Entry 645: The Latest Thing in Electronic Banking: Money

Well, I just got a promotional flyer in the mail from Chase Bank that is just unbelievable. But it seems like they send me something like this every few years.

I remember when I received their mailer informing me that I no longer needed deposit slips at the ATM. That was unbelievable. I could just toss money, checks, whatever–maybe even winning lottery tickets–into the machine and it would print out a receipt–with pictures, even! Amazing!

Then, a few years after that, they sent me a flyer about something that was even more unbelievable. It said that I didn’t even need to go to the bank to make deposits anymore. I could just use my phone to take a picture of a check, and they would deposit it for me! I didn’t even have to bring the actual check in later–they would trust me that I wouldn’t try to deposit the check again at another bank. Incredible!

But I just received a notice from Chase that tops everything they’ve ever done.  It announces two major advances that are virtually inconceivable.

First, evidently you can now deposit cash using your cell phone! You merely have to take a photograph of the bill and send it. Admittedly, it’s a little inconvenient because you have to photograph each bill individually, so you probably wouldn’t do it with $200 in fives. But if you have just mugged a tourist and you have a couple of hundreds you want to deposit right away? Sure! Keep in mind, though, that you then have to destroy the bills to take them out of circulation. I guess they track the serial numbers on the bills in the pictures so you can’t reuse the money. But, hey, you can cut the bills up outside your house so the neighbors think you’re rich!

But cash deposits by phone isn’t even the MOST unbelievable thing! This is: you no longer have to go to the bank to get cash. Instead, you can just visit the Chase website, log onto your account, enter the amount you want to withdraw, and–I can’t believe I’m actually saying this–print the money out on your printer, just like you can print postage at Stamps.com!

Now, to be fair, it only works on certain Bluetooth mobile printers and a few HP color LaserJets (the website has a list), and you first need to download special software that can handle all the anti-counterfeiting things that are built into money these days, and you can only withdraw $100 at a time, but still…isn’t that the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard of?

Now you never have to leave your house at all, except to spend the cash you print out, unless you just use it to tip the pizza delivery guy.

What will they think of next?

See you soon.

P.S. Around 1987, before most people had even heard of the Internet, there was an online service called Prodigy. (This was even before America Online–AOL.) My ad agency had the Prodigy account, and one of the things you could do with it was manage your banking…if you didn’t mind waiting about an hour for each page to load over a 1200 baud dial-up modem. When I was writing the copy for this feature, I jokingly added that you could make withdrawals and print the cash out at home. And most of the folks at the agency believed it, because in those days, nobody knew what you’d be able to do online!  So…30 years later, did you believe this post, even for a second? Happy April Fools Day.

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Entry 644: Friars and Pirates and Bearcats, Oh My!

Well, this weekend (and Monday), the annual tradition of March Madness comes to an end, and it’s going to get even crazier, because it will be April.

And as we watch the Final Four, I’m sure there will be one burning question on everyone’s mind:

What the hell is a tar heel?

Admittedly, I do not follow college sports. That may be because I went to Queens College in New York City, where the main sport was finding a parking space. As far as I’m concerned, a bracket is something that holds up a shelf.

So I asked my sister-in-law Karen about tar heels over dinner one night. Karen, who is staying with us while her house gets remodeled, is an avid sports fan, and I will sometimes find her watching soccer matches from other countries early on a weekend morning.

“It’s a ram,” she replied without hesitation.

Whereas my wife–Karen’s sister–has been known to make stuff up when she doesn’t know the answer to a question, Karen’s information is usually reliable, especially when it comes to sports. On the other hand, it just didn’t seem right to me that there are large animals called tar heels running around in the world, butting things with their big, curved horns.

So I looked it up, and while the North Carolina mascot is, in fact, a ram, that is not what a tar heel is. There’s no such thing as a tar heel! According to the UNC website, the term either comes from British soldiers getting tar on their heels while crossing a river in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War, or from North Carolina soldiers threatening to put tar on the heels of deserters during the Civil War.

However you slice it, the UNC team is named for dirty, sticky feet. The ram came from a UNC football player in the 1920’s who was nicknamed “the battering ram.” I’m guessing he wasn’t the kicker.

While I was getting educated about tar heels, I looked into a few of the other teams in the tournament:

>There’s a team called the Demon Deacons.  They’re from Wake Forest, and the name sounds like the result of an exorcism gone wrong, possibly one involving the Blue Devils.

>There were no fewer than five teams in the tournament called the Wildcats. While “Wildcats” is a perfectly acceptable name for a sports team, there should be something akin to a copyright law that prevents more than one team in a sport from having it. I mean, if they play each other, and the fans yell, “Go, Wildcats,” how do you know who they’re rooting for?

>If you’re going to play against one of the many Wildcats, you have to figure you’ll win if you’re the Bearcats, as Cincinnati is. I mean, a wildcat may be wild, but a bearcat is…well, what, exactly? Did they make up a strange, hybrid animal? No they did not. A bearcat is a real thing, although its actual name is a binturong.  It looks like the product of a mad scientist’s experiment grafting the head of an ugly cat onto the body of a small bear, even though it is not related to either animal.  It’s anybody’s guess why you’d want to name a team after a disturbing creature like this (which, by the way, is not even indigenous to Ohio).  But here’s the thing: Cincinnati was matched up with Wildcats in the first round…and they won!  But then they lost to the UCLA Bruins, proving that, while a half bear/half cat beats a full cat, it loses to a full bear.

>Let’s move on to the Golden Flashes of Kent State. They sound vaguely like two different kinds of perverts. And, wait–it gets even worse. The original mascot was a golden retriever named Flash. He was replaced by a cartoon character named Grog. And Grog was replaced by, according to the website, “the Golden Flasher, a masked figure dressed in blue and gold who rode a gold palomino horse.” Yes, indeed. The Golden Flasher.

These days, the Golden Flashes are represented, for no apparent reason, by an eagle. This was probably a poor choice, because eagles did not fare well in the tournament this year. Kent State–and all three of the teams actually named the Eagles– lost in the first round, thus depriving fans of the opportunity to see mascots claw at each other with their talons.

>Then there’s the Virginia Tech Hokies. I had to go to the Virginia Tech website to find out what a “hokie” was: “The origin of the word “Hokie” has nothing to do with a turkey. It was coined by O.M. Stull (class of 1896), who used it in a spirit yell he wrote for a competition.”

The winning yell, in case you’re ever at a Virginia Tech game and think you’re sitting among lunatics, was:

Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.
Polytechs – Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.

I can’t even imagine what the losing yells were like.  And it still doesn’t explain what a hokie is. Further, because I do not follow college sports and was not aware that the Virginia Tech mascot is the ridiculous Hokie-Bird, and that the Hokie-Bird kind of looks like a turkey, telling me that the hokie has nothing to do with a turkey seemed completely random. They might as well have said that a hokie has nothing to do with a turnip; it would have made just as much sense to me.

Meanwhile, at the same dinner where I asked my sister-in-law about tar heels, I noticed she was wearing a South Carolina sweatshirt. “So, um, what’s a gamecock?” I asked.

“A rooster,” she answered. “You know, for cockfighting.”

“You mean they named a college team after illegal gambling that is cruel to animals?”

Karen shrugged. She was trying to enjoy her dinner and was tired of my idiot questions.

But just for the record, I’m rooting for the Gamecocks and the Oregon Ducks in the semi-finals.  That way we can have an all-poultry championship game.

See you soon.

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Entry 643: More New Old Stuff

From time to time, I like to report on the field of archaeology, practitioners of which are always presenting us with wonders of the past. Previously, I’ve told you about finds such as 2,100-year-old eye medication and three-century year old pretzels.

With all the scientists and graduate students out there digging all over the place, you’d think they would have found everything by now, but that’s not the case. New old stuff is popping up all the time.

For instance, archaeologists surveying the site of a new mall in Redmond, Wash. have uncovered a plethora of ancient tools used by the area’s earliest inhabitants. Findings included the carcass of a prehistoric mouse, an Altair 8800 microcomputer, and a 5.25″ floppy disk containing part of the installation instructions for MS-DOS Version 1.14.

Ha ha, just kidding. The tools that were found had nothing to do with nearby Microsoft headquarters and, as such, were not nearly as valuable as the items listed above. However, they were of interest to the archaeologists, because the 10,000-year-old scrapers, awls and spear points mean this is the oldest site in the Puget Sound lowland with stone tools, predating by some 9,990 years the Home Depot on Northeast 76th Street in Redmond. Even better, some of the spear points still had the remnants of prey on them, which goes to show that archaeology is not only fascinating, it can also be disgusting.

Speaking of which, that brings us to a discovery made by Swedish treasure hunters diving on the historic shipwreck of a warship named The Kronan. The divers were searching for gold coins and jewelry of the type that had been found previously on the wreck, but were lucky enough to instead find…well, I’ll just let you read the headline of the Evening Post that announced the news:

“Fyndet i gamla vraket: 340 år gammal ost.”

Yes, of course the Evening Post is a Swedish newspaper! Who else would cover Swedish divers diving on a Swedish shipwreck that was sunk in 1668 in a battle against a combined Dutch-Danish fleet during a series of wars that plagued Northern Europe in the late 17th Century, and likely delayed for decades the arrival on North American shores of IKEA.*

Where was I?

Right, that headline. Here’s the translation:

“The discovery of the ancient wreck: 340 year old cheese”

According to reports, the cheese, which was found inside a tin, smelled exactly as you’d expect it to. And yet, it was not the most nauseating thing discovered on the wreck of the Kronan. Because divers also found brain tissue. Better yet, the brain tissue was inside a skull!  And if you combine the cheese, the brain and the skull, you get head cheese, which is available at your local supermarket, and is, perhaps, more gross than any of the shipwreck discoveries.

Oh, and one more thing about this story: it was also reported in a publication called The Cheese Connoisseur, which certainly makes me wonder about anybody marketing aged cheese.

Next we travel to Serbia, where archaeologists have found writing etched onto tiny leaves of gold and silver that were alongside skeletons of humans buried almost 2,000 years ago. Judging from the photo at left, I would expect the scrolls to say things like “Doublemint” and “Juicy Fruit,” but evidently they contain magic spells.

Researchers have identified the names of a few demons that are connected to the territory of modern-day Syria. But the spells are in Aramaic and written in the Greek alphabet with poor handwriting, so they may never be fully translated.

I hope you’ll join me in thinking that’s a good thing. When have you ever seen a movie where some ancient incantation turned out to be benevolent?

  • Beautiful Scientist (Amy Adams): We think we’ve got the inscription translated. It’s either a love enchantment or a curse that will summon pure evil from the depths of the Earth’s core.
  • Blindly Ambitious Archaeologist (Jude Law): Why don’t we say it out loud and find out?
  • Nerdy Historian (Jeff Goldblum): I, um, really don’t think that’s a good idea. By the way, did that statue just move?

Speaking of statues (as Jeff just was), our last stop is Cairo, where England’s Independent reports that “archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found a massive eight-metre statue of Ramses II submerged in ground water in a Cairo slum.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with British measurements, eight metres is roughly the equivalent of eight meters. To put that in perspective, imagine a little more than three and a half Shaquille O’Neals standing on top of each other.

Which leads me to this question: how do you not happen to notice three and a half Shaquille O’Neals laying around in some ground water? It seems to me you wouldn’t need archaeologists for a find like this, just the Roto Rooter man. “Yes, sir, your sewer seems to be blocked up a bit. Let me…What’s this? Oh, hello, Shaq. And Shaq. And Shaq. And little Shaq.”

And that’s the news about new old stuff.

See you soon.

*If only they had fought a few centuries longer.

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Entry 642: A Call from the Past

Well, I recently took yet another trip to Coconut Creek, Florida, spent chauffering my dementia-addled mother around to get her hair and nails done; pick up and put down nearly everything on the shelves of the dollar store; and eat her favorite meal: a single slice of pizza from a place in the food court at The Festival indoor flea market and old people amusement park (motto: “We’re not just ugly jewelry. We’re also ugly clothes, furniture, art, and reading glasses. Oh, and hearing aids. All at great prices, especially with the $5 coupon you’ll insist on waiting in line for, much to the annoyance of your son.”)

Where was I?

Right–visiting mom. As always, the highlight of the trip was spending an hour in mom’s room at the assisted living place going through, for the 47th time, the operation of her cell phone. She owns a Doro PhoneEasy 626, one of those flip phones designed for seniors who have no interest in modern cell phone features like texting, taking pictures, or playing games. Suffice it to say that mom having one of those new unlimited data plans would be like Donald Trump owning a “Guide to Intelligent Tweeting” – neither one would get any use.

Mom spends much of her days studying her phone as if there is a final exam coming up, and she sort of has answering it down, but outgoing calls are hit or miss. If she makes a connection at all, there is only a 50% probability that it will be to the person she wanted to reach. The other half of the time, she ends up calling me and, when I pick up, doesn’t talk.

My daughter and I have created an “easy-to-follow” diagram for her, complete with arrows pointing to the appropriate buttons, and while mom cherishes this diagram as if it is a treasure map, she doesn’t seem to be able to absorb its nuances, such as “press the green button to make a call.”

The tutorials I provide when I’m down there are fraught with problems such as:

  1. I, myself, barely remember how to enter a number into the memory of what is, essentially, a 10-year-old relic of a phone.
  2. It is difficult to see what I’m doing due to the sweat pouring off me because mom keeps her room at a bright and breezy 89 degrees.

But this post actually has nothing to do with my mother. It’s about a trend that would seem to indicate that, indeed, many people would like to simplify their technology, albeit not as much as mom would, which would be to render technology non-existent.

According to the website Mashable, the biggest thing at this year’s Mobile World Congress was nostalgia.

In case you don’t know, the Mobile World Congress is very similar to the United States Congress in that representatives are on hand to demonstrate all the various ways you can communicate without actually saying anything.

The big difference is that, instead of focusing on Obamacare and immigration, the Mobile World Congress sets its sights on things like smart phone batteries that don’t explode.

One of the most popular innovations at this year’s MWC was the Nokia 3310, which was introduced in the year 2000. Yes, that’s right–people are already nostalgic for stuff from the “early aughts.”  I don’t remember the first Nokia 3310, possibly because I’m always a few generations behind the latest tech, so that when the original was introduced, I was probably still using a rotary dial. Apparently it was known for two things: a very long battery life and a game called Snakes. The new version has both. But the thing looks like it’s an ad for “Butt Dialing Made Easy.”

Another old-fashioned yet excitingly new item at the MWC was, believe it or not, a BlackBerry!

I had a BlackBerry Curve once upon a time and I liked it. It displayed my email instantly and it had a keyboard I could use without having spellcheck change “autopay” to “autopsy” which is something my iPhone really did. (“Cancel autopsy,” the message said. “Payment sent.”)

The most interesting concept at the MWC was The Light Phone, advertised as “Your phone away from phone.” It’s a “discreet, credit card sized phone designed to be used as little as possible.”

Wow–“designed to be used as little as possible.” It’s like the health insurance of cell phones!

Yes, in a radical departure from every other phone on the market, the Light only makes and receives phone calls. But note the tagline: it’s not meant for people to carry instead of their smart phones; you’re supposed to carry it in addition to your smart phone. It’s as if the makers are saying “Your smart phone can’t be bothered being a phone anymore, what with all its texting, and selfieing, and music-playing, and Pokemon hunting, and GPSing, and Tindering. If you really must talk to somebody, you need this other device.”

I’m not sure these guys did their market research. I mean, nothing is single purpose any more, not even condoms. People are using them as jar openers. They may have to figure out a way for the Light Phone to include ApplePay, so you can at least use your “discreet, credit card sized phone” as a credit card.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll get one for my mother.

See you soon.

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Entry 641: World Peace Through Chick Peas

Welcome to the Food Network’s new show, Restaurants That Haven’t Closed Yet. It’s where we take you to new and trendy eateries that people can’t wait to get into because they’re new and trendy, but will close as soon as the novelty wears off.

We start today with Conflict Kitchen. It’s located in Pittsburgh, and its shtick is that it only serves food from countries in conflict with America. But here’s the thing–you can’t go there to eat dishes from all the countries that hate America, because that menu would be about as many pages as a Stephen King novel, and just as scary.

No, Conflict Kitchen only, um, attacks one nation at a time. So, in the past, it has been an Iranian restaurant, a Cuban restaurant, an Afghani restaurant, and a North Korean restaurant. As I write this, it is a Haudenosaunee restaurant. More on that in a moment.

I’ve looked at some of their menus, and it seems like all the countries with which America has disagreements have one thing in common: their foods mostly sound disgusting. That may even be why America is always fighting with these nations: it’s not so much about spreading democracy as it is about spreading recognizable condiments on familiar foods.

Some of the ethnic cuisine at Conflict Kitchen is heavily chick pea-based. I know chick peas are really gross because not only do I not like them, my wife doesn’t like them. Barbara is much more tolerant of different food nationalities than I am. She likes quinoa, for example. She’s not even prejudiced against regular peas. She likes a nice split pea soup. But chick peas, in her opinion, must be stopped at the border.

The Iranian menu at Conflict Kitchen included a dish called Kookoo Sibzamini, which I thought was the name of a former professional wrestler, but which is apparently “pan-fried potato and onion patties, served with fresh herbs, torshi makhloot, grilled tomato and onion.” Now the first part of that sounds fine. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like potato latkes, a dish that the Persians obviously stole from the Jews when they conquered the Babylonian Empire in 536 BC (long story). But what’s up with the rest of that Kookoo dish? What the hell is “torshi makhloot?”

This is a pet peeve I have with all ethnic restaurants: don’t just translate part of a menu item. You’ll be in a Peruvian place, and they’ll have “Arroz con pollo–cilantro based chicken and rice served with huancaina sauce.” How about telling me what huancaina sauce is? How do I know if I’ll like it? It could have chick peas in it, for all I know! And I’ll ask the waitperson what it is and she’ll say, “Oh, it’s like the national sauce of Peru. They use it in everything,” which is not at all helpful, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know what huancaina sauce is, either, because her accent sounds more like South Jersey than South America, so I end up ordering paella.

Where was I?

Right–Iran. And torshi makhloot. I looked it up, and it’s a mixture of pickled vegetables. Here’s a picture of it. No wonder they didn’t want us to know what it was. And how nauseating would something like that be on a potato latke! Apple sauce? Sure. Sour cream? Absolutely. Pickled vegetables? Not so much.

I kid, of course. Conflict Kitchen is all about understanding through stews. They even have programs that, for instance, educate you about what it’s like to be a child in Afghanistan while you eat your pakora, which is potato fritters battered in, of course, chick peas.

As I mentioned, Conflict Kitchen is now featuring the cuisine of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I didn’t even know what that was*, but I think I like its people, not because the menu has items that are GF (gluten-free), V (vegetarian) and V+ (vegan), but because every dish on the menu is CPF (chick pea-free).

Anyway, I bet all this talk about exotic, repugnant food has you hankering for a nice, juicy steak. If so, hunker on down to one of New York City’s latest stupid trendy restaurants, Ikinari. This is the place to come if you want to get a delicious 7.1 ounce sirloin and some rice for just $18…and eat it standing up.

The very customer-centric concept of this restaurant is as follows: “we can sell more steaks, make more money and serve more customers if they are in and out in 30 minutes.” Apparently, this idea is very popular in Japan, but then so are “capsule hotels,” where guests stay in what amounts to morgue drawers, except (hopefully) warmer.

One idiot customer at Ikinari stated that she enjoys scarfing down her dinner this way because “I can burn calories as I eat. I’m standing up. Keep good posture. And eating some protein, so not bad.” Of course, studies have shown that you eat less food and consume fewer calories sitting down. But this perfectly-postured patron will come out ahead because she can’t have dessert at Ikinari, even if she wants one. Ikinari doesn’t serve desserts, or even coffee. Ikinari figures you can’t consume a steak and, say, cheesecake in under 30 minutes. Obviously, Ikinari has never seen me eat.

Finally, to combine the cuisine of our previous two restaurants, we have the perfect combination of disgusting and steak. I give you our President, Donald J. Trump, who was recently spotted in a D.C. steakhouse eating a New York Strip. Well done. With ketchup.

Classy, very classy.

See you soon.

*I looked it up and it’s sort of a NATO of Native American tribes across North America. Their conflict with the U.S. has something to do with the Dakota pipeline. Apparently, they are upset about land being taken from them and nature being destroyed and so forth. But their Neogë (grilled venison loin with acorn-chestnut puree, mushrooms, and salt-cured blueberries) sounds delicious.

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Entry 640: Kiss My Blarney Button With Your Nail Polish Remover

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, the one holiday that is impossible to write about without using derogatory ethnic stereotypes.

So instead, I’ll tell you about some holidays you can celebrate next week without throwing up.

For instance, next week is National Button Week. Its organizers suggest you observe it by riding up and down in elevators and taking the time to finally figure out what the ECO button in your car does. Also, if you’ve been inclined to panic ever since Inauguration Day, this is the week to do it!

Wait! I’ve just been informed that those are the wrong kinds of buttons. You can also put your “I’m With Hillary” button back in the drawer.

However, while you’re rummaging through your closet tonight looking for something green to wear tomorrow that won’t make you look like a head of lettuce, you might want to grab an outfit that has buttons, because those are the kinds of buttons National Button Week is all about.

You may be wondering how many people could possibly want to celebrate National Button Week. Well, at least 3,000, to be sure. That’s how many folks are members of the National Button Society, which is a real thing with real people and, I’m guessing, real buttons.

The National Button Society (motto: “Buttons: The Best of All Best Fasteners”) asks this question of visitors to its website:

“Do you remember playing with your mother’s—or grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s—button box or jar or tin?”

Um, no I don’t. I don’t recall if my mother ever sewed anything, and the only thing I remember about my grandmother is that she would suck on Canada Mints all day until it looked like she was foaming at the mouth.

The NBS website intro continues:

“The impulse to collect is a basic part of the human psyche, and buttons have been admired and collected for centuries. Button collecting was recognized as an organized hobby through the founding of the National Button Society in 1938.”

Gee, I had no idea that hobbies had to be recognized like countries and dog breeds. That doesn’t bode well for my pastime: collecting unidentified wires and cables, many of which are from devices I haven’t used in over a decade, and some of which have connectors that don’t even look remotely familiar. One of them could be from an Apple Newton for all I know, although I never owned an Apple Newton. I have a drawer full of these wires and, sadly, we even took them with us when we moved six years ago.

But I digress.

The National Button Society has many suggestions for thrilling ways to enjoy National Button Week:

  • Submit an article to your local newspaper about button collecting.
  • Post a photo of your favorite button on your Facebook page and invite your friends to take a look.
  • Twitter about your button activities.
  • Invite a non-member to a club meeting.

There are two things we can learn from this list. First, button collecting seems to be exactly as exciting as you would think. And, second, the NBS seems hell-bent on spreading the button gospel and would like its members to go out unto the world and convert those who would worship zippers and snaps. I’m assuming here that it would also like to launch a campaign to discredit Velcro as the devil’s work.

Whoops. My apologies. I didn’t intend to spend so much time on National Button Week. Let’s quickly move on to some more of next week’s festivities.

For example, it’s also Brain Awareness Week, which seems like a natural, and possibly necessary, followup to St. Patrick’s Day. But if your reaction to Brain Awareness Week is “Huh?” you might want to look into National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week, during which you are invited to sample the vast array of inhalants and poisons available.

Ha ha. Only kidding. So please put down that nail polish remover. National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week (NIPAW) was instituted by the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition to prevent inhalant abuse and save lives. According to the Alliance for Consumer Education, a child is 50% less likely to try an inhalant if an adult has spoken to them about the dangers of inhalant abuse. So be sure to speak to your child during NIPAW so that they will use crystal meth instead of stealing your spray paint.

If you really want to make a splash, you’ll be happy to know that next week is also Tsunami Awareness Week, although I have no idea why. I mean, the only way you wouldn’t be aware of a tsunami hitting your town is if you were busy celebrating National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week. I can’t imagine a scenario in which you’re hanging onto a lamppost for dear life as waves go rushing by and a neighbor surfs past yelling, “There’s a tsunami!” and you reply, “Really? I wasn’t aware.”

Finally, after you’ve consumed all that green beer and corned beef and cabbage, you’ll be wanting some nice, rich chocolate. Good thing it’s American Chocolate Week, created to “give chocolate lovers a chance to indulge in their favorite chocolate delicacies.” This is about as necessary as Tsunami Awareness Week, since the chocolate lovers I know don’t need an excuse to indulge.

Anyway, happy St. Patrick’s Day, be aware of your brain, and see you soon.

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Entry 639: Just Sign Here

So our financial advisor sold us an annuity recently.

He made a very convincing case for it, and since we’ve already entrusted him with our life savings, we figured, why the hell not. After all, if he was going to swindle us, he already had everything he needed to do so. He could even sit opposite us in our quarterly meetings and give us what would sound like a perfectly plausible explanation as to why my wife’s 401k balance was currently at $1.98, and we’d believe him.

Because, financially, we are idiots.

That’s why we have an advisor. You can’t be an expert at everything, after all. Successful people know this, and surround themselves with knowledgeable and trustworthy counselors like Michael Flynn and Kellyanne Conway.

Anyway, getting back to the annuity: my father liked annuities. He bought three of them. My mother still gets monthly checks for $175, $226 and $275 which, when added to her Social Security, doesn’t come close to paying for her assisted living facility. So that worked out well.

But, okay, so we bought the annuity. Then a few weeks later, our financial advisor’s assistant called to say their company wouldn’t allow them to carry the annuity in our regular retirement account so they needed to open a new one just to hold the annuity. I responded the way I usually do when our advisor calls to say he wants to make this or that trade: “Sure, whatever.” I do this because I usually have no idea what he’s talking about. He could be trading baseball cards for all I know.

“In order to do that,” the assistant added, “I have to send you a signature form to sign.”

“Sure,” I replied. “Whatever.”

This would be a good time to mention that, like most people these days, I have fallen into the habit of blindly signing any document that comes my way, whether it’s a cell phone contract, a car lease or an iTunes user agreement. When was the last time you read one of those things? What do they expect you to do, hire a lawyer every time you have to update your software? I mean, I don’t want to download your friggin’ update in the first place; you’re making me. Shouldn’t it be you agreeing not to screw up my device with your download? (“Apple hereby agrees that this new iPhone software will not erase all your apps and contacts, or we will pay a penalty of $100,000. Agree?”)

But I digress.

Our financial advisor’s assistant emailed over the form, with a cover note instructing me to review the document carefully, sign it and return it. I had to initiate a bunch of security procedures just to download the thing, and then a couple more to open it. Below is the first page of the document he wanted me to sign. I direct your attention to the bottom right-hand corner, where I have highlighted something truly horrifying.

Yes, that’s right. Page 1 of 17. And all 17 pages are just like this one. Seventeen triple-columned pages of legal copy.

I snapped.

This is, verbatim, the well-thought-out response I sent to our financial advisor’s assistant:

“Are you kidding me? No, I am not reviewing 17 pages of fine print. If you can’t handle the annuity within the existing accounts, then forget it.”

Of course, within minutes, our actual financial advisor was on the phone, apologizing for his parent company’s stupidity and irrational insistence on having clients sign such documents. He assured me that it was all boilerplate, which is what people always say when they want you to sign something without reading it. I should also point out that our financial advisor’s parent company happens to be Wells Fargo, which does not exactly have a squeaky-clean recent history of acting in its customers’ best interests (although, our financial advisor would be quick to say, that was the banking division).

I drew a line in the sand, which was really a beach filled with very tiny letters. “Even if I was inclined to read this with a magnifying glass,” I said, “we both know, as does Wells Fargo, that there is virtually no chance I would understand any of it.”

Then, in total rebellion to the way we lead our 21st Century lives, I refused to sign.

“Okay,” he replied. “we’ll just keep the annuity in the existing account.”

Wait, what? This was certainly a revelation! If we didn’t really need a new account for the annuity, what was this whole thing about? And do all companies operate this way now? What would happen if everybody just refused to sign user agreements? Would Apple and the like eventually just say, “Oh, all right. Never mind”?

In conclusion, I invite all my readers to stop signing and agreeing to things. And since I don’t have nearly enough readers for any corporation to care about, I encourage all my readers who do have Facebook friends and various followers to tell everyone you know to get on board with this.

I also have one more request: please send me a lot of money. I have a feeling we’re going to be needing it.

See you soon.

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