Friday, September 22, 2006

On Magic, Karma & Luck

A magic day, the kind when paths open in front of you in the grocery store, in the parking lot, in traffic. I remember a concert once upon a time when this happened; foot traffic was thick and I was going against the flow but somehow the sea of humanity parted and it was as if I was walking alone on a trail somewhere. I had a good buzz going but this was happening without thinking--I was traveling at a good rate and no one even brushed or challenged me. I'm normally placid in crowds, content to keep my place in line and give way as necessary. I like to think it's politeness or respect and not timidity but it's just the way I am, the way I was raised. Anyway, back to my magic day...

I had a bellyache from hell and reminded myself once again that I need to give up late night pizza and all the cheese associated thereof. But once I got myself moving the magic began. Here's what scares me: I put ten dollars in the change machine at the laundromat and received $20 worth of quarters. I would have suspected that I accidentally stuck a twenty in the slot--except that the same thing happened to me two weeks ago and so I double-checked this time. What bothers me is karma. This is the kind of thing that ALWAYS comes back on you. Always. I have vainly prided myself on being honest to a fault in matters such as this. I give clerks the pennies that I owe even when they blow it off. I think the fact that it was a machine caused me to turn a blind eye but the fact remains: the money belonged to someone else. So now I have to go back and explain and do the right thing. I imagine that not many people put tens in the slot or else they would have had the machine serviced. I see many people who will give the attendant a ten rather than use the machine. You can imagine what will happen when the wrong person finds out though. That person will take a c-note and have it broken down. Then they will go get $200 worth of change. And I imagine the attendant (who's a little crusty anyway) will hear all the coins jangling and go "Hey, hey, HEY! What you doing thell? You no need one-hundled dolla quawtahs".

Speaking of karma. I'm an asshole. I keep hearing that Dennis Leary song in my head every day lately and I know why. I owe a public apology to my buddy. When you can count your friends on two fingers you really don't need to be throwing them away. See, I couldn't face ya to tell you that I couldn't make that trip to Austin that we planned so many months ago. I couldn't afford it. I was supposed to be working steady by now. I knew you'd try to pay my way and I knew you couldn't afford it either. And I've been wanting to crawl into a hole. I told a friend (the other one), "No one wants me anymore" and he said "Yeah, but we're damn good looking". Reminded me of what my mom used to say, "Too bad you couldn't have been born rich instead of so good looking". Fact is, I could use a little less looks (though there's really none to spare anymore at this stage of life) and a lot more money.

There's another sad little truth about the matter: if I take a trip out of town I may not be coming back. In all probability I won't come back. I am miserable in Houston and I haven't been able to develop a rapport in better than ten years. Most of my antipathy is created by the freeways. I don't think traffic will ever be solved in this city--there are just too many cars on the road. You finish widening a stretch but the new road has to bottleneck down somewhere. By the time more lanes are completed it's already time to add more. I see the stress and the rage that overtakes drivers every time I'm out. Usually it envelopes me while driving three blocks to the grocery store. I keep telling people that every time I think I've seen everything, someone shows me something new.

Me and a guy were driving home from work the other day and we commented how people will try to pass a string of cars lined up for an exit. Then they want to cut in at the last minute and tie up two entire lanes while they maneuver. Sure enough, a pickup did it to us. We ignored him but he kept coming until we were forced to brake and pull off. He was willing to hit our beater with his brand new truck to squeeze in. We both cussed the driver and later pulled along his right side when traffic opened up. Our driver cussed their driver and spit on his car. We were separated again but fortune brought as back together. At which point our driver cussed them and spit on them again. He's from the Northeast and has a bit of the New York driver mentality that you hear so much about. This didn't lead to a shooting or anything but you can see how it happens. There's just no politeness or respect out there. Everyone is in a hurry. People race through traffic to be first to the stoplight. People pass on the shoulder. People race through parking lots and through apartment complexes. And always people imagine themselves to be much better drivers than they actually are. That's the scary part. Luck, and not reflexes or skill, saves them for a time. But sooner or later luck turns and they are the ones holding everyone else up.

But I was talking about leaving Houston. To me it's a money-hungry, lucre-chasing, dog-eat-dog place; it's unihibited greed driven by fear and insecurity. You think it's the same everywhere but the attitude about it is different some places. In California it seemed there was a lot of money and people really didn't mind spending it so maybe it only appeared more casual. I was warned about it when I arrived here. "Everyone wants to get over on someone". "People don't want to spend it but they sure want to take it". And at every party that I've ever attended here there has always been someone who says "Well, it's free beer". And you realize that is the only reason they're present. It was a new concept to me the first time I heard it. It's like "I don't want to be here but if it's free it's for me". I guess my point is, I don't like everything to be defined by dollars and cents. I don't want to negotiate and haggle over every little dime that is spent. I don't like companies that neglect the real workers to feed their bottom line. And I'm not going to a party for free beer if fun isn't included.

So where does that leave me? Well it seems I'm on the verge of adding destiny to this discussion. And I don't know where that fits in with magic, karma and luck. I have an idea but I don't want to go there right now. I just want to stop this spin and get off. So Jay, I'm sorry. Damn I've spent a lot of time apologizing for one thing or another in this life. But when you can't make 'em right ya gotta do the only thing ya know. BTW, do they have strip centers everywhere in Austin like they do here? I got an idea for a next gig that beats pushing brooms; washing windows is kinda rewarding afterwards when yer looking at shiny-clean glass. Speaking of, my reflection doesn't say good-looking to me unless ya mean in some odd kinda way. But maybe a reflection is magic in itself. And maybe that magic will help me get my karma in line. And then maybe I'll get lucky.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Mr. Coffee Sucks

Long ago, frustrated with a product, I Googled "product X sucks". It was so successful that I've repeated the search frequently when irked, using a company name, their product or some other related title. This always works as a starting point for an eventual closure. There are always plenty of people willing to condemn or denigrate some icon that is interfering with their karma. I try to avoid doing that. I'd rather 'fix' the problem than waste my time putting it down. Today though I must speak out. I've reached the end of my inexhaustible supply of patience.

I've owned Mr.Coffee machines since they first started making them, probably half a dozen through the years. I can remember buying another brand only once. Joe DiMaggio pitched Mr. Coffee and Joe wouldn't lie. Joe was always about class and performance. And Mr. Coffee always performed capably--eventually they wore out and part of the reason for that was maintenance or lack thereof. I was always lax about running vinegar through the works, waiting until the unit was gasping and choking in the throes of arterial blockage.

I hate my current Mr. Coffee and my displeasure began on the second day I owned it. That was nearly two years ago now so you can see where it is time to speak up. Nearly every day I waste a minute or two hating this contrivance and you know that can't be good for the soul. Actually I wrote a review at Amazon but found out, just before posting, that my model number wasn't in their list and I had actually written about a 'twin' model. That would make the review a defamation and I certainly wouldn't want to skewer a 'good' product. Just for the record, my model is a TF13, a sleek, black, techno-suburbia stealth design. A wonder of modern engineering, living on the coat tails of Joe's greatness.

In my review I used a "three strikes and yer out" analogy. I hinted that Joe DiMaggio would never have proclaimed this product worthy--it would have been beneath him. I may have mentioned that Joe was feeling some discomfort at his present home with the direction the company took after his departure. I guess I was trying to indicate that Mr. Coffee was not good for baseball in the way the baseball was good for Mr. Coffee.

Let me see if I can remember the strike count. I believe I started with the design. Strike one may have been a 'tall' fastball. Some first-year engineering school graduate extended the lid for this design to cover both the water reservoir and the filter cannister. The testers and marketing people loved it. Fine so far. But my cabinets are 18" above the counter (pretty standard for the lower units). The lid for Mr. Coffee stands 21" high when open. You see where I'm going? From day one I have had to pull this unit to the front of the counter to fill it. Plus the lid is always in the way of the cabinet door where I keep my filters (don't ask me why I don't move them--this is where they belong). My coffee maker doesn't sit at the front of the counter. It resides at the back to leave room for other activities at the front. Strike one.

Strike two must have been somehow related to the pause 'n' pour feature. It leaks. Well actually the leak is not from the basket shut-off mechanism. Condensation collects in the area around and underneath the filter cannister. There is an opening in the bottom that is not governed by the pause control. I would guess that its purpose is to allow basket overflow to escape through the bottom rather than bubble over the top and sides (a "feature" of a few past models of Mr. Coffee). The problem is that I have never, ever, no matter how carefully I try, been able to pull the coffee pot without water or coffee dripping onto the heat element. Twelve times a day I hear the sizzle of a frying pan when I'm not even cooking. This must somehow be akin to what water torture treatment feels like.

I'm pretty sure strike three must have been the carafe itself. Another 'leaker'. Impossible to pour into a stationary cup from 2" above the rim without also pouring on the surrounding counter. I havn't really investigated this but I usually fix user errors within a year of discovering the problem. Having said that, I just poured a cup of coffee and left no discernible telltale drip on the counter. So maybe I'm in a hurry sometimes and maybe I need to re-evaluate my pouring methods. But I'm calling it strike three and you never win an argument with an umpire.

So now I wait, hoping every day to hear Mr. Coffee TF13 do his death gurgle. I've worn the coating off of the heat element with the constant wiping and cleaning and I may have compromised the seal: Mr. Coffee has been doing a lot of popping and snorting lately and I fear (sic) the end is near. Rest easy Joe, I never blamed you for this. But some folks at Mr. Coffee need to check out your history--your work ethic and dedication to your profession. And then they need to emulate it. Because this Mr. Coffee sucks.