Thursday, March 30, 2006

John Basedow is a Marketing Genius

If you watch any amount of cable television at all, you know who John Basedow is.* He's the "celebrity fitness" guy who is all over basic cable networks with commercials hawking exercise videos. He's been around for a while, but I've noticed that recently (that is, up to maybe a year ago) he's really truly stepped it up. New bits in his commercials (I don't think he's actually done a full-scale infomercial yet) are:

- an annoying yet mildly catchy "theme song"
- a new icon/logo for his "Fitness Made Simple" programs
- new spokespeople ("it worked for me!")
- live appearances ("You too can meet John Basedow in person!")

But what really sets his new commercials apart -- and why I think he's such a marketing genius -- is the substance of some of his latest commercials. (All quotes from the commercials are paraphrased from memory.)

"I've lost weight using the program," one woman gushes, "and now I have even higher goals, because I know I can do anything." Basedow responds, "Because that is what it's all about, isn't it? Once you take control of your body, you take control of your life."

Indeed, his website proclaims: "Anything is possible once you believe in yourself and have the knowledge and determination to accomplish your goals."

This, my friends, is absolute genius. This is John Basedow latching on to the obnoxious popularity of self-help claptrap which has reached fever pitch under people like Dr. Phil. Basedow goes beyond just talking about losing weight and looking good. The physical body is now just an outward manifestation of something else for him (and therefore, for you). Focus on that, and you treat a deeper, psychological yearning which will affect the rest of your life as well.

Lose weight, and you'll be able to get a better job! Lose weight, and you'll get a raise! Lose weight, and suddenly you'll be able to speak four new languages! Lose weight, and master integral calculus!

Those other commercials -- for diet pills (like the one with that "new doctor") and even for Jenny Craig (starring Kirstie Alley) -- no longer hold a candle to John Basedow. Those commercials are so superficial. There's no chicken soup for the soul; all they do is pander to your outer looks. Basedow wants you to set your goals beyond your physical body.

Basedow cares.

"You definitely care. . . . You obviously care about helping as many people as you can at any point in time," another woman tells him in a commercial.

Because, of course, Basedow isn't trying make money. Hellz no! He cares. His goal is to make people feel good. The profit he makes off of selling these exercise regimens? Gravy, pure and simple.

Me, I think the lady must have misspoken. I think instead of saying Basedow wanted to help as many people as he can, she actually meant to say he cares about selling his product to as many people as possible. I know, there's a lot of verbal ledgerdemain involved in his slip of the tongue, but she apparently slipped up quite badly. You should hear her when she wants to order a Caesar salad and instead accidentally asks for a bacon double cheeseburger with the works and a side order of chili cheese fries.

There's a strange Richard Simmons-esque quality to Basedow's new advertising regime. Poor dear, both Richard and John tell their overweight viewers. It's not your fault. But if you get motivated, you can lose weight and love yourself again! And with that self-love, you can set new goals for yourself. I'm going to teach you how. Because I care.

(Richard Simmons was, of course, much, MUCH gayer about it.)

Even Basedow's theme song hints at this theme:

Here's John Basedow
He's gonna show you how
To reach your potential
And turn your whole life around!

Note the complete lack of anything referring to getting in shape. There's nothing in there about losing weight. Weight loss is a secondary by-product of the "reaching your potential" goal. If you knew nothing about Basedow and heard that song, you might think he was some sort of inspirational speaker, sort of like a present-day Norman Vincent Peale.

So, if I were wearing a hat, I'd take it off to John Basedow. Marketing genius, that one. I won't be buying his product, but I'm sure he's managed to get a huge number of the sheep of this country to go ahead and do just that. Dr. Phil would be proud too.

* I would link to him, but I don't want to drive any traffic to his site. Frankly, I think he's kind of freaky. And, for a "fitness celebrity," he's kind of ugly. But I will admit, some of "success stories" on his website are kinda hot. One guy, Jason, looks good, but then again, the idiocy of it all is, he looked good in his "before" picture too!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Butchy Day

This morning in the space of less than half an hour my wife came up in conversation twice.

Twice. What are the odds? Granted, neither person who made the comment knew me, and it's not unreasonable to just assume heterosexuality, but twice. Wow. I think the universe is trying to send me a signal.

The first reference took place as I was going through the metal detector at the courthouse. I was admonished to remove everything from my pockets, including my wallet. (I usually don't remove my wallet just because I don't think there's anything in there that should set off a metal detector.) Heeding the security guard's instruction, though, I removed my wallet and placed it in a plastic tub.

"Take your money back," the guy told me. I guess there was a fear that someone the other end would make off with my cash, which was visible, seeing as my wallet is actually a money clip. So I removed the lone one-dollar bill from the clip and put it in my pocket. (The rest of my money, change from the $20 I spent buying some breakfast, was in my pocket already.)

"Wife keeping you on a short leash there, huh?" the guard joked with me. I guess one sign of a wife's control over her husband is her not doling out an adequate sum for lunch money. I laughed with him and continued on my way.

I met my boss and our client in the cafeteria and talked briefly about the case. I had never met this client before; my boss is the lead on her matter, so today was the first time we were introduced. The client, within three questions, asked whether I was married.

"Uh, excuse me?" I asked, now thrown by the second reference to my wife following so quickly on the heels of the first.

She explained that she was under the impression that "the other attorney" (the one not my boss) was married. We explained that for a little bit, our other associate worked on her matter, and that other associate was a married woman.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I were straight. Then I realize it wouldn't be terribly different from what it is now: seeing as I can't seem to get a date with a guy, there's no real reason to believe my luck would be any better with a woman.

Still, I think I'll take my newfound heterosexuality and hit a strip club this weekend. I can use those singles from my money clip.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tomorrow Never Dies

I rented Tomorrow Never Dies over the weekend. I'd already seen it -- in the theaters as well as on FX over the weekend -- but I had forgotten to take it out of my queue at Netflix.

Besides, Michelle Yeoh was in it. She's hot in martial-arts style sequences. I love that stuff.

I do believe Ms. Yeoh was the first Asian Bond girl. (About frigging time.) And, though I cannot purport to be an expert on the subject, she's the first one I've seen in a long time who was on the "Good Guys'" side who could hold her own (i.e., kick some ass). The last woman I an recall who kicked ass in a Bond film was Grace Jones in A View to a Kill (and let's face it, she was somewhat freaky). All the other Bond chicks seem to have made their careers out of standing around going, "James! Help!" or "Ow! James!" Then they'd coo, "Ooooh, James!"

(Don't get me wrong, a lot of Bond chicks were smart. Like Dr. Goodhead (ahem) in Moonraker, just for one example. But generally... helpless tarts. Smart, but helpless.)

Anyway, back to Tomorrow Never Dies: there's just one scene I have got to vent about.

So Michelle Yeoh demonsrates in this movie her talent at movie martial arts repeatedly, and it's great to watch. Then at some point about three-quarters of the way through the movie, she gets caught by Bad Guy's minions, who then take her to him. So she's standing there with two goons holding her arms and two other goons with automatic weapons pointing at her. Then Bad Guy says something annoying and Michelle lashes out by trying to kick him (which we know would have hurt had she succeeded).

Then Bad Guy launches of this mock-martial arts tirade, complete with old-style Bruce Lee sound effects and exaggerated arm movements, ending with one word: "Pathetic." Now keep in mind, this is while Michelle Yeoh is being held in place with guns pointed at her.

So my one comment to the writers is this: Why could she not have said, at this point, "Get these goons to let me go and get these guns off of me and let's see just how pathetic I am, White Boy"? Please? Because Bad Guy was just such a racist asshole in that scene.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Congrats to George Mason University for making it to the Final Four in the NCAA Tourney!

I'm not really following the tournament much this year -- not that I usually do -- but with so many local teams playing this year I couldn't help hearing buzzes around town about our teams. I was sorry that GWU took such an early departure, and Georgetown's defeat was relatively hard fought, but at least Mason's in the Final Four.

We caught the last few seconds of the Mason game while I was at a friend's house. While no one in the room really had any connection to Mason, a few of us were rooting for them just because we wanted a good Cinderella story (bonus points for involving a local school). Besides, almost everyone's brackets got screwed up when Kansas and Carolina lost anyway.

Watching some of the news reports on the match-up tonight, I heard two things that disturbed me about the U-Conn team. First, they made some arrogant prediction last night that they would win the entire tournament. Me personally, I like a little bit of modesty in athletes, especially collegiate athletes. You don't just "win." You have to work at it. There are others involved (they're called your "opponents"); acknowledge it's not necesssarily automatic that you'll beat them.

Second -- good grief! -- after the national anthem, U-Conn actually declined to shake hands with the Mason team. That's wildly unsportsmanlike and definitely uncool to an extreme. Again, these guys are people and, whether you take them seriously or not, they will be playing against you. Does it take too much to treat them like human beings? They're as excited to be there as you are -- maybe even more so, since they've rarely made an appearance in the tournament at all, let alone make it to the Sweet Sixteen -- just be gentlemen and acknowledge them.

If for no other reason, after that kind of arrogant show I'm glad U-Conn didn't beat Mason. I'll just make it a good secondary reason (after the great Cinderella story) that I'm pretty happy for Mason right around now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Check It Out!"

Could there possibly be anything more annoying than having "My Humps," by the Black Eyed Peas, totally stuck in your head? Worse yet is that I only know the opening lyrics; the rest are a blur to me. And yet I hear this damn song all the freaking time, and now it's stuck my head.

And who in the name of all that is holy has ever been known to refer to their backside as "lovely lady lumps"? I'm gonna wager a quick guess here: no one.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hockey and Wings

Overheard between two gay men, in Hooters of all places:

Guy 1: I love Dave and Buster's! Have you ever been?
Guy 2: No.
Guy 1: It's a lot of fun... but it's kinda dangerous. You can totally blow a wad there. Uh, of cash, I mean.

Okay, one of those guys was me. I'll leave you to figure out which one.


So Monday night was even straighter than my usual nights. I swear, if I don't watch out, I'm going to start finding boobies irresistably attractive.

It started with a hockey game. Watching it, not playing it. I love watching hockey games... it strikes me as such graceful savagery. I mean, one minute these guys are gliding across the ice, smooth as silk, the next, WHAM!, they're slammed up against a divider. I mean, hey, a legal way to stop a guy advancing with the puck is to body slam him, what can I say? Loads of fun. Also, it's one of the few sports where a fist fight is more exciting than the play of game itself.

During half time, they had these little tykes come out. Four of 'em, two goalies, two shooters. It was so cute watching them try to skate, let alone also maneuver the puck toward the goal (and to defend the goal). I think I cheered more for these kids than I did for any of the pro players. They were just so adorable! Although a part of me also feels bad, because when there's a six-year-old shooting a puck and a six-year-old defending, well, one of them is going to fail in their endeavor. You cheer for the kid who succeeds, but then at the same time you end up making the poor other kid feel bad.

After the game, my companion and I stepped out for food and ended up at Hooters. I've always wanted to go to check out their wings, but none of my friends ever wants to go with me. In truth, the place is pretty decent. The food is reasonably priced in comparison to any other bar/pub in the area, and the wings aren't half bad. Oh, and friendly chicks with huge boobs who make it point to bend over at the waist when taking your order -- classic.

Thing is, after this past weekend at the beach, I had told my friends that I really need to get my gay on after all that time at Starboard. And what do I do upon my return? Hit a live sporting event followed by dinner at Hooters. Niiiiice.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Just Beachy

I spent this weekend at a friend's place in Rehoboth/Dewey Beach. It's Dewey Beach's "opening weekend," so we hopped over to hit the bars. Well, a bar. And have a party of sorts.

First, let me take a moment to bitch about office machines. By office machines, I'm referring to my work computer, as well as the one belonging to my boss and the receptionist. I'm also referring to the office copier, which doubles as a printer at times. Why is it that when I'm in a rush all these things choose to freeze up on me en masse? There's a word for this: resistentialism. (Check out the definitions here and here.) I wasn't so much running up against deadlines, but I of course wanted to get things done in order to leave the office just a tad early. And wouldn't you know, just as my friends are calling to tell me they're on their way to pick me up, my machine will no longer print. Nor will my document print from a different machine. Suddenly I'm frustrated and rushed and stressed and blah. Thankfully, eventually everything got taken care of and I grabbed my stuff and ran down to get the hell out of Dodge.

We stayed at my friend Chris's house. He lives just a few miles from the popular Dewey Beaches and we insisted on hitting up the Starboard to "start off" the beach season. This despite the fact that it was still well under 40 degrees out and we were all wearing long sleeves and jeans. (There were, of course, the handful of idiots wearing shorts and short sleeves and even flip-flops, but they were clearly, well, out of their minds.)

Completely apropos of my last post on this subject, every time I walk into the Starboard I have to ask myself why I'm there at all. Aren't I too old for this?, I wonder. Twenty-something frat boys and their corresponding Tri-Delt sisters getting drunk, engaging in sexual banter, and making fools of themselves surrounded me. Do I really need that?

I always think that, then I always look around and come to realize that, in fact, many of the people around me aren't twenty-something. There are thirty-somethings and even forty-somethings here. This is a beach community where time, and the maturity it usually brings, stands still. People who probably hold down perfectly respectable jobs and who earn quite good livings doing what they do reacquaint themselves with the part of their brains that still clamor to get shit-faced in public for the fun of it:

Too-tight t-shirts (on both men and women)? Check.
Far too much visible cleavage (on both men and women)? Check.
Dry humping on the dance floor? Check.
Adults who should know better barely able to stay on their feet at 12:30 a.m.? Check.
Public emitus? Check, and check. (Watch where you walk.)

Compounding this question is the fact that the environment at all the Dewey Beach bars is insanely heterosexual. Sexual tension pervades the air, sometimes to predatory levels. The men here have one thing on their minds, and it's not scintillating conversation. No one is looking for "Ms. Right," just "Ms. Right Now." This dynamic would suffer from an immense imbalance were it not for the fact that the women here more or less seek the same thing. The words of Toby Keith apply to everyone here:

I'm not talkin' 'bout locking down forever, baby that would be too demanding.
I'm just talkin' 'bout two lonely people who might reach a little understanding.
I'm not talkin' 'bout knockin' out heaven with whether we're wrong or we're right.
I'm not talkin' 'bout hookin' up, and hangin' out,
I'm just talkin' 'bout tonight.

One girlfriend of mine actually had the following "exchange" with a mildly attractive guy after a not-insignificant amount of time together dancing:

Guy: So would you be offended if I asked you to come back to my beach house?
Friend: I'm not offended, but the answer would be 'no.'
Guy: [Wordlessly walks off into the crowd, and is later spotted dancing with another good-looking woman.]

Don't get me wrong, there's usually some decent eye candy at these places. I swear, when you're 23 years old and remotely virile and masculine, sometimes it's not hard not to look totally doable. It doesn't take much (or maybe my standards are dropping the less sex I actually get). But these are straight boys we're talking about; much as I'd love to see them naked, I'm sure it's just not going to happen, and that's all for the best. I'd happily head over to the somewhat more gay-friendly Rehoboth Beach and hit the bar scene there, but the logistics of getting there and back to Chris's house is a bit more effort that I'm willing to coordinate.

Thankfully, at least one friend of mine this year agrees with me with respect to questioning why we keep going back to the Starboard over and over again despite our advancing years. Maybe next time she'll be willing to come with me to hang out at the gay bar(s).

On the flip side of that is my question about why my girlfriends still love going to the beach so much. They're usually not the type to really enjoy the hookup scene or the search for beach boys. By now they're really more interested in longer-term potential; why do they insist on continuing to go to a meat market set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean? The mind kinda boggles.

In the end, though, the weekend for me was all about being with my friends, away from the city, in an environment that's bit more relaxing and away from the stress of city life. There wasn't much to worry about; we just hung out, enjoyed each others' company, ate a hell of a lot, had (quite) a few drinks, and relaxed. We'll be doing this again a few times this summer, I'm sure. Right now, though, I'm in it more for Chris's hot tub than the Starboard. I only wish he'd be willing to join me in it -- he's kinda cute.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Devotional Hints

I light this candle and watch it throw
Tears on my pillow
And if there is a Christ, he'll come tonight
To pray for Spanish eyes
And if I have nothing left to show
Tears on my pillow
What kind of life is this if God exists
Then help me pray for Spanish eyes

-- Madonna

From time to time, I hit Pulp on 14th Street for cute little trinkets. Among my favorite things to pick up there are devotional candles.

Unfortunately, they're not really all that "devotional." In fact, if you really care about the religious significance of these candles, they're somewhat sacrilegious. Because the images on them are faux religious.

The last time I went, I purchased two candles:

In case you can't read them, the candle on the left (red) is dedicated to finding "Abundant True Love." The one on the right (purple), "Our Lady of Perpetual Youth."

Now see, I tend to light both candles at the same time. I'm anal that way. No burning of one candle while the other one remains unlit. I also have a set of tea lights holders on my windowsill. If any one of them contains an actual candle, they all must. All candles are lit at the same time, or none of them at all.

I wonder what message my devotional candles are trying to send me:

Don't look now, but My Lady of Perpetual Youth is burning itself down substantially faster than Abundant True Love.

I guess that means that I'm getting older faster. No perpetual youth for me. But at least in my prematurely old age I'll still be capable of finding abundant true love.

Monday, March 13, 2006

But It's Time to Face the Truth. I Will Never Be With You.

I have this horrible habit of developing insta-crushes on guys who are taken or otherwise way out of my league. After a brief interaction, I will decide, "Wow, he's nice and smart and funny and cute." Then I start developing one of those silly little schoolgirl crushes, which in the end only sucks like all hell.

I met this one guy at a volunteer event close to a year ago. Despite the fact that I had only ever seen him a few times after that event, I never really forgot him. I didn't obsess over him and he didn't pop into my head daily, but when he showed up at sporadic events, I would remember that he was the guy with the cool cuff links. Heck, I even posted a Craigslist "Missed Connection" on him, despite the fact that I managed to snag his full name off of a form he was filling out near me.

I'm a terribly shy person in real life, but hot dang if I didn't start flirting with this guy from the very beginning. That says something, when even I start flirting. It started with talking about his cuff links. Then it was mild sexual innuendos. At one point I even made a joke to him that went something like: "It's kinda like the 'my side of the bed vs. your side of the bed' dispute. We can have that discussion later." And I winked. I freakin' winked.

I saw him again this weekend at an event we were both volunteering for. Our shift ended before the event did, so we decided to go get some alcohol. I grabbed him and one other volunteer (to lighten the pressure) and the three of us hit Halo.

Of course, in due time (I'm very patient at extracting this kind of information), I came to find out that this guy's had a boyfriend for something like over 10 years now. They met when he was freaking 18. Part of me is jealous just because they've been happy together for so long; another part of me is jealous of his boyfriend.

But if my stupid tendency to fall into mad crush-world at the drop of a hat has taught me anything at all, it has taught me how to come to expect this kind of disappointment. A lot of the best guys in this city are taken.

And I've learned to hide my disappointment well, not missing a beat and timing my response perfectly to the "I'm taken" hint-drop. I kick ass at not letting on that I would ever have been interested at all in something more than friendship.

So now I'm working on the third guy who came out with us that night. My bigger fear with him is that he kind of reminds me of my best friend's ex.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thanks for the Warning

I walked into a colleague's office just now and was just about to say Hi when she greeted me with "Get out, go! Now!" She started waving her hands at me to get rid of me.

How rude, I thought, until I finally heard what else she was saying, a little softer than the rest of the words, by way of explanation:

"I just farted. Now get out!"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


It wasn't my first day at the new school, but I still felt like an outsider.

My parents had insisted that I attend a private prep school despite my desire to remain with my friends in the public school system. I was plucked from my comfortable surroundings and dropped into a new world, filled with new people, experiences, and worldviews, in the eighth grade.

Although the school taught kids from kindergarten through high school graduation, the largest influx of "new" students usually occurred at one of four distinct levels: kindergarten, fourth grade, seventh grade, or ninth grade. I and a handful of others provided exceptions to this situation. For all I know, I replaced some other kid who simply wasn't performing up to standards, or who had moved away due to some family tragedy.

Fitting in was difficult: everyone had already had at least a year to cultivate friendships and get to know each other. Painfully shy that I was (and to some extent still am), I found myself adrift, lost. For the first month, many was the day I went from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. without speaking a word to anyone.

Making things still more difficult for me was the fact that I'm from a decidedly middle-class background, likely even a lower-middle class one. I did not grow up with many creature comforts; I did not live in a big house; I did not own nice clothes or any of the shiny gadgets that the cool (read: more well-off) kids had. In my public school district, in my group of friends, such externalities didn't really matter, for we all had a shared sense of what was "affordable" and what wasn't. Here, the bar on frivolous spending money was raised, and I was left behind in my JCPenney clothes while my peers paraded around in brand names.

After a while I made an effort. I reached out to a handful of other kids who seemed nice. My first distinct memory of doing so was talking to Todd from my English class, whom I observed furiously scribbling something or another on a piece of paper supported by his Trapper Keeper one morning before classes started. Somehow I recognized it to be an assignment that was due that day which I had not completed either ("We were supposed to do that? And it's due today?"). Had he not reminded me, I would have never done that Reader's Response. (Thanks, Todd.)

By mid-semester I had finally hit something of a comfort zone. I had some friends, I was mildly outgoing, and I was determined not to look like I was trying too hard to fit in. I smiled and acted friendly a lot. I suppose it was reasonable for someone observing from the outside to think that I was popular and outgoing, and had a lot of friends.

Mr. Harrison, my English teacher, apparently thought that of me.

I've long since forgotten the story that we had finished reading, but the memory of Mr. Harrison's enlightened "exercise" to illustrate a point still haunts me. The story had something to do with being an outcast, a misfit, a nobody. Someone in the story just didn't belong in the environment she was in.

Without explanation, Mr. Harrison picked me and three others to leave the room and wait in the hall for a bit. The only other person I remember who was selected with me was William, who was probably the most popular guy in the class. (Unlike me, he genuinely was pretty well-liked -- I think.)

When we eventually were summoned to return to the room, we found that the rest of the class had broken up into four groups, with their chairs turned toward each other in little circles. Each of us who had left the room joined one of the groups, and we were supposed to talk about something or another in these discussion groups. I took my seat (now with a group that was clear across the room from where I normally sat for class), pulled out my textbook, and waited for something to happen.

What happened was not what I expected. I started to speak, but was roundly ignored. I tried to listen, but it seemed like they were whispering to keep me out of the loop. Eventually I had to ask to be included in the discussion, at which point Kerry rather coldly told me to "just go read the book again." (I think this was literally the third sentence she uttered to me, ever.) For ten agonizing minutes, I was completely shut out, despite my efforts. I was transported back to my first day of classes, once again isolated, reminded anew that this world was not one in which I belonged.

With the force of Vesuvius, all my insecurities -- feelings which by that point I thought I had decently suppressed -- erupted to the surface. I could feel my cheeks flush bright red and worse yet, I found my eyes started to well up. I blinked once, twice, three times, four, seven, eleven, whatever it took; I was willing myself to stop, for I was certain I would never have been able to live down the indignity of crying in front of my peers so early in my career at this school. But I do remember thinking how much I now once again hated this school, the people, the pretension, the hypocrisy, the sense of entitlement. These kids were so mean.

Mr. Harrison possibly saw what was going on with me, because the exercise terminated very quickly thereafter. We all turned our chairs back to face the front of the room, which was good because it meant no one could see my just-this-close-to-utterly-losing-it face.

Mr. Harrison explained his little game: the kids in the room were instructed to be as standoffish as possible with the effect of excluding those of us who had been sent outside. This exercise was meant to demonstrate the feelings of alienation so that we could sympathize with whatever the woman in the story felt or did.

It worked. I felt alone and rejected.

We were called upon to talk about the experience. Thankfully, William (who had more confidence and social skills in the eighth grade than I possess today) survived his ordeal intact, and was able to talk about how he felt and what he was thinking. Had I attempted to open my mouth, I probably would have burst into tears. Some other kids even managed to mention how hard it was to be the exclusionary ones and act so rudely to the Selected Four. (It made me feel marginally better to see Kerry nodding her head in agreement to this comment.)

In the end, Mr. Harrison explained that he had selected the four of us because he had pegged us as some of the more outgoing and friendly kids in the class, who probably would be able to handle the rejection best. I resisted the urge to tell him just how wrong he was.

Mr. Harrison asked the class to give a hand to the Selected Four for "being good sports" and participating in this exercise (as if we had any choice in the matter). Never mind that I wanted to wring his neck.

** Epilogue: I eventually came out of my shell, made a solid core of friends, endured five years of academic hell and graduated. There are many other, much happier memories of my alma mater that I carry with me to this day. But this one anchors me to a place in my life that I don't ever want to return to.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rise of the Machines

I got into a fight with an obstinate inanimate (yet interactive) machine this past weekend. We're not talking about a simple disagreement; I mean an actual shouting match. Well, I guess in truth I was really the only one shouting, but still.

On my way to a party this weekend, I ducked into the Harris Teeter to purchase a dessert. That's all I wanted was a dessert, nothing special, nothing fancy, just a quick few bucks on decent food to share. I figured rather than wait in a line, I would use one of those self-checkout lanes.

Yeah. Those things are less fun or efficient than one would think they are.

First, there is literally no way to do it as fast as the checkout people do it. You can't just take your stuff and go BEEPBEEPBEEP and have all your items rung up quickly (if you have more than one item). As the artificially patient computer voice tells you, after scanning an item, you must place it in a bag at the bagging area right next to the scanner. You may not scan another item until it senses that you've placed the first item down in the bagging area. (There's clearly a scale or something there.)

I figured with just one item it couldn't be that much of a hassle, right?


I picked what appeared to be a nice sized chiffon cake with some cherry drizzle on top. I forget now what it actually was (that's not important to this story now is it?). I didn't plan to eat any of it, so hey, I grabbed what looked pretty and was reasonably priced. Then HAL 9000 decided to pick a fight with me.

After I "touched here to start,"* then decided I neither had nor would be able to scam someone's discount card from them (oh, the pain of an additional $2!), I was ready to rock. I placed the cake on the scanner and let it do its magic.

Okay, at first yes, it was my fault for not realizing that the bar code wasn't facing either of the two scanning surfaces. "What the heck?" I found myself thinking. Why isn't it going BEEP? I'm used to the Whole Foods, where they put the bar codes on the bottom of containers so that the cashiers can just run it over the scanner. There was no bar code on the bottom of this plate. I had to turn the thing until the code was in the right spot on the side of the packaging. Okay, no biggie.

Then the fight began in earnest. "Please place your item in a bag," HAL told me.** I dutifully placed the cake on the area near the bags (it didn't fit in a standard bag so I figured I'd take care of it later, after having paid).

"Please remove any additional items from the bag and place them on the scanner." Uh, what additional items? But HAL was adamant. I was to take something or another from the bag and put it through the scanner.

So I took the cake off the bagging area again. "Please scan your item," HAL told me.

"But I've already scanned this!" I told it. (Yes, I actually started talking to it.) I could see it on the screen: there was already a line item on the receipt for this cake. I would be damned if I was going to scan it again.

So I put it back on the bagging area. Apparently this was not what I was supposed to do.

"Please remove any additional items from the bag and place them on the scanner."

"There are no additional items!" I exclaimed, starting to get a little annoyed. So once again, I removed the cake from the bagging area.

"Please scan your item."

"No! No! I will not be charged double for this damn cake!" I cried. I refused to scan the item again, knowing full well that if I double-scanned it, I would only have to call over a manager, and that would be, well, extremely embarrassing. I suppose I should have thought of this before I started screaming at a machine.

I put the cake back on the bagging area and, of course, was predictably met with an all-too-calm request to take the item off of the bagging area so that it could be scanned.

This happened three times. What's the definition of stupidity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yeah, that's me. HAL, 1; Me, 0.

Finally, I noted a button on the screen that said something to the effect of "No More Items." Shrewdly keeping my cake off the bagging area, and knowing that the cake had already been rung up, I pressed that button.

Thankfully, the rest of the process resolved itself without a hitch. The machine even successfully accepted three pieces of paper currency without once spitting any of it back, which I found most impressive.

I then split, heading off to my little party, cake happily in hand. Then it promptly got blown away by some gale-force winds. It bounced three times before I caught up to it and by then the cherry icing was slathered all over the inside of the container. Lovely.

* That would make a great intro to foreplay. Like, on a person instead of an automated checkout machine.

** Even though I call it HAL, the voice was female, which is good. Because if it had been a male voice, I think I would have freaked.