The Hess Report

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Not everything has to be cynical or nasty. Demonstrated:

On the Fourth of July, we had a small picnic at our house that, despite a torrential downpour in the third hour, was much fun. My parents were in attendance from their every-growing, ever-nicer compound in central Pennsylvania. After the guests left and the festive detritus cleared away, we waited for darkness. You can see the local fireworks directly from my back yard; even better from the incline in front of my neighbor’s house. So we (Joy, myself, Maddie, my Mom and Dad, but not Lucy who wanted to be put to bed early so she would be asleep when the Boomers came) walked across the yards and watched fireworks.

Joy and I agreed that they were generally uninspiring this year, but Maddie thought they were great, so that was something. When they finished I mentioned that it was at this time last year and in this very location that we had found a toad hopping around, that Maddie chased around until she lost track of it in the dark. As we walked back to our house, I noticed something small, moving in fits and starts on the pavement. It was our Patriotic Toad! Or one of his/her descendents! We couldn’t believe it. Maddie was thrilled beyond words, and I must admit that I thought it was pretty cool, too. And lest you rational naysayers want to poop on my good time, that is the ONLY toad I’ve seen here all year. All last year, too. Doesn’t prove anything, but… but… but he’s my Patriotic Toad.

So, overall, a great Fourth. My parents spent the night, which the kids always love, and we’ve been known to like a bit, too. The next day we go out for breakfast at The Original Pancake House. If anything ever happens to Joy, I’m only remarrying someone who is made entirely of pancakes. That is how much I love pancakes. I had the Hawaiian pancakes, which are five big jacks with shredded pineapple baked into them. You get this sort of marmaladey citrus syrup. It’s… reallyyyy…… aalrrlllll…

Sorry. They’re really good. So are the chocolate ship, the cocoanut, and the blueberry, all of which I’ve had. The omelets are these deep-dish baked things. The orange juice is only and always fresh-squeezed and it’s so pulpy that people routinely order a glass of it to chew. The only problem with the place is that the silly bastards aren’t open for dinner. Okay, so I’ve gone on about pancakes for too long. Next topic.

Afterward, we went to the Waterfront, which is a really nice way to spend a couple of hours. The waterfront is the temporary home to several of the fiberglass dinosaurs of Dinomite Days, which commissioned artists to design and decorate dinosaur statues in Pittsburgh-themed motifs. As we walked past one of the ubiquitous teenage jewelry havens, Joy jokingly suggested to Maddie that she get her ears pierced, much the same way we facetiously offer her coffee on Saturday mornings.

To our surprise, she said Yes. Joy looked at me, and I was like, Why not? So in we went. Lucy thought the whole thing was really cool and was talking about how she wanted to have hers done, which wasn’t going to happen under any circumstances. The clerk actually didn’t want to pierce Maddie’s ears by herself. They like to have two people on hand for kids her age so they can do both ears at once, before the kid freaks. So, we left, promising to come back in two hours, when another clerk would be able to assist. But YOU try getting a five year old to wait two hours for anything, let alone such an anticipated event as ear piercing.

About forty-five minutes later we were back, and Maddie insisted that she could do it. Joy and I both know that on the pain scale, ear piercing is pretty low. And we told her so. As Maddie has had to have blood drawn fairly frequently because of her thyroid (or, more specifically, the lack thereof), early on we adopted a policy of complete truth about anticipated pain. If your kid only ever has to get one shot, it might be worth it to lie, then play dumb when it hurts. But when they’re getting stuck with any regularity, you’re better off giving it to them straight.

And so she sat there, trusting our word that it would be a small pinch, then done. She was nervous but ready. She took a good deep breath and let it out. I told her “look at me,” which she did. Good concentration. Then, BAM! I could tell from the look in her eyes that it really hurt. Tears were running down her face, and she was saying “it burns… it burns…” But she held it together. The clerk set up for the next one. Maddie looked at me again. She knew it would hurt, but she sat perfectly still. BAM. All done. We wiped her tears, and a minute later she was grinning.

Good girl. Sometimes good things or things that you really want are worth some pain. Some people don’t get that during the course of their entire lives. Once again, good girl.

My Dad told me that later, Lucy came up to him, unsolicited, and informed him that she would not be getting her ears pierced. Fair enough. I’m sure she’ll be up for Hess family tattoos in a couple of years, though.

Nothing horrible. No one screaming or acting stupid. Just a great, great weekend. See. Not everything has to be cynical or nasty.

Google Yourself

I've been Googling myself for a while now. It's something that's a little (okay, maybe a lot) vain, and kind of embarassing to admit, but I'll bet that you've done it too. And if you haven't, you'll probably do it after you read this, just to see if you're mentioned or anything you've done pops up, etc. So, yeah, I've been doing it, but not a lot, and it's not interfered with my family life or made me late for work or anything, so what's the harm?

Where your name comes up on Google is subject to a bunch of different factors, including (but not limited to) name competition (if you share names with Dennis Rodman, you'll probably have to go waaaay back in the page store to find a personal reference), and how much exposure/participation you have regarding the Internet. When I tried it a month ago, I didn't hit anything referring to me personally until five pages back in the results, due to the fact that some German canoe company makes both Roland and Hess varieties of paddles that seem to be popular or something. I tried it last week, and Lo! and Behold! I had moved up to the front page.

In case I drop back down, I cached the page here, and yes, this is more than a little bit sad.

Anyway, what got me there was some artwork I had done using the Open Source 3D graphics package Blender. I'm a non-coding contributor to the project, which provides an Open Source, completely free, cross-platform 3d graphics and animation application which is not quite up to the Big Boys yet (Maya, Lightwave, XSI), but is getting better by leaps and bounds as a small army of eager volunteer programmers/enthusiasts from around the world work on it.

I've been using the package for a couple of years and my work with it is viewed in the community as quite good. If you're interested, you can see some of it at my art website. A couple of months ago, I received an email from the founder of the Blender Foundation asking to use one of my images on the official Blender website for promotional purposes. Of course, I agreed. And the credit line on that site bounced me up to the front page of the Google search results for my name.

So, hooray for me! Which, as stated before, is kind of pathetic.

Friday, July 11, 2003

The other day, at Einstein Bagels, just down Baum Blvd from where I work, I saw the most bitter, angry person I had seen in a long time. Bitterness and angriness (B&A) run on a broad scale, from being happy and cheerful even as you and your family are loaded into Saddam's plastic-shredding machine to heading for the bell tower because someone dialed your home phone number by mistake. At some point on either end of the scale, we simply stop calling those people happy or angry and just call them crazy, like the two previous examples. We discount people like this and rarely run into them. Things get weird, though, when you meet someone who is barely on the fringe of the normal areas of the scale, maybe even a little bit over the edge, but not quite so far yet that anyone who cares to do anything about it has noticed.

This is the kind of guy I ran into the other day.

Einstein Bagels is an okay place to eat. The managers are usually on duty during lunch rush and the bagels are fresh. On the other hand, they can't find anyone really efficient to work the registers, and it seems that the food handlers can put together complex orders faster than the register kids can ring them up. I would think it would be the other way around. Oh well, at least their coffee is sour. Ba-dum-Bum! Anyway.

It's my turn to order, and I just want a cinammon raisin bagel, no toppings, sliced. Which is what I usually get, about twice a week. The guy taking my order (not one of the managers today), has taken this same order from me at least a half dozen times, but he still looks at me like I'm crazy for not getting their giant lunch combo and asks in a surprised tone "Is that it?" Yep. That's it. "Uh, okay."

So I step to the side and begin the five minute line-toddle to get my food and pay. A kid comes out of the kitchen, walks up to the guy two people in front of me and says, quite politely, "I'm sorry, sir, but I checked and we're all out of plain. I have an everything and an onion left," referring to the two bagel-wrapped hotdogs he holds in his gloved hands. The customer he's addressing is a short, skinny guy with a big Adam's apple and a close brown beard that's growing out the whole way down his neck. He wears a t-shirt and jeans, held up by a worn heavy-duty leather belt with a cell-phone clipped to it. Most likely he's a construction worker from one of the local UPMC hospital projects.

Instantly, his face turns to a snarl and he points to one of the managers. "Well HE told me there was a plain left!" he half-shouts.

"I'm sorry, sir. This is all we have."

"He SAID there was a plain." And he growled it. I mean really nastily, rip-your-throat-out growled it.

Blink. "This is all we have. Would you like one of these?"

At this, the guy stopped responding, and looked down at his feet. His cheeks were twitching. I started to wonder if he could make it over the glass counter before anyone could get a hand on him. I was wishing someone in the place had a gun. There followed a brief, hushed exchange between the manager and the kitchen kid, the gist of which was "Did you look everywhere?" and "Yes."

Then the guy starts mumbling about how this is fucking bullshit, etc., etc., and I look around to see if there are little kids in the place, which there often are. None today. He goes back to swearing, shaking his head and counting his money repeatedly. About a minute of mumbling and sotto voce cursing later, he's at the checkout. The clerk isn't sure how to ring up his order, as it's not clear at this point what food he does or does not want. She says, quite politely, "I'm sorry about the invconvenience."

"That's okay," he says, sneering. "It's not your fault. It's HIS FAULT!" He shouts the last two words, and once again invokes the Pointing Finger of Doom towards the manager. The manager glares back. At this point, the stupid kid approaches the checkout and asks the guy if he still wants his soup. The guy then goes into his parting tirade, all said in a raised, agitated voice punctuated here and there by a hearty shout:

"NO! I don't WANT the soup! This is SUCH BULLSHIT! I just WASTED my whole damn LUNCH! Now I gotta go eat SOMEWHERE ELSE!" And then he turned with what I thought was a particularly quee flourish (I'm certain that he thought it was theatrically threatening) and stalked out. Everyone in the whole place looked around at each other for a moment, took a breather, then resumed their business.

I got my bagel and paid for it, and for the tenth time the checkout girl seemed surprised that I only wanted a single bagel with nothing on it. I headed back to work. When I sat down at my desk, I realized why I felt strange. To my surprise, I had been ready to fight this guy. You all know me, and I'm not really the fighting kind of person, but my adrenaline was pumping like crazy. I felt like I could jump about fifteen feet in the air and maybe, just maybe, open a older Compaq PC case without any tools. Had Angy Bagel Man tried to scale the counter, which I was thinking he actually might, I realized that I had been ready to make him eat the sneeze guard. Which, as I said, was surprising to me. I'll bet some other people there felt the same way.

Wishes and bets:

Wish #1: I wish the manager had thrown the guy out the first time he yelled.
Wish #2: I wish that everyone could accept a certain level of honest mistakes in life.
Wish #3: I Wish That We Could All Just Get Along.(tm)

Bet #1: I'll bet this guy hates the Gubment, because they wants to take all his guns.
Bet #2: I'll bet this guy gets in bar fights with regularity. That is, if he's even allowed in the local bars anymore.
Bet #3: I'll bet this guy JUST CAN'T UNDERSTAND how EVERYONE can be SUCH JERKS all the time to him, no matter where he goes.

Back to my original point, Angry Bagel Man is probably one of those folks who is on the far side of what we'd just call Bitter and Angry. He's so B&A, that he denies himself food over it. Pretty soon, he'll only be able to shop at one grocery store, fifty miles out of town because all of the other ones are out to get him, and from there it's only a short stop until he's only eating certain kinds of food, because Kraft and RJ Reynolds corporations are taunting him, personally, through their tv ad campaigns. I'd say that he has a lot to look forward too.

You fine people who live in Philadelphia or NYC, or any of the other great metropolises of this country, probably see wackos like this a couple of times a week. But here in Pittsburgh, our borderline crazies are few and far between. We treasure them. And so I hereby dedicate this story to the Angry Bagel Man. If you keep working, Angry Bagel Man, maybe someday you can take a rifle with you into the girders of your latest construction contract. Or you'll start poisoning the neighborhood cats. Or, hopefully, you'll be pulled over for DUI or reckless driving, and get violent with the arresting officer and find youself in the can for a long long time. And THEN you can yell at anyone you care to. I'm sure they'll be as polite and graceful to you as the guys behind the counter at Einstein Bagels.