Life of A Salesman

From a newsgroup post dated October 17, 2007:

Elsewhere there’s a discussion of a very annoyingly condescending salesclerk someone dealt with recently; I remarked there that such salespeople are fools, because you sell more stuff with flattery than condescension.

Which reminded me of an incident, lo these many years ago, which I didn’t post there because it wasn’t relevant, so I’m posting it here. Not that it’s relevant here, either, but it’s my newsgroup, so I can post it anyway.

I was in the audio department somewhere, I think at Circuit City, considering whether to replace all or part of the stereo system I bought back in 1973. I was chatting with a salesman, who was doing a pretty good job of ingratiating himself without being pushy or condescending, and I had explained that I maybe wanted to upgrade my twenty-year-old system.

He asked what I had.

“A Sansui 661 receiver,” I said.

He nodded. “A decent unit in its day,” he said, “but you can do better. What have you got for speakers?”

“MicroAcoustic FRM-1s,” I said.

“Well, you aren’t going to replace those,” he said. “There isn’t anything better.”

Whereupon he managed to flatter me immensely, and impress me with his knowledge, at the same time he lost the sale. He was the first salesman I’d met since 1975 who’d ever heard of the MicroAcoustic FRM-1, and if he said that no one had improved on it, I believed him, so I didn’t buy new speakers.

I did spend a pleasant half-hour chatting about audio equipment with him, though.

Trailer Park

(All new!)

So we saw “The Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2” Monday afternoon (and had a lovely time, thanks). It has long been my custom to assess the trailers accompanying any movie we see in the theater, so here we go:

There were eight trailers. This is excessive. It hasn’t been that long since five was the norm.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” looks big and loud and stupid. I am so not interested.

The remake of “The Mummy” does not look very promising, either. Both these first two trailers were so loud that I was beginning to worry the whole feature would be unpleasant and ear-tiring, but fortunately that did not turn out to be the case.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” was the first trailer that was not just a barrage of noise and CGI. It had moments of character, bits of humor, and generally lots of stuff to indicate that the film is not just a noisefest and lightshow. I expect to see and enjoy this one.

“Alien: Covenant”… I dunno. It looks better than the last couple of Alien movies, but that’s saying depressingly little. I think I’ll pass.

“Dunkirk”: It’s a war movie. It looks as if it’s a well-made one, with some good characters, but I’m not much on war movies these days (with exceptions for superhero war movies). If the word of mouth sings enough hosannas, I might check it out.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” looks pretty good, and I still plan on seeing every feature in the series. It would take a real stinker to make me stop. The three prequels were building up a significant amount of suckage, but the Disney takeover has cleansed my palate and renewed my enthusiasm.

The trailer for “Thor: Ragnarok” has a little more CGI than I really wanted, but the line “I know him from work!” sold me — I wanna see it. In general, the Thor series has not been at the top of my Marvel list (not that they suck, they just aren’t as good as some of the others), but this one has promise.

And finally, the next Pirates of the Caribbean film — does it even have a definite title yet? — capped off the previews. I regret to say that even though I loved the first one and it’s always a delight to watch Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, I think the series has outlasted its sell-by date. Zombie sharks are one of those ideas that sounds great in a late-night conversation but should probably not actually be used.

All in all, it was a very loud set of trailers.

Word of the Day

From a newsgroup post dated March 5, 2007:


I’m not sure whether it was my sister Jody or my mother who came up with that; it’s a spoonerism for “tummy grumbles,” of course, and means a digestive upset that’s inconvenient but doesn’t reach the level of vomiting or full-scale diarrhea.

When I started to think about posting this I was quite sure it was Jody’s word, but the more I think about it, the more I think it was Mother’s. I don’t suppose it matters, since they’re both long dead.

It came to mind… well, yesterday I finished off a package of bacon that had been in the refrigerator for awhile. I think from now on I’ll make it a rule: If bacon smells funny, don’t cook and eat it.

Stupid Little Things That Annoy Me More than They Should

From a newsgroup post dated October 24, 2006:

I like Frito-Lay’s “Wavy Lay’s” potato chips. I eat them a lot. For years, I’ve gone (with the help of Julie and the kids) through maybe three or four 11.5 oz. bags a week — I keep an open bag on my desk and nibble on them off and on. (Now you know how I got so fat.)

I deliberately bought the 11.5 oz. size because the larger “Family Size” (which I think is about a pound) was too big — by the time we finished a bag, the last few chips would be soggy, and who wants soggy potato chips?

Last week Frito-Lay did something that I’m sure they thought would be wildly popular with consumers — they changed their standard medium-sized bag from 11.5 oz. to 13.75 oz., for the same price.

But 13.75 ounces is too much. The last few chips get soggy.

So yes, I’m seriously annoyed that they made my favorite food cheaper.

I know it’s perverse of me; I don’t care. 11.5 ounces was just exactly right. 13.75 is too much.

But it didn’t last. They currently sell three sizes — Regular, Family Size, and Party Size. Family Size is 10 ounces, which is a good size.

The All-New Tennessee Waltz

An all-new post! (Well, sorta; it’s an edited version of something I’d posted on a private BBS.)

So we’re back from our spring vacation, which was riding along with friends as they visited Tennessee.

To explain a bit: we’ve gotten in the habit of traveling with our friends Jim and Susan on our less-elaborate trips that don’t have any special purpose beyond getting out of town for awhile. The mechanics vary, but in this case they made pretty much all the arrangements because they have a big ol’ car they bought specifically for road trips (I’m not sure whether it’s officially a truck, SUV, or station wagon, but it seats six adults comfortably and still has room for a cooler and some luggage) and an AirBnB account. Julie and Susan did most of the planning; Susan did most of the driving.

So last Saturday we got picked up disgustingly early and drove to Knoxville, where some of our former neighbors now live. (Jim and Susan, Sam and Sandy, and Julie and I, all lived in the same part of Gaithersburg, and our kids grew up together to some extent; Jim and Sam were leaders in Julian’s Boy Scout troop. None of us live in Gaithersburg anymore.) We stayed with Sam and Sandy for two nights, driving around the Great Smoky Mountains in between. Visited Gatlinburg and Cherokee NC, saw the damage from the recent forest fire, visited the world’s largest knife store.

Monday we moved on from Knoxville to Nashville, our final destination, where Sandy had booked a house overlooking the river a little northeast of the city, in Madison, TN. I’m not sure whether Madison is part of Nashville or a suburb, actually. Anyway, it was a great rental, with two comfy bedrooms (and a third we didn’t use because it didn’t look as comfy), a deck and balcony overlooking the Cumberland River, and lots of other amenities, including a cat named Bolt. Jim and Susan had never had a cat, so they weren’t sure how to deal with him, but he was a pretty friendly and cooperative animal.

We didn’t know until we got there, but the house is apparently owned by a moderately successful singer/songwriter who rents it out when she’s not in Nashville — which is often, since she tours a lot. The day we arrived she was leaving for somewhere else entirely. (Mexico, according to her webpage.)

So we spent a few days in and around Nashville, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Toured the Ryman Auditorium and the Hermitage and the Country Music Hall of Fame, saw Studio B where all RCA’s Nashville artists of the ’50s and ’60s recorded (e.g., Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.), went honky-tonking on Lower Broadway, took a boat ride on the General Jackson, saw the Grand Ole Opry, visited the Johnny Cash Museum, etc.

The one thing we’d meant to do that we missed, due to sloppy scheduling, was eating at the Bluebird Cafe. Oh, well.

The weather in Knoxville was horrible, with rain that sometimes worked up to torrential; the weather in Nashville was mostly great, but that rain meant the Cumberland River was running very high — by the time we left, it was twelve feet above flood stage. The downtown riverside promenade was under a foot or two of water. Fortunately, the area is accustomed to this — no damage is going to occur until you get maybe 20 feet above flood stage. (In 2010 a flood crested at 42 feet. That was bad. Lots of places have stuff about how they rebuilt.) It did mean the General Jackson couldn’t do their regular route because the water was too high to fit safely under some bridges, so we didn’t see downtown from the water.

Our rented deck gave us a good view of the river, as I mentioned, and looking at the trees on the far bank we saw that the river rose a lot just while we were there.

And Saturday we left early and came home, where I’m trying to catch up on everything, and here we are.

Old New England

Trip report from my SFF Net newsgroup, dated August 15, 2006:

So I’m back from a few days in New England. Stayed with my sister in North Reading, visited Julie’s sister in North Chelmsford, played tourist on Cape Ann and in Boston, lunched with an old friend, dined with another of Julie’s sisters in Nashua NH, but the actual reason for the trip was a multi-class high school reunion that drew almost 500 people and was fascinating but much too loud.

Lui Lui’s, a pizza-and-pasta place on the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua, just across the state line from Massachusetts, is highly recommended — we gave them a very hard time (not deliberately), and they remained helpful, cheerful, and competent throughout. And the food was very good.

The food at Captain Carlo’s, on Harbor Loop in downtown Gloucester, was even better — I’m fairly sure my haddock was still swimming in the Atlantic that morning. Best haddock I’ve ever eaten, and not expensive. Climbed on the rocks at Stage Fort Park and at Folly Cove. Alas, Hammond Castle had been rented for a private function, so we didn’t stop there.

The weather was astonishingly good, which made our stroll through the Public Garden a delight. The line for the swan boats was daunting, so we only walked. We walked up as far as Government Center, actually, and decided that City Hall is pretty decent architecture despite being weird and late-modernist. Got ice cream from a little stand in the Downtown Crossing shopping district; I still have a spot of Fenway Fudge on one shoe.

Wouldn’t have recognized most people at the reunion without name-tags; didn’t recognize lots of them even with name-tags. Was startled by how many of them knew that I was Lawrence Watt-Evans. Chatted with Bill Bryan briefly; he’s still working in Hollywood. Don’t think there was anyone else there you might have heard of, though apparently one of Julie’s classmates had a pretty impressive career in the Marines, and recently retired as a full colonel after seeing combat in three different wars.

And So It Begins

Newsgroup post, March 4, 2006:

With the kids out of the house, the place doesn’t get messed up much. This means Julie actually has these silly fantasies about someday getting everything cleaned up and sorted out.

We had to move a bunch of boxes to install the new water heater, including one that had been partially soaked by the leak that precipitated the departure of the old water heater, and then they had to stay out of the way until the WSSC inspector came to approve the installation. That meant that those boxes were sitting out in the basement den, taunting Julie.

So we’ve actually started going through some of this old stuff, reorganizing it, throwing out the obvious trash, etc.

And we’re stumbling across stuff that has us wondering, “What the heck should we do with this?”

For example, there are four manuscripts here — photocopies, not originals — of novels I was asked to blurb in the 1980s. Specifically, The Magic of Recluce, by Lee Modesitt; Alchemy Unlimited, by Douglas W. Clark; The Duchess of Kneedeep, by Atanielle Annyn Noel; and The Blind Archer, by John Betancourt.

Now, what should I do with these? eBay? Donate them to a SFWA charity auction? Trash? Donate to a museum somewhere?

April 4, 2017: I note that nobody had any useful suggestions, and I still have all these manuscripts ten years later. You people are no help.

On the Classification of Classifications

Okay, there have been signs of life among the comments, but I’m still quoting this newsgroup post from August 13, 2005. Note that I said I’d let it stew overnight before pursuing it; well, I never did pursue it. Apparently it didn’t look as interesting the next morning.

So over in “Strange Days,” we’ve been discussing the relative merits of SF and fantasy — which I don’t think is a very good idea, but thinking about genres has just triggered an insight of sorts.

Why are SF and fantasy so often grouped together? Well, partly it’s for historical reasons — fantasy hid in the SF mags for the middle decades of the 20th century, and many authors wrote and write both because of that shared history. I think that it’s partly, though, because both are genres defined by setting.

SF is set in our universe, as altered by new science or technology.

Fantasy is set in a universe other than our own. (It may look just like our own with magic added, but it isn’t, since we have no capability for magic here.)

Compare this with genres defined by plot, such as mystery or romance; you can set a mystery anywhere, but it involves someone solving a crime by evaluating the available evidence; likewise, a romance can be set anywhere, so long as it follows two people as they fall in love and overcome whatever obstacles there may be to consummating that love.

And horror is a genre defined by mood — in fact, Douglas Winter famously said that horror is a mood, not a genre at all.

This has me thinking that we really ought to sort out genres into categories according to whether they’re defined by setting, plot, mood, or some other story element.

It is, however, late, and I have a busy day planned for tomorrow, so I’m going to let this stew overnight rather than pursuing it right now.

Take Cover

Newsgroup post, March 4, 2005:

So I’m messin’ around with iTunes, which I downloaded ages ago but have yet to actually buy anything from, and I start poking through the Yardbirds’ catalog, and play a sample from “Train Kept a’Rollin’.”

The Aerosmith cover is way better.

Which got me thinking about how often a cover version is better than the original. Not that often, certainly — most covers suck — but when it happens it can be pretty cool.

Aerosmith’s version of “Train Kept a’Rollin’ kicks ass, for example. Or consider Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” which is vastly superior to the original.

And then there are the covers that are so different that you can’t really compare them, like the Cardigans’ version of the Black Sabbath song “Iron Man.”

But there are borderline cases, too. Is Pat Benatar’s cover of “Wuthering Heights” as good as the Kate Bush original? What about the remixed Bush version?

This is my competition…

From February 15, 2005:

Something I stumbled across on a website where would-be screenwriters were invited to make pitches.

Oh, my God….

“Greetings. The following is a screenplay that I’m using to seek representation. The Florescent Shaded Teddy Bear Murders: An island community of Millionaire supermodels must overcome their vanity when giant, ravenous teddy bears threaten their quirky lifestyle. Sparkle Island, a place of grotesque wealth where locals use “cosmetic genetics” to eliminate every flaw in their appearance, celebrate Tickle Festivals to relish the euphoria of hysterical laughter and thrill their pets with the sport of bungee jumping. The unattractive in this world fight for the leftover crumbs of opportunity, as success is primarily given to beauty before talent. Paradise is thrown into a blender when fanged beasts of plush mysteriously arrive to chow down on the gorgeous elite, leaving the less-attractive-hell, let’s just call them ugly-labor force untouched. Police search the town in their limousines for clues, a military with questionable motive enters the fray, led by a Commander armed with lethal PEZ dispensers. But it’s the town princess and ugly accordion virtuoso who discover the bears’ origin: a paltry, balding scientist who created them as revenge for not getting a promised genetic makeover that would finally give him beauty and inclusion among the island’s royalty.”