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Unseasonably warm, moist air, fueled by climate change, has settled over Michigan.  Because the ground is still cold, it means fog.  Dense, horrific fog.  For the last four days, we've been living in England.  It's thick, heavy, and dangerous.  Occasionally, in late afternoon, the fog thins or lifts entirely, but among trees, it stays.  We haven't seen the sun in days and days and days.

The blue jays are back, too.  Way early.  I heard them screeching and chasing each other this morning outside the bedroom window.

This is strange and odd, and further evidence of climate change.


Lost Debit Card

Last week, Aran lost his debit card.  He'd mislaid it at Kroger, where he works.  At my urging, he called the store to see if anyone had turned it in.  The manager said they hadn't.  Then we drove over to see if it was where he had left it.  He looked everywhere in the hot buffet section (where he'd last had it), but it was gone.

I had him check his account for unauthorized charges.  There were none.  Then I looked up the number to call for lost cards and had him dial.  "Put it on speaker," I said.  "You talk, and I'll be here to help if you need it."

Aran negotiated the phone tree and ended up talking with a rep.  He only needed one prompt from me to get his card canceled.  Cool!

The number was only for canceling cards, not replacing them, though.  That required a visit to the credit union.  I thought about this.  I have to leave for work early in the morning, before the CU opens.  Aran gets home from work moments before the CU closes in the evening.  It would be tricky getting over there.  Well, there was no reason he couldn't do it himself.

I told Aran what he needed to do, and wrote down a numbered list of instructions.  (1. Go to credit union. 2. Ask the teller for a replacement debit card. 3. Ask for expedited service and how much it will cost. 4. . . . )

The next day when Aran got home from work in the evening, I asked him if he'd gone to the credit union.  He said he had, and that he'd ordered a new card. It would come in three business days.  Go Aran!


Sponge Bob: A Photo Essay

My hatred of Sponge Bob is legendary among my family and acquaintances.  The reasons are legion, and I won't go into them here.  Just take my word for it.

So at my birthday party, Kala (who knows my dislike but doesn't share it) bought me as a gag gift a Sponge Bob pinata, filled with candy and gave me a length of plastic pipe for pounding it.  How thoughtful!

I accept your challenge, Mr. Bond.

Read more...Collapse )


Extended Birthday Celebrations, Part 2

The Saturday after my birthday, the boys were over at Kala's for the weekend.  Darwin said he wanted to go out for dinner with just me, and I would choose the restaurant.

Mwah ha ha!

I chose an Indian restaurant, because I never get Indian food.  Darwin doesn't like it much, you see, so I took advantage of my birthday to force him.  Ha!  Besides, we'd eaten at this restaurant before and Darwin had admitted that he did like the food.

Darwin made reservations for five o'clock.  I was a little puzzled--why make reservations for five on a Saturday?  No one else would be there, and we'd easily get a table for two.  Uncharacteristically, Darwin was hustling me out the door.  Usually when we're going somewhere on a timetable, I'm the one jingling the car keys and tapping my foot while Darwin dawdles.

A water main had broken that morning in Lake Orion, where Darwin is Village Manager, and he'd been fielding messages about it all day.  His phone kept going off while we were driving to the restaurant.  He was sure it was more about the water main break, but he wouldn't let me read the messages to him.  Eventually at a stoplight he got his phone out and checked the texts.  He sighed and railed about various annoying situations regarding the water main break, then continued onward.

Despite the GPS and my pointing things out, Darwin overshot the restaurant, which is on a high-traffic road.  This created a big delay--reversing course for the return wasn't easy.

At last, we arrived and went in.  The restaurant was nearly deserted.  The only occupied table, in fact, was a long one near the entrance.  It had half a dozen people around it, and all of them were studiously bent over menus.  I paused at the front counter, but no greeter was there.  Darwin kept on walking, though, and headed for the table.

It finally dawned on me that the people at the table were deliberately hiding their faces behind the menus, and the people were all my relatives!  It was my mother, her husband Gene, my brother Paul, Aran, Maksim, and Kala.  Good heavens!

Darwin had arranged a little surprise.  That was the reason for the reservation, of course, and the source of all the text messages--they hadn't been seated yet and were telling Darwin to stall.  So he overshot.  The water main break was real, though it provided a handy excuse for all the texts.

It was wonderful!  We had endless fun time dissecting the menu, including searching for something the non-Indian eaters could enjoy.  (Chicken fried rice and naan bread always work in these cases.)  We also poked gentle fun at one of the waiters, who needed a little more practice.  The food was delicious, however, and Aran even had curried fish, a brand new dish for him.

And there were even presents!  Paul gave me a candle done in the saint style with Edgar Allen Poe on it, which I liked very much.  (I immediately lit it at the table.)  Kala gave me a pinata shaped like Sponge Bob and a stick to beat it with.  (Yes!  My dislike of Sponge Bob is legendary.)  Darwin gave me two tickets to a burlesque show featuring a pair of magicians who perform naked.  (Was this present more for me or for him . . . ?)  My mother gave me two things.  First was a folder of geneology my grandmother had collected over the years.  (I had to hold it away from Darwin so he wouldn't drool on it!)  Second was my old school memory book.  There's a page in it for every year and a pocket for whatever photos or mementos you want to keep.  I'd forgotten Mom had it, and hadn't seen it in decades.  It was a joy to look at it again.

We all ate and talked noisily, as my family is wont to do, and finished off with some wonderful mango ice cream to cool off overspiced mouths.

It was a wonderful surprise evening.


Extended Birthday Celebrations, Part 1

Last week was my birthday.  I'm 50 now, halfway through a century.  How about that?  Nearly everything still works well, on balance, and while I'm happy with my life at this stage, I still have goals to achieve, so this is a fine thing.

I'm a January baby, so when my birthday comes around, everyone is recovering from the holidays and no one is much in the mood to celebrate yet another day.  This means my birthday usually passes quietly.  There have been marked exceptions, like the huge surprise birthday party I got for my fortieth.

And this year.

On Wednesday, the date of my birthday, I arrived in my classroom and found bright birthday balloons and some delightful flowers on my desk.  No card or any clue who they came from.  A little research, though, produced the culprit--fellow English teacher Miclle Singer.  My students saw the balloons and tossed me birthday wishes all day long as a result. :)  And then, when a group of us were eating lunch, Michelle abruptly produced a birthday cake!  Oh, it was good, too.  It was a wonderful surprise.

That evening, I wanted to go out for supper and I chose a Mexican restaurant up the road from us.  Aran stated firmly that he was going to pay for the birthday dinner tonight, and he did.  (!)

But wait! There's more . . .


Shopping Update

I've been using my local store's on-line pickup shopping option to great effect lately.  I'm still liking it.  I've also discovered an interesting side-effect:

It's saving us money.

Our weekly grocery bill has consistenly gone down by about 15%.  It's because the system only lets me buy what's on the grocery list.  When I use this system, I'm not at the store to say, "Oh!  I should get this!" Or, "I forgot to put this on the list. I'll grab it."

It has noticeably reduced the grocery bill, probably an effect Kroger didn't want, but one I'm happy with, nonetheless.

Gay Promise

This week I've written about the Gay Tragedy and the Gay Tease.

Finally, we also have the Gay Promise.  This is when the producers announce loudly and firmly that they're going to have a gay character on the show.  Real soon now!  Really!  Just watch and you'll see!  It'll be a major character, too.  We promise!

Sometimes the character shows up, but more often, the promise is quietly dropped because the producers chicken out.

SUPERGIRL actually came through on this one.  Kara's sister, a contract character, started to realize she was a lesbian and is currently exploring that with another woman.  (Though the eternally unsatisfied me must still point out that Hollywood seems more willing to show women kiss on screen than men.)

Just lately, the YOUNG JUSTICE animated show announced they would have a gay character on their recently-revived show.  As always, they haven't said who or under what circumstances.  I don't know why they don't just say who it'll be.  There'd be more publicity if they announce that Aqualad, or whoever they've chosen, is gay.

Hollywood, wake up!  You can write actual gay men and give them happy endings.  Let's get started.  Now.


Gay Tease

On Monday, I wrote about Gay Tragedy.  There's also the Gay Tease.

This is when a TV show or movie claims that a character is gay, but doesn't actually DO anything with it.  There are two versions of the Gay Tease.

1. The director, producer, or writer says, "Oh yeah--he's gay.  He's always been gay," but there's nothing on screen or on the page that definitively says so.  J.K. Rowling, for example, created waves when she "revealed" that Dumbledore is gay, except in the books there's no hint of it.  (A "deep friendship" with another male doesn't cut it.)  This happens all the time, and the only reason for it is to keep the slavering homphobes happy.  If a large group freaks out about the idea of Character X being gay, the producer can wimp out and claim, "What I mean when I said that was that you can IMAGINE the character as gay if you want."  It also allows them to have a gay character without having a gay character.  And it's complete bullshit.  You wouldn't do that with a straight character.  If you say there's no stigma about gay characters these days, then give us gay characters, please.

2. The show or movie has a secondary character who pops up and says, "I'm gay!  This is my husband!" and nothing else happens with it.  We never see the husband (or boyfriend, or fiance, or . . . )  We don't ever see the actual relationship develop (though there'll be a couple-three straight relationships on the show that get extensive attention).  We never see anyone dealing with the ramifications of a same-sex relationship.  Just the occasional, "Don't forget that I'm gay!" reference, and that's it.

THE FLASH has one of these.  Barry's police captain is married to a man.  We even saw the husband once.  But that's it.  We get the occasional "Don't forget I'm gay!" reference, but no actual stories.  And the character is so minor, he may as well not exist.  Certainly we haven't seen him in the current season.  The Pied Piper is another example.  He makes a couple of reference to being gay and (stereotypically) into leather when he shows up, but no actual development of it.

This allows the show to claim they have a gay character on it without actually having a gay character.  It's a castrated gay man, really, because he never does anything sexual or sexy or romantic.  He never gets his own storyline.  He never fights with his boyfriend and makes up.  Instead, he's the non-threatening gay character thrown in as a sop to the LGBT community who also is supposed to keep the right-wing nutjobs happy.  It's nothing but Gay Tease.  We know it for what it is, and we're tired of it.  Hollywood needs to change it now.


Gay Tragedy

This is 2017.  Marriage equality is legal.  And yet we still have a media filled with Gay Tragedy, Gay Tease, and Gay Promise.

The Gay Tragedy is when a same-sex couple, usually two men, fall in love and it ends badly.  Often one of the men dies.  At minimum, the two are separated and their relationship isn't allowed to end happily.  BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the most famous example.  When I saw that movie in the theaters, I thought it was poorly done. The characters' relationship is neither believable nor explained--they love each other because the script says so--and in the end, one of them is murdered because he's gay, leaving the survivor, who has lost his entire family as well, to weep alone in his isolated trailer.  Because, you see, two men can't have a happy, loving relationship that ends well.

TORCHWOOD does the same thing with Jack and Ianto.  Just as their relationship is deepening, Ianto is killed.  The producers said it was deliberately for tragedy, to change Jack so he could do important things later.  Yeah, sure.  But on an SF show that brings people back from the dead, they sure didn't hurry to resurrect Ianto later.  In fact, they only twist the tragedy knife by having Ianto's ghost show up and make Jack feel even worse in a later episode and make it clear that Jack and Ianto won't be together even in the afterlife.  Because gay men can't ever be happy.

Now, apparently, we're getting more of it.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a gay tragedy novel ("beautifully written," says one reviewer, which is code for "uses lots of flowery, incomprehensible language to camouflage the lack of actual story").  A seventeen-year-old Italian boy meets a twenty-something American visitor in Italy.  They have a mad, tempestuous relationship in secret, but in the end, the American has to go back home.  The seventeen-year-old is unable to forget or let go, and twenty-odd years later, he goes to Boston to find his long-lost love, only to find him married (to a woman) with children.  Their love goes forever unfulfilled.

The book was made into a movie that got a lot of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and was just recently picked up by a major distributor for wide release.  Because, you know, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, right?

Fuck you, Hollywood.  And you, too, BBC.

Apparently, the only kind of gay relationship you can show is one that ends in tragedy.  I won't go see it.  I won't buy or rent the DVD.  I will happily trash it, though.

After a thousand years of Gay Tragedy, I refuse to have anything to do with the idea until we've had a long, long history of Gay Happily Ever After.  Straight people get the HEA as a matter of course, and the tragic ending is the exception rather than the rule.  Showing Gay Tragedy after Gay Tragedy says that you think there's something wrong with LGBT people, and we're sick of it.

LATER THIS WEEK: Gay Tease and Gay Promise


The New Grocery Shopping

I loathe grocery shopping.  Join me in that, will you?  There's nothing to like about it--time-consuming, boring, nasty.  I used to do it early on Saturday morning, then realized I could save myself some time by preparing the list Thursday evening and stopping on the way home from work on Friday.  Then I wouldn't have to make a special trip on Saturday, with the added bonus of not having an onerous chore hanging over me for the weekend.  Though now I had another reason to dislike the process--I was doing it when I was tired after the final day of a full week's work.

Part of the loathing has come from the lack of customer service at grocery stores.  The stores keep as few clerks as possible on the checkout lines, and there is rarely anyone to help you in the aisles when you need it.  Grocery stores want to shunt you into self-service everything so they don't have to pay someone else to do it.  You get your own cart, you get your own groceries, many times you check yourself out, you haul your purchases out to your car, and you return the cart.

When I was a kid, at least, the stores had drive-up service.  After you paid for your groceries, the bag boy (he wasn't a "courtesy clerk" yet) put everything onto a numbered cart while pulled your car around to a special door and they loaded your groceries into the trunk for you.  But that service ended right quick in the cutthroat, greedy 80s.

Back in the Old Days (before World War II), no one pushed a cart at the store.  You didn't touch groceries at the store because they weren't yours!  You stopped in and handed your list over to the grocer who peered at it and said, "Yes, we have all these except for the canned peaches.  Will pears do instead?"  And you said pears would be fine.  "Will you be picking these up, or should I send the boy around?" asked the grocer, and you said you wanted them delivered.  A couple hours later, a kid with a wagon knocked on your back door, and you gave him a nickel for helping you put your order away.  The pick-it-yourself concept didn't show up until 1943, when the owner of the A&P realized all his clerks had been drafted and he couldn't keep up his orders, so he put all the groceries out on the main floor and gave his customers shopping carts. A new era had begun!

And now?  Grocery stores find themselves competing with on-line shopping and membership-driven mega-stores like Costco.  People are shopping elsewhere.  What to do?

Enter on-line grocery shopping!

Kroger started offering this service in my area just recently.  The idea is, you register with their web site, assemble an order of groceries, select a pickup date and time, and show up with your debit card.  You pay from the driver's seat, they load the groceries into the car, and you're off.  The service costs $5, and the first three times are free.  (This seems awfully low to me, and I'm wondering if the price will quietly go up if people use it a lot and it becomes a high-demand service.)

I wasn't sure about it at first.  Would it work?  How would I be able to pick the right products?  Would it take longer to assemble the list than just picking it out at the store?  But for only $5--free for now--it was worth trying.  This, of course, is what Kroger wants, but I hate grocery shopping more than I dislike handing demographic information over to a grocery store, so off we went.

Kroger does have a membership discount system connected to my email and cell phone number, and the store (grind my teeth) does keep track of everything I buy.  This information, however, was imported straight into the Click/Pick system when I first used it, which meant items I usually buy popped up, complete with picture and price, ready for selection. This was indeed handy, even if it meant the store was watching.

I had already created a menu and grocery list for the week, so I started selecting from the web site.  It went very quickly, and a little sidebar also gave me a running total on the cost.  I also skimmed through usual purchases to look for anything I might have forgotten to put on my list, then hit the finish button.

They asked me to select a time and date.  The first time I did this, I had a wide selection available.  The second time, no slots were available on the day I wanted to pick my groceries up.  I'm guessing the service was popular that day, and the slots were all spoken for--there are only so many clerks.  Interesting.

At the appointed time, I drove to the store and pulled into a section of the parking lot set aside for the on-line people.  Signs everywhere asked me to call a special number and let them know I had arrived, which I did.  A clerk promptly answered, asked my name, and said she'd be right out with my order.  A moment later, she came out with a portable card reader and a flatbed cart with grocery bags on it.  I used my debit card to pay, and she loaded the groceries into the back of the car.  All done.  Ta-da!

Everything from my list was there, including the produce.  In all, it took way, way less time.

I'm a little conflicted.  I hate handing over more information than necessary (and even what IS necessary) about myself to companies.  I know quite a lot about what they do with it, and I don't like it.

However, I absolutely loved, Loved, LOVED not having to go to the damn store.  It was like having little elves scamper about, gathering my groceries for me while I saw with my feet up.  Now that winter break is ending, my plan is to enter my shopping list every Thursday evening and have the groceries ready for pickup Friday when I get out of work.  I'll barely have to stop at all.  Wow.  Just wow.

So far I'm a convert.



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