Buy or Be Where?

Car shopping. Is there a more peaceful, relaxing way to spend the entirety of your long-awaited weekend? Well, yes, yes there is. Ranking up there with root canals, food poisoning and IRS tax audits, car shopping is one of those activities we love to hate, and try hard to avoid. It is one of those activities that puts you in direct contact with the sort of creepy person whom you’d otherwise avoid like the plague, unless you typically enjoy hanging out with hitchhikers. Once you set foot on the car lot a charming flock of “helpful” sales staff lumber forward beneath a haze of aftershave and cigarette smoke. These individuals will work to become your best friends in the span of a few sentences and begin sharing bits of personal trivia in an attempt to imprint upon you like a regurgitating seagull. If this dynamic wasn’t creepy enough the salesperson will then invite his sales manager over for some twisted role-playing; this sales manager acts as a creepy dad to the already creepy salesperson who now needs your help passing some creepy rite of passage with his old man. “He drinks because I haven’t made a sale today”.

Ignoring our creepy companions and holding our breath against the aftershave we return our focus to the task at hand; finding an affordable family car. Unfortunately, this self-inflicted trip to the auto mall wasn’t even to get a new sexy set of wheels, in fact, on the contrary we were actually bringing in a new sexy set of wheels to trade in for that affordable family car after realizing that the other was way out of our monthly budget and also remembering that we still had kids, and making some of them ride in the truck-bed is still illegal in 30 states (silly safety regulations).   This was definitely a blow to our automotive moral.

There’s a HGTV show called Property Brothers where a nice young couple is asked to list out all of their hearts desires in describing their perfect house. The first stop is then to a move-in ready house that fits them to a T and makes the young couple giddy with anticipation and eager to sign the papers. At that point the Property Brothers casually reveal that the house is completely out of reach; being $100k over their budget, and not even currently on the market. They then inform the young couple that they’ll instead need to find a rundown piece of crap that they’ll fix up and be forced to accept as a decent compromise. This is exactly the experience we had going from a beautiful truck that we loved to being forced to accept a decent compromise. Which brings us back to the dealership.

After they efficiently undervalued our aforementioned beautiful truck in three simple steps (1)take your keys, 2)go for a smoke, 3)make up a number), it was time to begin the real dance; tactical sales. This is the tried and true process of selling a car that dealers preach like a Tony Robbins self-help presentation. The first step, “create a sense of ownership”. This is where they encourage you to sit in the driver’s seat, picture yourself driving, fondle the car keys and eventually pee on the rear tire to mark your territory. “See that couple across the street there walking their dog,… they were just looking at this car, not five minutes before you arrived, and I think they’re ready to make an offer. No pressure but you really should pee on the other tire too if you’re serious about this car. More coffee?”

Step two, “create a fog of war”. This is where any requested information is presented in as much mixed and muddled terms as possible. If you ask to compare apples to apples you are presented with fruit salad. Features and options are intentionally shuffled so that inexplicable price fluctuations seem to be completely justified. “This one doesn’t have the seat warmers but it does come with a Flux Capacitor, which accounts for the extra $5999 on the bottom line, and colder seats on your bottom line,… ha, get it,… your ‘bottom’ line?! More coffee?”

Now the fun begins, with step three, “the numbers game”, or more accurately “the shell game”. This is when they start throwing out a collection of numbers, shuffle them all up under the empty coffee cups and then ask you to try and find the one that holds to your original budget. They begin by intentionally showing unrealistic numbers to make the real ones look better moments later. “If you were a homeless street junkie with single digit credit scores you’d need to provide one kidney and a pinkie toe to get the numbers below $3000 a month. But you and I, my friend, go way back, a good 20 minutes and I can tell you are better than that so let’s see what we can do.” From here interest rates are slowly massaged, loan terms and trade in values are adjusted on a whim and all of this is done in a painfully slow motion barter system between the salesman, the sales manager and I assume the Great and Powerful Oz positioned just off behind the curtain. After a few rounds of this you notice that while the monthly payments have magically declined from the original ludicrous amounts they haven’t even begun to address the actual over-inflated price of the car.   The real action hasn’t even begun.

And so begins the fourth, and supposedly final step, “breaking down the buyer”. This is where your dream team of creepiness attempts to wear you down until you’ve lost your will to live much less your ability to barter effectively. They rely on mental fatigue, coffee bladder and low blood sugar to motivate you to sign anything they shove in front of you. The greatest testament to the amount of manipulation they’re dishing out is to see how adamant they are about making sure you don’t leave.   They know that once you step foot out that door those webs of manipulation melt away, and you will come to your senses faster than spotting a cop car in your rear view mirror. Armed with this knowledge the final dance becomes the attempt to try and maintain your target payment while trying to pretend that you’re ready to walk away from the deal at any moment (as if you’d want to do this all over again). Suddenly the thrill of the deal begins to course through you. You become empowered by this new sense of control over the negotiations. You now have a bargaining chip which you can use to back them into a corner and bend them to your will. At least these are the types of deluded thoughts that flit through your mind as the dealer does his best to contain fits of laughter over your gullibility.

After you’ve bartered your little heart out and settled on the final payment that is over your monthly budget but not painfully so, you feel a sense of pride for sticking to your numbers (or what you think were your numbers). And just when you think it’s all over and it’s time to drive away they stick you in the room with one last creepy vulture wanting to sell you gap insurance and vinyl siding for your barn. As he begins to explain the necessity of gap insurance you pass out from low blood sugar only to wake up six hours later in seedy hotel bathroom in an ice filled tub with a throbbing pain where your kidney should be. Luckily your affordable new family car came equipped with a nifty navigational system that can direct you to the nearest hospital.

 

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Spam-spam-spam-spam

With a heavy heart we bow our heads and mourn the passing of another beloved email address. Ever the faithful, digital postman my dear address kept me connected through its long life, stayed not by snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night,… and only occasionally crippled by crappy IP outages. I’ll cut short the touching eulogy since that may be overstating its condition a bit. Perhaps the more appropriate description would be say that my email address has finally “jumped the shark”. Not in the literal sense as when the 50’s sitcom character actually jumped a shark with water skis and a ridiculous outfit but in the figurative sense that has evolved from that very piece of syndication suicide. In this case the ridiculous event in question was the day the methodical and menacing invasion of spam finally got the death grip on my innocent email address. What started as a slow trickle of pesky emails littering my junk folder became a deluge of annoying and repetitive crap that side-stepped my spam filters and overwhelmed the account. Unless you’re a frequent consumer of penis enlargement drugs, fraudulent credit reports or mail-order brides from Ukraine you are forced to tread lightly and cautiously collect any legitimate mail least you delete in bulk and miss that Facebook alert from Uncle Jimmy who is in desperate need of extra lives in Candy Crush. “Fear not, Uncle Jimmy I’m here for you. This time.”

Like a digital cancer, you never know where the malignancy originated and which cases will be terminal. You may be extremely diligent with your online footprint, taking care to avoid trading your personal information for a free trial subscription to the “International Bacon Club” and making sure to research ‘Top 10 Sex Toys of 50 Shades of Gray” from someone else’s work computer, only to slip up and forget to check the opt-out box for the HGTV newsletter while entering to win yet another Dream Home sweepstakes. After a moment of panic you pray that perhaps that won’t be the harbinger of doom, and the resulting emails from that transgression will be easily laundered through your trusty junk-box. After all it’s hard to imagine an association between a DYI home improvement site and wannabe Ukrainian housewives. It’s not like an Amazon.com cross product promotion “Customers who bought the Shark Steam Mop also enjoyed Ukrainian mail order brides.” On the other hand, I honestly can’t imagine the peddlers of this crap are all that sophisticated. The overall quality of spammy emails is nothing to write home about even if you’re an Ethiopian prince with a winning lottery ticket. Most have potentially meaningful titles filtered through a third-rate translation app or non-native speakers and then littered with suspicious links connected to even more suspicious addresses that have absolutely no relation to the original meaningful title. Why exactly does the Internal Revenue Service site have Asian characters and no .gov extension?  Whatever the reason I’m sure they’ll make good use of my social security number.

Now as my beloved email enters its final death throes I’ll take a page from the Donner Party playbook and offer it up body and soul as sacrifice for the greater good of those left behind (namely my other email addresses). So now when it comes time to apply at another job board, dabble with a free online game trial or renew my subscription to the “International Bacon Club” the doomed address will bravely take the bullet, knowing his sacrifice will keep us all a little safer from the future threats of Steamy Korean Girls offering free Equifax Credit Reports.

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Quotable

Man: “What have you got, then?”

Waitress: “Well there’s egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; spam, spam, spam, egg and spam; spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam; or lobster thermidor aux crevettes, with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and a fried egg on top and spam.”

-Monty Python

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The Path We Chose

I walk along the path at the edge of the park.throwback_thursday1_large

It is a day of spring warmed grass and flower scented breezes. Assorted couples and strangers gather in their favorite spots within the fields and wooded hills. Pleasant conversation giggles in the air adding warmth to the cuddle of sunlight.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

It is a path like any other. It has direction and destination. Precisely paved walls stand in strong contrast to the rambling bushes and the vine-covered fences that encircle the park; Quiet isolation accented by chirps and peeps of creatures, who too prefer the solitude. Daily I make my way along this path, glimpsing full view of the beautiful park that lies beyond the walls. I often slow to consider the park; sipping in the green soaked air or sampling the tickle of warm reflections. On other occasions I notice it not at all, and pay little attention to where my feet take me. Such distractions can even lead me astray and point me in the direction of a different path; the path that leads into the heart of the park itself.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

I share the same powder blue sky and drift of white clouds that they do. The playful wind that brushes their hair and sets their kites soaring is the same wind that ruffles the leaves at my feet. Yet doubt still holds firm that my experience is in some way filtered by the lacy shadows covering my path. I imagine the feel of the fields on my bare feet and the crush of grass against my napping body,… the cool damp earth soaking into my back, the fiery glow of sunlight dancing on my closed eyes.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

It is a path I know well. I know its direction. I know its destination. I know it will not lead me astray. I know it will not lead me through the heart of the park itself. In my dreams however truer passions emerge. Temptation provokes thoughts of the heart itself. The beauty that I behold within the park makes promises to my soul. Each night I envision crossing over the threshold of the park and being consumed by a shiver of happiness. I see every wish my heart has held suddenly realized before me. Mixed with the intoxication of night’s romance my heart cannot help but swell with the possibilities my dreams offer. I embrace the clutch of emotions and nightly promise to seek out the possibilities and explore the park from within.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

Daylight melts my resolve and reason replaces romance. I try to convince myself that dreams are best left in the slumbering shadows of night and that passionate expectations cannot be realized in the heart of a simple park. I start to believe that I cannot risk disappointment dissolving the inspiration I hold so dearly to; it is the untainted view of the park that enriches my daily walk along the path I have chosen. I reason that promises of a sweeter existence will forever keep me reaching for my dreams. I am convinced I am doing the right thing as another piece of my soul begins to wither.

And still I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

 

FIN.

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10 Sexy Secrets for Outside the Bedroom

No, not really. However in this age of blogging bloat this is the type of topic that gets most of the blogging buzz; pithy lists and scandalous secrets. The once Wild West of the internet, where you need only hang out your shingle, has become an overpopulated strip mall struggling against urban blight.

I’m certainly not the first to be lured by the promise of expressive freedom, putting my voice out there for all the digital world to hear. While this notion of blogging is quite romantic in theory, in practice the sad reality is the expressive freedom you signed up for is little more than a message in a bottle; perhaps some lonely soul in China will find it one day and use it to practice their English skills but more often than not entries will remain undiscovered and unread.   If you think about it the number of available blogs out there is staggering. The amount of content created over the course of a week is overwhelming. Even if one were to narrow down their search to specific blog topic or theme there’d still be thousands of posts to page through. There are blogs about moms, kittens and geeks. There are blogs about how to blog. Hell, I even typed in “robot monkey” at random and got three blog results!

Like any start up business the biggest challenge of blogging seems to be luring people through the virtual front door and then sufficiently dazzling them so that they’ll return again on their own volition. In addition to the more technical strategies involving meta tags, search rankings (SEO), and a robot monkey strike force sent to disable the competition, the majority of this task comes down to shameless self-promotion like posting links and references on Facebook, creating a buzz among friends and family, and joining the blog community, commenting on other people’s sites in hopes that they return the favor in kind; Anything you can do just to get your name out there and, as my friend suggested, be a good “net citizen” (sorry robot monkeys, maybe next time).

Originally publications would handle the battle for viewership and then we the writers would battle for a small slice of their printed page. Nowadays we may cheer for the liberation of removing the publisher as middle man until we realize this drops the hard fought battle for viewership squarely on our shoulders. And this battle is not like a new NBC comedy pilot hoping to win market shares over “The Big Bang Theory”, this more like Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl competing against the actual Super Bowl,… if the Puppy Bowl was reenacted with sock puppets, filmed on your iPhone 3 and posted to YouTube.   The other inherent problem with this new battlefield perspective is that it even if we “win” it becomes increasingly difficult to define success.

What is the measure of a successful blog? Is it the number of views on a post? The number of subscriptions? The number of comments? Do numbers even matter? Does a singer busking on the street corner count success by the coin drop or the one person that mindfully changes course to cross the singer’s corner each morning? If that singer filled a coffee house with fanatic fans would that be more meaningful? What if she filled a stadium?

I recently came across a post from one of the daddy blogs (full post here) that I was checking out as someone who’d “made it”. As an excellent example of “the grass is always greener” this post perfectly illustrated the potential side effects of my perceived success; trolls. These are not the fictional trolls of Tolkien that I could go on about in far too much nerdy detail, this is referring to the online rat bastards that are the polar opposite of good net citizens. These are the individuals that like to leave the literary equivalent of a flaming bag of poo in someone’s comment section only to delight in the resulting shit storm that’s unleashed. Now I should say that other than the comments I intentionally solicited, my current count for valid non-spam comments is exactly one. I would often comment about how much I wish I had more comments. To me it seemed like a decent measure of success to not only have someone read a post but to be moved enough to share their thoughts. Apparently that doesn’t hold true when the comments turn vile. In the beginning a writer has only to contend with his own internal voices of doubt, which are hard enough to filter out. Once we add an external voice of scathing criticism I would imagine it becomes more difficult to press on with confidence much less a glowing feeling of success.

I wrote once about internal motivations and about how true artists supposedly create art for “art’s sake”. This is not a motivation I can cling to. While I do like the process of creating something I know that this comes from the anticipation that someone with eventually see it and appreciate it if not fully enjoy it. Like the question of whether a tree will make a sound if no one is around to hear it, does a post hold any meaning if no one is around to enjoy it? I prefer the way another inspirational writer put it, stating that if we do not create “we are keeping our gifts from the world”. This works better for me probably due to the “Jewish mom guilt” vibe, but the principle is important. We do not create for the random troll who think flaming bags of poo is their gift to the world, we are creating for the people who are open to finding creative expression all around them and will appreciate what we produce. So while I’m still unsure how to measure any endgame success (though it will be telling to see how many hits a bogus title gets me), I will be content for now to continue tossing bottles into the virtual ocean and hoping that one is occasionally rescued.  People need something to read while they recover from the latest top ten sex secrets.

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Tagged and Bragged

A school in Washington State recently attempted to correct a long neglected problem by banning the illicit activity known throughout the school yards as “Tag” (full article here). This so called “game” involves the incredibly dangerous practice of running down fellow classmates in an attempt to strike them with a taunting declaration of “you’re it”. This “tagged” individual is then compelled to further spread their “it-ness” to other victims like an infectious disease. The need for action was obvious; no good can come from propagating this horrific tradition.

Luckily this is not the first school to take such a decisive stance against the dangers of play. A district in San Diego was legally motivated to prohibit another playground plague known as “Red Rover”, where a child is repeatedly taunted until they throw themselves into their tormentors. Barbaric. Many districts throughout our great country have finally begun to recognize the threat that these activities pose to our precious youth along with the other more obvious blood sports such as dodge ball, and snowball fights. There is no question that this trend needs to continue; there are still many dangers lurking outside our double-insulated, suburban front doors. For example, with no regard for child safety, parks and playgrounds continue to install climbing bars that are much too high and slides that are much too steep, inviting ample opportunity for broken bones and skinned knees. Clearly these threats need to be removed. Even the benign looking sandbox offers the ever-present threat of blindness and accidental exposure to cat poop.

We need to teach our kids that youth is not to be wasted on silly, dangerous games that invite self-discovery and social interaction. We are trying to rescue them from the tragic fate that awaits all who engage in these physical experimentations; bike riding, fast walking and aggressive standing have all been linked to a shortened life expectancy in laboratory rats who really have no business being on bikes in the first place. We need to be proactive about safety not just for the survival of our children but for the survival of our very race. But this is not to say that we should prevent kids from having fun, on the contrary there are plenty of perfectly safe alternatives for our kids to engage in, such as sitting quietly under a tree,… as long as they are sitting upon a properly laundered drop cloth, dosed in triple digit SPF sunblock and maintaining enough distance from the tree to avoid splinters and squirrel cooties.

Please help spread the word so that we can avoid the mistakes of our parents who lost an entire generation of children to “The Great Tag” and who foolishly allowed frolicking to go unchecked until it became the devastating plague that historians now refer to as “childhood”.

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