To Sign, Or Not To Sign?

I have to admit: as a retail employee, the amount of training I have ever at any point received on the proper authentication and authorization of credit cards has been about zero hours. That said, having worked in restaurants and retail since my sophomore year of high school, I’ve developed some rules:

1. If the card is not signed, or says ‘Check ID’ on the signature line, I always ask for an ID.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

So when this guy stepped up to my register this afternoon, I didn’t think of asking him for his ID when there was no signature across the back of his American Express. I mean, look, this guy’s been in the store before, I’m sure I’ve asked him for his ID before. At the same time, guess what? We’ve got famous people who shop at the Bookstore, and even in the cases when I know the person paying with Bill Kristol’s credit card is Bill Kristol himself, guess what? I still ask: “Might I please see your ID, sir?”

I do it to everyone: young, old, cops, celebrities, heck, I’ve even asked coworkers — people I’ve worked with for nearly two years! – for photo ID if the back of their card isn’t signed.

So this random guy’s reaction to being asked for his ID blew me away.

He flipped his top.

Like, people in line were looking kind of embarrassed for this guy just loudly proclaiming how ridiculous this was. I, meanwhile, the consummate professional, repeated that if the card was not signed, I simply needed to see a photo identification to proceed with the transaction.

Meanwhile, he was trying everything he could not to show his ID:

“This transaction is so small, this is ridiculous!”

Well, that may be so, but even if you were trying to buy a fifty-cent candy with an unsigned credit card, I’d still ask for your ID.

“The card is signed! The signature is just faded!”

If the signature is not visible, then as far as I’m concerned, the card is unsigned. Go fuck yourself.

“Give me back the card!”

Yeah … see, again? Without photo ID? Why would I return a card that might or might not be yours?

“I’m going to complain to your boss!”

Let me tell you how that’s going to work: they’re going to listen to your story, they’re going to nod their head sympathetically, and then they’re going to ask, “Well, so sorry about that. Let’s get you on your way. Because this card isn’t signed, can I please see your identification?”

“I’m going to call the police!”

I would be more than happy to call them for you. Really.

Finally, when he realized I wasn’t going to cave to his insanity — and, look, we’re not talking about a rough-clothed homeless guy reeking of urine, but a well dressed and obviously wealthy individual — he finally flashed his passport in front of my face, snapped it shut, then accused me of putting him through all of this for no reason, as I’d barely looked at the ID he’d presented.

For what it’s worth, I don’t actually know if I can use a passport as a valid photo ID, but I do anyway since it’s government issued. When people aren’t being douchebags, I’ll also let them present college and employment photo IDs, too.

Anyway, so he grabbed his stuff and stormed off in search of a manager to rant at. He found one, because he was loud enough everyone in the store could hear him. Then he stalked out of the store, throwing me nasty looks as I checked more customers out and asked them for their IDs.

The manager came over a minute later: “That guy’s an idiot. Consider yourself reprimanded.”

Me: “But I did the right thing!”

Him: “The customer is always right.”

Me: “The customer is always wrong, you mean.”

Customer: “For what it’s worth, I’d’ve been pissed if you didn’t check my ID!”

And that wonderful lady? Got 25% off her book for making me feel better.

Joseph Stack is a terrorist, not a hero.

Remember back to a day in September, just a year and a half short of a decade ago. Four groups of men hijacked four different airplanes. Three flew headfirst into buildings, the fourth crashed on a rural field in Pennsylvania. Fueled by an extremist branch of a religion, they died in the name of “God.” I use “God” in parentheses, because whether you believe in Him, Her or It or not, only God speaks for God, and men who claim to do so are delusional unto the point of stupidity.

Pretty much everyone in the world was all “Holy shit, WTF.” And everyone agrees that it was an act of terrorism.

Terrorism isn’t easy to define, but let’s agree that for an act to be considered terrorist, it must at least include the threat of violence, possibly as an attempt at exercising political change through the use or threat of continued force.

Right, so: fly planes into buildings and kill a lot of people: terrorist.

However: fly one plane into one building and kill one person, who doesn’t count because he works for the IRS: HERO.

Wait a second, Joe Stack is a hero?

There are some bizarre — and disturbing — comments on this piece fro the Dallas Morning News seem to reflect that opinion.

There’s something extremely wrong in this country when we label as “heroes” people who “protest” things they don’t like by the use of deadly force. There are lots of ways to protest something — make a sign, write a blog, vote for Ralph Nader — and while sometimes, yes, I will concede that violence can be a legitimate form of protest, because taxation is not a violent form of conduct (have you ever seen a 1040EZ form beat the shit out of someone?), using violence in reprisal is sort of like … well, calling yourself a teabagger** completely un-ironically.

I understand why Samantha Bell, Stack’s daughter, wants to view her father as a hero. This is quite possibly a side of her father she never, ever saw. She probably remembers him as the guy who bounced her on her knee, helped her with her homework, put her through college, gave her advice on the men she dated. I don’t know this, obviously, this is all speculation on my part, but it’s supported by this quote:

“The father I knew was a loving, caring, devoted man who cherished every moment with me and my three children, his grandchildren,” she said. “This man who did this was not my father.”

Last week, I got home Wednesday and turned on the TV. I’d watched LOST the night before, so I found myself with an episode of Oprah. Just when I was about to change the channel, the episode’s promo came on: it was about family members of serial killers, and how they dealt with what their family members had done. The son of Jim Jones spoke about how he reconciled his love for his father with the mass murder at Jonestown; and the sister of John Wayne Gacy spoke about her struggles understanding her brother’s actions.

I think it’s probably a similar situation for Samantha Bell. She just needs some good part of her father to hold on to.

As for the larger community of support behind Stack’s actions — well, maybe it’s just because he only killed one low level IRS Bureaucrat, a guy named Vernon Hunter, a Vietnam veteran, and not one of the people who crafted the tax laws Stack railed against — maybe if the collision had killed a whole bunch of children, too, maybe then some of the extreme fringe would have the necessary perspective to step back and say, “No!”

As it is, I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of domestic, home-grown terrorists. Joe Stack, despite whatever many good qualities he may have had, died in an act of terrorism. Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist. They’re not the first, and they’ll hardly be the last.

*Bob Marshall: Deluded! Stupid!

**The relevant definition is the 2nd.

“People say I lack patience. Maybe they’re right. Because right now I feel like mangling you into something that a cat wouldnt recognize as a fur ball.”

Recently, I finished Boston Legal. I mean: I finished it. I’d seen a handful of episodes, and I liked it enough, that when I saw the series’ season sets on Amazon for $15 a pop, I scooped ‘em up. An episode here or there, a whole ton on snow days, and I made my way through the show. For the most part, I enjoyed it. I felt the fifth season was very weak; and I do truly wish FOX or David E. Kelley would push for complete DVD releases of The Practice, and Picket Fences. Barring that, I wish they’d make them available on Hulu.

So finishing with Boston Legal, I wanted something else to watch an episode here or there, and so I looked through my TV-on-DVD box sets.

So I threw in the first disc of one of my favorite TV shows from my high school days: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., which happened to feature Boston Legal’s Christian Clemenson as a lawyer named Socrates Poole. Well, I mean, also Bruce Campbell as the titular star. The show also happened to be created by a guy named Carlton Cuse, whose name you might be familiar with because he’s the showrunner of a certain program about a mysterious island that sometimes gets unstuck in time: Lost.

But if you’ve never seen Brisco County, Jr., and you’re a fan of Firefly, you might want to give the show a chance. While Firefly** was a western set in space, Brisco County, Jr. was a sci-fi set in the Old West: Junior is recruited by the robber-barons of the Old West to hunt down the villainous Bly (Billy Drago*), who, along with the twelve members of his gang, is on the hunt for a mysterious, powerful “orb.” Bly also happened to gun down County’s father, Federal Marshal Brisco County, Sr., so that helps with the whole “motivation” thing.

Anyway, I began Googling and IMDBing some of the folks involved with the show, and I was kind of shocked to learn that Julius Carry, who’d played rival bounty hunter Lord Bowler, passed away in August 2008.

Lately, it feels like I’ve written a lot of these “RIP” posts — they’re sort of morbid, don’t you agree? But until his death, there’d always have been the possibility that I would’ve bumped into Julius Carry on the street one day, and just had the opportunity to say, “Hey, I really enjoyed Brisco County. Hope you’re well.” But such is the way things work out that he’s been dead for a year and a half and it just pinged my radar screen. Rest in Peace, Mr. Carry.

*You probably know him as the guy Kevin Costner throws off the roof in The Untouchables.

**Zoe’s rifle? That prop was originally used on Brisco County. I think it’s actually the one Bowler wears on his back.

I Can’t Even Think Of A Title For This Post

It’s funny, because earlier this week I was on Twitter, musing as to just how long it had been since I’d had a beer.

My best guess, if you’re interested, was probably Thanksgiving.

So then came yesterday night, and two back-to-back Happy Hours: the first was a post-work get together at The Barking Dog in downtown Bethesda. It was a fairly small turnout, but a few of the new folks came out, and a fun time was had by mostly all.

But especially by me, because hoo-boy am I a lightweight. So after having a few beers, I made my farewells and stumbled (safely) to the Metro station, where, after only a short wait, I boarded a train headed to downtown, and made my way to Vapianos in Golden Triangle for a DC Blogger happy hour, where I quite excitedly consumed several more drinks, went to the restroom a lot, made some new friends, met some old ones, went to the restroom a few more times, and finally, a bit after 11, made my excuses and stepped out for the trip home.

I checked my Next Bus on my iPhone, and voila! An L2 bus was approaching a nearby bus stop. So I hiked up to Dupont Circle, and around 11:20 (I guess), I was standing on New Hampshire, waiting for the northbound bus. There was a long line of traffic backed up, and I really didn’t give it too much thought …

… right up until some drunk crazy guy ran into the street and charged an SUV. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but the guy behind the wheel of the SUV used his door as a shield to shove the drunk guy away (who was screaming “I’m a lawyer! I’m a lawyer!”), and then jumped out of his car.

Which was hilarious because he hadn’t set the brake, so it started rolling backwards, and the woman in the passenger seat was like “HOLY SHIT WTF” as she was scrambling to get to the driver’s side to hit the brake. This was particularly hilarious because, if memory serves*, before hey husband/boyfriend/pimp/what-the-fuck-ever jumped out of the car, she’d been sort of “Mmm, sleep.” Hah! Shockingly, she managed to stop the SUV before it rolled backwards into the car behind it.

Meanwhile, Mr. I’m-Too-Cool-To-Set-My-Parking-Brake-Before-Kicking-Some-Drunk-Guy’s-Ass (pretty sure he must’ve been drinking) was busy wrestling with the aforementioned drunk “I’m a lawyer guy”, when some other dude ran up and started assailing the drunk guy, too.

Now, granted, assailed might be a strong word: it was clearly a physical confrontation, but I didn’t actually see any fists flying. You know how men will sometimes thrust out their chests and bump them with other men? Like that, but hostile. And cussing.

So I was just like, “Well, this isn’t going to make it easy to get aboard the L2″, (also, I didn’t want one of these drunk assholes to see me giving them the “WTF” look and punch me) and I just decided, “Fuck it, it’s cold, it’s icy, and I’m right at the entrance to the Dupont Metro Station — I’m going to walk home.”

So, y’know, it was cold, and there was ice, and I’d been drinking and drinking and drinking, so I walked home. And I got home safe! And in about 35 minutes, which is good on a non-winter/icy night, so, I guess the lesson is that I need to drink more often after work. At the very least, I’ll work off the beers.

*And, let’s be honest, six drinks? It probably isn’t.

Leaving on a Jet Plane …

While I knew that the day was eventual, I also did not know it was coming so soon.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my sister’s engagement — or, rather, I blogged about the method of my future brother-in-law’s proposal. And this last weekend, out for lunch with my folks, my Dad voiced his opinion that he hoped she’d hurry up and plan the darn thing so that plans could be made.

In fact, the last I’d heard was that a tentative date for the wedding would be sometime next fall. But this morning my sister hit me up on gchat with some details, and so, the middle of June, I’ll be packing my bags and catching a flight for a small, family only wedding in Colorado.

No, no, her wedding day isn’t the day I mentioned when I said a day was eventual.

So, here’s the thing: I’ve flown on an airplane maybe a dozen times in my life. And in my adult* life? Twice. Okay, that was a flight with a stopover to Boston from BWI, but I’m still counting it at as two flights, not four. And that flight(s)? Was back in either early 2000, or early 2001 (Hey, E, when did I come visit you gals at Northeastern?).

My family, excluding my sister, all live within easy driving distance. My friends, with some exceptions, all live within easy Metro or driving distance. While I do want to go tour some of the great sites of the world (Europe, especially), this is really the first point in my life where I’m able to afford to do so; yet, my financial concerns — paying down debt, putting money into a savings account, and yes, accruing enough PTO — must be my immediate priority before traveling to distances far enough to warrant plane travel become routine.

So in about four months I’m going to get on an airplane for the first time in nearly a decade. I’ve heard the post 9/11 horror stories of airline travel, and I don’t remember the boarding process as being much fun before that.

On top of all of this, if you must know, I’m a bit of a home-body: I get homesick. I miss my cats. I miss my apartment. I miss my neighborhood haunts and yes, even my regular routine. I miss my coworkers. The people I see on the bus. Even, sometimes, the clients.

And I’ll admit it, the Kevin Smith/Southwest Air “situation” has me a little nervous too.

I don’t know what Kevin Smith weighs. I know that I struggle with my weight (250lbs), and I lose a prime source of exercise when the weather becomes too cold to make my routine hike from the Bookstore to my apartment in the evenings**. I am, in fact, worried that I’ll be kicked off an airplane while trying to get to my sister’s wedding, or that I’ll be kicked off an airplane trying to get home from my sister’s wedding.

Honestly, it wasn’t something I’d thought about, like, at all. Even after reading some of the posts that the event inspired, I didn’t actually have a “wait, this could happen to me” moment, possibly because in terms of body image, I’m horribly self-delusional (what, you mean I’m not a sexy beast?)

In any case, from Salon’s Broadsheet:

Here’s the first thing I think of when this issue comes up, for instance: The weekend my mom was dying. Two of my siblings and I got to her bedside within hours of getting the call that she’d had a massive heart attack. Our other sister took two days to get there. She could fly coach, technically, with a seatbelt extender and the armrests digging into her sides. But she couldn’t afford two seats, especially on such short notice, and knew she might be forced to buy another if the airline decided she was too big to count as a single human being. She knew she might be bumped from the flight she’d paid for, and forced to wait around for one that was less full, for who knows how long, while our mother’s organs were shutting down in another country. And she knew that even if she was allowed to fly on the flight she’d booked, there was every chance she’d end up sitting next to someone who would spend the whole time sighing heavily and throwing her dirty looks — then probably spend the rest of her life telling the story of being next to that awful fat woman on a flight from Boston to Toronto, that disgusting creature who just booked a single seat without a thought to the people who would have to brush up against her monstrous bulk for a couple of hours, like she had to be somewhere so important it was worth inconveniencing strangers.

So, rather than deal with any of that, my sister chose to drive a thousand miles as fast as she could, hoping she’d get there in time. While she was on the road, the doctors informed us that there was nothing else they could do, so the whole family’s focus shifted from wondering whether Mom would make it to wondering whether my sister would. A nurse reassured us that Mom would hold on long enough (“They always wait for their babies”) and as it turned out, she did. Just. But that agonizing day of asking my mother to please hang on a little longer — while she was wracked with pain beyond the reach of morphine, moaning like a wounded animal when awake enough to communicate at all — is the first thing I always think of when the debate about whether fat people deserve affordable air travel comes up. You think of some lumbering beast who had the gall to “steal” an inch of your seat that one time. I think of a dying woman waiting for the last of her babies to say goodbye.

So, yeah, maybe I should give up the Skittles and the Cheddar Jalapeano Cheetos for a few months. Who knows, maybe I’ll score with a bridesmaid!

(Er, except it’s a family only wedding, so that could be icky).

*Defined as post high-school.

**Because I feel very self conscious about being in the gym in my building (technically, the next one over). Everyone I always see in there is slim and fit and I feel self conscious enough just using the value-adder to add money to my laundry card.

Snowpocalypse II & III — A Legitimate Pair of NATURAL DISASTERS

Back during what is now known as “Snowpocalypse I”, but was in December known as “The Great Snow Storm”, I was asked to make my way to the Bookstore on that cold, snowy Saturday, as many employees were snowed in. I was at the store for a little over an hour when Metro announced they were going to close their above-ground stations, and while we’d planned to close at 2, we shut the doors an hour ago.

Which did not sit well for one young woman, who’d walked all the way down from somewhere only to find us locking the doors. “I’m from Michigan!” she complained. “This is ridiculous!”

Ridiculous for Michigan, but not ridiculous for areas that do not routinely get massive snowstorms each winter. Last winter, ’08-’09, we had one snowfall. It began on a Sunday evening and the sun melted most of it by 4pm the following Monday. I can only imagine that poor woman slipping and sliding to and from work and her apartment, mumbling about how at least Michiganians know how to handle snow — I’ve heard quite a bit about the subject from folks at my Office job from Chicago. (Um, maybe you should move back to Chicago?)

So you can imagine how I just delighted in this article:

The forecast: a mighty winter blizzard sure to dump a record-setting blanket of snow that will grow from inches to feet overnight, just in time for rush hour.

When it happened this month in Washington, they called it “Snowpocalypse” and an overwhelmed city couldn’t keep its streets clear. When it happened last week in Chicago, they called it “Tuesday” and kept the blacktop black from first flakes to final drifts.

“I’d take my plow drivers and put them up against anyone in North America,” said Bobby Richardson, Chicago’s snow removal boss. “Ten inches, a foot of snow? That’s nothing for us. Nothing.”

…Richardson and his legendary snow-clearing legions argue that keeping a city moving during such a blizzard isn’t an insurmountable task. Should as much snow fall on Chicago as it did in Washington this month, more than 500 plows and 1,000 workers _ hardened by years of work in tough Midwestern winters _ are prepared to wipe it all away.

What can be measured is preparation. With an annual average snowfall of 38 inches, Chicago maintains a fleet of 300 trucks specifically designed for removing snow, 200 others that can be fitted with plow blades and budgeted $17 million for the work this winter. Washington, with an average of 19.4 inches of snow each year, has 200 trucks that can be fitted with blades and a snow budget of $6 million.

Cohen, the Roadway Safety Foundation chief, said Washington and other cities ill-prepared for snow should heed the lessons of this February winter and start preparing for the next Big One by building up that kind of snow-fighting force. But he doesn’t have faith it will happen: As voters, people might remember street-clearing failures, but as taxpayers, they tend to forget as soon as the snow melts.

“People say it should be done,” he said. “But then no one connects the dots that someone has to pay for it.”

One of my aforementioned Chicago coworkers and I left at the same time on Friday, and while we were waiting for the bus in pretty much the center of Rockledge Drive, he observed, “I’ve never seen a natural disaster shut a place down so effectively while not really destroying anything.” It was a pretty good observation: I mean, besides the collapse of a handful of roofs, and bare shelves at many grocery stores, there really hasn’t been any destruction as an actual result of the snowfall,* so I hadn’t really been thinking about it in those terms: a natural disaster.

And yet, don’t Snowpocalypse II and III qualify as a natural disaster? Wikipedia defines a natural disaster as:

“…the effect of a natural hazard (e.g. flood, tornado, volcano eruption, earthquake, or landslide) that affects the environment, and leads to financial, environmental and/or human losses. The resulting loss depends on the capacity of the population to support or resist the disaster, and their resilience. This understanding is concentrated in the formulation: “disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability.” A natural hazard will hence never result in a natural disaster in areas without vulnerability, e.g. strong earthquakes in uninhabited areas. The term natural has consequently been disputed because the events simply are not hazards or disasters without human involvement.”

Well, let’s look in particular at that first sentence:

1. NATURAL HAZARD – Okay, snow is not specifically mentioned, but then, does it need to be? A hurricane isn’t mentioned either, but that’s what drowned New Orleans. Check!

2. THAT AFFECTS THE ENVIRONMENT – I think anyone stuck in last Friday’s hellish commute would agree that the snow has affected the environment; also anyone trying to walk on non-cleared sidewalks, drive on icy roads, or find food on shelves unstocked because the delivery trucks can’t park. Check!

3. FINANCIAL LOSSES – Due to Snowpocalypse II and III, the Bookstore closed early Friday the 5th, and was closed both Saturday and Sunday, opened for a few hours Monday and Tuesday, was closed Wednesday, and opened again for short hours that Thursday. Now, I don’t know off the top of my head what the Bookstore’s typical earnings over a week are, but it’s probably safe to say 90% of the store’s average revenue was lost. That doesn’t include the store’s employees who work on a full or part-time basis and are only paid if they actually work. Financial Losses? Big check.

4. ENVIRONMENTAL LOSSES – Baltimore took to dumping snow into the Inner Harbor, but in a televised interview with Adrian Fenty, DC’s mayor stated he was reluctant to do the same (dumping it into, say, the Anacostia), because he was worried about the environmental impact of some of the anti-snow measures (such as salt) being dumped in with the snow itself. And let’s not forget the damage to the Cherry Trees. CHECK!

5. HUMAN LOSSES – While I was unable to find any specific data on deaths due to these two storms, I’m sure it happened. Given that pedestrians are often still being forced to walk in the street, or to wait their for buses, because of uncleared stops and sidewalks, I think it’s safe to say people will die in the coming days as consequences of the storm and its lingering effects.

Okay, so basically, we’ve been hit by a natural disaster! Sort of puts things all into perspective when you’re pissed your commute is taking three times as long, or your car is still buried under ice. At least our city’s buildings haven’t collapsed all around us, like in Haiti. At least our city isn’t under water, making every building uninhabitable. For the most part, our lives have returned to normal: schools districts are reopening, we’re back to work, delivery trucks are filling the streets. Okay, we’re still slipping and sliding — at least we’re not being triaged in a tent because the hospital flooded and collapsed.

And maybe we could somehow convince Chicago to truck their dedicated snow plow fleet (twice as large as DC’s non dedicated plow fleet) down yonder to help us dig out. Otherwise, gosh, we’ll just have to wait a month or so until the weather warms up and removes what remains of our Natural Disaster.

*As a result of people driving like morons, property being hit by snow plows, etc, sure, but that’s a side effect of the snow.

Size DOES Matter

atat-model*

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

Yeah. Right.

AT-AT-NEW1

AT-AT-NEW2

In space, size does matter, and Hasbro certainly kept that in mind when creating its all-new, highly detailed Star Wars AT-AT. The AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) played a significant role in the Empire’s military assault in The Empire Strikes Back, and it will play an equally important role in every fan’s toy collection this year! Measuring more than 24 inches tall, nearly 28 inches long, and 12 inches wide, this colossal vehicle holds up to 20 Star Wars figures — 6 of which can fit in its head alone! — and includes so many play and electronic features true to its on-screen counterpart that it’s hard to believe! From the zip-line in its body and articulated legs for superb poseability, to its LED lights and authentic movie sounds and phrases, this is the must-have addition for Star Wars fans of all ages. Includes a 3.75 inch AT-AT driver action figure and a pop-out speeder bike.

So … wait, I’ve gotta buy the Snowtroopers separate? WTF.

Sadly, I have reached the point where buying this absolutely awesome new sculpt by Hasbro of the All-Terrain Armored Transport (best known as the AT-AT) from The Empire Strikes Back is quite most certainly out of the question. That said, holy crap, I would’ve loved to have had this as a kid, particularly given the recent snowstorms we’ve had. Domination, DC, domination!

But while I shall, in fact, refrain from buying Hasbro’s AT-AT and stocking it with Snowtroopers, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to scrap the Lego AT-AT currently guarding one of my bookshelves:

AT-AT

That that, Rebel Scum!

(FYI — this is what Hasbro’s old — read, 1980s — sculpt of the AT-AT looked like!)

-@-

* – I’ve seen this image floating around the internet for awhile, and this was as good a reason to post it as ever, the work of Dimitri Kaliviotis.

An Appreciation For A Fine Studio Apartment

I love living in my Studio apartment. I’ve had bigger places, but there’s something essentially cozy about living in one large room. I mean, y’know, I’d totally kill someone for a big open loft space, but I’d probably be better served to wait until I’m making more money. In the meantime, though, I appreciate a well thought out apartment, so when I stumbled by complete chance over an article, This Old Studio Apartment, I nearly creamed myself looking at the pictures, and reading what he’d done to a Greenwich Village studio over the course of two decades.

before-floor-plan
living-room
living-room-2
coffee-table
after-floor-plan

Things I particularly love — a.) His made-from-practically scratch coffee table. Talk about multi-use! b.) The way he re-purposed his closet to serve as an office. c.) his loft bed, custom made.

The simple fact of the matter — and I don’t intend to brag — is that I also know how to make small spaces livable (or, at least, I like to delude myself that I do*). My apartment philosophy, especially for a one-room place like a Studio apartment, is that one should embrace having one big, gigantic area, while still defining separate and distinct sub-areas. My own apartment is a bit of a cheat, floor plan wise, as it technically has, before you even start fucking with the floor plan, five distinct areas: my foyer, my bathroom, my kitchen, my gigantic 64-sq foot closet, and my living space.

(I mean … I think it’s livable).

living_room
stack_shelf
stacked_expedit

My living space is about fifteen feet by eleven feet. It’s not anywhere near gigantic, or as large as Mr. Simmons’ apartment (which I might consider killing him for)**. Into this space, I’ve managed to fit a futon, a couch, a workbench that serves as a combination desk/coffee table, and no fewer than eleven bookcases, some stacked atop one another, others mounted high on the wall. Additional furnishing include a bar table and an assortment of stools — some for sitting, one for reaching the highest shelves of my bookcases. One word that might come to mind is “crowded” (especially when you consider I’ve determined where I could quite easily add two of these units to the space).

Honestly, I kind of think I could probably do well as an interior designer, helping people move into smaller spaces while not downsizing quite as much. Truthfully, when I moved out of my two-bedroom apartment in Timonium, all I ditched was a desk, some folding tables, and a wonderful dining room table which is carefully stored in my parents’ basement until I have room for it.

So you know what? Let’s consider this open: Malnurtured Snay’s Apartment Cramming, dedicated to squeezing in as much furniture as humanly possible for all of your world possessions when relocating to Washington, DC, while still leaving your apartment feeling somewhat spacious and awesome refuge from a blizzard. If I can’t get 75% of your stuff in, I’ll refund all of your money. This sounds like a great deal, until you realize my fee is most likely to be charged in food and beer. But, hey, if you got a toilet, I’m sure I can regurgitate***.

*At the bare minimum, it must be said that I know how to cram a whole ton of stuff into a tiny space.

**JOKE.

***This also a joke. Sorry folks, no refunds.

I Loved Snowpocalypse

(It’s the ice I hate).

National Zoo Lion

I didn’t suffer too badly from Cabin Fever this last week, compared to some of my colleagues, who were foaming at the mouth to get back to work when the office finally reopened on Friday. I attribute this to a few factors:

1. I read a lot, and reading is like visiting another world, so my mind at least mentally escaped my apartment.

2. I *did* panic, and did buy a lot of food, so I wasn’t “OMG if I don’t get out of my apartment I’m going to starve to death”, which to my everlasting delight was the predicament one of my coworkers (a real — “Man, you DC wussies panic over half an inch of snow. You don’t have enough food to get you through one night?” — type) who spent at least one night dining on stale Saltines and tap water.

3. I made sure to get out of my apartment at least once a day, even if all I did was trudge up to the Zoo’s gates and take photos of the lions. They are even more majestic covered in snow. (My Mom observed that, covered in snow, they also look like Snoopy).

4. On days when the Office opted to close, the Bookstore did not necessarily. I worked all day Monday and Thursday, where it should be noted “all day” means “limited hours” due to the weather event, which greatly limited the ability of a lot of the store’s employees from getting to work.

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I took this photo on my hard walk home after venturing down to Manhattan Market in Woodley Park on a hunt for milk — alas, not only did they not have any, they weren’t even open. This is Connecticut Avenue, but looking at the photo, I have to remind myself that I took it in the year 2010.

(By the way — venturing out on Wednesday was ridiculously awesome, spooky, terrifying, and cold).

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Most of my neighbors cleared their vehicles off pretty quickly, and some moved them, and had their parking spaces stolen, which led to all sorts of people venturing out of the building at all hours with pitchers filled with water.

But some people didn’t clean off their cars, including the guy who owns the car in the above photo. Best as I can tell, a plow was trying to clear the street and smashed up his fender. Hey, folks, if for no other reason, clear your car so a plow doesn’t fuck your ride.

Bending Over For the Tax Man

2009, earning wise, was a pretty incredible year for me — I sort of giggled to myself as I filled out my year ending wage forms into the 1040 form. Going back to college in 2006-2007 was the best decision I ever made, even if it did take me several months to find a job, and even if, when I did taxes last year, I had five different W-2s and had to figure out the partial filing for DC and Maryland residency.

And then I continued doing my taxes. And my glee turned to solid WTF.

I began applying for part time jobs almost as soon I was offered my full-time position, and indeed, I interviewed at the Bookstore my first week working in this area — I delayed my start-date by two weeks, but both jobs I work now I began at practically the same time.

And my part-time job, which has been such a life-line and a necessity, which I worked so much it accounted for fully a fifth of my income in 2009 (and when you consider how much less I get paid there, that is truly amazing), truly and totally fucked me.

There are two parts to this problem:

One — Because I have automatic deposit, I do not see the pay stub and I did not pay attention to how much has been being withheld. Or, rather, not being withheld.

My full time job withheld a bit over 10% in Federal taxes, and 5% in State. Contrast this with my part-time job, which withheld about 3% in Federal taxes, and 2% in State. The end result is that I owe about $1800 in taxes.

And — seriously, what the fuck? One of my coworkers suggested HR removed so little because they figured part-time employees needed the money to spend, which makes little sense since they’d just wind up getting completely fucked at tax time. Then again, for my coworkers who don’t have a better paying job, they might qualify for some sort of EIC. So, who the fuck knows.

For a very short while, I thought my HSA would save me. Until I took a closer look at my full-time’s W2, which removed my HSA contributions before entering my total earnings on my W2’s line 1.

Look, I get the argument that suggests people should prefer to have to write the government a big fat check at tax time because it means they get to earn interest on their money when the Feds and Staties might already have it, but to be bluntly honest, I like getting a big fat refund in April. I sort of look on it as a back-door savings account, or a rainy-day spending fund, or whatever, y’know?

In any case, this has put into sharp relief my financial failures, notably, my lack of a savings account. Well, I have one, but it’s pretty pathetic and won’t put so much as a dent into what comes due on April 15th.

So, for the next two months, I’m on a tax-inspired spending freeze. I won’t be eating out. No bars. No new books. No new media. I’m probably going to finally cancel my cable TV (which I’ve been thinking about doing since Battlestar Galactica went off the air), and probably end my Netflix (I’ve had my current selections since last year).

After this week (I have to work late a few evenings at my full-time job to make up for last Tuesday, unless I want to use my vacation time, which I don’t), I’ll be calling in every day to the Bookstore in the hopes of picking up shifts wherever possible.

And as soon as these checks are in the mail, I’ll be submitting revised W4 forms at both jobs, requesting additional money withheld from my checks.

It’ll be tight, but I should be able to meet my tax obligations. Otherwise, well, I’m hoping both the Feds and DC won’t screw me too much over late payments.

It should also go without saying that I’m very glad I did not wait until April 14th to do my taxes, or I’d probably be running down Connecticut Avenue looking for a bank to rob.

UPDATE:

So, two big things — one, I turned in a revised W4 form at the Bookstore. In addition to hopefully correcting the issue, I also requested an additional small amount be withheld from each paycheck towards my Federal taxes. So next year, while I might not get a gigantic refund, at least I won’t be scrambling to find $1800.

Regarding that $1800, it turns out the IRS has an installment plan taxpayers can utilize! So I am no longer in full-blown panic mode. I can pay my local taxes in full, pay about a third of my Fed tax, and then pay the rest out over a month or two. Hooray!

January Booklist

Wow. I am very impressed with myself this month (especially given my disappointing December tally). Here’s what I read:

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
Fables v3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham
Fables v4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham
Making The Corps by Thomas E. Ricks
Generation Kill by Evan Wright
The War For All The Oceans by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins
1984 by George Orwell
TinTin & Alph Art by Herge and Rozier
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman
The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell
Fables v5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham
Fables v6: Homelands by Bill Willingham
Fables v7: Arabian Nights (and Days) by Bill Willingham
Fables v8: Wolves by Bill Willingham
Fables v9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham
Fables v10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham
2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Downtown Owl, set in a remote Dakota community, tracks a series of folks — high school students, teachers, farmers, bar hounds — through 1983 and into ’84. It’s a strange book — there’s not really a plot, it’s basically just a bunch of character sketches where characters from one sketch sometimes interact in another person’s sketch. And then a whole bunch of them die in the end and it’s kind of sad, but not really, because there’s foreshadowing. It was really good, and I might just have to go read some more of Klosterman’s stuff.

My sister originally hooked me on the Fables graphic novels, and I eagerly read these two volumes early in the month, which go into back history only alluded to in the previous two collections, namely, the domination of the Fablelands by the unnamed Adversary: particularly as to how it involves Little Red Riding Hood and poor Boy Blue, but there are other issues, too: namely, Snow White & The Big Bad Wolf (he’s really not all that bad). As you can see, the Fables bug bit me late in the month as well, and while I’m trying to keep this spoiler free, the identity of the Adversary was a “holy WTF” moment.

Folkways of distinct cultural groups have been fascinating to me since my time at Towson University, and the U.S. Marine Corps has its own particular and distinct culture. Making The Corps follows a training platoon through 11 weeks at Parris Island. The book also discusses the modern military and its role in a democratic society. Originally published in 1996, the edition I have (found in the remainder bin for $3.99, pre-33% discount) was published in 2007, and includes an update on where many of the people featured in the book are now.

My followup to this book was another non-fiction about Marines: Generation Kill, written by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright who was embedded with the Marine First Recon Battalion during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. You might be more familiar with the HBO miniseries (produced by The Wire vets David Simon and Ed Burns). Also of interest to me is A Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, the war memoir of Nate Fick, who commanded a platoon within that battalion during the invasion. I’m not quite sure when (if ever) I’ll get to it, however. Interesting post-script: in HBO’s Generation Kill, Rudy Reyes is portrayed by … Rudy Reyes*.

Book #6**, which I began reading on January 7th (which, at the very least, should give you an idea of how much a kick-ass I am at reading when I put my mind to it), was a history of the Napoleonic Wars from the perspective of the Naval war waged by Britain: The War For All The Oceans by husband and wife Roy and Lesley Adkins. I read C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series back in late 1999, and I’ve been very slowly working my way through Patrick O’Brien’s epic Aubrey/Maturin series for literally years. This book puts the whole war into perspective: for example, I’ve never actually done any research on the Battle of the Nile, and always wondered how you could have big Ship-of-the-Lines duking it out on the river — now I know, it was actually fought in the Aboukir Bay. From the Nile, to the bombardment of Baltimore, and to Napoleon’s escape from Elba and defeat at Waterloo, a truly incredible history.

TinTin and Alph Art would have been the 24th in the series The Adventures of TinTin, but series creator Herge died after only producing a rough draft (which has been published in rough-draft form). Based on the drafts, a number of pirated editions exist, including one by a Canadian artist named Yves Rodier. Although I couldn’t find a copy to purchase, I did find it online: here, and here’s my take on it: I don’t like it. Maybe it’s that I never read it over and over and over again as a child, maybe it’s that the artwork looks a little bit off, or maybe it’s that, from what I can tell, Rozier had to go the final third of the book without Herge’s notes to guide him. While on occasions it feels like TinTin, I’m not certain if that’s because it’s really feels authentic, or if Rozier’s just using familiar catchphrases and secondary characters.

The Lost City of Z tracks the efforts of journalist David Grann to discover what exactly did happen to Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon while looking for the mythical city El Dorado. No conclusive evidence is found to point directly to Fawcett’s fate, other than, y’know: he died. Probably killed by hostile Amazonian Indians. But that’s not what is amazing about this book — the ending, the true ending, the — (well, I can’t spoil it for you), but that’s the fantastic part. Read this book. Even if you’re not usually into reading non-fiction.

I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect from The Wal-Mart Effect, but overall, I probably thought it would be more anti-Wal-Mart than it actually is. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s hardly dripping with praise for the company, and points out the good and bad effects price-slashing has on the manufacturing industry. At some point in the book, and I’m just paraphrasing here, someone remarks, “Every time that Wal-Mart smiley face slashes prices, a factory worker is getting kicked in the nuts.” Apparently, Wal-Mart’s obsession with low prices goes so far as to preclude spending money to decorate their offices: office furniture includes lawn chairs brought by prospective vendors as samples.

Lost Fleet: Dauntless was a pretty quick, solid sci-fi military adventure: lost in an escape capsule for a century, John “Black Jack” Geary is revived by an Alliance Fleet to discover that he’s become a legendary Nelson-like figure. Which is good, because the Fleet’s been ambushed and now he’s in command. This is a six-book cycle chronicling Geary’s attempts to get the fleet back home before it is annihilated, while facing all kinds of internal strife and external, y’know, warships. There were some aspects of the Alliance military that just seemed absolutely bizarre to me, especially after a century of war — voting on decisions in that circumstances seems absolutely implausible, if not downright impossible. Still, I’m going to give the second book in the series a chance.

I should clarify: I have not actually finished Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, but I am about 200 pages (or not quite 1/4th) of the way through it. So I will say is this: it’s really, really, really good. And I hear it only gets better and better. Dude has some really long run-on sentences (like, of the 5-page variety).

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Here’s Lusty’s January reading list.

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Finally, January was ruthless to the bookworld:

Robert Parker, January 18th
Howard Zinn, January 27th
J.D. Salinger, January 27th.

Rest in Peace, guys.

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*Quoting Cpl. Person: “You know, it doesn’t make you gay if you think Rudy’s hot. We all think he’s hot.”

**Even if you don’t think the Fables Volumes should count in this number, that’s still three books read in twice as many days, while still working a full-time desk job, and a part-time retail job. Impressive? Why, thank you.