Saturday, February 28, 2009

Annoying Filipino Catholic Chain E-mails - Part 2

This particular one isn't as bad as the one below, but is more annoying in a way because it contains mostly commonsensical advice that does not require the God stuff mixed into it. Here goes:

This is the most beautiful advice I have ever received in an email ... Please don't close or delete this one before reading!

Fine, if you say so.

An Angel says, 'Never borrow from the future. If you worry about what may happen tomorrow and it doesn't happen, you have worried in vain. Even if it does happen, you have to worry twice.'

An angel said that? Really? Which one? When?

1. Pray Why?
2. Go to bed on time. If I stop to pray, I might not get to bed on time.
3. Get up on time so you can start the day unrushed. Sorry, I gotta press the snooze button two or three times.
4. Say No to projects that won't fit into your time schedule, or that will compromise your mental health. No disagreement there. Though in the real world we don't always have that luxury. If you stop going to church, you might have some more free time.

5. Delegate tasks to capable others. Sure. Go to church and say my prayers for me so I don't have to.
6. Simplify and unclutter your life. I work full time, have two young kids, have a house to run, and my mother to take care of. I can't simplify and unclutter my life.
7. Less is more. (Although one is often not enough, two are often too many.) Give me half of your money. That way you will have twice as much as before.
8. Allow extra time to do things and to get to places. Pure genius!

9. Pace yourself. Spread out big changes and difficult projects over time; don't lump the hard things all together. No disagreement here.
10. Take one day at a time. Ditto.
11. Separate worries from concerns . If a situation is a concern, find out what God would have you do and let go of the anxiety . If you can't do anything about a situation, forget it. There is no God to tell me what to do.
12. Live within your budget; don't use credit cards for ordinary purchases. More simple commonsense. No need to bring God into the equation.
13. Have backups; an extra car key in your wallet, an extra house key buried in the garden, extra stamps, etc. Ditto.
14. K.M.S. (Keep Mouth Shut). This single piece of advice can prevent an enormous amount of trouble. I guess that means I really can't tell you what I really think of these e-mails.
15. Do something for the Kid in You everyday. You're a dork! There, I did it.

16. Carry a Bible with you to read while waiting in line. Why the Bible when there are so many more interesting and informative books out there?
17. Get enough rest. As soon as I finish this blog post.
18. Eat right. Maybe the Bible would be useful if it contained some really good recipes.
19 Get organized so everything has its place. Come on, get real. Who has time for that?

20. Listen to a tape while driving that can help improve your quality of life. I can't. I need to pay attention to the road so I don't get into an accident and totally fuck up my quality of life.
21. Write down thoughts and inspirations. That's what this blog is for.
22. Every day, find time to be alone. My wife is at work and my kids are in bed. I'm alone now.
23. Having problems? Talk to God on the spot. Try to nip small problems in the bud. Don't wait until it's time to go to bed to try and pray. All you really needed to do was write "Try to nip small problems in the bud." The rest was totally unnecessary.
24. Make friends with Godly people. I guess that means you don't want to be friends with me.

25. Keep a folder of favorite scriptures on hand. Why?
26. Remember that the shortest bridge between despair and hope is often a good 'Thank you Jesus .' What has Jesus done for me lately?
27. Laugh. You make me laugh.
28. Laugh some more! Let's not get carried away now.
29. Take your work seriously, but not yourself at all. I prefer the reverse, actually.
30. Develop a forgiving attitude (most people are doing the best they can). I forgive you for writing these stupid e-mails I keep getting.
31. Be kind to unkind people (they probably need it the most). Perhaps. But some people are really just assholes.
32. Sit on your ego. If you say so.
33 Talk less; listen more. Okay.
34. Slow down. I wasn't going fast to begin with.
35. Remind yourself that you are not the general manager of the universe. Why? It never occurs to me to think that I am.
36 Every night before bed, think of one thing you're grateful for that you've never been grateful for before. GOD HAS A WAYOF TURNING THINGS AROUND FOR YOU. I'm grateful that the God of the Bible doesn't exist.

'If God is for us, who can be against us?' (Romans8:31) That's why the Philippines is such an economic success story, right? The only reason you're Catholic is because the Spanish got to your ancestors before the Muslims did. If the Spanish got there 100 years later, you would probably sending Muslim chain e-mails right now.

My instructions were to send this to four people that I wanted God to bless and I picked you. I decided to send it to more than four, because I didn't want to limit blessings. So God, if He exists, isn't going to bless me unless you send me an e-mail?

SEND IT FORWARD PLEASE, Not backward! You do realize this is the 21st century, right? It's really long overdue that you put this silly, superstitious bullshit behind you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Annoying Filipino Catholic Chain E-mails - Part 1

One of my wife's friends from nursing school days back in the Philippines has our e-mail address and has recently taken to forwarding chain e-mails to us. Since my wife never really uses e-mail, I am the one who ends up reading these damned things. Being the atheist that I am, I really have to suppress the urge to fire off a response to these silly things. After all, I wouldn't want to alienate my wife's friends, though it is quite a double standard that they can bombard us with Christian e-mail chains, but if I provide an atheist critique then I am upsetting the apple cart.

So, in order to give vent to my frustrations, I will reproduce and respond to them here.

Okay, here is the first one, followed by my responses in red:

how a 20 dollar bill seems like such a large amount when you donate it to church, but such a small amount when you go shopping?

Uh, no, not really. Because when you spend money in a store, you are actually buying stuff that you need like food or gasoline. When you drop $20 in a collection box in church, you are not acquiring anything of value. And, when the price of gasoline was over $4.00 per gallon last summer, twenty bucks barely amounted to half a tank of gas.

Isn't it strange how 2 hours seem so long when you're at church, and how short they seem when you're watching a good movie?

No, because church (at least mass at a Catholic church) is immensely boring whereas a good movie engages your senses.

Isn't it strange that you can't find a word to say when you're praying but.. you have no trouble thinking what to talk about with a friend?

What is this statement based on? Why does this person believe that one can't find a word to say when praying? When I was a Catholic, I knew exactly what I wanted to say when I prayed. As for talking with a friend, when you know someone well, you have common frames of reference and shared experiences. What a stupid question!

Isn't it strange how difficult and boring it is to read one chapter of the Bible but how easy it is to read 100 pages of a popular novel or ZANE GREY book?

Well, maybe because the Bible is a boring book to read. What possible relevance does the Book of Nahum have to my life?

Isn't it strange how everyone wants front-row-tickets to concerts or games but they do whatever is possible to sit at the last row in Church?

Is this asshole seriously suggesting that nobody sits in the front row in Church? Comparing a sports stadium or a concert arena to a Catholic church is disingenuous. The former are much larger, and the further away you are the less involved you are in the action. Besides, it is physically impossible for everyone to sit in the back of Church.

Isn't it strangehow we need to know about an event for Church 2-3 weeks before the day so we can include it in our agenda, but we can adjust it for other events in the last minute?

"Honey, my car broke down on the freeway. Can you come and pick me up?" "Sorry, I can't. I have a church picnic to attend in 15 minutes." Fucking stupid!

Isn't it strangehow difficult it is to learn a fact about God to share it with others; but how easy it is to learn, understand, extend and repeat gossip?

What facts about God are there? Beliefs about God are not facts. The most one can say about God, if such an entity exists, is that it is too vast for the human mind to comprehend. Apart from that, what else can one say?

Isn't it strange how we believe everything that magazines and newspapers say but... we question the words in the Bible?

Who believes everything they read in the magazines and newspapers? I don't. And is this person seriously suggesting we shouldn't question the Bible?

Isn't it strange how everyone wants a place in heaven but... they don't want to believe, do, or say anything to get there?

Sure, everyone likes the idea of a place where there is no suffering. But if such a place really exists, how do I know that you know what I need to believe, do, or say to get there?

Isn't it strange how we send jokes in e-mails and they are forwarded right away but when we are going to send messages about God, we think about it twice before we share it with others?

More like "Isn't it strange how I can have e-mail messages sent to me about God, but I have to think twice about replying with an atheist critique because it will offend everyone?"


No, the person who wrote these questions is strange.

Now that you've read this message, will you forward it to anybody that you consider a friend, family member or foe (enemy).

No, I will not.

If you choose not to share His message you may deprive yourself from being blessed as well as depriving others.... who may need God in their life.

Right. This God is supposed to be so powerful and intelligent and perfect, and yet His message is supposed to be conveyed to me by some idiot who asks stupid questions. I for one am not impressed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Cabbie For Christ

With all my posts about my family vacation to Puerto Rico, I had to find some way to slip in a religion/atheism angle, being this is a primarily atheist themed blog.

Because our flight for Puerto Rico last Sunday was scheduled to fly out of JFK at 7:30 A.M., it made more sense to take a taxi to the airport rather than ride the LIRR in the cold and darkness to Jamaica Station to catch the Air Train.

My wife called the taxi company and our driver was literally there like 5 minutes later. As my wife used to take the taxi home from the train station before we got a second car, the cab driver was a man that she knew.

He was quite a gregarious fellow, and he was talking with my wife who was seated behind him about the latest developments in his life. It didn't take him long before he dropped this bombshell:

"A couple of months ago I became a born again Christian! All this time, I was looking for God, but it was God who found me!" I could barely suppress a groan.

It turns out the guy was raised Jewish and had been having a crisis of faith or something, so his mom pushed him to go to Israel, which would supposedly reconnect him with his Jewish roots.

"Who would have guessed," he declared, "that a Jewish man would become a Christian by going to Israel."

It was my wife however, who astutely guessed the real reason. She asked him if he had met a girl.

"Yes, I did," he replied. "She was the daughter of a missionary."

It turned out that they had since broken up, but are apparently still on good terms. From there, he proceeded to blab about the Jews and the Catholics getting it all wrong, and then rambling something about a section of Romans being banned in Canada. I had guessed that what he was driving at was some verse or other that condemned homosexuality. As my two young children were sitting in the back seat, I said, "I would prefer that you don't talk about this in front of my kids."

"Sure, no problem!" he cheerfully complied. He also made mention of some Christian radio station he listened to that had all kinds of important things to say about the future, and he mentioned some date in March or May of 2010 or 2011, I can't remember which, in which something really profound would happen.

As much as I was tempted to take the Cabbie for Christ to task for some of the things he said or ask him what he would do if nothing happened on the date he mentioned, as he was zipping along the parkway in the darkness of the predawn hour, my primary concern was that my family and I make it to JFK safely. The last thing I wanted was for the guy to get into a traffic accident because he was distracted by the argumentative atheist in the passenger seat. Afterwards, my wife said to me that she was surprised that I had kept quiet, and I explained to her why.

The El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico

In making the decision as to where to stay during our vacation in Puerto Rico, I picked the El Conquistador in Fajardo because (1) I decided that on our first visit to Puerto Rico we would see the north east corner of the island, and (2) the El Conquistador seemed like a family friendly place.

For the most part, we enjoyed our stay at the El Conquistador. Our children liked the water park and my wife and son liked Palomino Island. The resort was in close proximity to El Yunque and the bioluminescent lagoon, which were two highlights of the trip.

The El Conquistador itself is a sprawling resort, and according to my Insight Guide, was at some point in the past a Maharishi University. My family stayed in the section of the resort called Las Olas, which in retrospect is probably the worst place to stay in the resort. The room itself was pretty nice and spacious, and we had a great view from our balcony. The problem with the Las Olas section was the location.

In the picture above, taken from the ferry as we were headed for Palomino Island, Las Olas is mostly obscured by the marina section, except for the scalloped roof. Las Olas and the marina were physically separated from the main part of the resort, which was set on the hill above. The only way to get to the main section was to take a tram car called a funicular to the top of the hill. There were actually two funicular tracks, an express track that went directly from the main resort to the marina, and a local that also stopped at Las Olas. The problem was, if you wanted to go from Las Olas to the top level, and you just missed the funicular as it was headed to the top, you would have to wait for the funicular to come back to Las Olas, go down to the marina, then back up to Las Olas before proceeding back up to the main level. Another option would be to go down the stairs to the marina level to catch the express funicular to the top level. Once you finally arrive at the top stop on the funicular, it was then a long walk and an elevator ride to get to the main lobby area where all the restaurants were and where you boarded the buses to go on the trips.

Another problem with Las Olas was that it was not very well maintained. In particular, the carpets in the hallway were noticeably worn and stained, and the building looked like it was in need of some serious overhaul. A number of reviewers at made the same observation.

As I mentioned in another post, the El Conquistador is also incredibly expensive, especially the restaurants. While the food was good for the most part, considering that they were banging us on average $150 per dinner for the four of us, it should have been better than good. That being said, the staff were nearly all friendly and accomodating, with the exception of one girl who manned the ice cream and sandwich window at the El Caribe during the evening hours.

I had heard from a number of people, including our guide on the El Yunque rainforest tour that there were a lot of layoffs recently and that business is down at the resort due to the economy. The guide said that the week we were there was the first week where they had full attendance for the tour. Likely, that was due to the fact that the public schools were closed for the week and parents such as myself had the opportunity to take the family on a vacation without missing school.

I was also surprised by the number of fellow New Yorkers staying at the resort, including a family whose daughter attended the same kindergarten as our daughter. We also ran into the daughter of my uncle's second wife.

We plan on visiting Puerto Rico again at some point in the near future. For the next visit, I envision that we will start at the north west corner of the island, around Aguadilla, then make our way east to Arecibo and then San Juan so that we have the chance to stroll through Old San Juan at a more leisurely pace without having to worry about getting back in time to a tour bus. As for the El Conquistador, I don't expect that we will stay there again. If you are contemplating spending time in north eastern Puerto Rico, and you don't mind spending a lot of money, you might want to stay at the El Conquistador. There are steps you can take to reduce your costs, such as bringing your own water and juice for the kids, and researching local restaurants outside of the resort that serve good food at an affordable price. While I was not impressed with the Las Olas wing of the resort, I didn't really see much of the rooms in the other parts of the resort, so perhaps they are nicer as well as being more conveniently located.

El Yunque and Coqui Water Park

Monday, the 16th, was our first full day in Puerto Rico. We started off the day with a trip to the El Yunque tropical rain forest. Because we had two small kids with us, my wife and I had to opt for the easy tour that did not involve much walking, though at a couple of points we did have to make our way up and down some narrow, rocky paths. It was a very nice trip though, and my kids seemed to enjoy it.

The pool in the background in the photo above was built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was used as a public swimming pool until 1975.

I had a hard time getting a shot of the Walking Stick insect on the leaf hanging down in the center of the picture above. The other shots came out really blurry for some reason, and this one was the best I got.

This shot was taken from near the Yokahu Observation Tower, though not from the tower itself. The view is towards the north east corner of the island, and if you can magnify the picture, you just might be able to make out the El Conquistador resort. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have gotten a shot of El Yunque from the resort. It really looms large and mysterious over the north east corner of Puerto Rico, and its peak is often shrouded in mist. Looking up at it, I can understand why so many cultures believed that the gods dwelled at the tops of mountains.

After we got back to the El Conquistador, we spent the afternoon at the resort's signature attraction, the Coqui Water Park. It's not all that big, but it had several really good water slides, and my kids enjoyed floating around the Lazy River on a tube.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Day Trip to Old San Juan

On Tuesday morning, we went on a day trip through the resort to Old San Juan. I was looking forward to seeing the old forts and my wife was eager to do some window shopping. Unfortunately, because someone who shall remain nameless took so long to get ready, we were unable to eat breakfast before the bus was ready to leave at 9:00 a.m. Thus, when we arrived at Plaza Colon in Old San Juan around an hour later, we had to find a place to eat breakfast, which burned up nearly an hour. The closest fort was the massive complex of San Cristobal, which we arrived at around 11:00 a.m.

This is an inner wall at San Cristobal that overlooks an outer wall. Thus, if an attacking army managed to breach the outer wall, they would still find themselves facing these ramparts, which in its heyday would have been bristling with cannons.

The fortress of El Morro at the tip of Old San Juan, as seen from San Cristobal. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit El Morro. After we were done at San Cristobal around 1:00 p.m., we ate lunch at some restaurant on Calle Fortaleza. The next thing we knew, it was nearly 2:30, and we needed to get back to Plaza Colon before 3:00 p.m. for the van ride back to the El Conquistador. El Morro and the rest of Old San Juan will have to wait for another visit to Puerto Rico.

San Cristobal as seen from Plaza Colon.

This is a school near Plaza Colon that I photographed because I liked the architectural style of the building.

The Christopher Columbus statue in Plaza Colon, honoring a man whose discovery of Puerto Rico was the catalyst for the destruction of the native Tainos on the island.

The Bioluminescent Experience

One of the main attractions around Fajardo is a nighttime kayak outing into a lagoon near the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Preserve at the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico. The waters of the lagoon and the path through the mangroves to the lagoon are filled with bioluminescent dinoflagellates that light up when moved, either by the blades of your kayak paddle, the wind, or drops of rain falling on the waters. I got to do this on the evening of Tuesday, the 17th. It was really cool, particularly when the canopy of the mangrove forest blocked out the light and enhanced the bioluminescence. Besides slashing the paddle blades through the water to light it up, I also achieved a sparking effect by splashing the water off the paddles onto the surface.

This was probably my favorite part of the trip, though sadly I had to experience it without the rest of my family. Since I did not know if the paddling would be strenuous beforehand or what the conditions would be like, I was reluctant to take my children on a trip that they might not want to endure, and I couldn't take my wife, otherwise, there would be no one to watch the children. In retrospect though, they probably could have all handled it.

If anyone reading this is planning on staying at the El Conquistador and wants to go on the bioluminescent kayaking trip, DO NOT book the trip through El Conquistador, as they will charge you twice the price. I was fortunate enough to have read about this while researching for the trip. The El Conquistador charges its guests about $89.00 per person. However, if you walk north for about ten minutes along the back road that hugs the shoreline, you will come upon a park in Las Croabas where the various kayak companies are lined up, with most of them charging as little as $45.00 per person. As I did not have reservations, I walked up to each outfit and inquired if they could fit me in and was told they were all booked, until I came upon the one furthest away manned by a guy who works for Eco Action Tours. He had plenty of availability and was happy to accomodate me. Another outfit that offers the tour for $45.00 is Kayaking Puerto Rico.

The group turned out to be rather small actually, a young Puerto Rican couple, and a nice Indian family of four from upstate New York. Because the largest kayaks held a maximum of three persons, their son, about 5 or 6, rode with the guide, while the daughter, about 10, rode with the parents. Unfortunately, the husband and wife did not have any kayaking experience, as they showed up dressed in plain clothes and didn't even have any kind of dry bag for their camera. However, I asked the company rep if he had a dry bag he could loan them and he did, so they were able to take their camera. Also, unfortunately, the husband and wife couldn't paddle very well either, as I observed that they were unable to synchronize their paddling. Consequently, by the time we had entered the mangrove forest, they had fallen far behind us. The guide ended up going back to them, taking their daughter in his kayak along with their son, and then tying their kayak to his.

The rest of the trip proceeded rather smoothly, until a kayaker from another group returning from the lagoon crossed over to our side of the pathway in the mangroves and collided with me, temporarily separating me from my group. Otherwise, the only time the paddling became somewhat difficult was in the lagoon, which got rather choppy as we headed back towards the mangrove. After that, it got quite easy, as the current was in our favor. In fact, the water was so calm that for a little while I was actually handling the paddle with one hand. The Indian man took the picture of me above with my camera and I happily reciprocated and took pictures of them with their camera. All in all it was a nice trip and I would have liked to have done it again with my family, but the weather the following two nights was not favorable. Perhaps on a future trip to Puerto Rico!

Lost In Translation

I got a kick out of this sign at the El Conquistador.

Expedition to Palomino Island

One of the attractions offered by the El Conquistador resort is that it has its own private little island called Palomino Island (or, Isla Palominos for you Spanish speakers!) just offshore from the resort, which we visited on Wednesday, the 18th. It's close enough that you can make out the El Conquistador across the water in the center of the picture above. In fact, I was surprised at how close many of the neighboring islands were. Puerto Rico's eastern islands of Culebra and Vieques were in easy view, and on a clear day, it was possible to glimpse the island of Saint Thomas beyond Culebra.

Overall, we had a nice time on Palomino, though my snorkelling excursion was disappointing and frustrating. First off, the coral formations were so close to the surface that it was impossible to swim over them, as I feared that I would scrape my legs against them. I would end up having to back up and look for a gap I could swim over. Then, on the return swim back to the beach I came up against a strong current that really wore me out. At one point, a staff member came up to me on a jet ski and asked me if I needed assistance. I decline the offer, and after resting for a few minutes, I was able to make my way back to shore.

Your friendly neighborhood iguana.

The kids and yours truly wearing his favorite t-shirt.

My wife as swimsuit fashion model. Almost every day she was bugging me to take pictures of her wearing one of the three new bathing suits she bought for the trip.

My "honeybuns".

The Highlight of Our Last Full Day in Puerto Rico

Thursday the 19th was our last full day at the El Conquistador. Truth be told, we could have just as well flown home that day, as we had done just about everything we had set out to do. My wife and my son wanted to go back to Palomino Island, which we did, but we had barely gotten to the island and commenced refortifying an abandoned sand castle when the already hazy, cloud covered sky unleashed its rain upon us. As the resort ferry docked at the pier, there began a hasty exodus of the majority of the guests present on the island, including us.

After drying off and getting dressed in our room, we made for the Cafe Bella Vista for lunch. After eating, my wife wandered off to one of the shops while my kids and I went outside to explore parts of the resort we had not seen before. When we returned to the main lobby, I heard a loud drum beating and a whistle blowing. I saw a group of men dressed in white playing some instruments as they walked through the lobby. Then I saw what was in front of them, a troupe of lovely, feathered dancing ladies.

At one point, the dancing ladies were pulling guys out of the audience to dance with them. One of them, the yellow feathered one if IIRC, reached out to me, but I declined, as my wife was not around to take a picture of me with her. However, I did get a nice shot of my kids with the purple garbed one. The yellow feathered one was the best dancer of the four and appeared to be the leader, but for sheer eye candy (and I hope in advance I am not offending any of my female readers), my favorite was the tall one who appears in the middle in the top picture. She wuz smokin' hot! I tried to get a better picture of her, but my efforts were in vain. Just when I would get a good focus on her, she would turn and face a different direction. After several failed attempts, I gave up as I didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable.

After about 20 minutes or so had gone by, the dancing ladies and the band players took the show outside and entertained the diners at the Bella Vista. At that point, the ladies were starting to show their fatigue, as they started dapping the sweat off their faces with napkins and taking turns getting glasses of water. Shortly after they went outside we left, so I don't know how much longer the show went on. But the ladies did a fine job and were the high point of an otherwise waste of a day.

Water That Will Cost You An Arm And A Leg

These bottles were standing conspicuously over the refrigerator located in the bathroom of our room. I expect that resorts such as the El Conquistador will be a bit on the expensive side, but $7.00 for a bottle of water? You would really have to be desperately thirsty to twist off the caps of one of these, given that bottled water can be purchased for much less at any of the shops at the resort.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

At the Cafe Bella Vista, an open air eatery near the main pool of the El Conquistador, one cannot help but notice the large numbers of a local grackle that Puerto Ricans call a chango. These particular birds are quite brazen, swooping down on nearby tables to help themselves to scraps left behind by customers who departed only seconds earlier. Anyone who reads this who has stayed at the El Conquistador will undoubtedly remember the changos.

Parting Shot From Puerto Rico

I couldn't leave Puerto Rico without getting a shot of the Kinky Condom Shop in Luquillo on the north side of the main road connecting Fajardo to San Juan. A little further east, on the south side of the ride was another similar establishment called Condom World. I was a little surprised to see these condom stores, given that Puerto Rico is majority Catholic and the Catholic Church's opposition to "artificial" methods of contraception is so well known.

I snapped this photo on the bus ride from the El Conquistador Resort back to Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to catch our flight home.

* I am writing my posts on our Puerto Rico vacation in reverse chronological order so that they can be read in chronological order by scrolling down.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Blogging Hiatus

Well, it's not like I have been that prolific lately, due to demands on my time, but Exercise in Futility will be on hiatus until next weekend, as the wife, kids and I will be spending the next 5 days basking in the warmth of Puerto Rico. I hope to have some good pictures posted for you when I return. Until then, best wishes to you all.

Pet Peeve of the Day - February 14, 2009

It seems whenever I go to a card and gift shop, I always see somebody hovering near the counter with a stack of scratch-off lottery cards in hand, furiously scraping away the silver coating to reveal the nothing that they've won.

Late this morning, I was at the card and gift shop near the Shoprite in Plainview Plaza, waiting for someone to help me with getting a balloon for my daughter's birthday party. While waiting, I observed this lady who looked to be in her late sixties, holding several lottery cards, a ten dollar bill and a five dollar bill in her left hand. She was scratching away at the cards with a coin and it was evident to me that when she finished with them that she had not won a penny. Having exhausted her supply, she proceeded to buy another ten dollars worth and continued again with her exercise in futility. Again, she came up donuts. So, did she learn her lesson? Nope, she then blew her Abe Lincoln bill on another one. How pathetic, I thought.

From my own personal observation, this seems to be a common activity. I see these people barking to the register clerk behind the counter, ordering 2 of this one and 3 of that one, with an air of self importance, as if they have convinced themselves that if they order a variety of different scratch-off cards in different amounts that it will somehow dramatically improve their chances of winning the jackpot. Usually, if they win anything at all, it's a couple of dollars that they then use to buy another scratch-off card until they have expended all of their cash.

Sometimes I feel like grabbing these people and yelling at them, "What the fuck is the matter with you!" I mean seriously. If they put the $25 or $30 they spent on this shit everytime they went to the card shop and put it in a cookie jar instead, by the end of the year they would accumulate enough money to actually buy something or go on a trip or whatever. My oldest brother Bobby was like that. The concept of setting aside money and accumulating savings never seemed to have seeped into his brain. Instead, it's either poverty or getting lucky that one time. He was the kind of guy who, for my birthday, would give me a card with $20 worth of scratch-off cards in them. Typically, I wouldn't win a cent, and I would tell him that he should have just given me the $20 instead.

What really annoys me about this scratch-off lottery thing, or lotteries in general, is that they end up becoming a voluntary tax paid by poor people. After all, it's not like rich people are playing the lottery. They've already got theirs. A lot of these people are struggling to make ends meet and they are just pissing their money away chasing a fantasy. I just find that very sad.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Taking The Plunge

This year I am going to be hitting 40. As is typical of many people who reach this milestone age, I have a growing awareness of my own mortality and a desire to do "something" while I still can.

Regular readers of this blog for the past year may remember that last spring I became a PADI Certified Open Water Diver. As I believe I wrote in a post last year, I don't know why it never occurred to me do something like that when I was younger and single. But in the last couple of years, I have developed an interest in diving and a desire to explore. What can I say, I'm a late bloomer.

So, in celebration of turning 40 this year, I am going to do "something." In fact, I have already taken the first step. Today I signed up for a trip my dive shop is offering to Belize this coming August and have put down the $1,000 deposit. I will be spending a week aboard the Sun Dancer II as it moves about from one dive site to the next. You can check out the web site for it here.

Even though the trip is not going to be for almost another six months from now, I am thrilled at the prospect of finally doing something adventurous in my life.