Gifts from the 9 of hearts

(Disclaimer: Why is there a cat staring at a dove on my 9 of hearts?  Beats me.)

A number of people have come up to me recently and asked, “John, what should I get my loved one for Valentine’s Day?” (Disclaimer: I checked with a mathematician friend of mine, and zero (0) is a number.)   And I always respond “Why are you asking me?  She’s your loved one.  I can barely stand to be in the same room with her!”

So this year, I went to my good friends at Hammacher-Schlemmer for some holiday gift ideas.  (Disclaimer: I am good friends with neither Mr. Hammacher nor Mr. Schlemmer.  Based on the fact that I constantly mock their products and refuse to endorse them, I’m probably banned from their store.  If they even have a store.)  So here are my top 9 Valentine’s Day gift ideas.  (Disclaimer: It appears that 9 is no longer a number, but has been demoted to ‘dwarf number’ status.  Please plan accordingly.)

(Disclaimer: These gift ideas are primarily for Him.  For Her, I don’t know.  There’s a reason I’m single.  Get her flowers, I guess.  Girls like flowers.  And maybe tell her she looks 23.  Just don’t get her any of this crap, particularly if you want her to stay around.) *

shearling moccasins

Mongolian Shearling Moccasins – $79.95

These hand-sewn indoor/outdoor moccasins are made from the coats of sheep that roam the indoor/outdoor steppes of Mongolia.  The leather uppers’ abrasion resistance provides years of wear, in case you have to walk on the tops of your feet for years.  An EVA midsole cushions the foot during extravehicular activities such as repairing heat tiles and orbital thrusters, and the sheepskin insole can be removed when a more uncomfortable moccasin is desired.  The moccasins have a waterproof thermoplastic rubber sole, keeping feet soft as a Mongolian sheep’s hoof.

himalayan singing bowl

Authentic Himalayan Singing Bowl   $199.95

Used since 560 B.C. to invoke a deep state of relaxation, meditation, and chicken soup, this is the authentic Tibetan singing bowl.  (Disclaimer: Bowl does not sing, and may not actually be from Tibet.)  The bowl is hand-hammered by a guy with a hammer in his hand from gold, silver, spare change, recycled beer cans, and stuff we found on a beach outside Kathmandu with our metal detector, ensuring every bowl is at least partially Himalayan.  Etched on the side of the bowl is “Om mani padme hum,” a Buddhist mantra which probably means, “Almost done polishing your nails, Queen Amidala.  I’ll just sing quietly to myself while I finish.”  Running the wooden striker along the rim creates complex, harmonic tones with subtle variations that differ from singing in almost every way.  Tapping the bowl with the striker generates a bell sound that signifies that your host is about to invite the Dalai Lama to say a few words.

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Condiment conundrum

Have you ever gone to the grocery store for just ketchup, and walked out with green beans, carrots, asparagus, fruit cocktail, a prescription refill, and no ketchup?

Have you ever gone back to the grocery store an hour later to get ketchup, and walked out with Parmesan cheese, trail mix, and no ketchup?

You can help.

Please give to the American Ketchup Amnesia Society.

Because a hamburger is a terrible thing to garnish with fruit cocktail and trail mix.

Hush hush, sweet puppy

I went to the mall today to buy some shirts and shoes, which in America are integral parts of receiving customer service.  I had no problem obtaining shirts, but the shoes were more challenging.

You see, I suffer from Acute Footwear Aphasia, the inability to explain what kind of shoes I am looking for.  Whenever I ask the sales assistant for something, they look at me like I’m speaking Klingon.  (Disclaimer: the Klingon word for shoe is ‘waq’.)

Let me explain.  At the first store I entered, I looked around for a couple minutes, and upon not finding what I was looking for, I approached a young lady wearing a name tag.  I said to her, “I don’t know if they even make them any more, but I’m looking for a pair of charcoal gray Hush Puppies.”  (Disclaimer: I don’t care.  They’re comfortable and I like them.)  The sales clerk tilted her head and stared at me with that look that said, “Sir, why do you want to put fried cornmeal on your feet?”  Instead of saying that, however, she said, “Let me check with my manager.”  As she walked toward the counter, I followed behind her and said, cheerfully, “You’re going to consult the tribal elders, aren’t you?”  She laughed and said, “I guess so.  I’m new to the store.”  It turned out she was 18 (although she looked 23), and this was her first job.

The manager was busy with another customer, and by this time I realized that they didn’t have what I wanted, but the grown-up in me could not let this poor benighted child continue to live in ignorance.  So I said to her, “Come with me, I’ll show you what I’m looking for.”  I went and found a pair of brushed suede sneakers, and a pair of dress oxfords, and said, “I want this shoe (the oxford) in this material (the brushed suede) in charcoal gray.”  Her eyes lit up as she realized that I was asking for a wildebeest with Pegasus wings, in charcoal gray.  “We don’t sell those, but you might try the department store next door.”

I thanked her and walked into the department store next door.  The shoe department is right next to the mall entrance, so I walked past the women’s shoes until I got to the end of the shoe department.  I then turned around and went up to the saleswoman and asked, “This might be a stupid question, but do you have a men’s shoe department?”  She pointed and said, “Yes, it’s directly opposite from here, near the other entrance.”  Happy that men’s shoe styles had not descended to the level of pumps and strappy sandals, and comforted in knowing that both store entrances were guarded by shoe departments, I set off for men’s shoes.

When I arrived at my destination, I came upon two shoe clerks, both young men in their 20’s.  The older-looking of the two was attempting to explain to the younger (who later explained that English was not his first language) the concept of “diva”.  The older lad was struggling for a definition that did not begin and end with the word “Cher”, a word which meant nothing to his co-worker.  Being a natural born explainer, I took over the explanation of the diva archetype, and provided a string of examples (Mariah Carey, Celine Deon, Madonna in her heyday, Miley Cyrus if she lives that long) until I saw the light come on and he said, “Beyoncé?”  (Disclaimer: “Beyoncé?” might be the word in his people’s tongue for “What the heck are you talking about, stranger?”)

Having brought enlightenment to yet another young person, I steered the conversation back to my quest.  “I’m looking for a pair of charcoal gray Hush Puppies.”  Immediately, the glow of enlightenment was extinguished from both men’s eyes, only to be replaced by a look that said, “Why do you want to put fried cornmeal on your feet, o Explainer of Divas?”  I walked over to a shelf I had noticed on my way over, picked up a brushed suede loafer, and said, “This, with laces, in dark gray!”  He relaxed a bit and explained that they didn’t carry anything like that, and had never heard the term Hush Puppies.  (This is when he explained that English was a second language.)

I’d be fine if the problem was that I’m hopelessly dated and out of style.  I am.  I just find it sad that, even though the Hush Puppy Co. is still in business, apparently nobody under the age of 30 knows it.  (Disclaimer: I will have to verify this on Monday with my two young co-workers, the one who has never seen Star Wars, and the one who didn’t know who Barney Fife is.  I don’t think I like what I’m going to find.)

Grapes, the coffee machine, and everything

I live in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina.  For those of you who are not here, it’s basically a small Silicon Valley with no valley, less traffic, cheaper homes, and more tobacco than marijuana.  Because it is a relatively high-tech area, the population is divided into engineers and people who have to put up with engineers.  This fact is the only reason I could get away with this.

I was at Wal-Mart earlier today to pick up some things I needed: an umbrella, a new coffee maker, and some grapes.  (Disclaimer: I didn’t really need grapes.  I just like them.)  When I got to the checkout line with my items, the checker said hi and asked me, “Did you find everything?”

I get asked this a lot, along with “How was everything?” in restaurants.  Apparently I give off a vibe that says, “Ask me about everything!”.  I have a hard enough time keeping track of what day it is.  So normally I will respond apologetically, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking for everything.”

Today was different.  In a flash of what I call “brilliance” (like a seizure, but less painful), I smiled and cheerfully responded, “Yep!  Now I can finish my time machine!”  I didn’t get a laugh, but I also didn’t get detained by security, which I probably would have in a less tech-savvy part of the country.

Disclaimer: You do not need grapes to build a time machine.  I got the grapes as a snack, in case all the food in the future is in pill form.  Actual produce from the 21st Century might be worth a fortune in steak pellets or dilithium 500 years from now.

Survival skills

I have no realistic chance of surviving even your basic apocalypse.  Whether it’s zombies or aliens or robots from space, I’m probably going out in the first wave.

You see, I lack basic survival skills.  I can’t hunt or fish.  I can’t shoot straight.  I can’t swim or run very fast.  I am a software engineer, which means that my main value to society expires when the lights go out.  (Disclaimer: the “value” of software engineers to modern society is still under review.  Just go with me on this.)

As a result, my post-civilization job prospects basically come down to 1) crazy old man who sits around the campfire telling the children stories about the old days when giant metal birds flew around and music came out of little boxes; or 2) crazy old man who lives in a cave and talks to himself about giant metal birds that flew around and music that came out of little boxes.

So I don’t really mind not surviving the apocalypse.  Not just because I’ll be obsolete.  The real reason is that, based on a scientific survey of what’s on TV this week, apocalypse survivors are really horrible human beings.  They’re constantly swearing and yelling and fighting and shooting each other like there’s no tomorrow.  (OK, there isn’t, but that’s not the point!)  Be they the last remnants of humanity, or just a bunch of people stuck on a ship at the far edge of the galaxy, doomed people never seem to find the bright side of being doomed.  (Note: need to find a bright side to being doomed and insert here before posting.) Continue reading