Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stupid Tax

I have said for a number of years now that there needs to be a tax on stupidity. It turns out the joke is on me. I have been paying a stupid tax for the last 17 years or so on a regular basis. I even paid a stupid tax while abroad in Germany.
Are you asking yourself yet what I am talking about? What is a stupid tax?
In my case it is speeding tickets. 2011 has been my year of the ticket. I have been pulled over at least a dozen times this year. Almost all of those stops have resulted in a ticket. Luckily, in a few of those cases, I have been able to show that I replaced a head light or a turn signal bulb and got the charges dismissed. Most of the time though, I got a ticket for driving too fast. I got my ticket...and I paid my ticket.
I do want to call attention to the fact I am not complaining about the police. Knoxville Police Department has been the majority of my interactions, but I have visited with the Knoxville Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The most recent ticket, the one I paid today at $229.50, was a Tennessee Highway Patrol ticket. He pulled me over doing 61 in a 40 on Emory Road. I was speeding. He had me dead to rights. I earned the ticket. The police are just doing their job. It is my foot holding down too hard on the gas pedal.
I have heard a lot of folks complain when they get pulled over. I normally let out a resigned sigh and start praying that I have asked Geico to send me a current insurance card. A few times I have gotten a little nervous. I genuinely wondered on the 20 mile over ticket if I could be charged with reckless driving and arrested. The police have all, or mostly all, been extremely nice and professsional. It is stupid on my part to earn the tickets. It would be more stupid to put the blame on the cops who are just doing their jobs.
That isn’t to say I don’t have some funny stories about getting pulled over or earning a ticket. My Mom and I took off together to go take a total immersion German language class in Nurnberg while we were there. She conned me into driving, and honestly I enjoyed driving there. All the stories in the U.S about the Germans not having any speed limits are not true. Germany traffic laws are more complicated than ours are. They are also enforced in a very uniform way. I didn’t speed much while I was overseas. A speeding ticket is the last thing I wanted while bumming my way across Europe.
I did manage to get us a parking ticket. Parking meters are a bit different in Germany. You pay money into a toll machine normally located on the corner of the street you are parking on. The toll machine prints you out a receipt and you put that on your dashboard for traffic control to see. The catch to that is you have to make sure the receipt is face up. I was nervous about the class and in a hurry and I sat it faced down on the dashboard. We got a ticket in the mail. I paid stupid tax... even in Germany.
Another great ticket happened while I was fighting with my ex wife while we were dating. We had been arguing on the phone before I went to pick her up. I drove from Corryton to West Knoxville madder than hell. I picked her up and we headed back to Halls cussing and fussing all the way. As I sped up Norris Freeway in my little Buick Century Beth noticed I was speeding and said,” I hope you get a ticket” (I cleaned that up from the names she called me to go along with that statement. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to stop cursing.) No sooner was this out of her mouth than a Tennessee Highway Patrolman passed us going the opposite direction.
My heart sunk. There was no way he couldn’t have known I was flying along around 90 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone. I had brief visions of handcuffs and later fighting off sodomy( I was all of 18 at the time and not really realistic) Resigned to my fate I quietly and calmly pulled in at an abandoned business. A minute or so later I got a quite expensive ticket and a stern talking to by the nice man in the big brown hat. Beth laughed at me all the way back to my house. I don’t even recall what we had been arguing about, but I will never forget her mocking me for getting that ticket.
I wish I could say it took hold and I learned my lesson. Obviously 14 years later I am not much smarter. Though my primary Resolution for 2012 is going to be no speeding tickets. The idea here is that if I can get in the habit I will maintain it from here on out. The funny part of all of this is I don’t speed because I am late or to get where I am going by a certain time. I speed because I like going fast.
My Monte Carlo isn’t a fast car. I haven’t modified it in any way, and I know it isn’t a race car. Still I love to push that pedal to the floor and just go. I got tickets in my Izusu Trooper, which is perhaps the least speedy non aerodynamic vehicle ever made. I got a few tickets in my little grandpa Buick Century. I even got tickets in my Ford Aerostar mini van once upon a time. This is proof positive that it is not the car, it is the driver.... that is a complete idiot.

Well, I don’t plan on being stupid anymore. I can’t afford it!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Boredom

What do I do with myself now?
This post requires a bit of background on me. I am the only child son of an only child mother. My Dad has siblings although none who are very close even when I was a kid. I was and am a very spoiled kid. Being spoiled is nice, but the downside to not having brothers and sisters is I spent a lot of time alone. It doesn’t help that I am not good at maintaining friendships.
When I was little I learned very quickly that my mother had no patience for me saying, “ I am bored. “ or any variation thereof. If I made the mistake of making that statement, Mom was more than happy to cure my boredom with manual labor. Her choice of the task was usually running the vacuum cleaner. Her big metal Kirby made many, many trips around the house pushed by my scrawny arms. I am sure what upper body strength I had before starting school, and later archery, came from lugging around that big blue beast. I was never stupid, hated to vacuum, and I learned to keep myself entertained.
I believe it was the Harvey Danger song Flagpole Sitta that put for the lyric, “If you are bored then you are boring. “ Mom’s peeve with proclaimed boredom was a big influence on my life and my personality. I deplore boredom. I avoid it at all costs. It made me very self-contained in my interests. It also probably could be said my narcissism stems from my constant self-interest.
My Granny Mae was my constant companion in the war on boredom. We played outside a lot. With a stick in one hand, a steel pot on my head, and my Grandmother at my side I was the great adventurer Heracles, A Jedi Knight (don’t laugh it was the 80’s), or a soldier fighting across a battlefield during many a made up historic battle.
My Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection kept me thoroughly occupied. I was obsessed with the color and the detail of the cars and I spent more time putting on 1 man car shows than anything else. At one point my collection stretched end to end covered a four-foot wide path through my grand mother’s house from the front door to the back door with a few cars to spare.
I also was a Lego fanatic. Legos make my Christmas list to this very day. I had a big Rubbermaid tub I carried around that was simply packed with Legos. I built more castles than I care to recall. I loved everything with wheels and building tanks, motorcycles, and cars out of blocks were interesting and time-consuming. I even had a few motorized sets and was able to really make those cars run until I ran out of 9-volt batteries. Legos are a great way to stave off boredom. They remain so to this day, and now they have Ninjas!
When I was home I often spent hours on end plinking away with my trusty Red Ryder BB gun. After I could reliably hit what I was aiming at, trick shots became the stuff of my play. Perhaps I had seen the Davey Crockett movie too often, but I did frequently try to master shooting over my shoulder. I never did. Then again I never shot my eye out either. I was never bored shooting and I still am not. I lost the Red Ryder somewhere along the way, but I still maintain a few BB guns and several pellet guns. I must admit I still enjoy shooting air rifles and pistols. Even since I came of age and started shooting real guns I have yet to lose the fun of an air rifle. Granted my favorite shooting is done with reproduction muzzleloaders and my cap and ball pistol. I am never bored with a gun in my hand or most anything that shoots. Man, I miss my crossbow.
I have always liked to read. I remember reading comics, adventure novels, and mysteries as a kid. I still read my comic books and my adventures are now more written by Stephen King or Jim Butcher. Not much has really changed. I am as likely to have my nose in a book now as I was in my younger days.
As I aged my tastes have gone from board games to video games. Gaming was much simpler in the days of Atari and the first days of Sega and Nintendo. My parents had a neat Texas Instrument that played a few games. My main love though was playing Pitfall on the Atari. I always got eaten by the alligators. I also remember playing a game of cops and robbers, pong, and an overhead boxing game. The games were super simple. I loved every minute the paddle or simple joystick with its one button was in my hand.
When I was about 7 the Nintendo and Mario made a splash into the gaming scene. I was taken with the Nintendo and begged for one with a Power Pad and a Power Glove. My parents, always smarter and cooler than I am, got me a Sega Master System instead. It came with a built-in puzzle game, Hang On, and Duck Hunt. They also bought me Shinobi and Double Dragon. I fell in love with the Sega, but I still wanted a Nintendo.
I probably saved up my extra money for a year. I never had an allowance. Work around the house was my responsibility or a punishment for saying I was bored. By this time in my life, I didn’t admit to boredom even when it struck. My income came from bumming off my parents and grandparents and a bit of hustling at school. I was clever enough to con people out of pennies and dimes when the need arose. I was also that kid, gripped by Nintendo fever, who would do most anything for a dollar.
In the end, my parents bought the Nintendo. I might have scraped together a little money. I don’t really remember. I do know me being bored never happened when I had a game in front of me. Which is why I am starting to have a problem now.
The same things should not keep your interest as a child and as an adult. I still enjoy shooters, platformers, and RPGs, but the same simple storylines don’t keep me as interested as they used to. My tastes have evolved and the games don’t keep up.
In my Atari days, the point of the game was just to play. Win or lose I just liked having something to do. That remained true on Nintendo until I played with friends. Then it was about getting the high score or beating the game.
Dwight and I got very into the Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy series. This caused me to like seeing the story in the game. We also started collecting in the games. The second Legend of Zelda game really required you to find all the items and spells in game as well as spending time grinding out experience to get the magic and health meters maxed out. Gaming behavior is a habit. So while I would spend hours on end to level up Link and collect the extra rupees I did the same thing on Mario in a different way. Now it wasn’t enough to grab two warp whistles and whip Bowser in 30 minutes or less. Now I have to get there with 99 lives and the Racoon Tail attached to Mario’s butt and several pages worth of feathers, stars, mushrooms, and fire flowers as back up items.
Chrono Trigger further changed the way I played video games. Ironically, I just finished it on my PSP with all of the alternate endings and every item collected. The game came out when I was in middle school. Dwight and I lost a summer to it. Figuring out all the different endings worked out to about 13 boredom free play thrus. This was in the days before the Internet. We figured things out by trial and error and lots of saved games. We also made trips to the mall to sneak peeks into strategy guides we could not afford to buy.
Now I wanted to see the entire story and find all the secrets of the games I played. Once I was old enough to earn my own money I planned my gaming purchases to include the strategy guide. I would make a beginning to end playthrough of a game without ever opening the cover of the guide. I would try to work my way through to beat the game without help. Then, normally without any pause, I would crack open the guide, read it cover to cover and play the game again getting every item, collectible, and secret along the way.
I might play a game thru several times for different endings or plot points. I wanted to see every item. A lot of games gave you either-or choices. You could save a guy or get a great item. If you let the guy die he wasn’t there to open a door at a certain point in the story which cost you an hour of play to get around. Then again if you gave up the item and followed the guy through the shortcut you weren’t really strong enough to defeat the boss. Every game had choices and I wanted to see them all.
Then came the MMORPG. These games when they are first released have so much content it is impossible to have a life if you try to see even the majority of it. I am proud to say, contrary to the fact I spend part of my time talking to myself on my blog, that I do in fact have a life. I cannot play an MMORPG well so I don’t play them at all.

I have read so many books that I have my own library at the house. My video game collection might rightly be called a library of its own. Anymore though I am either at work, in the gym, driving from home to work or vice versa, or spending time with my family. I don’t have the luxury of time to be bored unless work is slow. I spent so many years training myself to keep myself occupied that I don’t know what to do with myself. The good news is I don’t have to worry about getting punished with the vacuum cleaner. I don’t have time to get bored often.

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