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Call Me a Goober. I Don’t Get Uber.

2 Mar

by Roger White

 

OK, my fellow aficionados of the absurd, before we slice into the juicy prime rib of this here column, let’s settle the squabbling once and for all: What color are these words? Do you see blue type on a black background or gold type on a white background? I’ll give you a minute. No, Leonard, fuchsia on lime is not a choice.

who gives a

Apparently, because of one silly photo of a dress that was e-passed around the globe in about, oh, twelve seconds, everything we knew and believed about how we human types perceive color is right out the window. I heard tell that there were acts of gun violence in many cities and more than a few divorce proceedings initiated because of this stupid dress.

Fox News even reported that Turkneckistan declared war on neighboring Rosannadannastan over this garment argument. Citing an anonymous source, Fox claimed that the dress was to be worn at a Democratic fundraiser and that the current White House Administration is to blame for all the hubbub. As the Fox anchor concluded, “Thanks, Obama.”

Anyway. That’s not my rant for this episode. (It’s blue on black, by the way.) No, the rusted bobby pin stuck in my lower craw this time out is this Uber phenomenon. If you haven’t heard of Uber, it’s an app—started in California, of course—that magically transforms any Tom, Dick, and Hot Rod Harry with a set of wheels into a taxi cab driver. Here’s actual wording from the Uber site: “Got a car? Turn it into a money machine. The city is buzzing, and Uber makes it easy for you to cash in on the action. Plus, you’ve already got everything you need to get started.”

So, if I may extrapolate, I need nothing more than my derelict little Ford Pinto, some free time, and a desperate desire to make some cash without really working in order to chauffeur my way to riches? What a fantastic concept! What could possibly go wrong?

ruh roh ruber

Hmmm, let’s see. If you’re the guy behind the wheel—we’ll call you the Uber-er—it’s all easy money—until you get summoned to the lower east side of town to pick up a half-dozen Hell’s Angels, whose request is something like, “Just drive us around town for a while, lights off, and DON’T look in the back seat! Got it?” Or, say you’re the one looking for a ride—you’re the Uber-ee—and you get picked up in a two-tone primer and day-glo yellow ’63 Impala by a dude with a patch over one eye and a tattoo of Jeffrey Dahmer on his bicep. “Um, Sixth Street, please. Wait, um, downtown’s that way. No, wait!”

waitYou see my concerns. The threat of death and dismemberment aside, did you know that if you—the Uber-ee— opt for the Uber route during a time that is considered “high demand,” you will be charged what the smiling Uber people (Uberites? Ubereeenos?) euphemistically term “surge pricing”? Yeah. So, say you’re having little luck getting an honest-to-gosh taxi at 3 a.m. on New Year’s, and you punch up Uber on your phone thingy. It’s only a five-minute ride from the bar to your house, but you’re a little tipsy—and besides, your neighbor used Uber for the same trip only a few weeks ago, and it was only $25. Uber to the rescue! Your Uber driver is a tad odd and smells like onions and cat litter, but he gets you home in one piece. You whip out two twenties, feeling generous, and your cat-litter-smelling-cabby laughs. “That’s $675, lady.” Yep, surge pricing.

You see her concerns.

If I may extrapolate further, where will this lead? Will we have Uberfied air travel soon? I can see the Uber site now: “Got an airplane? Got at least a student’s license? Turn your Cessna into a money machine. The nation is buzzing, and many people—especially those on cartel payrolls—need transportation fast! Uber makes it easy for you to cash in on the action. Plus, you’ve already got everything you need to get started….”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Sorry, Kids: There Ain’t No Betty Crocker

2 Dec

by Roger White

So I was watching “Seinfeld” for the eleventy-millionth time the other night, mainly because there is absolutely nothing on TV worth watching these days other than reruns of “Seinfeld,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” and “The Twilight Zone.” I know, I know, you young whippersnappers will hold forth that there are some great new shows today, like “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Big Band Theorem” or whatever. I’ll stick with the classics, thank you very much. Don’t you love the word eleventy-million?

not that theresAnyway, I realized that the shtick Seinfeld was doing was aimed right at me. He was talking about pretentious, faux-authentic-sounding brand names, particularly cars. Names like the Integra or the Impreza. They’re made-up names that are meant to sound like other meaningful words, like integrity and impressive. The punch line: Seinfeld simply hoped he hadn’t bought a Lemona. It hit me that the last three cars I owned before my current little Korean vehicle were just that: an Integra, an Impreza, and a Lemona. All true, I previously owned a 1986 Acura Integra (a great car), a 2003 Subaru Impreza (a fast but frustrating car), and a 1979 Lemona (a VW bug—a true bomb I never should have purchased).  Don’t ask me what I was thinking, buying a 35-year-old POS as my daily commute. Besides, that’s another story. A very sad, long story.

Again, anyway. Things then got cosmic as I sat pondering Jerry’s sage words. It struck me as I lifted a spoonful of my Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter flavored ice cream to my mouth. My ice cream brand, too, was a made-up name meant to sound exotic and luxurious. Remember when Häagen-Dazs first hit the haagen whatmarket? Ooh, we thought, super rich frozen goodness from some strange Nordic country where they surely make ice cream from virgin glacial streams, from milk of cows that graze only on Alpine truffles, and from melted gold flakes from Icelandic lava flows. Or something. Turns out, Häagen-Dazs is a nonsense word concocted by one Reuben Mattus from the Bronx. The name, which is not Danish or Swedish or anything slightly lederhosen-ish, doesn’t really mean a thing—except that ol’ Reuben was a marketing genius.

Same with Löwenbräu beer. Back in 1975, just about the time I started my prolific and illustrious drinking career, Miller Brewing of the US of A acquired the North American rights to Löwenbräu, which was originally brewed in Munich. Ya know, the real Germany. Well, when Miller got hold of it, they “Americanized” the recipe, and the original German version of Löwenbräu was no longer imported to our fair shores. Basically, the Löwenbräu we got was Miller swill in an umlaut-sprinkled wrapper. Of course, we young and impressionable drinking types had Millerbrauabsolutely no knowledge of this. We just saw a new, mysterious foreign beer on the market—in a green bottle, even! The name was obviously German, and if anybody knew their brew, it was the Germans. We was hoodwinked.

Same holds true with so many other brands, like bottled water types. I really never understood the billion-dollar explosion of the bottled water industry. It’s water. In a plastic bottle. Water! H2O. This is where brand-name marketing gurus have a field day. There’s one out there called, get this, Glaceau Smartwater. I kid you not. And I not you kid. Both parts of that faux moniker evoke good feelings, don’t they? Aah, a pristine glacier. And intelligent liquid. What could be better? An intellectual body of glacial ice—you can’t get more new-age trendy than that. You know who produces Glaceau Smartwater? Coca-Cola. I picture guys in the back of these massive Coke plants running tap water into these oh-so-fashionable containers of Water de Glaceau. And they’re probably smoking, too. Unfiltered Camels. And laughing.

And don’t get me started on Evian. Look at your Evian bottle in a mirror. Yeah.

uh huh

So. Cogitating on this unsettling realization that so many of the products we consume are purchased under false pretenses, I jogged in a mild panic from the den to the kitchen, where my lovely esposa was making a batch of Betty Crocker pancakes. Paranoia was setting in, so I had to check it out. I ran to the computer and googled “Betty Crocker.” Gads, sure enough. There was no such lady!! Say it ain’t so! I quote from Wiki-whatsis: “The name Betty Crocker was created for the Washburn Crosby Company, later to merge with General Mills, as a way to personalize the company’s products and customer relations. The company picked the name because it sounded warm and friendly.”

I was aghast. Agog. I needed comfort food. “Ah, pancakes. Thanks, dear. Pass the Aunt Jemima.”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

My Wife’s Haunted Car and Other Things

9 Sep

by Roger White

 

Let me get this out of the way right here and now: For all the times I’ve been a smartass to any of you out there in reader-land, I convey my sincere apologies. I used to think that just about anything is fair game in the name of humor. I was not above smartassery if it garnered some hearty yuks. But lo, being on the receiving end of a smartass barb recently made me understand. Funny is in the eye of the bee holder. Or something. So there, I’m sorry. Long-winded explanation to follow.

 

The preceding paragraph came about because my wife and I recently became thoroughly convinced that her car is haunted. True! It’s all true. The old Honda makes a strange humming noise—using ok not wifeys carDave Barry caps now—WHEN IT’S NOT EVEN ON! I thought wifey had been hitting the cooking vodka a bit when she unloaded this on me, especially after I pulled up a chair on two occasions and sat next to her car in the garage and heard: absolutely nothing. But the other night, as I was emptying the trash in the garage, it happened. The old rattletrap hummed at me. It was kind of a pleasant hum, nothing menacing. But it was a hum nonetheless—coming from a vehicle that had been sitting dormant for hours. What’s even weirder is that it doesn’t seem to emanate from the engine. It’s an overall, ethereal sort of tune, as if the entire car just decides to hum. Lasts a while, then stops. Somewhere near B flat, I think.

 

Unnerved, and after a dip into the cooking vodka, I called up our mechanic. I asked him, after catching my breath and pouring myself another helping of cooking sauce, what in the world would make a car, that hasn’t been driven in hours, mind you, hum? (If you know where this is going because you have a smartass mechanic, don’t ruin it for the others.)

 

And Mr. Mechanic said: “Maybe it doesn’t know the words.”

 

Rimshot. Applause, applause. Another helping of vooking vokda all around. After he stopped laughing, which was a good long while, he switched into mechanic gobbledygook mode: “Could be your ABS relay switch stuck in regenerate mode or perhaps your evaporator coils releasing pressure. Have you checked that?”

 

“Uh, yeah. No.”

 

“Or it could be haunted,” he concluded. Again with the laughing. “Bring it in, we’ll check it out.”

 

Funny guy. He has a point, though. It truly could be haunted. The wife and I used to scoff and pooh-pooh such notions, but through our long, strange trips together, we have both become convinced that there are — well, let’s just say there are things beyond our knowledge as mere humans trudging about on this little planet. Another schot of kooking sschvodka, please.

 

Two very peculiar examples come to mind: (1) a photo of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave and (2) a spooky stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. So, pull up a log. Some years back, Sue and I were visiting Baltimore. EAs graveWe had one of those old cameras that actually used film, the kind you gave to the drugstore clerk for developing. Before the age of nude selfies and all that crap. We had taken all the usual tourist photos: the Inner Harbor, Maryland blue crabs, a downtown mugging, and a shot of the grave of E.A. Poe. Yes, the original Stephen King. When we got the photos back from the drugstore, all was pretty much normal—ya know, some fuzzy, some out of focus, some pretty decent shots. But the shot of Poe’s grave was truly bizarre. The picture appeared to have flames coming up the bottom and sides, as if surrounding the gravesite. Hand on heart here. We know we still have it somewhere, but we cannot find it. It’s the only photo of the rolls that was out of the ordinary. Way out of the ordinary. It looked like it was on fire.

 

No. 2 is even stranger. If you’ve ever stayed in Santa Fe, you’ve probably heard how it is purported to be one of the most haunted places in North America. Old Indian burial grounds, the site of extremely ancient civilizations, the works. In the dead of winter one year (no pun intended), our vacation stay there was extended because we were snowed in. Inches and inches of deep, beautiful snow. Our girls were tiny, and they loved it. Sue and I were perturbed at the cost of our unintended extension, and our dog, Ralph, hated every minute of it. Something about the room we were in, at the Las Palomas Inn, gave our fat daschund an extreme case of the willies. He would whine and mommyhesitate every time we entered the room. He would piddle nervously on the front step. Then Sue woke up in the wee hours one night convinced that one of the girls was calling her. She heard a distinctive little voice calling out, “Mommy.” But our girls were sound asleep. When Sue told me the story, as we sat on our hotel bed, I decided to call our ghost’s bluff. “OK,” I called out. “If there is something or someone here, give us a sign. Now.” At that precise moment, one of the two sconce lights on the wall surrounding the bed came on. Came on, mind you. If a light had gone off, I could explain that one away. Bulb went bad, that’s all. No. One of the lights came on. Wifey’s my witness. I still shiver about that one. We changed rooms, then hightailed it back home as soon as the snow cleared.

 

Who’s up for more cookling vkoda? Whew. Seriously, do you have a story like this? One that makes you think, hmmm, there is more going on here than we know. E-mail me at roger.white@tasb.org. I wanna hear them. I’ll post the truly creepy ones. It’s almost Halloween, ya know. Right now I gotta go, I think the wife’s car’s humming at me again.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Pondering Life’s Little Scams, Schemes, and Swindles

7 Jul

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So I was standing in the shower attempting to loofah my stretch marks when one of wifey’s standing army of haircare products amassed on the shower shelf caught my eye. It was a shiny, dazzling thing, the color of polished gold. The container’s meant to grab your attention, you see, designed to stand apart from the plethora of shampoos and such that crowd the grocery shelves. Marketers never cease to amuse. Gold equals value, see, so this shampoo must be head and shoulders above the rest. Ouch, that was unintentional. So now that the golden suds caught my eye, I looked closer. I had to laugh—more superlatives and blatant hyperbole were crowded onto this little bottle of bubbles than a Barnum & Bailey circus poster.

photo

“Advanced,” “NEW,” “Total Repair,” “EXTREME,” “Emergency,” “Recovery,” “RAPID FIBER RENEWAL” (whatever that is)…and on and on. It’s as if the company’s advertising guys looked up every glowing adjective in the dictionary and simply pasted them all on the bottle. I snickered again, but then I realized, hey, it worked. It’s in my shower, ain’t it?

 

I pointed out all the grandiose gobbledygook to my wife when I exited the reading room and asked her if it was indeed the best haircare product she’d ever used. “Eh,” she said with a shrug. “It’s not that great.”

 

Ah, yes. This revelation got me pondering all the little cons and exaggerations and out-and-out flimflammery that we deal with on a daily basis. I believe we first got the idea that the scam was on as we moved from adolescence into young adulthood. This was about the time we witnessed the gradual, ever-so-subtle phenomenon known as the incredible shrinking product. Remember? Food staples such as hamburgers and candy bars slowly lost their heft over time, almost like magic.

 

gadzooksThe Big Macs and Hersheys of our youth didn’t merely appear larger back then because we were tykes; they’ve been carefully trimmed over the years. Picture your Hershey bar on a fulcrum, like a teeter-totter of corporate trickery; price goes up, product size goes down. Eventually, I suppose we’ll be shelling out $19.99 for a chocolate nibble the size of an unwell raisin. In that vein, corporate candy minds have already given us the “fun size” bar. Fun size. That’s marketing speak for “you pay us regular-size price, and we’ll give you tiny crumbs in a colorful, exciting package. Yay! Fun!”

 

The Mars Company did some more snipping just recently, shaving the size of its Snickers and Mars bars—merely for health reasons, mind you. “Having taken product reformulation as far as we can for now without compromising the great taste,” a company spokeslizard said, “we have reduced the portion size of Mars and Snickers to bring down the calories.” Right.

 

The soft drink guys did it, too, long ago—under the guise of moving to the metric system. If you’re old enough to recall, family-size cokes once came in one-gallon containers. Touting their shift to the sleek three-liter size bottle as a consumer-friendly move to a more efficient, easier-to-tote container—at the same price!—the cola industry failed to mention that customers were now getting precisely .793 of a gallon of coke for the gallon price. But what’s .207 of a gallon between friends?

 

It isn’t just at the grocery store, though. The scam is everywhere. Corporate lizards abound. If you don’t pay close attention to your wireless service bill, for example, you’ve probably been crammed. We were crammed recently, but thank goodness the wife caught it before it went on too long. In fact, T-Mobile just got slammed by the Federal Trade Commission for cramming. Sounds physically painful, I know, but cramming hits you only in the pocketbook. It’s the practice of stuffing hidden fees into your bill for services you didn’t request—hence the ugly terminology. It’s often difficult to spot the hidden fees because the wireless companies will not itemize them; rather, they’ll show up as “Use Charges” or some other ridiculous, nebulous category.

 

The list goes on. Premium gas, college textbooks, bottled water, anything and everything that movie popcorn manshows up on your hospital bill, automotive cabin air filters, shipping and handling (what the hell is handling, anyway?), hotel taxes, cable activation fees, time shares, movie snacks. It’s a mine field out there, people. It’s a dirty, slimy mine field full of lizards, to mix a metaphor or three.

 

I think I need another shower. Hey, this shampoo looks good…

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Life in the Closed Lane, Part Deux

14 Oct

by Roger White

 

I’ve harped on the many traffic woes of this sardine-packed city before, but now with my youngest chomping at the automotive bit and with the wife and me renewing our primal fears of bodily injury to our kiddos (and yours if they’re not nimble enough to get out of the way), I figured it was time to revisit the demolition derby that is life on these Austin streets.

 Packed like sardines

There are those who put forth that a car is merely an extension of one’s personality, and I am not one to disagree. In fact, I believe placing a human being behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound mechanical contrivance actually amplifies one’s basic behavior to the extreme. If you’re a bully in your daily existence, then you become a truly monstrous a—hole in your behemoth pickup truck. If you’re the extra-careful, nervous type, this translates into that modest little Yaris attempting earnestly to stay six carlengths away from every other vehicle—even in the Target parking lot. If you’re the meditative, peaceful sort, you transmogrify into Gandhi in a ghia, waving and smiling serenely at those who curse and aim middle digits.

 

Add to this car-as-extension-of-self phenomenon the stifling overcrowding of our byways these days and you get what we are experiencing now: critical car mass. We’re not simply employing our autos to get from one point to another—no, sitting in the sedan, waiting for the light to change or the wreckage to clear, has become a way of life. We’re in our Toyotas and Hyundais so much of the time that we eat, sleep, communicate, transact business, recreate (and, yes, re-create), and conduct practically every other function of living in our cars as much as anywhere else. I hear that Honda is actually working on a driver-activated toilet for its higher-end models. No pun intended. Okay, I made that up.

 

Despite the notion of having a potty on the go, I have come to truly despise driving now. Sadly, I used to enjoy getting in the ol’ jalopy. I envied the guys who had the gleaming hot rods. Now I see these immaculately restored muscle cars, and the occasional collector on the goPorsches (usually driven by guys old enough to remember Ferdinand Porsche personally), and I puzzle over these machines with their massive motors grumbling against the walking pace of traffic. I mean, it’s a bit like owning a racehorse in Manhattan. What’s the point?

 

Anyway, from my daily stop-n-go grind I’ve concluded that there are five basic automotive personality types. And here they are, in no particular order: You’ve got your breakneck-speed, tailgating Reckless Kellys. These guys are always late for something, and you are always in their way, for heaven’s sake. Every lane that a Reckless Kelly is not in is the lane that he or she wants desperately to be in. Conversely, you have your Vehicular Vigilantes. These are the self-appointed regulators of the Reckless Kellys, and they can be just as annoying. VVs are the ones who speed up just enough to not let others in if they feel a traffic injustice has been done. Vigilantes enjoy wagging their fingers and shaking their heads correctively at other drivers. On the other end of the extreme, you have your Motorized Milquetoasts. More than three cars on the road at a time frightens MMs, and decision-making is tough for this mild-mannered sort. Keep your distance. MMs are often seen waiting for a stop sign to turn green. Clueless Cloggers used to be an obvious category; these were the very young and very old vehicular pilots. Currently, however, CCs have grown to include every one of these imbecilic drivers who insist on monitoring their mobile devices while they themselves are mobile! Lord help us. And last but least, you have thback off pleaseose temperamental types who think of themselves as Vigilantes but are in actuality a lethal and unpredictable combo of every known personality on the road. These are the most dangerous, maddeningly volatile drivers you can ever come across. They are convinced that their path and their mission are the most important, and they will compromise with no other automobile. If anyone gets in their way, these asphalt autocrats will do anything in their power to seek vengeance—to the point that they are willing to shut down the whole traffic system to get what they want.

 

These frightening folks are, of course, the Boehner Beamers. Steer clear of BBs; you’ve been warned.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Dead Cars Are Today’s Coalmine Canaries

9 Sep

by Roger White

 

You see them more and more these days: dead cars by the side of the road. Sure, the cops and the towing companies attempt due diligence, but they can’t keep up now. There are just too many croaked clunkers all over our highways and byways. I sat and thought about it the other day; you know what the proliferation of all of these deceased vehicles means, don’t you? That’s right, we’re all poor now. Well, 98.8 percent of us.

 he dead

It’s just like the canaries in the coalmine. Miners in our grandpappies’ day used canaries (those brave little birds) to make sure the air was breathable in their unbelievably dangerous underground offices. If Tweety Pie stopped singing and was suddenly on his back with his widdle feet in the air, it was time to haul out of there—the air had turned bad. Well, all those roadside stalled Chevys, puffing smoke with their widdle tires in the air—they’re today’s coalmine canaries. It ain’t good, folks. The air has turned bad.

 

The simple reason for this phenomenon is that our economy is barely breathing. There’s no more economic oxygen. Prices for staples such as groceries and gas are unacceptably high; cost for basic medical care is astronomical—and the whole system of for-profit care is at the very least misguided (and at worst, utterly evil); wages are stagnant; and jobs are about as scarce as an untattooed NBA player. Add to this the fact that the stock market today goes haywire anytime a terrorist sneezes in Yemen—and everyone’s retirement account is somehow inextricably tied to the market—and you have all the makings for a slippery slide right back into 1929, only perhaps worse.

he dead too 

Hence all the inert autos floundering near parkways hither and yon. It’s all about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, 21st-century style. People are barely keeping their heads above water. It’s all most of us can do to feed the family, pay the mortgage, and keep the electricity on. Ancillary things, such as regular car maintenance, swiftly fall by the wayside when the money is just not there. And so, kaplunk. The trusty old Ford keels over because its financially strapped owner couldn’t afford to change the timing belt—which, by the way, costs approximately a cool grand including time and labor and all the extra nebulous charges your friendly fix-it shop always manages to throw in.

 

Unfortunately, we can’t really hightail it out of this particular coalmine, can we? And from all appearances, it’s a damn deep mine. In many ways, it’s downright disgusting. There truly is no middle class anymore; there are the mega-uber-wealthy, comprising less than 2 percent of the population—and there are 250 million shades of poor in these United States. The average corporate CEO income today is about $4,615 per hour; minimum wage is $7.25, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

the trapMore and more of us are carrying four- and five-digit credit card balances and are using credit cards often to pay not for entertainment or the occasional luxury item but for groceries and monthly bills. In many cases, it’s unavoidable. My neighbor down the street recently posted on Facebook that her electricity bill for one month was more than $400—and her home is less than 1,900 square feet. AARP magazine noted that in 1963 a 49-ounce box of laundry detergent cost 69 cents; today, it costs $8.00. A movie ticket in 1963 was 86 cents; today, just under $10. Even adjusting for income, we’re much worse off now than we were 50 years ago. Boy, it’s getting tough to breathe in here.

 

Keep your eyes on the roadside, people. The air has surely turned bad.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

How to Unclog the Duodenum of Texas

8 May

by Roger White

Guess from whence I’m writing this installment, my kaleidoscopic cohort. In my car. That is correct. I haven’t touched the accelerator or the steering wheel in the last six minutes and nineteen seconds—traffic is this clogged—so I figured I might as well put the time to good use. Or silly use, anyway. I can now see a spider web forming from my front left hubcap down to the highway pavement. And I swear that little fuzzy monster is grinning at me. One should not be able to see spider webs and smiling arachnids on the highway.

puttputtSuch is life in Austin. I read the other day that traffic here in the duodenum of Texas ranks fourth-worst in the nation. The entire nation! Only LA, Honolulu, and San Francisco are worse. We’re more cars-trophobic than New York, Boston, and D.C. even. Get it? Cars-trophobic? I made that up, so no copying. I mean, cripes, Forbes magazine recently named our little—correction—NOT little burg as the fastest-growing city in America. It’s gotten to the point where I, your most genteel of scribes, have sunk to the point of using crude, contemporary slang that I vowed I would never employ. Alas, here goes: Trying to get from Point A to Point B in this town now officially … cough, “sucks.” Ew. I said it. I hate that verb. Kids today do not have the verbal alacrity to describe any experience, flavor, relationship, teacher, concert, class, ex-friend, or social exchange with any nuance at all because all they can say is that this or that “sucked.” This is why I hate the word. It bashes creativity. That being said, however, I again acquiesce because I, too, can conjure no other description of living in this town today. Other than it sucks. Like, man.

where am iWhy doth it sucketh, you ask? I’ll tell you. There are too many of us here. Come on, already. Stop moving here. Get this, and I quote from a local news source: “The Austin metro area added 67,230 people during the last 15-month period—4,482 people a month.” Cheese and crackers, folks, that’s 149.4 people glomming onto the city per day. I’m not sure where the .4 comes from, but for the love of Mike, somebody shut the gate.

It’s our own fault, really. Austin is so artsy-craftsy. Everybody and their therapist is an oh-so-sincere musician with a new folk song coming out about riding the backroads to Babylon or somesuch; we have organic food fairs every weekend that feature gluten-free honey-caressed love veggies that have been hand-raised by Buddhist hippies who live in a house made of dirt; everyone young and old runs and bikes by the lake—even the fat people; Robert Plant shops for groceries south of downtown, even though nobody recognizes him anymore because he apparently looks like Marty Feldmanmarty er robert now. Plus there’s a god-forsaken concert or charity run or awareness walk or some civic-minded, hug-inducing love-in wherein they block off every street in or around downtown—every goddamn week! It, uh… well, it sucks.

So, my clarion call to you, my fellow dwellers of the duodenum, is to, um, suckify the city its own self. If people are coming here by the droves because we’re so weird and wonderful, then the only way to reverse the trend is to unweird ourselves. You, over there in the hipster jeans with holes in just the right places, put down the guitar. That’s it, don that gray shirt and apply for that assembly line job at the pliers factory. You there, the lazily grinning hippies selling arugula out of your van. Take a shower—separately, please—put on some real underwear, and drive to Phoenix. You see, we have to tone down the originality and show some real, authentic normalness. Drabness even.

While researching the absolute worst cities in America, I read on more than a few sites that Stockton, California, ranks as a shining example of, er, genuine suckitude. Take a look (and I quote from the internet, so it’s gotta be legit): “In July 2012, Stockton became the largest city ever to file for protection under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Also in 2012, the city was ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America. In 2013, Stockton was ranked as the third-most illiterate city in the U.S., with less than 17 percent of adults holding a college degree.”

Ah ha! Citizens of Duodenum-ville, rise up! And dumb down! Engage in some petty thievery. Kick a tourist or two in the groin. City planners, dabble in a little malfeasance. Cook a book yea stocktonor three. Mr. Mayor, get caught with a city secretary in a Bangkok hotel. Then, and only then, will we stem the tide of people crowding into our fair hamlet. In short, to prevent this city from sucking so badly, we must make it suck somewhat. I think.

In the meantime, I’ll sit here, watching that little smirking spider make a home in my hubcap. Man, this sucks.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

January in Austin S’not What It Ought to Be

14 Jan

by Roger White

 

I hate this time of year. Absolutely despise it. Might even throw in the word “loathe.”

 

It’s not just because half the trees and plants across the landscape are now dead and brown, looking more like bare nerve endings protruding from the ground than blossoming flora. It’s not just because Christmas has come and gone and yet again Merry Xmas to MeSanta did not see fit to deliver my red Carrera 911. And it’s not just because the Dallas Cowboys again found new and innovative ways to underperform their way right out of the playoff picture for another season. 

 

No, the principal reason I hate this time of year is because of the frenetic over-pollinating behavior of the Central Texas area’s most evil living thing—the lovely juniper bush, or Juniperus ashei, as the ancient Latin allergy sufferers called it. As afflictions go, cedar fever ranks somewhere near the bubonic plague or the Devil Dustheartbreak of psoriasis in my book. It’s not even labeled correctly; it should be called juniper fever, but I guess that doesn’t have the right ring to it. I used to wonder why I never really took to gin as a cocktail ingredient—now I suppose I know. Gin’s chief ingredient—juniper juice—is my arch enemy.

 

Every January, like clockwork, 93.7 percent of my days are filled with sneezing, itching, running, snorting, wiping, weeping, draining misery. My eyes mutate into puffy, sightless slits. My nose becomes a fleshy faucet. Until I receive my annual double-shot in the posterior, by which I am pumped full of enough steroids to win at least a couple Tours de France, I have the unhappy choice of either sequestering myself indoors like a hanky-clutching bubble boy or ingesting enough decongestants to tranquilize a sperm whale. Snotty or sleepy—those are my alternatives.

 Stickemup i mean achoo

Yes, when you see me wearing the facial covering primarily used by bird flu victims and bank robbers, you know it’s cedar fever season. I really hate this time of year.

 

The weather guys aren’t much help, either. They seem to take particular delight in pointing out every year how the insidious explosions of lime-colored pollen dust created by these evil evergreens can be seen from space. Every time I hear that snide meteorological tidbit, I wish I was in space, orbiting miles high over the terrible clouds of congestion. Yes, I’d be floating weightless, drinking Tang, and laughing at the zillions of juniper spores, trying vainly to reach me. And I suppose because I’m in space, I’d be an astronaut, which would be really cool. Hey, what’s this button do?

 

Wait, where were we?

 

Oh, yes. Cedar fever. It’s not any fun for those around me, either. The noises I make whilst suffering from this dastardly winter devil have been likened by family, friends, and coworkers to everything from a cow pulling its hoof out of the mud to a garbage disposal attempting to grind up peanut butter. It ain’t pretty.

 

It’s gotten so bad in recent years that I decided to petition the State Legislature for some sort of relief. As of yet, my dutiful lawmakers have failed to respond, so I have now turned to the governor’s office, looking for a proclamation outlawing juniper germination or perhaps the establishment of Planned Pollenhood or something. Unfortunately for me and those of my ilk, our governor is staunch in his right-to-rhinitis views. So I see little hope of a reprieve from the executive branch. Ooh, I said branch. Sniffle.

 

I suppose the only way for me to find shelter from this seasonal snot storm is to my winter homemove away for a couple of months out of the year. So how about this: I’m offering a trade—anyone living in Micronesia, Kaua’i, or the Sandals Resort in Negril, Jamaica, can reside rent-free for the months of January and February in my lovely Austin home if I can live in yours during the same time period. Amenities included, just please feed the dog and the kids.

 

I really, really hate this time of year.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Our Winter Trip–to the Tune of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

7 Jan

by Roger White

 

Come andHere We Go listen to a story ’bout a man named Rog,

For their winter getaway got the car out the garage,

Packed the family up and drove to Santa Fe,

But here’s some weird stuff that happened on the way.

 

’Bout five in the morning just outside Fredericksburg,

With temperature readings like an Arctic iceberg,

Steering got squirrelly and a tire went POP,

Two hundred bucks later we leave the tire shop.

 

We Is NowhereOn I-10 past Sonora I decide to take a snooze,

Wifey’s at the wheel, what have I got to lose?

I wake and we’re smack in the middle of nowhere,

Fifty miles from a town with no gas to spare.

 

Fort Stockton’s now roughly thirty miles away,

With the “Empty” light on we both begin to pray,

Then out of nowhere an Exxon comes in sight,

We laugh and we cry and soon forget our plight.

 

Up 285 into old New Mexico,

Night begins to fall and the wind begins to blow,

There in the darkened road with no time to stop,

We almost run over a New Mexico cop.

 Stop in the Lame of the Naw

Fuzz, that is. Black uniform. Gun and all.

 

Well, the next thing ya know we’re into Santa Fe,

Wife and I relax while the girls go out to play,

We realize we’re now about a thousand in the hole,

For Christmas, we figure, we’ll give the girls coal.

 

Anthracite, that is. Black fuel. Fossilized carbon.

 Everybody loves Coal

Heading back to Texas we drive all day and night,

With fast food in our bellies the car sure smells a might,

We all begin to wonder why this far we did roam,

Next year we figure it’s best to just stay home.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Nothing Says ‘Thank You’ Like ‘Thank You’

18 Dec

by Roger White  

 

Sitting cozy in my den the other day, admiring the flames in the fireplace as winter raged outside (it got down into the 40s!), I was given to pause and reflect. Seldom am I given to pause, seldomer still to reflect. Yes, I have been writing long enough to invent words. Seldomer is now a word. I shall even copyright it: Seldomer©. There.

I believe at least once a year, everyone should be required to stop whining, cease shooting the finger at the guy who cut you off in traffic, quit yelling at the idiot politicians, and simply be thankful. As bad as things seem to be, as completely insane as the world appears to have become lately, as absolutely untrainable as the damn cat stubbornly cat from hellremains, I still feel like a very lucky guy. I know there are so many things in this world—this nation particularly—that need to change, but for the most part, things are good. People are good, by and large. I must believe that, or I will drive my car into the Palo Duro Canyon.

So I thought I’d share with you my list of the things I’m thankful for this holiday season. This list is not in order of importance, nor was there any payola involved. If anyone on this list wants to discuss payola retroactively, that can be arranged.

I, Oldspouse, am thankful for the following, give or take:

  • “Relaxed-fit” jeans. Not only am I extremely grateful for relaxed-fit jeans, I am most appreciative of the term “relaxed-fit.” Whoever came up with this wonderful euphemism is a marketing genius. Sounds so much better than the truth: “Old & fat-fit” jeans.
  • Affordable second-hand cars with airbags. My daughters are driving now. Nuff said.
  • Affordable miniature GPS tracking devices. My daughters are dating now. Nuff said.
  • Jon Stewart. The last bastion of straight news, of the real story, Jon is. Without him, the man“Breaking Bad,” and “Seinfeld” reruns, television today would be utterly unwatchable.
  • Mississippi. If it weren’t for the Magnolia State, Texas would be at or very near the bottom of many, many dubious lists, such as education, teen pregnancy, idiotic laws, etc. You can criticize Texas for many things, but at least we don’t incorporate the Stars and Bars into our state flag.
  • Five-hour energy drinks. I know, this one may be controversial, but WOW. The wife and I tried a couple of these tiny little bottles of verve one morning. We’d been out late the previous evening, pretending we were young’uns, and oh, how we felt it. On a lark, we imbibed the “energy supplements.” All I remember of the rest of that day is that after our 10-mile morning run, I rebuilt my lawnmower engine, self-audited my tax returns back to 1987, played my girls one-on-two in tennis, then wrote three chapters of my long-forgotten novel. Then I slept for 18 hours. In the yard.
  • Our Bubbie. Now, this may seem to you a blatant attempt to get in good with the mother-in-law, and you know what? It is! But I have to tell you, this gal can cook. Bubbie’s been the primary source of our Sunday night dinners since I can remember, and if anyone can do better things with a chicken, I need to see it—and taste it. Although I have to add that Bub is one of the main reasons I am thankful for “relaxed-fit” jeans. Well, and beer.
  • Beer. Where would we be without beer? Maybe I should rephrase that. Let me just yea beersay that beer has helped me through many, many horrible Dallas Cowboys games. Without beer, I could not stand to listen to my own garage band play. Without beer, our annual neighborhood holiday parties would be intolerable. And I mean that in the nicest way. I dare say that without beer, no one would ever listen to ZZ Top or Billy Squier.
  • My babies—all three of them. You know who you are. Tolerance, patience, forgiveness, and love are mighty, mighty powerful things. For that, and for my three lovely gals, I am eternally thankful. Seldom do I really say how thankful I am for you—and seldomer still do I say how much I love you. Well, and beer.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.