The Great Fairfax Coffee Caper

You know that feeling when you’re looking for the UPS drop box because you got a Nespresso machine for Father’s Day and you’ve finally filled up the bag they give you to send the canisters (don’t call them pods, dear god, not making that mistake again) back for recycling, and you’re in a bit of a hurry to hustle those suckers out of the house because the bag with the used coffee pods, pardon me, canisters, had that nice coffee smell for about the first 3 hours but for the last 2 months it’s just smelled of rancid coffee mildew death, as does the cabinet it was in, and now that the bag’s in your car you’ve got maybe 30 minutes before the odor permeates the supposedly impregnable plastic of your simulated rosewood dashboard and interior trim? 

That feeling?  No? 

Well, let me tell you.

UPS Drop Box!
Who the hell is Carolyn?

There we were, dropping the Human Tape Recorder off for her appointment at the Carolyn Building.  We knew that it was call the Carolyn Building because it said on the UPS App.  There are no other recorded instances of anyone ever referring to it by this name.  We wondered who Carolyn was, and the Human Tape Recorder replied that it was very likely some chick named Carolyn who’d had a package delivered there one time in 1993, and they figured, what the heck, good a name as any.  I mean, Carolyn sounds like something your kid sister would have as a middle name in the ‘70s or something.

But there was the UPS App, claiming that there’s a drop box there, into which we can drop our UPS postage paid package of rancid coffee grounds. 

Of course the Carolyn Building was locked, but the Human Tape Recorder had the code. The primary code didn’t work, but the universal code worked.  (The universal code is “knock twice and show some cleavage.”  The guy with the cleaning supplies almost tripped letting her in the door.)  The Human Tape Recorder vanished up the elevator for her appointment and we drove around back to find the UPS drop box. 

It wasn’t there. 

Luckily, the App showed there was another box a few buildings down.  And there might be, too, but if so it wasn’t outside, and the building was locked.  No box.

Next building.  No box.  Drive a little farther.  Next building.  No box.  Drive a little farther.  Next building.  No box.  Check the door.  Locked.  No box.  The car is starting to smell of fair trade privilege and decay.  Hurry to the next location on the UPS App, around the parking lot, in the back – there, two boxes!  Saved!

No.  One box was USPS and the other might have started life as a UPS box, but it had turned into a FedEx box since the UPS App pushed its most recent update. 

I came close to dropping it in the FedEx box.  Same concept, right?  People must mix those up all the time. 

I can just hear them in the Great Shared Sorting Facility:
“Fred, got one of yours here.” 
“Thanks Bob, here’s two for you, Texas.  What’s that one say?”
“Nespresso pods, er, canisters.”
“Aww shit, really?  Trade ya?  Those things stink.”
“Heh.  All yours good buddy, says UPS on it.  All yours.”

But I’m not sure I really believe in the Great Shared Sorting Facility, and so, being a responsible coffee drinker, I continued to risk my car and nasal cavities by driving a little farther down the line.  We found a dead end, which held some merit but didn’t seem sporting, since there were houses there, and we found a Dumpster, which I have a really hard time distinguishing from a UPS Drop Box some times.  (The reverse is also true, which is also why I’m never going back to a certain business park near that bar in Cleveland.)

Finally, the UPS App map swore there was supposed to be a drop box at Building 3251, which is called Building 3251.  We found it by dint of winding up parked right in front of it; SOBUMD asked what the address was, and I had to open the sunroof to check the numerals, which are two stories high, declaring themselves to the world, from the rooftop.  Right building…  And, closed.  Box inside.  I could see it. 

As with the Carolyn Building, there was a person inside 3251 with cleaning supplies.  As an overweight, middle-aged Big Ugly Man Doll, doors DO open when I flash my cleavage, but they’re usually doors that you can’t unlock from the inside, and sometimes the officers bang your head on the car as they put you through them, and besides, the flashing lights give me the headache.  So, that was out.

We went around.  The back was no good.  Well, it might have been good, but there was a party happening in the rear of the parking lot, with a nice fire going.  It seemed like a very well-attended party.  Since we hadn’t been invited, possibly because of our having a fixed address and boring shit like that, we decided discretion was the better part of valor. We went around to the front of the building and pulled into the exit lane, to return to the open road and continue our quest. 

I just needed to wait for that UPS truck to turn in front of me.

Picture it!  There I was, about T-minus 3 minutes before our stinking rattle-sack pillow of coffee bones and despair leaked enough malodorous malevolence that I’d have to buy a new car, and there’s a big brown box truck of deliverance turning left right in front of me!

“Follow that truck!” I shouted. 

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” said SOBUMD.  I did a right and proper, by which I mean highly illegal, U-turn and pulled in behind the truck, as he stopped at Building 3251.

I pulled in right behind him, looked at SOBUMD again (she was holding the baby), and said, “Right, out you pop!”

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” she repeated, handing me the flopping aluminum stink-sack.

I got the bag out of the car with only seconds to spare – the paint was starting to peel, and that was on the inside. 

The poor UPS driver climbing out of the truck had clearly been busy hating his life to start with, and being handed a squirmy baby made of shifting aluminum and sustainably harvested, eye-watering compost canisters did nothing to change that. 

“I didn’t find the box, but I did find you,” I said with the good cheer of a man who now doesn’t need to file a dubious insurance claim about that smell in my car.  He took the bag.


He tossed the bag onto the floor of the truck.  Clang-kerclunk-rattle-pew-thud.

“Thank you!” 


I could see the delight in his eyes, and by delight I mean the flashbacks of loves lost, poor decisions, and bad fashion choices that had lead him to this job, this truck, this route – on this night.  The pod people were always coming for him.  Or canister people.  Whatever. 

We left the poor UPS man with the steaming sack of a hundred used cups of Joe and peeled out of there before he could change his mind and/or quit his job.  As luck would have it, the final UPS App Drop Box effort had landed us across the street from a dessert store called, in an example of truth-in-advertising gone too far, The Dessert Store.  (I have to assume they share an ad agency with Building 3251.)  It’s in a strip mall with not one, not two, but three hookah shops, two of them actually adjacent to one another, and a clock and watch repair guy who probably closes at 5pm on the very, very, precise dot, presumably for a smoke.

We got some desserts, because how else does one celebrate one’s emancipation from certain coffee mildew death, and besides, it’s what they sell at the Dessert Store.  We watched the rain, raining sidewise for a bit.  Two young women walked out, decided they’d wait on the bench outside, started to get drenched and came hesitantly back in.  I told them that rain like that was a good reason to stay for more dessert.  I guess I sounded convincing, because they were still eating when we left, as the rain dissipated.  I should be in sales.

From there, we still had a nominal amount of time to kill before picking up the Human Tape Recorder at what we now knew to be the Carolyn Building, and we’d already called Geico.  (Geico has actually blocked my number at this point.)  We went to Starbucks.  Closed.  They roll the sidewalks up early in Fairfax.  We drove past enough other places that I wondered what these people do for fun in the evenings, other than smoking hookah and dreaming eponymous dreams.  Finally, we found Earth Fare, with 9 minutes remaining to shop before they closed.  We shopped in 7 minutes, because we’re professionals, and because I dragged SOBUMD out, to her consternation, with only 4 bottles of coconut amino acids.  Her coupon is actually good until December, which is good, because we’ll be back.  The checkout person was throwing things into our bag at near relativistic speeds to ensure our timely departure, while maintaining a smile all the time.  She may have been a robot. 

Thus happily unencumbered by coffee canisters of dubious odor, equally happily encumbered with snacks, and grave with desserts, we pressed on our appointed rounds in time to retrieve the Human Tape Recorder.  She emerged, asking after our evening.  We launched into this recitation and she said something on the order of “Oh, yeah, the UPS box is right inside, I could have brought that in.” 

Next time.  Next time. 

And so ends the saga of The Great Fairfax Coffee Caper. 

Dear Gram

Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I sent my grandmother a number of letters, on the order of 40 or so. Mostly, I told her, this was because she didn’t own a computer, and I didn’t feel that the lack of a computer and Internet access should exempt her from having to read the deathless prose of the Big Ugly Man Doll. She was, after all, the Queen Mother of Pink! (And yes, I addressed most of the envelopes to “The Queen Mother of Pink” at her address. The Post Office had no trouble finding her.)

This was mostly the hubris of her eldest grandchild speaking, but I was reliably informed that she appreciated the updates – by her, because she often wrote back with comments. (The comments were often variants on “you’re out of your mind,” proving that comments on blogs are the same the world over, regardless of medium.) The other reason I sent the letters, though, was because I was never really great at sending thank you notes when I was young, despite Gram’s unfailing ability to remember my birthday. (Between Christmas, birthdays, Easter, and Valentine’s day, for myself and all my cousins, and all of our kids, she must have sent literally thousands of cards – possibly keeping the local Hallmark afloat.)

I know she kept quiet track of the notes: When she found out that I had joined my high school debate team, she sent me the one medal she’d won while she was on HER high school debate team. I thought this was pretty cool, and when I won a (one and only) medal, I gave mine to her the next time we were in Chicago. She thanked me and laughed and said, “This gets you off the hook for a lot of missing thank you notes!”

The Queen Mother of Pink
The Queen Mother of Pink

The Queen Mother of Pink passed away a few days ago, at 101, in her own home, just as she’d said she would. She lived her life her way, tiny and fierce, short of stature and strong of will. She was the nicest person I know of, and certainly the nicest person I’ve ever known in person. Nice was never the same as weak – she had a will of iron. I learned a lot from her.

And so, finally, one last Thank You note – late, as usual.

Dear Gram,

So, you’re dead. I’m sure you’ve finally got WiFi now, so I know you’re reading this. I’ll miss your reply, typed on the old Smith Corona – I never understood how you did that with non-standard paper sizes. Even the checks were typed.

Thank you for teaching me what power grandmothers have. My earliest memories of you are from Omaha: You and Grandpa were visiting, and I was perhaps 5 or 6. I had been being my most usual self, I’m sure, and was about to get in trouble for it. I heard the words, “Do you need a spanking?” And suddenly, before I could say anything, I heard “Oh, not while Grandma’s here!” I’m sure my mother must have been near apoplexy, but to me, this was paramount to Mr. Rogers himself reaching through the television to intercede on my behalf. Wow!

Thank you for providing a road map on how to age without really getting old. You earned a college degree in the 1930s, and you never stopped learning. Learning to drive in your 50s? Going back to a local college in your 70s and 80s, to audit courses about the history that you’d lived through? That’s genius. Staying in your house, in your 90s and 100s, because it was your house and you damn well felt like it – that was maybe a little goofy, but strong. And reading – I didn’t get to your house very often, but there were always books. Not a library, hording them like I do, but you were always reading some new books.

And thank you for being an example. As I face my 50th year, I think of all the things you saw. You saw two states admitted to the union, and three Federal holidays created.  You were there to see cars replace horses; you saw Ford replace the Model T with the Model A.  You saw the infield fly rule amended to not apply to bunts. You lived through 18 Presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson. (Jimmy Carter was the first one younger than you were!) You saw the end of the Great War, and then presided over a century that saw little else. 

And yet none of those things made you jaded, or less hopeful – not even the infield fly rule. You saw the good in people.

Thank you for sharing some of the stories about that history. You told me that when the victory in Europe was announced in May of 1945, and everyone was banging pots and pans in the street to celebrate, you had to use a stool to reach some of yours from the cabinet – and this was when Uncle George first realized, “Mommy, you’re short!” The end of the war? Never mind that – his mom had to use a stool to reach the pots! Man, that was a milestone!

One of these days, I shall compile my letters to you, with your replies, and post them as an epistolary record. Just to be goofy.

I’m sure you’re enjoying things there. I hope they have Twinkies, and Peeps for Grandpa. We’ll keep things moving down here, and we’ll try to live up to the examples you set – in niceness, in compassion, and in strength. Maybe not in pink, honestly, but I’ll see what I can do.

Much Love as Always,

-Big Ugly Man Doll

1 January 2019 – Long Letter Follows

Still aint’n dead.  Missed most of the last year – slept right through it.  Will work on updating this more often – a genuine, shiny new year’s resolution.  Hey, I’ve got to have something to fail at, right?

Be well, stay safe, think positive thoughts about the end of the current administration.  The watchword for 2019 is HOPE.

Oh, and be nice to each other while I’m away.  Your fellow humans are going through a lot right now.

Bide.  And hope.

Suppressed Memories and Other Tales: Counting

A long, long time ago, by which I mean ‘before Facebook,’ we had some kids.  These days, those kids are all teenagers, but that wasn’t always the case!  They were young, even like unto babies, and SOBUMD and I were completely new at parenting.  (These days we’re such old hats at parenting that we run seminars.  And by seminars, I mean about recreational alcoholism.)

But the point is that there are stories that were missed, because we were too freaked out to write them down, fill in the little embellishments, add the filigree, and post them, and also because we weren’t blogging at the time.  Also, blogging wasn’t much of a thing back then, but that’s less of an excuse.  And so, I’m going to try to add a few True Tales From the Crypt of Early Parenthood.

We will begin with Counting.

One day, when the kids were small, we had a playdate with friends who had small kids as well.  By small, think 4 or 5 or so.  My kids were running around with blocks and singing songs.  Their kids were running around with balls and singing songs.  We and our friends were sitting around with drinks and talking about how tired we were.  We got on the topic of knowing their numbers and how much fun it is to watch them struggle with the digits, and I had to go open my big mouth and show how smart the Human Tape Recorder was.  “Hey, come over here and show how you count to ten!”  (Our friends were also techies, just so that’s understood.)

HTR:  “Sure!  0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10!”

They were duly impressed.  Having learned to count in hexadecimal before learning basic math is probably why she hasn’t scored less than a 97% on any given math test.  (She’s now in college studying math that would Einstein barf.)

Suddenly, a voice from the din:  “Hey, I know!  Let’s sing the Counting Song!”

All the kids decided this was a wonderful thing, since it seemed all the kids knew the counting song.  “You know the counting song?”



And with no further prompting and no accompaniment required, the other kids started singing:  “Well, there’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 wheels on a Big Rig!  And they’re Rolling, rolling, rolling; Rolling, rolling, rolling…”

They trailed off.  My kids looked at them like they’d just sprouted an extra head and some kind of a 4-headed, country-truck-song-singing quadruped had just landed on the carpet.  “THAT’s not the counting song!” said mine, with the indignant authority of a 5-year old who knows her numbers.  “Ours goes like this:”

And just before they started to sing, I realized what the counting song was.  Too late.

“I take one, one, one ’cause you left me
And two, two, two for my family
And three, three, three for my heartache
And four, four, four for my headache
And five, five, five for my lonely
And six, six, six for my sorrow
And seven, seven – no tomorrow
And eight, eight, I forget what eight was for
But nine, nine, nine for a lost god
And ten, ten, ten, ten for everything, everything, everything, everything!”

I was torn between proud and horrified, and settled for a kind of horrible pride.  Our friends allowed as how that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard, really, but oh look at the time, we need to be going, let’s pack it up guys.  For reasons that were never made entirely clear, there were no further playdates.  I’m sure it went down in our permanent record somewhere.

So, let this be a lesson to all you young parents – if you don’t teach your kids about numbers, the Violent Femmes will.  I leave you with both songs, so you can do your own side-by-side comparison.  Or, teach your kids to count.  But not in Hex.

(Trout Fishing in America)


(Violent Femmes)


In Defense of the Final Frontier

A friend pointed out to me an article by a Luddite, who derides the recent SpaceX launch as frippery, Elon Musk as a modern-day Louis XVI, and the entire idea of space exploration as something humanity shouldn’t be allowed to play with until we clean up our room.

After some consideration, I’m not going to link to the article.  I’m sure you can find it if you go looking.  I disagree with the author completely.

His main point is that since the space program hasn’t ended war, poverty, or famine, it’s worthless.

The 1969 moon landing didn’t end the Vietnam War.  That’s true. Also true is that space programs like the International Space Station (ISS) foster cooperation between governments, helping to build mutual understanding as a result of international cooperation among nations. So far, more than 63 nations have worked together on the ISS. That kind of visible, public teamwork among potentially rival nations may not end the current wars, but can help prevent the next one.

Investment in the Apollo Moon exploration program in the 1960s also correlates with the level of technical education later attained by students, suggesting that the program’s high public profile positively influenced the level of US technical education. Having a visible space exploration program encourages young people to pursue STEM fields. So far, more than 43 million students from 49 countries have participated in experiments and activities associated with the ISS – building a generation of scientists and engineers who could help with the world hunger problems the author describes.

The assertion that “nothing of substantial worth was gifted to humanity as a result” of the space program is patently false. Even aside from the intangible truth that new knowledge has inherent value to humankind, there are thousands of examples of terrestrial benefits of the space program.

Healthcare is a great place to start.  Do you worry about osteoporosis? Prolia, a prescription drug to treat it, was developed in space. How about laser eye surgery? The technology now commonly used to track a patient’s eye and precisely direct the laser scalpel came from the space program.

Have an inoperable tumor? The robotics that have made inoperable tumors operable, with a robot arm capable of performing surgery inside an MRI machine, came from the space program. For that matter, MRI technology itself was based on innovations from the space program as well.

Do you drive? Goodyear improved the strength and durability of their radial tires in 1976, after developing a material for NASA to parachute the Vikings to a soft landing on the Martian surface.

Firefighters wear a lot of gear when they run into your burning building to save you. A lot of that gear – from the breathing system, face mask, frame, and harness; to the air bottle itself, which is made of an aluminum composite material developed by NASA for use on rocket casings – was initially developed for the space program.

Better baby food. Better solar panels. Better food safety systems – solutions for growing crops in space have lead to solutions for mold prevention on Earth.  Safer bridges, cars, and roller coasters because of structural analysis software built for the space program. Memory foam, in your helmets as well as for your heinie.  UV sunglasses. The camera on your cell phone.  Portable cordless vacuums, god help me. Custom-fitted exoskeletons to help paraplegics walk, derived from space robotic systems. Implantable heart monitors and LED?based anti?cancer therapy.  Water purification technology built for space exploration now purifies millions of cubic meters of water every day, in hundreds of towns.

The author of this article is so myopically focused on the trees of poverty and famine that he misses the forest of humanity’s impending overpopulation crisis.  “If Elon Musk wanted to do something spectacular, he’d have given the money to the poor instead of a spaceship to nowhere.” He offers no concrete solutions for *how* Musk should have used his money to alleviate poverty. “Give the money to the poor” is a child’s answer. Part of the importance of the launch was the cost – SpaceX spent $90 million (OK, plus the cost of Musk’s car), which is about $300 million cheaper than anyone else can do it.  There are an estimated 43.1 million Americans living in poverty (or were, in 2015, per the Census Bureau’s estimates).  At $90 million, Musk could have given each of them enough money to cover a cup of coffee at Starbucks, which would have impacted their lives… Not at all.

Stephen Hawking said that “to confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” Elon Musk’s Telsa Roadster has people looking at the stars again, and I think that’s a very good use of his money.