Voice of Society Man

...a potent blend of Miss Manners and Batman

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It's a Waiting Room, not a Screening Room!

I took Emmett for a quick blood test. By the time the receptionist called us, he couldn't wait to give blood!

The waiting room was small, and there was only one available seat, so I gave it to him. His next door neighbor was a girl of about 2 seated with a woman I assume was her grandmother. Seated on the toddler's lap was a DVD player on which was playing some Disney movie. The girl didn't have headphones.

Apparently granny was unaware of two key factors:

1. The toddler wasn't actually watching the show, and
2. They were sitting in a frigging waiting room!

But Voice of Society Man had to be silent. As previously noted, there is no place for my superhero alter ego who puts others in their place when their place is so close to my place. I simply took out the headphones from my utility belt (ok, a pocket) and popped them into my iPhone so that Emmett and I could share some tunes. We listened to microtonal music and a little hardcore rap, courtesy of Notorious B.I.G., and that kept the Disney out of our heads.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Of Pookiedoodles and Men

One summer at sleep-away camp, an incident occurred which galvanized everyone under 16 against one 14-year-old kid. It wasn't anything that he'd said or done. He didn't drop the last out in the big game, he didn't give everyone lice. The big crime, in fact, was committed by his mother. She wrote him a letter and began it with the salutation: "Dear Pookiedoodle."

This boy had not been especially liked in the first place, which is how his private letter had become public in the second place. Some mean kids in his bunk had stolen his letter and read it during rest hour one day. They taunted him about it, and pretty soon the word was out. The boy did not return to camp the following year; I'm amazed he made it past visiting day.

I hadn't assumed my alter ego yet, so the only thing I could do was snicker to myself whenever he passed by. I'd like to think that I didn't shout a few "Pookiedoodle"s of my own, but in all likelihood I did.

This did teach me some important lessons, however: Never behave towards your children in a way that could scar them for life, and always assume that some bully is reading over your shoulder.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Not-So Smart Car Admirer

I have a new car: The tiny Smart Car from Mercedes. It's not even 9'-long, making it perfect for parking, and the mileage is an awesome 45 miles per gallon so far. It drives like a little sports car (hey, it was designed in part by racing legend Roger Penske)

I was pulling out of a larger-than-a-Smart spot in Manhattan this afternoon when a man pulled alongside me to ask about the car (I could tell he had a Q from his behavior). I motioned for him to move his car so that I could get out of the spot, but he made the 'please roll down your window' move with his hands. I quickly rolled down the passenger-side window, and he asked, "What kind of mileage does that get?" I explained, "It doesn't get any miles-per-gallon when some freakin' idiot boxes me into a parking spot just to ask me a question he could easily look up on his own!"*

I couldn't believe this idiot thought he had a right to slow me down - and block me in! - just to ask me about the car.

* Sorry, but that's what I immediately WISH I'd said. In actual fact, I replied: "It gets about 45 mpg. Could you move your car, please? I'm in a rush." I've become too nice since moving out of The City.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Identity Divulged

Driving from my favorite pizza place (Koronet, on 111th and B'way in Manhattan, featuring 14" slices for $3), I found myself on 113th St, heading for Riverside Drive. My unicycle club was meeting today, and I was heading there with my kids, a dozen unicycles, and some humungous pizza. Then trouble loomed in the shape of a car, and it was wearing Jersey plates.

The driver of the cream-colored SUV was waiting for a parking spot. She failed, however, to consider that I was waiting behind her or that she hadn't left room for anyone to pass her. Manhattan streets are almost unfailingly wide enough to allow passage even to a moving van, but this inconsiderate woman ignored my plaintive toots. Then she ignored the brief honks. Next she proceeded to ignore a few lengthy blasts. She did not, however, ignore my knuckles loudly rapping on her window a few seconds later.

Thru that glass, which she refused to lower, she tried to ask what was wrong. I shouted: "Move your car so I can pass!" She went back to her cell phone. I then got back into my car and moved it up to hers so that she was unable to back into the spot she had been waiting for. I rapped on her window again and waited for her to lower the glass an inch. New Jersey then asked,

"What's wrong with you?"

VoSMan: There is nothing wrong with ME. You're the one who wouldn't move your car to let me pass.

NJ: Who are you?

VosMan: I'm Voice of Society Man, and I'm speaking on behalf of everyone who has to wait behind an insensitive person like you! I'm here to teach you a lesson so that you won't do it again!

Then I moved the car to let her finish her parking, and we drove on to our destination. I had chilled her blood, but the pizza was still warm. We enjoyed every bite.

New Jersey, now chastened, can try to get on with her life. Perhaps she will find a way to atone. Volunteering as a traffic cop comes to mind.

Monday, February 4, 2008

R3plica V1agara P3nis 3nlargments

As I've already noted, I HATE T*MOBILE. But I forgot to mention their lousy spam filters.

Unlike Google's gmail, T*Mobile essentially has no spam filter. On my gmail account, I basically do NOT have spam. And if something unwanted somehow pierces their shield, one click of the mouse, and I will never receive crap from that source again. T*Mobile's website is terribly clunky, and their pathetic spam filter page doesn't even work anymore.

Everyday, I wake up to find my phone clogged with about a dozen spam messages. It's bad enough that they think that people are interested in fake watches or cheap stocks, reduced debt or enlarged penises. But do they really think we'd be ineterested just because they spell their words incorrectly? Ooh, I'm not really partial to real watches, and I only kinda like replica watches, but 'r3plica' watches? Sign me up! And let me order some medications online, too! I'll take some C1allis, V1codin, and maybe some more V1agra. Here's an idea, T*Mobile: If a message contains a word spelled with numbers, I don't fuck1ng care! 4uck y0u, T*Mobil3!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I Hate T*Mobile!

When we put our eldest on our cell phone plan last summer, we extended our contract with T*Mobile another two years from that day. Then we discovered that we hate T*Mobile!

In Manhattan and Brooklyn, it really doesn't matter what carrier you use because they all have brilliant reception. My cell phone even works in the elevator of my mom's building. But around New Paltz, my wife and I noticed that our cell phones cut out in various spots. This is especially true in the outlying areas like Gardiner and Rosendale, where there aren't any local cell phone towers, but more annoying is that my phone loses contact when I'm driving to and from Manhattan on my way to The City. This is especially troublesome because I often lose contact with my students' parents I'm speaking with, so I tend to have difficulty conducting my work. When I took the bus to Manhattan, this issue wasn't quite as irksome because people aren't really allowed to use their cell phones en route. But lately I've been driving, and the problem has become much more apparent.

I wouldn't mind this so much if it weren't for the fact that many other major carriers have better coverage. When I was up in the relatively obscure north western part of the state where the fire academy is located, all of the other would-be fire fighters had fine reception, but I was totally blacked out. In fact, I couldn't use my cell phone until I was miles away from Montour Falls. And the same is true for the highways to NYC. T*Mobile works fine for most of Interstate 87 (not all of it, mind you), but it fares poorly when I break from 87 and take some of the other roads that speed up my trip.

Verizon doesn't have this problem, and one of my friends showed me his cool new Verizon phone. It does everything my Sidekick III does -- AND it works where my stupid phone doesn't.

I called T*Mobile to see if I could get out of my contract, but I don't think it's going to work because they insist that if you have good reception at work and at home (but not necessarily in between), then you're stuck with them. Time ticks (almost) inexorably towards two summers from now -- just 18 months to go....

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What is There to Complain About?

I'm finding it hard to maintain this blog -- my life is pretty complaint-free, and I've learned to take a lot of things in stride that previously annoyed me, like the reckless driving of young turks on the highway. I guess that life in the country will do that to a curmudgeon. Here are some things I used to find annoying in Manhattan that simply go too easily in New Paltz. Let's start with the letter P.

Well, big-city parking hasn't got a lot to say in its favor. The furthest we've had to drive for a spot in the Noop is about a City block. In NYC, on the other hand, I can't even count the number of times I've parked over a mile from where I'm heading or have spent over a half-hour looking for a place.

Parking Tickets
We've gotten a grand total of one parking ticket in our 16 months in New Paltz. It was for an expired meter, and Shirra didn't pay it on time, so the fine doubled... to $20. The cheapest ticket in the 5 Boroughs, on the other hand, is about $55, but the one I got last year (for parking on the street-cleaning side at the wrong time one day) was for $110. I almost got a second one in New Paltz, but I arrived at the car just as the ticket-writer did, and he simply smiled, exchanged a few words, and walked away. In NYC, that sort of behavior is extinct in most locales, which explains why meter-readers in Manhattan want guns and bullet-proof vests.

How many NYC folks dread ever having to set foot in a post office? Part of the success of FedEx and UPS is probably the simple fact that they are NOT the post office. In New Paltz, there are only three postal workers you're likely to see, and all of them are pleasant, knowledgeable, and efficient (you're lucky to bat one-for-three in The Big Apple).

How often does it happen that a person has to pee but can't get to a toilet in New York City? Sure, they're plentiful if you know where to look (Barnes & Noble, McDonald's), but first you have to park. Of course, most Manhattanites don't have cars in the first place, so they just have to walk two blocks to the nearest Starbucks, but then those bathrooms are likely to be either occupied or occupied and disgusting (those are apparently the only two options). In New Paltz, on the other hand, it doesn't take long to learn best places to pee (Starbucks is one of them), but they're rarely occupied when you get there, and they're all much cleaner. My favorite ones can be found at the Stop and Shop, the Library, and best of all, Water Street Market.

What's a complainer to do? It's easy to be a kvetcher among the tall buildings of the city, but it's not so easy to be a kvetcher in the rye.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Is It About Opera?

I just got back from what could be the last opera I ever attend. I didn't mind it as a whole, and the third act was pretty fun, but when you weigh the cost and multiply it by the entertainment factor, the resultant enjoyment-per-dollar is far too low. It's like if you paid $500 for a hamburger: That had better be one damn good burger, and you'd better not be a vegetarian.

New York City has the big sports: baseball (three stadiums!), basketball, football (ok, that's really NJ), and hockey. Oh, and tennis. Similarly, The City also has the major sources of entertainment: movies, theater, musical performances, and ballet. Oh, and opera. Opera is like the tennis of entertainment. It's not on all the time, and when it is, it can be fantastic or it can be really dull, especially if you're not a fan. And then there's the price. Those US Open tickets are pretty pricy, and opera seats cost even more.

If you're really into opera, you'd better be rich. Decent house seats at the New York City Opera House are $150 a piece. That would get you to about a dozen movies, three good musical performances, or two ballets.

To make matters worse, this was an opera that was supposed to be fun. If you attend a performance of Carmen, you expect a fat woman to die of tuberculosis at some point. But if you have cajoled your kids into seeing Hansel and Gretel, you need the experience to be pretty, or perversely funny, or at least on par with Sweeny Todd. But this production was oddly staged and had, as usual, a fairly incomprehensible libretto. My little one, who was 3, wasn't quite up to reading the subtitles. My 8-year-old wasn't much better off, either, tho he understood it enough to be quite disappointed.

A bad movie sets you no further back than $12 an a couple of wasted hours. In football terms, it's like losing one game; you move on. This opera experience was the equivalent of watching your team lose every game of the season.

Oh well, there's always next year!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Parking Pricks

Between crosswalks along the parks in Manhattan, there are spaces where no more than two cars can park...but only if the drivers cooperate. Occasionally someone parks in such a way as to take up both spaces. These people really annoy Voice of Society Man because the drivers of these cars don't bother to think of others when parking, and nothing irks VoSMan more than thoughtlessness.

Of course, VoSMan _should_ have special tools in his utility belt to help him deal with such crises. A fast-acting jack could perhaps raise the car enough to move it a foot or two, but my alter-ego carries nothing of that sort. Then there's the French trick, but even that wouldn't work with most modern American cars.

I first saw the French trick in, well, France -- hence the name. On my way back to my cheap hotel, I came upon a man who was looking for a parking spot for his lovely Citroen. His car wasn't especially large, but space is at a premium off the beaches of Cannes as much as it is off Central Park. But apparently my French doppleganger knew just what to do. He leaned against the tiny car in front of the spot and DRIBBLED it, lifting it off the ground so that the brakes didn't keep it from moving up. A few bounces did the trick, and he was able to park his car with ease. Bravo, Voix de la Societe Homme!

Back home, I have no similar recourse. The cars are too heavy (and New Yorkers, too ornery) for that maneuver. And pushing the other car with mine doesn't work (I've tried). So when I came across a car taking up both spots this afternoon, I knew I had to act fast. VoSMan hopped out of the car, sticker in hand, and affixed a little message to the world (and to the parking prick who had robbed the world of a spot).

As if the parking gods were smiling on this, no sooner had I gotten into my car to continue the search than another spot opened up a block away. Had VoSMan left alone that Prick Parker, I might still be looking for a place to park. Thanks, VoSMan!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Really Supporting our Troups

A report on National Public Radio yesterday (11/12/07) noted that veterans make up 12.5% of the population of US prisons but only 10% of the US general population. I would have thought that veterans would make up a smaller percentage of prisoners -- perhaps no more than 7% -- but the reporter mentioned post-traumatic stress syndrome and job loss as possible causes for stress in veterans that could lead to criminality.

All of this reminded me of my earlier post about those ubiquitous "I Support the Troops" ribbons that people sport on their cars. When people say that they support our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, what I hope they mean is that they:

* work hard to maintain friendships with their soldier friends when those veterans come home, even when the vets rebuff them.
Remember, folks: PTSS makes people depressed, cold, and/or mean.

* offer them back their jobs, or offer replacement jobs when necessary.
Many returning veterans find that their work has dried up. The government is totally to blame for this situation (employers can't hold jobs forever), but if you hired someone who was later called to arms, one way to support the troops is to hire that person back.

* do whatever they can to help their friends and family adjust to life back home after a stint in the military.

Anything short of this is just twaddle. And anyone with a ribbon touting how they support the troops when they really don't should get a new ribbon: "Better them than me."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Demise of Baseball

Last night one of my granddaughters asked me to explain an old photo. It featured me and her grandmother smiling next to a tall man in a uniform from the "California Angels," before that team became the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim," which was a few decades before they became known as "that old base-ball team that used to play near San Angeles, CA." My grand-daughter had never heard of baseball.

"Gertrude," I asked, "Do you have a few minutes for a story?" She obliged by tapping her arm to turn off her i-Skin, but I waited until she had pressed her temples firmly to turn off her internal speakers. Then I began.

I asked if she knew that there were four major sports.

"Sure," she replied. "Football, basketball, soccer, and Nascar."

"Well," I told her, "it used to be baseball, football, basketball, and hockey."

"Hockey? You've got to be kidding," she said. "Wait, was this before basketball went co-ed?"

I explained how hockey had died a natural death after people no longer understood the concept of ice or winter. On her recent trip to the Albert Gore Presidential Museum, she had seen old 2-D photos of snow, so this part made sense to her. But explaining the death of baseball was another matter.

"Ok, it went like this, Gerty. You see, back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, a baseball player sued baseball for the right to be a free agent. That meant he could negotiate his own salary with whatever team wanted to pay him the most."

"Like school teachers," said Gertrude.

"Right. And the players had a union that fought for their rights," I explained.

"Like babysitters."

"Right. And the team owners got caught trying to keep the players' salaries low, and they had to pay the players for all the money they had been cheated out of. It was $280 million, which was a lot back then." Gertrude's raised eyebrow told me she had a hard time believing that. I continued:

"So the team owners had to give players bigger and bigger salaries to try to get the best players on their teams. This forced them to raise more money, and pretty soon they had to raise ticket prices so that only the rich could afford to go to a game. A family of five, like mine, might have to pay two or three hundred dollars to see a game. Maybe even $500, including parking, food, and a few toys."

"That's my allowance."

"Really? Well, that was a lot back then -- as much as some people earned in a week." Gertrude was speechless.

"To make matters worse, baseball started putting all of its most exciting games on only after kids had gone to bed."

"Why? Was it for mature audiences?" Gertrude had received an old DVD player for Solstice, and her parents, whose own parents were quite permissive, had shown her their favorite old South Park episodes.

"No, it was supposed to be for the whole family. But tv commercials...."

"I've heard of those. Go on."

I continued: "These commercials paid more when the games were on later. So baseball made a lot of money for a decade or two, but then the grown-ups got interested in other things, and the kids who had been asleep during those exciting games got caught up in other sports, like soccer and Nascar."

"I like those sports because women can play on the same teams."

"Yeah, baseball never found a way to include women, even as umpires. Even football made rules that 2 women had to be on the field at all times. It also didn't help that the average baseball game was three hours long."

"Well, that's not so long."

"This was before the water was adderalized. It was hard for most people to pay attention that long."


"So pretty soon, no one cared about baseball, and the sport just kind of died."

"I guess that's kind of sad, but they had it coming, didn't they?"

"Yes, they certainly did," I said. That Gerty is a pretty smart kid.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Of Frogs and Parents

There is nowhere you can go to get away from a Frog. Frogs have been in every borough of The City, in every suburb, and even in the outerlying exurbs of New Paltz. I'm talking about the Rolex of strollers, the Bugaboo Frog.

By "Rolex," I mean overpriced-and-ostentatious. After all, no one needs an $800 stroller that doesn't fold up any more than they need a $10,000 watch that doesn't release endorphins directly into the bloodstream. But Richie and Ricki Rich have been tootling around town with Junior in an extravagant perambulator ever since some Scandinavian genius realized that there was a market for a miniature, manual Mercedez.

The selling point of the Bugaboo series appears to be their complete uselessness for anything other than pushing. They hold almost nothing in the basket below the baby and they are heavy. They are huge when open, but when folded up, they seem to require even more space, necessitating a 1970s-era stationwagon for storage. I believe that most models are offered with a Dominican or Haitian babysitter, tho some parents deign to push the godforsaken things themselves.

I was on a crowded subway train when one such couple attempted to board with their wee one in a Frog. By "in" I mean that they had made no attempt to fold the nearly unfoldable stroller; they had simply made the decision that all of us should make way for their huge stroller and equally huge heads. Everyone looked at them with raised eyebrows, but only one of us knew just what to say. Donning my cape, I lowered my voice a half octave, pointed to my left and in my best Grey Poupon accent said, "The first-class car is at the front of the train. You can get off at the next stop and make a run for it before the subway starts again."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Baseball Hates Its Fans

Here is the future of baseball: empty stadiums

As if baseball wasn't boring enough (and I've been to over 150 games and was a huge rah-rah Yankees fan for years), they've gotten into this idiotic habit of starting their post-season contests after 8pm. Looking ahead at this week, I see that the games of Tuesday and Wednesday are slated to begin at 8:21pm. The reasoning among the idiots who are running (ruining) things -- the dual doofuses of both Major League Baseball and whichever network has decided to lose money on the playoff games that year -- is that starting games early means that commuters in California or, in this year's case, Arizona and Colorado, would miss the beginning of the games. But let's remember two things: 1) The excitement of a baseball game (if there is any) happens at the end of the game, and 2) most post-season games are over three hours long. This means that games starting at 8:21 finish long after most adults, and almost all kids, have headed to bed. And where does baseball think it's going to find the fans of tomorrow if the fans of today are sleeping thru 9th inning walkoff homeruns or tension-frought pitchers' duels?

What baseball and the networks need to do is to begin the post-season games no later than 7pm EST. That means that kids in New York and Boston can watch an entire game, while young'uns on the West Coast can ... watch an entire game. As for their parents, the East Coasters can watch the whole game, but their West Coast counterparts might have to miss the beginnings of games but will always get to watch the end.

Voice of Society Man has spoken -- now who's listening? If only I had a good friend who worked at MLB.

Actually, I do. I've mentioned all of this to him, but he's not high up enough in their hierarchy to make that sort of difference. Well, at least I've tried!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Kobiachi Maru of Grammar

I have finally found work that marries my love of a good joke with my obsession for semi-colons.

I have a new job, one that ranks 2nd on the list of oddest work I've ever been paid for (right after the time where I demonstrated Barbie products in K-Marts thruout Sydney). In my latest incarnation, I'm a work-from-home behind-the-scenes editor for Comedy Central in their effort to create a searchable database of every episode of The Daily Show. A problem has arisen, however, that threatens to undermine my very sanity and put me in Davey Jones' locker: possessives after an S. Thank goodness for Star Trek.

Didn't "Davey Jones' locker" sound wrong in that last sentence? Anyone who's seen a Pirates of the Caribean movie knows that dead seamen find themselves in Davey Jones's locker (dead semen can be found in Davey Jones's tissue in the garbage by Davey Jones's bed). This whole Jones' thing is a leftover from the days when we watched our favourite programmes on the telly with our neighbours. In other words, it's a British thing. Not Cockney-British, but Oxford-British. That is to say, it's pompous.

Steven Pinker, the cunning linguist from Harvard, has written much about this so-called prescriptive language. His point is that language should flow naturally. If I say, "Who did you give the ball to?" it's not like anyone over the age of 2 is going to look at me like I'm from another planet. Prescriptive grammarians would find fault twice in that sentence, but "To whom did you give the ball?" is not the way any adult would speak to a child, and for that matter, it's not the way most of us speak to each other. Put another way: 'Right' isn't what we should say but what we actually do say.

There is a way to placate both sides of this argument. This is where Star Trek comes in: In "Star Trek 2," we learn that Captain Kirk reprogrammed a simulation rather than going down with his virtual ship. The simulation, called the Kobiachi Maru, is meant to test the mettle of prospective captains faced with the certain destruction of their vessel. By hacking into the system, he avoided certain doom. I have taken "Kobiachi Maru" to mean a situation where, faced with choosing between bad choice A or bad choice B, you wisely pick C.

There are many grammatical situations that require a Kobiachi Maru:

A. I told everyone to grab his or her things.
B. I told everyone to grab their things.

Sentence A is gramatically correct but sounds awkward. Sentence B is more vernacular but is technically wrong (according to most prescriptives) since 'everyone' is supposed to be singular. [If you don't believe that 'everyone' is singular, try asking, "Are everyone ready for fish?" the next time you serve dinner.] Our only choice is to make up a new sentence:

C. I told all of them to grab their things.

Ta da. Now let's see if we can apply the Kobiachi Maru of grammar to possessives:

A. She is one of jazz' greatest guitarists.
B. She is one of jazz's greatest guitarists.
C. She is one of the greatest jazz guitarists.

Here is another one:

A.This is Betsy Ross' famous flag
B. This is Betsy Ross's famous flag
C. This is the famous flag that the lying snots of the Ross family claimed Betsy had sewn when in fact she'd done nothing of the sort.

That gives me an idea for the famous final resting place for dead sailors:

A. Captain Jack is in Davey Jones' locker.
B. Captain Jack is in Davey Jones's locker.
C. Captain Jack is dead. Arrgghh!

Oh, for goodness's sake!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mrs VoS Man

Mrs Voice of Society Man has had her own secret identity, but for the most part it has been replaced by Mama Bird, who usually comes out only to protect her own chicks. Her earlier alter ego, however, would boldly (and loudly) demand a seat on a bus or subway when no one volunteered one. Perhaps you've heard of her: Voice of Preganancy Woman. This rather acerbic character made no bones about her huge belly and that fact that our society had sunk to the point where a hugely pregnant woman was shown no courtesy on mass transit. She would walk onto a crowded bus, wait an appropriate amount of time (usually five or ten seconds), and, when no seat was forthcoming, would yell, "Will no one give a hugely pregnant woman a seat? Are you young businessmen too weak from all your pencil-pushing to stand up for a few stops?" But since the birth of our third child, Mrs VoS Man (oops, I mean Voice of Pregnancy Woman) has had few brushes with Seat Hoarders and other such miscreants.

About Me

My pesky alter ego who will set you right if you break one of the unwritten rules of getting along