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Monday, July 29, 2013

Smash It Forward: A Public Shaming

Last week I had a moment of weakness.  I went against my Journey mantra and stopped believing.

I don’t know if it was because the universe is usually plotting against me and I let it get to me… or I just lost faith in humanity and jumped off the Earth bandwagon.  Not sure…

To sum up… I was helping my father-in-law by pumping his gas and when I went to pay, the fifty he gave me fell on the floor.  I didn’t see it, but someone did.  A lady picked it up and went about her business.  I almost accused the cashier of taking it.  I almost went ballistic, but I didn’t.  I swallowed my bile and just paid with my own card, accepting I was an idiot.

The problem was, I couldn’t completely trust that I knew what happened.  GetGo informed me that it appeared that the person next to me bent over and grabbed something off the floor, but there was no capture of what she grabbed.  It was all speculation.   They said they would follow up with loss prevention and let me know.  I expected that to be the end of the conversation.  I was out fifty dollars and my belief that there are good people in this world.  Believe me… I am not one of them.   I have so many faults and idiosyncrasies that volumes of psychiatric works could be penned just by peering into my brain.  It’s not a pretty place.


Today, GetGo called me to let me know that their Loss Prevention dept tracked down this person and that she admitted taking it.   It’s now sitting at the location on the manager’s desk.

Now, whether this person was truly shocked by the fact that she got caught… or she simply happened upon this fifty and was looking for a way to return it, I don’t know.  It’s quite possible she is completely innocent of any malicious intent.   The point is, even though there was a speculative theory about the events that day, she did the right thing.

So, I am too.  

I don’t know what Emily Post has to say about giving rewards or how much deserves a reward to be given.  Had it been $1000, I probably would have given this person something.  Then again, I don’t know what the intent was.  I know that there is a fifty dollar bill sitting at the office.

Since I can neither confirm nor deny the suspicions I had, I’ve decided to pay it forward.   I’m giving $25 to Hello Bully, a nonprofit group that helps to rehabilitate and repair the reputation of the American Pitt Bull Terrier.  They have no salaried positions and are made up entirely of volunteers.

The other half of that fifty will go to the Fayette Friends of Animals  I have been an animal owner all my life.  I grew up with three dogs and have four cats of my own, these days.  My daughter loves all animals and even though she is six, she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

Now, I'm not going to just use this post as karmic horn tooting.   I have a challenge for all you.   And, I am asking this as PROOF that there is good in this world.   

I suspect it’s there.    

I’ve seen some hinting of goodness among the ridiculous hatred and bigotry and whatever. 

Left/Right… Black/White… Gay/Straight…  whatever.  I want that shit stopped or at least lost in the sea of good people doing good things for each other out of the goodness of their heart.

If someone has ever done something for you, whether intentional or unintentional… I want you to do something nice for someone else... a stranger…  a group that does good things…  a person who needs it more than you.  Whatever...

I don’t care if it’s a stick of gum or a new pair of shoes.  DO SOMETHING.


Get out there.  Prove me right.   Keep it going.


In fact, if you can prove you did something good for someone else without financial gain or overt prodding… other than this call to action,  I’ll give you a shirt.  

That’s right.  You prove to me that you did a good and selfless deed and I will give you a free shirt proclaiming your big ole dorky heart. 

Now, if you want to buy one, sure.  I’ll donate $1.00 per shirt to a different group each month.  You tell me which one and I will take the majority of selections.

Let's do this people!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Get In, Get Out, Get Robbed

I hate using cash.  I absolutely hate using physical bills to pay for goods and services.  Why?
I’ve worked in retail, entertainment, and food industry jobs where cash was usually the only option for paying.   A microscopic look at the bills put into your hands by customers would make the monsters from Pacific Rim look about as threatening as the Care Bear Cousins.

My wallet is akin to something George Costanza would carry.  I stopped putting my wallet into my back pocket years ago to keep the scoliosis at bay.  Also, my card sits right next to my “loyalty” card for whatever store I’m patronizing.   I don’t need to flip through the various folds of my wallet looking for bills to cover the cost.  Not to mention the change you get back having to be organized on your person.  Coins go in a pocket… small bills go in a pocket… large bills in your wallet.  

You have to find the bills.  You have to count the bills.  You have hand over the bills.  They have to count the bills.  They have store the bills.  They have to count out your change.  You have to organize the change.  (see SPACE)

After working where I’ve worked and patronizing where I’ve patronized, using cash leads to errors.   It can either be unintentional or purposely erred on either side of the counter.   When you use a credit or debit card you are creating a paper or electronic trail.  You can physically see the transaction from your institution to the vendor.  If there is an error, it can be seen and dealt with at the POS, or if anything else, you are protected (Well, you should be), by the financial institution transferring the money.    It can take awhile or be an inconvenience to deal with, but so is losing money and/or identity theft.

So, I told you all that to tell you this.   My 74 year old father-in-law uses cash about 80% of the time he pays for anything.  The exceptions are utility bills, credit card bills, and taxes.   Whenever I happen to be out with him, and he needs to get gas in his car, I usually do the pumping and paying.  Yesterday, we stopped at the GetGo in North Huntington, PA.   I pumped the gas and the total came up $54.00.   He handed me the fifty.   Then he handed my four singles.  I placed all of the cash in my left hand and  folded it up.

I walked to the store about 8:05PM, and as I approached the counter, a lady in a green shirt, carrying some groceries approached the same space from a blind aisle.

We sort of did this weird standoff thing where neither one of us moved.   Usually, I would have let her go, even if I was the next person in line.   It just so happened that we had dropped my wife, who was feeling under the weather, off at the store to get some cold medicine and with the rains yesterday, I didn’t want her waiting outside at the store for us to come back and pick her up.     So, I jumped in and handed my cash to the cashier, thinking this would be a quick transaction.   I was trying to practice some Utilitarianism or Vulcanism by fulfilling the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few… or the one.

As I waited for confirmation from the cashier, I turned my attention away from the counter and other people.   Let’s just say it.  I did a quick scan of my Powerball ticket from Saturday.   At that point, the cashier repeated the purchas price and I confirmed. She then said, “You only have $4.00 here.”

I stopped.  I looked in my hands.  I looked around.   I looked back at the counter.  I had five bills in my hands.  I know I did.   Knowing that I was now impacting more peoples’ times, I grabbed the four dollars off the counter and explained that I would be right back.  I needed to tell my father-in-law to go pick up my wife and that I would deal with this.

He left and I retraced my footsteps back to the store.   He would have seen my path to the door from his vantage point.   What the hell just happened.   I expressed that I had no way of not having $54.00 in bills in my hand but that I would deal with this separately, and paid for the gas with my card.   I then went on my way of walking from the GetGo to meet my father-in-law at the front entrance of the Giant Eagle in rain.  He had already picked up my wife and I got in to the jeers of “You are truly an idiot with money” from my wife and my father-in-law saying, “’I’ll pay you back.”   I think at some point, I may have used some unflattering words about the situation.  Karma will find me for that I’m sure.

I called Customer Care when I got home and they put in a request to view the tapes.

Today, I received a call from them and they went through the video while I was in the store.  You can see the following.

  • I approach.
  • The other lady approaches.
  • I put money on the counter.
  • I turn my attention away for a brief period.
  • The lady in the green shirt bends over, out of view.
  • The cashier counts my money, twice, expresses confusion.
  • I take the remaining bills and leave the store.
  • The lady in green completes her purchases and leaves.
  • I return and talk some more.
  • I then pay with my card and talk with the cashier.
  • I leave.

The fifty dollar bill never made it to the counter.  Somewhere between me lifting my arm to place it on the counter and the money actually laying on the counter it disappears.

So, what happened.

I know what I think happened and I know what I would like to believe happened, but truthfully, it is not something I could prove*… So, as my wife, wonderfully pointed out, I am an idiot.   It’s true.  There are plenty of instances where this kind of thing is clearly demonstrated with me and pockets and receipts and cash.  She found a $100 in our driveway once and was overjoyed until she realized it was the one I dropped.

So, in the end, I applaud Giant Eagle/GetGo for their process of responding to and reviewing this incident.   I am also glad that I did not accuse the cashier and that through review of the tape, a little bit of my faith in the youth of America has been restored in that she did not take my father-in-law’s cash. I accept that I am an idiot that not only did not win the Powerball on Saturday, but am now out an additional $50.00 because I had to check my non-winning ticket.   What I do not accept is that someone could have stolen that fifty for whatever reason.  

Speculation breeds conspiracy theories.  They were pissed that I cut them off because they had two handfuls of stuff to buy.   They were a low life that planned to go buy drugs or alcohol with the ill gotten gains.   They bought an extra pack of donuts with the fifty.  Like I said, I made some disparaging comments about them after it happened.  This is my karmic retribution.   I can only hope that they truly needed it more than myself.   I am willing to be out fifty dollars if it helps someone get by another day in their own worse situation than myself.

But, I hope that fifty somehow made its way from a hooker and is now giving someone else syphilis.  The kind that looks and acts like those things from Pacific RimThen again, my hand has been itching since yesterday.

This is why I never use cash and use lots of soap.

*Seriously, if you are the person who took that fifty off the floor, I sincerely hope you needed it.  I have documented time and time again how I try to do the right thing.  I have put my time and satisfaction second when it comes to those less fortunate or the elderly in a lot of occasions, usually to the amusement of my readers.   If your situation is dire and that fifty was a miracle to you, then I accept that and will kindly say, "You're welcome. I hope you can pay it forward."

If you took it because you are just a horrible person, then fine.  Live with that. I will.   Just know that you were seen on the tape and if you used your Advantage Card, that was also seen by the cashier and their system.   You aren't smart enough to beat the system of record in this century.  You got away with a small victory, but the loss prevention department is reviewing all of this and I hope it was worth it.  Bravo to you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Legend of the Ham Room

As I slide into the end of my 30s and head towards middle age, I begin to appreciate the stories that make up my family’s ridiculous history.  As a kid, you really don’t comprehend the great tales that make their way around the dinner table at Thanksgiving or over beers and dogs at a BBQ on the Fourth of July.    If you’re lucky though, the stories get told enough times while you age.  

This latest and greatest comes from the master yarn spinner himself, my father.  Growing up in Layton, PA…

Trust me, you won't know where that is unless you are from the area. 


OK, do you remember Silence of the Lambs?  

That house at the end?   Layton.

The tunnel that Clarice Starling and Jack Crawford go through on their way to the funeral home to inspect the body of the first girl killed?   Layton.

Can I continue?

OK, so, growing up on the farm in Layton, PA, my father’s bedroom was basically an icebox.   Before he came along, it was used to hang meat, usually pig, from the closet.  It had exterior walls on three sides of the room, so it kept quite cold in winter.    On January mornings, he would wake up, put on winter clothes and a coat and play in his room.   His room was a modern day nerd’s wet dream; a room that smelt of bacon.

My uncle, around 10 years my father’s junior, moved into my father’s room and it became his.  In 1980, when HE married, they renovated they the house to accommodate the styling of the latter quarter of the 20th century.  This included redoing what had become known as The Ham Room.   My uncle’s belongings from his youth still resided in the room.  Odd ends and bits adorned the tops of dressers; a marble here, an interesting rock there, all frozen in time. 

It was summer and the room’s lack of insulation made it as cold blooded as a reptile.     Shirtless while he worked, combating the heat, he and my uncle increased the depth of the shelving in the closet, where pig carcasses once hung.  My father, not as svelte as he was in his youth, had the makings of a belly that passed onto his youngest, me.  After finishing, he spied a black marble, which he originally mistook for a cow’s eye due to its size.     The wheels began to turn in his mischievous mind.  He instructed his younger brother, now in his 30s, to go fetch my mother.    He often sent his brother on errands, as older brothers do, usually with devilish intentions.

He came down to the kitchen, where my mother was working on cleaning up from lunch or dinner, not sure which, and made up some reason to bring her upstairs to the ham room.  She obliged and climbed the rickety old steps up to the second floor.  She opened the door to the empty room where various tools and remains of carpentry sat.   My uncle said she needed to look in the closet, for whatever reason he invented.

My mother walked to the closet, and slowly opened the door.

There, in the top of the closet, was a large, stark white mass of something, with an eye fixated on her.  If filled the entire space in the doorway and actually crept out an inch after being freed from captivity of the closed door.   A scant of hair adorned the top and bottom right sides.  By definition, it could be a large scale, actual, hairy eyeball.  The blobulous eye-thing stared at her and for a moment, there was thought to be a blood curdling scream forthcoming.   Instead there was simply a sigh and “Oh, George!” that escaped her lips.   She turned and went back to her work, shaking her head in disgust.

This fleshy beast was simply my father, propped up on the shelf in the closet, shirtless, with his stomach hanging out.  His arms and his feet hidden on in either side of the door frame.  That onyx marble he found was positioned square in his navel like some kind of side show belly dancer from East Germany. 

How my father managed to wedge himself, shirtless, in the closet is a mystery.  How he managed to not succumb to the intense heat of a Cool Hand Luke style imprisonment is an amazing testament to his fortitude.   How the shelving managed to not crack and disintegrate from his weight is simply a nod to his carpentry skills.  Go dad!

And so it was the legend of the ham room was born.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Greetings From Fayette Nam

Breaking in with a shirt related post today. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my hometown and the surrounding areas.   Sites like Champ Yinz and My Fresh Factory have capitalized on the local flavor of Pittsburghers.  Being from SWPA or more to the point Fayette Nam as we call it, we don’t have a lot of catchy “wink, wink, nod, nod” shirts.  Well, I am hoping to change that.

Happy To Be Hungry
A couple of years ago, I did a pseudo homage/replica shirt of a local eatery which used to be a well known place in my hometown of Connellsville.   Winkys was pretty well known in and around the Pittsburgh area.   Some of you may remember the “There’s no Winkys in Wilmerding” saying of the 70s.   Eventually, in the late 80s, our Winkys was replaced with a Chumley’s, then an Arby’s.  Now, it’s a Rite-Aid store.

But for those of us old enough to remember the 70s, we’ll remember these.

And for those of you looking for a sense of nostalgia, pick up a Winkys shirt.


Mammoth Park
Another well know place in and around my hometown is Mammoth Park.  It's located in Mammoth, PA… more commonly known as Mt. Pleasant.  Mammoth was founded as a Coke mining town and a park was built nearby.  

One of the main features of the park is the Giant Slide, which was built into the hillside.  The metal sliding board takes a double dip and ends in a long straightaway, which is needed to slow you down.   The reason was that, instead of flaying about three layers of skin from the back of their thighs, most people would bring wax paper to ride down the slide, increasing speed.   So, I wanted to capture that idea by putting together an classic/retro parody of the idea with a shirt for a fictional paper company in the area.  Hence, the Mammoth Wax Paper Company was born.

Even though it's considered Westmoreland County, us Fayette Nam residents still claim it as our own.

East Park and Shady Grove Pool
These two ideas are still in the mix, but one of the features of East Park is either the tunnel or the newly restored Castle Lookout.  I’m still theorizing how to approach the idea.  The same goes for Shady Grove.  That one may not be a reality as it is still in business, I think.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Come Gather 'Round People Wherever You Roam

I don’t know what happened this July but everything has changed. 

Zazzle, one of my favorite POD sites, decided to stop paying out volume bonuses to us designers.  Instead, you only get a bonus for referrals and the dollar amount is way more than it was before.

Facebook finally switched me over to that graph thing, which I don’t like.   Everything is backwards.  All of the red numbers now appear on the right side of the page instead of the left.

Yahoo finally forced me to accept a different interface for my email, which I don’t like.   I liked Classic.  I knew where everything was at and sorting my messages was a snap.  Now, I keep forgetting to choose a folder from the top drop down.  I keep missing it. 

My kid turned six and is ready to rule the world.


If you can put a shark in a tornado and make a movie about it, these other things can go away!  WTF?!?!?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

BAMF! POW! SINK ME? A Look at a Literary Comic Book Hero

I had this plan to extol the virtues of being a cinema purist when it came to Superman. I will always see Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, no matter who plays him on film.   However, since I haven’t seen the newest take and I am not really a comic book buff, I didn’t feel right drawing comparisons and casting criticisms against anyone.

However, I did want to take a stab at comparing the genre of superheroes and comic books and secret identities.  I found myself unable to sleep last night and thought on early versions of who would be considered falling into the mold of a “superhero” or comic book character.

One of the earliest pieces of literature I have read was The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy.  It tells the story of the events that occur during the French Revolution.  This is the stuff everyone thinks about when they aren’t thinking of the plot of Les Miserables.   Basically, the commoners rose up and ousted the monarchy, executing nobles with the guillotine.  While their complaints and anger were not misplaced, the extreme measures were barbaric in nature and probably didn’t score them any points as French heroes, though they were more or less regarded as such.

At the center of the story is a foppish and wealthy baronet by the name of Sir Percy Blakeney.  While he exudes a playboy attitude, caring more about fashion and high class topics than current events across the Channel.   However, it is merely a disguise, a misdirection, that he uses to hide the fact that he is indeed an avenger of the nobility and rescues them in secret from their captors.  As a master of disguise and excellent swordsman he eludes Revolutionaries at every turn, leaving a calling card of a scarlet pimpernel. 

Sound familiar?  Rich, well to do playboy, pretending to be dim, all the while using a secret identity to fight crime.   Yep.  I thought that, too.   Sir Percy is a sort of French Bruce Wayne.  He even has a wife, an actress named Marguerite, who is unaware of his identity.  In fact, it becomes a plot point that he thinks she has betrayed her class by taking revenge against the Marquis de St. Cyr.  He had ordered her brother beaten for being involved with his daughter and Marguerite’s action led to the death or the Marquis and his sons at the hands of the guillotine. 

Soon, Marguerite becomes distant from her husband, thinking more fondly of this dashing and damned elusive Pimpernel, which unbeknownst to her is really her husband.  This is another trope in superhero genre comics and stories where the secret identity is left to watch the person they love more enamored with the hero than the everyday persona they use as a fa├žade.   Think of Superman/Clark Kent and the relationship with  Lois Lane.

Hell, the character’s name is a comic book hero name, The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Color and object combination.  Green Arrow anyone?

Of course, in the end, she learns the truth, in a way that I found to be reminiscent in a lot of films, like the end of The Usual Suspects.   My favorite adaptation was the 1982 miniseries with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, where she sees the obvious clues laid in front of her, suddenly connecting all the dots and her now, newly discovered knowledge, deepens her love for her estranged husband and she becomes a pseudo member of "The League of The Scarlet Pimpernel."

 Marguerite Discovers Percy's Secret
 Kujan Puts It All Together
In fact if you watch the 1982 or even the 1934 version with Leslie Howard, you can see a line drawn from the tropes or conventions from those adaptations to movies or stories told today.  The disguises, the switches, the twists are very much present.  The bad guy as a camp foil, his fashion sense mocked even in combat.  AND IT’S MAGNETO HIMSELF!
 But, but, I heard the firing squad shoot you!
 So, if you are a diehard comic book fan, pick up a copy of Orczy’s novel or go find the movie adaptations and see how a 1905 character foreshadows a lot of your modern day hero conventions.  Sink me!

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