to those in Philadelphia, who have to deal with Cheez Whiz on steak sandwiches and the occasional firebombing of entire city blocks by the police department.

The biggest news around the state, though, is Obama’s contention that Pennsylvanians are bitter about their economic outlook, and so “cling” to guns, God, and anti-immigrant sentiments to make up for the loss. For many, this was seen as condescending and elitist, with Obama under the misunderstanding that if presented with high-paying, good jobs, we would all trade our guns in for Dick Dawkins books or something. It doesn’t appear as though Obama understands that the only thing to get between a Pennsylvanian and his gun is the bullet.

The candidate’s tactics seem to be a touch odd, though. Clinton’s main contention is that everyone has already gone through her baggage and sifted through a darkened attic full of cattle futures, Travelgate, and a steadfast refusal to bake cookies. Obama, for his part, finds himself defensive after it was revealed that his neighbor’s future wife once babysat someone who was a roommate with a college student who once read a book called “Vladimir Lenin: Was He Really All That Bad?”

Both senators are presenting Pennsylvanian with the same choice as they are giving the nation: a candidacy of hope, inspiration, and results, or a candidacy with a slightly different mix of hope, inspiration, and results. When the results are in, either one candidate or the other will be the victor, or, most likely, a stalemated outcome that doesn’t produce any clear-cut winner and this whole thing drags out until they’re pulling random people off the street to vote in San Juan to crown the victor. Of course, there’s going to be one clear winner: Pennsylvania. When this is finally—finally!—over, Pennsylvania can go back to being complacently ignored.

Now, that’s something worth clinging to.

The R Word

April 7, 2008

It’s time! It looks like we’re headed for the Big R.

No one really wants to think about a recession, since recessions are inherently disruptive forces in the economy—people lose jobs, the purchase of popular large-ticket items are postponed, and people have gut-wrenching decisions to make as to which group of immigrants to blame for it.

Of course, recessions aren’t wholly bad things, either. They tend to stabilize prices and force companies to become more efficient. Unfortunately, these two specific things are just those things that are currently spiraling out of control: inflation is creeping up, and the mortgage industry has, to put it diplomatically, screwed the ugliest underage pooch bareback at the church picnic.

While there are plenty of reasons for the recession—not the least of which is that we have a recession approximately every eight to ten years or so since the beginning of the republic so it’s hardly an unmitigated surprise—the crystallizing factor is the mortgage situation. Mortgage companies have been offering deals that no one in their right mind would take, unless the person taking the terms of the loan 1) didn’t bother to read the terms of the loan, and 2) assumed that if anything bad happened they could just close their eyes and wish really really hard that maybe the mortgage company would let them off the hook and not have to pay them for a few years. These are otherwise known as subprime loans, or ARMs, or “adjustable rate mortgages,” or “loans for people who spend five bucks a day buying nasty breakfast sandwiches at the gas station but still bitch when their electric bill goes up twenty bucks a month” or “I can’t possibly imagine anyone thinking these are a great deal loans nor can I believe these are anything except borderline legal,” or would be if the acronym fit. Of course, lending companies aren’t exactly blameless, either.

Mortgage Lender: And here’s the paperwork. Sign here.
New House Owner: Wow. There’s a lot of stuff to read here.
Mortgage Lender: Don’t worry. You only need to read the part that says “If I Don’t Take This Amazing Offer And Sign Here, I Will Be Clinically Declared A Complete Idiot.”
New House Owner: Uh…is there anything I need to know? The rates won’t change if there is a shift in the interest rates or anything, right?
Mortgage Lender: I will pay you one thousand dollars cold if you just sign that damn paper.
New House Owner: Deal.

As should be a surprise to absolutely no one, the interest rate hikes were triggered and people started to default on their mortgages. The reason for the hike can be debated—the weak dollar, the moral hazard brought about by government regulations, the Freemasons and UFOs working together for once—the important thing to remember is that it isn’t anybody’s fault except the oil companies.

Of course, anyone expecting the government to do anything about it is going to be sorely disappointed. Of course, government intervention in the economy is kind of what got us here in the first place, so anyone expect the government to do nothing about it is going to be sorely disappointed.

The President, for his part, is going to great lengths assuring the American public that we are not, and never will be, in a recession. However, just in case, he and Congress have approved an economic stimulus plan which consists of 1) rewarding both the people who took loans they couldn’t repay and the lenders who foolishly gave it to them, and 2) bribed—I mean, gave a tax rebate—to anyone who files a tax return this year. Just like after 9/11 when George W. Bush advised people that the best way to stop terrorism was to make a trip to the mall to buy slutty clothes and wacky wall walkers and Simon Cowell Talking Dolls, he’s encouraging people to not pay down credit cards but to buy other pieces of junk they don’t need. Where on earth Bush got the idea that spending immense amounts of money you don’t have is a fiscally sound idea I’ll never know.

Of course, those looking to the Democrats for a workable plan to stimulate the economy will be disheartened. Though, really, anyone paying attention for the past two hundred years shouldn’t expect anything radically different. The Democrat’s plan has been, essentially, to send everyone in the lower-middle-class or less a check for a bajillion dollars. They will offset this by instituting a windfall tax on the rich, with the “rich” defined as “anything greater than the wage of the highest-paid union contract that contributed to our campaign” and “windfall” being defined as “pretty much anything you make this year.”

Economists seem to be mixed as to how bad the recession will get. For every report about massive layoffs, there is another report with an uptick in consumer spending. And many of the normal indicators of a recession—people spending less on luxury items, tightening of food budgets, decreasing our placidyl intake—aren’t indicating in the normal way that they should be. Most people seem content to take the recession in stride, so long as it means they don’t have to buy more efficient cars, buy less gas, change their spending habits, look closer at their household budget, or actually do anything at all that could make any difference whatsoever. Besides that, most consumers will be fine.

Anyway, with politicians unable to come up with a workable plan, companies holding their cards close to their chest, and consumers reluctant to alter their lifestyle, the best option seems to be to just close their eyes and wish really really hard that everything will be fine. It’s worked so well before, I can’t possibly imagine why it won’t work now.

When Fools Rush In

April 1, 2008

April first is here, and that means that pranks and deceit are in plentiful supply for those with short-term memory loss. Seriously, if it was April Fool’s Day at eight o’clock this morning, it still is at six at night. You car’s tire really isn’t flat, and she’s not really pregnant. At least by you.

Anyway, now is a good as time as any to spring together a loosely related collection of current happenings based on fraud, lies, and miscommunication. Hey, I’m cranky and lazy. Give me an E for effort.

When we get fooled, we prefer it be by a professional so at least we feel a little better about ourselves afterwards, and there is no more professional huckster than the common elected official. (Getting hoodwinked by Uncle Albert or your five-year-old nephew doesn’t exactly do wonders for one’s self-esteem.) Most people kind of assume that politicians lie at a constant rate of 1:1. This is an expected but lamentable idea, lamentable because it speaks to the darker side of democracy and makes us cynical about the true nature of mankind. Expected, of course, because it is 100% true with unassailable accuracy.

So when Hillary Clinton—who you may not have noticed is running for president –decided on the spot during a campaign speech to make up an elaborate story about being shot at by snipers during a visit to Bosnia, most people didn’t have any reason to doubt it. Of course, she was hoping that this story was to highlight the fact that 1) she was in a foreign country during a foreign crisis, which oh by the way Barack has not; 2) despite the fact that she is female she is not afraid to engage herself in potentially dangerous situations, and 3) I don’t see Barack dodging sniper fire anywhere, now, do you?

Unfortunately, most people picked up on 4) it never happened. Seems an odd tale to tell, since it’s rather easily verifiable what with all those cameras following her around everywhere, even back when she was First Lady. She shrugged it off as a rather Nixonian “mistakes were made” kind of thing, simply stating that she misspoke. This is, to be blunt, an outrage; I can’t get away with that sort of talk, so I’m not quite sure why she can.

Me: I would like to return this microwave.
Clerk: Is there anything wrong with it?
Me: It wouldn’t work when I plugged it in.
Clerk: It looks like someone tried to dry their silverware in here. I don’t think that’s covered by the warranty.
Me: Sorry. I misspoke.
Clerk: Oh, OK then. Here you go.

Thankfully, no harm was done. It was a minor gaffe, which, granted, may cost her the presidential nomination, but at least no crime beyond gross misjudgment occurred. That cannot be said about the story from the Los Angeles Times, which ran a blow-the-roof-off-the-dump story about how Sean “Puffy” Combs single-handedly shot Tupak Shakur in the head at point-blank range then freestyles over his dead, blood-soaked body while all the girls said “Heeeeeey.” (I may be incorrect in this recounting.) Turns out that the documents proving that Combs was involved in the shooting were elaborate fakes, if by “elaborate” I mean “something a fifth grader cooked up in his basement which to be fair is still enough to stump your average newspaper reporter.” The documents looked as if they were typed on a typewriter, have rampant spelling errors, and was submitted by a man known for falsifying stories. (I mean, computers were around in ’94, and they all had spellcheck; otherwise, I never would have made it out of Management Techniques 101 back then.) Thankfully, the ethics and standards of the journalistic community vetted this as a sure thing and filed the story, of which numerous apologizes have been drafted, noted, and buried on page eight under the local sewage maintenance schedule.

While the Los Angeles Times story involved the crime of fraud, miscommunication by a lesser degree probably drives more human interaction than washed-up rap stars or presidential candidates. A study was recently released that men and women read nonverbal cues differently and have difficulty interpreting inflection and signals by the opposite sex. Or, in layman’s terms, every guy things every girl wants to sleep with him, and every girl wants to pretend she doesn’t but actually does. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but that didn’t stop a collection of scientists to spend an insane amount of time and money to state the patently obvious. Witness the typical exchange:

Guy: Hey there.
Girl: I’m not interested.
Guy: She wants me so bad.

Let’s face it; this is the intricate symmetry that social evolution has produced for us over centuries of development. Without equal doses of needless resistance and blatant obliviousness, the act of procreation would never get us anywhere. Of course, I’ve been told that such misogynistic generalizations will do nothing but feed misinformation into the romantic cycle that prevents that perpetual dance of gettin’ it on in the first place. You could have fooled me.