Living the Dream

OK, so recently we were in Miami and we went to a coffee shop/restaurant for lunch.*  This was a tiny place with tables and a counter with baristas, a stove, espresso machine and a cook all packed in tight behind it, everyone working ass-to-elbows.  It was clean and the food was good, but Miami is full of good restaurants so competition has got to be fierce and margins are probably pretty thin.  It was lunchtime but the place was half empty. Hopefully they do better on a week day when the people who work in the area want a bite for lunch.

An  older guy came in with two teenage girls; I assume they were his daughters.  The girls had long hair and were stylishly dressed; they headed right out to the patio to sit in the shade as the man placed their orders. He had a big watch, a tennis player’s tan, polo shirt with collar flipped up, Aviator sunglasses and a gold chain peeking out from a nest of graying chest hair — looked like he had money. He had what I call ‘puffy’ hair; like the dad from The Brady Bunch.  He was one of these guys who spoke too loudly and was too familiar with people he had just met.  In a voice obviously meant to be heard by all, he declared that he had just arrived in Florida from ‘up North.’

“Welcome to Miami,” the man at the counter replied.

“Oh, I live here every winter,” the man replied. “I have two houses. We live up North in the summer and then come down to our house in Florida in the winter.”

The man was boasting, so I guess the barista felt he should admire his customer’s good fortune. “I would love to be wealthy enough to have two houses,” the worker at the restaurant said.  It was clear that he was an immigrant; probably Cuban.

“Yes,” the rich man with the banker’s haircut said. “I’m living the American dream! When I was a younger man, I decided I wanted a Ferrari… but just wanting a Ferrari isn’t good enough; you have to decide you NEED a Ferrari. So I decided I NEEDED a Ferrari. Then I was motivated to work very hard and make a success of myself.” All of this was delivered in a self-satisfied, much too loud voice, with the clipped, staccato delivery of someone who was very used to being listened to.  Then he said the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.  He looked at the Cuban kid who might have been an employee or an owner of the restaurant/coffee shop, but in any case was a person who probably had to work pretty hard to get by and said, “I’m living the American dream so that YOU can dream it.” As if his being rich was good for everyone else who wasn’t rich just because, well, it gave the rest of us poor slobs something to aspire to. How generous of him. To live our dreams for us.

*This ain’t journalism. Everything happened like I describe it, but I didn’t hear it all and I’m not sure that I have all of his quotes absolutely word-for-word (although “I’m living the American dream so you can dream it” is a direct quote — Annie heard that part). But rather than filling you in on what parts I heard and what parts she heard, I just went with ‘we.’ Less accurate but better writing.

Sometimes they tell the truth by accident…

I work for a company that I will refer to as ‘Levy Pants Company’ (a very clever reference on my part to Peter O’Toole’s ‘Confederacy of Dunces’).  We have a relationship with a vendor of communications services that I will call ‘Acme Communications.’  Acme’s billing is so notoriously full of errors and overcharges that ‘Levy Pants’ employs a ‘billing negotiation company’ I shall call ‘Clawback Enterprises’ to negotiate our bills for us.  As far as I understand the process, in Acme’s billing agreements, Acme specifies that it is dependent upon the customer (Levy Pants) to determine whether or not the bill is accurate… which is where ‘Clawback’ comes in.  ‘Clawback’ uses billing specialists (most are former employees of companies like Acme) to look through the bills and dispute errors unfavorable to Levy Pants.  Every over-charge that is successfully dismissed nets Clawback about a third of what Levy Pants would have otherwise overpaid.  Acme’s usual strategy to fight Clawback is to simply ignore requests for disputes and to continually send incorrect invoices in hopes that Levy Pants pays them… where they land on my desk and I immediately forward them to my associate at Clawback whom I will call ‘Laura.’

I’m just a paper handler in this transaction. Most of the charges on these bills are for items I don’t understand that are supposedly used in places that I have never visited.  It’s like some massive and uninteresting conceptual art project or corporate avant garde performance piece.

Put another way, Acme Communication’s bills are so notoriously filled with overcharges that companies like Clawback exist just to dispute them.  This is insanity worthy of Twain or Swift… but overbilling may well be a growth source of revenue for Acme ‘cause they just keep doing it. 

Periodically, I find myself in a three way conference call with representatives from Acme and Clawback. During these conference calls, I’m usually just trying to puzzle my way through the massive spreadsheets that Laura from Clawback has emailed to me about how fucked up the bills from Acme are that week and while they talk I try to figure out what the shizzle the Acme and Clawback people are arguing about.

In our last conference call, a manager from Acme (whom I will call ‘Risky Business’ because he gives the impression of having the personality and moral compass of a drunken teenager) said something so jaw droppingly honest that I had to stop and pinch myself. First, he announced that our usual account representative (whom I will call ‘Denise’) had recently and unexpectedly left Acme.  You could practically hear a pin drop in the meaningful pause that followed, and the reason for her hasty departure from Acme was not offered (my impression is that an Acme account representative serves as a human firewall between angry customers and people like Risky Business, so Denise may not have enjoyed a high level of job satisfaction while at Acme — just a guess.).  Mr. Risky Business sounded hurt and confused that Denise would leave him in the lurch like this… but most shitty bosses seem to feel hurt and confused when their browbeaten, tired, underpaid and suddenly liberated employees shout, “FUUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUU!” as they sprint out the door into the sunshine with the glee of a condemned man given a last minute pardon. But then came the shockingly honest part.  Risky Business told us that his higher ups wanted him (Risky Business) to take over managing the account for Levy Pants and negotiating with Clawback, but he wasn’t going to do it because, in his words, “Your account is just too screwed up, and it would really mess up my numbers for the year.” Yes. He admitted that Acme had served Levy Pants Company so poorly that he didn’t want to take responsibility for the mess that he had a role in creating. He was also confessing that the current meeting was meaningless since it was supposed to be between company representatives and he was specifying that he was NOT our company representative… which is the business equivalent of saying, “Did I mention that I have herpes?” right after you have finished fucking someone.  Laura, our billing expert from Clawback, finally broke the silence by snuffling into a Kleenex (she was nursing a cold), and asking who would be handling the Levy Pants account.
At this point, Risky Business seemed relieved that no one had screamed, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” at his accidental candor. Instead, Risky Business assured us that Acme would be assigning a new representative to the account as soon as possible, blah blah, blah and then went back to spouting the Acme company line that the tens of thousands of dollars in overcharges were really nothing to worry about and would soon be resolved while I listened with half an ear and thought about lunch.

What are they teaching kids these days?

Nothing personal; it’s just business.

A teacher at a school for girls in London apparently wanted to teach her students about economics, business, history and the slave trade all in one lesson, so she asked the students to put their thinking caps on to create a business plan for importing slaves from Africa in the most profitable manner possible. As far as the assignment goes, everything was on the table… fucking over your suppliers by using violence, bribes or alcohol was OK, torture was on the menu (and they got down to specifics — whips, manacles, thumbscrews, etc., and here I though all those English Girl’s School stories were a product of the pornographer’s whimsy), and, best of all, one of the benefits was fucking your merchandise (yes, having sex with slaves) in order to breed ‘mixed race’ slave business employees who would handle the human flesh business overseas while your white offspring enjoyed snuff, claret and harpsichord music back on the estate in jolly old England.

The head of the school issued an apology: “On behalf of the school, I apologise unreservedly for the distress and anguish caused to [the student] and to her mother, as well as to you and others in your community who this material may have been shared with. Now I have had the opportunity to view the Powerpoint in its’ entirety, I share your concerns“.

WTF, England? The perfect bookend for this little tale would be for some teacher in Germany to casually suggest to the students that they come up with a ‘business plan’ for the occupation of Poland.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out…

Tea Party congressman Jim DeMint (R-SC) has apparently bailed on serving the people of the great state of South Carolina in order to take over as president of “The Heritage Foundation.” DeMint served only 2 years as a congress member before accepting what is apparently a very cushy gig as a non-elected member of a political ‘think’ tank.
As a principled opponent of “big guvvernment” and leading light of the Tea Party, I wonder if Jim ‘The Freshmaker’ DeMint will refuse the lifetime healthcare that members of congress have elected to give themselves?  Or, like most congress members, is he only against funded government healthcare when it is for anyone other than members of congress?

“These hands have never done an honest days work… my palms are as soft and supple as a baby’s bottom!”

Crank Yankers

A friend of mine owns a business where they rent furnished apartments to the well heeled traveling executive who needs a place to stay for extended periods. They have a crew that cleans the places out after a guest leaves, this group of male executives and high rollers leave behind a surprisingly large number of sex toys. If my friend rented apartments to porn stars or sex therapists, I guess finding sex toys would seem less surprising (at least to me).

Maybe the dildos and penis pumps are left behind by call girls? Maybe these middle aged dudes end up in a city and think to themselves, “I’ve always wanted to stick a dildo in my butt without my family judging me… here is my chance…”?  I don’t know. Some of them are still in the package, meaning, I suppose, that they are still ‘perfectly good.’

What is a ‘penis pump’ for, anyway? As a species, have we grown so lazy that masturbating ‘by hand’ is too much work and we want a machine to do it for us?  Or does the pump really permanently increase the size of the organ? Or does it just help the man who cannot rise to the occasion seal the deal with the call girl?

Thank Q’uq’umatz!

Nasa officials recently offered up the cheerful news that the world really isn’t going to end on December 21st, 2012, as supposedly predicted by the Mayans and their impressive stone calendars. Someone once told me that the fact that the Mayan calendars ended on the day we describe as December 21, 2012 was of no significance; it just meant that by the time the Spanish arrived and started killing them, that was as far in the future as the Mayans had bothered to calculate time… although part of me likes the idea of some ancient Mayan calendar carver, dying of whooping cough, thinking to himself, “The joke’s on you, Spaniards — according to this calendar I just finished, in about four hundred and twelve years from now you guys are FUCKED!”

Of course, the skeptic in me thinks that if the Mayans had the power to predict the end of the world more than 400 years in the future, they also would have had the power to prevent a bunch of unwashed Spaniards with fancy hats to destroy their civilization. 

Q’uq’umatz is apparently the Mayan feathered serpent god whom some claim is much like the Aztec god, Quezcoatl (and others say that Q’uq’umatz is nothing like Quezcoatl — me, I don’t have an opinion because I don’t know). Quezcoatl is cool because they also call him, “The Smoking Mirror” which is an excellent name. I chose Q’uq’umatz’s name from a list because I was wondering how you pronounce it. “Kwu-kwu mats? Ku-uk-oo-matz? Kwuck-oo-matz?”

Note to self: Never agree to join any Mayan sport team. If I understand it correctly, the winners usually eat the losers and my softball skills are so woefully poor that I am more likely to find myself among the eaten rather than the eaters.

Balloon Animals

I’m listening, right now, to a radio story about some guy who makes balloon animals for a living. I think most of his money comes from writing books and making instructional videos that teach other people how to make balloon animals rather than getting paid for making the balloon animals themselves.  In his heart of hearts, he really wishes he could make a go of it as a musician playing classical guitar… but, somehow, the balloon animals he started off making ‘just to get by’ while he worked on his real ‘art’ (music) became his full time job and the music is what he now what he looks forward to once he gets done selling his balloon animal videos.

While listening to the balloon animal artist complain about how his former artist and musician friends started treating him as a ‘sell out’ once his balloon animals led to his being able to afford a car, a house, a wife, a family, etc., was both comical and sad, I thought about other small ponds. It seems the smaller the pond, the more bitterly the few fish fight over being the master of it.

The bit done by David Sedaris about life as a performance artist that follows it is also well worth a listen.

On an only tangentially related issue, the reviewer Holland Carter, in writing about the death of the famous artist Mike Kelley, that Kelley was, “…one of the most influential American artists of the past quarter century and a pungent commentator on American class, popular culture and youthful rebellion.” I underlined the word ‘pungent’ because I think it’s just hilarious.

I never needed a drink that badly

How is it possible that this slipped under my radar for so long?

UT Student and Phi-Kappa-Alpha brother Alexander “Zander” Broughton denies butt-chugging. Apparently, at some point “Zander” was hospitalized for extreme alcohol poisoning and the whole PKA frat was placed under suspension for this (and possibly other) alcohol related incident(s). Somehow the rumor started that “Zander” had been ‘butt-chugging.’ ‘Butt-chugging’ is when you take alcohol and, instead of drinking it, you put it up your butt… I’m guessing butt chuggers use an enema bag or something. It apparently gets you really fucked up really quickly… maybe butt-chugging is for busy multi-taskers who don’t have time to stand around drinking through your mouth anymore like they did in Grandpa’s day.

The best part of the video is where all the dudes are standing around looking serious as ‘Zander’ and the Fraternity’s lawyer sternly deny butt-chugging several times. ‘Zander’ wants to make it clear that he is NOT GAY… because, I guess, that’s the first question that he thinks should come to mind… and wants to clear his good name — he is not a butt-chugger and he wants those who have called him a butt-chugger to pay the legal consequences for damage to his reputation and the reputation of his fraternity. He wants us to know that the alcohol poisoning that landed him in the hospital was the result of him drinking a whole box of Franzia box wine through his mouth… not by using a hose to put it up his butt. Franzia? Nice choice of beverage, by the way. How the whole topic of butt-chugging came up when ‘Zander’ (or is it ‘Xander?’) landed in the ER is discussed at length in the video.

“Butt-chugging” has a long history.  The pre-Columbian Mayans were notorious butt-chuggers, as this ancient statue proves:


Look at that Mayan; he is so happy to be butt-chugging!

Unhappy Camper

Life is full of disappointments.  This morning I was running late and just grabbed something from the freezer for lunch.  Trader Joe’s Filet of Sole. Compare the picture on the box to what I got.  After I cooked it, it looked even worse.

Son of a bitch, Joe! You really let me down!

A Confederacy of Douchebags

I work for The Levy Pants Co.

Today, the phone company turned off the DSL service at one of the facilities that the company I work for owns because of non-payment of the bill. The phone company never sent a bill to our office and I can’t find out where the bills have been going until I get access to the account. We have never seen a bill and I didn’t even know that there was DSL service at this facility until they turned it off and all these devices in the warehouse suddenly do not work. In order to get the service turned back on, I need to get someone to pay the bill. The woman in the accounts payable department of my company can’t pay a bill she does not have (which makes sense to me). The phone company will not let me request a copy of the bill unless I know the account number and the super-secret PIN number which is printed on the bill. In other words, in order to get a copy of the bill I need to know information which is printed on the bill.