Thursday, March 19, 2015

CUTTING THE CORD – HOW TO GO CABLE-FREE!




I finally cut the cord – not the umbilical cord, but the other one I’ve had attached to me for the last eighteen years. Not my son either; you know the one the front desk guy at RetroFitness thinks I have who drives a BMW? As if I would allow a child of mine to drive a BMW.

The cord I cut belonged to Comcast.

For the last year or so, I have wanted to find a way to release myself from Mr. Master Man. If he were a hot muscle-daddy, that would be OK. But, this Mr. Master Man drives around in a white truck and has a serious attitude equal to his serious butt crack. Add to this charming package a total indifference to your life and time.

“Your technician is scheduled to arrive between the hours of eight and two.” Translation: “He’ll show up when he damn well pleases with the wrong equipment and no knowledge of how our service works.”

When I moved to Rockville (the armpit of Maryland), my appointment was between eight and two, and he showed up at nine o’clock at night. No apology. Nothing.

You can’t blame anyone. The idiot you talked to on the phone is sitting in a basement in Manila, learning phrases like, “Hey, bro,” “I like Taylor Swift,” and “Go Lakers?”

In addition to all of this delight is my favorite term, “bundling.” In other words, buy all our services, or we’ll charge you $75 for every service you refuse. If you only want to watch the four major networks, that will cost you $575 a month. Should I squeeze your balls a little tighter?

Bundling is the main reason I wanted to find a way to cut the cord.

It all started when I couldn’t dial my rotary phones anymore. Apparently, Comcast quit supporting rotary dialing. Have they no mercy? Where’s the humanity?

I asked them if I could cut out the phone service.

“Yes, but that will cost you an extra $75 a month not to have phone service.”

“What if I just keep the internet and cut out the television, too?”

“Yes, you can do that, but it will cost you $275 a month.”

“Why?”

“Bundling.”

Did our grandparents bundle? Grandma and Nana both could watch television without paying anyone for the privilege. Not only that, they could watch Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, Milton Berle, Burns and Allen, Martin and Lewis, Abbot and Costello, Amos and Andy, Nat King Cole, Dinah Shore, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, and don’t forget the best, Ed Sullivan via an antenna.

To talk to any of us, they used their rotary phones, which were leased from and maintained and serviced by Bell Telephone.

They had a phone bill. That’s it!

In the 1970s, Ma Bell was broken up because she had become a monopoly. This meant you now had a local phone company, and then you chose your long distance carrier if I remember correctly. Actually, I do because I soon learned and you will, too, that some things have not changed.

What I don’t understand is how the aim was to break up a monopoly, yet we have more monopolies now than we ever had.

For example, I have one choice for cable television: Comcast. There is no competition.

Sure, there is the Dish, but that’s comparing apples to oranges.

For internet, we have one choice: Comcast. Again, there is no competition.

Fios is not available where we are, only DSL if you don’t go with cable.

That is not competition. To me competition is having more than one cable company, or more than one satellite company, or more than one internet company.

This lack of competition means they can treat you any way they please, and you have to smile and let them fuck you like the whore that you are.

Not me! My whoring days were over!

That was when I started investigating.

If broadcast television is free, why am I paying for it? What do I watch that is so important that I need cable? All I need to see are the news and Good Morning America. Everything else is background noise. I go to bed before any good shows come on, and I use my DVR for those, which presented the first problem.

So first, I subscribed to Hulu. Now, I can watch any “must sees” the next day, which is what I was doing anyway.

What about the telephone? Well, I could no longer dial out, so I decided to go with an old fashioned landline. I called Verizon. For $17.99 a month, I could have a basic telephone line with no frills. Or at least, I thought.

The day came for them to connect my phones, and I soon remembered why I cancelled my landline eleven years ago.

When I lived in Mount Pleasant (which is neither a mount nor pleasant, discuss), I had a landline that couldn’t receive calls. I could dial out, but I had no idea no one could dial in. I just figured no one wanted to talk to me. Then, Mother asked me why I never answered my phone. I told her it never rings. A dozen service calls later, I cancelled the service since they could never get it to work.

In a mobile home, and this is still about mobile home living, the wires for the phone jacks are under the house where the fuse box is located. Mr. Verizon was able to wire the one jack on the side of the house with the connection that Comcast drilled into the exterior wall the day I moved in without asking me first because he didn’t know the wires for the cable lines were under the house. 

I asked if Mr. Verizon could hook up the wires for the other jacks, and he told me he was too busy, and I’d have to make another appointment. It would also cost me $95 for each jack to hook up those other wires.

I argued that I made an appointment, and he told me to take it up with his supervisor.

He left and went back to the main switchboard and called to be sure my phone was working. I received a call. There was one problem. I couldn’t dial out without a passcode. Then I spent the day trying to get ahold of someone at Verizon until a customer service rep informed me that the reason I couldn’t dial out was I didn’t pick a long distance provider.

“I’m trying to call my own cell phone, which is in the same area code and in the next room, and my neighbor who is across the street.”

“Yes, but the area code doesn’t mean it is local or long distance. It is all about ‘exchanges.’”

“But, I have regional calling.”

“Yes, that covers you for twelve miles.”

“It isn’t twelve miles across the street and certainly not from the kitchen to my bedroom.”

“It’s about the ‘exchanges.’ Everyone is on a different exchange.”

This was weird. I couldn’t even dial 911 to inform them I was going to cut a bitch if my phone wasn’t working in ten minutes. I could dial Baltimore, but not my own cell phone! I learned that this is what has happened with people taking their phone numbers, area codes and all, with them. Area codes are meaningless – they’re just something you have to dial now.

In the end, my basic $17.99 phone service ended up costing me $67 a month, and that is without call waiting or voice mail. I hate call waiting, and when a friend puts me on hold, I hang up. An answering machine is cheaper than $11 a month. Apparently, maintaining landlines is expensive, hence the price. 

At least I could rotary dial again.

Now to watch David Muir, Ryan Smith and all the other male models on ABC News, I had to get an antenna.

I first tried a twenty-mile antenna, but I could only get two channels. Then, a thirty-mile, which gave me four more. Thirty miles my big Jewish ass. The farthest station is twenty miles away. I went on Amazon and bought a sixty-mile antenna. Anything more powerful would require a Saturn V Rocket and a payload from Northrup Grumman.

During my first channel scan, I had twenty-three channels. I went online, while I still had internet of course, and researched this. For your benefit, I give you the following:

If you go with an antenna, pick one with at least a sixty-mile range and hang it in a window behind the blinds. Mine is white, and the blinds are white. It’s hanging in a side window, so no one can see it. Before hooking it up, run a channel scan on the TV. You will get no channels, but you will be deleting any competing settings or data. I had no idea there were competing settings or data.

Then, hook up the antenna and run the scan again. I ended up with forty-five channels. ABC, two NBCs, CBS, five, yes five, FOXs, QVC, HSN, four PBSs, and a whole host of other channels that play old TV shows all day (I can watch Hazel and Leave It to Beaver whenever I want) and others that play Maury Povitch and Wendy Williams non-stop. There is a sports channel, an all-news channel, and also several Spanish-language channels. You’ve got to have your Telenovelas!

Digital signals are strange. The picture is much clearer than with cable; however, it sometimes goes in and out when you first tune in to a channel, which led me to another dilemma, also discussed below.

Now, what about the internet? I got to thinking. If my phone can get the internet without cable, why can’t my computer and Roku? Well, they can with a hotspot modem. I know that isn’t the technical term. I went to AT&T and added a hotspot to my plan and got a free hotspot modem. I chose a 30G monthly plan based on my internet and Netflix usage. The other advantage is my internet connection is mobile. If I ever get wealthy enough to buy a weekend trailer, I won’t have to hook up any internet or cable or phone. I take my hotspot modem (I know it isn’t the right terminology) with me.

I finally was ready to cut the cord.

I unhooked all the equipment and packed it all up, including the cables and remotes. I drove to the Comcast service center up the street. I handed them the equipment, and they didn’t care. They didn’t try and stop me. They didn’t try to retain me. They just told me my bill credit would be mailed in four to six weeks.

Seriously? I’ve been a loyal customer for eighteen years, and this is it? Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out? You’d think I had a one-night stand with them. Tricks have treated me better than this. I’m glad I no longer give them money. My pocket book is closed for business.

So far, I was saving $50 a month, and unless a satellite fell on my head, my internet and TV were always working. I would no longer have to wait during six-hour windows for a cable guy to come over nine hours after the window closed and give me attitude.

However, there was still one lingering issue.

I was using more than 1G of data a day watching my favorite shows on Hulu. There had to be a way to record shows on a digital television. Back in the day, we used VCRs. Do they still make VCRs?

They do, and Walmart had one, but they didn’t have the blank VCR tapes. It was also huge. I wonder if it was a leftover Betamax?

Again, I was doing research, and I found a solution – Mediasonic Homeworx PVR: a porno video recorder. At least I think that is what the P stands for, or could it be personal?

This little machine works as a digital converter if you have an old timey television. One advantage is the Mediasonic Homeworx also transmits the channel guide. If you hit the EPG button, you get a list of all the shows on that particular channel for the next twelve hours!

It will record your shows onto a thumb drive you leave in it all the time, and you can take the thumb drive with you and watch the shows anywhere.

But, it’s a little complicated.

They tell you that you can’t watch one show and record another. Well, you can. Hook up the antenna to the PVR then to the television. Then, hook up an HDMI cable from the PVR to the TV as well. Use the HDMI port for watching normally for an even clearer picture than with just the antenna and for recording. If you are watching one channel while recording another, set your recording using the HDMI port, then when it starts recording, switch your watching to the antenna port.

There are some glitches. You will notice with digital antennas, channel surfing is slow. It takes about five to ten seconds for a channel signal to be received. After a minute of two, the signal gains strength. This is OK if you aren’t recording. If you are planning a timed recording, make sure your PVR is tuned to that station at least five minutes before the recording is to start. You will ensure the strongest signal. If you are going to bed, turn the PVR to the channel first, let it come in clearly, then you can turn off your television, but do not turn off the PVR.

If you don’t do this, when the PVR switches channels to begin recording, the station won’t be tuned in immediately, and the PVR will assume there is no such station. It will do two things: one, it will cancel the recording, and two, it will cancel all future timed recordings on that same channel, since it assumes the channel doesn’t exist.

It took me a few tries to figure this out. I kept checking to see what I recorded, and there were no programs. Half of my future programmed timer recordings would disappear as well. I finally got it when I realized the show I wanted and the future disappearing shows were always on the same channel.

The little machine also records on military time, but even though it is not hooked up to the internet and only gets its signals from digital TV stations, it knows the date and time. You never have to set them. No blinking lights like the 1980s.

Yes, I like rotary phones, but that doesn’t mean I’m a technical idiot when it comes to audiovisuals. You don’t watch this much man-on-man action over the internet for two decades without learning something about signals, clear pictures, and playback.

Once all the dust settled, I notice my leftover data didn’t roll over as planned, so I called AT&T. Whenever I call customer service, I always ask them how they are. This throws them off because no one ever asks how they are doing.

I asked the AT&T guy what happened to my data, and he said sometimes it takes a day or two to catch up, but since I was such a good customer, he was going to offer me a deal. If I were to forgo the rolled over data that first month, they would cut $95 off my bill each month as long as I kept that data plan for as long as I wanted, and my future data would roll over. I thought for a second and said yes.

In the end, cutting the cord saved me $145 a month. More importantly, I no longer have bundles.

Oh, and about those other phone jacks? They never showed up for the scheduled service call to hook them up. No call, no letter, no text. It was like one of my relationships.

I searched online, and there is a tutorial on how to open up the phone box on the side of the house and hook the lines up yourself on the customer side, and it is perfectly legal because the phone box has two sides.

I’m living the life of Nana. I can talk on my avocado green, wall-mounted, rotary phone and smoke a Kent cigarette, while Make Room for Daddy plays in the background.

I would try to live like Grandma, talking on my white, rotary desk phone, smoking a Winston and listening to Lawrence Welk, but I can’t seem to find his show.

Don’t worry, I will.


Monday, December 15, 2014

MY ANNUAL HANUKAH CARD

My Annual Hanukah Card

Actually, I usually post my “Eight Myths of Hanukah” on here this time of year, but after a dozen or so years, I decided to post "My First Annual Hanukah Card." If you search the archives at right, you can find my “Eight Myths of Hanukah.”

Every year, I get one of those Christmas cards from an old friend in Florida, telling me about all that has happened, most of it bad news. "My shop burned down." "Mother had another stroke." "My live-in lover is getting a sex change … again." I have lost track of whether he/she is a him/her this year or not.

I don’t want to hear all this drama, and I wouldn’t share so much drama. Isn’t the purpose of the annual message to show off how your life is more fabulous than anyone else’s? What fun is there in sending a message if you don’t make everyone else feel bad about themselves?

So, I decided to write my own card to the seven or eight people who actually read this blog. Here goes.

Dear Friends,

I hope this message finds you in good health and happiness as you live the life of your dreams. If not, I hope you find a peaceful way to end it all with little pain and mess.

My dog, Rose Marie, continues to be the light of my life. She brings me such joy and is there for me, as I am for her.

Translation: We are in a co-dependent relationship.

While I have not found my soul mate, I did manage to have sexual relations with a variety of men in their prime, who rocked my world on a regular basis throughout the year. So many men, I can’t remember all their names.

Translation: I got laid once ... I think. I’m not exactly sure there was actually anyone else in the room.

I am continuing to work at my dream job where I am responsible for all the communications at the highest level of government and am called upon to offer my expertise, affecting foreign policy on a daily basis.

Translation: I still work as a contractor spitting out communiques like watermelon seeds and have no clue who, if anyone, reads them.

I travelled extensively throughout the year, seeing things you wouldn’t dream existed.

Translation: My commute to work means I spent almost 900 hours stuck in traffic, seeing people do everything from putting on make-up to picking their noses to masturbating.

I created a lovely outdoor living space where I can enjoy spring afternoons, summer nights and fall foliage.

Translation: I shoveled snow, mowed grass, and raked leaves.

I expressed my true feelings to one of my neighbors.

Translation: I flipped her the bird when she complained about my dog taking a piss.

My social life continues to be interesting and full of new and exciting people.

Translation: I binge watched American Horror Story, Orange Is the New Black, and every season of Adam-12 on Saturday nights.

People continue to seek my counsel and advice as I am a beacon in the community.

Translation: A stranger asked me how to get to M Street.

And finally, I continued to enjoy good health and happiness on this journey we call life.

Translation: I didn’t die.

Happy Holidays!

Love,

Rose Marie and Milton

If you like what you read, buy my books – www.miltonstern.com.

 

Monday, November 10, 2014

FARTS AND THE MAH JONGG BUFFET


I loved when it was Mother’s turn to host her Tuesday night Mah Jongg game – so much so that I wrote a book, On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg, which led to my being asked to write the introduction for the soon-to-be-released book, Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game: A Collector's Guide to Mah Jongg Tiles and Sets.

Yes, those were two shameful plugs. Get over it. I live in a trailer, drive very old cars with manual everything, and only buy store brand products. It is either this or Kickstarter.

Anyway, I loved it when it was her turn to host because of the buffet. All the women worked, so this was also their chance to have dinner when they were not in play. They had five players, and Mah Jongg is played with four hands. The fifth bets on which of the four will win. I think six dollars was the most you could lose, so if you lost six dollars, you were at pie, which meant you couldn’t lose more but could keep playing. Sometimes they served pie, which made it even more delightful.

Aunt Anita was always accused of cheating when she was the fifth. None of these women were my aunts. My mother had no siblings, so all these women who were my biggest influence were called Aunt. But that is not the point here. Aunt Anita was also accused of never putting out any food. Well, that is not entirely true. She would have a bowl of those jellied orange slice candies and a liter of Pepsi. Unfortunately, Uncle Walter, her husband, would drink all the Pepsi before the girls arrived.

I don’t know if any of this is true, or if these women were exaggerating. Mother was known to tell a fib or two to make a point … or hide a secret.

My experience with Aunt Anita was that she was always generous with her time and things. When I was typing my last term paper for college, my Royal electric typewriter exploded, even sending off a few sparks. Mother was on the phone with Aunt Anita at the time and casually mentioned that my typewriter just exploded while I was finishing a paper. Aunt Anita promptly hung up. Fifteen minutes later, she was at our door with her own portable electric typewriter. No one asked her for it. She just showed up. That was the Aunt Anita I remembered.

Nana died one week before my college graduation. After the week of shiva and the graduation ceremony, people no longer stopped by the house. One day soon after, Mother was writing thank you notes, and there was a knock at the door. Aunt Anita dropped by unannounced to check on Mother, and she stayed and kept her company all afternoon while Mother wrote the notes, just to be sure she was ok. Aunt Anita never said a word. She just sat there with Mother. It was perhaps the most touching act of friendship I had ever witnessed.

I remember Aunt Renee saying one time, “Anita will give you the shirt off her back. Just don’t ask her for money.” I really didn’t like when they talked about her like that.

Nana lived below Anita and Walter in the late 1950s in Stewart Gardens, and according to her, they would fight about money every night. Nana would light up a Kent cigarette and listen to them until she got bored, then she would bang on the ceiling with a broom stick. Nana had no room to talk. She could squeeze a nickel until the buffalo farted.

Anyway, one night it was my mother’s turn, and she went all out with enough food for a Bar Mitzvah. Tuna salad, egg salad, smoked fish salad, bagels, potato salad, pound cake, fresh brewed coffee in the Sunbeam 30-cup percolator. Jews sure do love their white food. The only thing with any color was the coffee. Oh, you thought I meant Caucasian.

Aunt Anita arrived first, followed almost immediately by Aunt Renee, who upon seeing the food yelled with delight, “Oh my God, look at this spread.” Didn’t bother Aunt Anita one bit.

I will never forget that. Of course, Aunt Renee had an advantage. She owned a deli for God’s sake. Before buying the deli, her husband worked at a furniture store, and rumor was all the nice things in her home fell off the truck as it passed by her house. It was decades ago, so the statute of limitations has run out.

Well, nothing changed for the next decade or so. Food was served, Pepsi was consumed, and they all remained friends.

Then, they hit their fifties, and all of a sudden everything changed.

Aunt Cis developed a hiatal hernia. She couldn’t eat anything with roughage or that would irritate her throat, so she brought her own dinner. Mother had a heart attack, so she couldn’t have anything with fat or cholesterol, and Aunt Anita? Oh she could eat anything, but unfortunately, she died soon after. It was a sad time.

But, the tragedies didn’t stop there.

There were no more buffets. Two things affect Jews deeply, death and a lack of food.

Due to all the dietary restrictions, the ladies who Mah Jongged were brown bagging it. They had to switch from coffee to iced tea, and decaffeinated at that.

I used to joke about how one couldn’t keep up with who could eat what or which. I thought I was funny, making fun of these post-menopausal women.

One should never joke about post-menopausal people because some day one will become one of the post-menopausal people. Karma is a bitch.

It all started around age forty-nine.

I farted.

I know that is no big deal. However, I never farted. I came from a family who farted all the time, but I never farted. I was not like them. I shit a lot due to irritable bowel, but I never farted. I could never understand how people could fart without shitting themselves. My friend, Danny, calls that sharting.

But, I farted. I didn’t just fart once. I couldn’t stop farting. It was awful and painful and uncomfortable, and of course, smelly.

What was happening to me? What did I do to myself? They weren’t just little farts. Oh no, I never do anything little. These were loud, long, wind shear farts.

When I sneeze, I wake up the dead in the next county, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that what was coming out the other end was just as noisy and disruptive.

I kept checking my drawers to see if I shit myself. I didn’t. I was just farting. Non-stop.

I then had to examine my diet. I haven’t missed a meal since 1962, so this was going to require some serious investigating. Then, I found the culprit. Pasta. To test out my theory, I had a plate of spaghetti.

I farted. I farted all night. I felt as if my insides were going to explode. Technically, they did.

So, I cut out pasta.

Then, I farted again.

Now what? Another inquiry was conducted.

Could it be bananas. I thought they only made monkeys fart. I ate a banana.

I farted.

I hate farting. Some people enjoy farting, but I hate it. The worst part is I don’t fart in daylight. No, I fart at night. How am I supposed to sleep with the sheets flapping all night long?

When I do doze, my farts wake me up. Oh hell, they wake up the neighbors.

Rose Marie sleeps under the sheets, so I kept checking to be sure I hadn’t gassed her to death.

I stopped eating pasta and bananas … and whole wheat bread, cauliflower, beans, cottage cheese, chocolate, cake, pie crust, sour cream, plums, walnuts, and any kind of lettuce, and the list just kept getting longer and longer.

I could just eat what I wanted and fart to my heart’s content. But, I’m single, and if I had any hope of getting married, I needed to nip this fart problem in the bud.

I finally managed to alter my diet enough to eliminate the eight-hour farting spells. But, with that came another problem.

Eating out.

I recently visited my friends, Danny and Mike, in Michigan, and they picked this restaurant with one of those weird menus where all the dishes are made with dozens of ingredients – seventy-five percent of which make me fart.

I picked something and picked at it. Danny made fun of me, saying I couldn’t eat anything and how could anyone cook for me because I am so picky. Then, he leaned to the side and farted, right there at the table.

I wish I was as comfortable in social situations as he is. It takes a brave man to be a pig in public.

Milton Stern is a writer and columnist and thinks he is a humorist: www.miltonstern.com.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stand in Line or Unplug Completely?

Last week, the iPhone 6 was released, or was it the 7? Maybe it was the 8. I don’t even know which one I have anymore. As you can tell, I was very excited about the release of yet another expensive phone, which will be obsolete and replaced two times before you finish reading this.
Did our parents or grandparents go through this hassle? Nana had an avocado green, rotary dial wall phone for as long as I can remember. She died in 1985 having never owned a push button phone. Grandma had a white table top rotary phone for as long as I can remember, and she died in 1992 also having never owned a push button phone.
I remember when my mother had the phone company replace our flesh-tone rotary phones with white push button phones, so we could have that wonderful feature “Call Waiting.”
I hate Call Waiting.
I think there is nothing ruder than Call Waiting. “So, what did Marge say … oh wait … I’m getting another call. Hold on.” In other words, I will talk to you until someone more interesting or important comes along.
Dear Abby, who is also dead, said when one is put on hold by Call Waiting, only wait for thirty seconds then hang up. I still do that. I don’t know how many times I have been called back and heard, “Did I disconnect you?” No, asshole, I hung up.
I never take the other call. I hate being interrupted, so I just let it ring.
I have a friend who calls, and if another call comes in, automatically says good bye and hangs up. He is more of an acquaintance now that I think about it.
I have another friend who when the Blue Tooth ear piece came out refused to go anywhere without wearing his. He wanted everyone to know he had this thing in his ear, and when he got a call, he would loudly start the conversation to be sure you knew he was on the phone. The conversations weren't even interesting.
I have a neighbor who always has her Blue Tooth in her ear. She is walking her dog at 4:30 am while wearing that damn thing. Who is calling her? We live in a trailer park. The only calls we get that early are when Scooter needs bail money.
I am the only person I know who will let a phone ring if I am having a conversation with someone. I have never said, “Hold that thought; I need to answer this.” I had a boss who found this disturbing. She would be talking, well more like barking, and my phone would ring. I would ignore it. That is why they invented Voice Mail. Ironically, this same woman would always interrupt me when I was on the phone.
None of this is relevant anymore because everyone texts these days. I still talk, and when I do, it is on one of five rotary phones I have in my house.
Back to the lines. Mother didn’t wait in line to trade in her flesh-tone phone. By the way, flesh-tone is more like cadaver-tone. The phone man came out and exchanged them for us. We also leased the phones. They were warrantied and weighed a ton.
I never stand in line. If I go to a restaurant and there’s a line, I leave. If I am at a car club event or Bar Mitzvah and everyone is standing in line for the food, I wait until everyone has gone through the line. Why stand? The food will be there when they are done.
I also hate being behind people at a buffet, especially when there is a sandwich assembly thing going on. People are so stupid and rude. Just pick up your meat and bread, slap some mayo and mustard on your plate, grab some tomatoes and lettuce, and keep moving. You don’t need to completely assemble your sandwich while standing in line and hold up everyone else.
The worst are the half people. You know these people. They take half of everything. They cut bagels in half, muffins in half, donuts in half. No one eats the other half. I repeat, NO ONE EATS THE OTHER HALF. Just take the whole goddamn thing! They are just trying to act demure as if they have never eaten a whole donut. Please. I can see your ass. Everyone on the East Coast can see your ass. You’ve eaten a dozen donuts while watching The View.
How did I end up talking about food? Oh right. I’m Jewish. All we care about is food – regardless of the venue.
“Aunt Ida, I went to a Klu Klux Klan meeting last night.”
“What did they serve?”
This is about phones and our planned obsolescence.
The iPhone reminds me of the 1955 Chevrolet. This car was so perfect they redesigned it the next year and the year after that, and for 59 years, they have been trying to recapture the essence of the 1955 Chevy.
I understand technology is essential to an ever-changing world, but do we go too far? What can this phone do that mine doesn’t? I can call, text, check Facebook every five seconds to see if another picture of Rose Marie got any likes, and I receive emails – 90 percent of which are ads and junk.
The worst part is the expense. Grandma and Nana had a gas bill, an electric bill, a water bill, a phone bill, and rent. That was it. The television was broadcast free over the polluted air waves and received by their antennas. They even got up to change the channels. They didn't need 600 channels. No one needs 600 channels.
I have the above bills plus an iPhone bill and cable bill, which includes fees for Internet and phone. I love my cable bill. I wanted to cancel my cable land line at one point (replacing it with an old fashioned land line), and they said my bill would increase by $50 a month. I wanted to cancel 596 of the 600 channels I receive, and they said my bill would increase another $50 a month. I am paying for channels I have never watched to save money?
Bundling. 
I hate bundling. My life is one big bundle of wires. The more bundling and wireless I go, the more crap I have plugged into the walls.
And now, you expect me to wait in line for a phone I don’t want or need?
Never.
What I really want to do is unplug. Completely unplug.
If I got one of those converter boxes for the television, I could watch the five channels that broadcast my shows. I could pay for internet access alone, and with the Roku, I could watch other shows as they are released. I would get rid of the DVR. Is it that important that I never miss a show? I could wait for the show to appear on Hulu. I could get a normal land line.
Well, I did the math, and basically, I am screwed, and so are you. To get a normal land line, I need to pay for installation of phone jacks in three rooms, since the kitchen has the only phone jack. They don’t put phone jacks in houses anymore. I had to buy a brand new home. Getting rid of the cable and going with only internet access and Hulu and Netflix would end up costing more.
Why don’t I just watch whatever is on my five channels when I am awake? I used to do that before they invented the VCR. Maybe I should get a VCR? I wonder if my Betamax is still in the shed?
I could be really radical, and I could get rid of the iPhone and not have any cell phone at all. I lasted 42 years without a cell phone. Yes, I was the last guy to get one.
Or, I could just sit here and kvetch.
But, don’t expect me to stand in line and kvetch. I do my kvetching sitting down.
Before you unplug, order my books: www.miltonstern.com.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

KEEP OFF THE GRASS!

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for people. Dogs, yes, people, no. I also thought dog owners were better people than non-dog owners, but this past year has taught me even assholes are allowed to adopt pets.
From the moment I adopted Miss Rose Marie, I have encountered everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. For those who don’t know, she has three legs. She’s fine. All of you only have two, which is why she feels sorry for you.
“What happened to her leg?” You ask.
“Nothing.” That has become my answer. “Nothing.” If you think that is rude, it is much better than what I want to say, “None of your fucking business.”
Then they get insistent. “Her leg, what happened?”
I look down and say, “Nothing. Her legs are fine.”
“No, I mean she’s missing one leg.”
“Yes, I know.”
“What happened?”
“Nothing.”
Then I usually get, “Asshole.” “Jerk” and even “Faggot.” Yeah, I got that from a kid. Lovely. I can only imagine that one’s parents.
People stop their cars to ask me what happened to her. They never say hello. When I refuse to tell them, they tell me I am rude. I’m rude? Seriously?
What if I were walking with a disabled child, and someone stopped his car and asked, “What’s wrong with him?” Who would be rude?
What if I had one leg and someone stopped to ask me what happened? Who would be rude?
To those of us who have pets, they are part of our family, and your nosy questions about our pets bother us. Of course, 99 percent of you reading this wouldn’t be so rude.
One day, a bus driver slowed down, opened the door and said, “I don’t know what happened to your dog, but I just want you to know she is beautiful.”
Now, that is an appropriate thing to say.
I just don’t understand the fascination with her missing leg. I am more fascinated with the parts she has. I can’t do anything with a missing leg.
I have experienced this before. Miss Serena Rose Elizabeth Montgomery went deaf at eleven years old and blind at twelve. For the last two years of her life, I would carry her across the street when we were out for a walk. She could smell grass, so I was always sure to have her walk on my left with the grass to her left, but curbs and streets were an obstacle.
Once after carrying her across the street, some smart ass said to me, “What? Is your dog too prissy to touch pavement.”
I said, “No, asshole. She’s blind and deaf.”
I know. One of these days, somebody is going to punch me in the mouth.
When I first adopted Miss Esmeralda Rose Alice Ghostly, she was thin and her teets were sagging due to being a puppy mill bitch for eight years. As I was walking her around the armpit of Maryland, otherwise known as Rockville, somebody screamed at me, “Did you breed that dog enough? You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I was dumbfounded. I flipped him the bird.
I know. One of these days, somebody is going to reach over and break my finger.
While Rose Marie is a magnet for rude and nosy people, she is also a dog to be feared.
She isn’t aggressive or rabid. She walks on grass, and she has only three legs. Fear the tripawd on the lawn!
Take that in for a minute.
Yes, she walks on grass.
Before I go on, keep in mind, Esmeralda lived in the trailer park with me for a year. I walked her at least six times a day. This takes me back to Mount Pleasant, which is neither a mount nor pleasant, discuss. I used to walk Serena at least six times a day, and I can’t begin to tell you how many people were concerned with how often I walked my dog. Again, whose business is it anyway? I lived in an apartment, and that was how she got her exercise.
Why is everyone so fascinated with everyone else? Do I criticize how you raise those future serial killers?
Where was I? Oh yes, Esmeralda in the trailer park.
No one ever gave me grief about walking her. Esmeralda had four legs, but she was very timid and she would walk right next to me, never behind, never ahead. She didn’t sniff. She just walked. She did her business and went on.
I also am one of the few people who cleans up after his dog. In my neighborhood, there are no swales. That is the grassy area between the sidewalk and the road. Apparently, it is a Florida term like lanai. This means they do their business in a yard. I am a good citizen, so I make sure she does her business as close to the sidewalk as possible. That way I am not standing in someone’s yard while she puts herself in a north-south position to pinch a loaf.
On Rose Marie’s adoption day, I walked her every ninety minutes to get her used to the neighborhood and going outside. She was house trained in twelve hours.
Sidenote: If you adopt a dog, walk it every ninety minutes the first two or three days, and he or she will be house trained quickly. Making a dog sit in a cage for five hours or just hold it for five hours is not house training. When I was an adoption counselor at a rescue organization, I can’t begin to tell you how many people would bring a dog back because it couldn’t be house trained.
“What did you do?”
“I made him hold it for four hours in his cage, but he went anyway.”
“Can you hold it for four hours?”
“No.”
“You just answered your own question.”
Also, a crate is a cage. Call it what you want, but it’s a cage. I refuse to say crate.
This world is full of idiots, and I have to live in it.
Anyway. Back to Rose Marie’s first day.
I walked by a dog-owning neighbor’s yard, and she came running out. She saw my little three-legged dog, and she said, “You need to keep that dog off my grass.”
Rose Marie was just sniffing around and had already gone near the mailboxes.
“Oh, she’s just sniffing around.”
Then she hesitated and said, “Well, the vet said my grass has fleas, so you don’t want her on my grass.”
“What do you do with your dog?”
She didn’t have an answer.
A few days later, I found out she thought my dog had leprosy and her dog would catch it and lose a limb. I wish I could make this shit up.
I decided to keep Rose Marie off her grass in case her dog had moron-cooties.
Then, we had another winter from hell. This was Rose Marie’s first winter. She loved it. We couldn’t spend enough time outside. The only problem was finding a place to poop. Peeing was easy as that is a squat, but with only one front leg, she needs to find a place where she can keep her balance while in pooping position.
The easiest thing about having all that snow is cleaning up the poop. You can scoop all the snow around it or, better yet, it just sits on top of the ice. It is much easier than trying to clean it up on a wet un-mowed lawn. You dog owners know what I mean.
One neighbor actually had some exposed grass in her yard. Again, Rose Marie had already done her business, but she wanted to feel grass under her feet, so she walked on the grass. No sooner had she taken a step when this ancient battle axe came running out her door.
“Keep that dog off my grass.”
“She is just walking on it. She isn’t going to do anything.”
“I don’t care. Keep that three-legged dog off my grass.”
My jaw dropped. I froze, which was easy since it was six degrees with a wind chill of minus twelve.
We moved along.
Do you know that bitch had the nerve to wave at me every time she drove by after that?
One day, she was having trouble unfolding her husband’s wheelchair after she retrieved it from the back of their Ford Escape. I walked over and asked if she needed help. While I unfolded the chair, Rose Marie stepped on her grass, and she said, “Keep your dog off my grass.”
I locked the chair for her, looked her in the eye and said, “Go fuck yourself.”
Her husband thanked me. Poor guy. He had to screw that at some point.
Then the piece de resistance happened. I got a call from my dog walker telling me someone called the police on him because Rose Marie walked on his grass.
Before I go on. We rent our lots. This grass, crabby, weedy, dandylionee as it is, belongs to the park, not us. We mow it. There is only one descent lawn in the entire park, and the lady who lives there has a dog and doesn’t care if I take a dump on it.
Again, I was dumbfounded. The police thought the neighbor was ridiculous, but they had to answer the call.
We never found out which neighbor called, and no one has stepped forward.
But wait, there’s more. Just last week, I was walking Rose Marie, and she peed on the common area of grass near the mailboxes, and a neighbor, another dog owner, who never walks her dog, just lets him pee and poop in her driveway, yelled at me about letting my dog pee on the grass.
“Where is she supposed to pee?”
“In your yard. Pee kills grass.”
That did it. I was done.
In front of a couple of neighbors, who were retrieving their latest issue of Redneck Monthly from their mailboxes, one of which was the flea lady herself, I calmly told this wrinkled, chain smoking dog owner (who is probably younger than I am) – yes, she also owns a dog, “Dog pee killing grass is the oldest wife’s tale in the book. Dog pee kills ants. It is a natural fertilizer. In order for it to kill grass, the dog would have to pee in the same exact spot for two months straight at least three times a day. And another thing. She was born this way. She has no disease that your mangy, flea bitten, non-exercised, neurotic yappy dogs can catch. Leave me and my dog alone. I clean up after her, which is more than I can say for most of you. I will walk her where I want, when I want. And the next one of you who calls the police on my dog walker better grow a pair and step forward.”
Then I snapped my fingers, turned on my heels, and Rose Marie and I sashayed up the walk.
The following Sunday, as we walked by the wrinkle’s house, she yelled over to me, “Good morning.”
I pretended I didn’t hear her, so did Rose Marie.
If you want to pee on my grass, visit my site first, and by one of my books: www.miltonstern.com

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

People Can’t Read … or Listen

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who spends the entire time formulating a reaction to what you are saying but doesn’t actually hear what you are saying?

Do you tell someone something, and then you hear that person tell someone else the same thing, only to hear it told completely wrong?

Are you a writer who gets letters to the editor about columns you’ve written, and they supposedly quote you or put words in your mouth you never said?

If you answered yes, you are I.

The other day, one of my four bosses – the joys of contract work is the blurring of the chain of command – asked to see me, and he said, “Well, do I have hell to pay?”

“What?”

“You said, if I you weren’t offered this position, there would be hell to pay.”

Let me be clear. I have NEVER said “hell to pay” in my entire five-plus decades on this planet. I have said some pretty nasty things and made some pretty idle threats using language that would make a crack whore blush, but I have NEVER said “hell to pay.”

He even said he had a witness. Well, the witness proved him wrong.

By the way, the position was eliminated when the alcoholic abandoned it, so there wouldn’t be a way to offer it. Therefore, there was no hell to pay, imagined or not.

This is my life.

When one is loud and opinionated – Who? Me? – one spends a lifetime being misquoted.

A few years ago, I was in a meeting with a hotel representative planning a conference with someone from my organization who is known to be pretty shady. I said, “For every 50 nights we reserve, there should be a comp room; therefore, we should have three comp rooms since we have reserved 160 nights.”

Before the hotel rep could say anything, Mr. Shady yelled, “We aren’t giving rooms to the entire board!”

I thought, where in my sentence did I say “board”? There he was getting ready to react to something that wasn’t said, but reacted anyway. Well, one shouldn’t do that with me because my next comment was, “When did I say board? Did anyone in this room hear me say board? Now, you need to shut up because you have been given a free room, meals and drinks for five years without informing anyone in the organization, which is essentially stealing from us as that was our room, food and drinks. It says so right here in this contract in black and white that they have provided you these things.”

Some people forget I actually can read. They also forget I actually listen … when I want to.

Growing up, family members would ask me to recall conversations. What always amazed me was what they didn’t remember. My mother was famous for selective memory. My father on the other hand had no listening skills. He would hear a sentence on the news and go off without any context.

Reporter: “A man riding a bicycle was hit by a truck during last night’s thunderstorm.”

Dad: “There go the Russians, screwing with our weather again.”

OK, he was one aluminum hat short of a trip to St. Elizabeth’s.

Recently, I wrote a column about the mid-1970s, mid-size, rebadged Plymouth Fury for Hemmings Classic Car. In the article, I mentioned how I remembered watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno and Clint Eastwood were guests on the show. Jay Leno mentioned that Clint Eastwood drove used Plymouth Fury police cars.

A few days after publication, I received a letter forwarded by my editor. The author said in an angry and condescending tone intended to get me in trouble that I “specifically mentioned Dirty Harry driving Plymouth Fury police cars,” and I was wrong. He then went on to set me straight (good luck with that) and listed all the cars Dirty Harry drove, none of which were Plymouth Furys.

Well, I kind of freaked out at first because I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan, and I have seen all his movies, and I know Dirty Harry never drove Plymouth Furys, but had I accidentally said that and it was overlooked by the fact checkers? I did an electronic search of the publication and the words “dirty” and “harry” never appeared.

You now have proof I don’t write for a porn magazine. Think about it.

I was furious. My editor said this was normal, so I laughed about how I was sitting at home getting angry in a room with Rose Marie while eating egg whites and Brussels sprouts (I am always on some weird diet).

However, I decided to write this illiterate car nut and let him know I never mentioned Dirty Harry in a letter that thanked him for supporting our publication and reading my column. He responded that he equates Clint Eastwood with Dirty Harry and that was the excuse for the mix-up. Never once did he apologize or admit he was a moron.

My favorites are doctors. I have been to too many doctors who don’t hear a word you say. They just think you are crazy or they are waiting for a break to look up what they think you said on the internet. Recently, I had to change primary care physicians after going to one who would look up symptoms on Google images; he didn’t even use WebMD, which always leads every symptom to cancer.

I especially appreciate the doctors who act as if they don’t have time to listen and just want to see the next patient, so their day will end soon. I had one who seriously heard nothing I said, and when I asked for a prescription for estrogen just to see if he was listening, he gave me one. I was an emotional wreck with tender nipples for months, but the hot flashes did subside.

When I went to my current doctor for the first time, he listened to every word I said, which almost gave me cardiac arrest. And, he heard me when I told him that, too.

My faith in actually finding people with listening skills was restored.

The saddest part is when you put information in front of people, and they choose not to read it. I edit and write a car club newsletter. Recently, I included an article about an upcoming event – The 25th Annual Orphan Car Tour. I included it in two issues of the newsletter, meaning it appeared for two months.

Ask me how many emails I got from people in the club, who have access to the newsletter and get emails announcing events that essentially said, “Hey, did you hear about this Orphan Car Tour? You should write something about it for the newsletter.”

I especially enjoyed the post on Facebook, where a member wrote, “The car club should promote this Orphan Car Tour.” He then included a link to last year’s tour!

A board member wrote, “I wish I still had my Corvair, or I would go.” I about spit up.

Instead, I responded, “That is last year’s tour. This year’s tour has been written up in the newsletter for two months now. A Corvair is not an orphan. Why in the hell do I bother?”

When I posted pictures of the tour on Facebook, which by the way, no one from the car club attended, one comment was, “Oh. Was that today?”

Maybe someday, I will find somebody who can read.

If you can read or listen, visit www.miltonstern.com and buy a book.