Monday, March 23, 2009

My Session with Raj

I had connection troubles today. That in itself is not so strange, given that I live in the boonies and rely on a satellite to connect me to that new fangled internet. It clouds up here a lot, and rains often. Usually, though, we keep connected. Today was unusual. More so, because the modem seem to have been getting a strong signal. Them green lights on the left there stayed on steady as you please. So by the third time I lost the connection and the third time I called, the folks over at Satellite Central figured it was a problem with the router. The first time I called, I spoke to someone named Ferlin and the second time to someone named Jeremiah. I can’t make up shit like that. It was Lynn that gave me the toll-free number for the router company. Small manufacturer no one’s hardly ever heard of. Linksys.

Wouldn’t you know, when I called I got to talk to someone with an Indian accent. What a damned surprise. He told me the router was broke, but they could fix it from where they were for $39.99. You bet I was surprised. I was darned confused.

“You’re gonna fix my router from halfway round the world?”

“Yes, sir.”

And he convinced me it was cheaper than buying a new one. Alright, I said. Sign me up.

Turns out the payment was just to get service. A six month deal. Service any time I needed it. “Twenty-four times seven,” he said.

I gave the second Indian fellow to come on the line my credit card information and then he in turn transferred me to Raj, the Senior Specialist.

Well, Ole Raj gave me some preliminary instructions and then he told me to “just sit back and try to relax.”

Then he took over my damned computer! The mouse was moving on its own. Passwords were being typed in and windows revealed other windows. Actually, I shouldn’t say windows. I’m on a Mac, which I had to tell darn near half the Indian population tonight.

Now I’ve seen stuff in movies where some nefarious evil guy has an evil geek (Scott Green or someone like him) that taps into the pentagon Big Bertha of computers or something. You know, like disarm the fail-safe system or take over the traffic control system in Gotham City. Something like that. But, being a regular kind of guy, I figured that was all made up. No one can take over the government’s computer from some fortress of solitude. Well, guess what? It ain’t made up. I mean, how else could I have uploaded this little ditty tonight?

Friday, March 20, 2009

The $4.95 haircut

I am very particular and fiercely loyal when it comes to my hair. In the entire 27+ years I lived in Los Angeles, exactly three people cut my hair. I stopped seeing the first guy because he moved out of state. The second one eased himself out of the business. I stuck with the third person right up until we moved.

I wear my hair short, which for me is a double-bind. I have this nasty cowlick on the right side of my head. I have occasionally referred to it as “the divot,” which I have to be careful of. The first time I had my hair cut in a rock ‘n roll barbershop in Portland, I told the woman about to cut my hair I had a divot and she turned up her lip, like she was smelling feces. She gingerly pulled up my hair, afraid she was going to find a gaping wound or cloven skull. I apologized and told her I meant “cowlick.” She breathed an audible sigh of relief and I realized it takes familiarity to get my left-of-center sense of humor. The last person who cut my hair in L.A., (and the first person I went to here in Silverton), thought I should let my hair grow out… beyond the cowlick. My hair is straight and thick. Back in the day, I wore it long. My landlady in Brooklyn thought I was a Native American. Yeah, the way Mel Brooks was a Native American in Blazing Saddles. Those days are gone, as are the Disco-Vinnie days, the Mr. Slicko days and, in fact, all the days that required I spend any time with a blow dryer and “product.” I like it short and low maintenance. The secret is to cut it shorter than the cowlick, but just on the right side of a military buzz. Oh, I use product. Don’t think I don’t. I primp and spike it. It takes about 45 seconds and I’m done.

I was on the cusp of my hair being too long when we went on vacation last month. Then I got sick, with what seemed like the flu, then an intestinal bug and now, I don’t know what it is, but it is still persists, like the Supreme’s nasty lover in Keep Me Hanging On.

Monday was Bea’s birthday. As lousy (or marginal) as I felt, I still thought it compulsory to take her to dinner. I picked a place we hadn’t been to in Salem. Cool. But I had really bad hair. I showered and shaved in the morning. I tried blowing my hair and slathering the industrial strength adhesive I refer to as “hair glue” through my unruly locks. The right side stuck up about an inch and a half above my ear. Below it, the hair laid down nicely, thanks. The other side behaved perfectly. I hadn’t had time to go to the rock ‘n roll barber in Portland. I know, in light of the economic bailout, national record unemployment, churches getting shot up by nut jobs and AIG handing out bonuses like candy, my hair is not a big deal. But, you know what? It is. To me, anyway. In the immortal words of Billy Crystal’s Fernando, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

I had a morning interview for a piece I’m working on for the Salem Monthly. I figured, for the head of threat assessment for the Salem-Keizer Public Schools, I could have bad hair. But it did distract me from my mission. As he spewed psychobabbly terms, I wondered if he thought I was a total geek because of my bad hair. The thread of wonder wove its way into my thoughts. What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? Could I wear a Red Sox cap to dinner?

Shortly after settling in to our new home and our new life, I did a Google search for hair stylists, barbers and salons in Salem. It was a crap shoot. None of them sounded hip, now, mod or even remotely au go go. I settled for the “spa” on Water Street, where the young woman who would cut my hair until her pregnancy came to term, worked with a dark window behind her and couldn’t really see what she was doing. Welcome to Oregon. I was settling.

I thought of that Google list again yesterday. I did another search for “best barbershop reviews ratings.” Would you believe nothing—beyond the local barbershop quartets—came up. I was getting down to, which Red Sox cap would I wear and can any of them be considered semi-formal wear? I could just throw caution to the wind and wear the yet unworn John Deere cap I have. That would work. Yuk yuk yuk.

Then I remembered seeing the place on Commercial, on the corner of Court Street, across from Nopp’s Pawnshop. The Hair School. After all, as the saying goes, “how hard can it be?” I knew what the woman in the rock ‘n roll barbershop did. She used clippers on the sides and back and scissors on the top and front. I could convey that. I just needed to ask for someone adept at clippers. It was a sperm of the moment decision, but after my interview, I hung a tight left on Chemeketa and another left onto Commercial. I parked a few doors from the corner, let out a breath and committed to tonsorial experimentation.

There’s a lot of red neon in the windows. HAIRCUTS. COLOR. PERMS. And the one that got me right where I currently live: 4.95. The place makes Supercuts seem exorbitant! I had a sawbuck in my pocket. That was it. I could pay for the haircut, leave a tip and still have money left. What is our president saying? Well, he hasn’t actually come right out and said it. Everyone else has. The consumer reporters and local talking heads. The newspaper and magazines. Hard times like these demand creative thinking, an open mind, and less exacting requirements for personal appearance.

When I first walked into The Academy of Hair Design, I thought the place was busy. But it was deceptive. The students were all at their stations, working on disembodied plastic heads with really bad acrylic looking hair. A couple were doing coloring, with foil and white stuff. A shady looking guy—too old and not nearly hip enough looking—was milling about, looking around furtively, as if eyeing something to steal, and in between, dry-styling the head’s stringy hair. The woman at the counter asked if she could help me. Help me, perhaps, with the lump that had appeared in my throat. What was I thinking? Was I ready to relinquish my looks to a hairstyling student?

“Uh, I need to get my hair cut. Is there someone here good with clippers?”

I spent a long moment standing at the counter while she fetched a suitable expert with clippers. Shane introduced himself and directed me to his “station.” I learned he was a high school grad who wanted to follow in the family business. His father is a barber in McMinnville and his grandfather before him. He had no aspirations to learn coloring or perms. Nails or facial treatments. He wanted to be a barber. Fair enough. In order to get his license as a barber, he needs to complete 13500 hours of training. He had done 500 hours. Shane looked every bit of eighteen and had the moves of someone inexperienced. He had thick nerd glasses, what could have passed as a bowl haircut and a scraggly excuse for a beard. Perfect.

I wasn't sure if the rock 'n roll barber used a #3 or a #2. I told that to Shane. He used the more conservative #3. He worked the clippers gingerly and with a jerky upward motion. I remained patient, trying to make conversation. I had time and made sure to convey that. I gave Shane a suggestion or two, but in not exactly short order, he had clearly reached a point where he was stumped. He told me he was going to consult with his instructor and walked away to find her.

I think her name was Jenna. She whipped out her comb in one hand and scissors in the other. With a speed and dexterity akin to Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands, she finished what Shane begun in short order, giving me for all the world what looked like the usual twenty-five dollar cut… for $4.95! Shane looked on, taking mental notes and looking more than a bit overwhelmed. I thanked Jenna, thanked Shane and gave him a two dollar tip. So technically, it was a $6.95 haircut. Still, nothing to sneeze at. Now, I might be able to bid on one of Bernie Madoff’s yachts, or his place in Cap Antibes. My wife liked the cut. Her birthday celebration was nothing but fine. And I will be going back to the Academy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

World Gone Wrong

Was away on a much needed vacation. Didn't open a newspaper or watch the TV The last thing we saw was on the television monitors at George Bush International in Houston was that a likely suspect in Chandra Levy's murder/disappearance was found. I didn't stay to see if Gary Condit had a comment. Maybe Gary Hart did. Ah, ancient history. Time to board the flight.

I caught myself unconsciously singing "Eve of Destruction" in the shower yesterday morning. If you know the tune, you may correctly infer I had momentarily hit rock bottom of my internal Wurlitzer. It's a function of having a chronically deep catalog that is set to random play. Barry McGuire, the former member of the New Christy Minstrels and one-hit folk-rock bad boy. The song was written by P.J. Proby, but in all likelihood, no one would take credit for it now. Then again, they're doing a revival of Hair on Broadway. Now, that's relevant! Anyway, the line that came to me, post-vacation, was...

You can leave here
for four days in space
but when you return
it's the same old place

Space, Belize... what's the difference?

The point is, the news and the events in the world just keep on running themselves out, so far beyond sublime and too real to be termed ridiculous. The humor found within is dark. Very dark. I can't seem to laugh out loud. There is something caught in my throat. It's palpable and I can't seem to kick it. Last night, I downloaded Bing Crosby's "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Welcome to the world, as we're getting to know it. Comeuppance for laughing at those "when I was a kid" stories from my old man. That'll never happen in my lifetime... hmmm.

I like this one. It was reported in the Oregonian. None of their readers saw fit to spit out a letter in outrage. This story and Mr. Madoff irritate me to no end. First of all, for his crime(s), the Ponzi scheme just one of them. His hubris is criminal to such an obscene extreme so as to outrage, irritate and ultimately reinforce an age-old and despicable cliché. It's okay, I'm Jewish. I can say it.

This is the story, from the AP:

Madoff seeks to keep NYC penthouse, $62M in assets
NEW YORK (AP) — Bernard Madoff is seeking to keep a $7 million Manhattan penthouse and an additional $62 million in assets, saying they are unrelated to the fraud that authorities say cost victims more than $50 billion. In court papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Madoff and his lawyer claim the apartment, $45 million in municipal bonds and $17 million more in a separate account all belong to Madoff's wife, Ruth. The bonds in an account held by Ruth Madoff at COHMAD Securities Corp. and about $17 million held by her in a Wachovia Bank account "are unrelated to the alleged Madoff fraud and only Ruth Madoff has a beneficial interest in these assets," Bernard Madoff and lawyer Ira Sorkin said, according to the papers.

Then, there's the little matter of AIG, America's Insurance company. Literally, at this point. When all is said and done, the public will own 78% of the company. In honor of this unbelievable blip in the news cycle, I thought I'd recycle the montage I created in response to AIG's first blatant infraction-- the infamous executive junket to the Monarch Bay Resort in... Dana Point. Dana Perino's presence in it is not prescient so much as admittedly gratuitous. I actually loved her press briefings. She always had a twinkle in her eye and a tight smirk when she dodged questions in the briefing room. When I am done here, I'm going to check out Dana's Facebook page. Bloggo has a book deal. Does Dana? Will there be pictures?

Clearly, our country has changed a lot in the almost 40 years since Watergate. Back then, public officials were tried and convicted on high crimes and misdemeanors. Now, they go back to Texas or Wyoming. John Yoo is an interesting character. Not only is he a former assistant to the AG, he is a law professor... of Berkley College, no less! Does he teach as he writes memos that the 1st and 4th amendments are as arbitrarily malleable as Silly Putty. It seems he wrote endless memos suggesting the President of the United States has the power to break any law and ignore any statute inconsistent with his line of thinking and governing in time of war, regardless of the fact that the war was declared and fought on an unprovoked and unsubstantiated enemy. Evidently, Mr. Yoo is still on the faculty at Berkeley. The famous line from Seth Brundle rings in my head. "Be afraid. Be very afraid." Then again, so do the chorus from a Steely Dan song...

Are you with me Doctor Wu
Are you really just a shadow
Of the man that I once knew
Are you crazy are you high
Or just an ordinary guy
Have you done all you can do
Are you with me Doctor

It gets worse. The Bush administration and the CIA denied the presence of any video tapes of terrorist "interviews" (to be read: torture evidence). Then, they admitted to two. Months later, there were 92 tapes that were made, admitted to and destroyed. As of this writing, reports indicate no one will be held accountable or face any questioning in regard to the tapes or their subsequent destruction. Paging Mrs. Woods... Rosemary Woods... please report to your Dicktating Machine--

I could go on. There's John Boehmer's perpetual tan. Rush Limbaugh's ascendency to the throne built on hollow stilts.Bobby Jindal, an alleged candidate for the aforementioned throne, who possesses the brilliant statesmanship to refuse any bailout money for the state he represents-- a state still reeling from the worst national disaster on record and an educational system tanking among the bottom of the rankings. Tell the 9th Ward why you have said "no," Bobby. Alas, stupidity, like misery, loves company. Trash talking Bobby is not alone. Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina says no to any emergency relief money for his state and has started a website for support as well as airing his public stance, Crackers Against the Bailout. And then, there's A-Rod, as he admits stupidity and claiming he needs to "take his medicine." A quote that was just ripe for ridicule. It's bad enough that the country is in the crapper. We need someone making about 52 million a year to undermine the National Pastime.

As is often is the case, I turn to Mr. Zimmerman to make sense of it all...

Feel bad this morning, ain't got no home.
No use in worrying, 'cause the world gone wrong,