Sunday, January 29, 2017

How Times Have Changed

Yeah, I’m getting old. One of the telltale signs is when you start dwelling on the past. The other day, for no real reason, I got thinking about something that happened in grade school, and how reactions were far different then than they would be now.

This didn’t happen to me. It happened to some kid whose name I don’t remember. I don’t think I even knew him personally. He was one of those “other” kids you pass in the halls at school, or who sits in class with you, but isn’t part of your immediate friend-or-acquaintance circle. He might even have been in a grade above or behind me. This was in New Jersey, back in the ‘60s—the Precambrian Era, to you folks today.

Short version: some adult in the neighborhood had a cement statue on their lawn of a Mexican dude with a burro. The burro was just big enough that a little kid could sit on it. This kid did. The statue fell over and the kid hurt his leg. I think he may have gone to the hospital.

The overall consensus, among grown-ups and his peers alike, was, “What a stupid kid.” If the statue was damaged, I’ll bet his parents had to pay for it. I’ll also bet he got an ass-whuppin’ when they got home from the doctor’s. I don’t know what happened to the kid because we moved to Pennsylvania when I was eight, but something tells me he never trespassed in anyone’s yard again, or sat on any statues. Unless he went to college and got drunk at a frat party, but that’s extenuating circumstances.

That was the 1960s. How different that story would be if it were told today.

For starters, it wouldn’t be a statue of a Mexican and he wouldn’t have a burro to sit on, because those are hurtful racial stereotypes. Luckily for stupid kids everywhere, there’s still plenty of yard art around, dogs and horses and deer, things like that, that are big enough and look sturdy enough for some kid to want to climb aboard. And they fall over just as easily as they did fifty years ago.

The response today, though, is way different. The kid would be rushed to the hospital, and the parents would rush to a lawyer, to sue the homeowner for having that statue on his lawn to tempt their precious child into hurting himself in the first place. Then Child Protective Services would come after the parents for allowing that kid to wander the streets alone and unsupervised, where any pervert could snatch him. I’m not sure what lesson the kid himself would take away from all this. Don’t fall over?

Y’see, somewhere between 1960 and now, society (or maybe some personal injury lawyer) came up with the concept of the “attractive nuisance.” This is something you’ve got in your yard—a pool, a trampoline, a statue of Juan Valdez—that’s just so overwhelmingly tempting to a child that they’ll ignore any and all lessons they’ve been taught about respect for others and rush into your yard and play on it, and probably either damage your property or hurt themselves in the process. Or both.

And guess what? If the kid gets hurt, they’re not responsible. You are. The law assumes that children (and this extends to older kids) are impulsive, have no concept of the possible consequences of their own actions, have no respect for others’ rights (this includes adults) and are really, really dumb. If you park your Harley in your driveway and some teenager wandering by sees it and decides to climb aboard and the bike falls on him, it’s your fault. You should have known better than to park your own cycle in your own driveway where some innocent child could see it. If some kid climbs your ten-foot privacy fence in the middle of the night to get into your swimming pool and then drowns, you’re to blame, not him. You know how kids are about pools, especially in the summer. You should have known better, you thoughtless person, you.

Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t leave your keys in your car. If somebody steals your car and runs someone over with it, you as the owner of the car can be charged as an accessory. They wouldn’t have been able to take your car if you hadn’t made it easy for them by leaving the keys in. It’s like you handed them a gun and they used it to shoot somebody. And for God’s sake don’t park it anywhere except inside a locked garage. Otherwise some kid might decide to climb on it, and if he hurts himself you could be going to jail.

A couple of years back, while living elsewhere, I had a front yard with some plants in it. One day I looked out the window and saw some kid, maybe around 10 or so, with a stick pounding my plants into pulp. I went outside and yelled at him. The kid went on pounding. Only when he’d destroyed the plants to his satisfaction did he walk away. Not run, which we would have done back in the ‘60s had a grownup caught us vandalizing their property. This kid just strolled off.

I couldn’t do a damn thing. Had I physically tried to stop him, I could have been charged with assault. Or worse, depending on the kid’s imagination. I didn’t know his parents, and talking to them wouldn’t help anyway. It wasn’t their yard that got trashed, so what’s the problem? They’re not going to replace the plants. I could force an apology out of the kid, but so what? He wouldn’t care. He got what he wanted. He probably wouldn’t even remember attacking the plants, if it happened longer than five minutes ago. It’s already ancient history. I’m the crazy stranger lady who’s harshing his buzz right now. Move on with your life already, you old bitch.

I don’t live in that neighborhood any more. Wonder what, or who, that kid took a stick to when he reached his teens? It’s not as if there’d be any repercussions. He learned that a long time ago. Let’s hope he didn’t find a car with the keys left in it. Or a swimming pool.

Somewhere along the way society as a whole lost its common sense, and any hope of passing any helpful knowledge or wisdom on to the next generation. It’s left us with a nation of emotional infants who feel they have the right to sit on your donkey statue, and will blame you if they fall off and hurt themselves. You probably know them. They voted for Trump.

Ah, progress.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Simple Ways to Amuse Yourself

Bored? Nothing on TV? Bored with what’s on TV? Looking for a way to kill time rather than do something productive? (That’s the one I always vote for, which is why I don’t have more books on the market.) There are all sorts of fun things you can do that don’t involve self-abuse, or abusing others. That’s what today’s blog is about. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you know you’re going to be stuck in a car for a significant length of time, there are all sorts of games you can play, by yourself or with others. I’ve mentioned the speed game before. If I’m on a major highway, I’ll hold the car steady at the speed limit and see how many people pass me. Usually, it’s everybody. I can say this with certainty: whatever the posted speed limit is, the real-life speed limit is at least ten to twenty MPH above it. It's rare in this game to find someone going slower than I am.

For a variation on this game, hang back at or below the speed limit and watch the other drivers. It’s more fun than watching Nascar because you’re part of the action. Massachusetts is a great place for this. I suspect Dale Earnhardt learned how to drive on Massachusetts highways. If you’re driving through Ohio, sticking to the speed limit is your best bet anyway. They’ve got tough cops in that state.

If you find yourself stuck in traffic, try the Distance Game. That’s where you check out the license plates of the cars around you. The car with a plate farthest from your current location is the winner. For instance, I’m in Pennsylvania, so a plate from Texas wins, unless I spot a car from California. Border states like Maryland or New Jersey don’t count.

This game can get tricky if you don’t know your geography. Suppose you’ve got a plate from Ontario on one side and a plate from Wyoming on the other. Canada’s a different country so they win automatically, right? Not in PA, they don’t. Geographically, Wyoming is farther away, so they take the prize. Maine vs. Ontario, I’m not sure. I’d have to measure on a map.

National parks are a great place to play this one. Wandering through parking lots at Gettysburg, I’ve seen plates from all over the US, including Hawaii (now there’s a helluva drive for you). The all-time champ (to date) was the car from Guam. I spotted that one right here on Rt. 30 in Lancaster. I’m not quite sure why anyone would ship a car from Guam. It must get fantastic mileage.

Once you’ve parked and gotten out of the car, there are other fun things you can do in public to safely mess with other people’s heads. I spend a lot of time at my local library because that’s where I get my free Internet. I’ve also decided it’s time I cleaned out a percentage of my book collection. We’re talking over forty years of accumulated comic books, magazines and paperbacks. Yeah, I could just donate the paperbacks, but where’s the fun in that? It’s more fun to take a book I don’t want any more and just leave it in a random place—a bus stop, a doctor’s office, a hospital waiting room. If you leave them in a public place, like the bus stop, you can go back periodically and see if it’s been picked up. I recommend you don’t try this in a grocery store or any other place that sells books. You could get somebody charged with shoplifting.

When I go to my local comic store, I always pick up the freebies, even if it isn’t something I’d ordinarily read. Marvel especially puts out free “samplers” of their latest offerings, mini-magazines with a couple teaser pages of a dozen stories or so. And, of course, there’s Free Comic Book Day in May, when I’ll pick up my one freebie and three-four others for cheap. When I’m done, I drop them off in the children’s section of the library. These tend to disappear rather quickly; it does say “free” on the cover.

I don’t think the staff’s throwing them out. One time I left two samplers, one featuring upcoming Marvel comics and the other focusing on Star Wars. The Marvel book sat there for months, and was pretty tattered by the time it finally disappeared. The Star Wars book vanished within three hours. There was a boy sitting there when I dropped both of them off, and I suspect he’s the one who took it home. It’s hard to resist the lure of the Dark Side.

Besides books, I’ve been pulling another little mind game on library patrons. I start my day with a cup of tea to get that caffeine jolt. I like Red Rose, partly for the taste, partly for the little porcelain figurines they offer free in every box. I’ve amassed a large collection over the decades, some of them duplicates. I’ve never gotten a complete collection of any given set. I’ll have six of one figure and never get even one of others. Maybe they’re distributed by region or something.

Anyway, I decided to have a little fun with librarygoers and started leaving my duplicate figurines in places around the building. Out of reach of little kids, unfortunately. They’re the ones most likely to enjoy the fun of this, but I can’t guarantee some little darling won’t find the figurine, pop it into their mouth (they’re small, some about the size of a quarter), swallow and choke. Next thing you know, the library’s going to court. See what society has come to?

So the first two I put out in plain sight (one on the thermostat, the other on a shelf) but out of reach of children. Every couple of days I checked on them. The one on the thermostat vanished fairly quickly, but the other sat out there for weeks. I recently set out two more. The one was right out in the open, in a place kids could see. It vanished overnight. The other is sitting placidly in a potted plant on a windowsill. Kids don’t look at potted plants, so that one could be there for a while.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t take much to amuse me. This is long-term humor.

Another thing you can do for fun, and to avoid work, is to write a blog instead of working. Kill two birds with one stone. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Crash and Burn

It’s all Larry’s fault.

Like I didn’t have enough problems (see last week’s post). Back in December my six-year-old laptop finally gave up the ghost, with incredibly bad timing. But then, a computer’s hard drive crash never comes at a good time, does it?

It was Saturday. I was at the library. So was my buddy Larry, so I was sharing a table in the lobby with him. I’d gotten a freelance assignment and downloaded the file. Then it was off to a number of sites I like for some serious time-wasting. I’m not sure what Larry was doing. Working on his own paid work or writing a chapter of his book or something. Larry’s also a writer, but he actually goes to the library to work. He’s more conscientious than me.

The real reason he was there was his wife (also a friend of mine) was volunteering in the book store that morning. Her shift was up, so Larry got up to pack up his stuff and be on his way. Both of us had our respective laptops plugged in to the same outlet. Larry unplugged his, and in the process yanked my cord out of my machine, abruptly cutting the power. Good thing I wasn’t working on anything.

So I plugged back in, restarted the laptop, and … could not get back onto the Internet. In fact, I couldn’t do too much of anything. I shut down and tried again. Same lack of results.

I’ve knocked my power cord loose on my own on more than one occasion and never had a problem. Not this time. I kept getting that damn little circle, just spinning and spinning and spinning. I told Larry he’d crashed my laptop. He just shrugged and left. Thanks loads.

Fortunately there’s a computer repair place in my home town, and they’re open until 2 on Saturdays. I just had time to get over there and explain the problem. The guy figured it was my hard drive. However, he was all by himself in the shop and didn’t have time to look at it and they were closing in an hour. I opted to take it home for the weekend and bring it back on Monday. I had a paid assignment due in less than a week, and no working computer. Now what?

Again, luck was with me. I discovered I could get the thing up and running in Safety Mode, and started work on the assignment from there. Sunday was experimentation day. I couldn’t get to my files through normal start-up due to lack of memory, or so the computer told me. I plugged in a flash drive to copy my files. That put me over the memory top. I spent the rest of my weekend finishing the assignment and saving it to the flash drive. Monday I took the laptop into the shop.

Yeah, it was the hard drive. I’ve had this machine for six years, and I’ve been using it heavily. You know, 10-12 hours straight of game-playing, things like that. Like with all of us, sooner or later the parts just plain wear out. There’s a good chance I would have gotten it home that Saturday, or maybe Sunday or at some other point and it would have crashed on me then. It just happened to go down when Larry inadvertently cut the power. I’m blaming him because he’s convenient. And a guy. Women are always blaming guys for everything.

As for the assignment, I got it done over the weekend (thank God it was short) and emailed it back using the library system. I’m glad I didn’t have to use the library computer to actually do the work. I used to do that back before I got the laptop, back in the days of three-inch disks. Remember those? I was always limited by library hours and the amount of time I could stay on a machine, assuming a machine was available. I love my laptop and won’t give it up. Though if I could just block the damn games, it would make my life a whole lot easier.

Best of all, I didn’t lose any files. The guys at the shop were able to save all my stuff and added it to the new hard drive they installed. I don’t have as much memory as the old hard drive did, but for what I use this for, I don’t really need a lot. It’s not like I’m downloading movies or anything. I got the assignment done and out well before deadline, and got the laptop back in time to accept a new assignment. That helped pay for repairs. I lost my virus protection, which was on the old hard drive, but the guys replaced it for free. We’re good to go.

Well, not quite. My word processing program is now acting up. I’ll be typing along when all of a sudden the cursor jumps and I’ll find myself typing on a different line. There’s no rhyme, reason or warning. It’s a major pain in the ass. When I told Larry about it, he said his does the same thing. I asked him how to fix it. He doesn’t know. I think I’ll keep my laptop away from Larry for, oh, the rest of our lives.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Clean Slate

Aaaannnnd we’re back. I took a few weeks off mostly out of laziness. It’s not so easy coming up with new topics week after week. I don’t know how newspaper columnists do it. Oh, right, they get a paycheck.

I’ve decided to kick off the new year with a confession. In fact, the topic is why it took me all week to write and post this, when I’d intended to post on Monday. Deep breath and here we go:

I am an addict. I’m addicted to video games.

This is not a joke. It’s not the start of a rant. For me, it’s a serious problem. Moreso in recent months, because it’s started to interfere with the paying work. I almost missed a couple of deadlines because I got playing games when I should have been doing the freelance stuff that pays my bills. I did miss a couple of postings on this and my other blog last year, because I played games instead of writing. It’s one of the reasons I don’t get stories out faster. Again, that’s money I need that I’m missing out on because I’m playing computer solitaire. Not exactly the best use of my time.

How bad has it gotten? Well, ever heard those stories about people playing games well into the early morning hours? Or around the clock? They’re true. I’ve averaged eight to twelve hour marathons just on one game alone. I think the longest I ever went was over sixteen hours. I’ve started playing during the morning and gone on to two or three a.m. Then sleep for maybe three-four hours and get up. And sometimes start over.

During those hours I don’t eat or move around or go to the bathroom. For some reason I don’t feel tired. I get the feeling the game activity is messing with my brain chemistry. It’s certainly messing with my physical well-being. I haven’t gained weight, but I’ve definitely lost endurance. I can tell that just by walking around the house.

I once followed this pattern for roughly a week. Little food, less sleep, no exercise. Then I woke from a nap light-headed and unable to focus my eyes. I didn’t know if it was me or a gas leak (I have no sense of smell). I ended up calling the local volunteer fire department and had them come out to check my furnace and propane tanks and scan for carbon monoxide. Turns out everything was fine, except for me. The firemen checked my blood pressure and asked if I wanted them to call an ambulance. I turned them down because I knew what the problem was. I’d done it to myself. After some food and a decent night’s sleep I was okay.

That should have been my rock bottom, my turning point. It wasn’t. I think I quit for a while after that, but pretty soon I was back at it. Not continuously, but days here and there, for longer and longer stretches. The kind that interfere with life and the paying work, as noted above.

I’m not talking about World of Warcraft or any of the other games found on the Internet. These are the simple games that came with my laptop: Freecell, Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, Mah Jong. Those are the dangerous ones. I found others on the Net, before Yahoo discontinued their Games program. I once played Jewel Quest in the library lobby for nine hours. That was well after the incident with the fire department.

I’ve known for years I have a problem with OCDish behavior. I learned decades ago I don’t dare keep a deck of cards in the house. I used to buy those Sudoku magazines and compulsively work the puzzles until I ended up ripping up the magazine and throwing it out. That was the only way I could stop.

I don’t know what to do about these games. I don’t have home Internet, so in that respect I’m restricted by the library’s hours. The ones I’m having trouble with are on the laptop’s hard drive. I can’t block them (I tried). I can’t delete them. I asked the guys at the computer repair place to do that and they said they couldn’t without wrecking the hard drive. I can’t get rid of the laptop because I need it for writing and work. It’s not like keeping booze or drugs or junk food out of the house. As far as removing temptation goes, I’m pretty much up the creek.

Even worse, I don’t think this addiction is itself the real problem. I suspect it’s a symptom of some deeper problem, namely procrastination/work avoidance. I’ve stopped in the past. I was “clean” for nearly all of 2016. During my gameless phase I noticed I tended to watch mindless stuff on TV or read excessively or even do housework. Anything rather than write. I’d also just started the freelance job back then, so I was motivated by bills and a paycheck to stay productive.

Then one day I clicked on the Games program and decided to play “just one game.” That was my downfall. That was when I started getting into the longer-than-eight-hour sessions, usually when I was supposed to be working on paid stuff.

That’s the part that finally scared me. I don’t have a regular job, and at my age in this economy I’m not likely to find one that pays a living wage. If I screw up this freelance gig, I’ll be down to just my savings for financial resources, and that won’t last forever. At this rate, that won’t even last two years.

So I need to work, and I need to be more productive. Instead I turn to the games, then beat myself up afterward. And downward the spiral goes.

Before anyone asks, I haven’t worked a “traditional” job for about five years now, so I’m not doing this in the workplace. There’s no family involved, so no one else is affected by my slacker ways. That means there’s no support system, either. Most of the time I’m pretty isolated, which may be part of the problem. Does FaceBook have a page for gaming addicts? Is it helpful? Because I haven’t been doing so well on my own.

I was going to call it quits at Christmas. Go cold turkey. Didn’t work. I stopped “for good this time, I mean it” New Year’s Eve. I fell back into the habit three days later. I was playing as recently as last night. I put off paid work because the urge to play games was just that strong.

And yet … this morning I woke up with no compulsion at all. That’s happened to me before. I’ll go through a phase where I can’t stay away from the games, and then it just … goes away. It’s like a switch gets thrown in my head. The switch must have clicked overnight because I’m okay now. I’ve been working on the laptop all morning with no inclinations to play at all. This could last for today, or a week, or maybe a couple of months. I’m taking advantage of the break to confess to the world in this blog.

What I should be doing is using this time to root around in my head and figure out what the real problem is, why I play in the first place. Dr. Phil says, “People do what works,” but how is repetitively playing the same game for twelve or more hours giving me a positive payoff? I’m sure it has to do with self-sabotage. This is the point where a normal person would seek professional help, but video game addiction isn’t considered a real problem by the medical community so my health insurance won’t pay for it. Fair enough. If I don’t work because I’m playing games all the time, soon I won’t have money to pay for the health insurance. That’ll teach ‘em.

So instead of playing games, or working, or writing, I can lie down somewhere and stare into space and examine my motivations, or lack thereof. People who do this call it “meditation.” Sounds like a prime time-waster to me, marginally healthier than what I’ve been doing. Maybe I’ll give it a go.