Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bone Phone

I don't want to be the crotchety old guy reminiscing about the Good Old Days, but when it comes to phones, we're going backwards. The last time I had a clear connection was in 1973.

It was called a bone phone due to the shape of the receiver. It was a breakthrough in design: the earpiece faced your ear, and the mouthpiece faced your mouth. Genius. In between those ends was a handle that fit comfortably in your hand, or you could wedge it onto your shoulder. Some even came with a little pillow. It didn't have batteries so it never went dead. You could talk for hours, unless you had my mom.

The first sign of trouble was the Princess Phone. It looked modern with its rounded edges but it was kind of slippery. I had one that broke, and back then I still felt I could fix a broken phone. I pried it open and was surprised to discover a lead weight screwed to the body, which hoped to make it feel substantial,"so you didn't know right away that it was a frail piece of junk.

Today my phone-of-the-month is a tiny, black, slippery rectangle with rounded corners. I drop it just looking at it. There isn't really an ear "piece," just a pinhole. And the mouth pinhole lines up with my second molar. It works most everywhere except home and work.

I was at the grocery store yesterday when my shorts started to slide down. They are held up with a drawstring, but I have no butt. Normally guys with my problem just stuff their hands into their pockets, then do The Shrug: you grip your pants and act like you don't care about something, and when you shrug you lift your pants from the inside, being careful to grab only your pants so you don't give yourself a snuggie, something you can't gracefully pick back out at the grocery store.

But I was on the phone. I tried to wedge it between cheek and shoulder to free up both hands but I might as well have been talking on a watermelon seed. It kept squirting this way and that, and I was quickly nearing the point of doom where the beltline passes the equator of my butt and the shorts freefall. Squirming and contorting to oooch them back up with one hand, I looked like Joe Cocker.

Can I get a Space Age phone? One that is ergonomic, one that doesn't drop calls, one one which I can understand people? My friend Marco reminds me that the Space Age was 1965.

This would not have happened with a bone phone. And perhaps this is why for the last five years every teenage boy I see has his pants half-assed. "Dude!" I yell silently. "Hang up and Shrug!"

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rebel Without A Cork

"That had better not be tequila," the customs agent spat as she looked at the bottle of tequila in Laura's hand.

"No, it's not," I dearly wanted to say. "It's a special hammer to hit rude people on the head. Want to see how it works?"

But I'm afraid of customs people, so I kept my yap shut.

"Of course it's tequila..." Laura responded honestly, leaving off the implied "...you idiot."

"I hope you're not planning to take it on the airplane." Laura respects officials too, so she didn't bother giving the obvious response. When she was ordered to dump the tequila out, she did, with a fat tear in her eye. She was planning to enjoy it upon arriving home after celebrating Laurie and Wayne's wedding in Mexico.

Raoul had tequila too, but it was still in his carry-on. We passed by him in the zig-zag cattle line for the x-ray scanner, and when he asked about her tequila we just shushed him. If they didn't search his bag, maybe.... But they did search it, and told him he couldn't take it any further and had to dump it out.

"That is so wrong," he said. Raoul does not waste liquor. So he did what I would only dream of: he popped open the cap and upended the bottle into his mouth until bubbles coursed through it. Then he held it up high in defiance, and yelled, "Anyone want some tequila!?" Everyone froze, expecting that the fierce little customs agent would casually pull out her gun and blow a hole in him. But to my shock she repeated in her chihuahua bark, "Aneewan wan sam tah-KEE-la!?"

In unison the crowd exploded "TEQUILA!" and hundreds applauded as the first guy in line behind Raoul grabbed the bottleneck in his fist and knocked back a high swig, then passed the bottle back down the line. It made it to me and I took a long pull. It was two-thirds empty when I lost track of it. Keeping a mental count of those who stuck it in their mouths ahead me, I figure I did the equivalent of kissing two big bald guys, a rugby player, a new husband and an attractive 40-ish Latina--about my same luck as here in Omaha. I normally like to observe rebellions from a safe distance, but in this case I'm glad I was close to the action because there were some in line with whom I don't want to share a bottle-lip.

As we left the customs checkpoint, Laura leaned to me and murmured, "Raoul is my hero." We dubbed it The Great Tequila Rebellion. I sat next to Raoul on the plane and tried to tell him that, but he was already passed out from his long swig of defiance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

#@%*ing Snakes!

It rained hard. For days. A record, they say. Noah-style. The drought is ended, just like that. When the sun shone down again, all manner of God's creatures crept forth from their shelters. The neighborhood bunnies, whom I write about often, marched right up to me for raisin bread. They looked hungry and ragged and seemed too tired for shy protocol. They had a "can we just cut to the chase, here, and get something to eat?" kind of look. A resurrection of ants rose right up through my patio, bringing the supporting sand with them. Mosquitoes murmured in gangs, scheming to carry off one of my cats.


I like snakes for their beauty and remarkable construction. I even played with them when I was a kid. They make crawling on one's belly look easy, but I've tried it and it is not. But dammit I hate it when they pop out of my garden unexpectedly. All 5,000,000 years of human evolution kicks in: my adrenaline goes from zero to pegged in a split-second while I jump straight up and scream like a girl. Dammit!

Instincts 1, Brain 0.

I read recently that the fear instinct is built in, but it needs to be triggered. You are wired to be afraid of snakes, but if no one in your upbringing reacts to a snake, you will never know that fear. So sometime around my tenth year of life my dad must have been startled by a snake and screamed like a girl, and man, that's all it took. My Yikes Reflex was switched on.

On the first sunny day after the rain I enjoyed lunch on the patio. Almost enjoyed, anyway, as I watched ants tear it apart. And of course the patio bricks were soothing, warm and dry, and the garden was chilly and wet, and snakes kept ssssssslithering out towards my bare feet. I tried to relax, be cool, Mr. Snow White, and just read my book, live-and-let-live. But my toes kept yelling to my brain: "Snakes!" I'd flail my arms and they'd scurry off. Then [rustle rustle rustle] out the'd come again. Dammit! I get shivers just writing about it.

Today the temperature is cooler, so snakes must work harder to bask. One shinnied up the stem of a small plant in my butterfly garden. I go up to enjoy the new flower, and--dammit!--big fat snake head bobbing and weaving and grinning and licking in the breeze as if I someone had coaxed him out of a basket with a flute. (If a flute brings them out, is there an instrument to drive them away? Hmmm--bagpipes, maybe.)

Last summer I was reading on my little brick front porch. I glanced down to see a snake head rising out of a crack, close enough that he could creep into my pocket. Dammit! A bag corn chips exploded all over the yard, and the neighbor next door was looking up from her gardening to see where that shrill scream came from, its faint echoes still returning.

Do you think snakes do it on purpose? Do you think they poke each other with their raspy little tails and say, "Carl, watch this guy--it's hilarious!"


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

You Called?

Dear Micksters,

I was at Blockbuster yesterday. As I was paying for my movies the store phone rang, and the clerk did the unthinkable: "Can you hold please?" and he finished checking me out.

"Whoa. Did you just put that customer on hold to wait on me?" I was stunned. "That was really nice of you."

"Not me," he replied with the grin that comes from putting people on hold. "Company policy. In-store customers come before phone customers."

I have always agreed with that, but no one else seems to. Heck, I drove there and am standing there with product to buy and money in hand. I am why they built the store. But in my experience, I've always had to wait while clerks answer caller questions about store hours for people who got the phone number from a Yellow Pages ad that listed the store hours.

I have waved cash to get a cashier's attention. "Yo! Real Human with Money here!" It didn't work, so as I stood there I used my cell phone to call the store. "Hi, my name is Michael --I'm standing right in front of you and I was wondering if I could actually buy something?"

If I were the clerk I would think it was brilliantly ironic. But I got that blank stare you often get from someone raised on Nintendo.

The recorded greeting on the phone at my bar, Mick's, is eternal. It embarrasses me, and not just because my voice sounds uncomfortably like David Sedaris. "We're open at...for booking questions...to see who's playing, visit our website...." By the time they get a chance to leave a message they've had another birthday. Yet inevitably they ask a question like, "What time do you open?"

[Curmudgeon Alert.]

In 1965, someone got paid $2.30 an hour to answer your questions. Now we pay "voice talent" who has never even been to the store $60 per hour to pre-record answers to questions you were never going to ask. "To get your current balance, press one!" They never offer a selection like, "To speak to someone who actually knows something..." And don't even get me started on how good it sounds to a customer who calls for operating instructions for his Chevy and gets connected to someone in India who has never even owned a car. Is it really cheaper to just hope a customer will give up?

Press 9 for more options? Man, you don't need no more options.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Mayday! Mayday!

Dear Micksters,

Does anyone know why, when a plane is going down, the pilot is supposed to yell into the radio, "Mayday! Mayday!"? Wouldn't it make more sense to yell "Crashing?" Or scream "Holy-Sweet-Mother-Of-All-Things-That-Bounce..." It's bad to have to remember a code word while you're wetting your pants. "Easter! No, wait—Labor Day? Dangit... Oh yeah—Mayday!"

At least the control tower guys would know immediately that you have a problem. Yell "Mayday" and they're likely to check the calendar. "Wow, Jim, is it May Day already? I need to go get Margaret a basket. I forgot last year, you know, and never heard the end of it."

May Day! Well, that's today. Omaha folk don't seem to make such a big deal about it, but when I was a kid in Kearney, Nebraska, we made May baskets. Simple premise: you leave a May basket at the door, ring the bell, and run. The recipient is expected to try to catch you and kiss you, so be sure you have the right address.

It's kind of a cross between Halloween, Tag and Spin the Bottle. I was a competitive kid, so I didn't get kissed much. But I was sissy enough that I genuinely enjoyed weaving pink paper baskets for people and filling them with candy.

I didn't really get the point that it was a rite of Spring. To me it was all about outrunning someone. I didn't see any difference between it being a boy or girl. I have since learned a great appreciation for that difference.

On any other day if a boy came to the door hoping to kiss my eight-year-old daughter, I'd beat him into a Raisinette. But on May 1, there I was at the dining table with my mom, forming a neat basket out of construction paper, staples and Scotch tape, listening dutifully to her instructions on how to be chased by a girl whose name was, appropriately enough, Candy. "Now remember, Dear," mom said, "make sure her dad knows it's May Day, so he doesn't kick your ass."

And really—try on any other day to run a girl down from behind to tackle her for a kiss. You'll end up on the corner of Reform School and Mace. (With the possible exception of Reverend Wells's daughter.)

It is also the only sport I can think of where you get rewarded for running not quite your fastest. Race more than a block and your pursuer will give up. Now you've won, and lost.

By the way, no one, including Candy, was at home when I rang the bell. Is it bad that I went back for the basket?