Germany, hell, Holy crap, Uncategorized

Hearty Faith Once Shaken, Now Breakin’

I’d forgotten to post this when it happened, but today at breakfast I was reminded of it by a new friend who had just bought a used bike, so here it is:

I have no faith. I believe in no God.*

This image by Denny Bond comes up when you Google search 'losing my religion'

Okay, now with that out of the way, I can explain. Back when I first arrived in Germany, Gianinna from human resources at Fairtrade International was taking me to the Stadthaus to get all of my papers in order so I could live and work here. As we approached, she briefly guided me through the process.

“And when they ask if you have religion, you should say no.”

Really? As if paying nearly half your wages in taxes wasn’t enough (actually, it’s really pretty sensible), the German government also wants to know your religion so you can pay 30 Euros a month in church tax. The only way to evade this tax is sign a paper officially stating you have no religion.

Interesting fact: Back when Germany was reunified, there was a mass exodus from the church. At the time, a reunification tax was implemented so everyone would contribute to sewing Germany together again. Though Germans respect the power of public services and the taxes that make them possible, this was a burden too large and many opted out of the church tax by renouncing their faith.

I really didn’t think it was a big deal. I rarely go to church. I kind of consider myself more of a Quaker than anything at the moment. Buddhism is pretty interesting and the meditation meetings were pretty great in Santa Fe. But as the woman at the Stadthaus methodically went through the questions, I paused when the religion one came up.

My parents raised me Roman Catholic. They made great sacrifices to put me and my five brothers through Catholic grade school and I was confirmed back around 1995, knighted by the archbishop and all that jazz. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and I have had some great times.

And here I was, ready to renounce my faith. Turn my back on my old pals for a measly 30 Euros a month. I blinked and paused. The whole question seemed ridiculous. And given German history, I was loathe to give the government any more identifying information than necessary.

But publicly renouncing my faith, whatever that may be, in a wide open office smelling oddly of bureaucracy cranking along under the steady hum of fluorescent lights was harder than I expected.

Actually, it wasn’t really that hard: 30 Euros a month is a lot. So I signed myself over to the legions of officially unfaithful. I thought about this as I rode my bike home this morning. And the more I think about it, religion is bigger than the state, faith is beyond government.

So yes, sorry mom and pop, I have no religion.

*In Germany

Germany, hell

In Ikea you can buy the world, but you can never go home

A lot of people have told me about Ikea.

Even though there was one around Chicago somewhere, I’d never been to one. My brother’s house is mostly furnished through Ikea. But I just never got around to it.

I am your domestic aspirational statement

But being here in Germany, it seems to be a rite of passage, a stop along the way to outfitting your house. And so I found myself getting off the train at the mysterious stop of Godorf surrounded by industrial decoration, all smokestacks and sleepy little town life. I wandered the road until I came to a marginally open area with two larger than life buildings. One was a hardware megalopolis, the other Ikea.

I stepped inside and immediately felt nervous. For those who’ve never been, it’s like a haunted house maze of domestic goods. Wild meandering paths and piles upon piles of options and examples of what your home could look like. Where you could go, who you could be.

Ikea is a warehouse-sized aspirational statement built out of particle board and lacquered in varnish. You say you have just 89 square meters? Well, here’s how you could be living!

But as is often the case, when overwhelmed with choices, I stop like a deer in headlights. Staring, looking, comparing, watching and never ever, ever deciding.

I stood in the couch section looking at variations on sleeper couches. Fold down vs. fold out. Sit, stand, look, sit, stand, look, lay down, get up and look some more. I spent roughly three days conducting the decision-making process. I finally settled on one. I was going to finally get a couch. Yes, absolutely, let’s do this.

I found the ticket, I think i filled it out right and I took it to the woman at the help desk. She asked my phone number and that’s when I realized my phone was missing. I frantically fished about in my pocket.

Somewhere in the sit-stand phase it’d dropped out.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit sick of this story. I could continue and tell you how I never found it. And then  how I wasn’t able to meet up with my friends. And how I ended up depressed and watching fireworks alone, but that  would be boring.

So I’ll just blame it all on Ikea and never speak of this day again.

beefjerky, hell, petpeeve, Uncategorized

Wal-Mart, Banana Republic, Dillard’s… ‘S’all the Same

So this has been bugging me for a bit and in order to form a more perfect union with my perpetual idol, Andy Rooney, I find it necessary to speak my mind.

There’s a Web site out there called ‘People of Wal-mart’ or something or other like that (I’m not going to link to it as I don’t want to push any  more traffic over there than necessary – don’t worry my faithful single reader, you’ll find it).

I’m often first in line to make fun of people when it’ll make me feel better about  myself or provoke a decent guffaw, but for some reason this site just seems mean-spirited.

picture of a guy from this lame site. The site's lame, not the guy.

The plot line involves photos of people found roaming the aisles of Wal-mart. It could be someone like the man in this image to the right, or a Latino with a mullet and MC Hammer pants, or a morbidly obese woman, or you when you’re wearing sweats with a baggy red thong peeking over the top… it could be anyone. And then they paste a snarky little comment alongside and call it a day.

I guess what galls me is that there’s no way for the people in the photo to take part. It’s like shooting someone in the back. And that is the primary shot composition.

I’d love to see a shot of the person taking the picture alongside the person in their photo. The entire site seems to belittle the good folks who shop at Wal-mart, yet the person making the photo is also shopping in Wal-mart.

I think this site could be really interesting if the people taking the pictures would talk to the people they shoot. Find out from whence their inimitable style sprouts or get them to take part willingly and proudly. It could become a sociological study chronicling how humankind has evolved from the good old hunter-gatherer-type to somewhat awkwardly-dressed, aisle-combers.

And you could spread it to other stores. Since we’re picking on Wal-mart, why not go shoot the folks at Banana Republic or some other store selling expensive clothes that were likely produced in the same factory as Wal-mart’s.

That is all. Thank you and good day.

(Disclosure: I used to be a huge fan of the site which used to post crazy photos of people.)

duh, hell, Holy crap, Uncategorized

Problems with Pants at Work, Pt. II

I have a nice pair of Paper Denim jeans.

I like them and they are very comfortable. They feel very good when I wear them. These are strange sentences.

This is what my pants look like.

That being said Paper Denim needs to do a little investigating into button improvement. You may – or may not – remember my entry, “Today My Pants Have Holes,” wherein I chronicled the mysterious appearance of holes in my britches. Well, now I’m at work and I’m having yet more problems with my pants.

This afternoon, while finishing up at the ‘loo,’ the button popped off my pants and plunked down before me gently settling to the bottom of the porcelain bowl.

I stopped, stunned, staring at the slightly yellowed water. I looked around me, as if someone was there to witness this event and then turned my attention back to the toilet. Should I just let it go?

For some reason, Paper Denim decided that their pants would benefit from a button that could be removed. Why, Paper Denim?!?! Why?!?!

I attempted to zip up my pants without the button, but it wouldn’t quite do. Plus, without a button, these pants would be rendered useless. So I did what any resourceful person would do.

I left the restroom and went to the cupboard where we keep the tools. I found a pliers and returned to the restroom. In this short journey, it was necessary to pass by two co-workers, but no one asked why I was returning to the bathroom with a pliers.

I plunged the pliers into the still somewhat bubbly water and fished out the button. I threw everything into the faucet and washed it all with great intensity. More so than I normally wash things.

From now on these shall be called Paper Potty Pants. This is a dumb story.

cockfights, hell, Holy crap, New Mexico, SantaFe

Enter The Santa Fe Chip

“Did you just throw me the f#$%in’ finger?!?!” he bellowed in rage.

Mullet McJerky Truck

This is kind of what Mullet McJerkypants was driving

The 1981 Chevy pickup, a mildewy milk chocolate brown, sped up behind me and then slowed down and forced me off the road. With no one-way streets to zip down and no place to retreat, I pulled over and slowed down.

“Who the f&$% do you think you are?” he continued leaning over to the passenger side. As he blocked traffic, others began to honk their horns in displeasure.

Santa Fe is an interesting place. While it may give the impression of a laid back, slow-paced town, many of the natives have a breakfast burrito-sized chip placed firmly on their shoulder that can be triggered at the drop of a hat. I’m not sure what causes it.

In some towns you can blame the oppressive heat for keeping people on edge. In others it is based on horrid traffic patterns and a stressed populace. But in this instance I guess it could just be attributed to a random outburst from some heavily tattooed, mullet-sporting, curse-bag driving an old truck. Or drugs.

It was the end of a beautiful day and the sun was throwing its Tuscan-style light all over the town. I was on my bike at the intersection waiting for the light to turn. As I took off, the curse-bag honked at me and pulled up uncomfortably close. Naturally, as I am wont to do when riding my bike, I copped a self-righteous attitude and displayed my finger of indifference, which was not appreciated by this citizen.

He quickly pulled up beside me at a steady 10mph and shouted expletives my way before pulling in front and forcing me off the road and then pulling up on the curb to continue his tirade.

My pulse began to quicken as synapses fired and senses flared – fight or flight? – how do you defuse this situation?

Fortunately, another car witnessed the exchange and pulled up beside the truck and yelled at him to back off.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered the Santa Fe Chip and it will likely be the last, but I would like to thank the kind person who pulled up beside this belligerent motorist and allowed me to avoid the whole ‘fight or flight’ decision.

beefjerky, hell, Holy crap, petpeeve

TSA Still Bites Donkey

Or actually, I should say Covenant Aviation Security, a private company charged with protecting our great land from threats unseen, still bites donkey. I wrote about this earlier here. On a return trip from California, I carefully wrapped my beloved Voightlander camera in swaddling clothing to protect it from the rigors of baggage handling. I have traveled fairly regularly over the past 10 years and have never had a problem packing my camera this way.

But on this recent trip, a screener decided to rifle through my belongings and found my camera. I assume s/he looked at it and seeing no threat, simply thrust it back in my backpack neglecting to properly wrap the camera.

This action resulted in the lens hood of my camera being bent and made unusable in the process of baggage handling. Once I discovered the problem, I attempted to contact Covenant Aviation Security to file a claim for this part of my camera. I did not receive a call back, even after making three calls to their offices. I imagine they were likely very busy incorrectly repacking bags so that other people could understand the joys of trying to file a claim with them.

It wasn’t until a blogger from the TSA read my blog entry on the subject that someone from Covenant Aviation Security finally contacted me saying that they’d never received my claim though I’d faxed and mailed it. I would like to give a shout out to Amy at Covenant who was very helpful though.

But then in December I received a letter, two months later, denying my claim. They essentially stated that they were merely doing the job the government wanted them to do and as such they had no responsibility. They would only pay for claims arising from negligence or intentional wrongdoing. 

While I don’t think it was intentional wrongdoing on the screener’s part, I sure as hell find him/her negligent. How can you go through the process of unwrapping an item and then not bother to rewrap it and just toss it in the bag and then blame the passenger? 

AAAARRRRGGGGHHH!!!!! I don’t understand this world. How does protecting the good people of the United States from horrible terrorists involve also breaking their cameras? This is the last I will write on this subject embarking on more mirthful enchanting tales, but I just had to register my spite for Covenant Aviation Security in blog form once again.

If you have a chance, please send a letter to to tell them how much you love them.