Monday, June 26, 2017

The Wedding Bill Blues

While mowing my weeds I got to thinking about weddings. There’s something about performing unpleasant chores that reminds me of wedded bliss. I came rushing into the house to write this because my memory lasts about as long as confetti.

June is the most popular month for weddings, and right now churches and synagogues are festering with wedding celebrations. According to the Bureau of Made-Up Statistics, the average wedding costs more than $27,000. People have spent months planning and fighting over where to have it, who to invite, who not to invite, what kind of food to serve, which band to hire, and what type of embroidery will be on the napkins. Certainly no one can dispute how successful the institution of marriage is – after all, almost 50 percent of people who get married, stay married – but is a wedding worth all the planning, money, and occasional bloodshed?

Wedding invitations are always a source of humor for me. People get all serious and try to lend an air of formality with such nonsense as:

Mr. and Mrs. Harlow Dimwiddie
request your presence at the wedding of their daughter
Farrah Mones
Rocco Gibraltar
on Wednesday, June the 21st, two thousand and eighteen,
6:45 o’clock p.m.
Our Lady of Recurring Heartburn Church.
Reception to follow.

Is that boring or what?  Not only that, it carries with it a whole host of assumptions such as:
  1. Bring a gift.
  2. Dress to the nines.
  3. Tell everyone that it was nice meeting them.
  4. Do not mention the fact that the bride is pregnant.

If you’re getting married, I suggest sending a less formal invitation such as:

Phil Landerer and Anne Thrax are getting married
Dying TreesPark, Pavilion #5
Sometime in June, probably the 21st.  Rain date: June 22nd.
Show up if you want.
No need to buy a gift, but if you do, we need a food processor.
Wear something you can sweat in - it gets pretty humid in June. 

Usually, on the night before the ceremony, members of the wedding party get together for a “rehearsal dinner” (or, as I call it, the Last Supper). Here they hammer out details such as where everyone will stand and what rites will be performed, and the groom plans his escape route. Then they go out to eat at a nice restaurant where the couple gives out little gifts to the wedding party, as though a pair of earrings is going to reimburse a bridesmaid the $300 she laid out for her dress.

In the typical conventional wedding, the groom and all the male members of the wedding party rent precisely the same exact model of tuxedo. As a result, when they line up for a picture they look like a family of giant penguins. I assume the tradition of making all the men appear identical was started so that in the event that the groom didn’t show up, the best man or perhaps one of the ushers could fill in. The bride, on the other hand, is apparently not an interchangeable part, as evidenced by the fact that she spends over a thousand dollars on an elegant dress that she will never wear again, while the bridesmaids dress like a bunch of harlots.

Wait!  Don’t let me spoil your fun!  Tie the noose!  Or, if you get invited to a wedding, have fun congratulating the happy couple and drinking the free booze. How else are you going to spend your Saturday?

Oh, that reminds me, the weeds...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A TV in Every Bar - Except Mine

I’ve had a great bar in my basement for about four years.  It’s got lots of décor, a music system, and 12 taps of homemade beer.  One thing it does not have is a TV.  I’ve often wondered why so many people feel the need to watch TV at bars.  There seems to be a national obsession with watching sports, music videos, or pretty much anything as long as it distracts people from what’s actually happening around them.  Remember the old days when men and women used to hook up at bars?  Now they all but ignore each other as they gaze at TVs and smart phones.  Why waste time talking with an actual human being when you want a date?  That’s what Tinder is for.

Two of my neighborhood friends, George and Tom, have been telling me for years that if I put a TV in my bar, more people will visit.  Whenever I ask them why not having a TV would keep people from coming over, they say, “Because no one likes you.”

The reason my friends want me to install a TV in my bar is that they want to watch sports there.  Apparently the bar in and of itself is not enough to keep their interest, even with all the free beer and meth.

I have no desire for a TV in my bar because I already have a 51-inch plasma in the living room with about 53,650 cable channels (4 of which I actually watch).  George and Tom don’t see it that way.  In their view, a TV has to be inside a bar in order for it to be of any use, for the same reason that a toilet has to be inside a bathroom.

Shortly before the holidays George convinced me to look into buying a “smart” TV for my bar.  Smart TVs, he told me, can pick up cable channels without a cable box.  I know nothing about any technology that came out after 1983, so I took his word for it.  Not wanting to install and pay monthly fees for another cable box was one reason I was against having a TV in my bar, so with that hurdle out of the way, I agreed to consider getting a TV.  I measured a space above the bar and determined that a 40-inch screen would fit nicely.  My friends then chauffeured me to Best Buy.  Now, for those of you who don’t usually read this blog (which would be all of you), I endured a fiasco in 2007 when I tried to buy a TV at Best Buy and had an unpleasant encounter with a salesperson.  Fortunately the charge was reduced to manslaughter.

After looking at several models, we asked a helpful salesperson which ones had a cable app.  He assured us that the Samsung models did.  Being the trusting sort of idiot that I am, I believed him.  I bought a 40-inch Samsung “smart” TV, a wall mount, and a powerline network adapter, then headed home with my friends, who installed the wall mount because my last attempt at that sort of project resulted in a two-hour meeting with my insurance agent.

About an hour and three beers later we (meaning they) had successfully mounted the TV on the wall.  They powered it on and started fiddling with various information screens, apps, and God knows what else, while I stared at the TV with the same sort of comprehension that every dog I have ever owned used to have when I’d explain why they shouldn’t dig.  My friends managed to get access to the Internet so I could read e-mail and watch YouTube, which was fine except I can already do those things with my laptop.  What we wanted were cable channels such as ESPN.  Actually they wanted ESPN; I just wanted to enjoy my bar in peace.

We couldn't get cable channels because the TV did not have the app that the salesperson told us it had.  Oh sure, there were plenty of other apps that would enable me to get all sorts of Internet “channels” that I had absolutely no use for.  Well, I already have plenty of useless channels.  I pay Verizon for 53,646 of them every month.

With no sports to watch, George and Tom decided that the next best thing was to go home to their wives, which they did while I fiddled with the remote and watched a few videos.  Then I called Samsung to see whether they could help me get the cable app.  No luck.  Then I called Verizon.  No luck with them either.  They said that Samsung used to deliver traffic via "SSL", whatever that is, but now uses "TLS", again whatever that is, and many of their TVs cannot handle TLS, so now Verizon's FiOS app won’t work.  Or something like that.  Please read this and explain it to me.

So there I was with a brand new $350 TV, but everything else was the same as before I’d bought it: I was alone, I couldn’t get cable in my bar, and nobody liked me.

The next day I packed up the TV and returned it to Best Buy, suppressing the urge, as I had in 2007, to commit bodily harm to salespeople.  I told them about the nonexistent cable app.  They told me that it is possible to watch cable channels on a smart TV without a cable box, but it requires receiving the signal on another smart device such as an iPhone or iPad, then sending the signal to the TV, which is kind of like driving a car by putting a blind person behind the wheel and telling them when to turn.

I kept the wall mount and powerline network adapter in case the cable app issue ever gets resolved and I decide to put a TV in my bar.  In the meantime the wall mount supports my bar’s latest artistic addition:

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Sleep Machine

I have sleep apnea.  I found this out at my recent sleep study.  I used to think that only overweight people had apnea, but alas I was wrong, just like I’m wrong about everything.  Ask any woman who’s ever dated me.

The sleep center brought me back for an overnight study involving a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine.  There are two kinds.  The first is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which delivers a continuous stream of air.  The second is BiPAP, which reduces air pressure during exhalation.  Either that or it’s for people who swing both ways.

So I went in for my PAP test with my overnight bag containing the essentials for an overnight stay: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, and mouthguard (because I grind my teeth into dust without it).  The mouthguard retails for $400.  I asked my dentist why I should spend so much on this mouthguard when I can go to Sports Authority and purchase one for $2.59.  He said, “Because if everyone did that, I wouldn’t be able to afford my vacation home in Malibu.”

Notice how all my overnight items were for oral care.  This is because the human mouth is a filthy, bacteria-laden, odor-producing orifice.  What really disgusts me is that some people like to put their tongue in their partner’s mouth when they kiss.  I would never let anyone stick their tongue in my mouth unless it had a $50 bill on it.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, my PAP test.  I checked in and went to a room where I would spend the night.  A technician hooked me up with wires, as had been done during the previous study.  There was also a hose coming from a CPAP machine.  The hose had two openings at the end that went in my nose.  I was reminded of Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter.  Air was forced into my nose throughout the night at different pressures.  Readings of oxygen levels, apneotic events, etc were taken in order to see which pressure was best for me.  I felt like Darth Vader would feel if the Empire ran out of face masks and gave him a snorkel.

About a week later I ordered a CPAP machine, and the following week a technician brought it to my home and showed me how to use it.  Unfortunately it’s not like a leaf blower that blows air and that’s it.  No, this contraption has a number of moveable and replaceable parts.  First there’s the water base, which holds water that humidifies the air.  I’m supposed to change the water every day.  I can’t even remember to brush my teeth every day.  Anyway, there’s a dial that adjusts the air humidity.  There’s a long air hose that comes out of the CPAP machine, a shorter one that connects to it, and a nose piece that connects to the smaller hose.  It’s held on by an adjustable strap.  There are also two filters on the machine.  My vacuum cleaner doesn’t have so many parts.

All of these pieces are difficult enough to remember how to operate, but I’m also supposed to clean and replace them periodically.  The replacement costs are, shall we say, a bit inflated.  For example, the nose piece.  It’s a small piece of rubbery plastic.  Here it is.  I put a pen in front of it for size reference.

Now, how much should this item retail for?  A dollar?  Five dollars?  Would you believe $270?  I sh*t you not.  And they recommend changing it twice a month!  Obviously they don’t expect average Joes like you and me to pay $540 per month for this part – that’s what they bill insurance companies.  Under my insurance I would pay only a fraction of that, but it would still amount to well over $600 a year.  Add to that all the other parts replacements and we’re talking about some serious dough.  The machine itself retails for $2500, again to gouge insurance companies.  I haven’t seen such blatant misuse of insurance since Obamacare.

Obviously I won’t be replacing parts nearly as often as the CPAP peddlers recommend.  I will wait until each part turns a blackish shade of green and I develop swamp fever.

The machine operates fairly quietly.  It keeps me from snoring by forcing air into my nose so my soft palate and throat dont close.  I sleep more soundly due to not having apneotic events that are caused by air blockages.  I’m also quieter because I now sleep with my mouth shut.  (And I’ve been told many times to keep my mouth shut.)  Most important, it keeps my girlfriend happy because I don’t wake her with my snoring.  Before I got my CPAP machine, she used to force me to turn away from her in order to minimize the noise.  However, this created another problem: the air that sometimes comes out of my other end was then directed toward her.

So if you snore or sometimes gasp for air while you sleep, you might want to consider having a sleep study done.  It could help you sleep better so that you feel more refreshed during the day.  It could also save your marriage.  I hope you have insurance.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I haven’t been sleeping well.  This has been going on for a little while now – about twenty years.  As a result I sometimes doze off during the day, at meetings and at social events.  In fact, at parties my friends take bets on what time I’m gonna doze off.  The winner gets to draw on my face first.

So my doctor recommended a sleep study.  I had to keep a sleep journal for two weeks beforehand, each day documenting what time I went to sleep, how long I slept, any alcohol or caffeine I consumed, what drugs I took, who I slept with, the barometric pressure of my room, and what kind of pajamas I wore (Spiderman).  Eventually I noticed a pattern: I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning.  Weird, huh?  The only problem is that I wake up at the same time I used to go to sleep in college.  Imagine sharing a bed with someone who gets up that early.  If I were married to an Amish woman she’d divorce me.

They started the sleep study by hooking electrodes to my face, scalp, chest and shins with a sticky white paste, plus they put hoses up my nose, and then they expected me to sleep.

I lay in bed for a good (actually not so good) hour or so, trying to fall asleep while I was more wired than a meth addict.  A few trips to the bathroom later I managed to get unconscious around midnight without the aid of beer.

After about three hours I woke up, which is very typical of me (and one of the reasons I endured the sleep study to begin with).  I hit the call button for the sleep technician, who disconnected the wires and hoses from the machine so I could go pee.  You haven’t lived until you’ve held eighteen miles of wire while aiming at a toilet bowl at 3 a.m.

When I returned she plugged me in again.  I lay in bed for a while and eventually fell asleep for a little while and did some dreaming.  I forget what I dreamt about, but I remember something about a national healthcare scheme that not only didn’t work, but actually caused some people’s health premiums to go up.  Thank God that didn’t really happen.

At about 5:30 the tech announced, “Good morning, Mr. Schwalb” over the speaker, which didn’t wake me because I had already been awake for an hour and a half.  She removed the hoses and tore the electrodes off my shins.  To say that this felt like a Band-Aid being removed would be like saying that Bill O’Reilly is a little bit conservative.

The rest of the wires were still attached to me, and they were plugged into a little blue box that hung from my neck like pimp bling.  Why were they still attached?  Because the study wasn’t over.  They wanted to keep me all day for a nap study.  This sort of activity involves sitting around reading, eating, pooping, watching television, and napping, which pretty much describes a typical Sunday for me, minus the hangover.  Every two hours they give the patient an opportunity to nap.  If he or she dozes off within twenty minutes, they let him or her sleep for fifteen minutes.

The first thing I did was have breakfast, which my insurance company gets billed for, so you know I took advantage of that.  I had some orange juice, a few granola bars, and a Rice Krispies knockoff called Rice Crunchins, which were square and did not go “snap, crackle, pop.”  My usual breakfast cereal is Raisin Bran, which cleans me out like Drano.  That cereal’s slogan should be “snap, crackle, poop.”

I brushed and flossed in order to get the sugar out of my teeth.  Which reminds me: why do some folks brush their teeth in the morning and then eat?  Doesn’t that undo the cleaning they just did?  It’s like wiping and then taking a dump.

After a bit of texting, e-mail, and seeing what derisive comments people had made about me on Facebook, I was informed that they would not do a nap study because I had only slept 3.5 hours during the night.  Well, I had already told them that I only sleep 3 to 5 hours per night.  It was right there in my sleep log.  A nap study is supposed to find things like narcolepsy and hypersomnia, but with so little nighttime sleep, dozing off during the day is expected and not necessarily an indication of a deeper problem.  Well, duh.

So the sleep tech ripped the rest of the electrodes off, causing blinding pain and leaving white goopy stuff in my hair and on my face.  I felt like I had just been in a porn film.

Now it’s up to my doctor to determine why I don’t sleep well at night.  They told me that it will take a week.  In the meantime I’ll keep nodding off at social events, and my friends will be there to support me, Sharpies in hand.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Anybody Home?

Wow, it sure is empty in here.

Oh, I guess I should tell you that my (now former) girlfriend moved out.  You might wonder why she left.  Well, for the same reason that all the other women who ever dated me left: I’m a moron when it comes to relationships.  For example, I have no idea that it’s a woman’s birthday even if she drops subtle hints such as, “Hey Ben, it’s my birthday.”  My relationship IQ is so low that it could be considered to be negative. That’s impossible, of course, because no one has a negative IQ, unless you count the Kardashians.

Before she moved in eight months ago, my home looked like a crack house.  There was nothing on my walls except rock posters, some food stains, and a little blood.  She beautified the place with paint, tasteful pictures, mosaics, and shades.  I came home one day and thought I'd wandered into my neighbor's house.  Again.

Now that she's gone my house has reverted to the shambles it always was, except the walls look good.  Well, they will when I patch them up.  You see, when I removed the nails and screws that used to hold up her pictures and mirrors, I created numerous holes, some of them the size of a large rodent.

As is normal when anyone moves, some debris was left behind.  My floors and carpeting are currently hidden by a three-inch layer of dirt, crumbs, pieces of paper, coins, pens, rubber bands, paper clips, scrunchies, rolls of tape, silverware, lint, socks, dust bunnies, dog hair tumbleweeds, batteries, nails, bags, cups, dishes, magazines, and a hammered dulcimer. The good news is that I finally found the remote.

Without her beautiful furniture and wall decorations, my house looks like it was both burglarized and vandalized.  I now eat on the floor, and there is nothing decorative on my walls, unless you consider dried pasta sauce to be art.

So, now that I no longer have a domestic companion (unless you count my dog, who would rather groom his nether region than associate with me), it is more important than ever to have friends over.  Fortunately I have 12 homemade beers on tap at all times, which causes everyone I know, including people who once sued me for personal injury, to flock to my house for desirable libations.  And by “desirable” I mean “free”.  What happens is I answer my front door and welcome them with open arms, at which point they rush past me, their feet making the same sounds that cartoon characters make when they run, to my basement.  Sometimes several of them will get stuck in the basement doorway, like the Three Stooges used to do, until the folks behind them push them through.  Then they run or tumble down the stairs because they can’t get to the taps fast enough.  I’m thinking of installing a slide.

The ensuing drinking frenzy typically lasts for hours, sometimes days.  They consume massive quantities of my brews, pausing occasionally to pee.  The crowd eventually decides, after prolonged heavy drinking, that I’m an okay guy.

Speaking of my bar, she did some amazing work.  Before her arrival it looked like a prison cell with taps.  Now ... well, let me illustrate.  Below are photos of my bar, one before and one after her slum beautification project.  See if you can tell which is which.

I know it's difficult, but I think you can figure it out.  She also did some other great stuff, including a gorgeous ceiling mural.  If I were to paint my ceiling, I'd have to take it down and hang it on my refrigerator.

Ah yes, my refrigerator.  There’s no food in it.  Oh sure, there’s stuff to put on food, such as ketchup, mustard, and petrified barbecue sauce, but there is more actual food stuck to my walls than there is in my refrigerator.  You see, my ex did most of the shopping and virtually all of the cooking because a lemur could cook better than I can.  I’m the only person I know who can burn water.  So I have become very well acquainted with the local Chinese restaurant, which delivers a plethora of dishes with names like "Moo Goo Gai Pan" and "Sum Ting Wong".  I have no idea what they are, so if I get a container full of chicken feathers, I can’t complain because that might be what I ordered.

If there’s any consolation in my new bachelorhood, it’s that I now have plenty of time to catch up on all the TV shows I never watch.  I don’t know why I pay Verizon $89 every month.  At first it seemed like a bargain for 931 channels.  Now I question the value of cable because the programs are so bad that one of the most popular shows is Duck Dynasty, where people who look like a cross between Willie Nelson and ZZ Top rebel against society by being paid large sums of money.

In summary, now would be a great time to visit me: there is a treasure trove of floor prizes, no pesky furniture to bump into, and plenty of beer.  So come on over!  Bring food.

Monday, December 31, 2012

I Have a Magic Dog

It has come to my attention that my border collie mix, Barley, is endowed with magical powers. Specifically, he can make any sports team win, as long as someone dresses him in a shirt with the team logo during a game. Now, I realize that you are probably dubious. Believe me, so was I at first. I am the last person to believe in anything supernatural. This is why I give the Jehovah’s Witnesses an earful every time they show up. In fact, I have caused at least three of them to give up the door-to-door approach in favor of telemarketing.

Okay, I suppose you want proof that my dog really is magical, and not just a fecal matter-producing financial drain, akin to Congress. It all started the weekend before Thanksgiving. I was visiting my mom and sister in Florida, where, incidentally, half of my old neighborhood has moved, even some of the goyim. My friend George is always nice enough to take care of Barley whenever I go out of town. He (George) is a Redskins fan, and he usually dresses his own dogs in Redskins attire – shirts, sweaters, jockstraps – during games. Well, since he had my dog that weekend, he thought it couldn’t hurt to put a jersey on him, inasmuch as the “Skins” had already lost 6 of their first 9 games and there is no law against canine pagan rituals as long as the amount of blood is kept below half a pint.

As you might have guessed, the Redskins won. When I returned from vacation, George told me that Barley had helped the Skins win, and he wanted to borrow him for the team’s next game. Being a man of science I saw no cause-and-effect relationship between my dog and the athletic performance of a bunch of oversized apes, but one of the things that define a friendship is the willingness of each person to indulge the superstitions of the other. George is a religious man, so I already knew that he believed in magic, and I wasn’t going to pop his bubble with my decades of reason, logic and personal experience, especially since he had stood by me in recent years during my 43-woman dating spree wherein, despite encountering a parade of psychos, liars, wet blankets, egomaniacs, and individuals built like tenement housing, I actually believed that someone existed who was honest, sane, respectful and fun, and also looked like a supermodel. So my casting aspersions on his beliefs would have been like Newt Gingrich criticizing Mitt Romney for occasionally saying something questionable.

The Skins won their next game with Barley in George’s care, and of course George asked to borrow him again. This continued week after week throughout the late fall and early winter until the Redskins had won 7 games in a row, culminating with a win last night against their archrivals, the Dallas Cowboys, which earned them the NFC East title. As I mentioned, I am a man of science, and my logic tells me that my dog can’t possibly have anything to do with any sports team’s success, but look at the results. The Skins have won every game that Barley has attended in George’s den, while Barack Obama has failed to fix the economy even with hundreds of billions of your tax dollars, so I have to conclude that either my dog is a magical being, or Barack Obama is a frigging idiot.

This got me thinking: Why did God choose to give Barley this magical power, but not others?  For example, why didn’t He give him the power to cure the sick?  Or feed the hungry?  Or refrain from pooping in my basement?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Suffering from Suffrage

It's still summer and already I'm dreading the upcoming election. Not for the reasons you might be thinking. It's because my friends get on my case. Every four years at least one of them will confront me, and the following conversation ensues.

Friend: "So, who are you going to vote for?"

Me: "I'm not going to vote."

Friend: "What?? How the hell can you not vote? You have a right to vote, and you should exercise it!"

Me: "I also have a right to take a dump on my lawn. Should I exercise that right?"

Friend: "Here is a chance for you to make your political voice heard!"

Me: "My political voice is that all the candidates suck, and none of them are worthy of the time and energy it would take to vote."

Friend: "But your vote means something."

Me: "Oh yeah? What does it mean? That I went to the polls only to shut you up?"

Friend: "It's your duty to support your favorite candidate. If you don't, you're throwing your vote away."

Me: "Okay, I'll vote for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson."

Friend: "No!!! That would be throwing your vote away!"

Me: "Huh?"

Friend: "Only Romney or Obama can possibly win. You need to vote for one of them."

Me: "But you just told me to support my favorite candidate."

Friend: "But he can't win! You have to vote for someone who can win!"

Me: "So I need to vote for someone I don't want to be president just because those are the only two that have a chance of winning?"

Friend: "That's right! It's the only way you can make a difference."

Me: "But neither candidate will win by a single vote. Ergo, my vote can't possibly make a difference no matter who I vote for."

Friend: "If fewer people thought like you, then those third party votes could go to one of the major candidates, and that could affect the outcome."

Me: "If fewer people thought like you, more people would vote for the third party candidates, and one of them could win."

Friend: "But that's not going to happen."

Me: "Right. So we're back to only one of the major candidates winning, with the outcome being decided by more than my one measly vote. Hence, my vote doesn't matter."

Friend: "If everyone thought that way, no one would vote!"

Me: "Correct. And then my vote would make a difference."