Saturday, December 31, 2016

Anti-New Year Greeting Card (Take I)

Farewell, 2016:
Kiss My *rSe...


TO GO...



IN 2017!*

[*OH, aND...
don't watch
that bloody bALL



Sunday, December 25, 2016

Anti-Xmas 2016: A Holiday Screw You, An Orwellian Interview

Ramen Noodle Nation's 
Movers 'N' Shakers (w/LOVE):
Have An Anti-Christmas...
...And An Anti-New Year>

<"Anarchy Recipe">

Every time I visit a retail shop around this time of year, it only takes a second for my vision of Hell to register: Christmas music pumped over the speakers, making me eternally thankful that I don't work here. My chief aversion is "O Holy Night," but not for its religious content, honestly. That aversion started at my last day job, where I heard -- over 'n' over, to the point of Chinese water torture -- some crack-brained parody of  someone garbling the song in a shredded wheat-style falsetto. It was funny the first time -- barely -- at noon. By five o'clock, my eyes and ears felt glazed beyond recognition, having heard my clueless co-workers crank it God knows how many more times. Such experiences put the "nausea" back into "ad nauseum."

That said, why do so many of us feel so ambivalent about Christmas, then? I reckon it's the disconnect between the approved sentiments (birth of Christ, comfort and joy, goodwill toward men, blah-blah-blah) and the reality (crass relatives, food pantry visits, rich jerks bragging about their endless foreign junkets). For me, this season carried an especially bitter sting that dropped in mid-November -- when I got an email from my writing outlets, entitled, "Next Seven Weeks." That heading, as I quickly found out, provided ample reason to say "Oh, crap!"

The email duly informed me that the corporate masters were making immediate budget cuts, so I'd have to skip some meetings, and clear any other ideas in advance. That freeze will lift on Monday, in conjunction with that organization's new fiscal year, but the damage has already been done. Thanks to this sudden email stinkbomb dropping, I've lost about half my monthly income. There's nothing like a big "screw you" before Thanksgiving and Christmas to show you how little you matter in the scheme of things.

And I don't know what pisses me off more -- the lack of notice, the havoc wreaked on my household budget (slender as it is), or all the extra (rmainly, transcription) work I'm doing to staunch any further bleeding. So while I'm not out to dampen anybody else's holiday, I'm not getting caught up in all this artificial, enforced holiday cheer, either. When a financial landmine blows up in your face, "Bah, Humbug!" hardly seems like the ravings of Ebenezer Scrooge -- your favorite elderly, friendless, financially endowed killjoy, and mine. Right now, it seems like the only honest, sane response.

The Damned - There Ain't No Sanity Clause.jpg
<The Damned: "There Ain't No Sanity Clause."
1980 UK SIngle (Chiswick Records>

The story doesn't end there however. Squawker and I gotten a couple breaks to make the last eight weeks somewhat tolerable. A friend sent us $200 here. I made $195 there for helping track our county's vote results last month.  I'm cranking out transcription files almost every night, which will likely be necessary until February 1 rolls around, when my prospects might finally pick up again. (Remember, as a freelancer, you're typically paid next month for everything that you did last month. Hence, that email should have read: "Next 12 Weeks.")  And I've been pounding the pavement, searching for new opportunities.

Anyhow, last week, I spent half an hour interviewing with a transcription firm that works with the insurance industry. My test results looked good, the recruiter said. Only 2 percent of the initial applicant pool even gets an interview, she confided. (But I didn't feel that "space cadet glow," as Roger Waters calls it. Statements like those are part of the recruiter's repertoire, to make you feel: gosh, maybe I'm one of the Fortunate Few!) We had a cordial conversation, or so it seemed, and hung up. I'd hear something by the end of the week.

Word came last Friday: thanks for your time, I've no idea why, because -- like so many of these situations -- you never hear the rationale (anymore than I did for the budget axe wielded against my paycheck). All I got was a vaguely worded puff letter whose verbiage would have done George Orwell proud: "Unfortunately we are not able to offer you a position as an independent contractor at this time...Again, thank you for your interest in [NAME WITHHELD] and we wish you much success in your job search."
Huh? Come Again? Say What?

Uh, not to sound like a killjoy, old chaps, but...we have a language disconnect, don't we? An independent contracting position is not a job. They're recognized categories of labor, but they're not created equal, either. Jobs, however poorly they pay nowadays, tend to come with health insurance, 401(k) plans, and paid time off -- items that you rarely (if ever) see in the Gig World. (But if you do, take a photo, and email it to me. I'll keep it next to the flying pig that I just snapped cruising past my window.) Now that I remember it, the recruiter also repeatedly used the J (Job)- word during our interview. Either she really buys her own spiel, or it's another piece of ammo in her ass shining repertoire, I don't know. Take your pick: you're probably right either way.

 In some ways, I'm not upset. Like so many of these outfits, they were demanding a lot. Sign a nondisclosure agreement. Buy a foot pedal and three software programs, just so you could do their piecework. Submit to an annual criminal background check. I'm surprised they didn't ask me to Fedex a urine sample, really!  Of course, they waited until the eleventh hour to drop these little details. But that's not the point, is it?

Crappy as these experiences have been, they've hardened my will to carve a different path that doesn't involve giving away so much power to such outfits. I'm working on a few ideas as we speak; I'll let you know how they end up. The moral here? Whatever business relationships you enter, keep a keen eye, and a clear head. Why feel buddy-buddy with someone who doesn't see (or treat) you as an equal?  So, in that spirit...have a Merry Anti-Christmas, an Anti-New Year...and Bah, Humbug," all the way. -- The Reckoner

Links To Go: Some  Anti-Christmas Faves
(Hurry, Before The Copyright Nazis Yank 'Em Down)

Crass: Merry Crassmass

Damned: There Ain't No Sanity Clause:

Fear: F#ck Christmas Snoopy Video:

Kinks: Father Christmas:(W/Lyrics)

Graham Parker: Christmas Is For Mugs (W/Lyrics):

UK Subs: Hey Santa:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Guest Cartoon: Food Pantry Blues (Take I)

<Courtesy Of...The Highwayman>

Right, then...every once in awhile, something comes over the transom that simply defies description, let alone logic. Such is the case with the above cartoon, which came from a gent who simply calls himself..."The Highwayman." However, given the topic of our last post, I felt obliged to post it....the caption says it all, doesn't it? 

As for The Highwayman, this is what he's got to say for himself, make of it what you like: "Raising hell from the wilds of Glasgow, to the brick barricades of Berlin, and beyond, the Highwayman started life as a lapsed Lutheran...before migrating to post, post-punk, and post-dreams of 'good job, 2.5 kids, the picket fence 'n' the dog, all wrapped up in a nice little barbed wire bow'..nah, I'm well past all that now.

"For my manifesto, such as it is, let this verbiage suffice: 'Join the crusade against the crusade. Support your local loony now. He will never accept any honours from the barbrians. He will never pay any poll tox. He will never appear on 'Shop Of The Pops, 'This weak in parliament,' 'Naybores,' 'family misfortunes,' or the 'South Bwank Show.' He may only be your chance. He will always be - - - ON THE BUS."

Guess what, though? I recognize that passage from the liner notes of Ray Harper's 1988 album, Loony On The Bus, which happens to be in my collection. However, he'd recorded most of the contents in 1977, as Commercial Breaks. However, disputes between Harper and EMI -- over content, funding, running order, all the usual stuff -- scuppered its release, leaving the tracks to gather dust until Loony appeared, followed by the 1994 CD reissue of Commercial Breaks itself. (This ensured a lot of overlap between the Commercial Breaks and Loony CDs, though I suspect dedicated Harper-ites won't mind too much.) 

So, all that aside...keep those images, coming, Highwayman, and if they catch our fancy, we'll post 'em. After all...too many of us have spent more than our share of time "ON THE BUS." In one way or another. --The Reckoner

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An Open Letter: Dear Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry Operator...

Dear Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry Operator:

I'm writing this letter to discuss some trends that I've noticed lately, as I line up for the latest prepackaged box, bag or basket I'm counting on to fill up the (ever-increasing) cracks in my food budget.

Don't take whatever I say personally, or as a slight on the church or community group that you represent. Many of you who volunteer at such places are committed to helping out their needy neighbors, when it'd be a lot easier to stay home, or volunteer for a different cause. I've talked with enough of you firsthand to know.

However, like any good citizen I want to raise some issues that I'd to like see corrected. There are always better ways of doing things. Some are more practical than others: that goes without saying. But any organization -- be it a food pantry, football team, or first-class airline -- can learn from what its customers on the ground say. So please take my comments in that spirit, no more, no less:

1. Avoid stacking the deck with carbohydrates and sugar-heavy items. Lately, I've been seeing a preponderance of both categories, to the detriment of others -- like fruits and vegetables. Yes, I know, food's expensive -- that's why I line up for these boxes.

However, filling your shelves with the cheapest, nastiest stuff on sale -- lately, I've seen everything from Pop Tarts, to Oreo cookies, Ramen noodles, and the statutory boxes of macaroni and cheese that, apparently, are included by decree in every pantry kitchen -- isn't nutritionally satisfying.

Believe it or not, not every poor person automatically wants to eat Ramen noodles or Oreo cookies. Some of us care what we put in our colons, stereotypes be damned, and it would be nice to see you recognize this situation.

2. Consider allergies and diet issues.  Yes, I know: you can't cater to every imaginable taste on the planet. I get that. But it's worth remembering that some people have allergies or conditions that make some of your selections questionable, at best.

For example, my partner, The Squawker, has major allergies to fish and potatoes -- so what am I seeing lately? Enough cans of tuna to start a fish ladder, and box upon box of cut-price mashed potatoes to line the walls....which, as we say in England, is "f#ck all useless," and ends up a) tossed out, or b) given to someone who can eat them.

What's more, Squawker also happens to be a type II diabetic, which further narrows our options -- and why point #1 is so important. Controlling blood sugar, which is so vital to a diabetic's healthy existence, is less likely to happen regularly if half your basket includes a preponderance of food items that will jack it up. Just a thought.

3. Do a better quality control job. Be brutally honest about each donated item that comes in: "Would I really eat this myself, if I had no other choice?" The answer might surprise you. Case in point: last month, I reluctantly accepted a bag of potatoes, on the theory that I could either a) make French Fries out of them, instead of buying them, or b) recreate my dad's famed potato pancake recipes.

Guess what? I ended up pitching the bag, because its potatoes were in an advanced state of decay, according to Squawker's oh-so-keen foodie eyes. Poor people feel crappy and miserable enough without being stuck with the additional task of weeding out food items that will never grace anybody else's refrigerator, nor kitchen table.

4. Ensure, as best as you can, that whatever items you've chosen help recipients plan complete meals. This point seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many food banks and/or pantries that I've visited miss it. How can you tell? The closer you get to the four basic food groups -- bread and cereal, meats, milk, vegetables -- the more likely that you've got the big picture right. In other words, I shouldn't feel that you threw a dart at the grocery shelves, crossed your fingers, and hoped for the best.

5. Give recipients a decent, comfortable area to line up or wait for their items. One local church pantry that I visit semi-regularly stands out as a beacon of what not to do in this department. Their system requires you to sign up at 1 p.m., and line up for the food truck's arrival at 4 p.m.

This activity doesn't occur at the church itself, but its activities center on (you guessed it) Main Street. However, nobody is allowed inside the building for the 1 p.m. signup, which forces recipients to stand outside, no matter how poor the weather. I should know, having waited in 85-plus-degree heat during the summer, and single-digit chills during winter -- while the center's octagonal main room, famously designed by Frank LLoyd Wright, often sits unused and empty.

Again, poor people feel stigmatized and harshly judged as it is, without being forced to tolerate conditions that would sorely test the patience of a saint. Enough said on that one.

6. Strive to include harder to come by foods, like meats, in your baskets and boxes. For a long time, the above-mentioned church pantry provided my sole yardstick in terms of what to expect -- and I've only seen meats passed out there on occasion. Until I began visiting a local food co-op -- and a food pantry run by another, smaller local church -- I had no idea that any different options existed.

Yes, I know, meat is expensive, and not getting any cheaper -- all the more reason, in my humble opinion, to start showing a little creativity to fund it. For example, could you look at sharing costs with another church, or nonprofit agency? Could you plan a benefit gig to offset your expenses? Does your agency run a gofoundme page, where people can just donate directly? Considering how Donald Trump's regime is likely to act towards those on the bottom, a little creativity will surely go an incredibly long way.

7. Tame overzealous volunteers. As I've mentioned earlier, many of you who man the food bank/pantry distribution lines go above or beyond the call of duty -- sometimes, to your everlasting detriment. One example comes to mind from the church pantry cited in #5, which only allows six people at a time to enter its activity center's main room, where the 1 p.m. signup takes place.

Last summer, though, I ran afoul of the volunteer guarding the double dears on the center's street-ward side. Sometimes, he ushered in six people at once, but other times, an extra person or two somehow slipped past his gaze. Not me, though, however much I believed (after a half hour-plus wait) that my turn had finally arrived. When I tried to enter the main room, this guy literally jammed an elbow in front of my stomach to block my way -- and then slammed the door right in my face. Ouch!

While it's easy to blame such incidents on lack of preparation, or the stress that comes from dealing with a large crowd, it's also a cop-out -- because I haven't seen volunteers act this way at the other pantries I visit. Like it or not, perception is everything in today's society, and what does slamming the door in somebody's face naturally connote? "F#ck you, buddy, you're not wanted, really. Beat it."

Spend time training volunteers in the fine art of common courtesy, since they'll probably deal with all walks of life in the food pantry line. Food insecurity plays no favorites: I've met people with college degrees, high school dropouts, and ex-professionals who found the rung yanked out from under them when their high-flying job suddenly disappeared. Believe me, I've seen it all.

Above all else, treat clients like you'd want to be treated, with dignity, grace, and respect -- and I guarantee that most, if not all, the concerns I've outlined above will take care of themselves. Too often in America, the prevailing attitude towards the poor is: "Take what you're given, no matter what." Sadly, this same attitude often invites food bank and pantry operators to cut corners, and skimp on civility, or service, to their everlasting detriment.

Again, don't take these comments personally. I'm just tired of seeing the same stumbling blocks rearing their pointed little heads, again and again. Unlike our political leadership. I happen to believe that we can -- and must -- do better, starting with the proposition that we don't have to keep rehashing the mistakes of the past, such as continuing treat people like statistics.

Those hungry faces shuffling through the door, myself included, expect -- and deserve --- nothing less.

The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Before
Your Food Card Gets Cut Yet Again):

Feeding America:
Hunger America (Poverty Facts And Statistics):

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life's Little Injustices (Take IX): A Month Of Pain Pills Costs $100

<Those troublesome little Colcrys 
tablets, up close and personal>

I'll remember Election Day 2016 for a different reason: the emergency tooth extraction that I had to endure, the morning after millions of Americans mourned the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the presidency.  The need to take out this right rear tooth didn't surprise me, because it had been bothering me for several months. By Election Week, the situation had escalated to on-again/off-again pain and throbbing, to the point of putting an ice pack over my cheek (so I could get whatever passed for sleep).

Thankfully, our town has a clinic that serves the low-income and uninsured -- blokes like me, in other words. The only catch? According to their rules, I had to come as an emergency walk-in, since I hadn't used their dental services in so long. However, once I dragged my carcass down there, the waiting around -- and the inevitable paperwork blizzard that accompanied it -- took longer than the procedure. I arrived at 8:07 a.m., By 9:45 a.m., I was ready to go home. Not bad, in the scheme of things.

This clinic also a pharmacy, which is good, since -- if you're on being charged on a sliding fee scale, like me -- you can theoretically save money on your drugs. I say "theoretically," because this isn't possible in every case.  I paid $22.30 for the dentist's prescriptions, including $10.30, for Tramadol -- to deal with post-procedural pain that, thankfully, never materialized -- and $12 for Ibuprofen (of the 800-milligram super-duper variety). Good show, I told myself. Now, you'll have a stockpile for the next toothache.

I decided to stock up on my gout medications, while I was at it. I'd spent much of October -- and early November -- battling two different attacks that hit  my right ankle and right knee. Both kept me virtually immobilized, and confined to bed, for a couple weeks. As a result, I had to visit the clinic, which gave me a steroid shot for the pain. However, since I was broke at the time, I had to put off getting the drugs that I needed -- until my toothache forced that issue, and prompted my return.

That meant I needed Colcrys and Indomethecin, to deal with the pain and swelling, respectively, and Allopurinol, which you take to prevent future gout attacks. The pharmacy tech reckoned that the Allopurinol and Indomethecin would cost about $22, based on my sliding fee status. "Okay, so far, so good," I said. Between The Squawker and myself, we could come up with that sum. "Now, what about the Colcrys, then?"

"That's gonna be a bit more expensive..." The pharmacy tech knitted her brows together, and punched the relevant keys on the cash register. "Yeah, that's gonna be $100, for 30 of them -- $98.92, with tax."

"Wow," I said, "at that price, they'd better do the job, right? There's no substitute for this one, I take it?"

"I don't see one, offhand. I can leave the doctor a note..."

"Tell you what," I suggested. "I'll take three of them, to get out of the pain today, and come back for the rest."

"Sounds good. Just let us know when you come back," the tech responded. "You should try to get Medicaid -- we have a lot of those patients here, and they typically don't pay anything. Or not very much."

"Right," I said. "I'll look into that."

And so, I went on my way, having plunked down $22.30 for the dental prescriptions, $22 for the gout pills that seemed halfway affordable, and $9 for the Colcrys, to zero out the pain I'm feeling today. Who cares about tomorrow, or even next week?

Like millions of Americans, I'm not in a position to care about such things, because a) I haven't been insured for a decade, so b) the traditional medical infrastructure isn't obliged to deal with me, which means c) without places like this clinic, I'd slide between the cracks completely.

Health care is already maddening enough -- something the Affordable Care Act, however well-intentioned or ill-conceived it is, depending on who you ask, did nothing to halt. However, as so many savvy commentators have already observed, it's about to get a lot worse under Trump, whose minions will spend a lot of time repeating two bromides, over and over again, to people in my position:

"Sure, it sucks. You're on your own."

"You don't like it? Well, you just can get rich!"

I suspect we'll hear these mantras a lot in the Trump era, because he and his cohorts will never have to depend on the crappy health care options they expect those below them to live under -- and therein lies the problem. --The Reckoner

<Twenty years of household bills, all neatly filed away for a rainy day -- and yes, most of them are medical ones.>