The Dumb Side

Our Thanksgiving with family has involved a roller coaster of emotions for me, which is something I am still processing.  While I figure out how to write about the experience in a coherent matter, let’s lighten up and do something a bit more fun today.

Over the weekend, I saw an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer entitled “19 Signs You’re Intelligent — Even If It Doesn’t Feel Like It.”  I usually don’t lend much credence to such lists, but if this one is at all accurate, there’s only one conclusion:  I’m dumb.

I didn’t flunk every one of the signs listed, but enough of them describe my opposite that, at the very least, I come out squarely on the dumb side.

And so, without further ado, let’s review how these signs of intelligence (don’t) apply to Uncle Guac:

1. You took music lessons. As a kid?  Nope.  I recall playing a recorder and a pink toy piano with colored keys for a while, mostly with one finger.  I wanted a real piano, which was unreasonable in light of my parents’ finances.  They offered to buy a portable electric keyboard or a guitar, but I declined.  Not the same as a piano.  My sister took violin in school, but the rented instrument mostly sat under her bed collecting dust until it was returned to Alto Music on Route 59.  My mother still says that, if I were such a musician, I would have hauled it out and learned how to play.  Hmm.  Does taking one flute class in college count?  How about taking two flute lessons as an adult before quitting?  I’ve long since sold the flute. Does it count that I can sing?  La la la LA!  Oh, shut up, dogs!

2. You’re the oldest. Admittedly, this is a qualification to which I can lay claim. Rumor has it that this is one of the few things in my life that I can honestly say was completely outside my own stupidity.

3. You’re thin. Hahahaha!! Morbidly obese since birth.  I told you.  Dumb!

4. You have a cat. Not! Oh, man, where do I start?  I could list the little apartments in which we’ve lived that came with “no pets” as a cardinal rule rivaling only “rent paid after the fifth of the month will be subject to a late fee.”  Also, my wife appears to be allergic to cats (and hates them with a passion in any event).

5. You were breastfed. Not a chance. The bottle (heated in a pot of water on the stove of our cockroach-filled Bronx apartment and temperature-tested on the inside of the wrist) was something of a religion in our family.

6. You’ve used recreational drugs. I have done many stupid things in my life, but I am proud to state that this was not one of them. That is actually saying something significant, considering that I attended college in the 1970s.  I retain very unpleasant recollections of dodging a haze of pot smoke and worse until I gave up and ran away to a decrepit single occupancy room hotel downtown for the remainder of my undergraduate experience.  Case in point:  I once attended a student newspaper party held in a three-story townhouse rented by a few of my fellow budding journalists.  Upon entry, attendees were greeted by a sign indicating that alcohol was at ground level, marijuana on the second story and hard drugs in the penthouse.  I turned right around and walked out the door and into the night.  If that makes me dumb, I’d rather be dumb.

7. You’re lefthanded. Struck out again! Not a southpaw.

8. You’re tall. The article states that taller individuals score higher on IQ tests. I’m short, fat and, apparently, just dumb.

9. You drink alcohol regularly. It appears that all those Saturday night keggers at college that I so despised were actually attended by smart people! Turns out sobriety is for dummies!  Who knew?  Being fat, I have developed liver problems that are similar to those experienced by alcoholics.  I guess being a lifelong teetotaler and missing out on all the fun just makes me… dumb.

10. You learned to read early. Ahhh, finally an indicator of intelligence that I can own. I was reading at the age of three, devoured the public library as if it were a chocolate cake and continue to enjoy a good book until this day.  By the way, this is one of the few indicators of intelligence on this list that actually makes sense.

11. You worry a lot. Unfortunately, this is one vice with which I continue to struggle. Although I am a natural born worrier, I like to think I am not quite as intense as I was in my younger days.  I do try to “give it to God” and to allow He who is in control to make things as they should be.  Still, my tendency to worry is not easily quelled.  I’ll have to call this one “neutral.”

12. You’re funny. Nope! My wife is the funny one.  She is quite the wit, and I admire her sense of humor greatly.  As I cringe at the thought of labeling myself as “dour” or “humorless,” perhaps I will just settle on “dumb.”

13. You’re curious. Umm. Ouch!  While I have a diverse set of interests, I’m not one of those people who have to know how everything works.  I grew up on such platitudes as “curiosity killed the cat” and “MYOB.”  My existentialist side will justify my lack of curiosity by asking “who can really know anything anyway?”  Oh, I’m just dumb, you say?  Yep.

14. You’re messy. Winner! See?  Being messy doesn’t make you a pig; it just means you’re smart!  If messiness were the primary mark of intelligence, I’d be right up there with the geniuses.  I am an unapologetic slob.  Not only do I hate cleaning, I believe that I have better things to do.  While it may be unfair for me to leave the cleanup to others, my true feeling is that I don’t care if it gets cleaned or not.  Just go away and leave me to my mess, please.  Reference:  My cubicle at work.  Yeah, I’m one of those.

15. You didn’t have sex until after high school. Winner again! In a very big way, I might add.  I’ll leave it at that.

16. You’re a night owl. Yes! Three in a row!  I have fond recollections of my years working the graveyard shift.  I only wish my work schedule permitted me to stay up all night and sleep during the day.  My circadian rhythm is decidedly not normal.  I love the deep, dark hours of the night, as that’s when my creativity seems to be at its best.  Reference:  I frequently wake up in the middle of the night and begin scribbling notes on my phone.

17. You don’t always have to try hard. And now, my friends, we travel back to the dumb side of Uncle Guacamole. I have to try hard to obtain any measure of success.  Unfortunately, I have a lazy streak a mile wide and often prefer not to try very hard even if it means failure.  Reference:  My checkered college days.  Guess I’m just dumb.

18. You don’t constantly need to be around people. This one falls in my favor. While I do generally prefer to be around people, being alone is just fine as well.  I keep busy, so a lot of the time I barely notice when I’m alone.  That said, I absolutely love being married.  I wouldn’t go back to my single days for a million bucks.

19. You live in a walkable city. Nope. I reside in a rural area where the roosters crow all day and night, the sheep baa across the road and that “thunk” you just heard was a wild peacock jumping off our roof.  I lived in New York City until the age of six when my parents purchased a house in the suburbs.  Eventually, I moved to California, car culture capital of the world.

If I am counting correctly (which, at this point, I am not sure I am smart enough to do), I have satisfied five of the above 19 indicators of intelligence.

Fortunately, being dumb isn’t the end of the world.  If nothing else, I am in good company.  After all, there are a lot of us out here.

Small Town Life in California #1

Although we live in the Sacramento area, our location is quite rural, as is made obvious by the horse paddock on the corner, the sheep baaing across the street and the chickens running around everywhere as if they owned the neighborhood.  It’s quite the antidote to working in the concrete jungle downtown every day.

As one who was born and raised in New York City and environs, I’ll be the first to say that small towns, while soothing in their own way, are rather dull and predictable.  Well, at least that’s what I thought until I recently took a look at a newspaper from over in the next county.  Apparently, the country life can be truly hilarious.  To prove my point, I present for your entertainment a few entries from the police blotter:

Grin and bear it

A caller on Jackson Street in Quincy reported seeing a bear walking on his property for the second time in a week.  He said he would like it to be on file that there is a bear problem in his area.

Uncle Guac sez:  Duly noted.  Better break out the “No Trespassing” signs, dude!

Oh, is that all?

A caller said her soon to be ex-husband called her and then she heard a gunshot on the other end of the line.  Attempts to call the man were met with a busy signal.  A 911 dispatcher was eventually able to reach the man who said everything was fine.  He said the gunshot sound was from him shooting at a coyote.

Uncle Guac sez:  Hang on, honey, I gotta go kill something.  (Sometimes divorce can be a good thing!)

That’s no way to treat your husband!

A caller on County Road A23 near Beckwourth reported being a victim of a hit and run.  He said he was riding an ATV when he was hit by a truck that left the scene.  The caller added that the truck was driven by his wife.

Uncle Guac sez:  Think this one might be heading to divorce court, too?

How’d he get in here?!

An ER nurse reported that a nurse was bitten by a dog in the emergency room.

Uncle Guac sez:  The nerve of some canines!  Didn’t he read the “No Animals Allowed” sign?  (At least you didn’t need to call for an ambulance.)

Typo?

A 2001 Dodge truck swerved, ascended an embankment and rolled over.  According to the driver, they were on Long Valley Road, west of Green Gulch Road, when a deer dumped directly in front of the truck.

Uncle Guac sez:  Pee-ew!  Dis-gusting!  I bet that stank!  Can’t blame you for wrecking your ride, man.

Three strikes, you’re out

A caller at Butt Lake’s Cool Springs Campground said an intoxicated male had driven his truck into a ditch on the side of the road and was spinning his wheels and cussing.  The caller said the intoxicated man had a gash on his head from falling down earlier.  The Highway Patrol responded and the man was arrested on a charge of DUI.

Uncle Guac sez:  Talk about a horrible, terrible, very bad day!  (I’d be cussing, too.  At least the guy wasn’t on crack, which has been a really bad problem lately, and right in the middle of Butt Lake, too!)

Hey, keep your eyes on the road!

A caller who was located about six miles north of La Porte reported that three people were injured in ATV accidents.  The caller said two juveniles were injured when they drove their quad over a cliff.  When their father went over the cliff to help them, he was injured, too.

Uncle Guac sez:  You can’t tell me there’s no such thing as paternal instinct!

They were just singing harmony

A caller said she could hear her neighbor’s dog barking and her neighbor’s pig was squealing a lot.  The caller said it sounded like the dog was harassing the pig.  An officer responded to check on the dog and the pig.  Both animals appeared to be fine.

Uncle Guac sez:  Geez!  Can’t we even have a friendly conversation without someone calling the cops?

 

If you think I’m making this stuff up, you’re giving me a lot more credit for creativity than I deserve.  You can check it out yourself at http://por.stparchive.com/Archive/POR/POR07012015P13.php.

 

 

I Gotta, Um, Er, You Know, GO!

My coworkers and I had a grand old time and a lot of laughs at our recent holiday luncheon.  The highlight of the afternoon was the annual gift exchange.  The emcee would pull a name out of a hat and call the lucky person up front to select a wrapped gift from a very full table.  Alternatively, if you coveted a gift previously selected by someone else, you could “steal” the gift away.  The gifts of alcohol were extremely popular, so it was a good thing that there was a rule that a gift could be stolen only twice.

To add to the hilarity, the emcee started out by informing us that anyone who decided to steal had to either sing a holiday song or tell a joke.  If this was supposed to deter the predilection for stealing bottles of vodka, gin, whiskey and champagne, it wasn’t very successful.  It was a great rule, however, as the terrible singing and even worse jokes resulted in roars of laughter.

My favorite joke of the day, which the teller admitted she borrowed from her young son, referred to the streets of downtown Sacramento that are named with the letters of the alphabet.

Q: Why is it so hard living on O Street?  A:  Because you have to go a block to P.

What is funny about this joke, of course, is the double entendre reference to urination.  You can’t really go wrong with a joke on this subject.  Peeing is always funny, and comedians have been milking the topic for generations.

Before HBO and cable programming generally, you couldn’t make reference to “peeing” in the media without being accused of vulgarity.  Even today, over-the-air radio and TV stations have to watch it, as the FCC has been known to impose some pretty steep fines for gratuitous mention of bodily functions.  This pressure ultimately sent “shock jocks” such as Howard Stern, who appears to delight in “juvenile” humor about urination and defecation, scurrying to satellite radio.

In this day and age, references to the elimination of human waste are judged to be exceedingly mild, at least in the grand scheme of things.  This makes sense in a world in which many give not a second thought to the use of the most demeaning racist and sexist slurs.  It’s all relative.

For example, in the various places I’ve worked, I can’t recall ever seeing someone raise an eyebrow at an offhand description of an impending rest room break as “I gotta go potty” or “going to pee.”  I admit to stifling a giggle when I see the text abbreviation ggp (“gotta go pee”).  I have been lurking around online long enough to remember when this was a way of informing the mates in your chat room why you were going to be afk (away from keyboard).  At any rate, I now know that you can tell a joke that refers to peeing in front of fifty of your coworkers and no noses will be wrinkled.  And you can guarantee that I will be the first to laugh.

Many moons ago, I spent a couple of years working for a tiny community newspaper in New York.  It was a “family newspaper,” both in the sense that the publication was owned by a family and in the more traditional sense of that phrase, meaning that it was unfailingly “G-rated.”  The idea was that all members of the family, including young kids and Grandma, should be able to read the paper cover to cover without encountering any word or phrase that might be deemed offensive.

I remember how, in my college days, where I was one of the editors of the student newspaper back in the 1970s, we made a big point of thumbing our noses at this standard by taking advantage of the opportunity to print the most flagrant vulgarities in 72-point headline type on the front page.  Protesters (and we protested everything back then) were quite fond of including some very colorful language in their chants, cheers and taunts.  Quoting those was a convenient excuse to cuss in a big black headline.

At the staid, conservative weekly newspaper where I was employed in the composing room, however, our problem was not quoting protesters but how to, um, accurately describe the actions for which some of the local loony toonies routinely found themselves arrested.  Should we print “public exposure” when really what we meant was “public urination?”  I can just see some kid reading the paper when it hit local driveways every Thursday.

“Mom, what’s ‘exposure’ mean?”

“That depends on the context, dear.  Usually it has to do with developing photos, like how much light hits the film.  But it can also mean freezing to death, like when someone dies of exposure.”

Our family newspaper found itself in a pickle when a trucker got arrested for pulling off the road into a subdivision so he could pee in a bottle.  Some kids noticed what the hapless guy was doing.  Indecent exposure?  Or just a garden variety case of ggp?  The guy wasn’t exactly a flasher, but who knows what was in that pea brain of his?  Either way, the paper couldn’t get around mentioning that unmentionable, urination.  Ha-ha!  The joke was on the publishers.  “Serves them right for being such prudes” was my first thought as I gleefully typeset the article.

I very much like the approach that my brother-in-law’s mom always took in regard to this subject.  As an elementary school teacher for years, she was no stranger to kids who casually dropped references to peeing into conversations to see what kind of reaction they would get.  She would always interrupt the kid mid-sentence, interjecting “We all do it!”  Never failed to steal their thunder.

One could argue that, even today, we continue to experience some discomfort at public references to elimination of bodily waste, which may explain the use of such infantilized terms as “peeing” and “pooping.”  Admittedly, the liquid version seems to be a bit more acceptable than the solid one.  Few would be surprised at a fellow employee referring to a “pee break,” but one who was brazen enough to say “I gotta take a dump” would likely be considered vulgar.

Whatever you do, however, be sure to keep the bathroom references off the radio and network TV.  ‘Cuz the FCC’s gonna get you if you don’t watch out!

Devotees of the First Amendment need not apply.  After all, freedom of speech must take a back seat to protecting the delicate ears of our eight and ten year old children.

(Cue laugh track)

 

Palabras Con Amigos

no es exit

I know the word “exit” is good in Spanish.  I have the proof:  Here it is on a Spanish sign in a restaurant!  Why won’t the Spanish version of Words With Friends accept it?

I’ve been playing Words With Friends on my phone for a couple of years now.  I usually have about a dozen games in progress at any given time.  Yes, I sneak in turns at work.  Yes, I check my games when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Yes, I play in the car on the way to work in the morning.

Alright, so I’m addicted.  Don’t judge.

Anyone know of a good 12-step group in northern California?

I play in very competitive rated Scrabble tournaments all over the west coast.  On some level, WWF (not the wrestlers) seems like a logical extension.  And yet, many of us Scrabbleheads won’t go near it.  Admittedly, it’s not for purists.  For what I assume must be copyright reasons, the values of many of the WWF tiles are different than those in Scrabble.  Plus, WWF accepts quite a few words that are not legal in Scrabble.  Words like FI and ZEN, for example.  And the “dirty words,” all perfectly acceptable in Scrabble, are no-gos in family-friendly WWF.  Well, except for shit.  I wonder how that one made it through?

Allow me to tell you about my current opponents.  In no particular order, they are:

  • A coworker from three jobs ago
  • A retired lady who used to work for me several years ago
  • One of my wife’s friends
  • A stranger named BigJo who has a Rottweiler avatar
  • Another stranger named 6Griffins
  • Someone named Daphne with whom I play in French
  • A woman named Mely from Argentina with whom I play in Spanish

So I play in three languages.  What’s it to ya?  You already knew I’m a strange one.

At least I speak French, unlike Nigel Richards, who won the Francophone Scrabble Championship in Belgium this year without understanding a word of français.  How is that possible?  He said he did it by memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary.  Go figure.

I didn’t say I speak French well.  But I can get by after having spent my teen years studying French in junior high and high school.  I even visited Paris once and found that I had no problem communicating at all.

Spanish, however, is another story entirely.  Not only do I not speak español, but I haven’t even imitated Nigel by memorizing the Spanish Scrabble dictionary.  Sure, I can order lunch in a Mexican restaurant (the poor employees try so hard not to laugh), I can ask where’s the bathroom and I once told a stranger soy perdido when I needed directions in Laredo, Texas.  I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the labels on cans in the grocery store, at least as far as distinguishing between proteína, grassa and carbohídrato.  I know some of the words to “La Bamba.”

This should give you a pretty good idea of just how very bad I am at my Spanish language WWF games.  One of my first problems was figuring out what to do with that maldito W.  That nasty little critter is worth 10 points in the Spanish game.  That’s because there aren’t any words in the language that use that letter.  Why should there be?  There is no “W” sound in Spanish.

Gradually, I discovered that the W can be used in Spanish to spell some international words that are pretty much the same in every language.  There is won (a monetary unit of Korea, or what does not happen to me at the end of any game played in Spanish) and there is watt (as in a unit of electricity, a thoroughfare here in Sacramento, or watt the hell am I doing playing in a language I don’t know?).  That’s about the sum total of my Spanish W knowledge.  All of my other attempts have bombed out.  I tried web (apparently, the word is la red), I tried war (it’s la guerra), I tried west (nope, it’s oueste).

Actually, that about sums up my strategy for playing Words With Friends in Spanish.  There are no “challenges” like there are in tournament Scrabble, so I can just try one combination of letters after another until I get lucky.  Throw it at the wall and see if it sticks, as they used to say back in the day.  If at first you don’t succeed, try again, try again, try again, grit your teeth, curse, hold yourself back from throwing the phone across the room because it cost $750 and you can’t afford to replace it.

Amazingly, I recently played my first bingo (play using all seven tiles in the rack) in Spanish WWF.  The word was melones.  Actually, I first tried an anagram, lemones, but then I remembered that the Spanish word for “lemon” is actually citrón.  No matter, I got my bonus points!

Of course, I finally got busted.  Mely, good sport as she is, tried to start a conversation with me over Zynga’s chat feature.  In Spanish, of course.  I was able to fake a few sentences before I had to sheepishly admit that no hablo español muy bien, soy gringo.

What really surprises me is that she still keeps playing with me, two Spanish games at a time.  I figured she’d stop at the end of our first few games, but nope, she keeps rematching me.  I guess I had it coming.  Serves me right for trying to be a big shot.

I’d better turn on the SAP function on the TV or start watching Univision or listen closely to the lyrics of all those unintelligible songs, replete with choruses of ¡ay, ay ay! that they pipe into Chevy’s Fresh Mex.

The ultimate irony is that I recently won my first game with Mel en español.

Su idioma es mi idioma.

Tomorrow on A Map of California:  Can a sane person support both Trump and Sanders?

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Greek Intervention, MTV Style

Paging Howie Mandel… You’re needed in Brussels!

The leaders of Europe spent the entire weekend playing the Euro version of “Deal or No Deal.”  When the moneymen couldn’t decide on whether and how to bail out bankrupt Greece, the heads of state took over, although they fared no better by Sunday night.

Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is there, playing the prodigal son and offering to return to the fold by allowing the European Union to tighten the screws by imposing ever more stringent austerity measures to obtain the billions of euros necessary to prevent the Greek banking system from collapsing.  This repentant attitude is a total about face from Tsipras’ position just a week ago, when at his urging, the Greek people voted “no” to increased austerity, even if it means leaving the Eurozone and returning to the drachma.

So, Alex, what’s in your case?  Looks like you’ve pulled all the high dollar amounts off the board before you even got to Brussels.  Is that a phone I hear ringing?  Uh-oh, Howie is telling you that the banker, sitting up there in his booth, has slashed his offer yet again.

The two Jimmies (Fallon and Kimmel) and whoever it is that replaced David Letterman must be having a field day with this stuff.  I don’t watch late night television (all right, you got me, I don’t watch TV at all), so someone please tell me if I’m right.

So Europe is twisting itself up into more knots than a pretzel in a German biergarten in order to keep Greece in the family and thereby to continue the charade that the European Union is indestructible.  The clownish shenanigans in Brussels remind me of those intervention shows that they used to air on MTV back when I wasted my time on such things.

Can’t you just see it?  The family gathers in Brussels, each member with a somber look on his or her face, awaiting the arrival of the bad boy, at which point they intend to pounce.  The idea is to convince him to give up his wicked ways and go to rehab or else be expelled from the family, with no hope of further assistance of any kind.  As I recall, after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, the addict would realize that he or she has been ambushed and is now effectively trapped.

Oh, Mr. Tsipras — The limo is waiting at the curb to take you the airport.  Next stop:  Rehab.

The question, of course, is whether Greece is so far gone that it may no longer even be capable of being rehabilitated.  A third bailout in five years?  Where does it end?  Greece says it needs well over 50 billion euro (that’s a lot of zeroes) just to keep its banks going, but European finance ministers estimate that it will need a good 80 billion euro to prevent its economy from disintegrating.  Something tells me this rehabilitation will fail.  Either Greece will escape the rehab center in the middle of the night, or it will dry out and then go looking for another fix the second it graduates from the program.

In many respects, Greece reminds me of a rebellious teenager.  I remember once seeing a meme online that went something like this:  “Teenagers!  Tired of being hassled by your parents?  Get out now while you still know everything, get a job and pay your own bills!”  Hmm, come to think of it, I may have seen this on a greeting card at a truck stop on the I-5 in Santa Nella.

Greece proved its rebelliousness, much to the ire of European leaders, by putting further austerity to a vote of its populace.  Europe was not amused when 61% of Greeks backed their fearless leader’s resolve to go it alone if necessary rather than subject itself to another parade of horribles.  With the store shelves going empty, gas tanks going dry and only 60 euros per person per day available at ATMs (the banks have been shuttered for two weeks), many Greeks can’t blame Tsipras for backpedaling, begging for debt relief in return for more austerity.

But there are still plenty of Greeks who are burning up Facebook and Twitter urging Tsipras to stick to his guns, walk out of the Brussels talks and return home to Athens, come what may.  How far will this teenager go?  It’s possible that he may be willing to go couch surfing or even live on the street to avoid being told what to do.  Maybe this teen will end up hungry and cold, but at least it will be on his own terms.

The problem is that the parents are fighting with each other and can’t seem to decide what to do about their wayward child.  Meanwhile, the teen is milking the situation for all it is worth, doing his own thing even as he knows that his days under his parents’ roof are numbered.

My bet is that, despite Teen Greece’s open defiance of last week, its current contrite posture will win the day.  Looks like the teen has decided not to go homeless after all.

All that remains to be seen is whether he can follow through with his promise to abide by Mother Europe’s rules.

Greece is the Word

Greek flag

Had I the slightest bit of artistic talent, I would have headed up this post with a cartoon that looked something like this:  Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German leader Angela Merkel would be sitting across a table from each other.  Tsipras would have an enormous goblet of Greek olives before him, which he would be slowly sharing with Merkel.  The caption would read “Two for you, one for me!”  In the next pane, Merkel would take the single olive off of Tspiras’ plate and move it to her own.

If you’ve been following the shenanigans in Greece over the past few weeks, you probably understand to what I refer.  If not, I’ll make it incredibly simple by stating that Greece is billions of euro in debt to Europe and that it has approximately zero chance of ever paying it back.

The complicated part is the politics.  Greece is broke and missed an important payment deadline at the end of June.  Should the nation’s creditors put up with this and risk setting a precedent that their loans need not be repaid?  Or should Europe refuse to extend yet another bailout to Greece, causing the nation to leave the Eurozone, quit the euro and return to its former currency, the drachma?  Perhaps that would send a message to other profligate European nations… but perhaps it would be the wrong message.  Perhaps European nations with struggling economies (think Italy, Spain, Portugal) will figure that defaulting on their obligations wouldn’t be so bad; after all, they can just go back to the lira, the peseta, the escudo.  And there, of course, goes the whole European Union.  A Greek exit from the euro, which the media has of late been referring to as a “Grexit” (eye roll here), could potentially pave the way for the whole idea of a united Europe to come tumbling down like a house of cards.  Perhaps the real lesson for Europe here is that their union is built upon the sand, not upon a rock as they would have the world believe.

It’s not as if the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and other creditors don’t have any compassion.  They offered to lend Greece more money in exchange for “austerity.”  Now, it’s not as if Greece hasn’t already been up to its eyeballs in austerity.  To even get this far, it had to cut pensions, raise taxes and lay off government employees.  This, of course, created a lot of problems, not the least of which is that the people are sick of it.  More than a quarter of working age Greeks are already unemployed.  With the country’s stagnant economy, that has little likelihood of changing anytime soon.  As for elderly citizens on fixed incomes, let’s make it even more difficult for them to survive, by golly!  That’s right — acceding to Europe’s demands would involve slashing pensions by another 40%.

Of course, Rome… er, Greece, wasn’t built in a day.  Sure, taxes have been raised, but reports are that they’re not collected particularly vigorously.  And the government is by far the largest employer in the nation.  As is common in Europe, employees receive six weeks of paid vacation annually.  And then you can retire — at age 38, with a full pension.  Must be nice, eh?  And it’s not like you need to move to Florida or Palm Springs or Costa Rica to enjoy your retirement.  That’s because you already live at the sun-kissed intersection of the Mediterranean and the blue Aegean.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some want Greece to pay dearly for its perceived economic profligacy.  Drive those spendthrifts to their knees and make them pay dearly for their sins!  Germany is seen as being the standard bearer for this camp, with Merkel being backed by Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

But it’s not as if Greece was about to give up without a fight.  For a while, it seemed that Greece could hold all of Europe hostage with the threat of causing its precious union to come apart at the seams.  You want to hold it together?  Bail us out!  Again.  (And again, and again.)  Europe wasn’t about to put up with this.  So Greece had to prove that its threat was real.  Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, asked the Greek parliament to put the matter to a vote of the people.  Should we cave in to austerity measures that are worse than what we have already experienced?  Or should we tell Europe to go to hell?  You know, do the Grexit thing and merrily go it alone?  Tsipras argued the latter and his parliament agreed.  The vote was slated for last Sunday.

It almost didn’t happen.  There were issues of constitutionality and procedural irregularities such as the fact that the people are supposed to be provided at least two weeks of notice prior to a vote, not the one week they received.  But the Greek Supreme Court gave the green light and voting booths were hastily assembled from Athens to Thessaloniki to the isle of Rhodos.  Tspiras went on national TV and radio and urged the people to reject austerity.  Proud Greeks, stand up to Europe!

Photos of the Greek people demonstrating against European oppression appeared around the world.  In the streets and the squares, in front of government buildings and on the islands, large OXI (“No!”) signs seemed to appear everywhere.  There was a significant “yes” faction, too, of course, those who believed that Greece should stick with the euro for better or for worse.

The vote was thought to be a dead heat.  My wife and I were out of town at a Scrabble tournament in Reno, and I followed the action on my iPhone with bated breath.  Rumor was that a “yes” vote would constitute a vote of no confidence in the ruling liberal Syriza party and would leave Tspiras with little choice but to resign.

But Tspiras did not resign.  In fact, he won.  The people agreed with him, with about 61% voting OXI.  Instead, Varoufakis, his finance minister, resigned the next day.  I had to laugh when The Washington Post reported that he lived up to his “bad boy” image when he followed his announcement by walking out of the ministry building and riding off into the sunset on his motorcycle, his wife on the back.

But all that was Sunday and Monday, ancient Greek history.  In the intervening four days, a lot has changed, notably the mood of the nation.  Having your banks shuttered for two weeks, with a daily limit on ATM withdrawals of 60 euros per day, could do it.  (It is estimated that if the banks were to reopen, the ensuing run on deposits combined with virtually nonexistent cash reserves would cause the banks to be out of money in less than an hour.)  Shortages at the supermarkets and empty gas tanks could do it.  Fear of a deep economic depression has a way of engendering another type of depression entirely.  Somewhere around Tuesday, the defiance of the Greeks seemed to wilt along with the abandoned OXI signs.

After asking his people to vote “no” to austerity, Tsipras went right ahead and renewed negotiations with Europe for another bailout in exchange for more austerity measures.  He was quoted as equating his country’s predicament as a choice between “your money or your life.”  He’d have to choose the former, he said.  Clearly, someone forgot to tell him that you’re supposed to give up your life; you need your money for old age.

The Eurogroup is expected to make a decision on the fate of Greece today.  Despite the tenacity of some hard liners, the end result is preordained.  Greece will be bailed out yet again and its people, particularly tens of thousands of poor pensioners, will suffer even more.  The whole charade of the vote, proud defiance and cries of “Oxi!” will have been for naught.  Greece has turned into a joke, and a not very funny one at that.

Greece is not the only one caving in on this, however.  Germany, which has expressed a preference for providing humanitarian aid to ease the suffering of the Greeks rather than offering another fruitless bailout, is on the losing end, too.  In fact, all of Europe loses, as they flush ever more money down the toilet.  It’s a classic no-win situation.  There are only losers.  And I will bet a nickel that, before long, Greece will be right back where it is now, only even more in debt and more beaten down by endless austerity.  Meanwhile, you can support impoverished Greece by purchasing its exports:  Ouzo, olive oil, feta cheese, delicious kalamatas, Greek yogurt.  Oops, maybe not that last one.  Aren’t Oikos and Chabani made right here in the States?

I hope that, one of these days, some creative writer turns the current Greek debacle into a play.  It might be a tragedy or a drama, both forms that the Greeks themselves invented.  On second thought, it should be a musical.  Songs could include “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” performed in front of the Acropolis by Yanis Varoufakis and his biker gang; “Eurozone Dropout,” performed by Angela Merkel; “Look at Me, I’m Alex T,” performed by Tsipras and the Syriza Seven; perhaps finishing up with a resounding rendition of “We’ll Always Be Together” by Jeroen Dijsselbloem and the Moneymen.

Greece is the word, baby.  (Shoo-bop, shoo-bop.)

50 Ways to Know You’re from California

Randy's Donuts

Some things are uniquely Californian.

Although I was born and raised in New York City and its suburbs, now that I’ve been living in California for 20 years, I feel like a native.  It seems a bit strange to say such a thing, particularly since I remember that when I arrived in the Bay Area in the ‘90s, I thought it looked a lot like New Jersey.  The homogenization of America notwithstanding, I still believe that each region has maintained at least a few quirks and peculiarities.

This makes me think of one of my favorite novels, E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.  Her protagonist, who moves from upstate New York to his ancestral home in Canada’s Newfoundland, initially experiences a bit of a culture shock.  However, he realizes that he has finally made the transition when he orders fried bologna for breakfast at a diner and one of his new friends remarks “You have gone native!”

You know you’re from California when . . .

  1. You’ve eaten bok choy and jicama… at the same meal.
  2. You know what a California stop is, and you have the ticket to prove it.
  3. You know the difference between Pico de Gallo and Coto de Caza.
  4. You pronounce the Spanish names of California cities without a trace of a Spanish accent.
  5. You don’t think pineapple as a pizza topping is strange.
  6. You really do know the way to San José.
  7. You write “San Jose” without the Spanish accent mark.
  8. You like avocado on all your sandwiches.
  9. When you want an avocado for your sandwich, you go out to the back yard and pick one off the tree.
  10. You refer to every expressway or parkway as a “freeway.”
  11. You don’t refer to numbered highways as “routes,” but you preface every highway number with the word “the” (“the 99,” “the 101”).
  12. You’ve been to Disneyland more than five times… as an adult.
  13. You can explain in detail the driving route to Mexico, although you’ve never actually been there.
  14. You’ve eaten at Pea Soup Andersen’s… both of them.
  15. You know the Grapevine isn’t in a vineyard.
  16. You’ve been stuck on the Grapevine in a snowstorm more than once.
  17. You know where the State of Jefferson is located.
  18. When someone asks you for directions to Stateline, you say “The one in Tahoe, or the one down by Vegas?”
  19. You know the correct pronunciation of “La Jolla.”
  20. You have mandatory earthquake preparedness drills at work and at school.
  21. You know what the EDD is (and you’re glad you do).
  22. You know what the FTB is (and you wish you didn’t).
  23. You know which roads into Yosemite are open in the winter.
  24. You get angry when anyone mentions “high speed rail.”
  25. You know the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but you think Niagara Falls must be pretty close to Manhattan because they’re both in New York.
  26. You drive for 12 hours without crossing state lines. (Oh, all right, some Texans can also do this.)
  27. You know the difference between Rancho Cordova and Rancho Cucamonga.
  28. You don’t think that Santa Clara is Santa Claus’ wife.
  29. You’ve FAXed yourself to work.
  30. When someone says they’re from the South Bay, you say “which one?”
  31. You know how to get from Milpitas to San Francisco and back without paying a toll.
  32. You’ve had to install snow chains on your tires to get to the beach in Santa Cruz.
  33. You think sourdough bread is one of the five food groups.
  34. You don’t think that Shasta is a brand of soda.
  35. You know what “the palm and the pine” means… and you know how to get there.
  36. You’ve seen scorpions, black widow spiders and snakes… and all of them were in your house.
  37. You know the difference between Chino and Chico.
  38. You got a DUI from the CHP on the PCH.
  39. You think poppy seeds belong in your garden, not on a bagel.
  40. You know where to find the “Sun Fun Stay Play” and “Water Wealth Contentment Health” signs.
  41. When you book an “Oceanside” room, you expect it to be near San Diego.
  42. You’ve eaten garlic flavored ice cream.
  43. They stole your peaches at the ag station.
  44. You like eating pomegranate seeds.
  45. You don’t know what Hellmann’s mayonnaise is.
  46. You know the difference between carne asada and carne adobada even though you can’t speak a word of Spanish.
  47. You’ve been cruising, but you’ve never heard of a midnight buffet.
  48. You know what “Cyn” stands for.
  49. You think formal dress means wearing socks.
  50. You pay a five-cent deposit on a soda bottle but only get 2½ cents back when you turn it in to the recycling center.