Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cultural significance vs. the apathy of non-sports fans. In my house, the non-sports folk win.

As I sit downstairs, banging away at the keys of my computer and writing in my blog, I am watching the Patriots go for their perfect regular season. I feel as though I should be watching this on my new and exciting hi-def TV. However, I have been relegated to the basement, since I could not convince the rest of the family of the cultural significance of this event. My girlfriend and her 13-year-old are watching Aliens. While I would not deign to diminish the cultural significance of Aliens, which was truly an excellent movie, and one of the few sequels that may surpass the original in terms of quality, it is not a team going undefeated in the NFL regular season. It is not a quarterback setting the record for TD passes or a receiver setting the record for TD catches or a team setting the record for most points in a season or a team going UNDEFEATED. I tried to impress upong them the significance of this event. No, it is not the moon landing or the assassination of JFK or 9/11 or the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto and the subsequent rioting in Pakistan.

But the chance at an unbeaten season IS the most significant, (positive) sports story of the past decade, and of the new millennium. (Is the millennium still new, eight years in? I think so.) Steroids in baseball. Red Sox finally winning a World Series. Lance Armstrong winning forty-one consecutive Tour De France titles, possibly while on steroids. These are the biggest stories in sports of the past decade, and none comes close to a perfect NFL regular season. When the greatest teams in sports of all time are discussed, baseball has a few to choose from. The '27 Yankees are often mentioned as the greatest team of all time. But so are the 1906 Chicago Cubs, the 1961 Yankees, the 1929 A's, and the 1975 Cincinnatti Reds. In basketball you can choose between the 64-65 Celtics, the 84-85 Celtics, the 66-67 76ers, several Michael Jordan Bulls teams and the Lakers of 71-72 or 86-87. In hockey, who is it? The Habs of 76-77, the 83-84 Oilers, the 97-98 Red Wings, the 69-70 Bruins, the 58-59 Habs, 48-49 Leafs, 1904 Silver Seven? A good case can be made for any of these teams. But in the NFL, the answer is clear. There is no doubt. The best team of all time is the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Period. They did not lose a game. They were perfect. How can you make the case for the Steelers or the Cowboys or the Niners or the Bears when they all lost at least once?

I am not qualified to judge what are the greatest teams of all time. I saw the Red Wings in 97-98, the Bulls in 91-92, and that's about it. Everything else was before my time, so how could I comment? But I have seen the Patriots of 2007. And I can now say I have seen the greatest single season in the history of professional sports, pending their victory here tonight. Sports-wise, this is the most significant sports game of my lifetime. More so than even a Super Bowl, or a World Series or Stanley Cup game seven. Because those games merely determine who wins and who loses. This is a game where I have seen the culmination of the greatest quarterback performance in history. I have seen the culmination of the greatest season by a wide receiver in history (arguably - Jerry Rice had his 22 TDs in only 12 games). And I have seen the greatest offence of all time on the greatest team of my lifetime. That is, of course, pending the Patriots victory, should they pull it out. New York is playing them pretty tough right now. And I am cheering for the Giants. I really hate New England.

Beware the Welcome Wagon, even when bearing gifts.

I recently praised the Welcome Wagon people because although they gave me an awful lot of serious crap in a basket, they gave me at least one useful thing. The Mr. Clean magic eraser. However, I may have spoken too soon. Yes, there was a lot of crap, but I thought that the Welcome Wagon program was one that was created merely to foster a sense of neighbourly camaraderie and pleasant feelings of community. I had no sense that it was a crass commercial enterprise, except for the fact that everything in the basket came from some specific store in the area that was obviously advertising. Whic I thought, once again, was a pretty benign and inoffensive way of getting their name and products out there. I can peruse the advertising at my leisure, and discard those in which I have no interest.

However, before the welcome wagon lady left, she took down my name and phone number (she clearly already had my address), my impression being that it was for the files, so she could say she had been there. In fact, I think that may have been exactly what she told me. However, this was certainly misleading, and although my memory of the incident is not crystal clear, it was possibly also an outright lie. Imagine my surprise last night when I received my seventh phone call this week from Direct Buy. Now, I had not answered the other ones. I figured they were trying to sell me something when they appeared on my call display, and I ignored the calls. Finally I had to see what was up. And yes, they were indeed trying to sell me something. And somehow they let it slip how they had received my phone number. The welcome wagon! THAT was why they took my name and phone number, so they could subject me to the aggressive, irritating, phone-type of advertising! Yes, the welcome wagon had sold me out!

Not only that, but the welcome wagon passes itself off as a "community" service. Every piece of advertising I received in the basket was from the thirty-block radius around my house. You know, my community. Direct Buy is on Cyrville Road. Approximately, according to mapquest, 18.4 miles from my house. Mapquest is so American. 29.6 kilometres, for you true-blue Canadians. In other words, nowhere near my house, my community, my neighbours, or my half of the urban sprawl that is the Greater Ottawa Area. No, the welcome wagon has sold me out, for sure. And that sweet lady that came to my house is either an unwitting pawn in the whole scheme, or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Boy, do I ever hate the phone.

As I look to my right once more on this page, I now see a commercial for Rogers bundles. This stands to reason. After all, I work for Rogers. I sure hope these ads are gone soon though, it seeems as though I have served my penance. And I will say one good thing about Rogers. Although calling them for something service-related makes my hands clammy and my brow bead with sweat as I make sure I have a cooler beside my chair full of cold beer and some quiet, soothing jazz music on the CD player, since I know I will be there for hours and I will need to remain calm through the process, at least Rogers has never called ME. I have never received one of those "would you like to switch to Rogers" calls, or a "we would like to upgrade your current service" calls. This, to a small degree, makes me a much more satisfied Rogers customer. And, by extension, employee.

I am not, however, a satisfied consumer of gas. I hate everything to do with having gas in my home, and I don't even know at whom to direct my anger. Once a week, it seems, since I have moved into my new house, I have been assailed in some way by some gas company. I think they all have something to do with Enbridge in some way, but I don't even really know if that's true. What they offer seems to be some kind of price-freezing deal, where for the next five years my gas rates won't go up or something. I have never paid close enough attention to their spiels to figure that out. I have estimated that there are four hundred and seventy-one freeze-your-gas-rates companies in Ottawa, give or take six or seven. And they have all come after me in some way since I have moved. They come to my door with clipboards and pens. They call me at all hours of the day, usually when I have just managed to fall asleep for a nap, start dinner, or begin a game with the kids. And each and every one of these assaults on my tranquility has been overly aggressive, I feel.

You see, they go through their whole spiel, which is something they have down by rote. Because they have it down pat, and because they recite it by rote, there is no opportunity for me to participate in the exchange. I become merely a sounding board for their memorized speech. When the speech is done, I have no idea what they have said, because I tuned them out at about word three. Therefore, they finally stop talking, four minutes later, and I say "no thanks, not interested". Which should make them say "that's OK, thanks for letting me ramble on for four minutes. My voice needed the workout. Have a good day, sir." But no. This is their opportunity to go into crisis prevention. "May I ask why, Mr. Intern", they say. I will say something like "because I just moved and all my papers are still in disorder, and I am not going to sign up for anything until I figure out where I'm at." To which they will respond "certainly, I understand your objection, but may I ask why?" To which I respond "you are either reading a paper with no regard to the answer I have just given you, or you are a total moron. Please don't call my house again, you total moron."

But of course they do, because their file is marked "inconclusive" after the call. Now, I have nothing against telemarketers per se. I realize they are doing it because it's just a job, and they need to eat, and they probably hate it as much as I do. But if you're going to call my house to try to force me into buying something, at least listen to the actual words I use to respond to you. The most insidious example was one of these gas price deal companies who came to my house. A very nice young man, who likely hated his door-to-door job as much as I hated him doing it, made a very good case to me. He said "can I just leave these pamphlets and this form with you, and let you think about it". I said sure. It doesn't matter to me if I have some extra papers in my recycling, and this guy clearly gets a bit more money every time someone fills out one of these just-checking-things-out forms, so what the hell? But of course, it doesn't end there. The phone call came a week later, and the guy on the phone presented himself as though he needed a few last details about the program for which I had just signed up. I said I had not signed up. I had merely agreed to look at the information. And in point of fact, I hadn't even done that. So, no thanks, said I.

But this guy would not let it go. Short of swearing at him, or hanging up the phone, I was actually not going to get out of this. And I knew that if I hung up the phone, someone else would be calling me the very next night. (I knew this because I had done that four three nights in a row.) I made up every excuse in the book, and I even said I will not sign up for your plan because I abhor your sales tactics. I find your company to be on a level with scum. Please stop bothering me. But they would not. Then I said that I already had one of these freeze-your-thing-and-stuff deals with another gas company. No problem! Said the persistent and aggressive voice. We'll just go ahead and get you out of that deal. So if you'll just give me your postal code, we'll have you out of that deal in no time...I stopped for a moment. This other deal was just about the same. Five years, frozen-rate...or so I said. Yes, he said, sometimes these deals can not be broken, but when we input your information, we'll find out. And then we'll fight to have you with us, because we always look out for the best interests of our customers.

Epiphany! I said to him "if I agree to your thing with the rates and that, will you get off the phone with me? Like, right now?" He said that he would. I said fine, go ahead, sign me up. Screw you and your company. And I hung up. The next day, another helpful door-to-door gas rate happy guy came by. I didn't even listen to his spiel. I took his pen and signed the papers he had in front of him. As soon as he identified himself as yet another gas company rates guy, I said "I have been waiting for your exact company. No, no I know all the details. Just let me sign up for your plan right now." Within one minute he was gone. And so pleased! I was the easiest house he had hit all day! So here was my epiphany. The only way to feel polite, make these people go away fast AND have them never come back was to simply sign up and agree.

And now, the beauty of the plan. I am certainly hoping I am right here. But every one of those companies says they will take your account and boot out the other companies you may have signed up with. They also say that they are FAR superior than the other ones for reasons which I never listen to. But the thing is, only one company can do my gas rate freeze thingy, right? But if I sign up with everyone who comes to my door and calls me on the phone, every single time, then soon, all four hundred and seventy-one companies of this nature in Ottawa will be fighting over me. Not that I think I will get any special deal out of this, or that I will pay less for gas than my neighbour who is never home and has no phone, but I will get enormous satisfaction from thinking about all these companies trying desperately to figure out who has the most legitimate claim to overseeing my services, and doing their thing that ousts the other companies, and on and on and on. It is my fondest hope that things get so screwed up in the ranks of these companies that they call back their people from the phones and their people from the roads in order to disentangle the whole mess. And then that they choke on it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Finally! HD LCD TV LMAO.

I have finally finished purchasing my TV and Blu-Ray player and the assorted accoutrements. I have my little 32" (well, little compared to everyone else I visit) LCD TV, and the Blu-Ray player to go with it, and the HD box from Rogers. I got them all home at the same time, and had to set them all up at once. I read all three instruction books before I began. The HD box said "turn on your TV, and then use it to program the HD box". The TV said "turn on your HD box, and use it to program your TV". I stood there in my living room in despair, for almost an hour. What do I do? Do I wait for the chicken to lay an egg, then eat egg, or do I wait for the egg to hatch, and eat chicken? As is my understanding of the old saying. I decided to hit every button on every device and on every remote. Some weird stuff happened. None of it good, or helpful. I took a nap. I woke up, and discovered I had been sleeping on the TV remote. I must have rolled onto the right button, however, because all of a sudden things were working and I was able to program stuff.

I was then too tired to watch any actual TV, and I took another nap. This morning, I checked out all the Hi-Def channels, because it is sort of an exciting thing to be able to do. I wake up at 2:00, and at that time, one of the higher movie channels shows hard-core porn. For the first time in ages, I stopped on porn. And not because anything interesting was happening. It was two bored-looking people having sex. I've seen that before. Once, I saw it in a mirror. No, what made me stop was the fact that the porn industry was the catalyst that gave us VHS over Beta back in the day, when there was a real debate as to which would last longer. No one really knew, until porn went VHS, and the rest is history. It is that big, in terms of home rentals and video purchases, that it can influence the entire industry. So now I'm thinking, did porn go Blu-Ray or HDDVD? I don't know. Anyone out there know? I may have made a big mistake purchasing that Blu-Ray if porn goes HD!

But then I thought that this might be a lot different from VHS vs. Beta. That was just about getting porn into your house. THIS is about getting super-high quality porn into your house. And my question then was - who really wants super-high quality porn? As I watched the two bored actors on screen, I realized that the bottoms of the girl's feet were dirty. I saw that the guy was sweating profusely and looked as though he might be in his early fifties. I could see the makeup lines on her face, and the places where her hairdresser had just barely missed with the highlights. Does anyone really want porn with detail that clear? I certainly don't. I think most guys would choose the regular 60-dollar DVD over the Blu-Ray or HD quality, 120-dollar porn DVD.

Just a thought here. Why, on the free porn that they show on the movie channels late at night, do they edit the films such that they make sure not to show the "happy ending" to each scene? If you're already sitting around watching hardcore pornography, are you really going to be offended by THAT? Like, wow, this porn was so great and artistically relevant, but they had to ruin it with that gratuitious ending to that scene! Or, "I don't mind if my kids accidentally come across porn on TV. As long as they don't see the grand finale". Just wondering. Any porn fans out there that would have complained about this to their cable company?

Another thought. I had to buy a Blu-Ray DVD to test it out with my new player. I chose Underworld, because I know my girlfriend really likes it, and Kate Beckinsale in leather and Hi-Def can't be a bad thing. I also bought The Departed, because when it came out, I mistakenly purchased the full screen version. And an order form came with my player. I could order five free Blu-Rays, choosing one from each of a few categories. Which was fine, but I couldn't help but be surprised at some of the movies I had to choose from. If you have this great new technology, shouldn't you use it to enhance that which could benefit from the enhancement? I totally get having Pirates of the Caribbean on Blu-Ray, or Terminator 2, or Pan's Labyrinth, or even Alien vs. Predator. I mean, it was a crappy movie, but if you have bad taste and like it, you probably enjoy the visuals most of all, and you would want the best ones you can get. That's fine.

But what puzzles me are titles like The Simpsons Movie. Or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The Simpsons is a cartoon. How much better can the picture really be? Does the Griswalds' house look that much more exciting and gaudy in Hi-Def? Why is Ultraviolet on Blu-Ray? It was absolutely terrible in regular def, and almost unwatchable, and the visuals were horrendous. That can only be accentuated in this format, no? Here is a short list of films I don't understand being on Blu-Ray:
The Jane Austen Book Club
Mr. Woodcock
Led Zeppelin: the Song Remains the Same
Masters of Horror
A Christmas Story
Gridiron Gang
License to Wed

Just a short list. And I think the reason for these movies being included is that people with HD and Blu-Ray are a certain type. The format is not for movie lovers or connaisseurs. It is for technology junkies. So good taste in movies has nothing to do with one's desire to get them in a neat new format. The same thing goes for the Super-Audio CDs and DVD audio CDs. When I used to work at a CD store, I would constantly bemoan the selection of music in these formats. Peter Gabriel or Pink Floyd? Sure, I get it. But who really needs Super-Audio Kenny G? Techno-nerds with no taste in music, that's who. I suppose I can now count myself among the select few who are both giant techno-nerds AND discerning consumers.

More global warming = less ice.

I laughed when I saw the story today in the news. Environment Canada has come out with their list of the Top Ten Weather Stories of 2007! Wait. Top ten...weather stories? First of all, every year people have to do this. Watch TV this weekend, and you will see top-ten lists on every channel. Top Ten Celebrity Meltdowns of 2007! Top Ten New Recipes From Rachel Ray! Top Ten Lead-Based Toys From China! Top Ten Legal Battles By Former Cincinnatti Bengals Wide Receivers! It's a madhouse. Every one of the lists more boring than the last. And now, they want to bore us even more with stories about...weather? Only Woody would be pleased, weather junkie that he is.

But then I read the list. And although it is not exactly entertaining, it certainly is interesting...and scary. Our big snowfall of December 16th? Number three! Yeah, we're on a list! Go Ottawa! Well, all of Canada really. We were briefly mentioned at the end of the story. But at least we made it! But the scary thing was the number of global warming-related stories. Here they are, from #10 - #1. Lists! Exciting, no?

#10: Canada's first-ever F5 category tornado. An F5 category tornado is the most powerful tornado that can be recorded on the Fujita scale. Judging by the name, Japan receives a lot of tornadoes also. Canada is second to the US in the world in number of tornado occurences, but we had never officially recorded an F5 until this one touched down 40 km outside Winnipeg on June 22nd. Thankfully, it happened in a very small town called Elie. A town so small that most of the residents of Elie were out of town for a high school graduation ceremony, and there were no serious injuries. You know you are in a small town when the entire population can be gone for a high school graduation. I think my Dad's town in Saskatchewan is about that small.

#9: Severe weather in the Prairies. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba set a record for most "severe weather events" with 410. That beat the previous record of 297, set only last year. Hail pounded crops so often that 4,700 hail-related claims were made to insurance companies in the prairies. In my Dad's area of Saskatchewan, near Kindersley, many farmers reported several hits over the course of the summer.

#8: Last year's winter that never came. We here in Ottawa didn't have snow until January 16th. The weather throughout the fall was summer-like, and the weather in the winter was fall-esque. 2005-06 was the wramest winter in recorded history, and one ski resort laid off 1,300 employees. In the end, winter lasted about six weeks. Total. That's not groundhog-rounded.

#7: Great Lakes at their lowest water levels ever. Trillions of litres of water disappeared from the Great Lakes as Lake Superior reached a record for lowest water level in history. The prevailing opinion here is that the Great Lakes have been losing water for about 12 years now, and it is because of climate change. What environmentalists and climate experts predicted would happen many years from now is already happening.

#6: Hurricane Noel hits Eastern Canada. No one died. No harm no foul. I think no one even got injured. No big deal then.

#5: Southern Ontario goes parched. The number of "hot" days (those above 30 degrees) was three times the normal average in Southern Ontario this year. Record dryness of a kind not seen since the 1930s killed thousands of trees and made water very scarce. The Ministry of Natural Resources...and I'm not making this up...asked anglers not to fish in certain streams and rivers, because the water levels were so low that the fish were "stressed out". Yes, it was even so dry that the Delhi Horticultural Society had to cancel their flower show because the blooms had wilted!

#4: Super-hot prairie summer. Humidex records were broken. Dew point records were broken. Whatever those are. Bloated fish floated to the surface of streams, lakes and reservoirs that had overheated. Hundreds of thousands of people were very uncomfortable.

#3: Our big ol' snowstorm. Well, we all know about that one.

#2: The long flood threats in BC. The province of British Columbia braced itself for the worst flooding in the province's history. There were some minor incidents, but the massive flooding never took place. This was a non-event. How did this make it to #2?

#1: We are killing ourselves. A chunk of ice the size of Ontario melted over the course of this past year. The previous record low for arctic ice was 5.3 million square kilometres. This year, it was 4 million square kilometres. Five of the ten warmest winters since 1960 have occurred since 2001. The shrinkage of arctic ice this year was similar to what climatologists thought would happen THIRTY years from now. Tell me that isn't a little scary. Or a lot.

Much as I love all you climate change deniers, the anti-Global-Warming head-in-the-sand angry right-wingers, I think maybe we should all just jump on the bandwagon and do something? Maybe convince the party in power that saying "we care about the environment" is not an environmental policy? My favourite call in a while came last week. A gentleman called up to complain about the big snowfall, and I understand that. The snow was a pain in the ass. He suggested we bring Al Gore up here, to show him this incontrovertible proof that global warming was a myth. Look Al! We have snow! You must just be stupid! How could we have snow if there was global warming? Then, this fine yet possibly misguided man went on to say "I knew we'd have this dump. It said so in the Farmer's Almanac." And he was not joking.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My personal war against credit cards. It isn't going well.

I know what you're saying. After my last blog post, you are saying, "Eric, you are an idiot. You should have a credit card, then you wouldn't have these problems". This is true. If I had a credit card, I would have been able to purchase my TV at Audiotronic yesterday without worrying about my bank letting me have my money. This is because credit card companies are all about letting you have your money, as often and as much as possible. You need fifteen hundred bucks right now? Sure! The last thing credit card companies are about is protecting you from yourself. That, you see, would not be a good business practice on their part.

I have resisted, most of my life, getting a credit card. I recently got one of those HBC credit cards, not because I wanted one, but because applying for one gave me 10 percent off on my massive holiday purchase at Zellers. So I figured, what the hell. I'll never use it anyway. But now that it has arrived, I have people everywhere telling me I HAVE to use it. If you don't use your credit card, you see, you can't build credit. Which is a lot like applying for a job, but being turned down because you don't have enough experience doing that job. How can I get experience when no one will hire me because I have no experience? How can I build credit when I don't have enough credit to get credit?

And why do we need credit? Well, because our system is set up that way. If you don't have good credit, you can't buy a car. You can't rent an apartment. You can't purchase a house or take out a loan or book a flight or a hotel room or rent a carpet shampooer. It occurs to me that if I didn't have parents kind enough and trusting enough to co-sign on things for me (car, apartment, house), then I would in fact be homeless. I have no credit rating. At all. There is one thing that shows up on my credit rating, and that is an unpaid $2,000.00 for tuition at Ottawa U. (Which is a long story, and comes down to a serious deficiency in logic, and which they will probably never get back until I decide I really have to become a physicist after all.) Also, apparently affecting my credit rating, are all those credit card applications I filled out when I was a student. I get a free box of cookies just for filling out this form? Sold. Free soda? Deal. Well, I would fudge the forms and put down an income of $00,000.00 per year, to ensure that no one would ever send me a card. It turns out that every time you apply for a credit card and get declined, an arbitrary number of "points" are taken off your already non-existent credit rating. Apparently.

So I have been unable to rent apartments, buy houses, buy my car, or rent a moving van on my own, throughout my whole life. And this, for me, came down to a conscious decision. I do not want a credit card. If I want to purchase something, like a TV or a Blu-Ray player or both, I will save up enough money until I am able to afford them, and then go ahead and pay. Which, it seems to me, is the most sound financial philosophy there could be. I will never, under this system, buy something that I can not afford. I will not go into debt over a sofa or a fridge or three packs of Skittles. Now, of course, I am not debt-free. I have to pay the necessities. Car and house. But at least I'm not paying off a fancy new home theatre system over the next forty-one years, at which point I will have paid nine times the sticker price.

So there's my big problem with credit cards and credit ratings. If you go through life buying only what you can afford with what money you actually have, you are a credit risk. However, if you buy a $2,000.00 Velvet Elvis for your bathroom, and pay the minimum installment on your credit card bill, and incur the 22 percent interest on it, and don't miss a payment, and finally finish paying your now $3,600.00 six years later, then you have excellent credit. You are a terrific risk, and should be allowed to buy all kinds of terrific things. Let's bump up your credit limit, you seem like you have a splendid head for finance, and are unlikely to screw us over. Perhaps we can interest you in this Faberge Egg, or these Dogs Playing Poker. This may be true. You, the purchaser of the bathroom Velvet Elvis, are not that likely to screw over the credit card company. You are, however, very much likely to screw yourself over. And the credit card company will only make money when you are screwing yourself over. They make their money through the interest payments, and you only pay interest when you buy something you can't really afford.

So why do so many of our most obvious needs and institutions require a credit card for any kind of security? Well, it seems to me that that there is a pervasive culture of debt in North America. It is in everyone's best interests to keep people in debt. If you are not in debt, VISA does not get your money. If you are breaking even or doing better than that, you can use debit instead of American Express to purchase your TV. If your bank will let you. But if you are in debt, and you NEED that TV, then here comes the Mastercard. Sure, you can pay it off eventually, but by that time there will be a newer, cooler TV, and you might really want that one instead...

So why is it better to keep people in debt? Well, for one thing, it makes them better employees. If I had had a huge burden of debt when I worked at North American Security, or Island Park Esso, or Security 24, or Bradson Security, or Lynx Stadium, or CD Warehouse, or Canadian Tire, or H2O, or Consumers Distributing, or the X-Press, or Initial Security, or Capital Security, or Lone Star catering, or Dasani, or MGD, or the Independant Grocer, or Buffalo Charlies, I might still be at one of those jobs. I wouldn't have been able to up and leave when I felt like it - I would have desperately needed the money, and therefore I would have been forced into being a model employee simply to keep my job. This would have crushed my soul, I would have been miserable, and I would have wanted to make myself happier through purchases. I would have put those purchases on my credit card, and put myself deeper into debt, and become an even better employee. Not one with ideas or something to offer the company for which I worked, mind you, but one who was quiet, and obediant, and never rocked the boat or made myself visible in any way. And of course, what employee could ever be better than that?

So perhaps this is the big vision. If everyone is in debt, then everyone will behave properly in society, will fall into line, and things will be far easier for everyone. Debt breeds more debt, more debt breeds more spending beyond one's means, which totally helps the economy. Spend! The economy loves it! And what's the way to earn enough money to spend what you want to spend? Get a better job. How do you get a better job? Go to school. How do you go to this school? You pay. How do you pay? Student loans. So when you get out...debt already! You are already a productive member of society. So your Bachelors of Science degree warm in your pocket, you can now become, right away, almost, the manager of a Taco Bell. And you can't leave that job, because the month with no money will likely bankrupt you and make you homeless. Enjoy your ten-year tenure as Taco Bell manager, which isn't such a bad job, and you can make it feel better with a plasma TV to go home to.

The world is against me, and I am defeated. So is the Audiotronic bathroom.

Yesterday was the first day of Audiotronic's big blowout Boxing Day sale. I was there on behalf of CHEZ doing a live commercial, and I decided it was time to replace the old tube TV in my living room with something good. The picture we get now is shaky, so much so that I can't even make out the scores that scroll across the bottom of the screen during football or hockey games. I flipped on the Senators game the other day, and at first I thought the score was 9-0! Upon further inspection, I discovered it was 0-0, and only 12 seconds had been played in the first period. Yes, it was time for an upgrade. I had managed to save up just enough to get a 32" LCD TV and a Blu-Ray player at boxing day prices. (Which, as a professional movie reviewer, I assume I can write off on my taxes.) So I selected a TV, the DVD player, and the cables to go with, and sat down with Ken, the sales associate who had been so helpful, to start the process. All went fine, until I went to pay. I used my debit card, and when I swiped it, it said "limit exceeded". Not "insufficient funds", but "limit exceeded". I guess I have a certain limit on my card for purchases each day.

I called my bank. They said "we are experiencing unusually long delays"...I held. I listened to a Neil Young song. Then to an Alice Cooper song. Then to a Dire Straits song. Then I had to put the receiver down, because I was supposed to be on the air right after Dire Straits. After my last segment, I went back to the phone. "I have enough money in my account for this!" I told the bank. "We know that, Eric, but we hate you" said the phone service. Then it said "we are experiencing longer than usual delays". I gave up. I hung up the phone and said I would physically go to my bank to clear things up. I leapt in my car and sped off to the TD bank at the St. Laurent shopping centre, the closest TD I could think of. Half way there, I noticed that I really had to go to the bathroom in a big way. No problem, I thought. I will be at the shopping centre very soon, and I will be able to evacuate myself at that time.

But when I got to the mall, there was not a single parking space available. Anywhere. I drove around. To one parking lot and then the next. At every turn, there were seven cars at the very least approaching the stop signs. When I came out of one parking lot, the line of cars in front of me was so long, and not one of the cars would stop to let me through. Eventually, I had to back up, drive through the front doors of the mall, speed down the aisle by Farm Boy, honking so that people scattered, and I was finally able to drive out the entrance of the Bay on the third floor, having knocked over only one display case containing snow globes. "I only need to use the bank! I'll be three minutes!" I hollered at the cars. "We know that, Eric, but we hate you" responded the traffic. By now I was squeezing my butt cheeks together as tightly as possible, really worried I would not be able to even make it to the bathrrom once I got parked! Finally, the world was right. There, in the single furthest-from-the-mall parking spot, was an empty space. It had taken me more than a half hour in that parking lot, but it was with a serious sense of relief that I pulled in, and waddled as quickly as I could toward the mall. I went through a door, down some stairs, across another parking lot, through another door, down a few more stairs, along a causeway and finally into the Bay passed my smashed snow globes.

I decided the bathroom was far more important than the bank at the moment, so I hastened to that area first. Fighting my way through the thousands of boxing day shoppers who were in no hurry to go anywhere, and might even have been moving slower than the traffic. "I need to go. Really bad." I told the pedestrians at the mall. "We know that, Eric, but we hate you" responded the shoppers. Finally, I reached the bathrooms, and rushed down the corridor. The sense of relief was overwhelming. I had begun unbuttoning my pants and started to gingerly release my bowels before even reaching the bathroom, since it had been such an effort to keep them tightly wound until that time. "I'm finally at the bathroom!" I cried, in relief. "We know that, Eric, but we hate you" said the Out Of Order sign on the bathroom doors. Out of Order! On the busiest shopping day of the year, would you not anticipate more people attending your mall? And therefore, more of them might need a restroom? No? It's just me?

So now, there was an absolutely superhuman effort on my part to re-squeeze my already-beginning-to-relax butt cheeks, in order to avoid an accident of monumental proportions. I could already tell there was to be no quick solution to this one. This wasn't one of those jobs that could be done quietly and unnoticed in an abaondoned stairwell, or snuck into an empty Booster Juice cup behind some cars in the parking lot. No, this job would require some serious maintenance, pre-event to some small extent, and post-event to an enormous extent. What to do? I guess the only thing to do was to get to the bank, since there was no way I could make it anywhere else to a bank, and I was not going to leave to find a bathroom and then fight my way back into the St. Laurent parking lot. I waddled toward the bank with the gait of a man who had just spent seven of the worst nights of his life in prison, and made it there by 3:50. It was closed. That made sense to me. After all, it was boxing day. Too bad you can't use the phone to find out if they are open or not, I thought.

I decided to try my card anyway. Maybe if I took some out in cash, and some out seperately, I could pay for my purchases. No. It turns out I can take out only $500.00 in a day. That's it. I tried three different combinations of things, pulling my card out and putting it back in. Nothing more. $500.00, and that was it. I took the money quickly, turned toward the parking lot, and came as close to sprinting as is possible for a man who is pressing so hard in his hindquarters that diamonds are being formed in his colon. Into the car, down the ramp, heading back to Audiotronic as fast as my car would carry me. I got down the ramp, turned the corner, now it was just two little parking lots to get across before I was free of the ugliness of Boxing Day shopping at St. Laurent. I made it across one parking lot and then...ambulances. Fire trucks. Firemen and paramedics and security guards directing traffic. But not my traffic. Other traffic. Oncoming traffic, and cross traffic and through traffic, but not my traffic. I sat there. Squeezing. Sweating now, profusely. I had my window open to get fresh air, and I was breathing as though I was in labour. I have no idea what the paramedics were doing, because I was not watching. I was having my own medical emergency.

Another fifteen minutes to go 60 yards. Finally, I was free! Free of the ambulances, the fire trucks, the out of order bathrooms and the closed bank. Free to speed back to Audiotronic, and tell them I would be unable to make my purchase today. Perhaps they will set it aside, and I can go to my bank again tomorrow. And take out another 500 bucks. And then, I can go to my bank once more, on Friday, and take out ANOTHER 500 bucks. And then I can pay on Saturday. How is that? I wondered. The important thing, however, was that they had a bathroom. It took me about six minutes to get back there, and I made a beeline straight for the rest room. "Hi!" said Ken, who had been waiting on my return. "MGhuFF" said I, as I held up my finger, indicating I needed a moment and sped toward the bathroom. Ken seemed to understand, since he nodded as I closed the door and fumbled for the lightswitch. I gave up on finding it, and just let loose. I feel I ought to apologize to the customers and employees of Audiotronic, for what I did to their bathroom. When I finally found the light switch, I could see that I was covered in sweat, white as a ghost, and that there were tears streaming down my face. I don't know whether those were tears of relief, tears from the earlier pain, tears of hopelessness from the car ride, or merely as a result of the smell. They have a Febreeze air freshener in the bathroom, but even that entire can could not disguise what had gone on in there.

I finally emerged, ready to take care of not buying anything. I had to speak to Ken, but now he was with another customer. So I made myself as inobtrusive as possible for the next half hour, watching the world junior game on the very TV I wanted to purchase but couldn't, and waiting until he was done selling more TVs. Finally, it was my turn. "I can't make this purchase." I stated. "My bank does not give me a big enough allowance." I kind of understand this. I mean, it would save people some money if someone managed to steal their bank card and their PIN number and their identity and then went to a store like Audiotronic and tried to purchase a TV and a Blu-Ray player and stuff....but if my money is there, why can't I just have it? I would rather have access to my money than be protected from theft, frankly. It's kind of like that guy who has a vintage Porsche, that he keeps under a tarp in his garge and never drives, in case people steal it. Why have it at all?

I highly recommend the Audiotronic boxing day sale. There are some great prices there. I will be going back tomorrow to purchase my items. But I suggest if you go, bring cash, or credit cards, or a small child you can use as collateral.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Assuming the Chargers win big tonight...

OK. One week left in the season, and I am maintaining a narrow lead on Doc in the CHEZ pool. Rain Man has somehow managed to stay right with me all season long, and will be 8 points behind me going into the final week, pending the Chargers monster win tonight. In the office pool, I assume I have fallen fairly far from first right now because I had a truly lousy week. Here's how it all worked out:

Ones I got right: The Cowboys did beat the Panthers, but Carolina played hard and they did cover that spread in the CHEZ pool. Buffalo DID make it interesting for the Giants, going up 14-0, but New York came through with the victory. The Steelers won fairly handily against the Rams, when St. Louis fell apart in the second half. The Colts were easily able to beat up on Houston, and even when they rested their starters, Houston could do nothing. Jaguars certainly did win HUGE against the Raiders. Philly was able to upset the Saints. The Lions managed to beat the Chiefs, but I was wrong about the spread. Lions covered, winning by 5 when the spread was 4.5. The Cardinals DID win their game simply for pride, but even then they looked lousy doing it. Titans did win, Jets did cover. Seattle beat up on the Ravens.

Ones I got wrong: The Redskins were more resilient than I had imagined, and the Vikings are more human than I thought. Skins will make the playoffs now, Minnesota still needs help. New England did NOT cover the spread against Miami. They go up 28-0 in the first quarter, and then sit down and wait for the game to end. Miami snuck that late TD in to cut it to within 21 points, the spread was 22. The Browns did not run it up big on Cincinnatti. In fact, they did not even win the game. Now they need some help to make the playoffs. The Packers fell completely apart against the Bears. For some reason, Chicago really has Green Bay's number this year. The Niners covered the spread, like I thought they would, but I never expected them to actually WIN the game against Tampa. Niners look like they might be decent next year.

So, I will put my picks for this coming week up here, so I can get all the football over and done with right now, to spare those who dislike reading about football. Here goes, for the worst week to predict in all of football:

New England - New York Giants: Thankfully, this one is out of the way on Saturday, so we can concentrate on games that matter. Frankly, this one does not matter at all to either team. Giants have locked up the first wild card berth in the NFC, and the Patriots obviously have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That means there is nothing really to play for, for either team. Maybe the Giants want to play spoiler to that perfect season. Maybe the Patriots want to get the TD records for Brady and Moss. My money is on the latter, and I think they will keep their starters in long enough to break the records and ensure a perfect season.

Seattle - Atlanta: Another nothing game. The Seahawks are already assured of the third seed in the NFC playoffs, and will be resting starters. Atlanta wants to end the season on a high note, and they might be hungry enough to knock off Seattle's second-string players after their overtime loss to the Cardinals yesterday.

Pittsburgh - Baltimore: The Steelers will have a home playoff game to kick off the wild card round, and with Willie Parker already done for the year with the broken leg he suffered on Thursday, look for Pittsburgh to take no chances. Roethlisberger will be in for one series, and then sit. As will the rest of their starters. Baltimore has a very good chance in this one. Good enough that I will actually pick them to be victorious.

Dallas - Washington: The Cowboys have homefield sewn up. Nothing to play for. The Skins, on the other hand, have everything to play for. They are on the verge of making the playoffs, when their season seemed lost not that long ago. It would make for a great story if they did indeed make it, and I think they will beat the Cowboys on Sunday to do so.

Carolina - Tampa Bay: The Panthers played the Cowboys very tight when Dallas actually cared about the game. Tampa is not as good as Dallas, and they will not care about this game. They are seeded fourth in the NFC, and that is already set. Panthers in the road upset.

Buffalo - Philadelphia: Neither team is going to be in the playoffs, but one of the two will finish 8-8 to at least hit .500. My pick here is the Eagles, who would make the playoffs were the season two weeks longer. They are clicking on all cylinders right now, and just dropped 38 points on a good Saints team. Philly is much better than Buffalo right now, McNabb is healthy, and Brian Westbrook is the second-best running back not in the Pro Bowl.

New Orleans - Chicago: The Saints need this win, what with still having very faint hopes of making the playoffs. The Saints laid a big egg yesterday against the Eagles, and I don't think they are a team that can play desperate footaball. The Bears showed yesterday that they are relishing the position of spoiler, and their dominant victory over the Packers shows they still have a lot of pride left. Bears will knock New Orleans right out of the playoffs.

San Francisco - Cleveland: Cleveland needs to win this game to make the playoffs. They also need the Colts to knock off the Titans. There is a good chance both could happen. San Fran has played much better of late, but I still believe in the Browns, and I think they will be a hungry team that beats the Niners soundly. Then they will be an anxious team while watching the Sunday night game.

Detroit - Green Bay: Neither team has anything left to play for. The Packers are #2. That's settled. The Lions are out. That's done. But I don't see Green Bay taking it easy here for some reason. Have you ever seen Brett Favre voluntarily give up some snaps? And if he does, that backup guy no one has ever heard of will really have something to prove. Packers to win.

Jacksonville - Houston: Houston has nothing left to play for except pride. They are in the toughest division in football, a division that may well put the other three teams in the playoffs this year. And Houston is a pretty good team. But they are 0-5 so far in their division this year, and althought Jacksonville will be resting starters and taking it easy, they should still be able to take the Texans. Close, but a Jaguars win.

Tennessee - Indianapolis: This game matters to one team. The Titans. Win, and they are in the playoffs. Lose, and they need big-time help. So, there is one thing to do. Win. And they actually can, since the Colts are going to sit starters, rest up and get healthy. One would assume. And even against the second-string Colts, a Titans victory would be a major statement, and one that would put them into the playoffs on a major high. Tennessee in a close one.

Cincinnatti - Miami: Who cares? I dunno, take the Bengals. Miami has had their win.

San Diego - Oakland: Chargers have wrapped up the #3 seed by now. Oakland can't even play spoiler any more. The Chargers may keep their starters in a while, since they have had trouble clicking lately,a dn might like to get some game-situation reps in before the playoffs begin. If that is the case, they will hammer the Raiders.

Minnesota - Denver: The Vikings must win if they hope to make the playoffs. They ran into a very hot Skins team yesterday, but the Vikings have been playing well enough of late to shrug that one off and end the misery of the Broncos. Minnesota in a big win.

St. Louis - Arizona: Arizona could finish 8-8 with a win. Thin motivation, I know, but the season can't end fast enough for the Rams. Cards to win, no one to care.

Kansas City - New York Jets: Possibly the worst game of the entire season. Jets are fairly good...for a 3-win team. Chiefs have been done for a long time. Jets to win.

Okay. There will be at least one more football-related post, for all you football haters, when I crow triumphantly about my victory in the office pool, and hopefully my victory over Doc in the CHEZ pool.