The funny disease.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Discount Oil

Friday Editorial at Cynical Sarah:

Discount Oil


Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Brown Cloud and the Punch Bowl Effect

It’s a widely know fact that if you have allergies or asthma, the dry, clean desert air of Phoenix, Arizona will be good for you. If by dry you mean that you’ll wake up every morning with your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth. And if by clean you mean thick enough to cut and serve on a cake plate to people you don’t like. So, it’s half true, but the air out there is still unfit for human consumption.

Okay, may be there was a time when the air in Phoenix and suburbs made allergy sufferers breathe easy. There are over four million people living in the Valley, and all of them own at least one car.

Many residents of the Valley are originally from the Midwest. Although they apparently moved here for reasons varying from the heat, to the good air, to the endless beaches, to the lack of snow, snow shovels and large amounts of ice, it seems that many of them decided they love the Midwest enough to bring it with them. They brought the very trees and flowers some people moved here to escape. Which means they brought the pollen here, too.

The geographic cherry on the smog and allergen cake is the fact that Phoenix is rimmed by mountains on all sides. Basically, we live in a punch bowl of ozone, hydrocarbon and airborne particulates. During the winter we live under a hazy brown cloud that causes my eyes to itch just looking at it. The citizens mindlessly chant the siren song for more freeways. And while it’s true that the outlying suburbs are disconnected from the center of the punch bowl, it’s also true that the last thing we need to do is feed the brown cloud.

The rising cost of gas is an opportunity to demand alternatives. We need fuel-efficient cars. We need good public transportation. We need to drive cars that better fit our needs. Gas should be so expensive that it becomes even more absolutely ludicrously ridiculously insane to own a Hummer.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sunburn Free Since '93

Dear Sunscreen Industry,

I have a deep regard and respect for your products. Despite living in Arizona my skin is so pale, that if they ever decide to have Halloween in July I could be a frightening vampire goth chick with a black dress and little or no make-up. I am fully confident that the only set of matched alligator skin luggage that I’ll own by the time I’m forty, is the ones I will have purchased by then (that is, it would be, if I didn’t think it was wrong to kill and skin alligators expressly to fulfill my travel needs).

I do wonder, however, why the majority of your lines of sunscreen seem to have delved far and wide into the heady musk of tropical smells, wandered into the rankest part of the deep, dark jungle, turned around and realized they were hopelessly lost forever. I find it painfully embarrassing to leave the house smelling somewhere between beach bum and French bordello with the merest hint of pineapple. You seem to be under the delusion that everyone wants to carry the overpowering scent of passion fruit and coconut everywhere for the whole summer. And in my case for the entire year.

I have noticed that many retailers are confused about the temperature here during “winter” but, honestly, it is like summer all year round in Arizona. We really do have a need for grilling accessories and garden tools all year, and no, we don’t really need angora sweaters and snow boots. Although apparently on occasion, we do need ice scrapers if it is a cold “winter” and we don’t have a parking spot in the sun.

I, like many people, have paid dearly for particular brand of perfume I have found pleasing. It seems that since I’ve moved to Arizona, land of sunburns and carjackings, I’ve had precious few occasions to smell like something other than a committee’s idea of a tropical orchid and with the underlying fruitiness of guava, in a formulation that can be mass produced as cheaply as possible and doesn’t permanently blind the lab rabbits. Furthermore, if I wanted to attract every insect within a five-mile radius I would strap on a fanny pack filled with dog feces.

I have been a faithful customer, ever since the notorious sunburn of the summer of '93. Where I believe I had just a little touch of sunstroke because I began to think that I was in the midst of morphing into a giant lobster. I not only slather my skin daily with SPF 30, I force Sweetface to endure grease-induced heebie jeebies, so that he won’t wake up one day to find a cancerous mole on his left arm the size of a kiwi fruit. He tolerates the floral scents so powerful they could be used to gas Al Qaeda members out of their hidey-holes, because he loves me and is tired of the nagging.

I did find one kind of sunscreen for sensitive skin without fragrance. Unfortunately, it absorbed into my skin like wallpaper paste. I would have been better off with a bucket of zinc oxide and a brush, because at least then my legs would have been completely white and not splotchy white.

Please, please, offer your consumers alternatives to smelling like co-eds gone wild who have had 5 too many piña coladas on Spring Break. If people want to smell like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton that is their business. If they want to be pale and skin cancer free, that is your business. Who are you to dictate the overwhelming fragrance that will hover poolside all over the country this summer?

Your Loyal and Ghostly Customer,
Sarah Letnes
Cursed Tongue

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Dirt Blindness

Friday Editorial at Cynical Sarah:

Dirt Blindness


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sweetface wants an extra filter for our espresso maker. So, silly me, thinks it would be on the Mr. Coffee website. But no. There’s not so much as a replacement glass carafe. Sure, I could call their number and track down a service representative and then call them and ask if they have the part. But it’s much easier for me to tell Sweetface I couldn’t find it, so that he does it for me.

Inside of five minutes he finds one for sale. (Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that my Internet research skills are so poor in comparison. But keep in mind that I haven’t spent anywhere near as much time tracking down answers to obscure programming problems and free porn.) The owners of the site, though, are obviously high from the heady scent of too much Espresso Roast and think that we are foolish enough to pay $10 what amounts to a little tin cup with perforations in the bottom.

He also found this sorry excuse for a web site, specifically mentioning the exact part we are looking for repeatedly. The form-generated page is impressive. The author’s grasp of the English language is marginally better than that usually reserved for spam. It has the dizzying effect of seeming to be trying to say something and have meaning without really imparting any useful information at all.

Sweetface searches on, and finds one for $4.75. Of course, I know in my head that my credit card number is more likely to be stolen at a restaurant than over the Internet. Still, I’m hesitant to purchase things from specialty companies I’ve never dealt with before, and never buy anything without checking them out on the BBB web site. They’re clean. Of course, that only means that the company hasn’t infuriated a customer enough to motivate them to write the BBB for the past 36 months.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Knitting Needles: A Danger to Grapefruits and Others.

Injured Grapefruit
Originally uploaded by Cursed Tongue.

Dear Nancy Knitsugly (who lost a half-finished, knit one purl one, something on the Southbound 101 on Sunday):

Thanks for being absentminded, and/or a completely thoughtless, self-absorbed, danger-to-others litterbug. Your knitting project flew at our poor little Saturn and hit us with a thump as we were driving home from Easter dinner this Sunday.

Luckily, the dangerously pointy needle and your handy-work were both lodged under our bumper, instead of protruding from what could have been our punctured tire. The adjoining yarn whipped over the hood and roof of our vehicle, trailing about twenty yards behind. It was severed from the ball of yarn, which I believe was caught on a blue Honda Civic.

As far as picking yarn for your now lost mystery project, I must say that you rose to the occasion, if your goal was find the world’s only repulsive neutral color. That ball of yarn was in the bargain bin for good reason, so I suppose that puts a couple of notches in the senile column for you. Not only did your carelessness potentially endanger the lives of others, you were possibly intending to inflict an itchy, unsightly sweater on a loved one.

If you wish to collect your tossed-aside masterpiece, I took care to tuck it safely into the trash bin by pump No. 6 at the Amoco by the Olive Avenue Exit.

I hope your family gathers around you for an ugly yarn intervention, and/or has you committed.

Best wishes,
Cursed Tongue

Friday, April 14, 2006

Insomniac's Somniloquy

Friday Editorial at Cynical Sarah:

Insomniac's Somniloquy


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Quitter: The Katie Couric Story

Dear, sweet, loveable cuddly Katie Couric caused widespread panic in early morning TV viewers last week, when she announced that she was leaving “Today,” to take the anchor desk at CBS evening news. Meredith Vieira of “The View,” is taking the role of charismatic everywoman on “Today,” leaving “View” viewers to wonder if the show will sustain its trademark cacophony of feminine discontent only rivaled by the noise of an overcrowded hen house. Not since Kathy Lee Gifford wearied of Regis Philbin's incessant yelling, has the world of daytime TV seen such destruction and devastation.

There’s a short list of celebrities I can’t stand and dear as she seems to be to the rest of America, Katie Couric is on it. She is often referred to fondly as if she is common folk and the girl next door, yet she makes over $15 million a year. “,” an article in Newsweek about the harrowing tale of the Katie Couric controversy mentions her “handlers.” Salt of the earth people don’t make millions of dollars a year, they don’t wear Prada, and they don’t have handlers.

Couric may be cute, but that doesn’t make her your friend. It also doesn’t make her stupid. Even though I don’t particularly like her, I believe she is entirely capable of anchoring the news. Now, many a time I have been watching CNN, or Fox News and don’t even get me started on the local news, and heard gross mispronunciations, stupid questions and wild speculation trickle like viscous drool from lips of supposedly real newscasters. Of all of the times I accidentally watched the “Today” show I never heard Couric fumble. Look what the griping news media did. They made me defend Katie Couric!

CBS Curmudgeon-in-residence, Andy Rooney, is quoted as saying, “I think everybody likes Katie Couric—I mean, how can you not like Katie Couric—but I don't know anybody at CBS News who is pleased that she's coming here.” There are people at CBS who are pleased that Katie Couric is moving to CBS—the people who hired her, duh. She shouldn’t have to take guff from the man who may have been a crackerjack journalist back when Crackerjacks came with fun prizes, but he now does snippy commentaries on such hard-hitting, newsworthy topics as Girl Scout Cookies and artificial Jell-O flavoring.

Anyone who says Couric is unfit to read the news because America has seen the inside of her pipes hasn’t seen the mouth breathers that are reading the news now. It was not only brave to televise her colonoscopy, it was useful, valuable news. How many people live in fear of such an invasive, potentially life-prolonging procedure? (Believe me, no one should have to endure colon cancer. It’s a nasty, horrible disease that’s taken a lot of good people.) How many people care about deconstructing Girl Scout Cookies?

Besides, it isn’t as if CBS offered the anchor desk to Kelly Ripa. (Remember, "All that jiggles, is not Jell-O.")

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Well, Kiss My Couscous!

I once had roommate who was a very angry person. Now, I joke about having anger issues, and I do struggle with anger. But I don’t believe anyone lives in fear of me. Except maybe spiders. (Sweetface thinks I should add him on the list of people that live in fear of me, but I am so going to get him for that!) I’m nothing compared with this perpetually irate roommate. The smallest things would set Madfury The Bonecrusher off like an M-80 Firecracker on the Fourth of July. She once ripped a chunk out of a flat Plexiglas cover that was bolted to the wall. It was as if she was eating raw beef and testosterone for breakfast every morning.

Number one on the list of things that made her go ballistic was public displays of affection (PDAs). Years of watching my parents make out in the line at the grocery store has pretty much desensitized me to PDAs. A couple has to cross the line into indecent exposure to gross me out. But Madfury The Bonecrusher could steam broccoli in her ears when people so much as looked googily-eyed at each other. She absolutely flipped out when a couple kissed in public.

She claimed she was nauseated to the point of debilitation by witnessing PDAs. I was on a bus trip that she happened to be on. She saw a couple kiss—it a simple peck by the way—and said, “I’m sick. I’m going to vomit,” [insert mocking whiny tone here]. They stopped the bus for her, thinking she might be revisited by a vengeful White Castle burger and large diet coke. Instead of explaining, she stepped out into the fresh air and we had to wait for her to get over being Her Royal Frostiness Queen of the Sexually Repressed.

No, Madfury wasn’t Amish, or Victorian. In fact, I kind of doubt she was that religious, because I’m fairly certain she would have been the type of person to sermonize at length and often, if she had been (between the times she was chewing nails for her recommended daily allowance of iron). Also, I don’t know much about the Amish, but I don’t think they are even as opposed to PDAs as Madfury The Bonecrusher was.

Not that Madfury The Bonecrusher bothers me any longer, (That’s one of the good things about moving every four years. Spiteful, mean people magically go away.) but I think I found the perfect place for her to live. Tangerang, a city in the mostly Muslim country of Indonesia, unleashed a spate of anti-prostitution laws on its citizens. Kissing someone not related to you in public for longer than five minutes is now a jailable offence. Somehow the lack of PDAs is supposed to stop Joes from picking up ankle-bearing hookers.

I suppose the tonsil-seeking sex professionals of Indonesia can be excused from not having seen Pretty Woman. Just as I'm sure the Tangerang Police want to be excused for hauling off a woman who had finished her shift at a restaurant and was waiting for her husband to pick her up. Her crime was being a woman who was outside, alone after curfew. They charged her with prostitution.

Which makes me wonder if people in Tangerang will start buying egg timers for their sweethearts. And maybe husbands can buy their wives "Property of" tags in case they have to leave the hearthside and pretend to be autonomous adults.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Aspirations of the Bargain Table

At school I had this English Professor that absolutely hated my writing. He would have hated that sentence. He would have hated this sentence. It was in his class, for the first time ever; I’d gotten a D on a paper. (Not the first time I’d gotten a D ever, just the first time in English. Though, the only time I’d ever gotten D’s and F’s was that month I spent in temporary housing when we first moved to Germany. It's unfair to count them because I started school late, and I spent most of that month on a couch bed because I contracted every air-born Germany-germ possible.) Luckily, it was a pre-grade. After a spastic apoplectic fit, I pulled myself together and went to his office to talk to him. I had to know what was wrong with my essay, and wanted advice on fixing it for the real grade.

I don’t have any recollections of the actual conversation. I only recall that I noticed my teacher was a close-talker. I have an unusually large personal space bubble, even for an American. Crowds bother me. I have to batten my mental hatches every time we go down to the Wal-Mart. This guy managed to be a close-talker with both of us sitting down. I hadn’t even known this was possible. He wheeled his rickety task chair over to the stationary wooden chair I was sitting in. (Now before you get cynical on me and think that may be he was offering me a good grade in return for taking private lessons from him for subjects that weren’t part of the curriculum, I must say that I mentioned his deficiency of spatial respect to a few of my friends who had visited his office. I was assured that he was lacking the social convention that keeps people at a reasonable distance from each other. Or else that he really liked everyone.)

I recall having a polite, calm conversation, despite being highly uncomfortable, and I recall getting absolutely no useful explanation or advice whatsoever. I rewrote my essay and turned it in, and managed a C. I thought I’d worked hard and done a good job. I felt truly insulted and dejected.

Another Professor I had loved my writing. And after my classmates and I received our grades an essay and commiserated on how we had done, I realized that students, who had done well in other Professor’s class, had not done as well in this one. This is when I realized that I was coming into my own with my writing, and that my “own” was weird and by and large unappreciated. But then, what kind of artist would I be, if I felt appreciated?

Over the weekend Sweetface and I went to a bookstore. And there was one of the novels written by the Professor that hated my writing. It was on the bargain table. I was lacking the social convention that keeps people from laughing out loud in public, for no apparent reason. Actually, it was more of a cackle. Then I felt bad, because who the hell am I? I haven’t even finished a novel, let alone published one. I should be so lucky to make it to the bargain table.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Going Postal: A Cursed Customer Service Misadventure

Way back on the 11th of March, Sweetface and I mailed off our Illinois state tax return. We sent them Certified Mail, so we would be able to track our tax return. We also sent another, unrelated letter on the same day to Pittsburgh, PA. (Short, boring story, which I won’t go into here.) The taxes had to get from lovely downtown Chandler, Arizona to the gloriously in the middle-of-no-where capital of Illinois: Springfield. It didn’t have to travel across most of the entire U.S. to get from the Southwest to the North Eastern part of the country.

I knew this didn’t necessarily mean that our state tax return would reach Illinois before the letter to Pittsburgh. But six business days passed and still, the tracking number didn’t bring up the comforting message: “Arrived safely in Springfield so now you will not have to worry about possible jail time for not filing a return for a measly $13 refund.” Since it took Sweetface and me four days to drive from Naperville, IL (A good four hours North of Springfield) to the lovely Phoenix area, I thought for certain that our tax return would take 6 days at the longest.

After clicking my way through the slightly user-friendly United States Postal Service (USPS) web site, I found an 800 number for tracking. I was pleasantly surprised to get an automatic prompt requesting me to answer verbally. I love the verbal response menus, because I get the satisfaction of yelling at someone, without ever hurting anyone’s feelings. Pounding the buttons on the handset to provoke strident beeeeeeps and boooops, is nice, but sometimes the tracking or account numbers don’t record correctly if I have too much fun taking out my anger.

And usually, the recorded voice is annoyingly cheerful, which makes it all the more enjoyable to yell. Oh, I know that my conversation may be recorded for quality assurance, and that it is even possible that they’re tracking the tones of people’s voices to weed out the crazies, but I figure most systems probably aren’t that fancy yet, and if they are I might be routed to the customer service agents that are good at handling confrontation, which probably means they are good at their jobs.

So, after yelling “Customer Service” three times, I was invited to press one to be connected to Customer Service. I immediately got Mary, who told me there was nothing they could do until the 28
th of March. I reasoned that by then, at least we’d still have two weeks to resend if they’d lost it. At another cost of $4.88, which would never be refunded if they recovered the first tax return. (That would be a total of $9.76 to the Post Office, which is 75% of a $13 refund.)

The 28
th of March rolls around and I call the USPS 800 number again and Chuck tells me that he’s putting in a claim on the lost tax return and tomorrow I’ll get a call from a representative. He even makes me feel all fuzzy warm and secure by giving me a confirmation number. The next day I am out checking the mail—it’s as if they had the box wired with a sensor—and I get a call from Jerry. When I get home Jerry tells me, via the answering machine, that there’s nothing they can do about my lost mail at the moment and I have to wait 15 days before they can do anything. And does Mr. Jerry Smart Guy Postal Carrier leave so much as one digit of a contact number? No!

Thank goodness for caller ID. I called what turned out to be my local Post Office, and find out that it wasn’t Jerry who called me, it was Bill. How he made Bill sound like Jerry, I still haven’t figured out. I assumed the local Post Office was confused about the date I sent my tax return, but I was partially mistaken. James, my bestest postal buddy in whole wide world, told me that I had to wait a full 30 days before I could put a claim on my tax return.

Flabbergasted that he would call Mary and Chuck, two of his hard-working colleagues liars, I reiterated my ordeal thus far. James stood by his claim that I needed to wait 30 days before any Postal employee would lift so much as a pen chained to a counter to search for my lonely lost tax return, chock full of personal financial information. I repeated, “So, Chuck was jerking my chain yesterday when he told me that I could file a claim? And there’s absolutely nothing the post office can do to find my letter?”

Silence. Followed by, “Well, I guess you could file a Form 1510 Mail Loss/Rifling Report.” That was followed by “Oh good, you found your last undamaged brain cell.” Which I only thought, because I knew I might still need his help. “We hardly ever loose Certified Mail,” he comforted. He then recommended that I call the Post Office in Springfield.

I tried to call Springfield about five times in a half-hour period and kept getting a busy signal, despite my heartfelt prayers to Ma Bell. So I decided to call the USPS 800 number again. I got Shirley. Who proceeded to tell me that the same thing happened to her last year. “You know those white, plastic tubs that the Post Office uses?”

“Sure,” I replied, for the sake of getting her explanation on the road.

“Well, the post office fills them and then they out to the Department of Revenue to be processed and then they go back to the Post Office to be scanned in.” One of my flaws is a faith in people, an inner belief that everyone makes sense. I requested clarification from Shirley, but was still unable to grasp the convoluted compost she shoveled at my feet. So after three choruses of an absurd story that, if I remember correctly, involved a Certified Public Accountant, a ball-peen hammer and a leprechaun in a white, plastic tub, I thanked Shirley for her help, and then immediately called back, hoping that crazy wouldn’t strike twice.

Sensible and wise Pat was next up at bat in the Customer Service cue. She reaffirmed the importance of Form 1510. Seeing as that must be the usual course for people with lost mail, and feeling much better now that sanity had been restored, I thanked Pat in earnest, and not just because if I had to talk to her any longer I was going to have to be medicated.

I tried Springfield three more times, and after lighting a candle for Ma Bell, I finally heard the blessed sound of ringing. Barbara answered, and I explained my impending charges of tax evasion. She said they might be backlogged. The letter may have been scanned in and not yet shown up in the system. Nevermind that once a Certified letter is physically scanned in, the tracking system is entirely electronic after that. Then I got her tax time speech, which was probably typed on a three by five card, taped to her desk. “We have thousands of letters for the Illinois Department of Revenue come through here every day at this time every year. It takes time to scan everything in.”

Of course it takes time to scan in a barcode on a letter. Why, it must take three whole seconds to scan in each letter. And of course, the Springfield Post Office that serves the IL Department of Revenue gets swamped every year before tax time. It’s not as if they could anticipate that the volume of mail will increase every March and could go by the
Henson Robinson Zoo in Springfield and pick up a truckload of monkeys to help. (Okay, so it would make more sense to go to Dominicks and the Jewel to hire scanning professionals part-time, but it’s not as if the Post Office needs a posse of neurosurgeons on short notice.)

So I awaited my Form 1510, and copied the copies of my tax return and prepared a new letter to send out on the weekend. I woke up in a cold sweat and recounted nightmares of being in prison with repeat offender shoplifters, drug-addicts, single mothers and prostitutes, and Sweetface said, “Don’t worry, tax evasion is a white-collar crime.”

Then on the 31
st I went to the USPS web site and typed in the tracking number I have memorized. It’s almost too bad the tracking number is 30 digits long. If it were shorter it could be a new pin number. The following message appeared on the screen:
Status: Delivered

Your item was delivered at 11:42 am on March 31, 2006 in SPRINGFIELD, IL 62702.
I suppose now I can put down my latest craft project, which I think is in this month’s Martha Stewart’s Living: “With out of proportion, irrational worry and hours of cell phone use, you too can knit your own brain tumor.”

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