March 24, 2004

Now, It's Time for Breakdown

WE MUST APOLOGIZE AGAIN for the dearth of posts as of late. As it turns out, we have had yet another bout with our sinuses, and as such were patently miserable for much of this week. This latest bout was particularly ominous, as it came with fever, chills, and assorted pains throughout the rest of our body. That and we had the strangest dreams, the crazy full-fledged technicolor dreams which end badly and leave you in a cold sweat (1).

As such, we have been walking around the last few days looking like Richard Conte in that one episode of “The Twilight Zone." You know, the one in which his character is exhausted and has a bad heart; the one where you can tell he has serious issues because his necktie is loosened. That is kind of how things are going here. Still, now that the anti-biotics are kicking in to combat the sinus infection, we thought we would share some observations we made over the past week or so:

* Here in America, there is some great news: the welfare caseload is lower than ... well, practically since we started the program. No, really.

As it turns out, a mere 4.9 million people – approximately 1.6 percent of the American public – are presently on the dole. This is just 34 percent the number who were on the dole back in the early Nineties – the peak in both numerical and percentage terms – and the lowest percentage since 1960, when they first apparently started keeping track. In fact, using other figures, one sees that this is about equal to the percentage of people on welfare in 1950.

You know, that's really impressive for a nation. It says something about American culture, and something good: that we're willing to help people out if they're really in a jam and need assistance, but in the end, we recognize that they -- and only they -- can get themselves out of that jam. Of course, there are a few cases in which those receiving aid are truly unable to do that; but even then, we provide for them. So, working from that low 1.6 percent rate, we will soon get to the point where we literally won't be able to improve it.

Germany, by way of comparison, has a population of just 82 million and approximately 4.2 million on the dole. That's roughly five percent, and most are there not because of bad luck or circumstance but simply because they can draw a check. Of course, Germany has an 11.1 percent official unemployment rate, but ... Gawd.

11.1 percent. Could you imagine it? (2)

* Again on the domestic front, we note with displeasure that necessity forced us to shop at a certain large retailer, and we were underwhelmed with its commitment to quality.

This complaint has nothing, we can assure you, to do with the firm's low prices or volume purchasing – nothing to do with the fact the savings exacted out of their suppliers are passed on to us, the consumer. No. This has to do with the fact that we waited a full 15 minutes in line because no one could find the price on a pink bath towel which the nice elderly woman in front of us was purchasing.

Really. This was an amazing display of retail incompetence, the likes of which we have not seen in many a year. First, the cashier asked the lady what the price was, and she naturally didn’t know. However, because she was brought up in a moral era, she did not respond with instinctive savvy – that is, underpricing it, but still being reasonable (“Why, I think it’s $1.99.”). Not that she should have done so anyway, but hey.

In any event, this led to the cashier having to perform a price check, which apparently involved calling eighteen different departments in a vain attempt to get one of the employees to pick up the phone. Then, after an employee finally did pick up the phone, they had to actually find the towel – and that employee seemed to have as much trouble as we do in finding what we want in the place. The minutes ticked by, and there was no response. A similar situation took place in another line, which aggrieved one customer as it was apparently the only line in which one could purchase cigarettes. Tick. Tock. Tick.

By now, the nice elderly lady had that fussy look common to many senior citizens; not that she was fussy, just that she was kind of embarrassed that her transaction was bogging things down so. Not that it was her fault, of course; but as we said, she was brought up in a moral era, and this transaction had taken every principle of scientific management and wadded them up into a tiny ball. Tick. Tock. Tick. We looked around for a magazine we could read.

Finally, the towel arrived, and this firm could be assured that its $2.97 would be properly booked and accounted for. On the other hand, there is no telling how much in sales it lost because we vowed to try a different store next time -- even if they do have those carbon-flourescent light bulbs we like because they save on utility costs. And cheap, too.

* We recently made a dinner without even thinking whether it was healthy, and now we fear it is going to come back to haunt us.

A while back, we had unthinkingly purchased one of those easily-prepared meals where everything comes in cans or packets and all you do is add water. You do have to bake it, but even we can manage that. In any event, this was sitting on the shelf, and we realized we had probably best eat it before whatever was inside the box developed sentience and started leading the other canned goods in a revolt.

So we made it. It tasted fine, if by fine we mean it was barely adequate, even for someone in our line of work. Still, we realized halfway through that we were basically eating fat: complete, utter, total fat. Gravy and potatoes and chicken and biscuits = fat. Yes, even in the chicken, because on second reflection we don’t think there was any meat in it at all.

Ugh. Now we have to eat Subway for a week to make up for it.

* OK, so that last part bit the wax tadpole. We don't care.

We're in a feisty mood again as of late, a situation which ... well, we haven't decided whether our sinus infection caused it, or whether killing off the infection has caused a return to our natural perpetually-annoyed state. What we will say is that we wouldn't wish a sinus infection on our worst enemies.

Then again ... no, we still wouldn't. For those of you who also suffer such problems know how patently horrible they are: the blinding pain, the watery eyes, the crushing and merciless pressure that seemingly envelopes all points in one's head.

We do readily admit that there are far worse things from which to suffer in this life. However, as the veteran of several surgeries, the odd medical trauma and other ailments, we can readily say that we have never suffered such misery as we have with our sinus problems. That's probably because we knew that with all those other things, they'd eventually come to an end.

And speaking of which, it is time for us to get some sleep. So, again, sorry for the lack of posting, and we'll be back to normal soon enough.

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(1) We hardly ever remember our dreams; and even worse, we seem to very rarely have pleasant dreams. Rather, the dreams we do remember always seem equal parts of Bradbury, Serling, and Edward Gorey. They are generally very nasty affairs in which we are inevitably the victim: we get thrown out of airplanes and end up trapped in deadly situations and find ourselves in horribly byzantine bureaucratic struggles. We face financial ruin and despair, hellfire and brimstone, fear and terror, all "beyond the wall of sleep."

Interestingly, we have found we are prone to recalling these nightmares when we eat heavily before going to bed; which would explain the heartburn we sometimes have in the mornings. This is one reason why we no longer snack before turning in for the night; it helps to ensure our experiences during sleep are walled off into our subconscious. It is a true pity we haven't found the secret as to which foods, if any, prompt good dreams.

We have also found that a key factor behind remembering our nightmares is whether we wear the air mask we have to treat our sleep apnea. When we don't wear it, we spend our sleep fighting to breathe, and we think this may explain why our brain gets so feisty. For when we do wear it, we are dead to the world. We've slept through earthquakes while wearing it.

However, to present a balanced picture, our good dreams are amazing. The last which we remember may have been ... oh, about six months or so, but we still recall it. We should point out that it was nothing erotic or manic, and that it did not otherwise depict some amazing success which we have little hope to achieve. Rather, it was calm and peaceful and quiet; and we awoke refreshed, committed to facing the world on a bright sunny morning. In the end, one can't complain a bit.

(2) God, would that suck. 11.1 percent? That's like Seventies-era unemployment, or something. Actually, we don't even think it was that bad then; so the last time we as a society experienced that was probably back in the Thirties.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 24, 2004 11:37 PM | TrackBack