Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Rich Man, A Poor Man, A Beggar

The rich are not permitted to come anywhere near the poor. Marie Antoinette may have proclaimed "Let them eat cake," but apparently in America today, the better-off among us are apparently afraid they'll get cooties from those of us who are that much less fortunate.


I arrived at LAX the morning of my departure with ample time to make my flight. What with the "no liquids or gels" thing and my paralyzing uncertainty as to how long checking in and security checkpoints would take, I took no chances. I was about two hours in advance of my flight's departure.

I made my way over to the self-serve check-in counter. In days past, I would have simply used a kiosk and gone on my merry way, as I would not have checked any luggage. Given the aforementioned restrictions, however, and the fact that I had just seen my parents (and thus been handed a slew of things to take back with me), I had extra bags that simply had to be checked. No biggie.

Having tagged my luggage, I was advised to take my bags to the security screening area, which was to my right. I dutifully gathered my bags, walked over, and stood in the line where other passengers were clearly checking their bags for security purposes.

Without even asking, the American Airlines employee at the head of the line waved me off and pointed further down the terminal, indicating that I was to go there. Still having no idea why, I grabbed my things and started walking over there, only to realize I had no idea what I was looking for. Finally, still not having found what line I was supposed to be in, I went back to my original line.

The woman in front of me turned and asked me, "Are you in first class?" (I can't even bring myself to capitalize that). "Uh, no," I asked, thinking what a silly and irrelevant question. But I was wrong. It in fact was a relevant question, for I had somehow accidentally deigned to stand in line at the first class baggage screening section. The "poor" peoples' security screening was, as I had been originally told, further down the terminal.

This annoyed me greatly. What, first class passengers pose some quantum different level of security threat that they get different security screeners? (If so, are they greater or lesser threats?) Having read guidelines for when to arrive at the airport, I have never seen an airline suggest different arrival times for first class versus economy passengers. This is because, I presume, usually all passengers will run a fairly equal risk of being screened or held up by security procedures. Apparently, this is not the case at American Airlines at LAX, for first class passengers get not only a dedicated line to retrieve their boarding passes, but also a different (therefore shorter) line to send their bags through security.


But wait, there's more!

Having finally handed off my luggage to the kind gentleman at the poor people's security gate, I started making my way to the gate, fully aware that I would have to pass one more security checkpoint along the way. I turned around and saw a sign indicating that my cluster of gates was located upstairs. Fortuitously, there was a set of "up" escalators about 100 feet from me. (Notably, these escalators were only about 40 feet from the first class baggage check-in).

As I approached the escalator, I saw the signs but I couldn't believe it. There was an American Airlines employee standing at the base of the escalator (complete with lanes set off by faux velvet rope, may I add) whose job it was to check boarding passes. Yes, folks, this escalator was reserved for first class passengers. The employee took one look at my boarding pass and pointed me to another set of escalators at the far end of the terminal (past where I had started the process by getting my boarding passes).

This flabbergasts me. A special escalator for first class to get one freaking flight up? Seriously, do these people need their asses wiped for them too?

I made my way to the Untouchables' escalator (about three times farther from the luggage security checkpoint than the Brahmin escalator), went up, and looped around to get to the passenger security checkpoint. Just as I figured, the security checkpoint was the same one for first class as for The Rest of Us. Really, the only thing they did was make us walk farther.


I wish I could adequately reproduce a diagram of how retarded this system is and how all it did was fuck us non-trust funders. Instead, I hope this descriptive will help:

First class passengers:
1. Go to check-in line to retrieve boarding pass.
2. Go to baggage security line; leave luggage there for eventual loading on plane.
3. Go up the escalator to gate security.
4. Pass through gate security, proceed to gate, wait for flight.

Non-first class passengers:
1. Go to check-in line to retreive boarding pass.
2. Walk past first-class passenger check-in counters.
3. Walk past first-class baggage security line.
4. Go to ghetto baggage security line; leave luggage there for eventual loading on plane.
5. Walk back past first-class baggage security line.
6. Walk past a perfectly good set of esclators leading to gate security.
7. Walk back past first-class passenger check-in counters.
8. Go up ghettoized escalators.
9. On the upper level, double back one more time (this is the third time covering equivalent ground), passing below you the economy class passenger check-in counters, the first class passenger check-in counters, and the first-class baggage security station.
10. Pass through gate security, proceed to gate, wait for flight.

Man, rants like this make me sound like some kind of Socialist.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Boredom Never Felt So Good

I just got back from my trip to Los Angeles. My parents were there hanging out with my uncle (Mom's brother) -- with his wife and eighth grade kid -- and my other aunt (Mom's sister) was there too. I would call it a mini-family reunion, but there are so freaking many people in my mother's immediate family, this gathering was really just a small tip of the iceberg.

I did nothing at all of any interest during this trip. Nothing at all. Called some friends of mine to chat, but didn't get together with them. Went out to some great ethnic food. Went to hang out with yet another uncle (another of Mom's brothers) who lives about half an hour away. Ate still more. Took a few photos. Shopped a little, which was retarded, but strangely fun because it was with my mother, which I haven't done in a while.

For much of my three days there, I was bored. I had a book (Bushworld by Maureen Dowd) which I read during periods of downtime, and I got through about 150 pages of it. I feel asleep on more occasions than I care to admit. I took random photos with my digital camera. (I did not take it with me to dinner, for fear of it being stolen again). I took other random shots (mostly of cute boys) with my camera phone and sent them off to a friend of mine.

My parents made the obligatory "you've gained weight" comments, which I managed to let slide in between the many many irresistible foods they shoved at me. I had to share a bed with my father, which I haven't done since I used to get nightmares when I was six. The bathroom I used had an entire wall composed of mirrors, which I find retarded.* My uncle burned me several CDs of family photos.

Despite the lack of anything of any substance worth talking about during this trip (some venting about LAX to follow, though), the purpose of this trip was 100% met. They say home is the place you can always go where they have to take you back; I really know what they mean. I had always thought my relationship with my family was a little distant, but it maybe I was wrong.

I don't think I've ever before felt as bored and comfortable at the same time. I'd be much happier if this kind of bubble lasted much, much longer. The insulation is kinda nice.

* I'm sorry, but there are certain things one never needs to see, including the sight of yourself showering in a tiny little stall, or yourself peeing. I deliberately never turned to my left when I was, uh, doing other stuff.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Ties That Bind

My friend E. and I have this theory: Our parents make us sick. Literally.

Both of us have noticed that whenever we see our families -- or even plan to -- various small inconveniences rise to the surface: our noses start to run, throats start to tickle, hair starts to fall out. Okay, that last one usually actually results from us pulling the hair out.

I love my family, but extended stretches with them aren't my thing. We mutually strain nerves. We get annoyed with each other. We try our best not to get snippy, but we most certainly do. Then we feel bad about it.

I see them and I realize how much I miss them. But between those times, I don't tend to talk to them much. I know they love me and they want the best for me, but somehow it doesn't translate well when I examine their actions. Okay, it may be because I usually filter things through a twisted set of lenses that will inevitably change the instant one of them dies.

My nose is running.

I'm leaving town early tomorrow for a few days to hook up with the 'rents out in the City of Angels. There will be no fun time. There will be no "me" time. I don't plan on catching up with friends who live in the area; I don't plan on hitting up any gay bars; I don't plan on doing anything that doesn't involve my family.

I'm terribly excited, and looking forward to it.

Back on Monday.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Table for One

Okay, so I have once again reaffirmed the notion that being single sucks. I base this conclusion not on the lack of a default sex partner, or frustration of the search for that nebulous and ultimately amorphous concept of "companionship" or "togetherness." I reach this conclusion because, as legions of single people before me have learned and I keep having to re-learn every time I get even remotely ambitious, cooking for one is well nigh impossible.

Well, at least for me.

In theory, cooking for one is not terribly difficult: gather the ingredients for one dish, make it, then save the rest for later. There are, though, several flaws to this idealistic approach.

First: The temptation to eat the entire thing -- whatever it may be -- at one meal is great. Especially for me, because I'm one of those eat-because-I'm-bored kinda people. If I actually get off my ass and make, say, a pasta salad for dinner, the result is that there is a large stash of pasta salad sitting around my kitchen. Which means that after I finish that first bowl, I have a tendency to go back to the kitchen and grab myself a second bowl. Repeat cycle through prime time, and suddenly that huge stash of pasta salad is significantly reduced.

Okay, so no, I don't ever actually eat an entire box of pasta (gussied up with "healthy" additions), but that's usually because of the next reason, which is

Second: If I don't actually eat the whole thing at once, I get bored with it so quickly I really would prefer not to have it again the next day, either for lunch or dinner. No really, when I make pasta salad, it's whole box of pasta, plus stuff. That can last three or four lunches. Have you any idea how boring that is? Especially since, when you bring your lunch into work, you have a little bit less of a reason to set foot outside the office come lunch hour. Which means I usually end up in the office, taking my food out of the fridge, and eating at my desk, which further exacerbates the boredom of eating leftover food to begin with.

Third: Many items required for some recipes aren't sold in single-serve units. Fresh basil, for example. Celery stalks. Lettuce. Asparagus. Seasoned salt. Cuts of meat, poultry or fish. So you end up buying way more than you need just to add it to this one dish you wanted to try, and the rest ends up rotting away. Well, not the seasoned salt; it just sits around waiting for the next time you struggle desperately to find something to put it in. Banana extract? I've had a bottle for three years now. I only ever use maybe six stalks of asparagus at a time (and I use that many just to use them), but still the rest of the bunch ends up going bad. And what's the purpose of buying fresh meats from the butcher counter if half of what you buy ends up in the freezer anyway?

The other day I had the thought that I'd make myself burger(s) for food for a while. Just thinking about it made my head hurt knowing how much I'd waste. I could buy fresh ground meat -- maybe half a pound -- which would make for two quarter-pound burgers. But the buns would come in a pack of six or eight. That's a bit much. Then there's the fixings. I'm not terribly worried about the ketchup, but it's hard to buy just enough lettuce for the top of two burgers. You end up with a lot more than you want. And tomato? Buy one decent sized one, and half of it ends up on the burger while the other half rots in the fridge. Oh, and don't forget about the egg and bread crumbs or onion soup mix or whatever it is one chooses to use to bind the meat before grilling. Grrr.

I once had this idea that I would bake once in a while. Banana bread; peach cobbler; apple pie. Sounds like fun, right? Nah. Takes a bunch of effort, and it is just NOT a good idea for me to have entire pies sitting around my apartment smelling so damn good with me the only person around who could possibly eat them.

Okay, I'll admit that a greater concern for me is that oftentimes I'm simply too lazy to cook at home to begin with. But when I'm not, it's tough. I feel like I need to find some man to settle down with, if for no other reason than we can plan our weekly grocery shopping together then share our meals. Perhaps that way less food would go to waste, and less money would be spent on things never eaten.

Thankfully, I can get bonus miles for using my credit card at certain eating establishments.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Appropriately on the heels of my Labor Day post, I went shopping at the erstwhile Hecht's (which is now Macy's at lunch the other day. I needed new shoes, and I had a few gift cards which I needed to use before they started expiring.

I spent a little time walking around the shoe department visually inspecting the display shoes. I eventually selected one or two that I was interested in trying on, asked the salesperson to bring out some in my sizes, and started trying them on.

My salesperson was named Rodney, and he was very nice. I had selected two pairs of lace-less black shoes (I have a thing for shoes I can just slip into but which look decent with either dress pants or jeans), and he brought out for me both the lace and non-lace version of the shoes. I gave him thoughtfulness points for that, even though it wasn't what I wanted.

Because I was using gift cards, I wasn't terribly worried about cash. Sure, I didn't intend to buy obscenely expensive shoes and intended to stick to stuff labelled "SALE," but I had a little more flexibility knowing my credit card wouldn't take a hit. In the end I tried on two pairs of Steve Maddens and a few Kenneth Coles, each of which were in the $70 to $90 range. During those times I was waiting for Rodney to get me new shoes, I wandered into the nearby men's clothing section and managed to snag a pair of shorts too.

Eventually, having tried on some six pairs of shoes, I settled on two pairs for purchase. (Normally I would have just bought one pair, but again, gift card in use.) I walked back to the register with both boxes and the pair of shorts I had picked, and waited for Rodney to ring me up.

"Have you decided?" Rodney asked upon his return to the register.

"Sure," I told him. "I'll take both of these pair, please." (That sentence looks and sounds awkward for some reason.)

The total for both shoes came out to something like $160. The look on Rodney's face, however, would have had you believe I was purchasing $3,000 of shoes. "Thank you!" he said. "Thank you!"

"Uhh... you were very helpful, and I appreciate your patience while I tried on all those shoes," I said. Although it sounded like I purchased the shoes just to make him a bigger commission, that wasn't the case -- I just wanted both pair.

"No problem, sir," Rodney responded.

But the look on his face was unchanged. It was as though the commission he was earning off of these shoes were going to pay his rent for the next few months. He seemed very excited about what I thought to be a relatively low-key sale.

I couldn't help feeling bad for him. He was clearly remarkably dependent on the commissions. And unlike a waiter, he really didn't have many options with respect to upselling: how does one steer a customer toward higher-ticket shoes when shoes are so much a matter of personal (and generally inflexible) tastes?

He gave me his card and shook my hand (with both hands!) after the transaction was completed. Perhaps I was his biggest sale of the day. Heck, perhaps I was his first sale of the day. In any event, he was very grateful for the sale and it showed.

Really, for a job like that, I don't think anyone should be so beholden to the whims of the customer. I was going to buy what I was going to buy, and frankly I can't imagine what a kind of help he would have been. The same with clothes or, frankly, almost any sale at that store. The people there are helpful, sure, but they're not going to really influence my decisions. Their compensation is so strongly tied to the whims of the customer, and those whims are so completely out of the salesperson's control. It's really the luck of the draw how much money these guys make.

There's got to be a better way.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Gay Men vs. Straight Men?

Craigslist, for all its faults and foibles, can be a wonderful place in terms of sociological experimentation.

First it was the Abercrombie Wars. The debate raged between "young" gays who still have their youth, generally accusing "older" gays of age-inappropriate dress, and the "older" gays (apparently thirty- or forty-something is "older") who say if you still got it, body-hugging sleeveless shirts are perfectly fine. I take no position on this, the most pressing gay issue of our time.


Recently, a new post made its way to the Missed Connections board. It hasn't stirred up the public controversy that the A&F posts have, but it did get me thinking.

Here's the original post:

To the guy I gave a blow job to on the Metro - w4m - 23

Date: 2006-09-01, 8:21PM EDT

It was really late, the last train back toward Franconia/Springfield. I was sitting in the very back of the car. When you got on the train, I couldn't take my eyes off of you. You didn't know it, but I was watching you long before I caught you staring at me.

I loved the look on your face when I pulled my skirt up, showing you I wasn't wearing any panties.

When you came over to sit next to me, my heart was pounding! You were so sweet, and hot too!

I can't believe I gave you a blow job right there on the train! But it was so exciting, wondering if at the next stop someone would see us!

I swear, I've never done anything like that before, I was just soooo drunk. (I know you were, too)

If you see this, I really want to meet you again. You're awesome!

Among various responses, one saying merely "YUK" and another apparently finding it hot, was this:

And people say that gays and lesbians do not deserve equal rights because they think we all act like this whore! HA!!!!

The guy makes a decent point. People who don't particularly care for gay people (for some reason animosity seems greater against gay men than against lesbians) -- for instance, opponents of gay marriage -- frequently cite sexual promiscuity as one of the reasons homosexuals should be treated differently. It defiles the institution of marriage, they proclaim, because these guys are clearly driven only by sexual urges and therefore can neither be trusted nor expected to create a stable relationship.

And yet, this heterosexual couple on the train seemed driven purely by primal sexual urges. Ergo, it's not like sexual compulsiveness is unique to gay people.

I agree with the poster, but I think his choice of forum to make this argument seems inappropriate. Unfortunately, Craigslist itself contains sufficient evidence which could damage his point. The "m4m" personals section is prefaced with a disclaimer that doesn't exist in either of the straight personals sections, nor even in the "w4w" section. Gay men on Craigslist are looking for nothing but sex. Men posting for women are either much more subtle about it, or they are actually looking for dates. Those guys know how to get a woman: act like you're not looking for sex. (This approach does not seem to work for men.)


Meanwhile, another debate has started up on a wholly different topic which, unfortunately, seems to add further fuel to the fire.

Please, no more m4m in the gym locker rooms - m4w - 35

Date: 2006-09-04, 9:58AM EDT

Seriously, I'm not homophobic. I'm even flattered if a gay man hits on me, (to a point). And if I think I'm the subject of ANY missed connection, m4w, m4m, whatever, I'll tell my friends. BUT, m4m in the showers at the gym is CREEPY! If a woman was somehow scoping me out in the showers, it would still be CREEPY!!!
If I were gay, and you were quietly scoping me out as I changed and showered, then posted an anonymous note, you would still be very, very CREEPY!!!!

* this is in or around WSC

I can't provide links, but posts about gay men hooking up at the gym -- either actually having sex in the sauna or seriously staring in the locker rooms -- are not unheard of. Among the responses were someone who lays down some laws for gay men in the gym:

Gym locker rooms and m4m - m4m - 32

Date: 2006-09-04, 1:16PM EDT

As a gay man, I find the concept of cruising and ogling guys in the locker room to be tasteless. Does a guy have a right to do it? I guess. It just means he has very poor taste and judgment.

In the interest of common decency, I propose the following principles for cruising cute guys without making your fellow (straight) gym goers uncomfortable:

1 - The Gym is not Halo or JR's. Eye contact or a simple nod does not mean that a guy is gay, or hot for you, or remotely interested. Once you assume that it does, any guy loses all incentive to be even remotely nice - and the gym becomes a less friendly place to be.

2- If a guy is gay and is interested, he will usually glance at you repeatedly or might even approach you. But there will usually be a clear signal. Learn to read them properly. It will separate you from the garden variety stalker.

3- Since you're in a mixed gay/straight setting, the best approach for chatting up a cute guy is (brace yourself) honest and direct conversation - on the main gym floor. Ask him about his workout or how he's doing today, or something no decent person could be offended at. You'll know within a minute if he has the least bit of interest in talking to you. If he doesn't, let it go, man.

4- While it's human nature to want to glance at hot guys in the locker room, or follow them around, or take pics of them with your cell phone camera, or blow them in the sauna, it's just plain wrong and tasteless. First, it's against the rules and you know it. Second, it makes others uncomfortable - they paid for their membership too. Why should they be weirded out and avoid the locker rooms because you have no self-control?

How can we honestly insist that the Armed Forces be made open to gay and lesbian people with this kind of behavior at your local gym? Are we all animals?

Let's keep it decent, people.

This guy makes a point similar to the first guy: we gay men can behave atrociously in our quest for sex. If we can't be expected to carry ourselves decently (the second poster argues), how can we be expected to be taken seriously in our quest to marry and/or serve in the military?

Then again, straight men can be atricious in their search for sex too. Granted, they don't usually have the chance to see the objects of their sexual desire parading around naked (I know of no co-ed locker rooms in gyms), so they have less of an opportunity to leer over their sex objects and thus less of a chance to put up posts about their lusty escapades.


But in the end, the questions remain:

1: We gay people are denied some of the rights society bestows upon heterosexuals. Are we obliged to act differently from our straight counterparts before we gain those rights? We could make concerted efforts to keep our sexual urges in check, but would that really help anything? I don't think our sexual urges differ much from straight men's sexual urges -- see military (straight) sex scandals serve as specific examples (which directly dispute the notion that gays can't be in the military because of their sexual predelictions).

So where does that leave us?

2: Are we gay people obliged to treat each other with more compassion because of our shared discrimination? Let's face it, gay men seem to thrive on being judgmental and rude about it. We make fun of women's dresses and bodies; why shouldn't we be equally catty about our fellow gay man? Along those lines, see this post in response to this one.

I have no answers, only questions. I need a cocktail, but I don't think the gay men at Duplex or JR's would want me there.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Later

Everyone in the blogosphere is talking about this fifth-year anniversary, so I won't belabor too much about my personal reactions and reflections beyond bullet points:

-- There are still people out there who believe that what we're doing in Iraq is directly related to what happened to us on September 11. These people need to get educated.

-- This amorphous "war on terror" which hit fever pitch following 9/11 is becoming far too much of a get-out-of-jail-free card for anything the Administration wants to do, like detain people indefinitely, wiretap private phone calls without probable cause, and invade foreign governments with faulty justification. Funny, Republicans claim to have no faith in The Government when it comes to regulation of the environment, or the economy, or the workplace; but we should blindly trust everything The Government does in the name of "fighting the war on terror."

-- These things are so unbelievably tacky and tasteless they make me sick. Those people buying them would make me sicker, except thankfully I don't know anyone who would. (Side anecdote: at some point after the attacks, I walked past a store that was selling a candle. It was shaped like the Twin Towers and bore the inscription "We shall never forget" across the bottom. There were two wicks in the top of the candle and I couldn't help thinking that if one used the candle the way it was meant to be used, you'd end up seeing the Towers burn to the ground again! Someone didn't think that idea through very well.)

We should never forget the attack, but above that, we should never let those attacks destroy the foundation of freedom that this country represents.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sick and Twisted

Don Hertzfeldt is cool. Completely warped, but soooo freakin' cool.


** UPDATE (9/11/06): I replaced the third video (apparently removed by YouTube) with another one (which will likely be soon removed as well). Longer. Grosser. Yay.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

E-Security Has Its Limits

I recently decided to change my passcode to my online banking account. I duly logged into my account, followed the appropriate prompts, then submitted a new password. I was greeted with the screen that congratulated me for successfully changing my password, and I was off on my way with my whole new password.

A few hours later, I logged in to my email account, where I found a nice little email from said bank:

Subject: Alert: Passcode Reset


To: Dennis!

Your Online Banking Account Passcode was reset on 09/04/06.

We care about your security so, for your protection we are proactively notifying you of this activity.

If you did not reset your Passcode, please sign in to www.banksite.com and review your account (s) for any irregular activity and then contact us immediately at 1.800.XXX.XXXX.

While I'm quite pleased that my bank is concerned enough about my security that it would let me know when some substantial change like this has happened with my account, this email is a bit nonsensical. It tells me that the passcode has been changed... then it says if I didn't change it, to log in to my account! If I wasn't the one to change the password, how was I supposed to log back on to check for fraud?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day.

The Department of Labor explains that this day is "a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

In name, at least, we exalt this day "the American worker" -- the hands-on, day to day people whose hard work makes is really what makes this country as productive and great as it is. Without those men and women taking care of the nuts and bolts and daily ins and outs of the industry, we would never be able to have what we do in this great country of ours.

In legislation signed by President Clinton in 1996, the federal minimum wage was raised to $5.15 per hour effective September 1, 1997. This minimum wage has not been raised since. (A current Department of Labor webpage still instructs that $5.15 is the minimum.) Each state is, of course, permitted to mandate still higher minimum wages in its borders. (For more information of workers' minimum wage issues, check this page.)

Meanwhile, CEOs of large corporations "routinely are paid 400 to 600 times more than the assembly line worker." The guy working his fingers to the bone to put together the products we use every day is earning up to 600 times less than the fat cat in a windowed office who does nothing more than make sure those assembly lines keep moving. Moreover, the average CEO earned 13% more in 2004 than in 2003, while the average nonsupervisory worker saw a pay increase of 2.2%.

Democrats have been trying for the past nine years to raise the minimum wage past $5.15, but haven't yet succeeded. (Efforts have failed eleven times to raise it to $7.25.)

Almost every year for the past 10 years, Congress gives itself a nice pay raise -- an increase of $31,600 since 1997. Congressional leaders currently earn close to $170,000 a year; minimum wage workers who only work one job make $10,700 per year. Yet Congress refuses to mandate pay increases for those among us who truly keep the cogs of this country turning. (In 2006, Democrats vowed that it would not permit Congress to raise its own pay until federal minimum wage was upped.)

Click here for some other tidbits regarding American minimum wages.

So, Happy Labor Day. More than a federal day off and the end of the summer beach season, we need to give our federal workers more income so the American dream doesn't have to involve overtime, second and third jobs, and crushing debt.