All My Online Friends Will Never Be Strangers

Today’s blog title is a takeoff of the title of a book by the late Larry McMurtry called ‘All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers’.

Yesterday evening as I was waiting for a ride at the airport, I pulled up Facebook on my phone and saw a post from a friend that one of my online friends had passed away. It hit me hard because it was very sudden, and that I’d never met her in person despite knowing her online for over twenty years. My friend’s name was Valerie Parv, an Australian romance writer, teacher, mentor, Australia Day Ambassador, and who was kind, generous, warm, and funny.

I met Valerie online sometime back in the late 1990’s on a message board. These were places were people came together online before social media like Facebook. The board I met her on was on the Harlequin books website. It was a board that was known to be more than a bit free-willing and goofy and I ventured in nervously. But then I worked up the nerve to post and was immediately welcomed by Valerie and the others. Then I got invited to join the Yahoo! Group they’d set up to talk privately and I was grateful because that was a much-needed place to vent during some very dark times not just for me, but for all of us. Eventually, we migrated to Facebook and our own group there though we interact on our own pages and profiles almost daily.

I’m online every day and I don’t regret it at all. I can pick and choose who I interact with so I don’t have to interact with people I don’t want to be around. I don’t have to put up with people who really don’t like me, or post stuff that I don’t want to see. And no, that’s not putting myself in an echo chamber. That’s called setting boundaries and maintaining them. Doing this enables you to have the friendship and interaction you want to have with people who really care about you and others.

Over the years when I’ve talked about my friends or people I know, I then reveal the vast majority of them are people I’ve met online but not in person. In fact, I have met very few of my online friends in person. My online friends are scattered not just around the United States, but all over the world. I have online friends in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Africa, Central and South America, and Asia. Some of these friends I’ve talked to almost daily over the last twenty-five years (give or take, my memory is a bit hazy as to when I first got online). Online we started out on message boards, then migrated to Yahoo! Groups, then to social media like Facebook. We met through mutual interests- writing, books, tv shows but over time got to know each other as people.

Before there was the internet and social media, I had a group of pen pals. A pen pal was someone you wrote letters to, on actual paper mailed in paper envelopes. You had to actually write these letters out by hand (or type them if you could). In the early 1990’s, I joined an organization I saw an ad for in the back of a writing magazine that matched people up from around the world based on age and mutual interests. I corresponded with a group of people like me who were then in their late teens/early twenties from all over the world. We’d talk about where we lived, our lives, send postcards and pictures, and small gifts. My family used to love to see the various stamps from around the world and the postcards that would come in the mail. Eventually over time the correspondence dwindled to nothing as the internet came to life.  But thanks to the internet, I have reconnected with one former pen pal on Facebook.

The day before yesterday in my post, ‘Bookstore Dreams’, I wrote about a book later made into a film called ’84 Charing Cross Road’. This is a book of letters between a writer in New York named Helene Hanff and the people who worked in the London bookshop Marks and Co. She never met the man who was her principle correspondent or anyone else who worked in the shop but this story of people reaching out across vast distances was why I joined that pen pal organization because I wanted that connection.

But what does it really mean to connect with people over distances and not in person? A letter written to the author of ’84 Charing Cross Road’, Helene Hanff by one of the people who worked in the bookshop to her as a thank-you for a food parcel she sent sums it up perfectly: “It’s good to know that someone so far away, can be so kind and generous to people they have never even met.”

Valerie Parv was kind and generous to people she had never met in person, and to those she did know in person. She was a writer, teacher, mentor, friend, and sister. Her work will live on in the preservation of her papers and in the memories of those who knew and loved her. And most of all, in her kindness and generosity to others throughout her life.

I will never give up on my dream of meeting as many of my online friends as I can because they’ll never be strangers to me. I may be bopping up their street in a converted yellow school bus but I’ll have coffee and tea and cookies waiting for them. And maybe just maybe, I’ll find a way to cross an ocean with my little yellow bus, too. Though I’m sure that will cost much, much more than an airmail stamp ever did.

Bookstore Dreams

Marks and Co Bookselers, 84 Charing Cross Road, London, England

Today is Independent Bookstore Day but I’m going to be honest with y’all here, I’ve never been a huge fan of independent book stores. It could be because my reading interests tended to lean towards popular fiction like romance and these types of bookstores aren’t too keen on that as my British friends might say. My favorite bookstores were either part of retail chains, or used bookstores that were like treasure chests, or one that closed down before I was even born.

The first bookstores I ever remember going to was when I was a kid living in a suburb of Houston. The store was Crown Books and part of a national chain at the time. It was in a shopping center in what I remember was a long narrow space with very tall shelves. Luckily the kids books were on the low shelves. I also remember going to a bigger Crown Books right by where my mom worked and that place had an amazing magazine selection. Then when they opened the mall right by the subdivision we lived in, there were two bookstores there, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Books. So if you couldn’t find something in store you could usually find it in the other one.

When we moved back to San Antonio in 1988, my mom and dad and I discovered Book Stop. It was part of a chain but the location we went to was housed in what used to be a grocery store in a classic Art Deco building with curving lines and neon. And when they had a fresh shipment of books you could smell the warm paper and ink when you walked into the store. My mom used to take a deep breath when she stepped inside and people would kind of look at her funny, but it was a lovely smell. Also, the selection was amazing and incredibly diverse.

For all the years I lived at home, my favorite bookstore was the B. Dalton at Rolling Oaks Mall. It was right off the Food Court so it was in a prime location though the store itself was about as big an overstuffed closet. But on payday-Friday my mom, dad, and I would head over to the mall after dinner and go in through Dillard’s then to the Food Court where my dad would get a soft pretzel and my mom and I would get ice-cream cones because we had to fortify ourselves for our invasion of B. Dalton. The store was managed by two ladies who would light up when they saw us coming. They would have the books I’d ordered, my dad’s model airplane magazines, and new stuff to show my mom. All three of us would walk out with a bag of books and magazines then spend the weekend reading.

Then there was the time I took my parents to a Barnes and Noble superstore for the first time. They walk in with me and their eyes widened and I went, uh okay, let me get them a cup of coffee at the Starbucks there. They’d never been to a Starbucks either so I had to order for them then after we finished our coffees we agreed to meet back up in an hour and off we all went. I loved Barnes and Noble stores because they always a good cheap section and one bookseller I got to know recommended this book about a boy wizard to me one day called ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’.

Then my mom, dad, and I discovered the Half-Price Books on Broadway which is an old house where the floorboards creak and groan. My mom said it smelled like old books, which was a good smell along with the old creaky wood. My favorite Half-Price Books was the location in the Medical Center because there were two huge cats that lived there. They’d been born in the back of the store and one sat up on the counter and the other waddled around the store (yes, he waddled because he’d looked like he swallowed a basketball). Sadly, the cats weren’t allowed to move with the store when it was relocated (they were adopted out).

But the bookstore I always wanted to go to closed down before I was even born. The store was Marks and Co. in London, England. I learned of this bookshop from a movie I discovered one day on cable back in the 80’s called ’84 Charing Cross Road’ (the store’s address in London) . It’s about a twenty-year correspondence between an American woman, Helene Hanff, a writer based in New York City, and the book’s principle buyer, Frank Doel. Ms. Hanff started writing to the shop in 1949 looking for English books by English writers she couldn’t find in New York City and for twenty years she bought books from them, and sent food parcels in the years after the war when she heard about the post-war rationing in England. A friend of hers visited the shop in the early 1950’s and described it like something straight out of a Charles Dickens’ novel. It was old and her friend said the old oak was gray from all the dust it had absorbed over the years, the books were old and leather-bound and bit worn, and they had a table of old illustrated magazines. The store closed in 1970 after Mr. Doel passed on and the building was bought out to be re-developed though there is a plaque about the store and movie (and play, too).

My dream bookshop would then be old and creaky, yet with an amazing selection and serving good coffee. It would be a place welcome to any reader of any taste. There’d would be popular fiction, snooty literary fiction, vintage books not costing an arm and a leg, reference books out the kazoo, and magazines both old and new.

Sadly, I spend most of my reading time today with my Kindle because it’s easier on my eyes. But I can dream of a bookshop and a worn old book open on my lap.

Uber Tales, Inappropriate Behavior Edition

Over my four years of Uber driving, I’ve been asked if I’d had to deal with any ‘inappropriate requests’ or ‘inappropriate behavior’. Sometimes I’ll share one of these experiences and sometimes I won’t depending on my audience. But I thought I’d share some of them here today to show mild they really were, how dumb they really were, and how good I am at not totally losing my shit with passengers like this.

Under the inappropriate requests heading there are two top contenders as the others were just drunken requests for me to go out with a passenger (which I would never do even if they looked like the latest Hollywood hunk).

First up is the front-seat masturbator. It was a busy afternoon and a short ride but I made the mistake of allowing a single male passenger in the front seat. A couple of minutes into the ride he asks if he can masturbate in the car beside me. My first response was, “Excuse me?” but then I followed that with, “Why in the world are you asking to do this?” Well, bozo-masturbator just hemmed and hawed and that pissed me off even more because I kept asking why. Not because I wanted an answer but because I was stuck in traffic and didn’t have a place to toss him out to. Luckily, he clammed up and got out when we reached his destination. I didn’t report him at the time because I didn’t trust Uber to do anything about this bozo though I did give him a three-star rating.

Second was the drunk guy I picked up from a strip club one night. He kept asking me if I’d come inside when he got home and hang out with him. I kept politely telling him no because I won’t hang out with a passenger because I work for a living. Also he said he was married, then he starts hinting that he doesn’t just want to talk because his wife isn’t home. Finally, he tells me he will pay for my time and for my ‘pleasure’. At that I go, “Excuse me?” And boy oh boy did he realize what he’d just done. Yes, he’d just propositioned me for sex. Luckily, he realized right away what he’d done and was apologizing all over himself. I let him squirm for a couple of minutes before I said ‘Apology accepted’ and he got out of my car like his ass was on fire when we reached his destination. He did tip me well so I let it go.

Now my next disgusting ride didn’t involve an indecent proposal. No, it involved a guy I let up in the front seat because he was drunker than shit and I figured if he puked I wouldn’t have as much to clean up. But he was little grabby, reaching out to touch me as I was driving. I finally lost my shit going down the highway and told him if he touched me one more time I was going to find a place to pull over, dump out of my car, then call the cops and have him busted for assault. He shut the fuck up and kept his hands to himself for the rest of the ride. It was the only time I have ever lost my shit like that on a passenger and he probably didn’t remember any of it the next morning.

Needless to say, these situations had me making two changes. One: no solo passengers in the front seat with me male or female (I had a drunk lady get grabby with me but thankfully her friends told her to stop before I could). Thanks to COVID-19, I have been able to enforce that if anyone asks to ride up front and they’re solo with me. Two: I will not work late-night bar pickups anymore.

In a way I’m lucky I’m a fat old hag behind the wheel because inappropriate requests have been few and far between and since COVID-19, pretty much gone. I had one bozo-butt dude talk shit to his buddies in the car then when we reached the destination asked if I’d go on a date with him. I told him no and to please get out of my car. Yes, I have done my dead-level best to wish for shriveled-dick syndrome to strike these guys down hard. There is no reason or justification whatsoever drunk or sober for a guy to be an asshole to a woman, or for a woman to be a bitch to another woman drunk or sober.

I saw someone on Twitter a couple of days ago ask if you hate people so much why work in customer service? I replied people who work in customer service to do so in order to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And that we wouldn’t hate people so much if they were just a little nicer to us. So if you have ever treated a customer service person like shit drunk or sober because you can, I hope you get a really bad case of crotch-itch. And by God if you get drunk, be a happy drunk and not a pissed-off entitled jerk instead.

I hope this past year has made people realize that they can be nicer to other people, especially those in thankless customer service positions. And I hope asshole-drunk dudes and dudettes, and mask-hole/anti-vaxer conspiracy theorists never have enough money to go out and get drunk and dumber than they already are.

Dear Millennials

I just read another opinion piece by some hack academic (no, I’m not going to link to it because it’ll waste your time) that says millennials might grow up now that they’ve survived a pandemic. It says before you were all were a bunch of lazy twats who didn’t want to grow up and always ran home to your boomer mommies and daddies whenever things got hard. In reality, you were fed you a huge line of shit and us Gen X’ers have the perfect response for you to use when some boomer-hack comes at you and calls you a lazy doofus who doesn’t want to grow up:

Fuck off.

Yep. Two words that make it very clear what you think about the various lines of bullshit you have been fed for so long and the truths you discovered instead such as: student loans have to be repaid along with a shit-ton of interest, there won’t be enough office jobs for all of you so if you can, switch to a trade because God knows there are plenty of jobs there. Forget about buying a house because those things are money-pits. And most of all, if anyone gives you shit for trying to survive and raise a family on $12 an hour, tell them to fuck off.

Now millennials you might be asking, why does Gen X have the attitude it does? And why doesn’t anyone write articles about Generation X?

Well, the answer to the first question is that Gen X’ers were the first and so far, only feral generation. We came home alone before we hit double-digits in age, rode busses and subways in cities before we hit double-digits, or drove pickup trucks on country roads before we hit double-digits. We learned to feed ourselves courtesy of microwaves and boxed food. We learned to run washing machines and vacuum the house before our parents got home. We learned how to work the cable remote, the VCR, and monster stereo systems. Later, we learned how to work computers and write computer code. For the most part grown-ups ignored us, or sneered at us and wrote us off before we made it out of high school.

Because of this in answer to your second question, even some of the dumbest pundits know you don’t come for Generation X unless we send for you. Because in addition to learning skills to survive the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse or nuclear war, we were also listening to punk rock, heavy metal, and rap and hip hop music. We got our attitude from our records and cassettes, and later on cd. Our movie heroes had big guns, one-liners, and loved to blow shit up.

Generation X redefined cynicism and rebellion all at once. We redefined it by being self-sufficient as hell and ready to flip the bird if anyone tried to come at us. We prefer to be left alone because we had shit to do and we could amuse ourselves, too. We’re a sandwich generation now in that a lot of us are taking care of kids and parents. We’re in the most debt, and know we’ll work till we die then our bosses will hold a séance to see if we can get someone to cover our shift from beyond the grave.

Now I really do think Millennials took it in the shorts though I will admit they’re like the Boomers minus the post-war prosperity and 50’s/60’s/70’s music. A lot of Millennials are whining a little too much and need to just go on YouTube to learn how to do shit they can’t seem to figure out on their own (I find the word ‘adulting’ amusing and stupid at the same time). Also, Millennials, you all need to vote and make sure everyone else can vote, too. And wash your hands and get your damn shots when you need to. Don’t buy into that anti-vax conspiracy theory-shit and fuck things up even more.

But not to worry because Gen X and their kids, Gen Z are ready to clean up everyone else’s mess. We’ll do the laundry and take out the trash, and make dinner and get to work on time.

So my dear Millennials, you’re going to be okay as long as you keep your shit together and do the right thing. And I think you’re pretty lucky because you have YouTube and the internet to find out things with so use your resources and don’t shit on the natural resources of this world.

Sincerely,

Generation X, some of whose members invented Google and YouTube 😊

Yes, I’d Vote for a Goat

WARNING: LOTS OF BAD LANGUAGE BUT WHEN YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT SOME RAW-SEWAGE IN HUMAN FORM IN RELATION TO A BEER-SWILING GOAT… DOGGONE IT, STUART SMALLEY-STYLE JUST DOESN’T CUT THE HAY WITH THAT.

First, here’s the real true story of a succession of goats elected Mayor of the town Lajitas, Texas: click here

Now to my dismay, I haven’t been able to include this link when I comment that I would rather vote for a goat than any Republican candidate these days. I’ve been told that makes me a part of the problem and not the solution, or that I’m putting party above policy.

First, we’ve had some serious, life-and-death problems in the last four years when in the United States Congress and in the White House, the Republicans were in charge. And what did we get in return for their leadership? Over half a million people dead, over a trillion dollars added to the national debt, a wrecked economy, and racism out in full view for everyone to see. Not to mention massive gun violence, crumbling roads and bridges, and a vicious attack on truth, science, and any piece of information that might save lives.

So since I vote for candidates who want to save lives and make things better for everyone and die I’m a part of the problem and not the solution?

To anyone who says that I say in return: take your gaslighting deflecting bullshit and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

And the reason I call bullshit on arguments saying my positions are not part of the solution but part of the problem is because there is no specific argument being made in reply to the positions I take. All I hear from conservatives is there is not enough money to fix things or make things better. Oh really? Then why was there money for a trillion-dollar tax cut and a shit-ton of military-grade hardware we don’t need, and for just flat-out stealing with shady business deals from the White House? Oh, I know the answer to those questions: trickle-down economics.

The conservative side of the house here still believes in the idea that if you give money to rich people they’ll let it trickle-down to the rest of us. Does anyone other than myself see what absolute bullshit that is? Because one, rich folk hoard money in a million different ways and two, does anyone understand that hoarding money doesn’t fuel an economy?

Now, am I going to say liberal progressive Democrats and the Democratic party are perfect? Hell no. No one is perfect and demanding perfection is total fucking bullshit and another attempt at deflection. It’s nitpicking at best and at worst, it’s bringing up past bullshit that’s not relevant now. The Democratic party of Clinton and Obama has learned and evolved to what it’s becoming now: formulate clear and effective policies for the present and the future and be honest and blunt in addressing injustice and fighting corruption. They’ve learned you can’t do Republican-lite like Clinton did, or talk to crossed-arm brick-walled humans like Obama tried to. You just state your position then go about making it work.

But getting back to the goat…

It’s hard as hell to run for any elected office these days. You have the internet blasting crap twenty-four-seven and if you were dumb enough to post stuff on the internet it’s there for everyone to see. But if your stuff was writing internet screeds and skateboarding (Beto O’Rourke), hosting late-night radio shows on independent radio stations (Mayor Ron Nierenberg of San Antonio), being busted for playing the bongos naked in your own house (potential Texas gubernatorial candidate Matthew McConaughey), or making a video tribute to ‘The Breakfast Club’ (Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortex, D-NY), well it’s better than what’s coming from the other side.

The other side being several members of Congress I can use as an example: under federal investigation for sex trafficking of minors (Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-FL), trafficking in conspiracy theories and racist shit so much you get stripped of your committee assignments (Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene – R-GA), having a restaurant get cited for numerous health-code violations (Lauren Boebert – R-CO), and having two ex-wives served divorced papers while these women were battling cancer (former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich).

So compared to lying, cheating, law-breaking hypocrites I’d vote for a goat before any candidate like that. And by the way, Gaetz, Greene, and Boebert have not introduced any legislation at all to address real issues facing this country such as healthcare, unemployment, and infrastructure to name a few. In fact, most Republican candidates seem to see politics as a way to get a lifetime job in right-wing media or as lobbyists and not formulate any legislation that doesn’t involve violating human rights (the bills against transgendered children) or stripping people of their right to vote (the new voting laws in Georgia and Arkansas).

So policy over party, or voting for a goat? If the goat is swilling beer and making good policy, I’ll take him over the human and party behind them that’s spewing garbage and hate any damn day of the week.

Stuart Smalley Was Right

The character of Stuart Smalley was created by longtime writer and part-time ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast member Al Franken. Stuart was a take-off of motivational self-help speakers and played for laughs. But as I read through Stuart’s daily affirmations, I’m beginning to think he was on to something.

Stuart’s most famous claim to fame was this:

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

The reason I’m talking about this is I have had low to non-existent self-esteem. This has led to panic attacks whenever something dings me or worse, and also has had me feeling like a lump of human excrement for far too long. But a little over a week ago, a thought came to me and it was this:

I’m finding a self-confidence I never knew I had.

Yep. I found the self-confidence I thought I’d lost back in the 1980’s somewhere or handed over to assholes who didn’t deserve one tiny turd from me. But I’m putting my self-confidence back together with highly-visible cracks where it was broken up and shattered at times. That’s okay because I’m learning I can weld my cracks and shards back together with stronger metals like gold and silver or platinum. Yes, those cracks are visible but I’m not ashamed of them now. And most of all, I’m not letting a hit on them send me up a tree the size of a California redwood to avoid cracks forming again.

The reason the character of Stuart Smalley came to me was despite the character being created as humorous satire, he was right. Because for me, my lack of confidence in myself and my abilities made me feel like I was never good enough, or smart enough, and worst of all, it meant people didn’t really like me.

What I truly know now is this:

Idiots, assholes, and meanies create webs where they ensnare sensitive people and feed off that sensitivity by creating rules and procedures in which no good effort is ever rewarded. It’s an environment where bad will always take precedence over good. This has been spun and gaslighted to make people think they need to hear the bad shit before the good stuff. But here’s my take on that: if mistakes are made give the person who made them the opportunity to fix them and learn from them, but under no circumstances do you ever create an expectation that they shouldn’t have made that mistake, or any mistake to begin with. This is a standard of perfection no human being can ever achieve.

I’ve always said if someone isn’t being mean, cruel, or destructive they’re doing just fine. Calling someone out for being mean, cruel, and destructive is not being a hypocrite or holding them to an impossible standard of perfection- that is called ‘accountability’. People who lack compassion and empathy don’t like being called out on it and will do everything they can to fight that, and they have no qualms about doing that in any way they can.

Telling yourself you are good enough because you’re doing your best to be a good person, to use your brain and try to think before speaking or acting is not an ego-flex and it doesn’t mean you have a ton of pride stuck up your ass. It means you believe in yourself and in your ability to do good in this world. And yes, people do like you for being good. If they don’t, there is something wrong with them and not you. I have felt shame and guilt over doing the right thing and I will never, ever let myself like that again. And if anyone tries to heap that onto me when I’m in the right, God help them because I sure as hell won’t.

So take Stuart’s advice and tell yourself you are good enough, smart enough, and yes, people do like you. This has quelled more anxiety inside me than anything ever has before. I still feel the slight manic energy of anxiety when something smacks me but if I didn’t do anything wrong, that’s okay. Keep doing what you’re doing and believe in your own strength. Because as I’ve also always said: you are so much stronger than you will ever realize.

What I’m Watching

I just wrapped up two documentary series on Netflix and I enjoyed both and learned a lot.

First up is ‘Great British Castles’. This is a twelve-part series about twelve different castles in Great Britain with their own histories though there were a cast of characters who kept showing up all over the place. And the methods of execution didn’t change much from castle to castle.

The series was very thorough in telling the story of each castle from its earliest beginnings to how it changed over the centuries and the part it played in history. The usual cast of characters would start with William the Conqueror who hit the English shores in 1066 and kicked the crap out of the Anglo-Saxons. ‘Ol Willy set about showing how big his sword was by building a lot of castles and fortifying them. Then you had King Edward I who fortified them, or had his wife go out and shore them up while he did a shit-ton of rape, pillage, and burn. Occasionally King John I showed up all gross and corrupt. Fat Boy Henry VIII showed up a lot to take over castles or party at them and so and so forth.

One big thing about castles is that they are colossal money pits. I mean, they had to be rebuilt after sieges, takeovers, and the whims whoever was staying in them. Then they were modernized for today with central heating and electricity. One castle, Lancaster Castle, was a prison until the twentieth century so I’m not sure I’d want to live there. The Tower of London was where anyone who was anyone was held before execution. And I’m sure these places are seriously haunted.

The documentary tells the history in very colorful detail and there is this one professor who’s an expert in witches and really colorful history who actually wears a hat and a cape in one segment. All the historians are really cool and are very good at sharing salacious and colorful details of these castles and their inhabitants.

It’s a fun and informative documentary though I will warn you there is a lot about various forms of torture and execution, like hanging/drawing/quartering which was very popular among the kings and queens. Today all these castles are basically tourist traps (something’s got to pay for the upkeep) though Edinburgh Castle still is an actual working military garrison, too.

This Is a Heist

This is a four-part documentary series on the March 18, 1993 heist from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Thirteen pieces were taken, six paintings, five etchings, and two objects d’art. None of the pieces have been recovered to this day though there is still a ten million-dollar reward for information leading to their recovery.

I first read an article about this a few years back and I’ve been following the story ever since. With this documentary, you can see how every time law enforcement and investigators had a lead it eventually led to nothing. Now in 1993, the only Art Squad in the world had just been formed by Scotland Yard so a big heist like this one wasn’t too much of a priority.

My take on the heist after watching this documentary is that isn’t too well-planned and that a lot went wrong in the aftermath. I think the objects are scattered around the world and finding them is going to be a miracle each time. Law enforcement said they cooperated with this documentary in order to ‘shake the tree’ and see if they can get any new tips to pursue.

There has been a huge surge of popularity for true-crime documentaries and I can see the appeal. There are always lots of details to be poured over and it’s kind of fun to play amateur detective. With the Gardner heist, I have my own pet theory on how the heist went down and what happened afterward. I just don’t think there’s enough evidence to find the pieces though I have a feeling law enforcement might know more than they’re letting on.

The End of the Low-Wage Economy (hopefully!)

I just read this piece of crap article on Business Insider (no, I’m not linking to it because it you have a half a brain you’ll see how many holes in it you can drive an 18-wheeler through). A couple of points stand out in the article:

1) Some dumb-ass diner owner was lamenting that he had to ‘tiptoe’ (his exact word) around his employees now when he asked them to do something. He actually said he had to add the word ‘please’ (again, his exact word) to his requests.

How in the hell was he was treating them before? Just barking out orders and expecting a ‘sieg heil!’ or a ‘yes, master’ in reply? Why does he think it’s such a struggle for him to be nice and courteous to people who work for him? I have no sympathy for rude-ass dickwads like this guy. I have a feeling word got around about his shit and that’s why people are staying away in droves.

2) Starting wages at $11 an hour for a job that has a 10-14 workday and one I’m sure where there will be every effort taken not to pay overtime. Why should someone bust their ass for next to nothing and take an enormous amount of shit so some dipwad owner can drive around in a penis-compensating pickup truck while they walk or take the bus to work every day?

I’ve always heard the food service and retail industries had very narrow profit margins. Okay, riddle me this dear readers, if that was the case, why does anyone get into those businesses in the first place? Is it just where the bottom-feeding shit-slinger go? Or is all the profit concentrated at the top and only comes out in shit and starvation wages?

No, I’m not being harsh here. I think Karma has reared her beautiful head and is finally paying back the purveyors of trickle-down economics for their shit once and for all. The theory of trickle-down economics is that wealth will trickle down to the lower classes. The only that trickles down is a thin stream of smelly shit.

Poverty is not a sin.

Poverty is not a moral failing.

People are not in poverty because they don’t try hard enough, or do enough, or don’t believe in a corrupt economic system built against them.

There is no glory or righteousness in pain and suffering. This is the guiding principle behind conservative ideology and especially conservative economic ideology. It’s a belief that people who are suffering deserve it and should be grateful for it. It’s a belief that everyone has their place in this world and the place you were born in, especially if it was a poor one, is the one you should die in.

Worst of all is being a ‘low-skilled’ worker working under people who can’t do your job for shit, but will tell you how to do it every damn day. Worst of all is that you’ll always feel like you’re never going to be good enough for anything. And that if you want to get ahead, you’re going to have to sell out and become what you hate and torment the crap out of others. Because if you do rise up in some way and try to remain a good person, you won’t last.

There’s a popular saying that people don’t leave jobs, they leave management, or ‘culture’. Some people get lucky and leave for more money but in reality, they’re just hoping the shit-load is less than what they’re dealing with. This is why jobs where people work on their own for the most part like the gig work I do or driving on the road have so much appeal. Yet so many people are conditioned to believe they can’t work independently. I think this lack of faith is what keeps a lot of people out of jobs and industries that are hurting for help along with low-wages and shitty bosses.

But I also hope the tide is truly turning here. There is legislation at both the state and federal level to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. I have a feeling and a hope that wages will come up that level by the time those laws are passed and the law becomes a backstop to prevent wages from sliding down in the shit like they have from Nixon onward. This pandemic has changed how we work and how we feel about an economy that’s been built on a shit-hill of lies and huge income disparities.

I don’t aspire to any real wealth, just enough to live on. If I have more than I need then I’ll share it with those in need. I think most people would do that and are willing to do that with an economic system that is not based on trickle-down economics. A truly healthy economy is an engine that runs on people being paid enough to live on and have the ability to grow and learn and do better than their parents and grandparents. It’s not about getting rich then dying. It’s about living, not in poverty or in the sin of wealth, but with dignity and joy for all people.

Reviews: Grounds for Murder, and The Jake Ryan Complex

New feature here on the blog where I do short reviews of what I’ve been reading or watching or listening to. Today I’m going to talk about two books I just finished reading:

Grounds for Murder (A Coffee Lovers Murder Mystery Book 1) by Tara Lush

Now this was a much-better book and one I will recommend even if you have to pay for it (and it’s on sale at Amazon for $1.99, link here).

As you can see, this is a murder mystery set in a fictional South Florida beach down called Devil’s Beach. The main character and amateur sleuth here is Lana Lewis, former investigative reporter for a newspaper in Miami and now barista and manager of her family’s coffee house in her hometown. The book starts with the murder of Lana’s hunky Italian barista Fabrizo. All the evidence point to suicide as it looked like he took a fatal swan dive off the roof of the building he lived and worked in.

I though the premise of Lana being a former investigative reporter was intriguing and it works very well here. As an investigative reporter (she got canned from her job in Miami which is why she’s back in her hometown), Lana would know how to ask questions and find information. She’s very smart in this respect and I really like that. She’s also dealing the fallout of her rather messy divorce (her television reporter-douchebag ex shows up but she sends him on his way) and she’s kind of sort of licking her wounds from her divorce and the loss of her job.

With help from her new barista Erica, Lana works to solve Fab’s murder by working through an eclectic cast of characters and potential suspects, dealing with preparing for a big coffeemaking competition with Erica, and also her growing attraction to the island’s very hot police chief. So there are colorful characters, goofiness, laugh-out lines and observations, and a well-crafted mystery here.

This was a well-crafted book especially with the character of Lana. She’s about thirty years old and has knocked on her ass pretty good. But she doesn’t do a lot of sad-and-sorry for herself and also her conflict about her attraction to the chief of police is solid (she’s hesitant to act on that because he’s ten years older than her like her ex was so she’s not wanting to get hooked up with an older guy hoping he doesn’t turn out to be a douchebag like her ex).

The mystery was clever because not only did Fab-the-dead-barista get around, he was involved with some shady characters on the island who had motive to hate his guts and possibly want him dead. This is a book I will highly recommend and I am definitely going to read the next book in the series (though it’s not scheduled for release until December of this year).

The Jake Ryan Complex by Bethany Crandall

This is a book categorized on Amazon as ‘Single Woman Fiction’ and ‘Friendship Fiction’. I would call it contemporary romance as that was the main plot but it was written in the first-person of the main character, Mackenzie ‘Mac’ Huntress. Great name for a character but to me, a little of out of place in a straight contemporary.

The title comes from the movie ‘Sixteen Candles’, which I grew up watching and loving though I can now admit to its faults (that’s another blog entry for another time). Jake Ryan was the hero of that movie and made many a teenage girl’s heart flutter back in the day. He wasn’t a bad guy but more like the tall, dark, and handsome teenage hero with the angst. The story is of how the main character in this book held up all the guys she dated to this standard set by a fictional character. An interesting premise but the execution left a lot to be desired.

I will freely admit here I’m not fond of first-person narration as I feel it is a bit limiting in terms of being able to get into individual characters. In this case, the book was only written from the point-of-view of the lead female character, Mac. She meets a guy who is like an older version of the fictional Jake Ryan (multiple comparisons are pointed out throughout the book to this) and begins to fall for him.

The main conflict with Mac is that she has a demanding mother who she has decided to lie to in order not to set boundaries and deal with her like an adult (Mac is thirty-nine by the way in the book so if she was ten years younger I could this as a possibility but not for someone pushing forty). Mac’s invented this fake boyfriend and now that her mom is coming to town for Mac’s younger sister’s wedding preparations Mac is scrambling to either make this lie a reality while trying to date the real-life version of Jake Ryan she’s found.

It all works out though I could see most of the plot twists coming a mile off. The last third of the book also felt rushed and the big issues not fully addressed. Three out of five stars and not something I’d recommend unless it a freebie.

Out and About (from behind the wheel of an Uber)

Ever since the great San Antonio Snowpocalypse of 2021, people have been getting out and about here. Every week since the great Winter Storm, business has been booming for me and my fellow Uber drivers. It’s nice to see people out and about even though they still drive like the biggest dumb-ass assholes like they always have and always will. I’m going to try and take advantage of this busy time and scrape up as much money off the streets of San Antonio as I can because in four years of being an Uber driver, there’s always a bust after a boom.

Now why are people out and about more than ever?

My pet theory is the great Storm made people finally snap and want to run out of their houses and apartments screaming like crazy. A year of working from home, social distancing, and having the best excuse to avoid socializing with jerks finally wore out for so many. So when people snap here they seem to do two things: run out and buy all the stuff that you don’t use to wipe your butt with, and go get a shot and have a twenty-four hangover afterword without the booze and puke.

I also think the change in occupancy at the White House and Congress, and the rapidly-increasing availability of the miracle shots has a lot to do with it, too. Also, sending out a lot of money to people so they can spend it and have businesses hiring again and so damn desperate to hire that wages are going up gets people out and about, too. Because let’s face it, tax cuts for the wealthy and inept handling of a pandemic didn’t bring people out in droves unless they were in Florida and had already fried their brains on sunshine, booze, and other chemical substances.

But the good thing here is people are still wearing masks a lot. I think mask-wearing is something I won’t let go of any time soon because I like the ability to mutter nasty comments about dumb-asses and assholes they can’t hear. It feels good to vent on these bozos yet be kind and hold back my aerosol droplets that may or may not contain covid-cooties.

A year ago, the streets and highways of San Antonio were almost empty. Parking lots were empty except for H-E-B, Wal-Mart, and all the home improvement stores. But in the neighborhoods I drove through in the afternoons, I did like seeing families walking and biking. I hope that continues because it’s good to get outside and soak up the sunshine and exercise, too. Hopefully people won’t get back on the nutso rat-race of go-go-go all the time but I don’t think that’ll happen. It’s such an act of defiance to live a life that isn’t an endless rat-race because peer pressure is still such a bitch.

Dear people who still think you have to give in to peer pressure like you did back in high school: You don’t have to like you didn’t have to back then.

But I do think there is a change happening. When I first started talking about creating a house on wheels and living on the road, people’s replies to me were like hearing I was the neighborhood crack-head. Now people reply to me with a ‘heck ya’ and that they’re seriously considering it, too. Because although we’ve had a change in administration at the federal level, the state levels are still full of opportunistic dumb-asses with Texas and Florida trying to one-up each other every five minutes. And too damn many people won’t get a shot to save their lives and other people, too. And too damn many people can’t think their way out of a toilet bowl and believe conspiracy-theories and racist right-wing propaganda either. So I don’t think we’re out of the woods just yet. I think there’s a good-size light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been slogging through these past four and a half years but I still have enough cynicism to believe the light might be on an oncoming train, too.

I like seeing people out and about, though and even the dumb-asses on the roads and highways because it means people are still both smart and dumb. I don’t think it’s so much the Universe likes balance but the Universe tells us that because of free will, people have the ability to choose either to do the right thing, or try to see who can be the biggest dumb-ass. There will always be dumb-asses but as my father used to say, don’t let them ruin things for you.