games n stories

Xmas with family was fun. Different– haven’t spent xmas with the in-laws for well over a decade– but fun. Really fun.

We’ve been doing this family game night thing with them about once or twice a month, when our husbands days off align. 

Honestly, I’d probably go down more often on my own during weekdays just to hang with my sil if writing time wasn’t so dear, because she’s peaceful and soothing to be around, but its hard to find the stretches of silence I need to write in peace. So when people (husband and kiddo) are gone, I’m writing, and when they’re home, I’m doing chores or cooking or errands or whatever. 

All told, with the way kiddos school schedule and husband’s work schedule overlap, I think I usually get an average of about 16 hours of time with the house to myself while husband is at work and kiddo us at school. Their hours overlap, but imperfectly. I used to spend that time doing chores and shit, or socializing with friends, so the remaining 152 hours in the week could be straight family and sleep time. Lately, though, I’ve gotten a little selfish and have shifted doing most chores to when they’re home so I can steal some time for myself. 

Socializing is, admittedly, tending to drop by the wayside altogether. It either cuts into writing time or family time, and either way creates misery and resentment (external or internal). 

Another reason I treasure family game nights: socializing.

So xmas was like family game night on steroids: We played Pandemic, Superfight, and Munchkin Apocalypse (Sheep Impact). 

Usually, we only get in one, maybe two games! Admittedly, we were kinda punch-drunk/ trash-talky aggressive by the end of Munchkin Apocalypse, and Kiddo had to be dealt out of the game because he literally fell asleep at the table, but still. We got three games in!

It was pretty fun. We’d actually opened our gifts at home on xmas eve, starting at midnight, and played Superfight around 3 am. Then husband and I played Pandemic twice that afternoon before coaxing Kiddo out for a round of Star Trek Catan (I won), so it was good because we were all familiar with the rules.

Its kinda funny. So, I used to hate board games growing up (probably for all the same reasons my son hates them now: repetitiveness, lack of plot, forced interaction, losing), but as an adult I find myself preferring them to video games. 

Mostly because my preferred video games are, like, fucking nonexistent– I want multiplayer couch co-op action adventure RPGs like the old Baldur’s Gate I & II,  Champions of Norrath, Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes, etc etc. I mean, the Dragon Age‘s were good and all, but they aren’t multiplayer couch co-op! Sacred was okay, but the world was too sprawling; too open. Not a tightly focused enough plot. Didn’t play Elder Scrolls because its not couch co-op, and there’s a specific reason I want couch co-op: to play games with my family. My son and husband. We did play Diablo 3 for a bit, but we finished it and now its just boooooring and repetitive. Same old scenery, same old fights, same old things. Nothing new. Nothing interesting. No plots. Sometimes we play Helldivers or Magika 2, but unfortunately friendly fire is not a menu option but a game default, which is annoying.

So, basically, we’ve played fewer and fewer video games in this house over the years as fewer and fewer couch co-op are available. But then we discovered (rediscovered?) board games, and in the past two years, have accrued: 

  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Clue
  • D&D 5 Starter Set
  • Exploding Kittens
  • Gloom
  • Munchkin
  • Munchkin Apocalypse
  • Munchkin Fu
  • Munchkin Game Changers
  • Munchkin Gloom
  • Munchkin card expansions (6)
  • Munchkin meeples
  • Munchkin Sheep Impact
  • Pandemic
  • Seafall
  • Settlers of Catan (3-4 players)
  • SoC Cities and Knights expansion
  • SoC expansion for 5-6 players
  • SoC Seafarers expansion
  • SoC Star Trek
  • Superfight

And I loooove playing board games. I even download apps when I can to play against the computer (totally guilty of this with Catan) and improve my technique.

I love sitting around the table with friends, drinking and bullshitting and trash talking while we play. I love the friendly conversation and friendly competition. I love that every board setup changes the game a little. I love the different game styles. 

But mostly, I love that we do them together–something I can no longer find with my preferred video game genre, where game developers have apparently decided gamers are all a bunch of lonely single friendless nerds who can only find people to game with online, so why bother including couch co-op?

What’s funny is, I’ve noticed a difference in my husband and my gaming style that was never evident when playing video games, since video games handle the worldbuilding and rules for you. I guess, in retrospect, there were signs, but barely noticeable–the way I always wanted to skip the tutorial, if possible, and plunge straight into the plot (I hated skipping dialogue or cut scenes, though), while my husband wanted to proceed through the tutorial. The way I didn’t care if I died a few times charging too enthusiastically into early battles, while my husband wanted to proceed with caution and a plan.

Now, as we play board games, the differences in our gaming approach are starker, more noticeable. 

Here’s me on unwrapping a board game: Tear off plastic, unpack board and packaged pieces, set things up according to instinct/ best guess. Skim rule book. Adjust board/ pieces according to setup instructions. Start playing, occasionally consulting rulebook as questions arise, or shrugging and creating “house rules” until we “figure it out”.

Here’s my husband: before opening game, he watches a YouTube review/ tutorial on game. Then, he carefully unpacks all packaged pieces, board, and the rule book. He begins to read rulebook in its entirety, but gets distracted by the section on setting up board. He starts setting up board and game pieces. 

At this point, thinking this is the signal to play, I drift over to table … and husband begins to explain the board, pieces, setup, and rules in detail to me. For what feels like an hour, I twitch with impatience and try to pretend I’m paying attention or remembering anything he’s saying, and then we finally, finally start to play the game … except he keeps checking the rules to make sure we’re doing it right, and if the rulebook is unclear, he will google and YouTube the question until its clarified. 

Also, any time a novice to the game joins us, my attitude is: throw em in, they’ll learn to swim. We will explain as we go. No point telling them a bunch of information without context.

My husband prefers to give novices a complete rundown of the rules, rule deviations, and point structure–complete with strategy tips.

So, like, when we play Catan with a newbie, my preference is to guide them to a good setup, with (depending on personality) a brief explanation: You can’t build shit without these resources. These numbers tend to roll more frequently. Build here. 

I figure as we play the game, the role of roads, settlements, etc will become self-evident.

But my husband prefers to go into detail, explaining the necessity of roads to settlements, and settlements to cities. Then he’ll go into detail about the roll probability, and what the dots by the numbers mean. Then he’ll discuss potential strategies taking this data into account.

And meanwhile, I’m twitching impatiently and eyeballing the board for my top six choices of potential starting placement (you only get two starting settlements, but I always choose six on the map I’ll settle for, because odds are one or more of the others is going to fuck you with their placement and you need a backup), and then everyone yells at me for winning again and I’m thinking well if I didn’t have so long to plot!

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Xmas

​I admit to a certain amount of seasonal depression around the holidays, regardless. This was my mom’s favorite time of year–maybe it has to do with her absence. 

Or maybe that as an atheist adult, the “reason for the season,” I was indoctrinated with as a child doesn’t apply, so everything feels a bit hollow.

Or maybe its just everything going on. Facism on the rise, climate change, etc etc. The ending of all things. 

Maybe its just that I’m sick and have a black eye and my face is broken out with acne, so I feel miserable and icky. The polar vortex has returned, granting us a winter of freezing rains and occasional snows, dominated by heavy grey skies, and I find myself feeling unaccountably lonely despite being surrounded by family and friends. My son speaks of video games, my husband speaks of squidding, and my friends are busy with work. After the conversation about their interests peters out, I ask what books they are reading. My son is too busy with games and school to read. My husband does not like to read. My friends are generally too busy with work to read, so I find myself with few outlets to discuss reading or writing.

We opened gifts yesterday, because we’re going to spend today with family. My husband, as usual, eschewed making a gift list, while Kiddo and I both provided them. Kiddos’ was predictable: video games, Star Wars stuff, Legos.

Mine was pretty simple, I think, with both generic and specific options: Nook Glowlight, B&N membership & gift cards, blank journals, Star Trek Catan, some specific book titles, or jewelry (I have two types of jewelry: homemade/ everyday, or fancy/ special occasion, but girlshly delicate and youthful). A Starbucks or Forza coffee card would’ve been welcome as well, or Shari’s or something. Something where I could treat myself and go out to eat instead of dealing with the hassle of prep and cook and cleaning up after myself.

John got a ThinkGeek toolkit for taking apart electronics, a 21st anniversary bottle of Plantation rum, an air chuck set, a screwdriver set, two board games (Munchkin and Pandemic), some Munchkin expansion card sets, a rabbit fur lined waterproof hat to wear squidding, and the Borderlands Handsome Jack Collection to play with Kiddo. And a book from my dad.

Kiddo got four PS4 games, a $50 Steam gift card, two Lego sets, a bunch of collectable poseable figures (Doctor Who and Star Wars), some comic books and graphic novels, some Munchkin card add-ons, and a 3D modeling set (only thing off-list, and I don’t think he’s opened it yet).

I also got some Munchkin card add-ons. Hilariously, Kiddo apparently had forgotten about the shopping trip we’d gone on a month or so earlier, and had carefully and lovingly selected for me exact repeats of several card expansion sets we’d picked out his dad. I also got an automatic egg cooker and some baking supplies, which was unexpected but thoughtful. My baking supplies are showing wear from overuse, and when I hard-boil eggs in a pan, I do tend to walk away and forget them. And I got the Nook Glowlight and Star Trek Catan! Yay! I also got one set of Munchkin cards that wasn’t a repeat (I wrapped them and put them in my stocking myself–shhhh!).

So that’s this solstice. We’re heading out to spend the rest of the day with family in an hour or so. 

Becoming feminist was my exit from the gender wars

​I read this New York Times article, What Women Really Think of Men. Apparently Trump gave a speech to a group of men in Cincinnati and told the listening crowd that women hate them. The author of the article then went around talking to a bunch of women to gather their thoughts on men.

For myself, I actually began identifying as feminist after I realized being a feminist did not mean hating men.

Growing up LDS in the liberal PNW, I was surrounded by men in leadership positions at home and church–a message reinforced on the national stage through the Bush-Clinton-Bush regimes. I did have female principals/ vice principals in my schools.

The media that shaped my youth was a kind of interesting blend of Mormon and 90s  grrl-power pop culture (slightly limited by my  lack of access to cable TV). I watched Mormon films like Saturday’s WarriorLegacy, and God’s Army, but also loved anything Baz Luhrman or with Winona Ryder, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Claire Danes. I didn’t have cable TV at home, but I watched Daria or My So-Called Life or Ally McBeal at friends houses, or when I babysat–and shows like Friends, Star Trek: Voyager, and Stargate were on network television, all with women in leadership roles. I read Mormon authors like Jack Weyland and Chris Heimerdinger, but preferred authors like Patrica C. WredeDavid & Leigh EddingsAnn Rinaldi, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. My music was an eclectic selection of EFY music, Broadway soundtracks, and 90s Top 40 Hits by the likes of Nirvana, Alanis Morrissette, Meredith Brooks, TLC and the Spice Girls.

I didn’t doubt that women were perfectly capable of handling shit, is what I’m saying. I saw it all around me, at home and church and school, and reinforced by pop culture. Women handled shit constantly. Hell, my mom was Relief Society President. And there was always a woman available at the annual General Conference sessions to lead the prayer or give a speech– I knew perfectly well women could do any job a man could do, when called on.

That was the key, though. “When called on.” I didn’t question that growing up; that implicit idea of women waiting in the wings to be called on. If I thought about it, for a long time, I just thought of it as the natural order of things.

Men were the leaders, movers, and shapers. Women cleaned up the messes they made. It was how things worked, and this was a message largely supported by both my explicitly anti-feminist/ pro-woman LDS upbringing and the pop culture grrl-power feminism of the 90s.

At church and home, I was taught that while men and women were not equal, they weren’t unequal–the genders were complementary, like pieces of a puzzle. The whole picture wasn’t clear without the contribution of both male and female. Alone, each gender was weak, but combined, their innate qualities interweave to support and enhance one another’s strengths in a sort of coupled allspark of awesomeness.

That’s why getting a college education was always cast as secondary in importance to marriage and motherhood– because, for women, the only role a college degree was supposed to play was emergency credential to secure work in the event I was abandoned or widowed. Pretty much every LDS woman in my ward, including my mom, had at least a BA, knew a second language, and was well-travelled. My role models were educated, literate, intelligent women who’d chosen to give up careers in order to stay at home and raise children and take care of their husbands.

The secular support for this message started filtering in through language and messenging like, “Boys will be boys,” and “Boys are incompetent,” and, “What else would you expect from a boy?” from the David and Leigh Eddings books.

See, my parents disapproved of TV shows like RoseanneMarried With Children, and Dinosaurs — even early seasons of The Simpsons — because of the disrespectful language and attitudes. So unlike a lot of people my age, I pretty much didn’t see those shows until they came out on Netflix–and those shows have a lot of that sort of mocking, “boys are so stupid, hurr hurr hurr” narrative.

So the Eddings series are really the first thing I really strongly remember reading and feeling unsettled about the gender dynamics, and I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly. The women were smart, beautiful, funny and powerful, which seemed like it should  appeal to me … but they way they spoke about and to the male characters was off-putting.

The men were Kings, sorcerers, warriors, guild leaders, etc., and generally presented as the “face” of power, while the queen/ sorceress/ etc. women tended more to, “power behind the throne,” types–the wives, sisters, and relatives advising the male rulers. So these men are supposed to be people they trust, love, and respect … but the women are trading jokes right in front of the poor bastards about how they’re incompetent, emotionally stunted toddlers? And the guys just laugh along?

It was really strange and off-putting to me. A similar gender dynamic (as well as publication schedule issues) ruined The Wheel of Time for me. I gave up on that series around book 7 and never returned.

Even though the disrespectful language between genders bothered me, I didn’t really have a framework for why, or what exactly was wrong with it/ why it had to do with gender and not just basic respect. When I tried to talk about it with friends or family, my words seem to get all twisted up. Everyone mostly seemed to agree it wasn’t right or fair, and more than a few blamed feminism– that women wanted to put men down.

That didn’t feel quite right either, because I was a woman and I didn’t want to put men down … but I was also no feminist, and I didn’t want anyone to mistake me for one, so I just kind of shut up and shoved the matter aside. Adjusted.

The next escalation in gendered language was in my 20s. I married at 21 and had our son a year later, and there are a lot of things about being a newlywed and young parent that are scary and isolating. Luckily, I chose a partner who– much like the example given to me by my father and brothers– has always been an active parental and household presence with a strong  emotional investment in his family.

However, it seemed in that I was alone in that, as I learned from the tenor of conversations peppering women’s spaces: those moments before and after Relief Society classes; the lobby where we soothed crying babies; the nursing rooms mother’s retreat to feed infants in privacy; the carpool Visiting Teaching partners chat in as they drive from one house to the next; the quiet chatter overlaying an Enrichment meeting activities; the bustling kitchen or cleanup at a ward activity.

As married women and mother, I suddenly gained entry into a conversation I hadn’t realized was happening.

Like, a man would bustle self importantly into the kitchen to check on the proceedings, and his wife, smiling, would offer up her cheek for a kiss. He’d look around at the flock of women a bit bashfully, say hello. They’d chorus a polite greeting, and he’d leave a bit later.

“How sweet,” one would say, and someone else would agree, and someone might giggle. When I was an unmarried teenager and child, that was it. Maybe a remark about how he means well or something. But as a wife/ mom … if there are no little pitchers with big spouts present, then once that husband exits the snark starts, with husband kitchen mishap stories galores.

Sometimes the men start these themselves, as a self-deprecating illustration of how reliant they are on the women: they’ll appear in the kitchen to check on the proceedings, announce they don’t really understand what they’re looking at, share a kitchen mishap story in which their wife saved the day, and leave. In their wake, the other women begin to share stories of their menfolk malfunctioning in the kitchen, and from there, around the house.

I was always silent because although I like to bake and cook and am generally good at it, I am also the kitchen malfunction in my house. I am the one who blows up eggs in the microwave and pyrex pans on the stovetop. I’m a regular Sookie St. James. My husband and dad both, in contrast, have decades of successfully preparing meals without once destroying the kitchen.

Or we’d be working on a craft in an Enrichment meeting, and one woman would ask another how her baby was sleeping/ feeding/ teething. She’d answer, usually complaining about how baby is affecting her sleep and voicing the desire for more help from her husband–wishing he’d take some night feedings, or a few loads of laundry, or changing some diapers.

From around the room would come a murmur of commiseration, and women of all ages would start sharing anecdotes about unhelpful husbands, sons, and sons-in-laws.

Men who juggled the Bishopric duties of running a congregation and work associated with a successful business, but couldn’t figure out how to wash laundry without staining the entire load red.

Men held up as spiritual advisors, who were incapable of soothing a fussy infant.

Men who negotiated important business deals, but were overwhelmed to tantrums by simple household tasks like remembering to put their dirty laundry in the hamper.

Over time, I noticed all the anecdotes of unhelpful men shared a common theme: It wasn’t that men didn’t want to help. It was that they would just create a bigger mess in the process, and the women always had to clean up after them anyway.

I was pretty offended on behalf of all these guys– guys like my dad and brothers and husband. I mean, these were guys who were leaders in the church, holding successful jobs, but they’re being talked about like they couldn’t read a recipe, or figure out how to put laundry in a hamper without oversight, or watch their own kids.

For fucks sake, “people skills,” is just a business buzzword for the same personality and skillset as a, “caregiver personality”!

I never knew what to say at these moments. I didn’t want to kvetch about my husband– I didn’t have much to complain about, and didn’t want to make up lies. Besides, it felt disloyal and petty, not to mention undermining to the relationship. At the same time, it seemed to be an expected social bonding ritual, and I quickly learned that praising your spouse threw off the rhythm of the group and made things weird.

It bothered me– not only in terms of my own relationship, but for the son I was raising. I wanted better for him. I wanted him to grow up and marry a partner who wouldn’t secretly despise him.

This couldn’t be blamed on feminism, because these women were definitely not feminists. Feminism wasn’t exactly a regular topic of discussion, and certainly not feminist philosophy, but if it was brought up by way of politics or pop culture, the general distaste toward it was clear. Wrinkled noses, frowns, voiced expressions of disapproval and non-support.

I quit attending church when I was about 24, for mostly unrelated reasons. Three years later, I took a college class called Women in Literature. On the first day, we were asked whether or not we were feminists and why or why not.

I said no, I wasn’t– that I was pro-choice, and I thought it was great women could vote and all, but I liked men too much to be a feminist.

Somehow, my teacher kept a smile on her face.

By the end of the semester, I’d revised my answer. I now understood what feminism really was– the fight to dismantle the patriarchy; a social construct that, like a spiderweb, traps and limits all genders within the insidious and limited boundaries of its expectations.

Feminism isn’t about “picking a side,” in the war between between men’s rights or women’s rights, like everyone had been telling me my whole life. It was never about choosing between standing up and demanding respect for myself and my sisters or throwing my support behind my son, my husband, my brothers, my dad– I just thought it was.

Up until then, I’d bought into the messenging of a gender war with feminism on one side, so I thought if I said, “Yes, me too,” then I was saying no to my son and husband and all the wonderful men who’d supported and loved and respected me.

But after that class, I realized the only “armies” in the gender war are people buying into the gender divide– and judging by their language and expectations of male behavior, a lot of the women who despise men the most aren’t feminists at all, but conservative religious women.

I also came to realize all those stories about household male incompetence? They don’t really believe it. Neither of them. It’s just a way for disempowered women to hold onto what powers and spaces they are allowed, and the men in their lives to get out of doing the chores literally everybody fucking hates.

If you can read and do basic math, you can cook, do laundry, and every other household chore. And if you have the people skills to make it in politics or business, you have the skills necessary to take care children– who, after all, are just tiny people. Men like Trump know this. They think they’re throwing women a bone.

And women like Ivanka and Melania and Kellyann Conway have been taught their whole lives that men are all like Trump, and to be ready to sweep in and clean up after their messes when the men inevitably screw up, and they believe it. They buy the narrative that behind every powerful man is a woman, waiting in the wings to handle things before stepping back to let him take credit, because “a real man” can’t handle the blow to his ego presented by a competent woman.

Feminism is acknowledging that gender is a bullshit social construct used throughout history to create, enforce, and maintain inequality– but really, we’re all equally capable and in this together, so we should stop tearing each other down.

Women aren’t naive ingénues who faint when confronted by politics, war, economics, or hard labor; and men aren’t weak little babies incapable of adulting, emotional depth, maturity, nurturing, or accepting criticism.

Tech joys and woes

I finally got a new phone to replace my malfunctioning Galaxy Note 4.

Basically, my Galaxy Note 4–which I got on a plan upgrade in Spring 2015 because of the 8 hr battery life and positive reviews–has spent the past year slowly crapping out on me until it got to the point it was dying after 45 minutes while showing a 67% charge. 

This is despite two new batteries, a factory reset and cache wipe, and even shelling out $50 through my warranty replacement option to get a completely new device.

The warranty reps say its probably a logic board issue. Apparently if a phone is ever dropped–ever, even just a teensy little tumble from bed to floor–it causes small impacts which might show no external body damage, but will jar and misalign internal components, causing long term logic board issues and battery drain.

I dunno. I mean, I’m not a designer, but that seems like kind of a major design flaw for a portable device intended to be carried everywhere. Honestly, it always kinda seemed to me like some sort of built-in obsolescence effect gone mad, but what the hell do I know?

Anyway, after the warranty replacement device didn’t perform any better (worse, actually) than the ones it was replacing, they offered to reimburse me for the market value of the device, which is great, but also not a lot of money when you’re looking at replacing a phone mid-contract.

Technically, I’m not eligible for a subsidized phone upgrade under the contract terms for another 6 months or so. 

There is an upgrade eligibility currently on offer … but it changes the terms of the contract and thereby increases oir rates and decreases our data access,  as the plan we’re on is no longer offered by the company. We’ve grandfathered it in solely through our annual contract upgrades. 

So if I took advantage of that option, I might get brand new phone for very little out of pocket up front, but we’d pay so much more in the long run. Plus, none of the new devices appeal to me. I figured I’d probably get something used off Amazon or Craigslist, like we had for our son when Destructo slapped his phone from his hand; or maybe I’d dig up an old phone out of the garage or something.

Then I remembered out-of-contract devices exist, and did some research on those. Told my husband I was thinking of getting the basic Moto G4 for like $150, and the next thing I know he’s got the customization website up and I spent a little more than $150, haha. But its beautiful, and still way more affordable than buying a non-subsidized phone from the carrier.

Of course, now I get to go through the replace my device under contract. 

Lucky me, I’ve already had experience with that, and let me tell you, it is a HASSLE. 

Sprint has a section on their website for customers to switch to a new device, so theoretically I should be able to complete this task online in 5 minutes without talking to a customer service agent, right?

Wrong.

I’ve had to switch two in-contract devices on the plan, and its been a nightmare both times. They were even the same models of device!

My son has a Samsung Sport S5. About a month ago, he was showing his friends some videogame review on YouTube at lunch, and when the video ended a kid I can only call Destructo randomly slapped the phone, knocking it from his hand and destroying it. Screen shattered, body cracked–$200 worth of damage, for no goddamn reason.

I waited like a week for the parents to contact me, because if my kid randomly destroyed $200 of private property, you know for goddamn sure I’d call to have him apologize and offer to work off costs, and if I could afford it I’d also offer to cover at least partial costs. I understand not everyone can afford that, but damn. At least fucking call.

A week and not a whisper, so I contact the school. Yadda yadda yadda, this happened on this date, these kids were witnesses, my son spoke with these teachers and showed them the damaged phone. Would like the parents to contact me. The VP calls me later that day, says he spoke to Destructo, who totally copped to it–apparently he asked the kid,”Did you break (son’s) phone?” and the kid just broke down sobbing. 

Feels terrible, doesn’t know why he did it, said it was total impulse and a random,  spur of the moment action. I was like great … has he tried apologizing? VP said he’d suggested that, too, and he thought Destructo was probably going to seek out my son today.

Nope. Not a whisper. In fact, from what my kid tells me, Destructo has steadfastly avoided him since smashing the phone–which I get; he’s a freshman in high school, and modern teenage boys aren’t exactly known for being taught skills in managing emotions like impulsivity, guilt, or regret. I feel bad for him, and pissed at his parents–who still haven’t contacted us.

I don’t think they will. Destructo learned his attitude toward personal property from somewhere.

Anyway, so I had to shell out $189 for a refurbished Samsung Sport S5 on Amazon to replace that one, which wasn’t warrantied because when we bought it, it was only $45 with plan upgrade, so paying an extra $100 or so for a warranty with a $50 device replacement fee seemed kinda pointless, since that’s basically $200 for a replacement device in the end, anyway. Besides, we figured our son is pretty responsible, so it’d be fine.

We just didn’t account for his peers.

Anyway. Point is, same model of device, same number, same contract. Tried to transfer to the new device, activating the old SIM in the new device, and it just freaked out. 

We had to call the rep to unlock the SIM (which shouldn’t even be a thing), and that didn’t even fix it–months later, the phone still isn’t connecting properly.

Same thing happened with my refurbished Galaxy Note 4. I tried to activate the new device on the account using the Sprint website–deactivated the old device, entered the IMEI number, selected the option to use my old SIM card and … kaput. Freak out. Had to contact customer service to, essentially, unlock my SIM card.

At that point, I didn’t really think anything of these issues, aside from them being a pain in the ass. 

But then I ordered my Moto G4, which numerous tech websites noted is compatible with the Galaxy Note 4 microSIM card. The Moto G4 also apparently comes with an adapter for nanoSIM cards, so that’s cool.

So the Moto G4 arrived yesterday (a day early!) and I’m all like ooooooh my shiny new and pretty toy is here, I am so happy! Immediately go onto the Sprint website to deactivate my old broke shit so I can send that defective crap away and enjoy a working fucking phone again … and they won’t let me use my old SIM card. 

So I contact customer service who, bafflingly, insists SIM cards are device specific, and physically cannot work in devices they’re not made for–as in, the microSIM used in the Galaxy Note 4 might fit in a Moto G4, but it won’t work in said device because it wasn’t designed for the Moto G4.

This is baffling because the purpose of a SIM card is to determine which network to connect to and act as login credentials for the users device. 

Ironically, SIM cards should make activating a new device on an account easier, not harder, because all the subscriber data is the card–I should be able to pop it into the new device and be good to go. 

But that grandfathered contract is the sticking point. It’s a really good deal and there’s no equivalent on any of the networks. Once we’re forced out of this particular contract, we’re probably going no-contract, unless some huge changes happen. 

For right now, though, we are locked into a two year upgrade contract, with all the restrictions, controls, and limitations attendant to that–including, it seems, our carrier locking our SIM cards.

Anyway, I responded to the rep with basically, “Uh … what? That makes no sense,” and she kept repeating this nonsense about how the size of the SIM was irrelevant because it had been designed for the Galaxy Note 4, and was therefore physically incompatible with the Moto G4. After some back and forth, she tells me Sprint will mail me a free replacement SIM, or I can pick one up at the corporate store.

Yay, wait a week to use my phone? I’ll go to the corporate store.

So we popped into the corporate store, where I was approached by a cheery  contract specialist who wanted to know how he could help me. I explained I wanted to pick up a Sprint SIM and activate my Moto G4 on my contract … and he said, “Moto G4? That’s not one of ours, is it? I don’t think we’re allowed to do that.”

“Yes, you can,” I said, at the same time as my husband. He ignored us, asking one of the tech specialists, “We can’t activate a Moto G4 on our network, can we? That’s not allowed?”

The tech specialist, who had headphones in, shook his head, and the contract specialist turned to us with an expression of commiseration and started to say, “I’m so sorry about that,” when he was interrupted by another guy coming from a back room.

“Moto G4? Yeah, I think we can activate those. We should be able to–although we are running low on SIM cards.”

The new guy was introduced as a tech specialist as well, and we were passed off to him. I explained my issue trying to transfer the SIM from my Note to Moto, and he clucked his tongue sympathetically. “Yeah, the SIMs are model specific, so it wouldn’t work. You’re not gonna be able to run, say, even a Moto Plus SIM in this phone. They’re just not designed that way anymore.”

“Really,” said my husband flatly. “Because we had trouble transferring SIM cards between devices that were the exact same model.”

“What? Really? That shouldn’t have happened,” he said, looking up from his computer. A faint cloud of dismay temporarily dimmed the round, beaming sun of his childlike expression as he considered the puzzle, and then his retail smile returned full force as he dismissed the concern to wherever such banished questions go. “Well, here we go! I just need your phone?”

I handed him my new phone, and he exclaimed admiringly over the customization (I had the red back engraved with the quote,”Love is a verb”), then asked as he scanned the IMEI and HEX codes by the battery,”And did you say this was the Moto G4, or the Moto G4 Plus?”

Before I could answer, my husband said,”Moto G4 Plus.”

Amused, I didn’t correct him.

The tech, while still nattering on with the same canned explanations the Sprint rep on the phone had given about how modern SIM cards are designed specifically for each unique model line and are not interchangeable, pulled a SIM card from a drawer labeled Moto G4 Plus and registered it to my Moto G4, then handed us off to the contract specialist, who inserted the SIM and activated my phone.

I keep reminding myself its not their fault. You get what you pay for, and the retail sector is so rife with employers who pay minimum/ substandard wages, combined with the stress of shitty and unreliable hours and poor scheduling notifications–not to mention the lack of decent benefits, or often any benefits at all–that its no wonder I’m regularly presented with employees wearing tags that declare them a specialist in a subject they clearly have no knowledge, interest, or training in. Its not their fault; its the employer for not investing in them.

It is still frustrating.

Small thoughts

​This Washington Post article about how the biggest winners of the incoming administrations plan to cut federal funding will be blue states–who typically get much less back in funding from DC than they send in taxes– is interesting.

I like the proposal of using the tax dollars not sent to preserve/ invest on a state level in public and social policies that have been/ will be abandoned on a Federal level, although I do find it heartbreaking to think of the poverty-stricken states which have been relying on Federal aid/ blue state taxes now bereft of all funds. 

The bit about how blue states needing to find ways to ensure major corporations don’t leave for the more exploitative, tax haven, antitrust friendly laws likely to spring up in red states … I don’t know/ have any ideas about that. I kind of suspect that at a certain point, it relies on the values and integrity of the CEO/ shareholder board, honestly–if they value profit over community/ common unity, they’ll choose that every time. As someone clearly not of their milieu, I have no idea how they determine that moral line, or what is enough to tempt them to one side or the other when the stakes are in billions of dollars, human lives, and environmental health. 

However, I have been thinking about small businesses lately. My dad was a small business owner after he retired, I’ve worked for several small business owners, and a friend just had to shutter their small business after a health care crisis due to tax costs and their inability to hire assistance. I’ve got other friends who own small businesses and decry the weight of taxes and licensing fees associated, and I know many more people who long to start a small business and have the intelligence and drive, but are fearful of the high risk. 

I read an article recently about the wane in veteran-owned businesses, which is apparently a real problem. It seems veterans are most likely to hire and retain veterans–everyone else talks a good game about appreciating the military, but when you get down to it, people are afraid of people trained to kill, and are frightened of mental health disorders like PTSD. 

So with fewer veterans starting businesses, there are fewer employed veterans overall–if even 100 vets right here in your town started small businesses, with 5-10 veteran employees each, that would between 600-1,000 vets employed. Think of that next time you drive past the vet begging for change on the corner. 

Why are vets not starting businesses? Variety of reasons, but, in short, the SBA is underfunded, making it harder for anyone–even vets–to get loans to start businesses.

Then, once a small business is started, the costs are a shock–even with a business plan. Ninety-six percent of small businesses are said to fail within 10 years. 

From my experiences working with and for small businesses–which employ over 50 percent of the working population–they tend to be pretty nice people with good intentions, but shitty bosses with high turnover. 

This isn’t malice, but a toxic mixture of stress and necessity, which leads to frustrations and resentments which more often can’t be expressed in the power dynamic of the workplace.

See, the SBO’s inventory costs don’t leave much wiggle room. SBOs don’t have the same bargaining power with vendors that big corporations do, nor do they have the production values or marketing power. 

Plus, unlike major corporations, SBOs often either rent their office/ production facilities, or work from home, which means in addition to higher vendor/ inventory/ production costs, they likely pay a monthly rental fee, whereas major corporations likely own the property assets their offices/ production spaces are on. 

Then, of course, the taxes and licensing fees for SBOs don’t leave much wiggle room, and that wiggle room is about to get a lot tighter

There are a lot of reasons SBOs–who, unlike major corporate CEO/ shareholders in their wealth isolation,  are actually involved members of their communities, might not pay their taxes, and they might surprise you. 

Consider, first, that to classify as a nonemployer small business, you need an income of $1k or more and to be subject to Federal income taxes. Also realize that 75 percent of small businesses are nonemployer small businesses–meaning a lot of people, especially in this day and age, might not even realize they’re technically small business owners and tax dodgers. 

Essentially, if an individual collects $1,000 in payments at any time over the course of the year due to sales, labor, advertising revenue, or some combination thereof, they’re technically a small business. Imagine the following scenario:
Dave and Sue have just had a kid, and since Sue makes more but they can’t afford childcare, Dave is staying home with the baby for the first few years. Bored, he starts updating his old Blogger blog and creating/ posting occasional short skits with the baby to YouTube, forgetting about the Google advertising account he’d activated years earlier. 

So around Sue’s birthday in April, wanting to surprise her, he burns the midnight oil and stays up late on a freelance writing sites; earning $245 for his efforts, and splurges on a nice gift. 

In June, Dave gets an email congratulating him on his increasing pageviews, and notifying him that there is $105.10 in his Adsense account. Delighted at the unexpected windfall, he naturally transfers the funds to their bank. 

That September, at Sue’s urging, Dave lists several items he picked up over the summer from garage sales when he was out walking the baby. Though Sue agrees his finds of vintage tools, rock tumblers, and antique fishing reels are cool, she’s worried about Baby’s safety as he starts to creep, so Dave lists them on ebay and over the next three months makes a tidy profit of $762–just in time for Christmas!

That’s $1,112 aggregate, all with websites that report to the IRS and issued payments that Dave accepted–but to him, these were unrelated. Not a job. Not a business. Three distinct, unrelated events over the course of a year, across three different websites. There’s no real “brand”, his earnings are unrelated, and the motivations behind each payment (intentional freelance work, windfall, housecleaning) differs. 

But from the perspective of the IRS, he’s now a small business owner who hasn’t filed the appropriate taxes and fees, so … doesn’t really matter.  

That’s the ignorant small business tax dodger. 

Then there’s the idealogical small business tax dodger–the libertarian or conservative who supports smaller government and fewer taxes. After decades of political campaigns and politicians who have successfully painted all taxes as inherently evil and undesirable, the idealogical SBO chooses to conduct as many of their transactions in cash as possible, out of the deeply held belief that taxes are an infringement on the personal freedoms of themselves, their clientele, and their employees, so they’re trying to run as much of the business “off the books” as possible. I have mostly run into this with home-garage auto/ motorcycle repair and beauty shops, but there must be other industries it pervades, too.

Then there are the educated professionals–doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc–who set up small firms and practices, and think they’re doing everything by the book. My dad, one of this class of small business owner, once told me the biggest issue bedeviling this community is how enamored they are of their own intelligence. Too often, they–especially the lawyers and accountants– fall prey to the fallacy that their education is more than sufficient to meet all the legal and financial challenges posed by running their business, and they will make the right/ necessary decisions free of enticement blunders. So they try to “save” on unnecessary expenses, like hiring an accountant or investing in payroll, and it costs them in the long run when the IRS does an audit.

SBOs are on citizen boards and the PTA. They volunteer in community events and donate funds to local causes. They live and shop in the same community they do business in, and they know people’s names and stories. They have enmities, friendships, and shared local histories. They’re not faceless corporations, intentionally dodging taxes through the canny use of offshore havens– or by writing off of billions in business losses while retaining far more in personal wealth–in order to consolidate wealth and drain local communities. 

Major corporations regularly utilize tax havens, billion dollar write-offs, and collect millions in payments from the Federal government despite refusing to invest in the working class, stealing from pension funds, not cooperating with government programs intended to assist working class Americans, damaging the environment, and devastating local communities–but its the SBO who will be subjected to tighter tax scrutiny.

Makes sense. :/

So, basically, SBO have higher costs than major corporations when it comes to inventory/ production,  office space, taxes, and licensing. Oh, and of course–insurance protection, especially for doctors. 

They can’t make it back in overhead–gotta stay competitive, and while customers are willing to give a little leeway for the higher costs of local business, money talks, and if prices are too high, it’ll talk those customers right over to the competition.

That leaves pretty much one place for SBO to cut costs: Employees.

So that’s what happens. That’s why there are 22.5 million nonemployer small businesses–businesses who officially don’t employ anyone (but from personal experience growing up with such a SBO as a parent, I can tell you that just like in Bob’s Burgers, family is the employees. I was answering phones, scheduling appointments, and filing papers instead of someone being paid for the position.)

Right now, we have a system that discourages new entrepreneurs from even starting a business in the first place; that keeps far too many of the SBO’S who do try from employing others in the community due to the prohibitive payroll taxes and fees associated with hiring employees; and which de-incentintivizes even the larger and more successful small businesses from investing in their staff, because that’s counterintuitive to everything we’ve been taught about business and financial success. 

So I’ve been wondering lately how a sort of, like … a tiered tax incentive plan would work. I’m thinking something kind of similar to the child tax credit for families,  except for small business owners and employees earning a living wage. 

The idea would be to encourage investing in employees through training, retention, wages, and benefits, and to make all those things more affordable/ accessible to employers by creating more financial wiggle room in their accounting.

So a tax credit/write off that amereolates the associated payroll tax per employee paid a living  wage would be one step to addressing that. It should not apply if the employee is not paid a living wage, though–the employee can’t invest back in the economy without a living wage. 

There should also be tax credit/ write-off incentives tied to employment length–like, if an employee has been with a SBO 2 years, that SBO qualifies for a “job security” write off–if, four years later, they’ve retained the employee, the value of the write off increases, and so on every two years until a cutoff of X years or Y amount. So the longer an employee is with a SBO, basically, they larger a write off they can accrue–which encourages the SBO to invest in training, good pay, and cultivating respectful work environments, because it benefits them. 

And if there aren’t already SBO write offs/ tax credits available for things like employee training programs, having HR, providing benefits, and offering employer donations to employee pensions or 401ks, then there really should be. 

I think if blue states do begin to see their pocketbooks swell as Federal funding is cut, they should definitely look to small, local businesses and ways to incentivize them to hire employees and invest in their training, wages, and retention. 

Just one thing–because of those idealogical/ libretarian type SBO, any such effort would need to be explicitly about opting in and rewarding those who choose to participate, while having a neutral effect on those who eschew it. 

No fines or punishments or investigations started of those who don’t participate. Like if an nonemployer SBO decided not to hire paid employees, but keep relying on kids and spouse as unpaid labor, or preferred to hire “under the table” and pay with cash, that would be illegal–but the fact they’re reporting X income, while not reporting paid employees or claiming the ELWC shouldn’t be the cause of a potential labor investigation. 

And if there’s a SBO who wants to do it the way they always have–hire employees at minimum wage and pay the full associated payroll tax; eschewing the ELWC because they’re opposed to the living wage on political principle or something–that should absolutely be their call. No fines or anything like that should be rolled out to deter decisions like that.

Personally, I think such businesses would not last long, especially as area wages rise and their employees leave to find greener pastures of their own accord. But they should be allowed to try.

How to make America “great again”

​There are two things I don’t understand about the push to bring back manufacturing jobs. 

First, manufacturing jobs never created job security, high wages, and good benefits–unions did. But the jobs brought back aren’t unionized, so they’re just as crap as any other temp minimum wage hourly job. 

Second, manufacturing decline isn’t just due to globalisation, but much more to automation–manufacturing has seen job losses to automation long before white collar professionals began worrying about the robot revolution. 

The Obama Administration created 9 million jobs, largely part time and temp work in the service and retail sectors. 

So anyone who wants to make America “great again,” should join the work to unionize the jobs already here, not support Trump’s union-leader, anti-labor, anti-worker-rights agenda.

musings about evil and unhealthy things

Okay, so, I like to get Happy Meals sometimes.

I know, I know.  Fast food is evil and unhealthy, blah blah blah. Sometimes I like evil and unhealthy food–doesn’t everyone? All things in moderation, that’s what my mom used to say.

Besides, McDs is actually pretty good about diverse hiring. And apparently they pay a slightly higher standard wage than other fast food chains, like Wendy’s or Jack in the Box … I mean, we’re talking pennies higher, not dollars. But of all the shit poverty wages paid by multinational fast food chains, McDonalds pays the highest, gosh darn it. And its not like we’ve got Shake Shacks or In-n-Outs around here, so …

I mean, granted, there is a local, small-chain fast food drive thru that serves hamburgers, shakes, hot dogs and tots … but they’re all the way across town, drive thru only, close ridiculously early, only take cash (still don’t run debit or credit even though its been  9 years since the first iPhone was released and 7 years since the Square app debuted), and they use this weird gross thousand island/ketchup “special sauce” on everything. They’re immensely popular locally for some reason, but way more of a hassle than a fast food treat as far as I’m concerned–plus, since its a small business, I’ll bet dollars to donuts the employees are getting minimum wage, crap hours, no benefits, and don’t even get the buffer of HR when their management/ bosses start going on power trips.

So, yeah. I do like McDs for a treat. And Happy Meals–the big kid Happy Meals–are my favorite. They’re a rational meal size, and I justify the indulgence of fries and nuggets dipped in sweet n sour to myself through the apple slices and by choosing a milk (okay, chocolate, but whatever. Its not soda).

Plus: I get a toy!

Usually the toys just go into this travel suitcase of things to entertain my niblings on family game night, but still. Toys are fun!

So yeah, in my book, as the occasional treat, the Happy Meal wins. I go once or twice a month, depending on my mood. Sometimes less.

Usually when they ask whether I want a boy toy or a girl toy, I kind of grimace to myself and just say whatever gender is assigned to the toy of my preference–like when they had the American Girl dolls, hells yeah I wanted a girl toy, and when they had the superhero headbands and eyeglass masks, I asked for a girl toy until I got the Wonder Woman tiara, and then a boy toy until I got the Batman glasses.

I kinda dislike the question, tbh. I wish they would say, “Would you like a Ninja Turtle or Hello Kitty toy?”– like identifying by brand instead of gendering the toys.

Although … at Halloween they had these Peanuts cartoon themed buckets in purple and orange, and when they said, “Would you like a boy toy or a girl toy?” I said, “Boy,” because I was curious which color would be assigned to which gender, and why. It made no sense. Purple, apparently, was for a boy.

But I was curious if that was actually assigned or employee whim, so I went back a few days later and this time asked for a girls toy (orange). I wasn’t satisfied, though, because that still could’ve been chance–too small of a sample. So I kept making up excuses through October to go back and order more Happy Meals, always switching up the gender, because I suspected it was entirely random and they didn’t actually have the buckets colors assigned to a gender, except I started losing track of which gender I’d asked for at which visit, and soon I just had an uneven pile of cheap plastic orange and purple buckets.

So … yeah.

Sometimes, though, when both toys are equally stupid to me, I say, “Surprise me,” and  I’ve noticed when I do that, I always get a boy toy.

I wonder if they get shipped disproportionately more boy toys?

Or if girl toys are requested more and run out of faster, so when no preference is expressed, they try to offload boy toys?

Is it regional?

Or is this unconscious bias? Are they assuming boys toys are more preferable, and try to please the customer by guessing preference in the absence of expressed interest?

Or are boys toys less preferable, and they’re actually thinking, “Stupid-ass adult ordering themselves a kids meal–I’m giving them a stupid-ass boys toy.”

Maybe the toys are in bins, and the boys toy bin is closer to the drive thru window. Maybe if I went inside more often, it would default to girls toys when a neutral option is given.

There is a slight possibility I’m overthinking this, haha.

Still can’t help but wonder.

I also have a theory that the McDs in Hawks Prairie actually ran out of sweet n sour sauce years ago and never put in another order to corporate, and they’re just pretending to “forget” to pack it in the orders, because I do not think I’ve gotten a single sweet n sour sauce from that location since I started going to McDs again in 2013, even though its the only side sauce I order.