Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Birthday Soul-Searching

"Scorpios are characterized as mysterious, passionate and brooding. They are known for both their deep feelings and their tendency toward a charming but edgy sensuality....Scorpios are also blessed with great creative zeal. You are subtle, sensitive and interested in relationships, but because the creative juices flow so forcefully in your veins, you simply require involvement, action and passionate experience."

-- From "The Oct. 30 Birth Date Book: What Your Birth Date Reveals About You"

An ex-girlfriend bought me that book one year for my birthday. She said it described me perfectly. I can't argue with her.

I've kept the book filed away in a box ever since, but I dug it out on Tuesday, my birthday, because for a good part of this year I've felt my creative zeal had disappeared. It's been a difficult year -- finding work, rejecting work, returning to old work, finding work again, working double-shifts, working nights, working again the next morning. I felt a little beaten down.

Part of it's on me. I have to rise above all the problems and distractions. I haven't always lived up to my potential this year. I have to find my creative zeal (both writing and all other things creative) and push myself to pursue it. I went from blogging almost every day to hardly blogging at all because I was having so much difficulty balancing life and work. There was no life. There was just work. I can't allow that to happen. I have to require involvement, as the book says. Force the creative juices to flow. I need to get back to working on my novel. I haven't done nearly as munch work on it this year as I would like. I want to be charming and edgily sensual going forward. I want the rest of my life to be one of passionate experience, one without regrets.

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions, and this is not a birthday resolution. It's just a public prodding to myself that I can do better. I want to live up to my inner Scorpio.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Phil vs. Sandy

So far I'm OK.

Work was fine. The lights flickered several times late this morning thanks to Hurricane Sandy but we never lost power. I spent much of the afternoon replenishing the cooler just in case. People need their milk, water and, most importantly, beer.

On the way home, I felt my car sway a few times on the road. The winds were wicked. It was also raining about as hard as it's been all day and once I felt like my car might start to hydroplane. But it righted itself and I was fine.

I wanted to do laundry (I mean, I still have to live my life) but the laundromat was closed.

My winter coat is soaked. It's actually kinda warm outside, but I need to winter coat to absorb all the rain that pelted me all day.

I wondered whether I'd have power when I got home. I do.

So really, despite a few tense moments, everything's been OK. I'm not in New Jersey and so I;m catching a break. I hope the best for them, that it's not too bad a storm. I'm toying with the concept of heading out to Wendy's (if they are open) for dinner tonight. I look forward to things beginning to slow down.

So far I'm OK.

Knock on wood.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Phil vs. Coffee

I hate coffee.

I realize this puts me in the minority of the adult world, but I can only be me. So I don't drink coffee. To me it tastes like liquid dirt. I get the whole caffeine aspect, and I'm certainly not a morning person, but I'd rather have a Coke or pop a few Vivarins if I need a boost when I first wake up.

But for my new job, I will occasionally have to open the store, which means I need to make coffee for the rest of the coffee-drinking world.

This is a whole new experience for me. I've never even made coffee in my life.

I tried. I did make a few mistakes. One time I didn't put the filter in. I spilled a lot of grinds across the counter.

But I more or less have it figured it out now. I can make seven pots in a short period of time.

I just won't be drinking any of it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

In Memoriam Bob The Cat: ???-Oct. 24, 2012

I don't have cats, but cats seem to like me. Exhibit A: Bob the Cat.

He's my friend Dianne's cat. Bob had adopted her by virtue of appearing on her property at some point in the early 2000s and claiming it as his own. Eventually, she let him in and he became the family cat. But he was quiet. He rarely came out and socialized with them.

Until he met me in 2002. I put my hand out. Dianne said, "He won't come to you. He's antisocial."

But he marched over to met and craned his neck so I could pet him. A friendship was born.

She had no idea how old he was. We suspected, because of his size and energy level, maybe 4 years old. I got a kick out of him because he had a stub for a tail. Dianne thought Bob may have had his tail run over. Personally, I think he's just a Japanese Bobtail cat, which unlike most breeds only has a stub for a tail because of a genetic defect.

We had some great memories with Bob. We called him Hurricane Bob. We would shout, "Bob!" every time he entered the room and he would meow in response. He watched football with us. He loved having his neck scratched.

But recently he's become frail and thin. Cats age just like all of us. They don't last much more than 14-15 years, and as best as we could tell that's about where Bob was at. Saturday, Dianne broke the news to me. On Wednesday, while I was saying goodbye to The Chopper, Dianne went to the vet and put Bob to sleep.

That fateful morning, Dianne said Bob wandered over to a neighbor's German shepherd, seemingly in an attempt to commit suicide by dog. I hate to see Bob suffer and it was probably for the best.

Bob now lies in a coffin buried in Dianne's backyard. I kind of wanted to dig him up and scratch his neck one last time. But he's in a better place now. And he's at peace.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Last Day at The Chopper

Wednesday was my last day at The Chopper. It started like an ordinary day. A little work on signage. Then, as is usually the case, later in the morning my boss pulls me out of the price accuracy department. Usually this means I run the front end, assisting cashiers with customer service issues, scheduling their breaks, getting cash for them when they're low on $1s, $5s and $10s, etc etc.

I should've known something was up when my boss asked me to hop on a register.

This isn't unheard of. Usually once or twice a day I jump on a register for 5 or 10 minutes, when it's wicked busy or when I need to float a cashier's break. Wednesday mornings aren't particularly busy, though. In fact, they're usually quite dead. Everybody's stocked up on groceries from the previous weekend and don't need to restock for the upcoming weekend yet.

Then I hear over the store intercom, "Phil, please report to the CSM (i.e., my boss's) office. Phil to the CSM office, please."

And I'm such a doofus. I definitely should've known something was up by then. But I was stressing out, thinking about any bad customer interactions I've had lately, because normally when someone gets called into the CSM office, it's not to tell them what a great job they're doing. It's the supermarket equivalent of being sent to the principal's office.

Instead, what was waiting for me was a cake, from The Chopper bakery, with "Good Luck at Your New Job, Phil" inscribed on it. And a card with well wishes from my boss and all the cashiers in it. (Of course, this is why I was thrown on a register, to distract me from the cake being brought in and everyone signing the card.) Also, my boss gave me six stars, which in non-Chopper lingo means I get a $25 gift card.

I'm not gonna lie, I was starting to feel my eyes get a little damp.

This has been a very difficult, transitional and turbulent year in my life, for some reasons I've discussed and others that I haven't. I was only at The Chopper for 5 1/2 months. Before this I've never worked in a supermarket in my life. I made a shit-ton of mistakes. But I can't tell you how great it feels to receive this kind of warm reception on the way out.

Part of me wishes I could've stayed. Unfortunately there were some logistical issues (loooooooong commute, opportunities for better pay and benefits and a more consistent schedule) that prevented that from being an option. It's great to know that I made some really good friends, though. And that transcends a paycheck.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On Signs and a Fear of Heights and Motion Sickness

I got an opportunity to cross-train at The Chopper in the pricing accuracy department. The Chopper has huge, bright yellow signs with bright red prices on it. One of the aspects of this gig is that, Sunday mornings, the sale specials change and so the signs need to be changed.

This requires me to get up on a ladder and climb to the top feet to flip the prices. It's very difficult, because the signs sway and rock back and forth and I have to grab them a few times before sliding the prices in correctly. I really don't know how high I am (maybe 10-12 feet?), because I've never measured it.

It might as well be 1,000 feet. I'm scared of heights.

Also, I get motion sickness wicked easily.

The rocking and swaying of the signs gave me dizzy spells, which, when you're at the top of a ladder, isn't a comfortable feeling. If I lost my balance from vertigo and fell off the ladder and onto the floor, it wouldn't have been good.

The first time I got up on that ladder, I saw the sign sway and then looked down. I thought I was going to pass out. My first reaction was to get down and say, "I can't do this. I don't feel safe."

But I had to give it a shot. Sometimes you have to face your fears head-on. This is one of those times.

I didn't let the heights or the rocking of the signs faze me. I got through each of the signs. And then I did it again the next week.

This past Sunday someone else did the signs. I was disappointed. It was actually becoming kind of fun. I won't be doing the signs again (that's tomorrow's blog). But for one week, I felt like I had conquered my fear. And for that, it was totally worth it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Taking My Boxes to The Riv

I got the call early in the week.

An agent had broken her arm, or her leg, or quit, or got assassinated. Something like that. She covers Fall River.

"Phil, you have boxes, right?  We need you to deliver them to The Riv."

The Riv is an hour-and-a-half from me. It's so far that the easiest way for me to get there is to cut through Rhode Island and then double back into Massachusetts. Suddenly I'm starting to feel like I'm in an A.J. O'Connell "Beware the Hawk" sequel.

But money and mileage reimbursement are hard to turn down. So my alarm goes off at 4 am. I grab my boxes, throw them in the back seat of the car and head down to The Riv. I'm alone, and that's the way it has to be. There will be enough potential conflict when I get down there.

Luckily, I'm not without friends. My MFA Li'l Sis Erin has nothing to do with these boxes or this assignment. But she is a native of The Riv and she can provide crucial guidance and directions. I tell her only what I have to.

I get down to Fall River and park in as safe a place as possible -- it's The Riv and at any moment bullets could be whizzing past me. Worse, I need to shitload of stuff to complete this task and hardly any of it is here. Stolen. Probably by some thug or homeless person.

And then there's conflict. People coming up to me and asking, "What are you doing?" "You can;t be here." Trying to confiscate my boxes. Adversaries in every direction.

Fuck that noise. I have an assignment and I'm going to complete it. It took about four hours. But the contents of the boxes have been installed.

Mission accomplished. I had another long, 90-minute drive back home and a trail of bodies behind me. But I rewarded myself for a job well done with an afternoon nap.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Costanza Wallet

My name is Phil, and I have a Costanza Wallet.

This is a cry for help. I have too much shit in my wallet. It makes my wallet bulge like the Costanza wallet from that Seinfeld episode. It's embarrassing. Everything about George Costanza was embarrassing (plus he was a Yankee fan to boot).

Like every 12-step program, the first step is for me to admit that I have a problem. I've also reached out to a higher power (Bill Belichick) for help. Thus far I've received no response, but he's busy this time of year so I'm OK with it.

So while I've been writing this, I've also been going through my Costanza wallet and cleaning it out. Everything from coins to AAA cards that expired three years ago, to loyalty cards for chains I don't live anywhere near anymore. I don't think I need an ATM card for a bank account I closed back in 2007.

The result is a leaner wallet, maybe not necessarily meaner, but one that fits comfortably in my back pocket again. I can probably do more. This has been an exhausting experience and I'll revisit this in a few days. For now, I need some rest. But I can rest easier now that I have one less thing in common with George Costanza.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Drew Brees

As I write this, the hullabaloo has just ended on Drew Brees throwing a TD pass in his 48th game in a row, breaking Johnny Unitas' 52-year record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

Outside of individual game marks, most NFL records were set fairly recently, as the league adopted its current 16-game schedule in 1978. Back in the '30s, '40s and '50s, NFL teams played 10- or 12-game seasons, so the Unitas record always stood out as one of the NFL's most longstanding records. The Joe DiMaggio hitting streak of football records.

I think what makes the Unitas streak even more impressive is that from 1956-60 (when his streak was ongoing), football was a much different, run-heavy game than it is today. Teams ran first and, for most teams, passing was almost a trick play. Unless they were trailing late in the game, teams just didn't pass the ball much. Obviously, the Unitas-led Baltimore Colts of that era weren't afraid to throw the ball, but they were the exception. The streak survived the likes of great passers such as Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway and Brett Favre, none of whom even got close to approaching the record.

Still, I find it weird that it's called a consecutive game with a TD pass "streak." Unitas missed several games with injuries during his run -- the streak only reflects games in which he actually played. Not to be outdone, Drew Brees did not throw a TD pass in the final game of the 2009 season, because the Saints had locked up the NFC's top seed on their way to winning the Super Bowl that year and so Brees sat out that game with nothing to play for. To me, it really isn't a consecutive anything streak unless you play every game in the streak.

Never fear, though. If you go by consecutive uninterrupted games with a touchdown pass thrown, Brees still owns the record with tonight's TD pass. But he shares that record with New England Patriot QB Tom Brady. Sunday they both threw TD passes in their 37th consecutive uninterrupted games, surpassing Brett Favre, who has thrown TDs in 36 consecutive games at one point in his career. (Any time you can erase Favre from the record book it's a great day.) This is more impressive to me. It's difficult for a QB to stay healthy for a full 16-game season, let alone 2+ seasons.

That's not to take away anything from Unitas, whose mark is still pretty awe-inspiring. It's semantics, and I like to point out technicalities from time to time, if only to be a total jerk.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Pyramid

Ya gotta give GSN props. They've brought back The Pyramid, a reboot of the old Pyramid franchise.

Contestants team up with B-grade celebrities for a word/clue front game. Then they go to the bonus round, where the real fun begins. The celebrity gives clues for six categories to the contestant (usually, though its the contestant's choice and sometimes the contestant opts to give the clues). The contestant then has 60 seconds to correctly guess the category (i.e., "Things You Add," "Why You Quit Your Job," "What Lindsey Lohan Might Say").

I like that the new GSN version has done very little tinkering with the original format. That said, it still leaves me wanting more. Part of this is that the bonus round never has more than $25,000 at stake. When I was growing up, Pyramid would have SEVERAL tournaments each year where the first contestant to get to the top of the pyramid would win a cool $100,000. I realize GSN is a low-budget, high-school-AV-Club type of channel so they probably don't have money to burn, but still, come ON guys! You can't do better than $25K?

But more importantly, my disappointment is because of what the new Pyramid doesn't have -- any tension. I used to get so fired up right before the bonus round would start when Dick Clark would shout, "Here is your first subject. GO!" Granted, Dick Clark has passed on to that big pyramid in the sky. But can someone please tell the new host (some guy named Mike Richards) to get a little enthusiasm.

Also, the bonus round ticking clock needs to come back. Nothing was more intense when I was growing up than the sound of that clock with $100,000 at stake and the contestant hopelessly stuck on the final clue.

So, while I like that GSN is kickin' it ol' skool, a little more kick would go a long way.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bobby Valentine, The Sequel (And The End)

About a year ago, I blogged about my misgivings with the Red Sox naming Bobby Valentine manager.

Now, as the Sox completed their worst season since 1965 and Valentine got his walking papers, I give Bobby Valentine credit for at least this -- he tried to change the culture.

Personality-wise, the 2012 Red Sox were pretty much the same as the 2011 Red Sox: a bunch of spoiled prima donnas who thought they were entitled to do whatever they wanted.

Valentine tried to instill more discipline. The problem was that Valentine lost the team from the first few days of spring training. His way if instilling discipline was to berate Mike Aviles in front of the whole team for not running a cutoff play the way he wanted (which is prety ridiculous. This isn't football, where offenses and defenses are always evolving. The cutoff play has been pretty much unchanged for 100 years.). He lost the team before they even played a game. And that's not to defend the players, who are still spoiled brats and playing as poorly as they did this year is inexcusable.

But this speaks to exactly why I didn't want the Sox to tap Valentine as manager. He comes across as an arrogant jerk. Bobby Valentine would hate to manage himself. He thinks he's never wrong, which means that Bobby Valentine The Player would be just as much a prima donna as Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford. Boston Blobe columnist Bob Ryan once wrote that Bobby Valentine has never told a story in which he wasn't the hero, and it's true. Bobby Valentine wasnted to manage the Red Sox, but he also wanted to be the star. 

Worse, Valentine is horrible with the media. He argued with everybody, from Glenn Ordway to Buster Olney. Sports media can blow things way out of proportion, particularly in Boston, but the problem is that the media always gets the last word. And when Bobby Valentine threatens to punch Glenn Ordway in the face or answers questions about whether his coaches undermined him with a third-grade-esque, "No," then he looks like an ass who quit when it became obvious that the Sox were doomed.

Sometimes I hate to be right. Unfortunately, this is one of those times.