Thursday, July 27, 2006

Random Question, uh, Thursday

I'm heading to Steamboat tonight, fishing with Willis tomorrow, Kathryn's joining us tomorrow evening, and then we're all heading to Winter Park to catch Willie's band on Saturday. Between my girlfriend, fishing, live music, and hanging out with Willis and Jenn, I won't really care about the internet a whole lot for the next few days.

Speaking of good times, describe the best day of your life. Once again, the birth of children doesn't count. This one is all about you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Harry Potter Update

I finished Order of the Phoenix late last night. I'm not exactly disappointed in the ending but there weren't any of the truly shocking twists I was anticipating. The semi-major character's death didn't surprise me very much - I'd always thought he was a marked man in that Harry-Potter-world kind of way. It's like Rowling just won't let Harry have it easy, ever, and in all honesty I kind of dig that about the series. The only truly interesting twist in Order of the Phoenix, in my opinion, is the reasoning behind Harry's return to Privet Drive every summer.

And come on, didn't we already know (or at least intuit) that this town ain't big enough for both Harry and Voldemort?

Yes, yes, I know there are some cracks in the prophecy through which Rowling may squeak in a rather large surprise or two. If I had to guess I'd say Neville is going to play a huge part in the plot; if not in Half Blood Prince, then in book 7. I've also overheard enough to know that Snape isn't out of the picture just yet, nor is the Malfoy family.

Alrighty. Back to my "job" where I do important "work" in order to keep myself from being "bored to death."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Red Red Wine, Stay Close to Me

In the summer of 1983 I was 11 years old and new to Rochester, NY. Return of the Jedi had come out in May, right around my birthday, and I spent most of my days zipping my Star Wars figures through our hedges on invisible forest speeders. There were neighborhood kids around but at that point I hadn't yet made too many friends. It was a difficult time, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it was difficult for more people than just me.

When I wasn't outside I was in my room above the garage. I'd put plastic airplane models together, emerging from my room light-headed after hours of inhaling Testor's model cement (I'd later be terrified yet impressed by the edgy guys at school who did this on purpose). When I wasn't doing that, I was sorting baseball cards or having vague and confusing daydreams about semi-clothed women.

No matter what I was doing, however, if I was inside, my radio was on. I mostly listened to WPXY ("98! P-X-Yyyyy!"), which at that point was the only station I could find that played rap. They didn't always play rap, mind you, but they played it more than other stations and that was good enough. I remember hearing "Shackles" by R.J.'s Latest Arrival among other early '80s hiphop classics.

Later that year, sometime in the spring of 1984, I heard a song that changed my entire perspective on music, a phenomenon that wouldn't happen again until I heard Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" almost ten years later. The song I heard in my room one rainy Saturday afternoon had a cool beat (I'd later learn it was reggae), oddly wistful lyrics, and this effing earth-shattering moment when the music stopped except for someone rapping over the drums.

I suppose by this point in our modern lives even a Bangladeshi street urchin knows what it means to "break it down." But at 11 years old the first breakdown I'd ever heard was an absolute effing epiphany. The song, obviously, was UB40's "Red Red Wine."

I bring this up for two reasons. First, because I cracked into a bottle of pinot noir left over from my graduation party tonight and it's as tasty as it's ever been, perhaps tastier. Second, because after months of finding the edited version without the breakdown on iTunes, I tried again tonight and - holeee jayzus - they had it.

So now I'm listening to that song over and over and over again, and thinking about Rochester, and wishing I could somehow time travel and tell that kid everything would turn out alright.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Harry Potter Update

Alright, readers, I've finally finished Goblet of Fire and have plunged head-on into Order of the Phoenix, which is darker and somehow more entertaining because of it. I'm about 200 pages in and it just gets better, especially when Harry gets all full of himself teen angst.

A few questions I can't wait to have answered:

1. What exactly is that Hans Gruber Snape fellow up to?
2. Will Ron and Hermione wind up together permanently? I hope so. Rowling better not sucker punch us on that one.
3. What's this big nasty weapon Voldemort has acquired?
4. Who will step up to the plate and give Harry the "time to grow up" speech a la that Star Trek episode when Picard reamed Wesley Crusher after Wesley's piloting skills at the academy got someone killed?
5. Who will die in Order of the Phoenix? Better not be Tonks. I think I might have a literary crush on her. And before anyone gives me any shit for that, let's keep in mind someone else's literary crush.

Alrighty. Back to the book.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Random Question Friday: Characters in Literature

Hello again, and welcome to another installment of Random Question Friday! Before we get to the highly personal information, allow me to tell you a little story about me and Harry Potter.

I can't remember exactly when Harry Potter became a player in my consciousness, but I'm guessing it was sometime in my Amazon career – say, early 1998. I probably packed many, many copies of Harry Potter books, and I know that Amazon used to go to amazing lengths to order, acquire, pack, and ship Harry Potter books on time. It's almost (hell, not "almost" it IS) a competition to see which bookstore can best deliver Harry Potter books to customers' doorsteps on the release date. I won't get into details for fear of Amazon's hired goons knocking on my door, but I will say it involves impeccable timing and damn hard work.

So I was fully aware of the Harry Potter phenomenon from the retail and cultural standpoints, but I'd only read the first one. I tried to get into Chamber of Secrets, but that goddamn elf just annoyed me to tears and I put it down. I pretty much lost interest in Harry Potter as literature but remained somewhat amused by its cultural impact. I mean, when brilliant professor types get sustained and highly intellectual comment threads on the subject, you know it's a pretty big deal. It was simply a big deal that I wasn't all that interested in following.

Then I met Kathryn.

Kathryn likes Harry Potter a whole lot and she geeks out on Harry Potter in an adorable kind of way. During Thanksgiving we watched Prisoner of Azkaban with her entire family and I remember waking up with a question about all that Sirius Black business at the end of the film. It was one of those random situations where in pre-waking consciousness you ask a question, not fully aware of what you're asking. Sleeping across the room from each other, here's how the conversation went:

Trout: Hey honey, was Sirius Black a good guy or a bad guy?

Kathryn: Good. The book explains it better.

Trout: Okay. But people thought he was bad, right?

Kathryn: Yeah. Read the book.

Trout: [drowsily] Okay. Thanks honey. [snores]

This summer I decided to get some long-awaited fun reading done. I've been chipping away at Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, and I still love those stories to death, but I'm only about halfway through the third volume out of five – and in the meantime I wasn't reading anything else.

So last week I decided to take a break from all those lines and tacks and political treachery and "sou' by sou'west, sir!" stuff and give Harry Potter another crack. Pedaling my happy ass down to the public library, I skipped right over the elf and went straight to Prisoner of Azkaban.

Read it in two days.

I pedaled back down the next day and checked out Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. I'm right about halfway through Goblet of Fire, and although the first hundred pages or so were agonizing (do we really need that many pages devoted to Harry's muggle relatives? No. No we do not.), it's starting to pick up now. I'm thoroughly enjoying the character development, especially as Harry, Ron, and Hermione become full-on teenagers. My scientific genius bestest manfriend pointed out that he loves the books precisely because the kids behave exactly as teenagers do in reality: bad decision making skills come into play on a regular basis.

And so in reading Harry Potter I realized that it's perhaps cliche, but still true: we read to simultaneously escape and identify. Stories like J.K. Rowling's let us project ourselves into another existence and whether we realize it or not, allow us to pick up on characteristics similar to our own.

And that, readers, brings us back to Random Question Friday: with which character(s) from literature (we'll exclude movies because I'm a snob that way) do you identify? It doesn't have to appear in Harry Potter – it can be anyone from any genre.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ending Your World, Pt. 2

Okay, readers, I thought I'd lighten the mood around here a little bit by sharing a deep-seeded fear about which you can all laugh. It's not exactly a phobia and I've never had nightmares about it. It's just one of those things that my little OCD-riddled brain loves to chew on for hours on end, especially during long car trips.

From the first moment I consider taking a trip, to 100 miles into a trip, to the moment I consider getting back on the road, I worry about my tires. More to the point, I worry about them being so flat that I'll have to use an air hose. This is bad, because I'm terrified of air compressors.

Well, maybe not terrified, exactly – not in the same way I'm terrified of Mtv or snakes – but the whole process of using the air hose at a gas station makes me nervous.

I should note two things here. First, let's be clear: I am not afraid of doing light mechanical work. I've drained and replaced almost all fluids in my truck; I change my own oil and oil filter, and I've replaced air filters, plug wires, and plugs. In fact, as long as I have a car, I plan on doing all of these things and learning how to do more (brakes and transmission fluid are next on the list). This isn't about me fearing cars – just air hoses and what they'll do to the tire, and what the tire will subsequently do to my pretty lil' head.

And that's the second important note: my dad tells a story about being a kid and inflating a tire, and the thing blew up in his face. To this day he hates air hoses too.

Is it possible my father passed along that traumatic air hose incident to his son via genetics? Well, genetics from the other half of the DNA equation probably also explains my compulsion to have a vegetable garden, so I suppose so. But having a vegetable garden doesn't haunt me on road trips, and having a vegetable garden would help, however marginally, with this whole green house gas thing.

Which brings me to last night. As you all can tell, I've been obsessing about An Inconvenient Truth lately, so I was doing a little research yesterday and learned that a key component to gas mileage is properly inflated tires (Oh, hell, that's a lie. I didn't "learn" that, I already knew that, but hadn't done a thing about it. Why? Because I'm terrified of air hoses).

Anyhoo, having seen the film and realizing that I had a good opportunity to conquer my fears while also improving mileage, I finally decided to take action last night.

Part of the problem is that I didn't have a decent air gage, so I took my bike pump out to the truck in the cool dusk and attached that sucker to the front tire. The owner's manual indicated the tires' psi should be about 29. The front left tire was reading 20 psi. So were the others – all four tires were 2/3rds of their recommended psi.

Since I had the pump handy I just manually pumped all the tires back up to 29. But then I also went out and bought a decent pressure gage (I've never ever trusted those damn stick gages). Alas, by that point my tires were all correctly inflated so I didn't get the chance to use an air hose, but at this point I'm – get this – looking forward to the opportunity.

I have the tools. I have the gumption. I have crappy tires that will likely need inflating sometime soon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ending Your World, Part 1

Blue Eyes' comment in a previous post got me thinking about something. And actually, I was already thinking about this, even before my dad and I talked about it for twenty minutes the other night.

It's this: how on earth do we go about changing people's minds, especially large groups of people who passionately want to believe something else? Originally I'd been wondering how to resolve the crisis in the Mideast – you know, how could we convince radical Muslims that their teachings are flatly immoral, while maintaining their sovereign rights as human beings to think however they want to think. For that matter, how do we protect the right to religious beliefs while ensuring physical and intellectual safety from those beliefs? Laws against violence don't cut it – murder is illegal; we still have religiously motivated suicide bombers. Rational debate doesn't faze wild-eyed holy rollers – we still have the lunatic fringe right here in the U.S. Without resorting to massacre, holocaust-style, how do we eliminate dangerous behaviors built into religious and even political belief systems?

More to the point, how do we change thought patterns and behaviors that literally kill other people, and in some cases threaten the viability of the planet?

Driving a car is not as immediately personal as knifing someone in the throat, but the act itself, when multiplied, can kill us all. I'm not saying this because some movie opened my eyes – I'm no scientist, but it's only logical (hell, almost intuitive) that releasing poisonous gas into the air just might have nasty consequences. I'm saying this because it's been obvious all along, and those who dare point out the truth either get crucified politically or mocked personally. Stump speeches with well-crafted insults keep the audience laughing and win votes; neighbors who drive hybrids are called hippies behind their backs, as if the most traitorous thing a person can do is stop consuming oil.

So how do we convince people to stop driving? How do we convince industry to stop using fossil fuels as energy sources? How do we make renewable energy the preferred and primary source?

When people like Blue Eyes, who is probably a very nice person who really doesn't want to destroy the human race, refuses to believe that her behavior contributes to a global problem, how can I change her mind?

Short of truly horrendous environmental crises (Greenland melting into the ocean, massive food shortages, etc.), I think there's only one way to get through to people: money.

Hybrids are becoming popular because they reduce gas costs. Sure, sure, some people who buy hybrids do so for environmental reasons – thus the neighborhood hippie – but I'm willing to bet that the demand for hybrids lately is directly related to rising gas costs. I mean, my Economist-reading father, a firebrand and frugal conservative if ever there was one, is convinced that he'll buy a hybrid as his next vehicle. To his eternal credit, he's a conservative who doesn't let his loathing of Al Gore distort his analysis of the scientific data Al Gore presents.

The answer, then, is the market . . . at least for the environmental stuff. The religious stuff? No idea.

People need an economic incentive to change behavior (again, short of environmental catastrophe). If gas cost $10/gallon, I bet mass transit would suddenly be very popular. Given the nature of the internet, more people would try to work from home or simply live close enough to walk, ride a bike, or hop on that electric train (and the issue of electricity production is for another post). Car manufacturers would suddenly find high demand for vehicles with extraordinary fuel efficiency, which obviously helps emissions as well.

Should the government tax gasoline to the tune of 300%? Hell, should we encourage oil companies to charge $240/barrel and let them keep the profits? Well, it would hurt many industries. It would upset many people. It would be politically unpopular.

And as it turns out, it would be the right thing to do.

Update: I'm only kind of right, and very reductive in my analysis and proposed solution. Check out this essay and this opinion piece for a little light reading.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Apartment!

Howdy, all!

I spent 7 hours in my truck today, driving to and promptly from my NEW TOWN in order to sign on my NEW APARTMENT. I'm very excited and, incidentally, much lighter in the wallet. It's about two blocks from my employer, it's freshly painted, the closet doors are falling off and the phone jack is dangling by a wire out of the wall, but it's MY NEW APARTMENT!



It was hotter than blue blazes there, and the drive home was Africa hot. As an added bonus I spent the entire trip thinking about how much carbon dioxide I was creating, and also whether or not my kids would ever see snow in their lives. Not that I have kids, but still. This movie will do that to you.

In happier news, the only time I'll ever need a car in my NEW TOWN! is when I drive out of it. In town, I can totally walk to work, the grocery store, and the bar (special note to readers who know precisely which town and which bar I'm talking about: please don't mention either one by name in your comments... wouldn't want my employees reading my blog. - ed.)

That's all for now. Go see An Inconvenient Truth. Right now. Go! Shoo!

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's 11:06 and My Life Has Been Changed

Okay. I know some of you hate Al Gore, or at least hate his politics. I know, okay? I know.

But all of you, each and every single one of my millions of readers, must go see An Inconvenient Truth.

I know. Some of you hate Al Gore. And although the film contains a few partisan digs, they are well deserved precisely because of the data behind them. Ignore the politics if you must (and I promise there's not a lot of political stuff), but I guarantee your perspective will be changed in fundamental and profound ways.

The data are incontrovertible and terrifying, and that ain't hyperbole. Go see it. You'll be better for doing so.

The World is Ending

The Mideast. The wildfires. North Korea. Barbaro. Global warming. The Tigers are in first place.

The world is coming to an end, folks. I'm giving it until sometime late Thursday morning.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

Random Question Friday: Pain. Did I Say "Pain?" I Meant "Recipes."

As suggested in a previous post, today's random question was going to invite the readership to share their most painful and/or gruesome experiences. Once I started writing it, though, it struck me as, well, disgusting. Oh sure, some people enjoy the macabre, but for now this blog is going to steer clear of that stuff.

Instead, I thought we could share our favorite recipes. If you don't know your own favorite recipe, your favorite dish will do.

Mine? My mom's crescent rolls. Not sure how she makes 'em, despite her best efforts to teach me.

Also, her crockpot beef stew. Also, pie.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My Head, It Is Full of Le Bon Travaile de Zidane

It's taken me a few days to come to grips with the World Cup final, and after some family members sent some very insightful and interesting articles on the subject, I've officially changed my mind about Zidane.

I was rooting for the French; I like the country of France more than I like Italy; I speak passable French; I like Zidane and Henry immensely both as soccer players and as human beings. So I was pretty disappointed when Zidane pulled his little headbutt stunt. I mean, here's the star of the French team, one of the best players in the modern era, playing in his last game ever, and the guy does something he had to know would result in a red card. And as fate would have it, his team could have used his magic foot in the shootout.

I was angry at Zidane and for the past few days, his stock had plummeted on the Trout Human Valuation Index. But like I said, I've read some interesting things lately and I've changed my mind.

Zidane had been hassled the entire game. Some reports say it was ugly verbal taunting (the final straw may have been a racial slur about his mother or sister), some say he'd had his jersey pulled the entire game and had even had his nipple pinched.

So an increasingly larger part of me understands what he did. In fact, an increasingly larger part of me, the tough brute manly part, wishes Zidane hadn't simply knocked that Italian loser onto his ass, but that he had stomped on his tenders a la Rooney to boot.

Getting into your opponent's head is a key part of any professional sport. Just don't be surprised when the retaliation comes. Yes, Zidane's headbutt might have cost his team the World Cup. I'm sure he understands that and is sorry for the consequences of his actions.

But I, for one, have forgiven him and wish him the best of luck.

A Little Story

During an indoor soccer game in the spring of 1992, an opponent's pass came into center and a guy from the other team and I charged the ball at speed from opposite directions. He came in a little high, and my toe-punch kick found not the ball but the bottom of his shoe. My indoor soccer days came limping, literally, to an end.

For months after that the outer edge of my big toe was perpetually bruised and tender. The toenail along that edge wouldn't grow straight but rather out, to the side. The side of the toe itself would bulge in rainbow colors. It got so ugly that at one point my bestest manfriend took a picture of it when we were roommates later that fall.

Sometime in late '92 or early '93, I was back home having dinner. My dad's an ER physician and had been giving me doctorly advice over the phone, none of which really helped. So we were sitting there having conversation after dinner and somehow I mentioned that my toe still hurt.

"Goddammit," Dad said, "I'm sick of hearing about your toe. We're going to fix this right now."

Now, you probably wouldn't guess my dad's a doctor by looking at him. He has a certain cowboy quality that manifests itself when he's not at work or when his kids get hurt – ask me sometime about my broken ribs years after this incident. Essentially, Dad takes precisely no bullshit from anyone and uses whatever means are available to solve problems.

"Take off you shoe and sock and sit there for a minute," Dad continued. "I'm going out to the garage to get the stuff."

The garage? The only things out in the garage were his workbench and truck. Coincidentally, he came back into the kitchen with a rusty pair of pliers and a small first-aid kit.

He produced a small bottle and needle from the first-aid kit. He filled the needle and jabbed it into the side of my toe, up near the joint, relatively far from the bruised area. I felt freezing cold liquid seep under my skin.


"Mm-hmm. You won't feel a thing in a second."

He repeated the process on the other side of the toe, near the webbing.

"Oopsie. Hang on a second," Dad said. I looked down and saw him pull the needle back out of my toe – he'd accidentally pushed it through a flap of skin and all the way through. He plunged the needle back in, but this time I didn't feel it.

He pinched at the skin and wiggled the toe. "Feel that?" he asked.


He tapped the discolored side of the toe with the pliers. Usually a good stiff breeze at that location would send shockwaves of pain rippling up my foot, but this time there was nothing. "Feel that?


"Okay. Hang on."

He grabbed the front of the toenail with the pliers, jiggled it a little bit, and then pulled up and back like he was lifting the hood of a little model car. In my memory it made a slight sucking sound, but I could just be making that up.

He pulled the nail completely out and held it in the light over the table. Besides the obvious blood, there was an odd yellow goo all along the jagged edge.

"Good one," he said. "You must have had a pretty deep infection in there. I have some pills that'll clear that up."

The toe has always been a little crooked since then – not because of Dad, I'd imagine, but because I probably broke it in the first place.

This post will be our referent for Random Question Friday. In the meantime, the readership is encouraged to think of the most pain they've ever experienced due to an accident. And as painful (and sometimes accidental) as it may be, childbirth does not count.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

My Favorite New Show

A quick post this morning before I head off to check in 15 hyperactive know-it-alls high school debaters.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Dog Bites Man on Comedy Central. I watched it the other night, alone, and was cackling like a madman. Tivo it, download it, record it on a coal-fired VHS player for all I care, but you must watch this show.

Unless you are any one of my parents. Then you should absolutely not watch this show under any circumstances.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Good Ship Trout Lists, Tries to Right Itself, and Wrongs Itself Instead*

Softball Slut stopped by the other day and asked a question about my nickname for my experience at Several years ago I read somewhere that the process of naming things is a manifestation of our need to control it; that by assigning a word we assume some sort of psychological power. I believe it (and for now, we'll ignore the problematic nature of semiotics as brought to our attention by Saussure and co.)

So yesterday, in the process of covering some theoretical territory I hadn't crossed in a few months, I realized I also hadn't made a list for quite a while.

You see, readers, a few years ago an Amazonian helped me through a rough time by advising me to make a list of absolutely everything I was worried about. So I'd sit up at night writing single words or phrases on regular sized notebook paper, often making two or three columns to conserve space. In my days at the 'Zon, my lists would often cover two full pages.

After I quit the place I got in the habit of not just listing the things I was worried about but also writing out specific steps I could take to fix them. And eventually I even got to the psychological place where I was comfortable crossing stuff off the list if there was truly nothing I could do.

All of that was a longwinded way of telling you that I'm about to list everything that's bugging me right now (well, almost everything). We'll skip the part about specific action to take since at this point I kind of do that automatically whenever something bothers me. In no particular order:

room smells b/c of shower leak no one seems capable of fixing

  • current job
    current camp's behavior sucks
    handcuffed to campus

friends' wedding invite found in mailroom a month late
wedding gift for other friends

  • out of shape and flabby
    little time for exercise
    little motivation – find it!
    shin splints – use bike trainer instead of running
  • money, long-term
    smallish salary
    new car?
    no cable/internet until cc is paid off – where to blog anonymously?
  • the move
    organizing help
    enough room for all my crap?
  • new job
    rules and regs
    too busy to coach?

family's health


* The first reader to correctly identify the reference to the phrase "Tried to right itself but wronged itself instead" wins a pony.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Random Question Friday: Movie Quotes

Okay, readers, after a hectic morning of dodging feral badgers with wee beady eyes and sharpened claws administrators with concerns about an incident last night, it's time for Random Question Friday.

As tired as the favorite-so-and-so line of questioning can get, today we're doing movie quotes, but here's the catch: it has to be either A) a relatively small and unknown film or B) a relatively ignored and/or throwaway line from a major film. In other words, no "Here's looking at you, kid" bullshit. Give us the good stuff; those small lines that made you giggle when no one else in the theatre got it.

Mine: "How about some gold bracelets?" from Napoleon Dynamite.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Story from the 'Zon

[Editor's note: Every now and then I get this urge to catch up with old friends from the 'Zon. Tonight, for instance, I randomly Googled a phrase and found this guy, whom I never knew and who occupied a completely different Amazon universe than I. It's funny, though – it sounds like some Amazon qualities/experiences kind of transcended departments.]

In the spring of 1998 I was packing books at's only (at that time) warehouse, in south Seattle's industrial district. The people were great but the job mostly sucked, especially for someone who felt like his 4.7 GPA at the friggin' University of friggin' Illinois deserved a little friggin' respect from the labor market.

So sometime that spring I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into the 'Zon's customer service department. At that point, "CS" was comprised of remarkably diverse and intelligent people – mostly liberal arts graduates, mostly good if not great writers, all with interesting lives even before we wound up at the 'Zon. We were movers and shakers, man, in our mid-twenties, and very cool in that Seattle hipster kind of way.

After a few months answering email and taking routine phone calls I was promoted to a "Tier 2" position, meaning that I'd handle the truly nasty stuff. Amazon CS horror stories are legendary – a "switcherooed" package results in a kid opening his birthday present from grandma only to find the Kama Sutra, a professor orders a hard-to-find book for a conference and it gets lost in shipping, etc. – but before all of that occurred, I was still a trainee with a headset splitter when I heard one of the strangest and infuriating calls of my career.

My buddy Kevin was already a Tier 2 and pretty much a CS master. I sat next to him one day during Tier 2 training, listening in on a phone splitter and watching him work crazy magic on orders. The phone beeped. Kevin answered it – it was usually a Tier 1 rep introducing the call to the Tier 2 rep before transferring it, but you never knew. Sometimes there would not be a Tier 1 rep on the other end but rather a very pissed off customer.

"This is Kevin, how can I help you?"

"Uh, Kevin? This is Eric. I have a lady on the phone who has a question about our benefits package."

"Our benefits package?"

"Yeah. Can I transfer now?" He sounded eager to get rid of the call, even more so than Tier 1 reps usually were.

"Sure, go ahead." We heard the phone click over and Kevin introduced himself again.

"Hello, Kevin," said a very sweet grandmotherly type with a soft drawl. "My husband and I absolutely love," she cooed. We actually got this kind of thing a lot in those days – people just thrilled with the site and service, as if we really were doing something completely revolutionary. And frankly, in several ways, we were.

"Well thank you, ma'am," Kevin said.

"Now, Kevin, I have a question for you about the benefits offers."

"Okay, how can I help?" I think both of us were anticipating a question about future employment, or maybe something really strange like an insurance sales cold call.

"Do you offer benefits to homosexuals?"

There was an odd silence as Kevin and I exchanged a puzzled look.

"I'm sorry?" Kevin said, cocking his head as if he hadn't heard correctly.

"Does provide partnership benefits to homosexuals living together?" she asked. Judging by her tone you would've thought she was asking if we offered gift wrap services.

"You know, I don't . . ." Kevin started. He looked at me; I shrugged. "I'm not... "

"The reason I ask, Kevin," grandma interrupted, "is that my husband and I love your site, like I said, but we just can't in good faith support a business that encourages sin."

There was another odd silence.

"Ma'am, I'm not sure one way or the other, to be honest," said Kevin. "Can I put you on hold for a moment while I find out?"

"Well of course, Kevin, that would be fine."

He tapped the "hold" button and slowly shook his head.

We walked over to our supervisor's cubicle. She would become my life support at the 'Zon for pretty much my entire career, even well after I left CS. Kayleen said she was pretty sure we did offer benefits to domestic partners but that she'd call corporate HR to find out for sure. After a quick chat on the phone she ended it with, "that's what I thought."

At this point Kevin had two options: he could revert to the old Tier 2 trick of getting the customer off the phone and then crafting the kind of email that would make the White House Press Secretary proud – sly, oily, and just passive-aggressive enough to make him feel better about the world, or he could just deliver the bad news to grandma while he still had her on the phone. Either approach meant losing a customer for good, and as corny as it sounds we took that seriously.

Back at his desk, Kevin tapped the "hold" button again. "Ma'am? Unfortunately, we do in fact offer benefits to domestic partners."

A third odd silence.

"Oh, darn," grandma sighed. She sounded genuinely if not profoundly disappointed; like someone whose favorite new shopping experience, maybe even the best thing to happen to her since air conditioning, had just been snatched away. In the awkward silence I waited for her to say something about the queers ruining the soil.*

Happy Belated Gay Pride Week, folks.


* The first reader to correctly identify this oh-so-clever pop-culture reference wins a pony.

Just, You Know, Stuff

Alright, to pass the time and cool my nerves after unpleasantness with a certain certifying body that shall go unnamed, I thought I'd steal a page from Dirk's playbook and list ten things not everyone knows about me.

1. I still harbor a wish to write something more profound than a blog.

2. When I was 19 my dad ripped my big toenail off with a rusty pair of pliers. Intentionally. More on this in another post.

3. I was once severely allergic to cats but seem to have improved.

4. When I was six or so I stole a candy bar from the neighborhood convenience store. I've never told anyone this until now.

5. I hate onions.

6. I've skinny-dipped in the Puget Sound.

7. I'm terrified of snakes, heights, and clowns. But more of snakes and heights. Clowns just kind of creep me out.

8. When I feel the first tickle of a sore throat, I'll gargle scotch to kill the bacteria. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.

9. I was once, kind of, a staffer at The Onion.

10. There are a few phrases out there in the popular culture that I think I might have invented and/or simply said before anyone else. I haven't researched this one but have no real interest in finding out either way.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Post Which Has Nothing To Do With Patriotism

Hey, readers! I’m in Denver tonight, hanging out at Kathryn’s place and watching the ARG/MEX rerun on Univision. No, I don’t understand Spanish sports play by play. Yes, I know who wins. And yes, I would nuke Argentina if I was the president. Then again, I’d also criminalize reality TV shows if I was the president, but I digress.

The highlights of my weekend so far:

  • Catching a fish on a fly that I tied myself on Colorado’s White River. The lucky fish was a 13 inch whitefish who was totally suckered by a beadhead. The squirrelly little bastard was a joy to reel in until I realized it was a whitefish (a salmonoid relative of the trout, but not a trout).
  • Catching a fish on a dry fly for the first time. Fly fishermen live for this, since you get to see the fish actually take the fly – with wet flies, your hook submerges somewhere underwater and you wait for a strike. Plus, fish feed off the surface (and therefore take dry flies) less frequently than they do underwater, so the opportunities are fewer as well. The squirrelly bastard was also a joy to reel in until I realized it was a whitefish.
  • Catching the third squirrelly bastard of the day, until I realized it was a whitefish plus the fact that I almost killed it. It took me way too long to get the hook out – in fact, I never did and wound up clipping the line with the hook still inside the fish – and in the meantime the fish went into fishy cardiac arrest or some shit. I had to submerge it with its head upstream, gently moving it back and forth, and for at least three minutes it simply went belly up as soon as I let go, and frankly, even the Buddhist in me started wondering if performing fishy CPR was really worth my time. Finally – finally – the squirrelly little bastard could stay upright and in one place on its own, and eventually swam off. For those keeping track at home, this means I caught no trout on the White River, but three whitefish. For those anglers in the audience who maintain whitefish don’t feed off the surface and therefore don’t take dry flies, well, you’re totally full of shit.
  • While Willie and I fished the Yampa in downtown Steamboat, we traded places next to a riffle and in the process exchanged rods by handing them over my head. I lost track of my line and it floated downstream behind us, completely unmanaged and unintentionally. As I turned to bring it back forward, it stuck and felt like it was snagged on something – and that something was a seven inch brown trout’s mouth. Crazy. Probably surprised us more than it surprised the fish.
  • Willie caught a beautiful 17 inch cutthroat trout in his Super Secret Honey Hole on the Yampa. I’ll disclose the Super Secret Honey Hole’s location at about the same time I convert to Mormonism.
  • Later that day, Willie brought in a nice brown and another cutthroat, and when I joined him at this new spot I brought in absolutely nothing but tangled leader. On one occasion, as Willie helped untangle my line, he too caught a fish by mistake. Sorry ‘bout that profanity, Willie, but I was frustrated by then.
  • That evening, on a stretch of beautiful water, Willie caught a brookie trout – meaning he was a rainbow away from a Grand Slam (when you catch all four kinds of trout in a given time period – in this case, one effing day). As I untied my zillionth tangle of the day, Willie had a bite on his final cast. It was only another brown, and thus he missed the Grand Slam. Unfortunate, but precisely the kind of thing that keeps us coming back.
  • I was back in the 7200 for Sunday, intending to get some work done. Didn’t happen. Talking to my boss this morning, she said, “I’m not a big fan of you sitting around here when you have better things to do. Get out of here. See you Wednesday.” Sweeeet.
  • As a result, I drove to Denver without telling Kathryn that I’d be arriving early, and totally surprised her when she came walking back from the bank.
Alrighty. Tomorrow is going to be a hoot - we're watching the Germany/Italy game at my new favorite Denver bar (the British Bulldog) and then going to the Colorado Rapids game. I return to the 7200 sometime Wednesday morning.