Tender Loving Care

July 27, 2008

Well, it turns out that I have tendinitis. This is not, as they say, a particularly promising development in my life.

I have no idea how I developed tendinitis in the first place. I haven’t smacked any particularly aggressive volleyballs, or experienced an unlikely bout of push-ups, or engaged in defensive measures against a random assault, or, even more dramatically, picked up any unexpectedly heavy packages. The rather more mundane story is that I woke up one day with the inability to move my wrist without screeching in pain like a little girl. This is a situation that leaves many ludicrous theories to the imagination, most involving night terrors, Kerryesque thrashing, or alien interference in my bedtime schedule.

For a while I thought I could manage it—like I manage all of my life’s problems—with a deft mixture of ibuprofen, willpower, and Diet Pepsi. Usually after an hour or two of waking up the pain would subside and I would go about my daily routine of avoiding work, only this time I had convinced myself I had a legitimate excuse for doing so beyond being lazy. Then, when I was ready to go to sleep at night, it would start to hurt again.

Alas, as time progressed, the window of time in which the pain dissipated got smaller and smaller until they met, a cataclysmic event paralleled only in history to the time the neighbor’s dog rammed his snout in my crotch as a gesture of unexpected goodwill. So I broke down and did what I spend a large amount of my personal resources avoiding to do on a daily basis, and voluntarily entered a medical establishment.

Thankfully, the ER wasn’t busy and I was waited on promptly. The doctors at the emergency room did a good job, of course, but they still displayed to me, as they always do, the standard air of disapproval that all medical personnel give me. They can read guilt, like a nun or a Democrat, and register the same amount of condemnation on me as someone who commits venal sloth or supports offshore oil drilling.
And no one was more disapproving than the nurses. I have a deep-seated fear of nurses—a Pandora’s box of psychological issues that some poor therapist will some day unlock, along with the reason that I’m scared of the smell the furnace makes when it first kicks on in the fall for the year—and so the nurses looked at me with disbelieving incredulity. “Are you sure you don’t remember what happened?” they would say, like the grandmother holding a baseball in front of the neighbor’s broken window. “You don’t remember picking something heavy up? Pushing something harder than you thought? Beating your wife?” If my trip to the hospital were a cartoon, it would show the phrase “tsk, tsk” somewhere in the panel. Also, the nurse would be hot and quite possibly Asian.

While there was significant worry, mostly on my part, that I had managed to get a hairline fracture or the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome, X-rays displayed nothing. The doctor determined it was a mild inflammation of the tendons in the wrist, and prescribed a healthy dose of getting your act together. And Motrin. And a huge, white, Lode Runner-style bandage to keep me from flailing my arms in the air like I just don’t, uh, care.

The worst part, of course, is trying to engage in everyday activities with my non-dominant arm. Carrying groceries is a minor chore only occasionally punctuated by rampant profanity, and doing things such as, oh, I don’t know, typing a 800-word column required periodic rests with refreshing beverages and nice, relaxing episodes of Dexter.

Of course, having tendinitis has its advantages, too. There is an almost infinite amount of pity that can be farmed out of a ten dollar Ace bandage wrapped around your forearm. Every marginally cute girl approaches me with a standard “awww…” as if I were a lost puppy or a pile of designer shoes instead of a passive-aggressive slacker. (Of course, there may be some psychologically repressed tension that this is an obvious cry for someone to take care of me, but we’ll let Pandora keep the earned interest on that one.) Also, I can get out of doing menial work with a sorry look on my face and pointing wordlessly and lamentably to my forearm.

And, as everyone remembers with my Sudafed and Benadryl debacles, even standard drugs such as Motrin screw with me. While I can’t claim to any acid trips or conversations with fluorescent witch doctors on my floating sponge travelling the circumference of the earth, I have been rather cloudy-headed, and my decision-making process appears to be lacking. (“Hey! Hey you, the hot Asian chick! Are you a nurse? Can you borrow a uniform from one of your nurse friends? Don’t lie to me, I was in ‘Nam!”)

Still, though, I can’t quite wait to get this over with. Even as I feel it getting slightly less painful to move, moving through life with one operable hand is kind of a pain. At any rate, I’ll have a week or two to come up with some comparable excuse to not be able to function like a normal human being. It certainly can’t be more difficult than typing this many damn words.

Viva la Barista!

July 20, 2008

Starbucks is in trouble, and for the first time it’s not because of WTO rioters or a Brazilian frost.

Recently, Starbucks announces a corporate restructuring to try and reverse a negative slide in profit. The reasons for this are varied and unimaginative, and alas are unlikely to involve such exciting scancals as executives being taped using racial slurs, Enron-style financial shenanigans, or Hepatitis A.

I’ve always been kind of ambivalent towards coffee shops. On the minus side, they sell overpriced, overburnt drinks that are one part legitimate coffee and nine parts dessert. Their clientele is a mix of pretentious college students dividing their time pretending to study and trying to get into the pants of each other, or, alternately, businessmen and women who decide to take a half-hour meeting and stretch it into a three-hour coffee-drinking social gathering where they hash out their executive plans and try to get into the pants of each other. They have ridiculous music which is marketed as “world” and “independent” music, as if they were produced in a Kenyan jungle by rogue pirate sound engineers instead of in Los Angeles in conjunction with an advertising deal with Clear Channel Communications and RCA. They make a pretty big deal about how they purchase fair trade coffee, as if a majority of the profits weren’t still going to the United Fruit Company and the descendents of Chase & Sanborn, and offer health insurance to their workers, for those teenagers who might get carpal tunnel syndrome while burning the lattes.

On the plus side, their stuff is pretty good, even though I feel like doing penance afterwards. And sometimes the baristas are pretty hot. As in attractive hot, not standing in front of an espresso machine all day long on a sticky summer afternoon hot.

Starbucks’s current financial woes stem from several different issues. One of them is competition. No one is going to ever accuse Starbucks from undercutting the competition; their product line has always been pretty expensive, and mom and pop stores usually carve out a fairly large market share by being slightly cheaper but still maintaining a sinful markup that would make the cigarette and textile companies blush with shame and green with envy.

But part of it may be Starbucks’s corporate image. Coffee shops tend to attract exactly the sort of young, progressive, idealistic customer that likes to bring marble mocha macchiatos to the protest rally. And yet one can’t quite shake the fact that Starbucks is a huge corporation, with bottom lines, suit-wearing executives, and quarterly earnings statements just like every other corporation. Unlike local shops, there is little identity in a Starbucks; going into one Starbucks is just like going into any Starbucks, with pretty much the same appearance, products, and color schemes. It’s eerily close to that episode of Star Trek when DeForest Kelley wakes up every morning with a groundhog and some Asian dude in a rabbit suit riding a phone booth, then he accidentally steps on his glasses as the bank vault locks shut.

Another issue is the saturation of store locations. Starbucks is notorious for cramming storefronts in every possibly corner, side shop, big box chain bookstore, and cardboard box under the bridge possible. Several malls have two or more locations, and those unaware of this fact sometimes feel disoriented, as if the streets they walk down have been looped like the background of some ‘60’s-era Hanna Barbera cartoon.

As such, Starbucks is changing their market strategy. They are going to close around 600 stores throughout the United States, and drastically roll back expansion plans, a curious decision since as far as I can tell the only places that aren’t already saturated with Starbucks stores are North Korea, Cuba, and Antarctica, and I’m not so sure about North Korea. I hear Kim Jong Il loves their Strawberry Frappachinos. So apparently their plans for a new store at the Olathe, Kansas Great Plains Mall has been scrapped for now.

So what can the company do to turn their business around? Well, here is my comprehensive plan to save Starbucks.

For one thing, they should stop pushing ridiculously obscure flavors as specials. I understand the desire to have people try new things, but as with all irritable middle-aged people like me, trying new things is an evil plot to completely destroy our lives for the balance of our existence, making us charred husks of our former selves. So when I walk into a Starbucks I want a mocha latte to be on sale, not a pomegranate iced tea with an asparagus flavor shot.

Secondly, I think Starbucks should give in and start encouraging all the silly things college kids today like to do. Mostly, I’m talking about trivia about arcane knowledge with the reward of ten cents off of a four dollar coffee. If possible, these trivia questions should be somehow relevant to any current classes being taken by the students, if for no other reason than to foster a false sense of exactly how productive their Master’s degree in Comparative Art History will be in the real world, and the crushing realization that $60,000 in debt will be paid off a dime at a time. That’s a lot of cups of coffee to sell.

Third, and most important—it’s small, medium, and large. Get over it.

Who Killed Dale Cooper?

July 11, 2008

During my childhood, I resolved early that I would grow up to be completely insane. Partly this was free will, but a small part of me believes it was predestination. Exhibit A in this was the fact that I electively watched Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks, for those that choose not to remember, was a completely ridiculous show created by the completely ridiculous David Lynch, who has fashioned a fairly notable career out of making movies that make no sense whatsoever. While he had some mainstream success with Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man, he was also at the helm for the ill-fated Dune and managed to cement his reputation as being batshit crazy in an industry known for its remarkably high tolerance for batshit craziness.

Unable to carve out funding for Hollywood projects, he tilted the scope downward, and Twin Peaks was born on network television. It was conceived as equal parts mystery, science fiction, serial drama (read: soap opera), and horror, with oddball characters doing oddball things on pretty much a constant basis, not unlike a sitcom or the World Bank. Of course, getting quirky characters to interact in unspeakable manners isn’t held in patent by the Coen brothers, and it was with this charm and wit and midgets talking backwards dancing to jazz in a red-curtained room that enchanted America for about three quarters of a season until they assumed everyone involved in the writing and production of the series was high on crack, and not in the good way.

Set in Washington State in the small town of Twin Peaks, a young girl by the name of Laura Palmer is found dead, wrapped in plastic. The FBI is called in, and Agent Dale Cooper—played by Kyle McLaughlin, who is contractually obligated by federal case law to appear in every David Lynch production regardless of outside factors, including each other’s deaths—attempts to find out who killed her.

Easier said than done, of course, since the road to solving this mystery was riddled with eccentric characters, drawn-out surreal dream sequences, and some strange metaphors about owls even David Lynch couldn’t figure out after a full day of colon cleansing and TM. Dale Cooper himself was a bit off, speaking to an unknown “Diane” when recording his notes and lusting after coffee and cherry pie. (K—I can actually understand that last part. That’s not so crazy.) There was the Log Lady, who was, well, a lady who had a log that talked to her. There was the sheriff, Harry S Truman. (Why not?) There was Lara Flynn Boyle, playing a girl that looks like she might have eaten a sandwich sometime in the last decade. This offbeat mix of elements was what made the show unique, and viewers flocked in droves, always eager to get one more piece of information about who, in fact, killed Laura Palmer.

Except that in the middle of the second season, they revealed who killed Laura Palmer. Under pressure from ABC, the network, the killer was revealed as the always-capitalized BOB, an entity that possessed people and caused them to do brutal, nasty things; namely, kill Laura Palmer. Why the network was so hard to remove the one thing that had made the show popular in the first place—a perpetual cliffhanger—is unknown, except of course for the fact that all network television executives hate with a passion anything that is creative and successful and will choke it to death it with their sweaty sausage-sized fingers.

And so, with a precipitous drop in ratings and a bewildered fan base wandering around the metaphorical woods, Twin Peaks died a lonely death after two glorious years.

However, as anyone can tell you, a prematurely cancelled cult-based television show is simply begging for a feature-length motion picture, and such was the case with Twin Peaks. Fire Walk With Me—the title of which has deep resonance with true fans and makes no sense to anyone else, though to be fair this actually applies to the entire movie itself—was released about a year after the cancellation of the series. Part prequel and part sequel, it sought to fill in a lot of the backstory as well as provide closure, and obviously Lynch decided that the proper way to do this is to have a scene in the middle of the movie where no one can be understood to the point of requiring subtitles even though the dialogue itself doesn’t make much sense anyway and everything on the screen is pretty much either flesh-colored or red, and then for added measure make this completely incomprehensible scene last somewhere upwards of eighteen hours. It was so bad even the French booed it. The French, who have not only tolerated but created both Gerard Depardieu and Amelie.

Thankfully, Twin Peaks has managed to weather cultural history, and routinely ranks on critics’ lists as one of the better shows of all time. Some theorize in today’s market, a basic cable station could have tolerated Lynch’s eccentrics and put up with long, complicated plots. Now, most fans will have to put up with a belatedly released subpar DVD box set and some glazed donuts. Or at least that’s what the owls tell me.

The End Is Near…Switzerland

July 2, 2008

You may not be fully aware of it, but come this fall, the world may end. And of all places, it’s going to happen in Switzerland. And here I thought they were neutral on the whole end of the world thing.

For those who, like everyone else in the world, including scientists, skip the “Science” part of your Sunday paper (otherwise known as the Science/Health/Grammar Column/Bridge Advice section), the Large Hadron Collider is a massive scientific apparatus that does…something. About something. So we can find out something important, such as how to increase government grants to large particle accelerators. To be honest, I’ve read the purpose of this machine about a thousand times (I’m using significant digits, there) and I still have only a vague notion of exactly what it’s supposed to accomplish. Granted this may be because of my experience in physics class in high school:

Teacher: Today, we’re going to learn about the Wankel Rotary Engine.
Me, Thinking To Myself: I wonder if that blonde chick in front of me thinks I’m cute.
Teacher: So when you are ready to turn in your assignments about Planck’s Constant let me know and I’ll give you’re your assignment on formulating inertia.
Me: I also wonder if that blonde chick is wearing anything under that shirt.
Teacher: The test on kinetic energy will be next Tuesday.
Me: I think I’ll go home and call her number, then hang up, then play Nintendo for five hours.

Granted, I took physics in college, too, though this time things were different. I had a Sony PlayStation by that point.

Anyway, after reading an article about the collider, the gist of what I came out with was the following:
1) There’s a chance this collider might kill us.
2) But it probably won’t.
3) We hope.

That’s right, when they flip that switch in Switzerland, there’s a remote chance the world will end. Exactly how this is going to happen, however, has so far been left to the imagination of the reader, and the more frightening the method the less knowledgeable of physics the supposer has. But it is kind of freakish to realize that scientists are pushing the button with one hand, crossing their fingers on the other.

The most common thought is that the collider will produce a series of black holes. Anyone who has gone through a rigorous scientific program of watching Star Trek: The Next Generation knows, black holes are nothing you want to screw around with. They eat babies, drain vital nutrients, lay asunder women and children, and watch Spike TV. And, alas, the super collider is not a Warner Brothers cartoon (oh, the wonder of THAT day!), so getting rid of the black holes isn’t as easy as simply hitting the reverse button.

Of course, that’s not the only theoretical danger. The collider could also produce magnetic monopoles, vacuum bubbles, and strangelets. No, I have no idea what these are, either. I assume that magnetic monopoles hurt about as much as they sound like they will, vacuum bubbles is actually the name of a porn star, and strangelets are some new form of delicious candy.

All this is enough to startle anyone, and it’s startled at least one person into (surprise!) legal action. A collection of individuals attempted to force an injunction to prevent the activation of this device. The suit, as was expected, was recently dismissed. Notably, however, were the reasons it was dismissed; not because there wasn’t a chance that the supercollider would cause the world to end, or that it would cause irreparable harm to the atmosphere, but that the six year statute of limitations had expired. Whew! Thank goodness that our courts will bring about the end of the world in an appreciatively judicious manner.

The construction of the project itself has not been without drama, either. At one point, a focusing quadrupole (or whatever) collapsed, the engineers apparently not taking gravity into account when building it. If that doesn’t inspire confidence in the program, I can’t imagine what will.

To be fair, a lot of this is probably nothing more than a lot of bluster. On the one hand, top scientists dismiss the safety claims, stating that this is something that has been done a million times before. On the other hand, if it has, then why build a huge underground cavern of dark, swirling, mysterious physics concepts in the first place? Ostensibly, the goal is to observe the creation of the Higgs boson, apparently a vital key in unlocking the mysteries of the universe. (Again, I read its purpose, and, as always, walked away with two ideas: 1) Scientists are significantly smarter than myself, or 2) scientists are really, really adept at making shit up.) Me, I’m convinced that the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe is at the bottom of a bottle of Gewürztraminer, but as of yet my methods have not persuaded the scientific community. They prefer scotch.