Friday, May 7, 2010

Strange People

In my job, I meet a lot of strange people. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about, even though this isn't a recent example. I knew I'd been at my job too long when I started to know where people were, even when they gave me a bad address. In one such instance, I had to take a delivery to an apartment complex. Even though the address I had was wrong, I knew where the complex was. I even had a unit number. All I needed now was the building number, but I figured I'd call when I got there.

When I arrived, I did indeed call. I got voicemail. The good news was that the name on the phone message matched the name on the delivery ticket, so I knew I had the right person. I left a message, and waited for a few minutes. When I didn't hear back from her, I decided to try the front office. Unfortunately, the front office was closed. When I got back to my car, I called the woman again. This time she answered. When I asked what building number she was in, she spoke very slowly and carefully. "Building number six seven zero." I also confirmed the apartment number. I happened to be parked right in front of that building, so I told her I'd be up in thirty seconds.

The apartment number she'd given me was on the third floor. I rang the bell and knocked. No answer. I waited, and then rang and knocked again. No answer. This was a first for me. I dialed her number again. No answer. I didn't know quite what to think about all this. Usually, when someone orders pizza, they're waiting and ready. Perhaps I'd caught her at a bad time, or something. I ran and knocked once more, and then called again. This time, I left a message, and said I'd wait another five minutes, but after that I had to take this pizza back, and if she wanted it re-delivered, she'd have to call the store.

I sat in my car and waited. No callback. Finally, I headed back to the store. I didn't hear from this woman again until I'd taken two more deliveries. She called me on my cell, sounding harassed. "You coming?" she asked. I explained that I'd tried to deliver the pizza to her and she hadn't answered her door. "I told you, building six five zero," she said, sounding annoyed. "I've been standing outside my door waiting."

I guess the moral of this story is this: if you order pizza, get your address right the first time.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Let's go back in time to 1991, when an eleven-year-old boy noticed a strange rash growing on his stomach. Not sure what it was, he went to his doctor, who explained that our hero had shingles. "The same virus that causes chicken pox," the doctor said.

"But I already had chicken pox," the boy replied. "How can I get them again?"

"It happens sometimes. There's not much to do but let the virus run its course. The good news is that people rarely get shingles a second time."

Fast forward to 2010. This boy is no longer a boy, and he swims every day in a pool filled with people of every size and shape. And one day, this man begins to notice his back itching. At first, he thinks it's just the chlorine from the pool, and then he notices several small bumps. Zits on the back aren't that uncommon, the man thinks to himself, so he pays it no mind. By that weekend, it's clear that his old nemesis from nineteen years ago is back. Unfortunately, he has to wait until Monday to see his doctor. It also means he can't swim for a while, lest he risk exposing someone else to the virus.

The doctor takes one look at him and says, "Yup, it's shingles all right." Then he prescribes some anti-viral medication, something that didn't exist in 1991. The man takes his prescription to the pharmacy, and they tell him it'll be about half an hour. When he returns, they tell him they can't get this particular medication, and phone in a request to change it to something else. Two hours later, the doctor returns their call, saying no, our hero must have this exact anti-viral. So the man takes his prescription to another pharmacy, one all the way downtown.

That's when the man realizes he has the wrong insurance card in his wallet. Too bad the pharmacy is going to close soon. The man sighs and returns home to find is new insurance card.

The next day, our hero heads back up to the pharmacy, and he stops by the doctor's office while he's at it, since he unwittingly gave them the wrong insurance information. Unfortunately, the monsoon season has apparently started in Salt Lake City, so the man is soaking wet by the time he gets into the doctor's office. Then he heads over to the pharmacy, less than a block away, and feels like he's swimming since it's raining so hard. This time, he gives them the correct insurance card. Of course it turns out that his insurance doesn't cover this medication anyway, so he has to pay cash. It comes to $260.

Oh well, the man thinks as he leaves the pharmacy. At least it'll count toward my deductible.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Star Trek Nights

In the mid-nineties there lived a teenager filled with angst. Every morning, he had to get up and go to a place where no one understood him. He read mystery novels from the sixties, and he spent quiet lunches sitting on the grass at school, contemplating life or reading whatever book he'd taken from the library. He tried to talk to people, but few ever talked back.

The adults around him didn't care much, either. Theirs was a world of rules and enforcement, not of love or compassion. They told him which areas of the grass he could sit on, where he could eat his lunch and how much time he had to do it. They told him when he had to be in class, and how he should behave when he was there. They told him why he had to come to school every day, even though he hated it, and they made sure he understood that there was nothing more important than the day's assignments.

Ah, but the boy had a secret life no one knew about. Every night, long after his parents and his sister fell asleep, the boy wrapped himself up in a blanket in the basement and turned on the TV, with the volume down low and watched re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After a friendless day at school, he finally found people he could relate to. On the bridge of the Enterprise, everyone listened to everyone else. Everyone contributed. They had rules, but sometimes they broke those rules for the greater good. They helped each other out in times of crisis, and they never ignored one another's problems. They spoke to each other with the greatest respect and kindness. When they did have fights, they resolved them civilly and intelligently. Every night, the boy got to turn on the TV and see the best of what human beings could be.

All too soon, morning came and the boy dragged himself out of bed, choked down breakfast, and headed out to the school bus stop, where kids would make fun of his hair, his clothes, the fact that he wore glasses, whatever struck their fancy that morning. He'd get on that big, smelly bus and ride to school, where adults chided him for not staying awake in class, not remembering the previous assignment, not having the right attitude.

The boy smiled and bore it, because he remembered Picard, Riker, Data, Worf, Geordi, Troi, Dr. Crusher, and the others. He looked around and saw a world that didn't believe in itself, but he thought of the Enterprise and knew what they could become, and what he might someday be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Everything in its Place

A number of years ago, a book came out called Everything in its Place, written by Marc Summers, a man who most people my age will remember as the host of the popular Nickelodeon game-show Double Dare. What a great show! Every day, I could see two teams compete in some of the messiest, most disgusting things imaginable. Sometimes they had to search through giant pancakes dripping with butter and syrup, or dive into a tank full of slime and swim across to the other side. And Summers, my hero, was never afraid to get right in there with them, diving into the slime right along side them or letting contestants throw eggs at him. I always said he was a 10-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old body, and I loved him for it.

In the early nineties, Summers confessed to being obsessive-compulsive, thus the title of his book. Turns out that as soon as the cameras stopped rolling, he'd peel off his clothes and jump right in the shower, trying desperately to get the filth off himself. His condition forced him to strive for excellence, but it also made every day on the set hell for him. He's not a 10-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old body after all. Watching him, though, was always great for me, and the truth is, I miss it.

I miss a lot of things about those days. Everything seemed simpler then. I got up every morning and drank a cup of hot chocolate before school while I sat in front of the heater vent. I walked to school in the crisp morning air and spent a day studying hard with a group of people who I was proud to call my friends. After school, I'd go hang out with one of them, and we'd whack a soccer ball around the backyard with sticks or play Metroid on my NES. We'd watch shows like Double Dare and marvel at this man, more than three times our age, who could connect so well with the younger generation, and we longed to be contestants on the show.

We talked about who we were going to dress up as for Halloween, and what we wanted for Christmas. When that season ended, we discussed what great plans we had for the summer, usually something involving water parks and staying up late watching TV while eating junk food. We devised methods of spending as little time as possible on homework while still getting it done, and ways to make our parents let us stay out for an extra hour.

Maybe it's just nostalgia talking, but things seemed simpler then. Better, too. No complications. I knew who my friends were, I knew what I'd be doing the next day, and I knew what I wanted the whole rest of my life to look like. Just like the title of Summers's book, everything was in its place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Time Before Computers

I'm not a person who's nostalgic for a time before computers, and I doubt I ever will be. Our first family computer was a 1985 128K Macintosh, and boy, the things it could do! Graphics, word processing, you name it. We even had this neat printer for it that worked like a typewriter, only you'd type everything up on the computer, hit "print" when you were done, and that little printer sounded like a hundred secretaries from hell just typing away. Good stuff.

It's funny how distant the world without computers seems. I've recently been feasting myself on episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It ended production only thirty-three years ago. In that show, they had no computers in their office, no home computers, and no video game systems. What did they do for fun? Well, they went out. They talked to each other. They played board games and busied themselves with hobbies. Mary never seemed at a loss for activity in that show, and she does it all without the help of a computer. Fascinating.

I've used a typewriter before, and believe me, it's got nothing on the ol' word processor. Sure, there's something satisfying about listening to the keys hit the page, but let me tell you, I'd much rather be able to cut and paste, use the spell check, and move text around before I print off the final product. Computers have vastly improved the life of a writer.

But I sometimes think that maybe we spend a little too much time at our computers. It's a cliche, I know, but it's one that I think merits another look. In one way, computers have brought us closer together. Look, I'm blogging, something that Mary Tyler Moore in her glory days probably couldn't even have imagined. It's a great and wonderful thing. But I like going to coffee shops and talking with real people, and seeing my family. I like spending time outdoors. I like going swimming or hiking. I love a good read, and I love spending hours down in the discount room at Sam Weller's Bookstore, looking at all the used paperbacks I can buy for only a dollar, with the smell of dust and old paper lingering in my nostrils.

So when you finish reading my blog, it might not hurt to call a friend and go for a bike ride. Cook a nice meal for your mother, or get back to work on that old project car that's sitting in your garage. Have a get-together with your family, or go running in the park. Let's use our computers to expand our lives, not to limit them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Week That Time Forgot

Ah, Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome. What is it, you ask? People afflicted with this bothersome condition have an internal clock that's set on about a 26-hour period, instead of 24. Left to their own devices, these people will simply stay up later and later every night, until they finally go all the way around the clock. Good times, huh?

Well, not so much. I myself have struggled with this for some time now, and as is often the case, I've allowed my schedule to get messed up again. You see, with a regimented routine of light therapy, melatonin, and the strictest of schedules, I can stay on a 24-hour cycle. Work seems to interfere with that, but I kept it together for a couple of months this time (the longest I ever managed was about a year, back when I was in school). So I have to flip my schedule around, and that means staying up two hours later every day until I'm back to normal. That means that for about a week, I'm essentially on an opposite schedule from the rest of the universe.

Truth be told, there's not a lot to do when one is up all hours of the night. That, and I keep wanting nothing more than to go to bed. I spent most of last week feasting myself on old episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and playing Megaman X: Command Mission, an infuriating RPG whose real title ought to be Final Fantasy: Megaman Edition. It's the perfect companion for after-hours entertainment.

After being awake all night, sleeping all day, not seeing my friends, not really even reading or writing, I feel like this week is lost somehow. If someone asks me what I did this week, the answer is literally "nothing". I didn't meet any interesting new people, I don't have any great books I can recommend, and certainly, I didn't make money (I took a hiatus from work for this). The world went right on without me, but I feel like I've been living in a cave. This probably won't be the last lost week in my life, either.

But it's worth it. Now I'm almost back to normal again, and I can wake up every morning and read for an hour, and go swimming, or go hang out at a coffee shop somewhere. I can spend time with my friends, and perhaps most of all, I can get back to my writing. It's truly a wonderful thing. So yes, I had to lose a week, gone from my life forever. It's like a down payment though, on something far more valuable than a car or a home. It's a down payment on time, time I can now spend doing what I love.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bad Drivers

I'm the guy who brings you your hot, delicious pizza on the night that you get home from work tired and hungry. I'm only too happy to do it, especially if you tip well. If you don't . . . well . . . at least I get mileage pay, and the smug knowledge that there's a special place in hell reserved just for you. Kidding, of course. What really irks me are people who don't pay attention when they drive.

I was on a delivery the other day, approaching an intersection preparing to turn right, when a Porsche Cayenne turned left in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes. The beauty part? Once I was behind this joker, he drove 30 mph down a 40 street. My immediate though was "Damn this person. I hope he dies". Then I thought about it, and you know, I don't actually hope he dies. In fact, if you are the owner of said Porsche, I don't wish death on you.

I imagine that you cut me off because you were tired after a 10-hour day at your soul-draining job. As you approach the Taco Bell drive-through, you see a long line of cars, but you sigh and pull in anyway. When you order a double-beef gordita with extra sour cream, they tell you they're out of them. Again, you sigh and order five soft shell tacos (extra sour cream of course), some nachos, and a large root beer. You get your food and realize as you're pulling out that you're almost out of gas. Home is three miles away. Your 500-horsepower turbo V8 will never make it, so you have to stop for gas. You pull into the nearest gas station, but unfortunately all the pumps are taken, so you have to wait while someone fills up his Chevy Suburban. When he's done, you see the "flex fuel" sticker on the back of his car and come to the horrifying realization that you're waiting for a natural gas pump, so you have to pull around to one of the other pumps and wait. This time, the guy in the Ford F-350 finishes up and you realize you're at a diesel pump. Third time's the charm, and finally you're on your way again.

Your dinner is now cold, but it'll taste good anyway once you're home. As you approach the final intersection before your house, some jackass in a little dinky Subaru, just like the one I drive, turns left in front of you. You slam on the brakes and your dinner flies into the dashboard, spilling ground beef, lettuce, cheese, extra sour cream, and root beer all over your leather interior and on your expensive suit.

The moral of this story: let's not wish death on our fellow human beings. Only inconvenience.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Legislature

If you'll permit me a brief rant: it's time here in Utah for our annual legislative session. Many of us hold our breaths and wait while the Democrats bury the most dangerous and restrictive of the proposed bills at the bottom of the pile so they'll never get voted on. Last year, we had a governor who was kind enough to veto one such bill, a bill that surely would have been overturned by a state court if the matter ever came up. Then, dear President Obama went and appointed him as the ambassador to China, and now we're left with someone who thinks we don't need anti-discrimination legislation, because "we should all simply do what's right".

One thing our legislature doesn't do is remove laws. A few years ago, one senator introduced a bill to finally take Utah's sodomy laws off the books, but that one never made it to a vote. As the Republicans pointed out, the Supreme Court already took care of that one. We wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea, anyway. Can you imagine a state where the activities of two consenting adults in the bedroom weren't the government's business? In fact, maybe we should all confess our various trysts in a public forum. Moreover, I think each legislator should install a webcam in their bedroom so we can make sure they're not engaging in any immoral activity with their spouse. Then again, when I think of watching two sixty-something Republicans go at it...okay, bad idea.

So, I wonder what we'll get this year? A tax on video games, perhaps. I know! No one under eighteen should be allowed to buy junk food at a convenience store. How about this one? Anyone not in church on Sunday gets hit with a $1000 fine. Maybe we should make it illegal to watch TV past eleven o'clock. Finally, if we get to it, we'll make it so that you can't renew your driver's license unless you have obtained a concealed-carry permit. If we're not required to own guns, the government might start infringing on our individual rights.

We can be certain, however, that there are a myriad of issues the legislature won't tackle. Irrelevancies like the rising cost of health care or the 58 homeless people who died on the streets of Salt Lake City last year. They won't discuss how to make the state safer from violent crime, or how to reduce the soaring number of traffic deaths that occur every year. Our police department will continue to function on a shoestring budget, and most of our education dollars will be sucked dry at the district offices.

And on that happy note, I encourage everyone to get involved. Call your congressperson. Vote. I'm certainly going to. After all, if we don't, can we really complain about the actions of those who do?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scary Deliveries

Every day I risk my life on the front lines for the people of America. No, I'm not a soldier, nor would I ever compare my job to that of defending the country. I deliver pizzas. I don't mind doing it, it's good, honest work, but it can be a little perilous. I took a rather frightening delivery the other night.

I headed north up a dark street in Murray, a suburb of Salt Lake City. South of me, I saw the inviting glow of lights lining the parking lot of a new apartment complex, one I've delivered to many times. But this delivery was going elsewhere. Ramshackle houses passed me on the left as I drove. Next to me I saw a big white fence, separating this street from the rest of the world. My headlights provided the only light ahead.

My GPS droned on, "Go 500 feet, destination on the left...go 200 feet, destination on the left...destination on the left". I U-turned so I could park on the right side of the street. This had to be the house I was looking for, but they had no identifying mark of any kind on the exterior of the house. The house itself looked old and worn out, like no one had lived there for years. Not a single light showed through the blinds or on the porch, and an old car that had gone its last mile sat silently in the driveway. Anything could have been waiting for me in the darkness.

I took a deep breath, grabbed my heat bag, and walked to the door. If something happened to me here, no one would know about it until it was too late. I knocked. I didn't hear the usual feet scuffling or dog barking. Only silence greeted me. No cars went by on the empty street. I pulled out my cell phone to provide some light, but I still could find no clue that I was at the right house. I knocked a second time, and waited.

Finally, I called the number on the delivery ticket and got a busy signal. I knocked a third time, and called again. Same result. Finally, I got back in my car, locked the doors, and took a deep breath. I called one more time to no avail. Only as I began to drive did I see a woman appear at the doorway, and finally I saw light flooding out from behind the shutters. I hopped out of the car and gave her the pizzas she ordered, my palms sweating. The woman tipped me one dollar.

I drove off, made sure the car doors were locked, and turned up the heat, relieved to be safe in my own car. I felt the cash in my pocket, and considered how much my terror was worth to this woman: one dollar.