Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Adventures in Acne Treatment

I hate zits. I used to get them all the time, but then I found the miracle of Panoxyl 5% bars, which appeared to be benzoyl peroxide mixed into a bar of soap that you use on your face. What I loved about Panoxyl was its refusal to do anything outside of destroying the zits on your face. There were no lame moisturizers or lotions or anything else that would make your face feel not dried out. No, Panoxyl was all like, "We are going to dry every bit of moisture and oil out of your face until the zits shrivel up and die. Don't go out in the sun, but if you do, rest assured that the zits will be fried right off of your face, and the sunburn will heal in time." Yes, it was quite the product.

Then it was cruelly taken off the market. I should have been forewarned of this development, as I got an email at work saying that the pharmacy would be unable to get it anymore, but I took that to mean the hospital pharmacy wasn't going to restock, not that the product was disappearing from existence. Had I realized that, rest assured I would have started hoarding bars like Elaine Benes with the Today Sponges.

Today, after fighting a losing battle against the zits for a couple weeks, I decided it was time to go shopping for a new acne face wash. Into Walgreens I walk, looking mostly disgusting since I had just finished mowing the lawn and was about to take a shower when I realized I needed the zit soap. The massive, sensory overload inducing Skin Care aisle assaults my eyes as soon as I walk in. Judging its size, prominent position in the store, and the fact that it has its own checkout counter, I imagine the skin care department is responsible for at least 75% of Walgreen's sales. This imagining is confirmed, as my slight pause in the skin care aisle elicits an immediate "Are you looking for something in particular?" from the sales girl behind the special skin care checkout area. She must have thought I was lost, which would make sense, as approximately 90% of skin care products have some form of female model on the label. Instead, I immediately answer "Acne soap!" and she goes to the end of the aisle and says "All of our products are right in this section. Is there a certain kind you prefer?"

"Well," I say, "Panoxyl worked wonders for me, but it's off the market now," and begin shaking my fist at the sky. Seriously. I actually did that.

"Yeah, I've heard a lot of complaints about that, actually." I look at her, and she has nary any sort of blemish, zit, pimple, blackhead, facial scar, anything. I begin to doubt her expertise on acne products, but press on. Eventually, after she gives favorable reviews on Clearasil's Daily Face Wash, I buy it, despite two reservations, which I voice:

1. The active ingredient is salicylic acid, which I find to be less effective.
2. It says 2%, which is clearly 3% less than the 5% I had with Panoxyl. I don't care that the active ingredients are different; I need my percentages to match up.

During my purchase, I notice my friendly sales associate's actual title is "Senior Beauty Adviser," despite the fact that she looked all of 23, maybe. This means she either really knows her skin care, and has thus maintained the look of a 23ish person despite having 25 hard years' experience at the skin care grind, or, like me, she was given a job title that will require some explanation on any future resumes. Yes, unbeknownst to most, I am actually a Senior Rehab Therapist at the hospital, despite being the youngest and least tenured member of the department. I assume it's the latter rather than the former, and thus feel reassured that I'm buying acne soap from someone who, like me, is obviously a straight-shooter with upper management potential.

As for the actual product, it smells strongly of menthol and burns like a mother if it gets in your eyes, which is a problem since I tend to get zits on the side of my nose. My face doesn't feel completely dried out, so I'm not sold on the effectiveness, but only time will tell in that regard. Most importantly, my Senior Beauty Adviser has assured me that if I am not 100% satisfied with my new zit soap regimen, I may return it for a full refund. That's the kind of quality customer service that gets you Seniority status straight out of high school, for sure.

I'll keep everyone posted on the results, as this is obviously the hard-hitting investigative consumer reporting you come to this blog for.

Monday, August 29, 2011

On Acceptable Blog Content

What makes blogging awesome is that it's free (good for my currently income-challenged state), it allows me to have some semblance of a social life (in the form of regular commenters I will probably never meet but can still claim as friends), and provides me with an outlet to show the world how oh-so-clever and quirky I am (with the accompanying ego-massage a happy side-effect).

What sucks about blogging is that since I don't have one of those popular, daily, laser-focused blogs about a specific topic, I'm forced to search and scrape for material. Now, I could start one of these blogs and get a sizable readership if I simply commented on Judge Parker every day, but if there's one thing blogging has taught me, it's that I really don't have the attention span to write a post every single day, so I continue with my own minor obsessions.

The main problem is that most of my obsessions are, how you say, uninteresting to most people, or at least to the people I know read my blog, and I'm simply too considerate of a host to bore you all with why I think the vast majority of my fellow Colts fans are morons, for example. I've also learned to never, ever write a blog post about people I actually know, because boy howdy will it make me look foolish in a few years. And since I work at a hospital, I've stopped writing about professional foibles, as it would be frowned upon, even though I've always snipped names and confidential information. Plus, after five years, working with the mentally ill is no longer the new and exciting adventure it was when I first started.

The other major pitfall of my blogging style is that it is my overarching goal to appear happily deranged, rather than disturbingly deranged. This is tricky because I literally have no idea how many of my quirks are socially acceptable. For example, last Friday, I couldn't find my work keys, and while I was asking a coworker to let me in my office, he asked if I checked the pants that I wore yesterday and I reflexively answered "These are the pants I wore yesterday" before I could consider whether or not most people actually wear their pants 2 or 3 times before they wash them. I don't know. Apparently not, as he kind of chuckled and said, "Yeah, I've done that a couple times myself if I think they didn't get too dirty or anything." So, note to self: never admit you wear pants multiple times again.

So, basically, my posts are limited to

A) Bizarre, but funny, things I think about.
B) Strange random encounters I have with odd people in public places.
C) Interesting hobbies.

Choice C is going to be the sticking point. Right now, my hobbies are pretty uninteresting, and would probably reveal way, way too much about my nerdy loser core. For example, no one wants to read a blog post about how my party in Secret of the Silver Blades won an epic battle over Marcus the Archmage, despite his medusae turning three of my fighters to stone. If you do, well, I certainly don't want to write it, so I'm afraid you'll be left wanting. Similarly, I'm not sure the unwritten blog post "My Dog Keeps Jumping On Me Even Though I Ignore Her When She Does" is going to be one for the Greatest Hits reel.

So, I must find some new form of hobbies, preferably ones that involve strange and interesting people to interact with. Frontrunners include joining a community choir, finding out if the Richmond Symphony Orchestra allows Mellophonists in, trying to start an angry letter-writing campaign demanding the inclusion of mellophones in the RSO, and obtaining a mellophone and honing my somewhat rusty mellophone skills (I still remember all of the fingerings and can play "When the Saints Go Marching In," at least, and in my experience mellophone parts were never overly complicated). Since the mellophone angle sounds like a bit of an expensive long-shot, I think I'll take the choir route.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Hand Drying

I'm not sure when the hygienic ritual of hand-washing after using the bathroom started, although I believe it is outlined in Leviticus somewhere. Unfortunately for God's Chosen People and all subsequent generations, Moses did not specify proper drying techniques while outlining the procedures for purifying one's self after a bowel movement, and the result has been the erratic and counter-productive evolution of the hand drying industry. Truly, no aspect of everyday life is as much of a testament to the coming Idiocracy than paper towel dispensing.

Back in olden times, paper towels were dispensed via a stainless steel box attached to the wall with a sloped slot at the bottom. The box was filled with paper towels that were folded in such a way that one would come out through the sloped slot at a time, providing the user with a hands free dispensing system. If one's hands were still wet after using a paper towel, one simply grabbed another. To reload the dispenser, one just put more towels on top of the existing towels, or dropped a new set in and pulled the first one out to get the set started. This system is known as the "tri-fold" and it is no longer used anywhere except for that church your mom goes to that hasn't been remodeled since 1971.

Then, one day, a man thought, "My hands are still wet even though I already used a paper towel," became outraged, and rather than simply getting another paper towel, devised a new system to dispense however much paper towelage one requires. I'm not sure on this, because I wasn't there, but I believe his system used a roll of towels instead of individual towels folded over each other and employed a crank to dispense them. Now a person needed to expend manual labor to crank out as much towel before tearing off the towel on the jagged edge. Reloading became slightly more difficult, as the roller apparatus needed to be disassembled to fit a new roll in and the towel needed to be loaded so it would unroll a certain way and needed to be fed through the dispenser or else it would jam, resulting in no towels for anyone.

This system eventually would be replaced after a cranky teacher aide for the second graders complained about all the paper towels the boys wasted in the bathroom and devised a new dispenser, the lever. To work the lever, one simply pulls a lever down on the front of the dispenser, similar to the lever on a toaster, and a paper towel is dispensed so the user can tear it off. This allowed the teacher aide to tell the boys they couldn't get more than two lengths, and allowed the 2nd graders to hold the paper towel in the dispenser and pump the lever until it jammed, then pulled out a huge length of paper towels that was scrunched up like an accordion, much to the dismay of the T.A. Also, with even more internal moving parts, the possibility for something to break or go wrong was increased again.

It wasn't until The Wussiest Generation took power that a new revolution would come in paper towel dispensing. The Wussiest Generation, seeing the potential for germs to spread on the handle of the paper towel dispenser that had just been touched by people who had, uh, just washed their hands, devised bold, new designs that would allow the paper to be dispensed automatically so that all the person had to do was pull down. These designs always failed miserably, and the towel jamming in the dispenser was so common that all of them had troubleshooting guides to tell you exactly how to unjam it, usually involving a complicated system of buttons and wheels that needed to be pressed and turned. Still, a small price to pay to stop the spread of cholera.

Then, one day, the finishing touch was applied to paper towel dispensing when a brave corporate drone realized that while we had succeeded in making paper towel dispensers less hygienic, more likely to break, and less convenient in the past few decades, we as of yet had not found a way to make them waste electricity. And so, the motion detector was added to the paper towel dispenser, opening up the possibility of dead batteries, motion sensing errors, and undetectable jams to all of the other problems created. Still, a hard fought victory was won, and the people now had a paper towel dispensing system that did not require them touching anything that someone else had touched, required no work on the part of the user, and dispensed a set amount of paper towel to reduce waste. Just like the tri-fold dispenser at your mom's church, only dumber, more wasteful, and much more likely to break.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Did the Soviets ever agree to share that Punch Computer technology?

Remember my ongoing quest to watch all of the Best Picture Oscar winners? It continues, and I am current through 1953's From Here to Eternity. It has truly been one of the better ideas I have ever had and has enriched my life greatly.

How has it enriched my life? Well, that's hard to define. I have more emotional range? I think about issues I didn't think about before? My horizons are broadened? I have a better appreciation of movies as art? I get cultural in-jokes that went over my head previously?

While thinking about how I would convince someone that watching a bunch of old movies is worth their time, it occurred to me that I need some concrete, real-world benefits from my movie watching to point to. And so I begin a new project, probably to be never mentioned again and forgotten after this post, to find a way to use the movies I watch to improve my life. We start with the iconic winner from 1976, Rocky.

Unlike most viewers, I feel the real take-home message from this picture is that the key to success is to make yourself as miserable as possible and give yourself every possible disadvantage. Rocky trains by beating up cow carcasses hanging in a butcher's freezer. In the third installment, he leaves his state-of-the-art fancy pants personal training center to train with Apollo Creed in the disgusting gym populated by, horror of horrors, poor black boxers who have nothing except for the Eye of the Tiger. In Rocky IV, he jogs up and down mountain in Siberia while coddled nancy boy Ivan Drago runs on a treadmill with electrodes taped to him and uses the Soviet version of the Commodore 64 home computing system to analyze his punching power.

As such, today I stocked my garage with an exercise mat, resistance bands, and a set of 20 lb dumbbells to form a very primitive gym. As my garage is not remotely climate controlled, it frequently reaches temperatures approaching 100 with little air circulation to be found. I shall now begin my routine of working out in these intolerable conditions (with nary an electrode to be found, mind you) until I have the physical and mental strength to almost but not quite succeed at, um, something or other. I seem to have forgotten that I have to have a goal in place first, but then again, that was never a problem for Rocky. In fact, Rocky was pretty much a loser with absolutely nothing going for him until Apollo offered him the exhibition match. New plan: I'm going to continue being a loser with very little going for me until I receive the opportunity of a lifetime, at which point I will begin using my miserable new hot garage gym to gain the ability to succeed, only to just barely fall short. Inspiring.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brave New Blogger

Today in a comment, Liz mentioned that it was great to have me back in the blogging community. Unfortunately, she spoke too soon, for I'm afraid a lot has changed in the past 4 years or so. I am no longer the carefree, optimistic, and endearingly self-absorbed goofball I was in 2007 or whenever it was this blog used to be updated. No, no, this is not a return to my former whimsical glory; rather, it is a gritty, tortured reboot of the blog, sharing (for now) only the silly name in common with its predecessor, like the blogosphere's version of Funky Winkerbean.

You see, deep dark themes are taking over. For example, back in 2007, I was relatively convinced that if politicians I liked and supported could only get elected somehow, then maybe our country's rapid descent into hell could be reversed, or at least somewhat slowed. Now, I'm faced with the fact that we have a president who I voted for twice, who went to every length on the campaign trail to prove that he cared about issues I care about, and who has gone on to continue virtually every bad idea I voted for him to change. I can only assume this was by design, and that I actually live in a one-party police state whose main priorities involve transferring wealth from the poor to the rich and providing all of the deltas with enough soma to keep them from storming the gates. Somehow this involves baseless acts of aggression against countries who have oil; the basic calculus of the plot is unfortunately beyond my grasp.

Next, I had ingenious plots once upon a time. When I started at the state hospital, I had a bold vision, a master plan. At the time, there were big rumors about the hospital privatizing, which had everyone living in a state of fear and anxiety except for me. I figured if the hospital privatized, people would leave, there would be more positions open that required 4 year degrees, and since I was one of the few people who had one, and I already had a foot in the door, I'd be first in line. Well, the hospital never privatized, but my general plan to get a foot in the door and step into the first opening that appeared eventually proved fruitful, albeit I had to get my foot in a few more doors before it happened. Now, I have a rather enjoyable job, which compensates me fairly; my youthful optimism has since morphed into garden variety middle-class ennui. Which, obviously, is much less fun to write about, and even less fun to read about, which is why this paragraph is ending right now.

Moving on, I'm not even youthful anymore. Now, I have always been old for my age, as my extensive collection of board games and earlier comment about a newspaper soap opera comic can attest, but now my age is actually catching up with my oldness. I soon will no longer be in the "hip kid in his twenties" demographic and will be moving into the "trying too hard guy in his thirties" demographic. While I don't mind being the butt of jokes, I generally prefer that the jokes in question be mine.

So with no further ado, the management will announce the following changes to the blog:

1. We will now refer to ourselves in the plural, like royalty. We will also occasionally refer to ourselves in the third person as "the management." We feel this pompous tone gives us that extra gravitas that such a serious endeavor as this blog should command.

2. We shall be changing the title of the blog from "The Ballpoint Banana" to rid ourselves of the blog's connection to the insipid and frivolous Batman: The Movie from 1966. The new title of the blog shall be "Why So Serious?" which we are told is from the second installment of the very dark and gritty critically-acclaimed reboot of the Batman franchise.

3. The color scheme shall be changed, hopefully to something involving black, silver, and red, to further illustrate how mature and serious the blog is.

4. "Monday Morning YouTube" will be replaced with "Monday Morning Leonard Cohen Lyrics."

5. The management will no longer chronicle their sartorial selections, as the new dress code of the blog will consist of black turtlenecks and only black turtlenecks.

6. All readers and commenters shall be addressed in the most condescending and dismissive manner possible, as none of you can possibly grasp the seriousness of all this seriousness.

So, we hope you "enjoy" our new format, although we suspect most of the readers will be put out, as most would prefer to live in their deluded, sheltered state rather than stare deeply into the face of the cruel, cold world in which we live.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bullets of Filler Material

Blogging is hard, and I remember now how much I suck at it. Until something sufficiently wacky and interesting happens, we resort to the dreaded bulleted list.

Bullet No. 1: I took my car to my mechanic to get my tire patched and plugged. He took one look at the pathetic, treadless slab of rubber I dragged in, had pity on me, and informed me that the tire was not worth the $15 I was about to put into it. I explained that I didn't have any money for a full set and just needed something to get me a drivable vehicle again. After inspecting my car and his used tire selection, he found two almost but not quite as bad used tires and discovered that my high quality rear tires could be rotated to the front while his used tires could work fine in the back, and then did it all for $30, cutting me a nice deal because "You've thrown a lot of business my way," which is a nice way of saying "Thank you for driving shitty death traps." So a big shout out and thank you to my friends at Ronan's in Richmond.

Bullet No. 2: I just walked to the VP down the block and purchased a Powerball ticket and a $3 bottle of clearanced wine (Gallo Family Vineyards Chardonnay). Convenience store professionals refer to this combo as "The Cry For Help."

Bullet No. 3: My other ancient car, the 1990 Plymouth Horizon, also has a flat tire from the alley debris from the idiot across the alley. Unfortunately, due to the advanced state of rust on the lugnuts, I am unable to change it myself. "But Andy," you say, "just loosen the lugnuts before you jack it up." Oh, I tried. It turns out, all evidence to the contrary, I am actually strong enough to lift the car off the ground and spin the tire before the lugnuts will loosen. On the plus side, this means I can probably carry the car to the mechanic with relative ease.

Bullet No. 4: If this clearanced wine is at all drinkable, every one of siblings is getting a bottle for Christmas.

Bullet No. 5: Blogger's examples of post labels, known as "tags" to people who actually speak Internet, are "scooters, vacation, fall." I'm going on record right now by saying that taking a scooter vacation in the fall would be a ton of fun. Unless by "fall" they mean "falling off the scooter." That would be less fun.

Bullet No. 6: Speaking of scooters, I went running the other day. I ran by a group of people congregating outside of a garage. One of them yelled, "There goes killer! Watch out, don't fall!" at me, I assume, as there were no other people on the street. I was utterly confused until I saw that he rode in on a scooter, and thus was probably intoxicated. I should refer him to the VP, or better yet, trade him a case of my clearance wine for his scooter.

Bullet No. 7: The VP also has Mad Dog 20/20 on clearance. Dad will be getting one of those.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Name is Andy

The past few weeks have been full of struggles. And minor catastrophes. And a couple major catastrophes. And setbacks. Oh Lordy, how there have been setbacks. Indeed, by any objective measure, this has been the most backsetting month of my life, with no end in sight. It has gotten to the point where after every soul-crushing setback, I wait for the other shoe to drop, which it invariably does, repeatedly, again and again and on and on, as if I'm being trod upon by a dancing 8-legged OctoGiant. Times are tough, as they say.

I won't bore you with all the gory details of the problems afflicting my normally idyllic existence, which are legion. Instead, it occurred to me today, while I was climbing through the backseat of my Nissan to manually unlatch the trunk from the inside so I could change the tire that had flattened after I ran over a piece of stray brick from my idiot neighbor's overflowing shed of garbage, that I have a simple, easily solvable case of Bad Karma, and, as such, need to find the source of the bad karma and address it. I have been racking my brain all evening in search of the origin of the malaise, my unforgivable sin that spawned a thousand tears. And while it may be simply a side effect from the mild concussion I suffered after I was able to unlatch the trunk only to not push the trunk door up far enough for the pneumatic device to catch and hold it causing it to fall back down upon my then extended head, but I think I've found the offending action.

Three weeks ago, on July 21, I was at CVS with very limited cash on hand buying some necessary supplies when the associate pointed out that they were running a charity to buy and send sunglasses to soldiers in Iraq. I politely declined to participate and silently went all Ebenezer Scrooge on the concept in my head. "I'm sorry, but did we suddenly slash our defense budget so much that the military is relying on me to pay an extra dollar for the cheapest possible sunglasses on top of the massive tax money they already receive? And even so, soldiers are compensated fairly, so shouldn't my charity dollars go to people who have little or nothing or lack the ability to provide for themselves? And also, soldiers chose to go to Iraq. Shouldn't they be prepared to deal with the sun?" I left the store feeling absolutely no guilt or remorse about the affair, forgetting that I had once decided as a rule to never refuse help when it was asked of me and I was able to pitch in.

What I didn't realize is that somewhere in Iraq, a soldier who sends most of his money home to provide for his sickly mother, his pregnant wife, and his adorable two year old was unable to purchase sunglasses from the PX and, while patrolling the desert, eyes dried and scratching from the sand and the heat, shook his fist at the sky and cursed the man responsible for his unfortunate situation.

And so tomorrow, between tire repairs and work, I must venture forth on a noble quest to win a stay from the onslaught of karmic retribution coming my way. If CVS is no longer participating in the charity, I have no idea how to make amends. If the three seasons of My Name is Earl I watched are any indication, wacky hijinx and unforeseen complications will arise. But I remain resolute. Sunglasses for the masses, says I.