Why You Shouldn’t Fuck with Anyone

I’ve had a few different jobs over the course of my life, and at each I’ve learned something that I could take with me for the rest of my life. How to deal with people, how retail markups are calculated, transport logistics, what types inspectors business owners in different industries have to bribe to keep their doors open etc. You know, how to get by in life. But, additionally, each of these has taught me new and interesting ways to screw over people who have pissed me off. A few of my favorites follow.

Paper and Printing

For a while I worked in a paper warehouse, dealing with all sorts of people in the printing industry. Though not as exciting as The Office may have lead you to believe, paper is still considered a commodity, and while print shops have been going the way of 8-track manufacturers, we’re a good way from the paperless utopia we’ve been promised. Here I learned about the important difference between grain short and grain long, that cover snaps while text flaps, how to translate the two different systems of paper weights, and that if you confuse bone with ecru on an order a Jewish lady will rip you a new asshole for ruining her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah because the invitations were the wrong color. The most important lesson I learned, however, was that the power of the press belongs to those who run one.

I will relate a story of petty revenge against business fuckery and one against a personal douche. If you run a small business, particularly a local restaurant, you may use a common marketing ploy and offer a discount or free meal to frequent customers. These promos are particularly popular with pizza joints. I feel confident in saying that most people have probably used a “buy 10 get 1 free” pizza coupon at some point. Or, at least collected them in a junk drawer and forgotten they existed until after they expired. It would seem like common sense, but if you ever pay a printer to make those nice coupons for you, make sure you pay them. If you don’t, you deserve the sudden influx of free pizza coupons that will inevitably show up because the guy who produced them gave stacks to all their friends and family. That’s not so creative or terrible, though.

Most print shops make more than just invitations and paper flyers. A lot of them print boxes, silkscreen shirts and signs, and make stickers. Bumper stickers are a bit less popular thanks to the internet and social media campaigns. Until a few years ago they weren’t just a mark of extreme right or left wing insanity, but were used to tell people what your other car was or what you’d rather be doing. What I’m trying to say is that not just crazy people put stickers on their car just a few years ago. And because they were forever, quick to produce, and relatively low cost for the exposure they can provide, a lot of non-profits and charities used them to spread their messages. And if you piss off a printer they may run a few hundred bumper stickers that read something along the lines of “Depressed? Don’t give up. Call 555-555-5555 for counseling 24 hours” and slap them on cars and in high visibility spots around town. Especially outside of bars. Imagine if every sad drunk in a city saw your phone number when they were most likely to call a help line and cry into the phone. Especially at 3 am. If you’re the kind of person who can deal with the possibility of a real and true depressed person at what may be their lowest point calling someone completely unqualified to help them and is likely to curse them out, this is a wonderful way to ruin someone’s day.

Cellular Phones

I worked for a major cellular provider doing end user support. While there I learned how just about anyone can take advantage of cellular carriers’ policies and technology to screw over their fellow man. While tech geeks and phone enthusiasts may know what a PUK code is, your average individual has no idea. For those who are in the majority, a PUK, or Personal Unlock Key, is a secondary level of security for cell phones that use SIM cards. If you have a PIN programmed in your phone to keep people from snooping and it’s misentered 3 times in a short period, your device may ask you to enter a PUK. This number can only be obtained by contacting the phone carrier. Enter the PUK wrong 10 times and the phone’s SIM card is locked, essentially turning the phone into a brick until they get it replaced, cutting it off from all network access. This is a great one for that asshole who sets their phone on the bar while they try to grope unappreciative women.

If you know the name and phone number for the target of your ire, along with who their cellular provider is, you can make their life unpleasant for quite a while. When calling just about any service provider, be they cellular, cable, utility, or other, people have to provide some sort of PII, personally identifiable information, to gain account access. What PII is used can vary, but will usually include an account number, name, and often the last 4 digits of a social security number or a password. This is done so that unsavory individuals with ill intent can’t call the phone company and cancel your account or order a few thousand dollars of pay per view porn to your cable bill. It can make calling for basic help annoying, but it’s understandable. What you… I mean a hypothetical vengeance-seeking person with few scruples, probably a Cuban, can do is suspend their service.

The only thing that a representative is allowed to do to an account without receiving positive identification over the phone is suspend service. The logic is as follows; if someone has their purse, or satchel if they’re a dude, stolen with their phone in it, they might not have access to that information, and the company would prefer to be safe over sorry if someone’s gotten a hold of their customer’s phone. I know of at least one person who had a pissed off ex continually call in and suspend their service as stolen, even though their account had notes all over it explaining what was going on. The customer service reps had no choice but to suspend the phone. It went on until the customer closed her account and opened a new one with a different phone number under a variant of their first name.

Auto Parts

I did a part time gig delivering auto parts for a while. The drivers were a mix of young guys who needed beer money and bored retirees from the auto industry. Here I learned from one of those retired mechanics that sugar in a gas tank is not the engine destroying catastrophe that urban legend would have you believe. It can do some damage to a fuel filter and their fuel injection system, but nothing that’ll stop the car and can’t be fixed pretty quickly. If you really want to get somebody, what you need is a ping pong ball.

Cars are pretty simple in function. A driver (you in this case) presses down on the gas pedal, which draws gas from the tank into a pipe that leads to the engine. The more gas being fed to the engine, the hotter it burns, and the faster the car goes. Ping pong balls float. Drop one into a gas tank and it’ll float to the top. As the gas level drops, it will get closer to that pipe leading to the engine. And, usually when the tank is about half full, the suction will be enough to suck that ball into the pipe, cutting the flow of fuel and stopping the car. So, your car will stop as though it’s out of gas, but the gauge shows half full. Additionally, after the engine shuts off, the suction will stop and the ball will float back to the top of the gas tank, so you can restart the engine, at least until you give it too much gas. And there’s no way to really know or fix the issue without dropping the gas tank.

I think this one’s my favorite.


You Think Buying Clothes is Hard?

There are innumerable lists to be found throughout the depths of the internet about how terrible it is being tall, because people ask if you play basketball, or make stupid comments about the weather. While those things are absolutely terrible, largely because it forces you to talk to people. And people suck. Mostly because they constantly comment about how tall you are. So, I guess those lists are pretty understandable. But, there’s worse things than being asked to get things off the high shelf. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll be discussing men over 6’3″ and women over 6′ and we’ll start with how buying clothes is a nightmare.

Despite what popular culture says about all women being shopaholics, in my experience most humans don’t enjoy shopping for clothes. And women, being human, don’t usually enjoy the process of hunting through racks of clothes in search of something that fits, flatters, and is affordable. If your proportions aren’t “average”, finding clothes is even worse, often requiring hours of dedicated work to find acceptable accoutrements. However hard it is for you to find clothes, I’m pretty sure it’s easier than it is for the very tall.We’ll start from the ground and work our way up, with shoes. A normal human can walk in to just about any shoe store or department store and be reasonably confident that they’ll find something acceptable to wear on their feet. In fact, they can walk into just about any shopping mall with the knowledge that they’ll have a number of options available to them in a variety of styles, at least some of which they’ll be able to afford. Being tall usually comes with having big feet. And you know what they say about somebody with big feet: they can’t find shoes!

Most shoe stores only stock shoes up to a size 13 men’s. A very few stores will carry a few pairs in 14 and maaaaybe a 15. When you wear a larger size, you don’t walk into a store and browse. You immediately find someone who works there and ask them what they have in stock, usually in your actual size and the one below. About 90% of the time the answer will be a dumb stare followed by an apology, but they’re quite sorry that they don’t carry anything that would fit a sasquatch. Maybe you’d like to just wear a pair of boxes that a normal-sized human’s shoe’s came in? The other 10% of the time the employee will disappear into the back and come out with somewhere between 3 and 6 pairs of shoes covered in dusty boxes that more often than not look as though they’ve been placed in stacks and used as NFL tackling dummies. And those boxes will always contain the ugliest shoes you’ve ever seen.

It’s worse for those with big feet in a half-size. The largest half-size any major manufacturer makes is a 12.5. So, if you’re measured at a 14.5, like me for example, your shoes never actually fit right. You find a size 14 that runs wide and can stretch or a 15 that runs a little small, and use insoles to fill in some of the extra room. Being between sizes like that means you have to always try on at least 2 sizes of any pair of footwear to see which is closer to actually fitting. Neither ever will, so it’s all about getting as close as possible.  The internet has actually made things more difficult, instead of less, since a lot of major retailers who would once have carried a few pairs of large shoes will no longer stock their stores with any, instead referring customers to their websites. Thanks internet.

From the feet, we’ll move to pants, or trousers if you’re from a civilized nation. Have you ever seen a pair of men’s pants in a size 34″x38″? Not too many people have. In fact, Casual Male XL, probably the best known “big and tall” shop in the US carries 2 styles. One of them costs $328. Big and tall stores and departments put a heavy emphasis on “big”. As a result, most tall men perpetually look as though they’re prepared for a flood. When the treehuggers’ predictions of global warming come true the giants will have the last laugh with our dry pants that don’t quite fit. Luckily, for me, I filled out a bit in my 20s and now have the generous proportions of 36″x38″, so I can choose from a variety of styles I’d never wear.

The ladies have it a little easier finding things that will “fit”, thanks to the social acceptability of wearing skirts, but have a hell of a time staying in fashion. A mini skirt designed for a woman of about 5’5″ on a woman of 6’1″ can look like she’s wrapped a scarf around her waist. One of those skinny fashion scarves, not, like, a thick and practical Canadian number.  A “long” skirt will often just look awkward at that weird length 3/4 of the way between knee and ankle for that look that was so risque’ and fashionable in pre-Prohibition metropolises.

Which leads us to shirts, which are not as awful as the preceding categories, because short sleeves and tailors exist. Many folks of gratuitous height have a wardrobe consisting largely of T-shirts simply because they fit. Buying button-downs is always a challenge. Good luck finding a shirt with an 18″ neck and sleeves long enough for a 7’+ wingspan. The usual solution is to buy a shirt that fits at the neck, which is the standard measurement at which men’s shirts are fitted, is to roll up the sleeves. This has the added bonus of making you look like you’re always hard at work! Men’s jackets are nearly as bad, but at least they measure at the chest and shoulder, which is slightly better. Women have an even more difficult time than men thanks to breasts. That might be the closest I’ll ever get to saying something bad about boobs.

To bring this all into perspective, I’ll relay a personal anecdote. When I was married last year I chose to wear traditional Scottish dress. My plan was to have a kilt made in my family tartan, buy a new pair of shoes, and rent the rest of a Prince Charlie outfit (the equivalent of a tuxedo) from a local shop that specializes in such. I wound up having to buy each piece, because they didn’t rent in my size. As a matter of fact, they didn’t even normally sell the Argyll jacket (a less formal look, more akin to a suit) in my size, and I had to have every last piece made custom to my measurements and shipped from Scotland. You’d think that a kilt would be the perfect answer for a man who has a problem finding pants in his size, but they have standard fall lengths, and I’m a bit outside the norm. I even went to a custom tailor to have a shirt made, since I was going formal and didn’t own one with French cuffs. Luckily, since I work in Manhattan, there are a few places I could go to, and I chose one that had been relatively well reviewed. They had a standard pricing matrix based on what fabric you chose. I chose based on feel and color, and it happened to be around the middle of their price offerings. Then the gentleman who’d taken my measurements input them into his computer, looked confused, reloaded his screen, and proceeded to tell me that my shirt would cost about 10% extra. He apologized profusely and told me that he’d never seen a surcharge based on size come up before. In the end, what I wore cost more than my bride’s dress. The only 2 pieces that were not specifically made for me were my hose (which is just a fancy word for socks, and a funny choice for a culture constantly trying to convince people that their national dress doesn’t make them sissies), my tie, and my cufflinks (Aperture Science logo FTW).

Remember this the next time you wish you could reach the top shelf without getting on your tip-toes. Does the cost of a step stool for you kitchen offset the additional time and money spent in the search for a pair of freaking comfortable cargo pants? If you’re not convinced, don’t worry. I’ll share more of the joys of being “vertically blessed”. Topics you can look forward to:

  • The bathroom is a terrible place.
  • The world is more dangerous.
  • It’s really hard to enjoy a show.
  • Travel sucks.

The Great Debate

Two nights ago Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debated a man by the name of Ken Ham. The subject of the debate was Creationism versus Evolution, and whether or not the former should be taught in science classes alongside the latter. And the whole thing was fascinating and disturbing to me.

Nye argued that scientific research is incompatible with Ham’s “historical science”, a set of hypotheses that are based on the teachings of the bible and which the Australian claims explain Life, the Universe, Everything. Anyone who watched was frustrated by Ham’s repeated reference to scripture as a response to The Science Guy’s accusations of a lack of data to support his creationist “theory”. There’s a drinking game in which participants must take a shot every time Ham says “There’s a book”. You won’t stay sober if you try it.

Most media, even on the right, agree that Nye won the debate, with even traditional fundamentalists stating that they were embarrassed by the presentation of the “young Earth theory”. But, even before the debate, a lot of folks on both sides were saying that no matter what, Nye lost; that by simply engaging in the debate he was providing Ham’s ministry (I refuse to refer to it as a museum) with attention and legitimizing its beliefs. And with that I disagree.

I’ll admit that I have no small admiration for Bill Nye, a passionate engineer who has always crusaded in the name of education in general, and  the sciences in particular. Acknowledging that, I believe he was smart enough to know that he was not going to “win”. There was no way that he could convince his opponent to come around to his point of view, and it was unlikely he’d convert any of the congregants of Answers in Genesis. What he did have a chance of doing was bringing attention to the subject of creationism being taught as a science in local schools. There was a possibility a kid who was brought by a parent with instructions to cheer for the nice Australian man, but to ignore the one who spoke against scripture and would lead them astray might, just might, pick up a copy of Origin of Species or a physics text and start forming dissenting opinions of their own. A local tax payer might be swayed by his impassioned pleas to teach kids real sciences, and that person might make a difference the next time there were school board elections.

If that happens, I think it was worth it and Mr. Nye won. But, maybe I’m just being optimistic.