Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Darkside of Social Media

One simple desire to build a word with seven little random tiles in an on-line game called Scrabble has led me down a path of destruction where I woke this morning to find my identity has been erased.   You would think that sitting on your sofa with your children while they do homework would be a fairly harmless event.   While piddling around on the computer, my son told me about an online game site where I can play Scrabble with strangers.  Sounds fun, I thought!  As I began to register to play, I discovered a button that says I can connect with my Facebook account.  How easy… How thoughtful of them to give me this option.   Oddly when I did this, I was instantly in my account with the screen name  “Darkside 902”.  Honestly, that should have been my first red flag.  But no… I wandered down this road oblivious to the violations I was incurring.  Curious about this seemingly dark identity, I asked my children how this came to be.   My daughter informed me that the screen name was just randomly assigned.  I should have known better.  My son gave me a better explanation that his friend was on my laptop and tried to connect when I must have had my Facebook running in the background.  This seemed reasonable and I bought it.  I tried to change my screen name, but I was stuck as Darkside902.  Heck – all I wanted to do was build a word or two, so I continued on my journey.   I didn’t know that my name would be posted on the side screen where I could chat with other gamers.    While “ButterCup78”, “LuluSmiles”, and “PJinMaine” built words fast and furiously, they chatted it up on the sidelines.  Nobody wanted to talk to Darkside 902.  Somehow I felt alone – ostracized by a bunch of alphabet wielding strangers.  I built a seven letter, 32 point word and exited the room with my head hung in shame from a name I never chose and somehow couldn’t change.   I closed the computer and went to bed – unaware what was occurring in the background.  As I woke, I discovered that my Facebook account had been disabled without warning.  No reason was given - just an immediate removal from the virtual world where I have 542 friends, 1050 pictures of my children and two messages from people I haven’t seen in 30 years.   I’m being punished and I don’t even know what I did wrong.   In the pit of my stomach, I know that it has something to do with that damn Darkside 902.  I knew it was trouble.   The name, alone, screamed trouble!   Years ago, my ten year old son was banned for life from a very large on-line gaming community for “real-world” selling.   Seems he figured out how to quickly earn large amount of points, buy precious commodities and sell them on eBay where he would then meet the buyer in the virtual world and hand over the golden axes, cloaks of invisibility and crowns of honor.  This, it seems, was a frowned upon practice.   I found quickly that there was no phone number to contact anyone on the website.  Your only hope for reason is a one-time appeal where you can state your case and hope that the virtual judges and demi-Gods will shed their grace on you and forgive you.   I wrote a letter that would make my college English professor proud and apologized for my little boy’s indiscretions.  An almost instant response came back that simply said, “NO – He may not play our game.  You may ask again, once only, and we may reconsider.”    I found that the site owners were from somewhere outside the boundries of the United States and did not have a similar justice system as we.  Nor did they have compassion, forgiveness or toll-free numbers.  I could picture them laughing on their little medieval island of pages and pawns enjoying those requests for forgiveness of sins.   After begging for mercy a second time, they now informed me that they were slapping my child’s hand from across the water and that he would never mine for oar again on their lands.  We accepted defeat and moved on to other interests.   I can only hope that the owners of Facebook do not live on that same island of exclusivity and want me to come on bended knee to beg for mercy for unknown crimes.    They too, offer no real-world contact… just a button that takes me to an appeal page where I can upload a government issued I.D. to prove my identity and hope for the best.  There is no space for comments, questions, or pleas.  I believe I am slowly transforming to Darkside 902 who is standing outside the social media world with my hat in my hand begging for mercy.  Oh wait … that would be a hooded cape in hand.  I forget who I am sometimes!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Salutations and Traffic Circles

I was recently in the grocery store when the cashier greeted me with a friendly smile.  Out of common courtesy, I asked, "How are you today?"  While this is a pretty simple question, it doesn't always come with a simple answer.  Certainly there must be a list of inappropriate answers that everyone should avoid using. When you are stacking your overly priced organically grown produce onto the conveyor belt, an inappropriate response from your cashier is... "Well.... I'm better now that the rash is going away.  I was doing good just scratching my lower body until it spread everywhere.  My infectious disease doctor told me it could take a few months to go away completely. "   A rush of heat instantly overcame me and and it took all my might to keep from screaming, "Drop those carrots and put on some gloves!"   This was not the answer I was looking for, nor did I want.   My daughter is a complete germaphobe and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I must admit.  About the time the words "Infectious Disease" were uttered, my child instantly began bathing in germ-X and hiding fruit that wasn't wrapped in a sanitary package.  What ever happened to the answer, "I'm fine.  Thank you."?  I've tried to explain to my children that when strangers ask how you are, they really don't want to hear anything other than a few words indicating that you are well and hopefully rash free.    There is a lady in town who I often run into.  I will say, "Hello" and she always replies with, "Fine, thank you."  This has puzzled me for years, because I didn't ask yet.  The natural thing to say after "Hello" is  "How are you?" but now we have already jumped right past that.  Sometimes I get flustered and ask anyway.  It's as if my manners are on auto-pilot and that question must be asked.   The conversation goes something like this:

(Me)            "Hello"
(Stranger)    "Fine- Thank You"
(Me)            "How are you?"
(Stranger)    "I'm Fine, I said"

           long pause....

(Me)            "Uh...I'm rash free."

Obviously we never have progressed much further in this friendship than the greeting.   Sometimes when I'm walking along at work and my mind is preoccupied with important things like budget variances, what tonight's dinner might be, or that woman at the mall with the really big hair,  I will get lost in the cycle of greetings and repeat the question making everyone terribly uncomfortable.    It always happens when you combine your salutation with the question addressing the other's welfare. They should never be joined as one.     I will politely greet them with  "Hello.  How are you?" and the other person will respond appropriately with, "I'm fine... and you?"  I will return with "I'm fine.... How are you?"   It is like one of those hideous traffic circles they have in lower Louisiana or Washington D.C.  Once you get in them, you can never get out.    At some point, you are forced to just lower your windows, circle for hours and yell at all the drivers - "Hello...How are you?"   I've actually made some really close friends this way.   Sadly, when you are standing in a hallway, face to face with someone and you have asked how they are one too many times, you need not answer when they ask about you because they have already figured out that you are obviously bordering on some kind of mental breakdown, just rude, or related to Dr. Seuss who is known for his wonderfully weird greetings:  "Hello - Do you like my hat?" "No I do not like your hat - do you like mine" "Yes oh yes I like your hat - do you like mine?"     At that point, you try to break eye contact and escape into the nearest office where hopefully you will not be met with those dreaded words, "Hi - How are you?"  The simplest things in life can sometimes be the most daunting.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Power of the Pyramid and Other Pointy Structures

Personal space comes in many sizes.  My family genetics tends to point towards a much larger personal space than most.  Creating, crafting and controlling our own little space is an involuntary function almost as important as breathing.   My daughter has understood this powerful inner driver ever since she was a very young child.  I know this to be true as I sit her looking at the teepee she has erected in my living room that she has transformed into her personal office.  Now, not many people have a teepee in their living room.  In fact, most people would not allow a teepee or any other large structure to remain for long in their living room if ever erected at all.  However.... each night as we begin homework,  my tiny princess enters the room with a zebra striped, hot pink book bag in one arm and eight foot poles covered in cloth under the other arm.  She quietly goes to work setting up her work space.  She carefully positions the structure so that she can see the television through one entrance and have healthy snacks delivered through the rear flap.   Eraser dust flies from both entrances as she dives into mathematical word problems and begins to alphabetize 47 words all beginning with “S”.  I understand that there is an unexplained phenomena about the power of sitting under a pyramid.  While the teepee isn’t a perfect geometric shape of mathematical perfection, it is a shape known to have properties filled with cosmic energy.  I was reading on line about the power of the pyramid and there are some very clear rules about managing your personal pyramid. Who even knew there was such a thing.  The first is that a pyramid is a very personal item and you should never share it with anyone.  I’m guessing that most people in this day and age that have taken the time to build their own pyramid probably will find themselves sitting in it alone anyway.  Now… as for teepees (near pyramid shapes) I notice that there is a steady stream of visitors to my daughter’s fortress and I’m guessing by the straight A’s on her report card and her 500 friends on Facebook that the power of the pyramid shape welcomes friends and guests.  There are often several pair of feet sticking out from the sides of the teepee and muted giggles coming from within.  This morning, I found two dozing cats curled up inside soaking up the mystical energy and leftover pieces of string cheese.  There were also empty juice boxes, forbidden materials in the living room, that were found laying near the cats.  I’m certain they will take the blame for securing the party goods and laying drunk amongst the discarded Juicy Juice boxes. Everyone, it seems, has been to the teepee, but me. So... Because today is the first day in some time that I have no luncheons to attend, school functions to be at, or demands to deliver forgotten items to children illegally texting from school in a panic, my plan is such... Make a healthy veggie sandwich, which nobody likes but me, drink a soda and sit in the teepee and let it reverse the effects of a week’s worth of stress and caffeinated beverages.  I’m planning on returning to work next week at least a year younger and with visions of great things headed my way all thanks to the power of the pyramid and my inability to say “no” to the wants of my tiny girl.

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...