Monday, November 29, 2004

A dollar and a dream

I walked into a Wawa store the other day to purchase a Gatorade and a coffee cake, and while I was at the register performing my duty as a consumer by paying for my chosen items, I was asked by the cashier if I would like to give one dollar to the "hungry children." I replied - without hesitation - "No." There was no explanation to follow either. A simple "no," seemed, at the time, to suffice.

I did not say, "No, thank you. That was my last dollar," which would have been a lie because I DID in fact have several other dollars, AND I wasn't really thankful at all for being put in that position (the one where you're standing up and people pressure you to give them money for various reasons). I did not say, "No - I have a dollar in my wallet, but that's all the way in the back of my pants now, and I really don't feel like going back there to get it," which would not have been a lie, but didn't feel like the actual reason that I declined. I did not even question which "hungry children" I was being asked to support. Was it the "hungry children of Wall, NJ" - who may have not eaten since lunchtime - or was it the "hungry children that I see in those commercial ads who are surrounded by flies and usually force me to change the channel?"

Anyway, as I left the store, I wondered to myself why I had said "No," and what, exactly, kind of person I was. Was I not ready for the fame and notoriety that come from giving a dollar to the "hungry children" and then having a circular card with your name on it plastered above the Wawa register, along with the hundreds of other Wawa faithful who were pressured into forking over a dollar? Was I worried that my dollar would go towards holiday gifts for the significant other of this adolescent cashier, thus leaving some random child in either Wall, NJ or Ethiopia to go hungry for another hour, or at least until this guy's shift ends and a more honorable employee begins ringing people up? Or was I just a self-absorbed jerk who only lives for the moment, and who wouldn't let a crumb drop from my coffee cake, even if I was stepping over a homeless person?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't say, "No" because I don't care for people less fortunate than myself. I do. I just thought that if I'm going to help somebody out, I'm going to do it on my own terms. I'm sick and tired of organizations like Wawa, and The Salvation Army, and Sally Struthers guilt-tripping people into helping out the less fortunate, so they can feel better about themselves. I mean, how far are we going to let this escalate? What if you went to the bank to deposit your check, and the teller said, "Would you like to donate half of your check to the Alaskan Seals with Diabetes?" and there's a line of people behind you giving you a look like, "You better do it! What - you don't care about the SEALS?" and the teller is already taking out the circular card to write your name on? I can't live in that kind of world. I refuse to.

So anyway, I figured, "What better time than the holiday season to take a stand by not freely giving to those less fortunate than myself?" Ha ha - that was a joke. Sort of. I AM going to do my duty as a man, and as a Catholic, and as a human being, but I'm going to do it when I want to, where I want to, and without a line of people of behind me. And I don't care how many homeless people I have to step over to do it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Frost art

If somebody out there has a worse ice scraper than me, I'd like to meet that person. That way, we could compare ice scraper horror stories, maybe over a cup of coffee on a cold winter night, while our respective vehicles waited outside, acquiring multiple layers of frost that neither of us would be able to defeat. We would probably call a cab.

It was last winter that I said to myself, "Mike, you need to get a new ice scraper." But then summer came, and purchasing a new ice scraper was the farthest thing from my mind. My scraper was left unattended underneath my seat, along with my trusty first-aid kit (one day I fear that I may actually need that kit, and I will open it to discover that there is only a note inside that reads, "Call 911.") It wasn't until recently, on a crisp November morning, that I walked out of the door only to realize that my vehicle was a startling shade of white, like it had seen a ghost, and tried to protect itself by covering its' glass components with frost.

Luckily for me, it takes my defroster approximately 3 hours to activate, at which point it blows out several breaths of lukewarm air, while simultaneously using 14 gallons of gas. "I had better get my ice scraper," I said to myself. So I began the long journey around my vehicle to the other side, but I slipped on some ice in the development parking lot, somehow regained my balance, and arrived at the passenger side door with my arms outstretched, like a surfer arriving at shore. I quickly looked around to see if anyone just saw that, and then I got my ice scraper.

My ice scraper has two features. On one end are bristles, which can either be used to dust snow off of one's vehicle, or to brush the teeth of a wooly mammoth. On the other end is the scraper part. The only problem with the scraper end however, is that it does not scrape. When I glide it across my front windshield, it makes three vertical lines, each exactly .00000000001 millimeters in width. Instead of actually removing the frost from my vehicle, it appears as though I'm doing some kind of calligraphy on my windshield. If any of my neighbors were to watch this, they would undoubtedly say, "Hey honey, get over here. That idiot from upstairs just slipped on the ice, and now he's trying to write his name in cursive on his front windshield again."

Since I obviously can't be late for work, I furiously scrape just a portion of the area of the windshield I need to see in order to drive. But then as I start driving, I realize that if something were to cross my path, like a duck, or maybe a mailman, I would never see it, because I did not have time to scrape the other 97 percent of my windshield, or the windows on the doors. This does not bother me however, as I continue to view the road ahead through the top loop of my steering wheel, crouched over like an old lady, waiting for the freakin' defroster to kick in, and using my windshield wipers to assist in the process.

So while I am fairly confident that I possess the worst ice scraper in the free world, this feeling of pride has not made me the safest driver on the roads of New Jersey during the hour of 6:00am to 7:00am each weekday morning during the months of November through March. I think I may have to either purchase a new ice scraper, or save money and just use a pencil to remove the frost from my vehicle each morning, which would be more effective than my current method. Until then, if you see a big red truck on the road in the morning, that appears is being operated by no one in particular, please get out of my way. My defroster has not kicked in yet.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Beat the clock

The alarm clock in our bedroom is nine minutes fast. The reason for this is that the interval time in between snooze bar hits is nine minutes, so if the alarm goes off at 6:00 am, I can hit the snooze bar with the comforting feeling that it's REALLY only 5:51 am, so I have plenty of time for another dream in which I win the World Series with a walk-off home run, defeating some random team that features my cousin John and Nelson Mandela. The thing is, I usually set the alarm for 5:00 am, so the hour or so before I have to get up for work is spent like this: "Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! Yes - I can still sleep! What?! It's 6:03 already? Crap - I have to get up. I hate (fill in the day of the week)!"

From this point, I hop into my truck (not immediately - I usually get dressed first...usually) where THAT clock is seven minutes fast. I don't know exactly why I chose seven minutes, but it seems to work, because I am never less than an hour and a half early to my place of employment. When I get to work, I try and figure out how many more times I could have hit the snooze bar and still have made it on time. Then I turn on the copy machine, and spend the rest of the day humming the theme song to "Titanic," or whatever other crappy song was playing on the radio at 6:03, which was really 5:54.

My wife is more consistent. The clock in her car in nine minutes fast, directly corresponding to the alarm clock, which basically means that my wife is always nine minutes ahead of everybody else on planet earth. On New Years Eve, she is kissing everyone and downing champagne before Dick Clark even starts counting down.

My mom is even more drastic. If setting your clock ahead were a touchdown celebration, my mom would be Terrell Owens. HER clock is more than a half an hour fast, yet she still only manages to make it to her destination just in time, for reasons we may never know. My sister's clock is also set well ahead of actual time, but I think this is because when she first plugged in the alarm clock, she just assumed it was 12 o'clock. She still can't figure out why no one else's clock flashes.

It's difficult to say why people set their clocks ahead. It really makes no sense whatsoever. If you know that your clock is set ahead of time, then it really defeats the purpose of setting it ahead of time. But I couldn't live any other way. My dad always reminds us that my grandfather used to say that "five minutes early is ten minutes late," which we all translated as "Let's set our clocks ahead so Dad doesn't get pissed and leave without us again." But I don't know how my wife got into setting her clock ahead, because my father-in-law's motto is "What? We've got plenty of time," which is usually said as Dick Clark is counting down. I guess her clock etiquette is more of a defense mechanism than an embedded habit. Whatever the case, it has worked out well, because we are both always at least a half an hour early to everything. Unless we have to wait for my mom, in which case we will make it just in time, except that her and my dad won't be talking when we get there. My mom may have to start using west coast time, like my sister.