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Tribute to Stephen Hawking - Discovered That Black Holes Radiate

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I headed out this afternoon to our local Walmart near the Madison County line to buy a mailing tube for a photo print.  Here were the highlights from the trip:

• On the way to Walmart, I drove past the restaurant at the bottom of the hill where we used to buy our pizzas.  The WE DELIVER neon sign in the window was lit up as usual.  One time when I was picking up a pie there, I commented to the owner about the sign and asked him when they had started delivery service.  He told me that they don’t deliver and hadn’t done so in years.  I noticed that the sign had its own electrical plug.  The owner has never bothered to unplug it.  Perhaps he delivers, in his own way.

• When I got to Walmart, I headed to the section where the office supplies were.  Were is the operative word, since they used to be there but not anymore.  But luckily there was an associate nearby — she told me that the office supplies had been relocated to the corner of the store.  I asked her about mailing tubes specifically and she replied, yes, they are there.  Of course, when I got to the office supplies section, I found no mailing tubes.

• As I headed back to my car, I passed a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE in faded five-inch capital letters.  It was homemade.

• I headed over to the nearby Publix market on the off-chance that they had mailing tubes. Turning into the lot, I followed what was probably the largest pickup truck I’ve ever seen. Its bulging jet-black body showed no sign of ever having picked up anything other than its owner.  And in the window behind the driver’s seat was this stark black-and-white decal: NOT SPONSORED BY MOMMY & DADDY.

• Publix had no mailing tubes either (it was an off-chance, after all) so I decided to head downtown to Staples.  Driving southbound into Asheville on I-26, one is greeted by a sign at the I-240 interchange that promises VISITOR INFORMATION if one stays to the left:I stayed to the left, not because I need information but because that is the fastest way to get to Staples.  But information-seeking visitors who heed this sign are presented with a more difficult choice just 1000 feet down the road:

Oh Gracious Lord!  Which way should one turn for VISITOR INFORMATION?  Should one head Downtown or follow the Expressway?  Unlike the last fork, there is no helpful signage here.  As a visitor looking for information, what path would you choose?

I think most people, if using their common sense instead of their GPS or Gracious Lord, would choose the Downtown ramp.  But those people would be wrong.  To get to the Asheville Visitor Center from southbound I-26, one must use the I-240 eastbound ramp, then quickly merge into the left lane of I-240 and cross two lanes of expressway traffic in less than 1500 feet to exit the freeway and navigate to the Visitor Center via city streets.

Apparently, visitors to Asheville are more than able to execute this challenging maneuver, as we seem to have no lack of their kind in these here parts.

• I get to Staples, pick up my mailing tube and fall into line behind a scrawny woman standing next to a rather beat-up Canon Pixma MX492 printer box at her feet.  There was one associate at the checkout.  I think, oh no, I’m going to be in line forever, but then I say to myself, GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE, and suddenly another checkout associate shows up!  (OK, I made up part of that last sentence.  It was the part in capital letters.)  Anyway, the scrawny woman starts to explain to the new associate why she is returning the printer.  Something about paper jams and error 5100.  The associate asks, do you have a receipt?  No.  Okay then, how about the credit card you used?  I used a debit card, she says.  Okay, says the associate, we will credit it to your debit card.  Some keystrokes later, the associate asks, are you sure this is the debit card you used to buy the printer?  Meanwhile, I am now purchasing my mailing tube from the other associate, who wants to know whether I have a Staples Rewards Card.  I say no and tune out the scrawny woman’s printer return story.

• As I was driving home from Staples, I thought of the time a few years back when I was walking into Lowes (across from Walmart near Madison County) and was approached by a thirty-something woman holding an item I cannot now recall.  She wanted me to take her item to the Returns Desk, get a cash refund and then come back out and give her the cash.  She had no receipt.  I told her I could not do that and resumed walking into the store.

• When I got home from Staples, I checked and found that my local Walmart does not even carry mailing tubes in-store.  All in all, it was a disconsolate trip through the little town I live in.   At least I can say it was not sponsored by mommy or daddy.

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Inspired by Elton John, a mere six years my senior, I have also decided to announce the start of my farewell tour.  But rather than three years, I intend that my farewell tour go on for twenty or thirty.  Indeed, my Farewell Black Asphalt Driveway Tour will last as long as I can pull out a piano bench, but then wisely push it back in and instead find an interesting art gallery to visit and a fun place to have lunch with my wife.

CHCollins as Elton John WannabeMy twenty-or-thirty-year farewell tour grants me a long opportunity to say thank you to my hundreds of fans and friends.  (Okay, not hundreds.  More like a handful.)  But I will not wait to the end of my tour to express appreciation to all those who somehow have overlooked my faults and remained my friends.  First things first, and the first thing is love — that will be the motto of my farewell tour.  The second thing will be humor, which is fitting, as humor always seems to be an afterthought around here.

When one announces a farewell tour, thoughts naturally turn to opportunities wasted and hurts unintended.  But let us all be positive about this — or as positive as anyone might be upon hearing of a farewell tour by one so beloved (ahem) as myself.  Positives you say? What might the positives be?  First, I will continue to publish blog posts for the foreseeable future, in spite of my having no foreseeable rise in readership.  Second, I will keep writing inscrutable poems and the occasional one-panel comic.  Third, I will continue to design and produce The 100 Billionth Person branded items for my fans to briefly cherish before they regift them to their casual work friends.  (Contact me if interested in those items.)  Finally, I will offer refunds for the tickets to all those performances I had to cancel due to circumstances beyond my control, like all the times that the arena accidentally scheduled me and Lady Gaga to perform on the same day and the same time but she showed up first.  I feel really bad about that and I want to make it up to you.

Some of you are questioning what warrants my confidence in scheduling and completing a twenty-to-thirty-year Farewell Black Asphalt Driveway Tour.  If I make it, then I make it.  If I don’t, the loss will be mine, not yours.  Just don’t expect a ticket refund.

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