Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reruns and Superglue

I'll warn you right up front--this is a re-run. Or "rerun", I guess, since Oxford apparently eliminated hyphens within words this month. It's five years old, though, so I doubt that many (any?) readers of this blog have seen it before.

I'm sure we'll all be glad when I'm done sorting through these old files...

Why doesn’t anyone ever superglue his fingers together anymore?

In the seventies, supergluing your fingers together was a story more common than the poodle in the microwave or the terrorist telling the gas station clerk to avoid a certain location on a certain date—but it wasn’t an urban legend. Oh, sure, some superglue legends have sprung up in recent years: the hapless victim unwittingly glued to the toilet seat, the creative revenge against a cheating spouse…but it was different in the seventies. Nearly everyone actually knew someone to whom this had actually happened. In fact, nearly everyone WAS someone to whom this had actually happened.

Superglue, of course, was modern technology in those days. We’d never seen anything like it. In an amazing television commercial, a construction worker dangled from a beam, supported entirely by a hardhat secured to the beam with superglue. We couldn’t believe it.

We couldn’t use it, either.

Personally, I glued my seventy-seven year old grandmother’s fingers together in an effort to glue plastic garbage bags (perhaps the one material on earth to which superglue does not adhere) together to create a home-made Slip-n-Slide. We were able, with a little nail polish remover, to separate her fingers before my mother came home, but a telltale crustiness remained ever after she’d bathed. She agreed not to tell my mother, but I was petrified. Everyone knew that superglue stayed FOREVER. I looked doubtfully at her fingers and contemplated the weighty possibility that I’d ruined my grandmother.

My husband laughed at me when I told him this story. It was easy for him to laugh. He’d never superglued an elderly relative to anything. The nearest he’d come was supergluing himself to a garden hose while trying to repair a cut he didn’t want his parents to find that he’d made.

The stories are endless. I’ll spare you the one from my college days where I tried to repair a broken fingernail with superglue while drinking and ended up getting glue on the rim of my beer can.

“Why,” I asked my husband, “don’t people ever superglue themselves to thing anymore?”

“We’ve learned,” he suggested, and then my six-year-old daughter interjected, “and the ones who are too young to learn hear their parents telling these embarrassing stories…”

It was a good theory, but I didn’t buy it. Everyone knew, back in the day, how dangerous superglue was. The warnings on the package were nothing compared to the ones whispered by people who’d glued themselves to their model airplanes and telephones, or set forth sternly by parents who didn’t think that even teenagers should be using superglue without supervision. It was serious stuff. We knew it. We revered it and feared it, and then we put our fingers into it and stuck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Power of...Anonymous Ranting?

I'll be honest. When I first saw the comment from "thechosenone" on my post about rape trials, I was inclined to ignore it. It didn't seem to warrant a response for a lot of reasons. For instance, having worked for years in and with domestic violence prevention programs, I've encountered more than my share of men who hate women but are powerless to do anything about it beyond the occasional burst of ugly language or show of physical violence. They were, as a class, a weak and ineffectual bunch, but even in that company, the Rev in his silly Dr. Seuss mask with his vague plans to finish college at some point seemed pretty irrelevant.

And then, too, there was the fact that no one seemed to be all that interested in his little rant. He posted a cute little attention-begging "I just couldn't resist" on his MySpace blog, and in the week since an visitor clicked through. If even his friends weren't all that interested in what he had to say, it seemed to confirm the idea that I shouldn't be, either.

Finally, but perhaps most important to me, his little rant was very poorly spelled.

Still, he'd randomly appeared out of nowhere to call me (and one of my friends, for good measure) a name I haven't been called since some drunken frat boy took issue with my desire to remain fully clothed more than 20 years ago, and then was so proud of himself that he had to post a link to his clever comment. That seemed odd behavior even for a 21-year-old guy in Indiana. More importantly, the issue of anonymous comments and how they affect discussion has been cropping up all around me lately.

Usually, it seems to me, when people use the veil of anonymity as a means of ranting without risk, they show themselves to be fools. That only makes sense, if you think about it. Although there are occasionally valid reasons for anonymity, for the most part what it means is that the writer doesn't want to be associated with his own comment. In short, even HE knows he sounds like an ass. Unable to provide support for his position, he resorts instead to rough language and misplaced gloating.

In the case of my little visitor, he's made his MySpace page private--now that the horse is long gone. Maybe he's worried about anonymous comments. he shouldn't be concerned, though. He should know that anonymous rants only make their authors look the fool, and that if someone DID have the poor taste to drop by his blog and curse and carry on at him, it would only make his position look more cogent by comparison.

The whole experience has clarified my position on anonymous comments. I've always thought opting for anonymity said something about the commenter's credibility, but I don't think I'd fully considered how anonymous negative comments can bolster a writer's credibility. The more vile, incoherent, rude, juvenile (and misspelled) a rebuttal is, the clearer and more level-headed the original statement appears. So I guess I owe the man from Crown Point a thank you...not only did he shed some revealing light on the very mentality the original post addressed, but he gave a little boost to my Technorati authority. So sorry I can't return the favor.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Word about Buying on Ebay

I have a book that I periodically offer for sale on ebay. It's a collector's limited edition book about Rick Springfield, and when the one and only print run ('cause it's a limited edition) took place, a number of books came out with scratches on the cover. Rick Springfield fans aren't the type who want their pictures imperfect, and no one who is paying for a limited edition wants to deal with scratches, so these scratched books were pulled from the initial sale.

The books originally retailed for $21.95 without scratches, but I've gotten upwards of $50 for the scratched books on ebay. One of them even appeared in the Marketwatch column in discoveries magazine a few years back.

On the surface, that might seem to make sense--it was a collector's edition and the sale is long over, so if someone wants the book, she has to be prepared to bid for it, right?

Well, sort of.

But here are a few things that bother me:

-I have a few unscratched, mint-condition books left, too, and every once in a while I offer one of those on ebay. I find that they don't command any higher a price than the damaged books.

-I often start the auctions with a buy-it-now price of $12 and stagger the listing dates so that when one book has been bid up to $15 or $20, I offer another one with a buy-it-now price of $12--but people will continue to bid up the higher-priced book rather than grabbing the $12 price.

-Worse, this happened even when the unscratched books were still available for sale on my website. People who could have purchased a new, unscratched book directly for $21.95 plus shipping were bidding nearly twice that much on ebay for a slightly damaged copy.

-People start the bidding war days before the auction ends, so that when it comes time for the inevitable last-minute escalation, they're starting from a much higher price than they would have been if they'd held off bidding until near the end.

I make an effort to keep an eye on these auctions and end them early if the prices get out of control. Judging from the reaction I've gotten whenever I've mentioned that, it isn't standard practice to end an auction early because your item is getting bid up too high. I guess that makes sense from a seller perspective, but it leaves me wondering how much too much the average person is paying on ebay, and what other options are being overlooked.

Just a few tips:

-Before you bid on something on ebay, find out how much it would cost to buy that same item from a store or the manufacturer (if, of course, it's something still available)

-Don't start bidding days before an auction ends just because other people have. You can't help yourself at that stage; you can only drive the price up.

-When you want to bid on an item, look at the seller's other items (there's a link right on the item listing page) and then do a search for the item itself and find out whether there's a buy-it-now price available that's lower than the current price on the item you're bidding on.

-Decide how much you're willing to pay for an item in advance, and stick to it--it's very easy to get caught up in the final minutes of bidding and go higher than you're really willing to pay. I've seen some of my items double in price in the last few minutes of the auction.

Monday, September 3, 2007

In the spirit of my last post...

I stop some mornings in the coffee shop at the train station--not the big coffee shop at the downtown train station where people sit and drink coffee and eat, but the little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop at the other end of the line, where one person hustles to play cashier to a long line of people with the same train to catch and keep a fresh supply of doughnuts on the counter at the same time.

Most days, that one person is Kitty, and she not only knows most of her customers by name, she remembers their children, their medical problems, their upcoming vacations, and a hundred other little things.

If you've been here before, you probably know that I'm not exactly a warm and fuzzy kind of girl, and so you may be wondering why I'm telling you this.

It's because IT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE. I can tell you that from personal experience, from mornings racing in to the train station and missing the train I was chasing, having run like crazy only to find myself waiting 20 minutes for the next train, rain pouring down, two-block walk from the parking lot, and all the while the health issues I've been fighting for more than a year bubbling under the surface, lacing my rushing and frustration with pounding heart and throbbing temples. On those mornings, I walk in convinced that the day has gone to hell already, that there's no turning it around and it's going to be a long one, and I inevitably walk out of the coffee shop laughing, thankful that I missed the damned train because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have had time for that three minute conversation that turned my mood around.

It's not just me, either. I watch the lines move, the high school students digging for their change while she smiles and talks, heedless of the work piling up for her, the slightly disabled man who needs a lot of help to choose a doughnut and a lot of reassurance that he's chosen the right one--everybody gets the same attention, from the high-powered, self-important businessman to the painfully thin old woman who seems to live at the train station. And virtually everyone reacts to it. It's truly amazing the difference a brief kind word and some personal recognition can make in a person's day, whoever that person might be.

Think about it, the next time you have to make a split-second choice between saying good morning to the doorman and hustling by with your head down, the next time you hesitate for a moment over whether to as the neighbor's son how his baseball game went last night. Thirty seconds invested in someone you barely know might make a difference that carries far beyond your imagination.


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