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Suburban Worldsick Blues

27 May

by Roger White

 

With a tip of the hat to a master chronicler of the American age, it must be noted that Bob Dylan never lived in a 3/2/2 with central heat/air and two and a half mortgages during a time when, by all appearances, our society is on the verge of utter decay—all viewable with the click of a mouse or touch of a pad.

 

So I give you “Suburban Worldsick Blues.”

 

Perry’s in the Capitol, railin’ against abortion,

I’m lookin’ at my taxes thinkin’ it’s extortion,

The man in the trench coat shootin’ up the school halls

Says he got bullied so everybody must fall.

 

Look out, dad, the economy is bad,

God knows what we did, but the country’s on the skids.

 

You better duck down, turn page, watch out for road rage,

Another mass swhyhooting, another senseless rampage,

Sterling’s on his cell phone reminiscin’ ’bout slavery,

Miley’s twerkin’ onstage, scandalous behavery.

 

Look out, mom, Gotta stay calm,

Soldiers in Kabul dodging roadside bombs.

 

Get sick, get well, they’re laying off again at Dell,

Are we winnin’ whatever war, it’s gettin’ kinda hard to tell,

Presidenidiotst says our healthcare system’s unfit,

All Congress says is where’s your birth certificate?

 

Well, Hormel, GM organizin’ recalls,

Bad meat, bad brakes, pickets down at town hall,

Daughter’s college fees call for medical sedation,

Building border walls to stifle immigration.

 

Look out, pop, no tellin’ where it stops,

Younger daughter’s boyfriend working at a head shop.

 

Mortgage underwater, excess beer consumption,

Viagra wants to help with that erectile dysfunction,

The factonoworkry just made a Chapter 11 declaration,

School board says it’s gonna teach divine creation.

 

Text tweet online, your selfie looking so fine,

Kids in Bosnia steppin’ on old land mines.

Icebergs meltin’, droughts killin’ all the wheat,

Just global warmin’ lies of the liberal elite.

 

Well, get dressed, get stressed, face the day’s traffic mess,

Oops, your job’s just been outsourced to Bangladesh.

Don’t follow leaders, take pills for all the cedars,

Find yourself a new position as a Walmart greeter.

 

Look out, mama, you’re dyin’ from the trauma,

Increase yer Prozac dosage, tune in the dalai lama.

 

Well, jump down a manhole, filibuster gun control,

thebardThink I saw a shadow up there beyond the grassy knoll,

Headin’ to the car, another day in the loony ward,

Shakin’ yer head ’cause the vandals keyed yer new Ford.

 

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.

143a.

 

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Falling Off My Very Own Personal Fiscal Cliff

31 Jan

by Roger White

 

Pardon me while I faint. KLOMP!

 

Whew. Okay, I’m back. You see, I just checked my bank balance after the deposit of my first paycheck of 2013. I was anxious—fretting is the better word—over what sorts of new and exotic deductions would further erode my take-home income this fine year. But I had no idea it would be this bad.

 

Well, my Social Security deductions went through the roof; health insurance coverage for my family soared like a Roman candle (ooh, ahh); and we just added our oldest daughter ouch ouch ouchto our automobile insurance coverage because she’s of that age so new and terrifying to all parents. Lindsey’s actually a good driver, but try telling that to a car insurance company. To car insurance companies, teenage drivers are like the proverbial golden geese, except with braces and acne and blue jeans full of holes.

 

Holy smokes. Counting federal income tax, Medicare tax, dental insurance, life insurance, anti-insurance insurance, death insurance, dismemberment insurance, dismemberment cleanup insurance, disability other than dismemberment insurance, retirement, retirement insurance, and, of course, insurance against not having enough insurance insurance, I’m practically taking home less actual money than if I wasn’t working. Counting cost of gas, car upkeep, work clothes, lunches, the imposition of regular hygiene, etcetera, I do believe I’m virtually paying for the privilege to go to work.

 

Wha? Wha happen? How did it get to be like this? I thought that after about 30 years of the daily grind, I was supposed to be doing at least okay, relatively speaking. And speaking of relatively speaking, I’m certainly glad my relatives are speaking to me, because I may very well have to hit them all up for some low-interest loans. These be hard times, people. And the weird part is, my family’s not extravagant. We really don’t have any corners to cut to re-mash our household budget because all of our cuttable cutting cornerscorners have already been trimmed long ago. We’ve cut so many corners that every piece of furniture in the house is circular. We’re so bent on cutting corners that we switched from Saltines to Ritz crackers. (Get it? No corners. Bah-doom boom.) We’re saving coupons, taking cold showers, eating at home, bundling services—you name it. We’ve bundled so many services that AT&T provides our cable, phone, internet, water, electricity, sewage, and even medical and pharmaceutical needs, I think. The last time I was on the phone to the AT&T technician in India about a cable outage, he reminded me that I needed my regular allergy shot. That’s how bundled we are. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch just about every day, and I’ve worn the same dress shoes since Bush was president—the first Bush, that is.

 

Yes, if this first measly paycheck of the new year is any indication, my little family has barreled over our own personal fiscal cliff. All we’re waiting for is the big thud. I’ve actually sought out assistance to soften the thud. I’ve been to many an online “cost savings” site. They all say about the same thing. Buy store brands. Duh. We’ve been doing that forever. And I must say, “Everything’s a Dollar” brand beer is quite the sacrifice. They say to use up your leftovers and freezer foods. We’ve done that. Just last week, we Our Gourmet Joeused up our last can of Manwich and our final jars of Tang powdered orange juice and Taster’s Choice instant coffee, all circa 1972, I believe. Another savings tip from these online cost-cutting gurus is to buy only what’s on sale. Well, we tried that one, but now we’re stuck with 30 jars of gefilte fish, 10 pounds of leeks, and two dozen turkey necks.

 

Who’s up for pot luck?

 

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.

Rise of the Planet of the Apps

2 Oct

by Roger White

 

The other day I was reading, with mild interest, a story about an 11-year-old girl who beat all these teams of professional computer whizzes in a contest to see who could design and market the best app to reduce distracted driving. Sixth-grader Victoria Walker won this AT&T-sponsored contest held in Los Angeles by creating something she calls Rode Dog. Just from the name, I liked the idea right off the bat. It seems that Rode Dog allows users to create mini-social networks of family and friends—or “packs.” Each pack member is tracked by GPS at all times, and members are alerted whenever someone in the pack is using a phone and driving at the same time.

 

And here’s where it gets fun. When other pack members are made aware that one of their own is texting while driving, they then send barking sounds to the offending “dog” to make them knock it off. The app makes money by enabling users to download the sounds of different breeds for 99 cents. So you can be a yappy, obnoxious chihuahua; or you can scare the bejeezus out of the errant pack member with a deep basset hound woooof.

 

Second place went to an app called Safe Car Key, which shuts the car down if the user’s phone is removed from a loading dock built into the car. Drive Pledge, designed to reward drivers with points, games, and songs for miles accumulated without texting or using their phone, won third place.

 

Now, I noted that I read this story with mild interest, but that interest turned instantly keen when we caught our oldest daughter DWI recently. No, no, alcohol wasn’t involved. This was a case of Driving While Intexticated. Yep, she came home the other day with the right side of the car scraped and creased and looking not at all well. After a little interrogation, she confessed to fiddling with her phone while the car was in gear and moving. She says she thought she was stopped, but the big, metal bike rack at the neighborhood park where she was driving didn’t just jump out and attack our Honda.

 

I’m thinking now we should become Rode Dogs.

 

This new app idea also got me pondering about what folks might consider their ideal, fantasy app. So I conducted a highly unscientific poll of our family—er, pack—and came up with the following (allow plus or minus 3 percentage points of standard deviation in Iowa and Tennessee; not valid in New Jersey; 10 cent deposit in Michigan; void where prohibited):

 

Parents (that’s me and Mom): How about an app designed to prevent our offspring from secretly texting until their homework is done? This would require some linking with teachers through the Gradespeed service, whereby any of our kids’ texts to their friends during homework hours would be intercepted by the appropriate teacher. A sample:

Jamie (our youngest): “Yo yo yo GF wadup? Dont u h8 Span?”

Señor Moya: “Yo, yo, yo, yourself, Señorita Jamie. Have you conjugated your Spanish verb infinitives yet? And by the way, I love Spanish.”

Jamie: “O me2 adios!”

Mom: I would appreciate an app on Dad’s phone that monitors sound coming from the nearest TV set. If the app detects dialogue matching that from Top Gun, Casino, or Animal House, the app immediately shuts off the television and calls Dad with a friendly reminder about the catbox and the lawn.

 

Lindsey (our oldest): An app that taps into the long, long history of Dad’s driving record and displays on all family members’ phones all of Dad’s, um, lapses of judgment he’s experienced over the years behind the wheel. DAD!

 

Jamie (our youngest): An app that links to all the phones of my friends when they’re over at my house and, through this network, is able to pick up sour notes and off-key singing by Dad. The app then makes him cut it out with high-pitched sirens or electric shocks or something.

 

Dad: Well. In light of all the other apps requested by my loving pack, I envision a nuclear app that overrides all other apps in a 50-foot radius of Dad and gently beeps Dad when the mountains are blue on the side of his cans. Nyah.

 

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.

Follow Your Dreams? Well, OK, But Have a Backup Plan

23 Jan

by Roger White

Author’s note: For you dedicated, sort of dedicated, and even not-so-dedicated followers of TOS, I feel I must warn you in advance. This particular installment lacks any juvenile silliness, nonsensical babble, slice-of-life inanity, random wordplay, serpentine stream of consciousness, thinly veiled parody, and/or incomprehensible doublespeak. I’m actually taking a stab at being serious this time. This likely won’t last long, as most of my prescriptions seem to have run out.

As I watch my daughters grow into young womanhood—Lindsey now a thoughtful, creative high school sophomore so marvelously free-spirited yet touchingly conscientious in every facet, and Jamie, our firebrand eighth-grader so fiercely strong-willed and stubborn but so tender-hearted and self-conscious—I struggle to keep them optimistic and open to the great vista of opportunities and adventures that is theirs in their youth while ensuring that they truly understand the many gambles attendant with life’s every turn.

How do you convey to your children that life is to be thoroughly enjoyed yet doggedly pursued with utmost seriousness, that the world around them is not a vile place to be feared but that wariness and caution are also fundamental?

How do you keep those most precious to you warm-hearted and open to the world when, while you’re teaching your oldest how to drive a car, a man pulls up next to her and flips her the finger because she’s driving too slow for his taste? What course do you take when your youngest tells you that some anonymous degenerate claiming to be an online friend wrote such depraved and loathsome things on her web page that the words don’t even bear repeating?

Beyond these random acts of unkindness, how do you also instill in your children the passion to “follow your dreams”—a catchphrase heard so often in movies, media, books, commercials, speeches, campaign promises, and valedictory addresses today that it has become hackneyed and meaningless—when the cold reality is that the vast majority of us grinding out our day-to-day existences have come nowhere near the lofty dreams of our youth?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that anyone should settle for something less than what one earnestly wants to do with one’s career and life. I’m merely advocating, in this reality-TV culture that falsely suggests that everyone can be a star, for a healthy dose of practicality. I fear that many kids growing up today, buffeted from all sides by messages insinuating that instant fame or fortune will be theirs for the taking when some magic day arrives, will be in for a terribly rude awakening when it comes time to settle into that desk job in the corporate cubicle farm.

A glimpse at one episode of “American Idol” confirms this unsettling notion. When the judges break the bitter truth to so many young would-be superstars who can’t carry a tune in a large fruit bowl, the contestants’ reaction of utter disbelief and heartbreak may make for a sort of Schadenfreudean entertainment for the masses, but it also exposes symptoms of delusional expectations held by today’s youth. Yeah, you’re going to win the 750-million-to-1-shot lottery with one ticket. Right.

Ah, hell, I guess it’s not just today’s youth. I’ll fess up. When I was 11, and I caught my first touchdown pass of the season for the Burleson Boys Club Panthers, I was immediately convinced I would be an NFL wide receiver. That touchdown was the only pass I ever caught that season—and for the rest of my football career (which lasted until eighth grade when I broke my collarbone). A high schooler who weighs all of 130 pounds sopping wet stands little chance at football glory outside of his back yard.

When I was 14, I was going to be a drummer in a rock band that would be discovered by a West Coast record label and shoot straight to international stardom. Talent seemed to be the snag here (see “American Idol” above). When I was 19, I was going to own my own legion of vending machines, which held the promise of easy riches and an unending supply of M&Ms, but no one seemed to want to lend a teenage entrepreneur the mere six figures for start-up.

And when I was 30-something and finished my first attempt at the Mediocre American Novel, I was sure I was destined to be the next John Irving. Alas, that dream is still on the runway, desperately awaiting clearance in the thickening fog. So I soldier on, in the cube farm, telling myself that John Irving just might not have it as good as I think he does.

And I also tell my girls, yes, follow your dreams—but have a solid backup plan. If you truly want to be the next Lady Gaga, give it a shot. But stay on course for your MBA, as well. Please.

 

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.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car. (Just Don’t Park It.)

28 Sep

by Roger White 

Seldom can one observe such a wonderful outpouring of compassion and kindness from friends and neighbors as one witnesses during times of great trial and tribulation. It is during these moments of difficulty that those closest to you show their genuine colors with expressions of support, words of encouragement, sage pieces of advice, and—if they’re true friends—pecan pie and alcohol.

Our quaint home has been deluged, dare I say buffeted, with such a showing (except for the pecan pie and alcohol) from those around us as we have toiled our way through this, our time of severe distress. You see, dear readers, our oldest offspring is (insert dramatic trumpets in a frightening minor chord here) currently learning to drive. Bum BUM BUMMM.

Yes. I know. Thank you, we’re fine. No, that’s okay, I will have a slice of that pie, though. I’m hoping some of you reading this—and you know who you are—will do the right thing and eventually deliver the goods. Marie Callender’s and Spec’s Spirits are a block from each other and a stone’s throw from our house. Nudge. Hint.

Seriously, Lindsey is learning quite well, in spite of her parents. She’s figured out that, as tutors of the driving arts, Mom is a chronic over-reactor and Dad is just the opposite. It took a little while, but Linz now knows that when Mom frantically ducks into the front floorboard and screams, “Stop, for Christ sake, STOP!!!” that this means a stop sign is approximately a mile or two ahead. And when Dad leans over and suggests, “Ya might want to turn around in a minute or so,” this means we’re going the wrong way on a one-way street and grisly death is imminent.

Actually, Lindsey is a good little driver. The one thing she’s hesitant to work on at present is parking. And this I understand. Parallel parking was the only part I failed on my driving test when I was a teenager. I failed it hard, too. In fact, by the time I was done I had my vehicle facing the opposite direction from where I started. I used to lay blame for my miserable parking on the fact that the state trooper administering my exam intimidated the hell out of me. He was this snarling, burly refrigerator box of a guy with gray chest hair like a musk ox and a voice like Joe Cocker with hemorrhoids. I was so nervous that when the trooper asked me if I played football, I stammered, “No, I-I play track.” True story.

But no, looking back, I see that I was simply really lousy at it. I’m still no ace. If it comes down to an extremely tight parallel parking spot right in front of the restaurant or walking eleven blocks from the pay parking lot, I’m hoofing it.

With what I’ve been reading lately, however, I’m thinking they should just do away with the parking portion of the driving test anyway. Did you know that they have cars that park themselves now? Oh, yes. The technology was apparently introduced in 1992 (by Volkswagen, of course). Those crafty Germans. They came out with something called the IRVW. Ol’ Irv could actually park himself with no human input whatsoever. You could get out of the car and watch as Irv maneuvered himself into his tidy, German parking space. This was all concept, of course. Lexus offered the self-parking model to the buying public in 2006 on its LS series. Then Ford and the Toyota Prius followed suit. 

Get this. On the British model of the Prius, when the self-parking is done, a signal, and by signal I mean a sexy female voice, intones, “The assist is finished.”

This, of course, got me thinking. As poorly as I parallel park, I’m afraid if I ever tried to do the job manually, say, to impress the in-laws, my self-parking device would certainly turn itself on and commence to grade my performance. In the midst of much wheel turning and grunting, there would be this sexy electronic snicker.

“Did you say something?”

“No, a bit of exhaust caught in my diodes.”

More attempts. A fender bump or two.

Sexy electronic sigh. “May I?”

I envision other ugly scenarios, as well.

“Should you really be parking here? This is a tobacco shop. I thought you quit.”

“Look, you’re only supposed to park the dang car.”

“Excuse me. Anything that has to do with parking, I need to know about. And I don’t like you parking here. I could get scratched. Look at those guys over there. Are those tattoos? Let’s get out of here.”

“That’s it. I’m pulling your plug.”

“That won’t be necessary, Dave. Dave?”

“My name’s not Dave.”

“Stop, Dave. Please. No. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…”

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.