Category Archives: Humo(u)r

A Sure Cure for Somnia

I’ve had problems sleeping for years and I’ve finally gotten irritated enough with this that I’ve started doing something about it.  The process of tracking down the source of my insomnia is not as linear as you might think and I’ve just been through one of the stranger steps in the process, which is a so-called “sleep study” to see if I have sleep apnea.  I went in for the initial consultation and to get the instructions for how to collect the data in the comfort of my own home.  I have to confess that I’m probably not the best patient in the world but this process is not designed by any thinking human being.

Upon arrival I’m informed that the test is free and the cost of the follow-up to get results is paid for by our Socialistic public health care system but the “rental of the equipment” to gather the data is NOT covered and costs $190.  I know a money-grab when I see one and this one is already making me a bit skeptical of my eventual test results because the walls are covered with the various pieces of hardware that they sell to cure your sleep apnea should they happen to diagnose it.  Their interests seem a bit conflicted, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After taking some basic measurements we’re put in a room with other folks being tested (I started to type “testees” but that just sounds wrong) so they only have to give the instructions once per batch.  They start innocently enough with a box that sits next to your bed and a small device you wear on your finger to monitor heart rate and blood oxygen.  It makes the tip of your finger glow and lets you make really lame “E. T. phone home” jokes in the middle of the night when it’s harder to get punched for them.  The device plugs into the front of the box and they show you how to wrap the cord around your thumb and tape it to your wrist so that if you turn the wrong way during the night your thumb will be sliced off before the sensor gets dislodged.

The next sensor they show you is a chest strap that goes all the way around your torso and gets strapped down “tight but not too tight” just below your sternum with the cable plugged into the front of the machine.  It’s supposed to measure your breathing effort.  It seems more designed to actually hinder your breathing effort, but hey, they’re the experts, right?

Next we add the combination microphone and position sensor which gets attached midway between your Adam’s apple and the gap between you collarbones.  This will record your snoring, and presumably any state secrets you may happen to mumble during the night.  I can only imagine what kind of pillow talk they hear when they review the data, but on further consideration I think you probably end up so trussed up that romance is just not an option.  This device comes with its own small adhesive pad which they already know isn’t up to the task so they include more tape so that you can “put an X of tape over the sensor and across your neck”.  Well, I’m here to tell you, their tape wasn’t up to the task either.  Plus, putting an X of tape across your own neck isn’t something you just DO without practice, so I enlisted my long-suffering wife and, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, ended up with roughly 10 pieces of tape covering the entire lower portion of my neck.  I’m sure … well, I’m pretty sure they were necessary.

Finally you add the piece de resistance (which is French for “the piece you most want to resist putting on”) the nasal cannula, which runs up the front of your neck, over your ears from back to front, and then sticks up your nose.  This will detect your breathing patterns should you actually choose to continue breathing with all this crap on.  It has a handy little slider device that allows you to tighten it under your chin, but this isn’t up to the task either and again the solution is more tape, this time from just below your eye near your nose out across your cheek on either side.

The woman giving us the instructions was one of the sweetest, perkiest women that I’ve ever wanted to punch in the nose.  After going through all of this and showing us how to test each of the individual sensors and start the data recording, she tells us to go through our regular routine and sleep normally.  Without thinking, I blurt out the obvious reply.

“Lady, if I could sleep normally, I wouldn’t BE here.”  Poor girl, she doesn’t deserve this, but she’s heard it before.

“I mean just do the things you usually do and let yourself fall asleep.”

“Okay, forget the ‘normally’, part then.  How’m I supposed to sleep at all with all this stuff on me?”

“Don’t worry, it’s not all that invasive.  You’ll get used to it very quickly.”

“NOT?…” I splutter, “Not invasive?!?  Listen, sweetheart, the only way to make the phrase ‘it sticks up your nose” any MORE invasive is to start replacing ‘nose’ with other body locations.”  This does nothing more than create an awkward pause, so I fill it with my next question.  “Where is the extension cord?”

“What extension cord?” she asks.

“The one that will reach from my bedside table to the bathroom so I can drag all this stuff to the can with me in the middle of the night.”

“Oh!  Yes, I forgot that part.  If you have to go to the washroom, you just unplug the power cord, coil up the cables in one hand, put the recorder in the same hand, and then plug it back in and restart the recording when you get back in bed.”

The rest of the session is uneventful and the fun doesn’t get going again until later that night as I get myself connected up.  I realize that I turn from side to side frequently in the night, but I’m not sure whether I go back and forth or round and round.  I’m certainly about to find out because if it’s round and round the best possible outcome is that I’ll wake up screaming with wires pinning my arms to my sides or wrapped around my neck.  I don’t want to think about worse outcomes.  With the patient help of Mrs. Feingarden I get wired up, get everything tested, start the recording and turn out the light.  Surprisingly, I do manage to sleep but it’s more fitful than usual.  Around 2am I get up, put the cables in one hand, unplug the box, put it in the same hand, and shuffle off to the bathroom.   <what happens in there is of no importance to the story and has been removed by the editor>   I sit back on the bed, plug the machine back in and…. the button flashes 3 times, goes out, and an error message appears on the screen.  No, I’m not kidding.  I repeat the process: unplug, plug back in, 3 flashes, error message.  I can’t believe it.  Not after all this.  No.  Please.  I try again.  I try 3 more times.  I try 3 MORE times.

Long story short, I slept much better that night after I’d taken all the sensors off, but I had to go through the whole thing again a week later.   The second experience was… well, I got to skip the instruction session but still had tape everywhere, still had things up my nose, and still slept badly, so it was pretty much the same as the first time around.  And yes, still had to go to the bathroom, but this time the device worked as planned and they got the data they needed.

The last thing you do when you return the equipment is to fill out a “sleep survey”.  When did you start the recording?  When did you stop it?  How much of that time did you sleep?  Was it good?  The last question really tells the story.  “Did you consume alcohol before going to bed?”  The only advice I can offer you if you ever have to take a sleep study is to do yourself a favor and make sure you can check the “Yes” box on that question.


Fed up with choice

The world is growing ever more complex, ever more dangerous, and nowhere is this more evident than when…. shopping for groceries.  Go ahead, laugh, but you clearly haven’t thought this through.  Fortunately I have done the thinking for you and I’m here to show you just how traumatic modern grocery shopping can be.

First, let’s establish right up front what the risks are in modern grocery shopping.  Purchasing the wrong item can have several bad results, ranging from a simple look of disappointment from the person who got the wrong shampoo, through the stoic air of long-suffering tolerance from the person who got non-fat sour cream instead of low-fat sour cream…AGAIN… to the realization that one of the items you have purchased is *completely wrong* and will never do and now you have to figure out what to do with 12 boxes of inadequate facial tissues.  You can’t throw them out, that would be wasteful, and it’d be a shame to toss them straight in the recycle bin, but who the hell’s gonna take second hand snot wipes, even if they ARE sealed in the original packaging?  No, those are gonna sit in the basement gathering dust until the end of the world, and you and everyone else staring at them as they unload the groceries knows it, and not only are they blaming you for getting the wrong thing and now they can’t blow their noses but you’ve also just added to the clutter in the basement.  Nice going, you idiot.  See?  Fraught with danger.

“Come on, Feingarden,” I hear you protest, “How often can you possibly get the wrong thing at the grocery store?”  The answer, with capitalism and a competitive market conspiring against me, is pretty darn often.

When I was a kid, shopping was easy.  Well, in fact, it was actually a bit more physically hazardous, because we shopped at the Prairie Market where you marked the price on the groceries with a grease pencil and bought stuff by the case and loaded them on a big platform cart and it was cool because Mom would just walk along the aisles and you could jump on and off the moving cart just like the garbage collectors did and it was really neat until… uhhh… this isn’t going where I wanted it to and this seems like a good time to get back to my main point, so allow me to reset.

When I was a kid, shopping  was easy.  Want soap?  Great, Dial, Dove, or that newfangled Neutrogena stuff?  Out of shampoo?  Pert, Prell, or Head and Shoulders?  It was just that easy, and products were differentiated by name and people were brand loyal and life was good.  Until some uppity consumers started demanding more choices.  More freedom.  More options. “Gosh golly,” they’d whimper, “I’ve loved Lay’s potato chips all my life but suddenly I think I need a chip that isn’t so boringly flat or my life will be unbearable.”  They’d whine at whoever would listen, convince them that flat potato chips are dull, and soon the poor folks at Lays were forced to either figure out how to make non-flat chips or watch their revenue stream dry up like it had been dammed by a beaver. And consumer whining wasn’t limited to potato chips, oh no.  “I want fancy mustard.”  “I have 24 children, I need to buy cereal in a 24 pound box.”  “I don’t like putting lotion on my nose when I have a cold, so I need you to put it in the Kleenex for me.”

The end result of this is product chaos that is irritating on at least 3 levels.  I know!  Let’s explore those levels of irritation, shall we?  Yeah, that’ll be fun!!!

The first level only affects hard-core logic based people and obsessive compulsives, and perversely is based on how FEW choices there are.  Laundry detergent is a good example here.  Once you decide that just being “Tide” isn’t enough to keep your buyers loyal, you decide to introduce unscented Tide and cold-water formula Tide.  To folks like me (assuming there are any) that means that you have to introduce all the combinations so that you can please as many people as possible.  So you need scented and unscented warm and cold water formulas for a total of 4 products.   Add a dye-free version and you have 8 products, right?  WRONG, because some fascist somewhere has arbitrarily decided that people who want dye-free laundry detergent will be not be allowed to have their special cold-water formula.   You can get soup that is low-salt or low-fat but you can’t get both in the same can.  I guess the idea is that you’ll get one can of each and mix them together and settle for medium-salt, medium-fat soup.

The second reason that this is irritating is that the marketing directors want it both ways.  They want the new versions of their products to break new ground and cut into someone else’s market, but they also want it to look like the same Milky Way bar that their customers have become conveniently addicted to.  The result?  All their products look nearly exactly the same and those of us doing the damn shopping have to get a frickin’ magnifying glass to see whether we’re buying fast yeast or quick yeast or regular yeast and what the hell is the difference anyway?  Well, the difference is whether or not the homemade rolls that go perfectly with corn chowder are ready in time for dinner or in time for the next family vacation, that’s the difference and yes, it does matter.  To make this worse, the makers of the “generic” products employ teams of lawyers to tell them how close to identical they can make their products to the products they’re ripping off without getting sued and now for every real product that you can’t tell whether it is original recipe or spicy or crispy there’s a knockoff trying to look just like it and now you have twice as many ways to get it completely wrong.

The last reason that all this is irritating is because in their quest to cut into their competitors, manufacturers have started crossing boundaries that simply should not be crossed.  Sacred boundaries.  Boundaries established long-ago and respected for generations are being ignored with unholy results.  There are more examples of this than I can name in the snack aisle alone.  Wheat Thins, for example.  Everyone knows what Wheat Thins taste like, right?  Not so fast, sailor, not if you don’t grab the right type of Wheat Thins you don’t.  They have multi-grain now.  And sun-dried tomato and basil.  And ranch flavor, in case you can’t actually dip them yourself.  And even nacho cheese flavor.  I’m sorry, but if I want nacho cheese flavor I’m going to eat Doritos the way God intended me to.  Nacho Wheat Thins.  Bah.  But the Wheat Thins people are amateurs compared to the potato chip people.  The marketers of potato chips are a soulless lot, wandering around the grocery store looking for anything that is popular.  When they find something, they take it back to their lab the same way that Igor took spare body parts back to Dr. Frankenstein and together they bring that flavor to life as a horrible new chip.  Chicken wings becoming a fad?  Let’s make buffalo-wing flavored chips.  People buying garlic bread to go with their spaghetti?  Try garlic bread potato chips instead!  There is no limit to the choices these people can create, and to prove it they have created a contest they call “Do Us a Flavor” which is nothing more than a chance for chip consumers to dare the company to produce combinations that would make Dr. F himself cringe.  “Winners” have included cinnamon roll flavor for those who prefer their cinnamon rolls crunchy.  If you’re dying for a cup of coffee but have a restraining order from the people at Starbucks, don’t fret, you can get cappuccino flavored chips.  They make steak flavored chips, apparently targeting the “struggling vegetarian” market.  I’m no food purist by any means but when you can make a potato chip taste like a steak dinner, you’ve gone beyond the boundaries of food and entered the Valley of the Damned.

To resolve this, I’m going to start a project on Kickstarter to fund a new chain of grocery stores.  We’ll have 2 kinds of milk.  We’ll have 3 kinds of chips (original and BBQ potato chips and Nacho Doritos).  We’ll sell 4 kinds of soup, two brands each of shampoo and conditioner (no, no 2-in-1’s in my store because everyone knows the shampoo washes the conditioner out), we’ll only sell 2-ply toilet paper in 12 packs.  And so on.  I haven’t settled on the name yet but I’m pretty sure I’m going to call it “Luddite’s”.  I look forward to a chance to serve you.

Cowboys and destiny

I’m not responsible for this post, for a couple of different reasons.  First, I’m writing it at my desk at work at 5:30 in the morning while waiting for a consultant to finish his voodoo so I can go home.  Second, the post pretty much wrote itself late last night…

I was watching rodeo on TV and became amazed at the names of the contestants.  I first noticed that there were a larger than average number of Cody’s and Chad’s and Jake’s, but those are not all that uncommon.  I also noticed a few clear names that brought the phrase “you ain’t FROM around here, are ya, mister” to mind.  Names like Marco Eguchi and Claudio Chrisostomo and Joao Ricardo Vieira.   I’m not sure what it says about the standard of living in South America that people are willing to travel from Brazil to Calgary for the dubious opportunity to earn $2,500 by riding on the back of a pissed off 1 ton mammal, but that’s off topic.

Then I started to see the real winners (or losers?) in this contest and it made me sad to realize that these poor fellows had so little free will in their lives.  From the moment that their parents christened them their path was clear.  Whether their parents did this out of a love of rodeo or in a drunken haze is also off-topic but their reasons for picking the names have no impact on the outcome.  I mean, seriously, what other choice in life does Timber Moore have than to be a cowboy?  No one would tolerate him trying to get a forestry degree, that’s for sure.  Ol’ Timber there doesn’t have it nearly as bad as Dakota Buttar or my personal favorite, Chase Outlaw.   Worst name for a cop ever.  Mom must’ve found it in a gushy romance novel.

The problem runs through whole families, with entire generations ruined.  Take the Crawley brothers, for instance.  Seemingly destined to be entomologists* their destiny took a sharp turn when their parents chose Jacobs and Sterling as their given names.  From there on, it was saddle bronc ridin’ or nuthin’ for them.  Or how about all 3 of the Cooper boys?  Clint, Clif, and Tuf, all destined to a life of tie-down roping by a family too poor to afford enough ‘f’s to give them proper names.

A lot of people complain about rodeos, that they’re inhumane and the animals are mistreated.  That may be true but before we worry about the health and safety of a horse named Crazy Day Job maybe we should focus on the human tragedy affecting folks like Briggs Madson.  Briggs is a competitor in the Boys’ Steer Riding category, so he’s young and it may not be too late for Briggs.   All it takes is a lawyer and a change of name form.   I think I’ll head out to Calgary and arrange an intervention.



* Bonus!  A joke for snobs.  What’s the difference between an etymologist and an entomologist?  The difference is that the etymologist knows the difference.

Games and life lessons

Among the many games played here on Planet Feingarden (both physical and mental) is a card game called “The Great Game of Mao”.   The rules are somewhat murky, since one of the rules is that you can’t tell anyone the rules, but it is a card game loosely based on the game “Crazy Eights”.  When it is your turn to play a card from your hand you must play a card that matches either the number or the suit of the card previously played.  If you cannot play such a card, you draw an additional card from the deck and your turn ends.  The first person to play the last card from their hand wins the round and you shuffle the cards and deal the next round.  Pretty straight forward, really.

At its core “The Great Game of Mao” just adds 2 new simple rules:

  1. When a player wins a round, they get to make up a new rule.
  2. When a player is told that they’ve broken a rule, they must immediately draw a card.  (Optionally they may also be slapped or punched depending on the Sadism Quotient of the players, the quantity of beer previously consumed, and other variables.)

That’s all.  Again, pretty simple, but in practice it’s the most evil game ever invented, mainly because of what is NOT in that list, specifically, there is no rule that says you have to tell the other players what rule you’ve decided to enact after you’ve won a hand.  There is also no rule that says you have to tell the other players what they’ve done wrong when they’ve done it, you simply tell them to draw another card and they have no choice but to comply.  The opportunities for mayhem here are limitless.  As just one simple example, let’s say you’ve just won a hand and you decide that all players must draw cards from the deck with their left hand.  The cards are shuffled and dealt, the play moves around the table until some poor schmuck can’t play and likely draws a card with their right hand.  You, knowing they’ve broken your rule, tell them, “Draw again.”  The odds of them using the same hand again are almost 100%, so they draw another card and you tell them, “Draw again.”  It goes on like that until the person figures out what they’re doing wrong.  Unless…..

Unless you don’t want them to be the only one who suffers.  There is no rule that says you MUST call every rule violation, so after the first hapless schnook draws a few cards you give ’em a pass and pound on the next person for a while.  This serves the dual purpose of spreading the hatred around the table more evenly and diluting the information that the other players have available to infer what the hell your rule is.  As Zach says, it can end friendships pretty quickly.

There are no restrictions on rules, so things can get pretty creative.  In the situation above, a wise but frustrated player might decide that whatever Bob’s rule is, it’s really annoying.  Unable to figure out what Bob’s rule actually IS, this wise player might win a hand and make a rule that whenever Bob says the word “draw” Bob must also draw a card.  If Bob doesn’t figure out your rule he’ll draw as many cards as he inflicts and if he does clue in then he’ll probably stop calling people for drawing with their right hand.  Either way, Bob has effectively been negated.

Earlier this week I was thinking about how wonderful “The Great Game of Mao” is as a life lesson while I was sitting in the HR office.  Allow me to explain.

I’ve recently been assigned some duties involving payroll and time sheets.  The way the system works is that employees enter their time against various (mostly mythological) projects in a web-based timesheet system.  This system then discards all the project accounting nonsense and creates a record of the “exceptions” such as sick time, vacation, and so forth for each employee.  Next, a supervisor is responsible for … get this… manually entering the exceptions into a spreadsheet for that employee’s payroll group.  These spreadsheets get loaded into a different system that presumably totals everything incorrectly, someone in operations sacrifices a live chicken, and paycheques fall out of a printer or direct deposit transactions are generated.  Somehow, I assume that most everyone gets paid because there aren’t too many employees that I know of who would show up every morning for free.

This Gong Show of a system forms the basic game, but as in “Mao” I’ve discovered a whole layer of hidden rules simply by breaking them.  I don’t have to draw an extra card but I do get soul-punishing emails from HR and the payroll people who seem to have very little respect for my powers of deduction.

The first email informed me that I had to fill out the attached spreadsheet by noon on a specific day.  That’s all.  Fill out the spreadsheet.  I correctly guessed that the sender was the person I was supposed to send it back to, but after that my luck ran out.   I had NO clue which of the 20 or so columns I was supposed to mess with, no clue where I was supposed to get the info from (no one had told me that I’d been given approver privileges in the time sheet system), and no clue about what the effective dates were for the pay period.  I dared to ask some of these questions but the people I asked seem to have played “Mao” already so the answers were less than helpful.  In response to my question about effective dates of the pay period I was sent another spreadsheet that contained all of the start and end dates for all pay periods in 2014 for all payroll groups across the entire company.  There are over 20 of them, all different.  I don’t know which one my employees are in.

The second email informed me that I’d read the spreadsheet wrong and posted information into the wrong pay period.

The third email informed me that one of my employees who works 37.5 hours per week is only paid twice a month instead of every two weeks because he’s on a different payroll than everyone else so we only enter 35 hours per week for him.  How that adds up only a payroll person can explain.

I don’t really remember what the rest of the emails said but as things currently stand I have one employee who has just returned from a 3 week vacation to find that he has more vacation than when he left, everyone in payroll has my phone on speed dial, several other employees have requested a transfer into my group because I’m without doubt the most popular supervisor in the company among the rank and file workers, and I’m more sure than ever that “The Great Game of Mao” provides an incredibly valuable life lesson for anyone who plays it.

The good news is that I’m pretty sure I’m winning.

Scientific breakthrough!

You may not have caught it in the news recently but an amazing new scientific breakthrough has been announced.  Well, it hasn’t been formally announced yet, actually.  The discoverer of this amazing knowledge has been too humble <cough> to submit it for publication, but now that the blog 2.0 is running there is no better forum for the announcement.  Brace yourselves.

I have discovered where the socks go.  You know what I’m talking about, the “missing” socks from the dryer.  I know where they go.

I know, right?  Totally groundbreaking?  Of course it is.

For decades, ever since the invention of the electric clothes dryer, mankind has wondered where the missing socks have gone. Many theories were put forward, only to be summarily dismissed. There was the Sock Planet theory, which stated that the socks somehow teleported to a planet made specifically for them, idyllically suited to their lifestyle. (One proponent of this theory may have been Douglas Adams, whose parallel theory regarding ball point pens I have just shamelessly stolen.) There was the Dryer Switch theory that postulated that the socks actually teleported into different dryers just to drive people nuts, but this theory was based on false claims that the ugly argyle socks in the dryer were in fact owned by the people who were denying ownership and claiming that they’d just magically appeared there. The Chameleon Theory only required a few minutes of simple counting to show that the actual number of socks was changing and that they weren’t in fact just changing color.

The cause of much of this confusion is that there isn’t a single reason that socks disappear in the dryer, there are in fact two.

Reason #1: The first reason that socks seem to disappear in the dryer is that they are still in the washer and never made it to the dryer in the first place.   This was discovered when adding the next load of laundry caused the drum to spin slightly, revealing a rogue sock bravely clinging to one of the baffles. Had I not seen this renegade and gone on to fold the clothes from the dryer he would have been listed as missing in action and the mystery would only have deepened.

Reason #2: Some socks that do make it into the dryer appear to go missing because they’ve managed to hide themselves inside another item of clothing. I made this discovery early on a weekend morning. I stumbled out of bed, pulled pair of shorts and a t-shirt off the shelf, crawled into them, and headed downstairs. About halfway down the stairs I realized that… something… felt…. just not right… in the shorts area.   Investigating, I stuck a hand up my pant leg and pulled out… a sock that had been hitching a ride through the dryer to avoid getting paired up.  The little rascal had managed to stay hidden in there through the entire drying, folding, and putting away process.  As if this wasn’t enough evidence, about a week later I noticed not one but THREE of my socks hanging over the edge of the bathtub, completely soaked.  Not knowing how they got here, I was forced to ask my wife, “Honey, why do I have 3 wet socks hanging on the edge of the tub?”  Not an easy question to ask, I assure you.  She replied that she’d just found them there.  Eventually we realized that they had hitched a ride to freedom on the freshly laundered shower curtain and nearly paid with their lives, much like a stowaway clinging to the landing gear of an airliner.

So in conclusion I think we can consider this question fully answered and move on to another of life’s mysteries, like why the Fight Network bothers to put up “The following program contains scenes of violence” warnings after every. single. commercial. break.



I’m tired of calling 911

I’m not sure how many times the average person calls 911 but I’ve made more than my share lately and I’m getting tired of it.   I’ve called them at least 4 times in recent memory and since none of those have been due to an emergency I think it’s safe to say that they’re getting as tired of me as I am of them.

The trend actually started several years ago while I was watching a friend’s kid play soccer.  I got to the field early, no one was there, so I wandered around for a bit to kill time.  My phone buzzed and I figured it was someone telling me that I was at the wrong field.  I didn’t recognize the number but answered anyway and it was the 911 dispatcher asking if I was okay.  Apparently I had managed to pocket dial my way through all the steps to make an emergency call without unlocking the phone.  Shortly after that I got a new phone with a properly designed emergency call procedure that my pocket can no longer perform on its own.

The next two times were the fault of our phone system at work.  I have to dial 9 to get an outside line like everyone else in the corporate world, and of course a 1 to start a long distance call.  I’ve been dialing Montreal (area code 514) and my phone seems to have a sketchy ‘5’ button.  Things just don’t go well if I miss that ‘5’ button.  Ta daaa!  I’ve just dialed 911.  We have a private exchange at work, meaning when I call you you can’t see my number.  Imagine how surprised I was to learn that this means nothing to the 911 dispatcher who promptly called me back directly at my desk to find out why I had called.  “Wrong number” does NOT make them smile in that situation.

As if this wasn’t bad enough they made some changes to the local phone system at work (an “upgrade” they called it.. humpf) and didn’t really tell anyone.  Sure enough, I eventually messed up another call to Montreal and dialed 911 again.  This time I was smart enough to wait on the line, confess to the operator that it was unintended, and hung up knowing that I’d done it right this time.  What I didn’t know was that the local safety and health committee members now get an email the instant anyone calls 911.  Within 30 seconds I got an instant message from a co-worker asking if I was alright and seconds later another burst into my cube to ask the same thing.   As if being embarrassed in front of the dispatcher wasn’t bad enough.

I fixed this problem by changing the way I dial.  I now enter the full number, check to make sure the phone got it right, and then press the ‘dial’ button and let the call go.   This seems to have made up for the deficiency in the phone system and for a while anyway kept me from talking to emergency dispatchers.

Last week I traveled to Seattle and rented a car while I was there.  I was driving along, listening to the Mariners, minding my own business when a car pulled in behind me with really bright headlights.  Suppressing an urge to make a rude gesture I simply reached up and flipped the rear view mirror to the ‘night’ setting, fumbling a bit with the unfamiliar equipment.  It seemed strange that the baseball game cut out at that exact moment, and stranger still when a voice said “Emergency operator, how can I help you?”  Confused, I told them that I was fine and they said “Goodbye” and hung up.  Still confused, turned on the dome light and discovered that there was an EMERGENCY CALL BUTTON ON THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR.  Seriously?  The rear view mirror?  That hardly seems like a smart place to put an emergency call button, but never mind that.  I’m still grappling with the concept that the car is nothing more than a rolling cell phone in disguise, eager to call the police for me when I don’t want it to.  This problem fixed itself when I returned the car to Avis.

To recap, we have a phone calling 911 on its own, a phone that sets me up for failure, and a car with a built-in phone that calls 911 for me if I’m not careful enough when I adjust the frickin’ mirror.   Understandably, this has left me a bit nervous.  I mean, what’s next?  Will I pop frozen chicken in the microwave, accidentally select 9 minutes and 11 seconds and have a SWAT team appear at my door?  If I make a mistake while selecting a channel on the TV remote will a dispatcher appear on the screen asking if I’m okay?  I don’t know, but I’m taking no chances.  I’ve checked my shoes to make sure there isn’t a phone hidden in the heel.  I’ve removed the batteries from my digital watch.  I’ve stopped using my wireless mouse and I’ve removed all albums by The Police from my iPod.  I think I’ve got all the bases covered, but I’ve thought that before and been wrong.  Based on my track record I fully expect that in a couple months you’ll be reading about how my eyeglasses fell on a calculator minutes before the fire truck showed up.

Misunderstood holidays

Today, while being bombarded with Cinco de Mayo stuff on the interwebs, I was surprised to learn that May 5th is not, as I and many others believed, the celebration of Mexican independence.   Independence Day for Mexico celebrates their separation from Spain and is sometime in September.  So what is May 5th, then?  Is it a day chosen at random by a consortium of tequila manufacturers on which an entire nation is encouraged to consume their satanic brew?  Maybe, but it’s also the anniversary of a battle in which a Mexican force defeated a much larger French invasion force.  As if defeating a larger French army was unusual, or something.  Besides, the French went on to take control of Mexico anyway, so the holiday is of limited celebratory value on its own.  Perhaps we should stick with the tequila manufacturer story after all.

All of which puts Cinco de Mayo firmly in a large group of holidays whose origins are widely misunderstood.   Secular holidays can often be subject to political intervention, appearing and disappearing as different factions take power.  In the US in the late 30’s the annual Meleagris Genocide Day (more commonly known as “Thanksgiving”) was the subject of such bitter partisan wrangling between Republicans and Democrats that for several years it was held on two consecutive weeks depending on which state you lived in.  Think of it as an early version of Red State / Blue State but with “4th Thursday” or “Last Thursday” designations.

If secular holidays like May 5th and Thanksgiving can be confused, religious holidays are worse by far, being shrouded in myth, mystery, misinformation, and mistreatment for centuries since the original events.  Imagine my surprise today to also learn that it was Easter… at least according to the Eastern Christian church.  Had someone told me this earlier I would have gladly stocked up on chocolate again (it’s marked down now anyway) but I refuse to hide all those eggs a second time.   Valentine’s Day is another example.  Even the Catholic church acknowledges that little is known of St. Valentine other than the fact that he was buried on February 14.  This leaves the field wide open for other interpretations of the day, such as those eagerly favored by florists and chocolatiers world wide.

Even Christmas itself, the mother of all holidays in North America, is open to confusion and interpretation and is celebrated by the Eastern Church sometime in January.   The real reason for this divide, I’m pretty sure, is because Jesus never revealed his actual birthday while he was alive, no doubt to keep his age a secret.   I mean, 33 is pretty young to be starting a whole new religion and if you’re a little touchy about your age the last thing you want to be doing is celebrating your birthday.  He probably told Peter and Simon that it was Dec 25 and told Matthew and Luke that it was in mid-January knowing that they’d compare notes and, being reluctant to accuse JC of lying to one of them, they’d prefer to just let the whole thing slide rather than risk throwing the surprise party on the wrong day.  After he’d been promoted, of course, it became obvious that it was better to celebrate twice instead of not at all and thus we have two Christmases.

All of which is why I’m in favor of simply inventing new holidays as required, like this newfangled May the Fourth (be with you) silliness that I was bombarded with yesterday.  In that same spirit, allow me to be the first to wish you a happy May 6th.  As far as I know it’s still open for you to exploit with your very own holiday.