Heap Big Pow-Wow In Conference TeePee

This-um no Chief Warrior – This-um Don Rickles playing “Bald Eagle” on F-Troop! (image from tvworthwatching.com)

Once upon a time, I received an email from a company called Voyager Health.  It was sent to me by mistake.  I knew it wasn’t spam, because I was able to find the name of the person for whom it was originally intended.  It was a simple case of data input error.  They had apparently transposed two of the letters in the address from someone for whom the email was originally intended.   Someone who would conceivably give a flying rat’s ass about Voyager Health.

I deleted it and moved on with my day.  While I had every right to read the email, it wasn’t really any of my business.  Several days later, my email icon was lit up again with another missive from the good people at Voyager Health.  I scrolled to the bottom of the email and found the handy link to unsubscribe.  I clicked it and followed the prompts to disconnect myself from these misguided folks with their good intentions.

After a few weeks, another email from Voyager Health popped up in my box.  I scrolled to the bottom of the email and unsubscribed, hitting the “enter” button a little harder than necessary to let them know I meant business.  My mind flashed briefly on the urban myth that the buttons on light poles for pedestrians to change the signal weren’t actually connected to anything – that they were just put there to give them something to do while the light took it’s sweet, standard time turning green.

Like an electronic bugger which I couldn’t flick of my finger, Voyager Health sent me yet another email.  Convinced the unsubscribe button was far from functional, I chose to use one of the handy toll free numbers on the bottom of the page.  I’m a pretty easy-going guy, but if you annoy me enough, my inner curmudgeon comes to life, as pissy and vindicitive as a troll with a 2-day hangover.

I reached a peppy gal who listened patiently to my tale of woe of mistaken emails.  She was cheerful and apologetic and oh-so-helpful.  She said she’d be more than happy to take my address off of the email list.  She was so positive and perky, I was sure she had embraced the customer service credo of people being able to hear you smile over the phone.  More important than her sparkling phone demeanor, was my deep, pure belief that she had done what I’d begged her to do, thus severing my one-sided relationship with Voyager Health once and for all.

It’s understandable then, how utterly betrayed I felt when my next Voyager Health email popped up.

I should pause here and admit that I actually really enjoy getting mail.  I don’t mean flyers for vinyl siding or discounts for dining at restaurants I wouldn’t go to even if the food was free every day of the year, I mean real mail.  Real mail is great.  Letters from long lost friends, far away relatives, or even alumni magazines.  As the information super-highway has grown and my access to it has become nearly constant, I’ve grown to accept email with all the affection I hold for paper mail.  I’ve become proficient at separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to email.  I can spot an offer for Mexican Viagra or a plea for help from wealthy widows in Zambia.  Still, there are plenty of emails, and every one of them gives me a little thrill, just like they did when I got letters as a kid.

In April, I got yet another long email from Voyager Health.  I went ahead and read it, since they sent it to me.  I was becoming curious about them, and part of me wondered whether the gods of electronic mail were conspiring to get an important message to me.  In this email, the new President of the company explained in great detail how he had interceded and cleaned house, chasing out the incompetent management and taking steps to right the corporate ship.  He wrote good copy and really came across as a highly effective executive – a hands-on, no nonsense kind of guy.  Though I’d grown to loathe Voyager Health’s inablity to stop sending me emails, I had to admit, this new boss really seemed like someone I could get behind!  Then he ended his email, signing off as “Chief Warrior”.

What the..?!

Even my most annoying, incompetent of bosses, and I’ve had a few, never called him- or herself “Chief Warrior” – A brief shout-out of thanks to the patron saint of annoying bosses for that small blessing.  Once I’d read the bizarre signature, the idea of it germinated in my head like a dandelion on steroids.

I considered calling again, thinking that perhaps the woman I’d initially spoken with was representative of the incompetent rabble who’d been ambushed by the Chief Warrior and his loyal band of business braves.  I pictured them wielding tomahawks and 3-ringed binders as they moved stealthily through the offices in their business-moccasins with the little tassles on them.  They’d bound into the boardroom, their russet colored faces painted with White-Out in fierce geometric designs and corporate logos.  The squaws in accounts receivable would be busy in the clearing, crunching numbers as strips of buffalo jerky dried in the sun.  Nearby, little ones in loincloths play in the company daycare, learning how to track game and change toner cartidges.

The interlopers had nearly traded the corporation to unscupulous Dutchmen for junk jewelry.  Now they’ve been run off into the trees.  They’ll lick their wounds and start searching for a new tribe to infiltrate – one without a mighty Chief Warrior.

I’m amazed to find myself rooting for this newer, leaner tribe, lead by the Chief Warrior.  They’d made the difficult changes and purged the evil from their midst.  They could get back to the business of business now.  That and tanning hides.  Sadly, their internal battles have likely distracted them from the great rumbling cloud on the horizon.  Of course I’m referring to the coming of the Iron Horse.  Heap big tribes with Chief Warriors who go by initials, like CEO and CFO and EIEIO.  Their primitive ways will be no match for the coming plague of the initialled ones.

My wisdom is for naught.  I’ve gotten these emails by mistake.  I have neither a proxy vote nor a fast horse.  I can do nothing but stand by and watch helplessly.  A single tear trickles down my cheek, like I just watched someone litter.

Delete is such a strong word

I have to admit that, for the most part, I enjoy WordPress.

Blogging has given me a forum for my thoughts and has fueled my delusions of someday actually making money writing.  One of the cool things about it has been the ability to leave comments on the posts of writers whose work makes mine look pathetic, and then being tickled when they actually respond.

“Dear Mr. Hamill, I think you write real good, and you’re books r kewl. I know your busy being famous and righting another best seller. I just wanted to say Hi”
(Photo from nyu.edu)

I’ve never actually sat down and written fan mail to David Sedaris, Pete Hamill, or any of the other authors whose work I’ve enjoyed.  Maybe they would have written me back, but I tend to think they’d be too busy living in mansions and working on their next incredible book.

Anyway, back to WordPress.  They’ve recently upgraded their website and making comments now has strings attached.  I would always get an email telling me if an author had replied to one of my comments.  I also received notification anytime anyone commented on one of my posts, which I loved.  The other day, after the latest alterations to the site, that all changed.  Now, if I have commented on someone’s post, I started getting emails anytime anyone commented on that post.

This may seem like a minor change in how the site works, but consider this; some of the people whose work I admire can easily get 60 or 70 comments to a post.  If I read the posts early in their published state, and write a witty comment, my email box will blow up with the torrent of comments from other readers still to come.  If I commented on 4 or 5 author’s pieces, my incoming email grows exponentially by the end of the day.  Between those comment emails, ads for low cost E.D. pills, and great new recipe ideas for family-fun dinners from the Food Network, I barely have time to sift through my emails for electronic coupons from the Liquor and Wine SuperStore.

I decided to click the box on the bottom of the email to manage my subscriptions.  It was a simple process;  to avoid having my email box over-flow with other people’s comments about my favorite authors, I just needed to hit the “delete” icon below the author’s name.  “Delete”?!!  These are writers who I have “followed”.  I’ve “liked” their work on numerous occasions.  Would hitting “delete” be anything less than an obvious betrayal of my loyalty?  These hard-working, creative geniuses had earned my love and admiration.  Was I expected to delete them just because of my whiney complaints of having a full email box?

You don’t really mean that, do you?

Well…yeah.

I mean it’s really inconvenient to check my not-so-smart phone all day for emails, only to find that OkeydokeyDonkey220 has written a typo-riddled comment about The Byronic Man’s latest masterpiece.  I gritted my teeth and hit the dreaded delete button.  Almost immediately, the incessant chirping of my phone slowed to the pace of a poorly made metronome.  I closed my email then raced back to WordPress.  I wanted to hurry and refollow Byronic before he discovered what I’d done.  I was already cooking up lame excuses in my head to explain to him how I had accidentally hit the button in a tequila-addled state.  Perhaps I’d go with having my dog excitedly jump onto my lap upon hearing my laughter and hitting the key with her paw (Byronic doesn’t have know the cold truth about my dog’s disability).  Maybe I would blame it on the DEA, and tie it in with Byronic’s recent funny post – no Dave – don’t try to ride the coat-tails of someone else’s creativity – you’re (slightly) better than that.

I got to WordPress and clicked on Blogs I Follow.  There he was, still high on my list.  I didn’t understand, I’d hit delete.  My computer dictionary says that “delete” and “unfollow” are two different things, but my inner voice tells me otherwise.  I hit refresh a couple of times just to be sure.  The Byronic Man was still there, right where I’d left him.

Apparently, the people who run WordPress, a blogging site for literary wannabees with varying levels of talent, chose to use the word “delete” when perhaps a different word may have been more apropos. Was it too much to expect that the people at a website dedicated to the expression of the written word could have chosen a more suitable phrase or single word for us to click to keep from getting emails?  They could have chosen any number of alternates.  Some of the candidates which come to mind are:

“terminate”

“You deserve better than me”

“fuggetta-bow”

“neglect”

“We’ve grown apart”

“screw”

or my personal favorite,

“discontinue receiving comments on this post via email”

Obviously, WordPress has the same problem as almost every other business in the world.  They have idea guys, worker bees, and somewhere, in a room with a special key and way cooler office chairs than everyone else, they have the I.T. department: those tech savvy guys and gals with the names you may or may not have trouble pronouncing.  Like most I.T. departments, they feel the need to run massive, complicated upgrades to the site every so often.  The sleek new look of the site and “increased fluidity of the browser-main frame interface” will accomplish two significant things:

1)  It will frustrate the daily users of the site, who’ve become accustomed to finding their way around without being stranded or hopelessly lost

2)  It will give the I.T. staff plenty to do developing the next site upgrade/facelift

Luckily, bloggers like me can feel free to write any kind of criticism we care to about the I.T. types as they don’t generally bother spending much time on the actual content of the site, preferring to stand behind the curtain of the Great and Imperial Oz.  These tech-heads just wreck it for the rest of us, making life difficult while creating work for themselves to feed off the corporate teat a little longer.  I’m not afraid of some I.T. dopes.  What are they going to do to me?

In any case, I’m glad that when they said delete, they didn’t really mean it.

The Waiting Game

You know what they say that about good intentions.

This morning I posted my satirical, goofy piece titled “Castro Gives Me Gastro”.  I’ll admit it wasn’t my very best work, but it had some merits.  Most specifically, it was under 500 words, and that’s short for a windbag like me.

Normally when I post something, I check the various categories to make sure it showed up somewhere in WordPress.  Next I go to Facebook and make some witty remark about it to try to get some of the zombies there to pull themselves away from looking for unicorn eggs in Castleville and, I dunno, maybe READ SOMETHING?!  Then I go to Gmail and fire off the link to a bunch of coworkers and acquaintances who I’ve bullied and begged into giving me their email addresses.  Once that’s all done, there’s nothing left to do but sit back and wait to see if people read it.

After 30 seconds of that, I click the refresh button on the dashboard page and check to see if anything’s changed.  On a side note, this is the same way I fish.  I bait the hook, cast it into the briny deep, then 30 seconds later, reel it in to see if anything’s on the hook yet.  To those of you who don’t understand fishing, I’ll give you hint – that’s NOT how to do it.

Anyway, back to my dopey Castro blog.  If you didn’t read it, I’m about to spoil the one small joke that was in it, so you might want to avert your eyes – or better yet, click on the title link above and read it, then come back to this.  We’ll wait.

…. It’s only 400 and some words, how long can it take him?!…what the hell!…still not back?….I bet he moves his lips when he reads…Oh!  You there??…Great to have you back with us!

So as I was saying, the sad little joke I made in the Castro piece was about a news story where Obama is going to go to some summit and wear a guayabera shirt.  As I learned from the article, a guayabera shirt is supposedly originally from a region of Cuba.  Castro was not invited to this Latin Summit and he found it amusing that Obama would be wearing a Cuban shirt to a party that Cuba was excluded from.  I’ve never knowingly seen a guayabera shirt, but I’m guessing it’s one of those blousey numbers with the plunging neckline and puffy sleeves like Fabio used to wear on the cover of romance novels.  Obama will look dashing in one of those.

Anyway, my joke was to mix up guayabera with chupacabra.  The chupacabra is a mythical beast which supposedly terrorizes the desert southwest and parts of Mexico.  I know, it’s a pretty sad excuse for a joke.  Maybe that’s why I kept it under 500 words.  You can only beat a dead chupacabra for so long, even if you throw in a few Pamela Anderson references.

So anyway, now I’m waiting for it.  Under normal circumstances, I clamor for comments on my blogs.  I prefer witty ones from people who know how to use spell check, but generally anything will suffice to feed my pathetic ego.  This time it’s different.  I know that it’s only a matter of time before some person with good intentions writes me a comment which tells me that I got it wrong.  They’ll tell me they liked the piece, to put me at ease, then they’ll “just let me know” the difference between a Cuban shirt and a mythical cow maiming dog-beast.

"No my friend, you're mistaken. While your blog was humorous, I'm afraid you were thinking of the chupacabra. The guayabera is in fact a type of shirt.. Don't beat yourself up over it - it was an honest mistake." (Einstein image from uidaho.edu)

The longer I wait for this inevitable comment, the more my brain churns out strategies on how to address it.  I treasure each and every one of my loyal followers.  For the record, I have enough of them now to form a basketball team with substitutes!   I wouldn’t want to lose one by embarrassing him or her in the quasi-public realm of the comment section.  I’m thinking that maybe the best way to address it is to respond with some glib quip like “Ooops!  Ya got me!” or “I knew I should’ve read the whole article! Doh!”

The suspense is killing me.

Point – Click – What?

Warning! This is not my usual light-hearted wise-ass blog.  Wise-ass blogs will resume immediately following this piece, I promise.

Today when I got to work, I had several emails waiting for me on the computer.  Most were the usual stuff, but one stood out.  It was from that guy.  You know that guy, that person at your job who is constantly sending you preachy emails in the name of some personal crusade he’s on.

Today’s email was about how the media spends all of its time documenting the poor life choices and general tragedies of the likes of Charlie Sheen, Whitney Houston and Lindsey Lohan, while ignoring the following 20 or so names of servicemen and women who were killed in active duty last month.  I don’t doubt that the names of these soldiers were accurate, and I already know that the media’s obsession with Hollywood bad-boys and bad-girls is rabid. I am also aware that as a culture, we are too wrapped up in the shallow lifestyles of celebrities.  The email up to that point was spot-on as far as I was concerned.

The next part is the confusing and frustrating part for me. The email went on to instruct me to re-send it to at least 10 more people to show my support for the troops and their sacrifices for our country.  I want to understand how this will work.  Do soldiers come home from a tour of duty and get shown the hundreds or thousands of email posts in their honor?   Assuming they see the emails at all, does it make it easier to find a job, heal from wounds or go on with life?  Does forwarding an email to 10 (or 10,000,000) people make any difference to the people who need support?  Sure, we’ll all be a little more aware of soldiers fighting for our country in Afghanistan and serving all over the world, but again, how does our increased awareness mean anything in terms of support?

How exactly does an Army private, hunkered down in the sand thousands of miles from home with zealots trying to kill him with roadside bombs benefit from this email?  Does the fact that an additional 10 people being aware of this sacrifice make it any better for the families of those who were killed?

Computers are wonderful things.  I’m old enough to recall what the world was like before every man, woman and child had at least one of them.  I remember writing letters, by hand, to family, to girlfriends, to old friends.  I can still think back to typing papers in college, trying desperately to avoid typos and working to get the footnotes right.  With computers, even a hack typist like me can crank out all sorts of slick-looking documents.  I can write emails and then send them to hundreds or thousands of people with the click of a few keys.

If I can do it, so can everyone else reading this, and probably faster.  Which brings me back to my original question: what difference does it make?  The answer is: it doesn’t make a difference.  It gives people the false sense of accomplishment that they’re not part of the lazy, apathetic horde.  Get it straight, you haven’t done a single thing, except bothered 10 friends and made them feel guilty if they don’t forward your email on.

A few weeks ago, I was at the local convenience store.  There was a gentleman behind me dressed in his desert fatigues.  He was buying a bottle of Gatorade.  I gave the clerk my money and said “Get his too please”.  The soldier was confused and offered his thanks.  I declined his thanks and offered mine instead before walking out the door.  Please do not equate a bottle of sports drink as being anything but a tiny speck of a gesture of my appreciation.  I’m not patting myself on the back here, but that stinking bottle of Gatorade was more than the masses of point-n-clickers did with that dopey email.

I’ve received many emails over the years, asking me to forward 10 or 12 or however many copies to my friends and family for any number of causes.  I’ve never been able to grasp how doing so will help anyone fight cancer, or MS, or support the troops.

May I suggest an alternate method of supporting the troops?

Wikipedia lists over 90 Veterans Groups from Confederate Survivors all the way up to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Here are a few links, I just found them, then cut and pasted with my magical computer in less time than it took you to read these words.  I did no research, I just picked a few.  If you don’t like them, type “Veteran Support Group” into your own search engine and choose one you like.

www.theveteranssupport.org

veteransso.org

veteransnetwork.net/directory.php

If you’re wary of giving money to an organization for fear that it will never get to those who need it, then give some of your time, or used clothes or canned goods or whatever.  If you don’t care to do anything, that’s your right as well (no lecture on your rights).  If you’d rather channel your money or time towards curing cancer or feeding the homeless, those search engines will work for that too.  But whatever you do, don’t kid yourself into thinking that hitting the “forward” key 10 times is going to mean a damn thing.  How about we get off our collective asses?

I unfollowed someone…It had to be done

This stuff is still pretty new to me.  I barely have a grasp on real-time, face-to-face etiquette, there’s just no way I can be up to speed on blog-site manners yet.

When someone clicks the “like” box on one of my posts (it’s happened to me a few times – VERY gratifying), I’m notified of it, and gently urged by WordPress to return the favor and look at the blog of the “liker”.  It seems genteel enough.  A polite gesture which, if followed, will increase readership and broaden everyone’s blogging horizons.  If someone is nice enough to follow me, I mentally applaud their impeccable taste and usually follow them in return, as it would seem likely to me that they might have something interesting to say.

More often than not, this strategy works pretty well.  Many of the blog writers I follow put out consistently interesting, enjoyable work.  Once in a while, it doesn’t quite work that way

As an aside, I must say that I was surprised at the home page of WordPress.  It seemed that most of the blogs which are featured were photographic essays.  I’m all for taking photos, and I know enough about the art form to know that I may take pictures, but I am not a photographer.  Still, taking photos of the foliage of Borneo hardly compares to say, writing a humorous piece about ones wife being traumatized by early TV exposure to Vincent Price in a bald cap.  I mean, let’s face it, the biggest challenge of taking those pictures is getting your ass to Borneo without forgetting to pack the camera.  Still, to each his own.  Since the likelihood of me getting to Borneo is pretty damn slim, I’ll enjoy the pics and let that subject go.

Anyway, the other day, yet another blogger “liked” my post.  Then they decided to follow me.  Not one to turn my nose up at a disciple, I returned the favor.  Big mistake.

It turned out this person just cuts and pastes anything and everything they find interesting onto their blog.  It may be a photo they saw online, or a piece of shiny metal they found on the sidewalk.  Occasionally they post written words, which appear to have been translated to English by someone who doesn’t speak it too well.  It’s kind of like walking on the beach with someone who’s never seen a bivalve before.  You can’t take two steps without being stopped and shown the new cool clam shell they found.   Only we’re not talking about something as limited as the thousands of genus and species of shellfish found on the Eastern Seaboard of North America, we’re talking about the entire internet and anything anyone has ever posted ever about anything.  If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this.  This blogger posted more than 23 blogs in less than 24 hours.  Some were single photographs, one was a memorial about Davey Jones written by someone else, still others were essentially bad, old jokes.

Wow! Check out these cool shells I found. I went all the way to Oregon to take this pic!

Since I’m notified via email when the people I follow post blogs, my email box was blowing up.  At first I was excited, thinking there was feedback for things I’d written or comment give and take.  Instead it was post after post after post by this person.  They had seen a sports car they liked and posted a picture of it.  No description, no editorial comments, just a picture of a car.  The photo looked professional and was doubtless taken by an actual photographer in some exotic locale.  The usual excitement I experienced when I see the little envelope on my phone quickly changed to dread.

What is it Skippy?  Did you find another oyster shell?

When I got back to my laptop, I unfollowed this hyper-blogger.

I recalled a fairly traumatic unfriending episode on Facebook with a co-worker.  I saw her daily, but when she annoyed me one time too many online, I unfriended her.  She ignored me in person for at least a year.  Not a huge loss, as she may have annoyed me in person a few times too.

I’m hopeful that this “unfollowing” doesn’t have similar repercussions.  Regardless, I can’t have people sending me knock- knock jokes, it interferes with my creative process.  No offense I hope.