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Charlie Hatton
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The Fickle Nickel Pickle

I try to be efficient.

Not everywhere, of course. Not with word count, obviously. Or money. Or calories. Driving. Data usage. Saving energy. Lists of things I’m not efficient about.

Okay. Different tack. I try to be efficient, when dealing with other humans is involved.

Because unlike those other things, interactions with people are often fiddly and exhausting. You want to limit unnecessary complications. In other words, all of them.

Lately, that requires nickels. Sometimes I enjoy a soda at lunch. On those days, I’m a Pepsi guy. Not a Coke guy; a Pepsi guy. This poses a situation that isn’t “efficient” in the slightest. To wit:

My office provides sodas in the break room. We had a CEO for a while who liked Pepsi, so they bought both brands. Since he left a couple of years ago, Pepsis are off the menu. I could ask for a six-pack or two, sure — but that involves dealing with humans. Clearly, that’s no good.

I could get a soda in the food court of the mall where I park, near the office. But that’s always crowded. There are long lines, and cashiers who tell you about specials you’re not going to eat, and the sodas cost weird amounts of money, like $1.83 or $2.41. That involves dealing with people and carrying screwball amounts of change in my pockets. Come on. That’s crazy talk.

The solution is a stop into the drug store. It’s usually empty — because I go at weird times, and anyway, who buys drugs these days? And better yet, the cost of a bottle is one penny less than two dollars. And perhaps it’s not being efficient with my money — see above, not my forte — but it’s worth a penny every day to reduce the usual long-winded counter interaction to:

Cashier: Hi, can I help you find anything?
Me: Nope.
Cashier: (scans bottle) Okay, that’ll be-
Me: (forks over two singles) Thanks!

I see other people engaged in long conversations with these cashiers. Usually about gum or coupons or possibly coupons for gum. That’s great, if they’re into that. But it’s not efficient.

“We’re swapping cash for beverages here, not life stories or bodily fluids. Keep the line moving, sporto.”

Me, I get in and get out, with a soda, in ten seconds, tops. We’re swapping cash for beverages here, not life stories or bodily fluids. Keep the line moving, sporto.

At least, it was my routine, for many months. Until the price of Pepsi went up five cents. Because shortages in the cola mines, maybe? I don’t know. But to get an efficient soda now, I need more than two spare dollars. I need a nickel, too. And that’s where this already-madness sinks into sheer lunacy in the name of “efficiency”, because for the love of Jefferson’s jangly jowls, I can’t fricking find one.

I thought it was pennies going the way of the dodo and skinny ties and polite political discourse. I’ve heard for years that pennies are useless and nobody uses them any more, and we should just do away with them. But when I scrounge through the pile of change in my car console, I’ve got pennies aplenty. If nobody’s using them, then they’ve all apparently decided to retire together between the seats of my Nissan.

Dimes, too, are in no short supply. I’ve got no particular use for dimes, but evidently I own a bunch. It’s hard to tell how many — they feel mostly like pennies, and I’m usually fumbling in the half-dark for a goddamned Pepsi nickel, so I can’t tell them apart so well. But they’re in there. Mocking me with their extra five cents of value that isn’t quite worth wasting on this ridiculous exercise.

The saddest part is the quarters, though. I keep quarters in the car — I have to. If you need to park on the street anywhere in the Boston/Cambridge/Brookline area, it’ll cost you approximately 93 quarters per hour, so you have to keep a few rolls tucked in every automotive orifice you can find. You can never have too many quarters around here, so I have a bunch in the console. By design.

But quarters are the only coin bigger than, but also fairly similar in size to, nickels. So now, when I actually need nickels for the first time since my 5th grade numismatic kick, I can’t see them for all the asshole quarters in the way. Which I put there. Bah.

Besides that, though, there are precious few nickels to be found. I was surprised at the ratio. There must be ten dimes and as many pennies — and naturally, 93 quarters — for every nickel in the pile. I think I’ve found four in the past two weeks, and that was with ten minutes of jangling, a pocket flashlight and copious, copious amounts of cursing.

My system, “efficient” as it was, is crumbling around me. Because our CEO moved to California, Pepsi prices surged and nickels are apparently an endangered species of some kind. Maybe we cut down too many of their nickelforests, or encroached on their nickel spawning grounds. I don’t know.

I suppose a sane person would get their sodas in the food court, for a slightly less predictable price and hugely more predictable patter about signature sandwich options. Or take three dollars to the drug store and wait around for change. Or ask, quite reasonably, if the office manager could include a few Pepsis in the weekly soda order. Yes, a sane person would seem to have several options here. Options which all involve more interactions with people, which may or may not be particularly “efficient”.

So it’s settled, then. I’m switching to tea. At least until soda prices drop again. Or there’s an infusion of new nickels into the market.

Alas, poor two-buck efficient Pepsi. I hardly knew ye.

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Impoliticly Political

I’ve made a grave mistake. I’ve paid attention to televised politics in an election year, nine months before the actual election.

Sweet stump-speechin’ jeebus.

See, politics to me is a lot like the Olympics. It rolls around every four years — or two, I guess, if you’re into “both kinds”. It allows a lot of people to dress up in patriotic hats and lapel pins and wave flags of various sorts, and yell things about their country to no one in particular. The media covers events relentlessly, and there are news reports and commercials and possibly Wheaties boxes — are there still Wheaties boxes? I bet there are still Wheaties boxes — when it’s all said and done.

“It allows a lot of people to dress up in patriotic hats and lapel pins and wave flags of various sorts, and yell things about their country to no one in particular.”

A lot of people get really into these things. Like, seriously invested. Which I understand if, say, your kid or your mom is skiing the biathlon or running for Lieutenant Legislator or whatever. But otherwise, it seems like kind of a spectacle. Really, an awful lot of spectacle.

I’m okay with that. Spectacle is fun to watch. If no one watched, it wouldn’t be called “spectacle”. They’d call it, I dunno, “CSPAN” or something. And some people — even the ones who aren’t so personally invested — seem to really love it. Spectacle sells, I gather. With all the reality shows and Mad Max: Ice Road Warriors and the Real Housewives of Orange Julius going on, shiny shouty stuff like the Olympics and politics sort of slide right in. Actually, they’ve got most of the same sponsors, I think.

So some people have a high capacity for spectacle. That’s great, because there’s a hell of a lot out there. Me, I like just a little spectacle. I like tuning in for bobsledding trials at two in the morning, when three guys and a stand-in mannequin from the Ivory Coast are doing their run, while the diehard fans toot their vuvuzelas and shout and chew at their frostbitten fingers. Or synchronized leotard wiggling, or whatever it’s called. It’s wacky. Nobody’s watching at home. Relatives and host-nation fans and three tourists from Albania are in the stands, taking turns going ape-shit nuts. It’s great.

Politics is totally the same for me. It’s the same situation, really. A bunch of people who have worked a long time to get right where they’re at, but they’ve never done quite this before, and they’re not really sure how to go about it. But! They can’t be wrong, ever, or make a mistake or show weakness or go off message or even acknowledge the intense pressure to do all those things, while making it look like doing any of those things comes at all naturally to human beings. Or for that matter, to politicians.

Of course, the fascination in watching is a little different. Olympic athletes, you wonder how they can do those amazing things. Swim so fast, skate so hard, vault so pole, et cetera. It’s like they bend reality to include perfect feats of strength, speed and grace. With politicians, the astonishing thing is spin. They’re not moving heaven, earth or curling stones to change reality; they just talk at it, until in some peoples’ heads, reality alters itself. That’s their job. This guy didn’t lose, and that lady never said that thing. Those numbers aren’t accurate, and these questions aren’t the ones we agreed on.

The Olympics is a series of events where a gaggle of people compete to create a reality in which one of them has won and gets a shiny new medal. Politics is a series of events where a gaggle of people compete to create a reality in which one of them has always won everything ever and never been wrong and never will be, and gets a shiny new office. I’m not sure that’s “better”, by any imaginative stretch. But it’s certainly more spectacle-y.

Thing is, I fill up on spectacle fast. The commercials are plenty enough reality TV for me, and I’m good for maybe a week of the Olympics before I’ve had enough drama and struggle and nation-name chanting for a while. Same with politics. Usually, I just show up for the pretty maps and a couple of balloon drops. A couple of days in, the smarm is simply suffocating, and every speech sounds like the teacher from Peanuts droning a duet with a laryngitic bald eagle.

Which is fine, because I usually start paying attention about a week before the election. That’s a sane time frame, if you ask me. Even the Olympics have the good sense to only meander on for two weeks at a time.

But this year, I’ve fouled it all up. There’s arguably more “spectacle” this electo-season than usual, and I couldn’t help but sneak a peek. I watched a couple of debates. I saw a parade of maniacally-upbeat clowns on CNN break down some of the things other people had just said, but mostly each other, since they each seem to have a favorite horse in the race. And the spin. Good lord, the spin. Like being strapped inside a washing machine for three hours.

And I’m good. I’ve filled up. My political spectacle-o-meter dinged today, and that’s all I need for another four years. (Or two. Do the midterms have the gymnastics? I always forget.)

And that’s a problem. The election’s still nine months away. There’s a huge gap on the calendar until there won’t be an election to talk about, and that’s all anyone’s going to do until November. I’m all spectacle’d out — and the spectacle is just getting started. I just wanted to dip in a toe, but it’s an Olympic pool full of spin and stump and shouting, and there’s no shallow end. Or ladder to get out. And I’m pretty sure some of these people are peeing in here.

Meh. The Olympics start in six months. Either that’ll help, or I’ll be in a padded room by mid-August. Spectacle-ular.

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False Tomatassumptions

I try not to make life difficult.

It’s possible my friends and family would disagree. I’ve been told by several of them that indeed I do seem to like making life difficult, quite a lot of the time, apparently. So I’ll restate it:

I try not to make my life difficult.

Sometimes I fail at that, too. But I try. I’m not picky, much. I don’t make a lot of demands, usually. And I keep my expectations low. Except when I don’t. But mostly, I do. It keeps life easier.

Well. One life, anyway. I can’t speak for the others.

One thing I try to keep dead simple is food. Some people complicate the hell out of food, which just seems exhausting. Ordering dishes just so, and sending them back if they’re not quite right. Turning their nose up at new dishes. Feeling things about “organic” stuff, and other, opposite things about “modified” stuff. Being allergic to fiddly delicious ingredients. Asking questions when the waiter describes the dinner specials.

I don’t know. Those all seem like ways to get your food soundly spat in, if you ask me. I don’t go in for any of that complicated business. I ask for something, keep it simple, and then deal with whatever’s handed to me. It’s not the “American way”, maybe, of loud demands and stampy feet and Important Opinions About Things™. But my diet’s nearly saliva-free. So there’s that.

I just have one little exception.

(To the “complicated” thing. Not the “spat-in food” thing. I hope.)

I don’t like raw tomatoes.

In fairness, this preference doesn’t seem to complicate anyone else’s life — mostly because they refuse to acknowledge the preference exists in the first place. I can order a burger and ask “hold the tomatoes”. Will they hold the tomatoes? No.

Actually, I suppose they technically do “hold the tomatoes”, right before they slap them on my sammich. Possibly while spitting on them. That could be a communication issue.

“I’ll never understand tomatoes, but paired with lettuce? The rice cake of crisper-drawer vegetables?”

But even with a blank sandwich slate, the assumption of tomatoes is still there. I can ask for a ham sandwich, or turkey, or chicken salad on marbled rye, and the follow-up is almost always:

You want lettuce and tomato on that?

I do not. And while I understand I must be in the minority, I can’t help but wonder — how did this combination become the default for sandwich-focused “fixins”? I’ll never understand tomatoes, but paired with lettuce? The rice cake of crisper-drawer vegetables? I’d say eating lettuce was like munching cardboard, but most cardboard at least has ridges to make it interesting. Lettuce has squat. It’s empty fiber. Bzzzzzt!

Naturally, I always let them put lettuce on my sandwich, since I make a big deal about not wanting tomato. I’m telling you, I’m committed to not making things difficult.

Of course, they also always put the tomato on my sandwich, too. But at least this way, they’re not spitting on my lettuce. Probably. Although at least then it might taste like something.

Too far? Perhaps. Let’s move on.

The same thing happens at the burrito bar. The nice hairnetted hombre asks me what I’d like. My answer is always the same:

Lettuce, hot sauce and jalapenos, please

Immediately, he reaches for the salsa — which is mostly raw tomato. And cilantro, the herb for people who want the taste of sucking a lemon through a pine cone, without all the nasty tree sap and zest mess. My Spanish is as iffy as his English, but I do my best to stop him dumping that hot mess of cold ‘maters into my burrito.

Sometimes it works, because “no no no no no no!” is pretty much the same in both languages. Usually, I have to cross myself and cry, “Dios mio!” to seal the deal, but it’s worth a few hysterics to get my carnitas wrapped the way I want them. Which is without tomato salsa. Ay, chihuahua.

But I’m dealing with the same ingrained tomatattitude. Everybody wants tomatoes, apparently. It’s the go-to, the standard, the “usual”. Buck the system, and you’re usually ignored. Not because people are rude. I mean, people are rude, sometimes, but if they ask you what you want on a sandwich, they’re usually willing to follow through on your request.

Unless it involves “no tomatoes”. Because that’s just unthinkable. What kind of monster goes tomatoless? And in public, no less? No, they assure themselves — I must have heard that wrong. I bet that guy asked for extra tomatoes, so I’ll be sure to pile them on high. “No tomatoes” — that’s not even a thing, right?

Most of the time, it’s not. Even when I’d like it to be. But I suppose it could be worse. If I had an aversion to mustard or mayo, that would be a lot harder to remove. Or saliva. Also tricky. Tomatoes, I can usually dig in and grab, and yank them out cleanly.

At which point, I want to take them to whoever made the dish. Not to be a dick — lord, never to be a dick — but just to offer them back. Here, tomatoes. People clearly like these monstrosities, and you gave me a bunch I don’t want. Don’t waste them, please. You must go through tons of the beasts, slapping them in every sammich and burrito and milkshake and whatever else you robotically default them into. Take these back, and give them to someone who’ll enjoy them. Or rub cilantro all over them, so no one can. It’s your choice.

But of course, I never actually do that. I just throw the tomatoes away, poor things, and go on with my amended meal. Because I wouldn’t want to be difficult.

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Monster Fun

A while back, I got paid to write a prank article that involved writing fake profiles for famous serial killers.

(The guy who paid me is currently going three weeks without food.

Penance? Unlikely. This is also the only guy I know who’s taken both Viagra and breast enlargement pills. Though not at the same time. I think. That would be… confusing.)

Anyway, it wasn’t my proudest writing moment, for several reasons. Pranks really aren’t my wheelhouse. Neither are dating site profiles, as I’d never filled one out before.

(As an old, and someone who met my wife in college, I haven’t dated since the days guys were flapping “Hey, baby” at girls across the bay with semaphore flags.)

Also, though I used younger pictures of the five “monsters”, I didn’t get many responses. Somebody recognized one and sent an indignant email — which was fair. Otherwise, bupkis. That was disappointing — and surprising. Charlie Manson in particular was supposed to be positively magnetic. Maybe he’s just never photographed well. Or “70s hot” is “21st century swipe left”.

Anyway, I made up a couple of responses, I think, finished the piece, and moved on. And hoped people would mostly ignore it. Which mostly, they did. And I quickly forgot about it.

Until last year, when I started getting emails from a Knoxville-area grassroots Democrat volunteer group. Which seems unrelated to lovelorn serial killer pranks. Or maybe doesn’t, I guess, depending on your political leanings.

“Some Tennessee booster borked their email address on some signup sheet, and suddenly I had my finger on the pulse of the hotbed that is Tennessee political stumping, apparently.”

The connection was a Gmail address I created for the prank piece. (legaleagle83, I think it was. One monster was a lawyer, go figure.) I’d set all of the prank emails to forward to my regular account. Some Tennessee booster borked their email address on some signup sheet, and suddenly I had my finger on the pulse of the hotbed that is Tennessee political stumping, apparently.

Mostly, it was barbecues. And passing out flyers. Possibly the odd cotillion. I didn’t read that closely, and eventually, somebody figured out the error and the emails stopped coming.

A few months later, I bought a fancy plus-sized bra online.

Only I didn’t. Some other person did. Some person in Minnesota, with an address apparently similar to one I’d created (no1shackfan, or something similar I figured Ted Kaczynski would use) for the article. So far as I know, the large lingerie got delivered, albeit to someone probably puzzled about why they never received a confirmation, a receipt or the next three editions of the online catalog.

(Yes, three. I was curious. Shaddup.)

This week, the Monster Love story has finally come full circle.

(Well, hopefully not full circle, on the “monster” side. But at least we’re covering the “love”.)

On Wednesday night, I got an email congratulating me for signing up for Match.com. (Thanks!) Then one that my profile had been created (Woo hoo!), and another confirming my new picture upload. (Vogue!) Naturally, I clicked over to check out my particulars.

It appears there’s a lonely guy somewhere in Illinois, with a Gmail address similar-but-not-identical to musicman53, which I created for lovesick Manson. I learned this guy is in his 50s, and asked to match with women ages 25-35. As one does.

In the past few days, I’ve gotten emails with his matches (aged 40-60, as one should expect), helpful tips on improving his profile, and this morning, a link to reset his password.

Which I totally could have clicked on, set a new password and taken over the entire production. But I didn’t. It’s much more entertaining being an inadvertent — and (mostly) innocent — observer. I enjoy these little accidental slices of other peoples’ lives. And I’m not interested in screwing them up.

Seriously. I’m not some kind of Monster.

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When You’re a Crane, You’re a Crane, Probably

Even when the holidays are over, they can still reach out and getcha.

So far as you’d know, our Christmastime has been over for a while. The travel is done. The tree is down, and all the tinsel and ornaments and over-the-shower-head mistletoe have been put away for another year.

(Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying.)

But earlier this week, there was still one remnant of the holiday left: cardboard. Lots of cardboard. Empty wrapping paper rolls. Shipping boxes. Boxes of things that came in the shipping boxes. Inserts and wrappers and tags, oh my. This week, I took it all to the curb for recycling.

That was a shitshow, start to finish. Obviously.

First, I schlepped everything outside. Dropped some boxes. Tripped on a few. Got a shoe stuck in one. The usual.

Then I worked on breaking everything down. With a couple of neighbors sharing recycling bins, we usually have a space roughly the size of a small chihuahua left to put all our stuff in. So I flattened all the boxes, ripped the tape away from the flaps, and bent them around like Tetris pieces to cram them in the bin.

All of this was in twenty-degree weather, of course. So early in the process, I lost most of the feeling in my fingers. But I got all the cardboard in the bin, finally, and trudged back inside to report success to the missus. Who responded with:

“I looked like I’d been in some kind of origami gang fight.”

What the hell happened to you?

Apparently, in the cold I couldn’t feel the various cardboard-paper cuts I was giving myself furiously yanking on the boxes. I had slits on my fingers, and my wrist and one of my elbows. I didn’t recall bonking myself in the face with a box — but the narrow cut on the side of my nose suggested different. I looked like I’d been in some kind of origami gang fight.

I don’t know whether that’s a thing. I assume origami gangs would be called the Cranes and… uh, the Cranes? The little paper footballs? Are there other origami shapes? Do cutout snowflakes count? I have many questions.

Meanwhile, the holidays are finally, officially over now. And I’ve been bathing in Bactine for three days. Next year, I’m just starting a cardboard bonfire. That couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? Ho ho ho.

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