Sunday, December 31, 2006


We're ticking down the final moments of 2006 and I'm taking time out of my New Year's Eve revelry to report to you. Don't worry -- the Bears-Packers game has little intrigue. You're not keeping me from anything important.

I know this is the time when people, loosened by libations, safely make promises they likely won't remember tomorrow morning anyway. Why the simple act of turning a calendar's page is supposed to turn our lives around, I have no idea. I don't usually go for the whole "New Year's Resolutions" thing.

If asked, I usually tell people that I resolve to quit smoking. I actually used that one on television once when someone thought they would engage in that witty TV anchor banter by asking me what my resolution was. He stared at me for a second, made the realization and finally said, "But you don't smoke."

"No," I told him. "But I'd thought I'd start with an easy one and go from there."

Not this year: I have decided that after a December of overindulgence, next month will be "No Junk January." I like my sweets and I'm going to miss them. But this must be done. I knew that when a colleague at work brought in a tray of holiday cookies and I munched one after another all day. And I'm going out in a blaze of sugar and fat filled glory. So far today I've had two Pop Tarts, one-and-a-half biscuits, a doughnut, a Tasty-Kake cupcake and a heaping bowl of chocolate fudge brownie Edy's ice cream topped with a bag of M&Ms. And it's not even 9 p.m.

I did this once before. In 1993 or 94. I can't remember which year. I do remember that by mid-month, cookies, cakes and ice cream were appearing in my dreams. It was weird. I also remember that I made it, even though my birthday happens in January. I made a cake Febuary 1.

Last year, I decided that I would work out every day in January. I did that too. Once I didn't start the workout until 11:50 p.m. and it didn't last long but it counted. I'm going to try the workout-a-day thing again, too. That's not a huge challenge since I work out 5-7 times most weeks anyway.

There's no particular urgency to get fitter. I'm in good shape now but that upcoming birthday will be my 41st. This might be my last shot at getting a genuine beach body before I go over the hill.

Who's Who?

I got an application to be listed in something called the Cambridge Who's Who ( I've heard of Who's Who but didn't know there were different competing ones. At the bottom of my letter it reads: Cambridge Who's Who is proudly not associated or affiliated with any other Who's Who Publication or Organization.

I'd like to feel flattered, I really would. After all, according to the letter, "Recognition of this kind is an honor shared by thousands of executives and professionals throughout America each year. Inclusion is considered by many as the single highest mark of achievement." Yes, forget about the year-end bonus or those stock options, it's being listed in the Cambridge Who's Who that has made my year!

But my cynical side tells me that the whole thing is designed to collect information about me for mailing and calling lists, including calls to sell me the Cambridge Who's Who publication I should feel so honored to grace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Don't Mention It

A friend of mine who lives near Washington, D.C. sent me a photo of herself posing with a radio talk show host. Seems the talk show host also hosted a holiday cocktail party and my friend wrangled an invitation.

I didn't recognize her -- the talk show host. I only knew that she was a talk show host because my friend told me she was, though Google confirms it. I've never heard her show, nor have I seen any of the columns or books that my trusty Google research tells me she has written. (Google owns Blogger so it's always good to give the home office a plug.)

I'm not going to mention Ms. (apparently) Famousperson's name because then I'd have to omit the funny part of the story. I will tell you that it's not Ann Coulter. It's not Laura Schlessinger. Nor is it that other noted female talk show host... Alan Colmes.

I reply to my friend with some wisecrack about Ms. Famousperson's wardrobe since she appears to have hosted a cocktail party wearing a T-shirt. Maybe she lost some major market affiliates from her syndication deal and she's had to cut back on the clothes shopping. Or maybe my friend was overdressed for the occasion, wearing a cocktail dress as she was.

My friend and I trade a couple more e-mails until she suggests, after a segue I completely miss, that I should try and that Ms. Famousperson is considering it. BUT, she adds, "Please don't put that on your blog. Thx."

This is funny for any number of reasons. The first being how vastly she overrates the reach of my blog. What a scandal it would be if my whole handful of regular readers would stumble across the fact that an allegedly famous person might resort to using an online dating service!

Second, if I were to reveal that Ms. Famousperson might be looking for love in online places, I'd first have to explain to my throng (if as few as three can constitute a throng) exactly who the renowned person is because you, like me, might not otherwise know that we were dealing with a celebrity here.

Don't you know who I am!

Finally, in order for this story to embarrass Ms. Famousperson, which I presume is my friend's fear, people would have to find it credible. That means I'd have to explain how lowly ole me would have friends pow-wowing with the powerful in Washington, D.C.

What would you think if I wrote here that a friend of mine went to a famous person's house for cocktails -- though not a person so famous that I had actually heard of her, and that during the evening the apparently celebrity hostess divulged to my friend that she was so man-starved that she might stoop to using an online dating site looking for a love match?

You would, obviously and completely understandably, think I was full of crap. But that would be overridden by another thought. Who cares? So, don't worry J, your acquaintance's identity will stay secret here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Sunday Silence

A new blue guitar song not silent and recorded on a Thursday. It would sound much better if I could play more precisely. Then again, if I could play more precisely, I might not be putting my songs up on the Internet for free.

Click here to test audio streaming link for Sunday Silence.

Sunday Silence © 2006 by John McQuiston
(Not that I expect a problem with that!)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Vol. 3, Track 20

This one features different sounding lead and rhythm guitars. I played the bass on my synthesizer. The drums are from my Ape Breaks CD, Volume 3, Track 20. That's where the titles of the tunes come from until I decide to name them something else.

256kb Version:

64kb Version:

Untitled 3Track20_2g ©2006 John McQuiston

Friday, December 01, 2006

Been Busy

It happens. Strange how it works, though. The more I have to write about the less time I have to write it.

Let's see... Got a call from the TV station for which I do the occasional A.M. traffic anchoring. Almost out of the blue. I had dropped off a tape months ago, didn't hear back and forgot about it. Then last Monday I get a voice mail from the station's news director. They have a new position opening for something called a "backpack journalist." This person will shoot his own stories with a camera similar to the one I have and edit them on a laptop computer. He'll be a self contained news gathering crew. Sounds cool if exhausting. The stories I do for the high school sports show I've mentioned I shoot myself and edit on my own computer so the work would not be foreign. Doing it every day would be tough and if the station wants a two-for-the-price-of-one crew I'd only do it if the price were right. I called the ND and we talked for about 25 minutes. He said he'd forward my tape to his chief photographer, under whose aegis I'd also fall, and that the CP would call me. He hasn't. That could mean he's busy or that the station is not interested. Note to self: Work on phone manners.

Got an unusual e-mail from my next door neighbor that read, "This my friend (so-and-so)'s e-mail address. I keep getting messages to hook you two up." I e-mailed the friend and we met at a Borders book store in Tampa Wednesday. It was a mutually safe place to meet either one of us found the other butt-ugly or otherwise repulsive. She wanted to look at some travel books about Italy and the walk through the store got us started in easy conversation. "Do you like this?" "Have you read this author?" "What kind of movies do you watch?" I didn't feel a romantic spark with the young lady (actually 37) but she was pleasant company and I found a the movie Serenity on sale for $7.99 during our stroll. Its writer and director Joss Whedon also created the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, of which I am a fan. Note to self: Borders (or Barnes and Noble) for a first date. Full of conversation starters.

Got to another story for that high school sports show. A soccer game in St. Pete last night featured two teams that, according to the St. Petersburg Times, featured 24 players from 16 different countries. The coaches gave me smaller numbers when I interviewed them. I should have delved further into what the discrepancy was but the bottom line that there were lots of kids from lots of different places still held up. It was the first time I had interviewed three kids originally from Bosnia. That's a sure-fire fact. Both coaches talked about how the kids from countries where soccer is king had never played organized soccer. In other places, kids play in the street with whatever they can fashion into a ball. All the kids told me their families moved here either for better jobs, to escape political problems or both. Note to self: Devote more thought to interviews before doing them.

Got an e-mail from a long ago TV colleague about the possibility of producing a video documentary for an London-based lobby group trying to raise its profile here in the U.S. This could prove as lucrative as it is interesting. I have since spoken to the head of the U.S. arm of the organization. He watched video clips on my web site and liked them enough to consider me for a job that could take me literally around the world and pay me like a jet-setter. I'd be doing it all -- shooting, writing, editing, narrating, DVD authoring, graphic design and more things I forgot to mention -- so it wouldn't be easy money but it would be worth the effort to earn. Note to self: Find out how to get a passport.

Other than that, I haven't done much. You?

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Guitar

I need to play the guitar more regularly. Instead I attack the guitar with furious intensity in occasional spurts. It kills my fingers and doesn't do much for the quality of my playing.

But I recorded my efforts from this past weekend anyway. Bob Hope had his "Road to..." pictures. I have the new blue guitar series of 90 second to 2-minute long tunes that I might turn into real songs someday. Bob made a little bit more money from his venture than I will from mine but he's dead now so who's really in the lead here?

The first is a hard rocker with gloriously distorted guitars. The other one is slower, more languid, with lots of echo and reverb and a smooth, clean sound. Totally different but, like the others, I like them both and, really, whose blog is this, anyway?

Untitled 2Track13_2g ©2006 John McQuiston

Untitled 2Track08_2g ©2006 John McQuiston

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Snakeman Dies

OK, not the guy himself, just the story about him. WUSF has decided not to run my story about Jim "Snake Man" Mendenhall. Had you going there, though, didn't I?

Blame this blog. A few days after the acting news director asked if I had a blog (Yes) and requested the link (Here it is) but wouldn't say why she needed to read it (I asked twice), I wrote her back asking what the status was, if any, of the snake man story.

She replied that she was going to have to refer me to the woman who oversees content for both WUSF Radio and TV. I e-mailed her but haven't heard back. I plan to follow-up with a phone call but it's not going to change the outcome.

I did, at their request, go do some more interviews to add to the piece. Mendenhall puts on shows at the annual Rattlesnake Festival in San Antonio (there's one in Pasco County, Florida, north of Tampa) and I talked to some audience members as well as one of Mendenhall's snake-hunting buddies from childhood, Bob Lawton, who now helps Mendenhall with some of his snake shows. It was quite the sight to watch Lawton distract a king cobra so that Mendenhall could approach closely enough to grab him by the head. They also tried to milk a rattlesnake who was not in a giving mood. "Pretend it's my finger," Mendenhall told the snake. The snake couldn't hear. It didn't have ears.

If you can hear, you can listen to the updated version. My narration sounds livelier. I had dampened my delivery in earlier versions to better fit the NPR sound (or "NPR drone" as some call it).

*If the link doesn't work, try clicking here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cross Country

I covered the Florida high school cross country state championship meet Saturday for a statewide high school sports show to which I contribute. The meet happened in Dade City, about an hour north of Tampa. I stayed at my parents' house Friday night and drove the half-hour or so from there the next morning. There are still winding rural roads this close to Tampa and twice I stopped the car to take pictures of the scenery.

They start early to try to avoid the heat of the day so the first race went off at 8 a.m. The sun had yet to burn off the morning fog and my line in the story about the winner of the first two races emerging from the fog was not allegorical. The girls in the first race could have conspired to take a shortcut and no spectators would have known. You could see that little.

The course is actually a steeplechase horse racing course called Little Everglades Ranch. Runners had to climb a hill to get to the finish of the 5K course. In the girls races, the leader would disappear behind the hill. Then you'd see the bobbing of her pony-tail as she slowly rose. In this shot you can see one girl in the distance. She's the second place runner. The leader is hidden by the hill except for the mass of brown you in the center of the shot.

The winner of the first race (there were 4 classes each for boys and girls) was a sophomore from a school in West Palm Beach who had also won the state title as a freshman. She was less than 5 feet tall and could not have weighed more than 80 pounds. "She's actually filled out since last year," a writer from the Palm Beach Post told me. Only two other girls finished within one minute of her time of 17:02. She ran faster than roughly three-fourths of the boys.

The last shot shows a boy about to pitch forward on the final climb. Guillermo Echarte was the runaway leader in his race until then. He began to stumble, appeared to steady himself then fell, got up, labored forward several steps, fell again, got up, staggered to the finish and collapsed at the line. He finished 12th. The kid in the white shirt on the left side of the frame had outkicked Echarte in the regional meet and Echarte apparently figured his only shot at winning was to build a big enough lead and hang on but he over-ran the second mile. He was OK after an IV and some rest but wow! You should have heard the crowd when the kid went down.

With eight races to recap in four minutes, a lot of good stories won't get any farther than my computer's hard drive (the modern-day cutting room floor). One girl won her class by 40 seconds and then raced to fetch water for exhausted teammates after they finished. "I just wanted to make myself useful," she said. Her team placed six girls in the top 15.

A lot of kids ran their guts out. Or at least the contents of their guts. There was a lot of puking afterward. I didn't see any girls hurling, although I understand one got sick at the starting area before her race. I don't know if the difference is physiological or if the girls knew better what to eat and drink before the race -- and when. They certainly collapsed after finishing as often as the boys so I don't think it was because boys tried harder.

After boys races, when I had to walk among the finishers to find the winner to interview, my biggest fear was being in the wrong place at the wrong time and suddenly finding myself wearing some runner's regurgitated Gatorade. It must have been an especially difficult course. I asked the boy who won the last race of the day how he was doing. He said simply, "I don't want to have to do that again for a while."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rock Out!

This one will clean your ears out. And maybe your sinuses too. My Guitar Port (mentioned in earlier posts that I'm too lazy to search for now) doesn't have a real good heavy metal sound but the one I used here has sufficed. I don't know how many times I have played this song since I finished recording it but it's not enough for me to be sick of it yet.

Grunge ©2006 John McQuiston

I also added a synthesized bass to New Blue Guitar:

New Blue Guitar (Version 4) ©2006 John McQuiston

(Here for the story about Chris's Plumbing
Service in Riverview, FL? It's right here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Ain't what they used to be. I traded e-mails with a friend recently. As I was writing, something made me realize that she had celebrated a birthday this month. That's the thing with me and dates. I remember what day something happened but I never know what day it currently is so anniversaries and other milestones pass without me acknowledging them.

I wrote:
I don't know why this came to me now but isn't your birthday in October? I hope you did something fun. One year when I still at the station, folks had a birthday dinner for you at Spaghetti Warehouse and I ducked in for a quick bite between shows. That's all I recall. I don't even know why I remember it was October. I don't know the day.

I was going to tell my friend all about my uncommon memory for numbers and dates. Any kind of number, really. Birthdays of aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, ex-girlfriends -- they're all stuck somewhere in one of the convolutions inside my cranium. But I had prattled on about myself enough already so I spared her.

Good thing. She writes back: "Thanks for remembering... But my bday was in September."

At least I looked only like a medium idiot instead of a total idiot. I replied:

"September? In whatever month it happens, someday you too will have had enough birthdays that your memories will not be as accurate as you remember them."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Blog Ain't Going Anywhere

Accomodating a request by the person at WUSF supervising my snakeman story to do more interviews for the piece, I went to the Rattlesnake Festival in San Antonio this past Sunday. It was the 40th annual, you know. Only now instead of local residents bringing their own rattlers (to see who had caught the biggest) as they used to do, people show up to see them in Jim Mendenhall's snake shows.

I interviewed some patrons as well as one of Mendenhall's childhood snake-hunting buddies, Bob Lawton, who still collects snakes himself and sometimes assists Mendenhall with his shows. Mendenhall tells crowds that Lawton is a better snake handler than him because Lawton been bitten only once while Mendenhall has suffered snake bites five times.

I sent a revised script to my supervisor yesterday. She wrote back that she'd look at it on Monday and added, "By the way, I need to ask if you are actively participating in any blogs."


"I do have a blog," I replied. "Why?" She didn't say why; she asked for a link to it. I sent her the link and asked again why she needed to read my blog. She hasn't replied but soon after I sent her its link the stat counter for my blog showed visits from two ISPs at USF, one of which included a search for the keyword "politics."

Checking to see if I was a Matt Drudge wannabe, I guess. Neither of the visitors appeared to stay for too long so they must not have found anything interesting. I could have told them that. My blog is pretty innocuous and you'd have to work hard to dig up material on it that could paint me as a partisan hack. Even then it would be a pretty amazing stretch. If the powers at WUSF are going to disqualify me from contributing to the station because of my blog, they were going to disqualify me for something else anyway.

Had I more notice maybe I'd have gone back and changed its occasional references to NPR to "WUSF 89.7, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota -- my NPR station!"

I hope they don't waste the expense of a criminal background check. I'll confess: It currently consists entirely of minor traffic violations. I'd hate to disappoint them like that. Perhaps it's not too late to embezzle something. How do you do that? I did take a company pen home this week. Does that count? Oh, and I jaywalk across U.S. 301 when I walk to the gym all the freaking time!

My life lacks excitement. That's why I write about my observations of other people. Including the snake man. And perhaps soon about the labyrinthine process it takes to get a story on the air at WUSF.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

These Are Your Fingers

These are your fingers on guitar.

Any questions?

Untitled ©2006 John McQuiston
(Not that I expect a problem with that!)

Monday, October 23, 2006

New Blue Guitar

I am the oldest, brightest, best and humblest of three brothers. The youngest plays the most guitar. The middle one owns the most guitars and I write the most original music on guitar.

Middle Bro recently decided that his collection of guitars was collecting too much dust. Rightly so considering he can't really play any of them, let alone more than one at a time, and he chose to distribute some of his excess to Youngest Bro and me.

I got a blue electric colored electric blue made by Jackson. I got it just last night and hacked out a new tune with it. It's more than a little disjointed but it's the best I could do on short notice. I should have used different guitar tones so that you could hear the separate parts more clearly but I kind of like the muddled sound.

It's called -- and how's this for reaching for a title -- New Blue Guitar. The drums come from a CD called "Ape Breaks" whose producer specified that people could use them royalty-free if they created new original works from them. I've done the same thing before.

New Blue Guitar ©2006 John McQuiston
(Not that I expect a problem with that!)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Letting Go?

Hi T!

Funny. Whenever I go to compose an e-mail in Hotmail, the site lists my "Favorite Contacts" to the right of the area I type the message into. People to whom I rarely, if ever, write are listed there and I see your name because it's near the beginning of the alphabet. I think to myself that I ought to write to you or delete your addresses or -- option C -- write to you to ask if you'd prefer that I delete your addresses.

Maybe that's a difficult question to answer. How do you tell someone, "don't write to me any more"? I suppose you just do. I've never had to do it since I usually initiate e-mail exchanges and people with whom I have no interest in corresponding conveniently fade away.

As for me, things are into a routine here. My job is not exciting but it's stable and low stress, at least compared to TV news. I also do some freelance work reporting sports stories for a statewide sports network as well as fill-in as the morning traffic anchor on the CBS affiliate here. I've done a few of what I call mini-documentaries with my own camera and computer editing system and am working on another. The local NPR radio affiliate has shown interest in airing an excerpted audio version of the story. It all combines to assuage whatever jones I have to create stories and perform for television cameras.

Owning a home gives you a license to take things apart to see how they work and to see if you can replace them. I've installed upgraded light fixtures and faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms. Faucets are easy to install. It's the drains that are hard. (I recommend choosing a new faucet the same color as the drain you have and save yourself the aggravation.) The granite countertops are in and my new living room couch and chair arrived today. The cat better not scratch them or her claws come off pronto!!!

I would tell you that when my bio-clock hit 40 that I suddenly went fat and bald but it didn't happen. There's a gym within walking distance where I work out every day and nobody believes me when I tell them my age. So I've stopped telling and started letting people believe I was 32.

I hope all is well with you. If you feel like writing one, I will happy read a reply. Even if it's to say you'd rather I didn't write you any more.


Monday, October 16, 2006


This bottle of hair spray must be ten years old. It was at least two years since I last used it. Does hairspray go bad? No, but it does harden and clog the sprayer, which I remembered when I pressed the pump and the stuff shot everywhere. Some even landed on my hair. Good thing I had thought to close my eyes.

It's not every day that I use hairspray. It's also not every day any more that I appear on television. I had a one-day stand as the morning traffic anchor for WTSP-TV this morning and the first attempt at using the hair dryer went well enough that I decided to spray the look into place.

Once done, I had overcome the biggest obstacle of the day. I've done the traffic for Tampa Bay's CBS affiliate ten days scattered between June and now. It's not enough to get into a rhythm but I've gotten comfortable enough that doing the job is routine. OK there was that one time I came back from the restroom and forgot to put my microphone back on before my next report. That was a shame too because the weather anchor mentioned that today was National Boss Day right before I came on and when my turn came I wondered aloud, "Isn't every day boss' day?" It drew laughs from the anchor desk and from the studio crew but they were the only ones who heard me. There are many things that kill a joke. If you have to explain it, for one. If no one hears it, for another. I reached around, plucked the microphone off the desk behind me and held it to my lapel for the rest of that report.

When you appear on live television 12 times over the course of four hours with no script not all of them will go perfectly smoothly but I managed to spare myself any moments that could haunt me later when they appeared on YouTube.

It might not sound like a grand ambition but it will do for now.

(Here for the story about Chris's Plumbing
Service in Riverview, FL? It's right here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Passing Time

Days fly by but minutes can crawl past. Sixty seconds is supposed to equal a minute but all minutes are not equal. Five minutes on a treadmill take a lot longer than five minutes doing, say, horizontal co-ed naked aerobics. One you can't wait to finish and the other you pray never does.

I discovered another time warp this week: Piano time. One night I turned off the TV around 10 p.m. That should be bed time if I'm going to get my 8 hours before the alarm goes off at 6 the next morning. But what's a few minutes playing the piano going to hurt, right? I sit down, tap the keys for a few minutes, get up to look at the clock and it's 10:40. Poof! Forty minutes gone.

Speaking of 10 p.m., I'm glad that's not when Grey's Anatomy starts any more or I'd miss it. I watch little TV. I don't even have cable but Grey's has become a habit. My attraction is shallow, though. I'm curious to see where the stories go but once I've seen it it's not something I need to go back and see again. I ignore re-runs and have had no interest in the DVD version. It's eye candy. It's sweet and goes down smooth but not something you build a diet on.

More substantively, I'm plowing through a book called An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek's insightful biography of John F. Kennedy. With access to personal, historical and medical records not revealed before, Dallek writes in detail about the numerous physical maladies with which JFK struggled his entire life and the lengths he went to hide them from the public, as well as his womanizing. If Dallek errs on the side of giving Kennedy the benefit of the doubt, he winces not a bit when JFK's actions clearly deserve criticism. He tries to analyze what effect, if any, his medical problems and even his zipper problem had on his performance as president. If you idolize the Kennedys, this book gives you plenty of material to reinforce your adoraton. If you despise them, you get plenty of ammunition to take your shots. Seems to be that's what a good biography does.

(Here for the story about Chris's Plumbing
Service in Riverview, FL? It's right here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Snake Man

I've had a couple of shoots for a short documentary I'm doing about a man named Jim Mendenhall and his lifelong affection for venomous snakes. He captures them, keeps them and and uses them in educational seminars he hopes will garner public support for protecting them from eradication as development swallows their habitats.

At the urging of someone who works there, I submitted an audio version of the "Snake Man" story to WUSF-FM, the NPR affiliate in Tampa. I don't know if the station will ever air it. As you will hear, if (a) you click and (b) the link works*, Jim Mendenhall might not know when he will die but he has a good guess as to how it will happen.

*If the link doesn't work, try clicking here.

(Here for the story about Chris's Plumbing
Service in Riverview, FL? It's right here.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Cleaner

Someone on a blog I visit regularly wondered aprint today: "Have you ever coughed so hard you've thrown up?"

I had to comment:
Gotta say... that would be a no on the hacking up a puke thing. Glad you're feeling better if not yet well.

The vomit I clean off my floors comes from the cat. And has she ever once volunteered to help clean it up? Actually, yes, she has but no one in my house has to lick their own vomit off the floor. There are no signs stating this anywhere so it's more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule but I discourage it nonetheless.

That leaves me the head vomit cleaner of the house.

The cat will quickly remind me that her stomach is empty, not putting the two and two together (she completely sucks at math) that it's the eating that leads to the puking. "Can't you wait until your tummy calms down, Annie?" "Meow!" She answers in her "feed me now!" tone of voice. But at only six pounds, she's the Karen Carpenter of cats* so I have to feed her whenever she expresses an interest.

I'm sure that anecdote was most helpful to you.

Aren't you glad I shared!

*"Nicole Richie of cats" if you're under 30.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Can you consider someone you know only from her blog a friend? I was going to say that a friend of mine was coming to visit this weekend but I don't know if we're friends. How does this stuff work over the Internet anyway? Thanks to our respective blogs, we've seen each other's pictures and read each other's personal thoughts. We've traded e-mails. I know more about her in some respects than I know about people that I, er, know.

Ya know?

She did not arrange this trip solely to see me. She had a business trip that would bring her as close to me as Orlando. The 80 or so miles from there? Yeah, that was for me. Any further and I would have warned her that it wasn't worth the trip. But 80 miles? I'm worth that.

But how does she know that? Meeting someone you know only from the Internet is a giant leap of faith. Even if you've seen pictures and read someone's most intimate thoughts, especially when the person has a terrific gift for expressing her feelings, it's not the same as sitting across from someone at a dinner table.

No one has bad breath on his blog.

No one stutters or stammers or has trouble finding the right word at the right moment. Despite more than 15 years working in television news, I am much wittier in print than in person. By amazing coincidence, my difficulty making conversation with a woman is proportional to how pretty she is. Funny how that works, huh?

Not that this was supposed to be a hook up. Pleasant as she is to look at, at least from her pictures and you know how that can turn out, I wanted to talk to her. Some of the stories she tells on her blog are so heartbreaking, you want to reach across the country (where she lives) and give her a big hug, kiss her on the forehead and tell her everything will be OK. Many of them are quirky and funny and even as they describe someone teetering on the edge of disaster. I really looked forward to meeting the person behind them.

I'll have to keep looking. She wrote today to say she was sick and had cancelled her trip. I wrote back that she was welcome as soon as she was well, perhaps taking my own leap but I somehow don't think it's too big a risk.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bright Light Fright

Confidence buoyed by the apparently successful installation of the kitchen lights Saturday*, I moved on to one of the bathrooms yesterday.

You might wonder why I would begin replacing light fixtures in a home only three months old. A couple of reasons. One, I was only freelancing at the time I signed the contract to buy it. Irregular work means irregular paychecks so I was inclined to limit my budget for builder installed upgrades. Two, the markup on things the builder installs was insane so I was not inclined to pay for upgrades regardless of my employment situation.

I'll have them put in the standard included stuff and I'll replace it later for half the cost of what I would have paid the builder to do it, I thought. Brilliant! What I failed to think was that I had never done any work like this before. I had no idea how a fluorescent light attached to the ceiling or how it was wired. It could have been held there by leprechauns for all I knew. Same thing with how a bathroom light stays on the wall, except for the vague idea that changing a light fixture was more complicated than changing a light bulb. And that because of the union contract there would be different leprechauns for each fixture.

The joy of home ownership, besides watching property taxes and insurance rates soar, is that the owner -- in this case, me -- can take stuff apart to see how they work as long as he turns the breaker off no matter how exciting the game on the TV connected to the same circuit is.

I also thought it a good idea to put the toilet seat and lid down. I could see myself slipping off the chair, one foot sliding into the toilet while the rest of me crashed to the floor. The resulting compound fracture was not a pretty picture.

Neither was what I found behind the bathroom light, which was one of those "Hollywood lights," the flat stainless steel panel with the four giant round clear bulbs coming out of it. Instead of the wiring box that I had found in the kitchen ceiling and expected to find here, there was but a hole in the drywall with the wires poking through. The base of the light had been attached on either side of the hole. On one side with a drywall anchor. On the other the installer had simply screwed straight into the drywall. I guess he thought the leprechauns would hold it in place.

The light I bought has what is called a retainer. The retainer attaches to the wiring box and then the light fixture screws into the retainer. Lacking the wiring box, I -- using drywall anchors for both of the screws -- attached the retainer directly to the drywall, then I attached the color coded wires and bolted the fixture to the retainer.

When I get home I'll have a better idea if I can also call this another apparently successful installation.**

*Apparent success judged by the fact the house had not burned down.
**Apparent success judged by the fact that the light has not fallen off the wall. And that the house has not burned down.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I Have a Guitar

And a keyboard.
And can record them with my computer.

The name of this song is Flyer. I'm not saying it's great; I'm saying that it's mine. Don't worry. I don't sing on this one.

Let There Be Light

Kitchen lighting, we're talking. There was light already. But it was that ugly fluorescent lighting, which doesn't count. I mean, if your cat has puked on the kitchen floor and you need illumination to know whether you've cleaned all of it, fine. But I didn't get new granite countertops only to let them suffer under that ghostly white glow that comes from a rectangular box affixed to the ceiling.

No wonder the cat was nauseated.

I had not intended to get to this item on my list of home improvement projects yet but I took the fluorescent light down to see what the ceiling above it looked like and realized I probably could not put it back up by myself. Fortunately, the ceiling had been painted before the light went up. There were a couple of drywall chunks missing where the fluorescent had been screwed into the ceiling but otherwise it looked fine.

I had seen what I wanted at Home Depot but checked Lowe's because recent experiences with both of them have led me to greatly prefer Lowe's. Lowes didn't have anything suitable so I went back to Home Depot and bought my light kit.

I had a time limit to install it because I had to turn the electricity to the kitchen off and that breaker, I found, turns off all downstairs outlets. It didn't matter. It took less than an hour.

There wasn't much in the way of directions to show me how to put the new light up but it was enough. The electrical connection was easy. There were three wires -- black, white and green -- coming both from the ceiling and from the light fixture. Match the colors and you're good to go. This looks much better than fluorescent, doesn't it?

If anyone who visits really misses the fluorescents, he or she can fear not. There's still one in the laundry room.

(Here for the story about Chris's Plumbing
Service in Riverview, FL? It's right here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bessed Drest

In a store tonight I noticed People magazine's "Best & Worst Dressed" issue with Eva Longoria, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Aniston on the cover.

Have you noticed that the people on the best dressed list are all ones who probably look terrific undressed?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

We're Number One!

I got an e-mail yesterday from someone who said she "enjoyed reading your account of your experience with Chris's Plumbing." Chris's Plumbing Service is the company in Riverview, FL I made the mistake of hiring to do a job for me in July. I'm glad someone is getting enjoyment out of it. Every time I remember it, it riles me up all over again. Here's the story in case you're looking for some entertainment too.

The e-mailer said she had some insight into Chris's Plumbing Service and it did not paint a flattering picture. Part of me hoped I was wrong about this company and that I got good service at a fair price from a reputable plumber. None of the feedback I've gotten yet indicates that any of that is true.

The Better Business Bureau complaint I filed won't go anywhere and I don't expect to recover anything. But I'm beginning to view the $282 my experience with Chris's Plumbing Service as my contribution to a greater cause. As a girl from texas noted in a recent comment, if you Google "Chris's Plumbing Service", this blog is the number one result. That doesn't happen if you Google "John McQuiston"!

My visitor statistics show a lot of people finding this page through Google searches for "Chris's Plumbing Service". (Don't worry; I don't have access to or interest in any personal information about you. I'm curious only about how many people visit and roughly where they are.) A lot of them are from the Tampa Bay area and they're probably doing what I should have done more of: Research into the company before hiring it. I hope sharing my experience will give them an idea of this company's tactics so that they can make a better informed decision than I did.

If they should happen to decide to choose another plumber, I would applaud their wisdom and I would feel better about my apparent lack of it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What Victory Means

My alma mater, the University of North Carolina, lost a college football game to Rugters 21-16 in Chapel Hill today.

The day was not a complete loss for the Tar Heels. At least they don't have to go back to New Jersey.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I Am a Hurricane!

I am a hurricane!

And I am about to unleash some serious fury on a bunch sorry Mexicans. Check this out from the National Weather Service:

WTPZ31 KNHC 302336
500 PM PDT WED AUG 30 2006



Exactly what they did to incur my wrath I do not rightly know. Probably nothing. I spent a few hours in Tijuana once. Nothing happened to make me hate the place that I can remember. I don't harbor a particular dislike for Mexicans -- or anyone of Hispanic origin for that matter -- because I believe that there are enough perfectly good reasons to dislike people on an individual basis. Of the handful of TV channels I get since I have been too lazy and too cheap to order cable, two of them are Spanish language. Heck, Mexicans built my new home.

Yet I must destroy a bunch of theirs. That's the thing about us hurricanes. For all our destructive power -- and, believe me, you have not had fun until you have blown someone's house over -- we have no free will. We go wherever the wind takes us, able only to flail about in furious circles.

Please forgive me, as David Gray once sang, for I know not what I do.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I'm probably happier than I often appear to be on these pages.

I tend to write when emotionally agitated. Feelings overflow and spill onto pages. Anything to get them out of my head. Then someone stumbles across them and thinks that's all I am: a miserable, self-loathing nutcase.

Keep that in mind.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Two-oh-six a.m. The alarm is not set to go off for another 49 minutes. The chances I go back to sleep are about the same as my winning the lottery. And I don't play the lottery. I reach down and pet the cat, get up and go to the bathroom, come back to bed and pet the cat some more. At 2:48 I get up for good.

An hour later I stand outside the front door of WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg looking for a security guard. I don't see him. Wherever he is, I hope he's keeping an eye on the employee parking lot's exit gate. It's sitting wide open. I pull out my cell phone and call the newsroom. "This is John McQuiston. I'm filling in for Meredyth on traffic today," I tell the producer who answers the phone.

"You're at the front door?" she asks.


"And the guard's not there?" If the guard were here, would I have called you?


"I'll come up and let you in."

"Thank you."

And that's the glamorous part of the job.

I don't know in how many cities this happens but each of the stations in Tampa does traffic reports on its morning show. Each anchored by an attractive young woman. I won the job of substituting for the one on Tampa Bay's CBS affiliate by answering an ad on craigslist. Yep, that's me: The backup traffic twinkie.

I am not an employee of WTSP. A company called provides the traffic information as well as the person who delivers it. The station's news director had to approve my hiring but my paycheck comes from The company has an agreement with the state of Florida to put sensors along the major roads. They record the speed of passing cars and feed the data back to company computers. When I select a map, graphic representations of actual speeds cars are traveling show up automatically. I don't make the stuff up. If there are accidents, I have to manually add the icons to the map, render it, and repeat the process for the other map or two I'll use for that report.

I put on makeup as soon as I arrive. This is good because if I don't do it now I'll forget later. It's not so good because it feels like a refrigerator inside the studio right now and my nose starts to run. Now I know why women never blow their noses with gusto. It'll wipe the makeup off.

The studio will warm up when the crew turns the lights on.

I stay busy. From 5-7 a.m., I will appear near the top and middle of each half hour plus three other times in the show. Because the traffic information on the maps is in so-called "real time," I'm always rendering the maps and rundowns at the last moment to put the freshest data on the air.

That'll put a spasm in your bowel, especially if you're not used to the pace. Or if you're simply not used to being awake at all at 5 a.m. Or if you have hyperactive intestines to begin with. Or some diabolical combination of all three.

Five oh-two a.m. My first report begins with a shot of one of the traffic cameras instead of on me. Then when I refer to the map I intend to show after the live picture, I pop up on the screen. "Did I forget to set the computer right?" I wonder aloud as I turn to look at its monitor behind me. Nope. It's set correctly. Then the map comes up.

Not the smoothest start. If you're going to have a clunker, have one which you handle smoothly and, better yet, have one right at 5 a.m. when no one is watching. Not many are driving in the 5 a.m. hour, either. Most of what I have to talk about concerns which lanes are closed on what roads for construction and when they'll fully re-open.

Five fifty-seven a.m. I finish my final report of the hour, a brief narration over a live shot of Interstate 4 east of into Tampa, and blow out a big breath. I'm exhausted. I'm only halfway done.

Part of the stress comes from having so many times to report so little. In two reports, there were no indications of slowdowns anywhere in our viewing area. That's not abnormal for that hour but it makes me paranoid that I'm missing something. The live camera pictues help. In a couple of locations at least, they confirm what the computers tell me.

Traffic volume rises with the sun and, finally, I start to see some slowdowns. Sometime after 6:30 a truck hits a light pole in I-275 west of downtown Tampa. The accident gets moved to the median quickly but people slowing down to look will clog the Interstate in both directions. I'm sorry for the people inconvenienced but I'm grateful for the material. Besides, the stoppage doesn't come from something in the road; it's from idiots who have to sightsee!

By then I have lost the nerves I felt at the beginning but I still have no time to relax because of the constant rush to prepare the next report. One after another I get through them cleanly until I reach Nirvana. Or 7 o'clock, which is close enough. I'll have reports in each of the local cut-ins to the CBS Early Show but there's only one of them each half hour.

I buy a bag of pretzels from the vending machine and munch on them in a darkened corner of the studio. I've been awake for five hours, at work for three, and this is breakfast. With time to breathe, I can't recall much of the show. I don't know if the fear of missing something will ever disappear. I'm not going to do this frequently enough to get into any kind of groove. I did three days in June. This is the first of three days here in August and I'm scheduled for two more days in September.

That's enough. I don't miss the daily grind of television. And grind is the term for it. It wears you down. My health has improved a lot since I left my last full-time TV job in Cincinnati. It's unbelievable. If the right opportunity came along, would I consider it? Absolutely. But I'm off the TV career climb. My home is here and so am I.

Now it's off to work. I still have my regular job. Then I'm supposed to drive to Lakeland to shoot a story for the statewide sports show to which I contribute stories.

I'll sleep tomorrow. Maybe.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tuned Out

I played guitar again this morning but my song selection was different. I wasn't going to risk accidentally romancing the cat again. Instead I serenaded her with a song that, lucky for you, you have never heard. It's a tongue-in-cheek county-rock sort of number I wrote about a dozen years ago. Its last lines go like this:

Last time I saw you
Was so long ago
Last time I knew you
Was even longer before

Oh, baby, what happened
What happened to us
Our love just left us
Went down and got on a bus

I should have seen it coming
but how could I tell
I was just a ding dong
Trying to ring a Southern Belle

I sure got a lesson
Hope I learned it well
About being a ding dong
Trying to ring a Southern Belle

I'm going to take it as coincidence rather than commentary that not long after I finished Annie puked on the living room carpet. But it's true that she never cared much for my sense of humor.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I had a little time before work this morning that I filled by playing my guitar. I strummed and sang a song I wrote years ago called "Go On." It's slow and sweet and I closed my eyes as I sang its last verse:

What you mean to me
I'm just beginning to see
Of all things you need
Please say one is me

After I finished I sat with my eyes closed thinking how wonderful it would be to have someone to sing those words to in earnest. I opened my eyes and there she was, staring right at me.

I had sung the song to my cat.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Baby

Likely having no children of my own any time soon, I've adopted. She has a Japanese name but is probably Chinese or Malaysian in origin. She'll arrive here via San Francisco in about two weeks, I'm told. It's tremendously exciting. I can't wait.

Look! They sent me a picture!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

X-ing out the Ex

My friend "Sandy" wears her heart on her sleeve. When she's dating someone, she is fully involved, as fire dispatchers describe a house engulfed in flames. That's fitting since her relationsips usually wind up like the house: Burnt down to ashes.

She just had her latest flameout and announced it on a media message board we both frequent.

The hardest thing after a break-up? Not talking to that person ESPECIALLY when something really good or really bad happens. It's like second nature to want to share it with that person who used to be in your life 24/7.

She lists positives including that she can rent any movie or listen to any music she wants without judgement and that she can eat what she wants. "He was the pickiest eater on the planet, so I had to censor everything I's so nice to be able to eat sushi and seafood again!"

She concludes by asking for advice on how to move on. "I'm doing pretty well," she writes, "but there are those days when I need him like crack cocaine."

Sandy will survive. She always has. I've listened to a crying jag mourning a previous lost love and as soon as the tears dried, she had bounced back, ready for the next flame.

But it doesn't mean she doesn't need support. She gets plenty of replies to her message. I send mine directly to her:

If it didn't hurt to lose him, he wouldn't have been worth having in the first place. You have these jumbled feelings of being glad to be rid of him yet missing him and the confusion only makes you feel worse! If breaking up was such a good thing, you wonder, why does it feel so bad? Remind yourself why you broke up. Your crack cocaine analogy is apt: Just because you want something doesn't mean it's good for you.

From your "24/7" description, it sounds like you devoted yourself so totally to him that you closed yourself off from other people close to you. That makes the void he created by his absence seem even larger. In the future consider making sure you nurture your friendships outside the relationship even when it feels like the company of your "better half" is all you'll ever need. Close friends can be places to share successes, vent frustrations and just trade "girl talk." The outlet can improve things in your relationship. It can also be your lifeline if the relationship goes bust.

A real man will never make you feel ashamed about anything you like. No woman subjected to hearing my guitar or piano playing will get a raised eyebrow from me no matter what song she turns on. Nor will he dictate what you eat or when you sleep. What the...? I'm a finicky eater myself but if you want sushi, go for it! I'll get the beef teriyaki. How difficult is that?

I know you want him to feel as miserable as you do. But as much as misery loves company, it's not going to make you feel better. Not much, anyway. Set your sights on something or someone else and let that occupy the part of your mind you're using on him. Focus not on dragging him down but on lifting yourself up. I know it's not easy. If it were, it would put a lot of songwriters out of business.

Sandy writes back: "How come you never put these great responses on line?"

Now I have.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Numbers on Paper

NPR reported that the Israeli army was planning for a push 15-20 miles farther north in Lebanon. In the flash of a moment, the idea of being a soldier sounded appealing. A second later I came to my senses about my perceived joy of war. It should not be an elective activity.

But it's simple. You get up that morning and you try not to die. With all the worries about my house -- arranging it and furnishing it and the fun with the plumber (not!) I might have mentioned -- it sounded refreshing to think of breaking everything down to its elements. How much better might it be to throw off all possessions and think of nothing but staying alive and pushing forward? Nothing will focus you on what's important like literally having to fight for your life.

How much much of our lives do we entangle in trivial minutae? My new end tables are too big for the living room. I can't decide where to hang the pictures I have because they don't match the vision I have for the room. The new granite countertops have a dull spot I've waited weeks for the installers to come polish. Where will the digital piano I plan to buy fit?


Too often I'm penny-wise and pound-foolish, which is an English saying that makes a lot more sense in England. Here it sounds like pinching pennies makes you fat. But I digress.

If I absolutely hate the end tables, I can get rid of them. They cost $250 in the clearance section at Broyhill. It's not a tragedy; it's just numbers on paper.

Just numbers on paper. I'm lucky I can look at it that way. The house is paid for and I don't live paycheck-to-paycheck like so many people do. Only people who don't have real problems have the luxury to invent them by obsessing over details that really don't matter.

Monday, July 31, 2006

There's More

You likely found this site because of my compaint about a plumber. Just so you know: There is more to my life and this blog than trying to settle a business dispute. If you read far enough, you might even find something interesting.

If you are one of the few who made regular visits before I became a blogging cause celebre for what I've coined my "viral anti-campaign," hang in there. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Whatever reason you're here, you're welcome to stay as long or as little as you like. And I'll try not to assault your ears with alliteration too often.

Chris's Plumbing Responds

I have detailed my unsatisfactory experience with Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview, FL here. I eventually complained to the Better Business Bureau.

Chris's Plumbing Inc. has responded. You can click on the image below for a full-size JPG of the actual letter. The text follows that. I have re-typed it verbatim, including the various misspellings of my name.

Better Business Bureau of West Florida, Inc.
Post Office Box 7950
Clearwater, FL 33758-7950

RE: Case #67063013 McQuiston, John

Mr. McQuistion hired our services at the rate of $75.00 per hour with a one-hour minimum. Upon arrival and an assessment of the job, the technician, Jose, advised Mr. McQustion that there was a needed gasket missing from his kitchen sink faucet. That without this gasket the faucet would not get a proper seal and the use of Plumbers Putty in its place would stain the Granite Counter tops. It was also recommended that he not re-use the disposer.

Mr. McQuiston elected not to have the work done; Jose advised Mr. McQuiston that he'd be charged the one-hour minimum. Mr. McQuiston opted to have the existing garbage disposal re-installed and the drains re-connected. He chose not to have a faucet installed at this time.

Quite frankly, I feel Mr. McQuistions complaint is exaggerated. Home Depots quote of $270.00 is reasonable. The spelling of my companies name isn't relevant to this matter. Jose was correct in telling Mr. McQustion that we will not warrant used or customer provided materials. My technicians are not commissioned; they have absolutely nothing to gain by selling labors or materials. The price on the faucet and disposer at Home Depot is $158.52, our price is $171.44 plus tax. That's a far cry from double and certainly competetive considering Home Depot "Is such a big company".

In closing, Chris's Plumbing Service, Inc. maintains the highest standards of workmanship and materials. We value fairness and customer goodwill and appreciate the efforts of the Better Business Bureau. However, Mr. McQustion received the goods and services on the attached invoice, therefore he is not entitled to a refund.


Chris Hoffman

The BBB site asks, "Do you accept the response from the business?" Not exactly. As Samuel L. Jackson once said in the movie Pulp Fiction, "Allow me to retort."

Thank you for allowing me to respond. I mentioned the peculiar spelling of Chris's Plumbing Service only so you would know that the grammatical error came from the business' name and not from me when you searched for a match in your records.

True, Chris's Plumbing Services did perform the service listed on the attached invoice. The dispute centers on the fact that the service that his technician Jose showed up to perform was substantially different from the one I hired to have done. I accepted such service only under threat of having a lien placed on my home if I did not consent to it.

Mr. Hoffman fails to mention the coercion.

Mr. Hoffman does not address why no one at his office told me that, in addition to the hourly charge, they would want to replace brand new parts, why they would want to do this or that I would have to sign a waiver if I didn’t buy their new parts to replace the new parts I already had. I was in no hurry. I would have welcomed a complete explanation of the process.

The reason, it appears, is simple. A more complete explanation would have made it clear how much more expensive the job would be and it would have cost them the sale. Better to deliver the news once the technician is on the clock at $75 per hour and Chris’s can claim that he sent someone to render service and that if I decline it at that point I still have to pay the $75 minimum or I am the one in the wrong and subject to legal action. Joanne Hoffman said as much when she threatened to have a lien placed on my home if I declined the service.

Perhaps not illegal, the tactic still stinks.

Mr. Hoffman got creative when he compared prices. The technician Jose never mentioned a price for a disposal, only a faucet. "I have one just like this one on the truck," he said, holding my faucet in his hand. The price would be about $120, he said. This was a basic, bare-bones model that you can buy at any Home Depot or Lowe's for around $50. So, yes, the faucet Chris's was trying to sell me was double the cost. Rather than exaggeration, I was being charitable in describing the cost as only double.

(I have replaced the faucet so I don't have the exact model and number at hand but I can ask my home builder for it if we need to verify it.)

Mr. Hoffman also fails to explain why, though the faucet and disposal he wanted to sell were readily available, Jose had to wait 15-20 minutes (on my $75 an hour) for a part I did agree to have installed. Chris's Plumbing Services is 0.75 miles from my home. By car the trip takes about two minutes. I'm sure the meter was also running for the 15 minutes I spent speaking with Joanne protesting in vain earlier that morning in addition to the 15 more minutes it took me to reach her.

The job Home Depot would have done for $270 was a flat fee for the entire job. Before hiring a plumber, I connected the left-hand side drain and pipe to the sink myself and later installed the faucet myself so I ended up paying Chris's $282 for a fraction of the job that Home Depot would have done all of for less money.

I do not expect to ever get any money back. However when Chris's Plumbing Services, Inc. says it values fairness and customer goodwill, I want to make others aware of what this company's idea of fairness and customer goodwill is.

John McQuiston

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Don't Look Now

Uh oh. Somebody gave Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview, Florida a bad review on CitySearch. I wonder who that could be.

At least that review isn't the number one result for anyone who googles "Chris's Plumbing Service." Want to guess what is?

Apologies to the plumbing companies with the same name not located in Riverview, Florida. They are out there and they might very well give you professional and courteous service at a good price. It's worth double-checking to be sure.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The FAMOUS Chris's Plumbing Service

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flame begins to catch
The wind will blow it higher

Peter Gabriel sang those words a long time ago in a song called "Biko." It was about anti-aparteid activist Stephen Biko, who was arrested, tortured and killed by South African authorities in 1977. The line quoted above predicted that aparteid was doomed to collapse under the weight of popular disgust with it.

The context is obviously completely different here. But the words rang true in the sense that what I called my viral anti-marketing campaign against Chris's Plumbing Service has begun spreading like the proverbial wildfire.

The first gust of wind in this case is friend of mine named Ike Pigott who works in public relations. (See his blog here.) He saw my post about my less-than-satisfactory experience with Chris's Plumbing Service and the means I'm using to fight back.

His business is helping companies and organizations avoid bad press and he how had an example of how any disgruntled customer now can use his own "press" to spread his message. He passed it along to a friend of his in the PR trade, who noted it on her blog.

The news spread from there. Another blog picked it up. Soon the story had gone international!

So what difference does it make if a bunch of PR-types use my story as acedemic discussion fodder? Well, none. Unless you happen to google Chris's Plumbing Service or Chris's Plumbing Services (with an extra "s" at the end of "Service")and see what you get.

The flame has caught and the wind has begun to blow.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Good Habits Start Early

Got an e-mail from one of my brothers yesterday: "Do you have the picture of me drinking from Dad's beer when I was 9-months-old?"

I'm sure you get that question from your siblings all the time.

In fact, I do have that picture. I used it in the family documentary I finally completed recently as my mother remembers a hot summer day, a cold beer and a thirsty infant who proves that, for some people, beer is not an acquired taste.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Plumber File (con't)

Chris's Plumbing Service has until tomorrow to respond to the Better Business Bureau regarding my complaint (detailed here).

Belated thanks to a girl from texas for digging up Chris's subpar record.

It appears that Chris and Joanne Hoffman, co-owners of Chris's Plumbing Service (aka Chris's Plumbing Services), don't care too much about their record with the BBB. Don't worry, guys: I'm not through with you yet. Next will be a report to the state of Florida's consumer division, which, like the BBB, has a convenient online form I can use.

There will be more. You've heard of viral marketing? I've posted on craigslist message boards and I'm looking for means to do viral anti-marketing about this place. Why they thought they would screw me and I'd just take it lying down, I have no idea.

Someday, neither will they.

Not Yet

This comes to you from the Riverview Branch of the Hillsborough County Public Library. Why pay for the Internet when there's free Wi-Fi less than a mile from home? I got my library card too. I didn't see the Spanish language instruction tapes but they did have DVDs offering guitar instruction and music CDs. Come to think of it, I could probably rip the CDs right here on my laptop while sitting here. Think they'd get mad at me for that?

I have not yet bought a new digital piano. Research continues. Prices online aren't any better than ones I saw at the Guitar Center store I visited. There's an anti-competition suit waiting to happen somewhere.

My last visit to Guitar Center I played a Martin DC16GTE. Price: $1449. (Again eerily similar to prices offered everywhere else I looked later.) The guitar sounded like magic even in my unskilled and out-of-practice hands. Wow! I might have to re-order the "list." And I better hope the car lasts longer than originally planned. What with the guitar and the piano and the couch and the end tables and the master bedroom furniture, it's gonna be a while before I can afford a new one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Plumb This

Due to my recent bad experience with Chris's Plumbing Service here in Riverview (detailed here), my kitchen had new granite countertops but its sink still did not have a faucet.

I could call Chris’s Plumbing Service (aka Chris's Plumbing Services) again but if that were the only way to make my sink fully functional, I would be the guy you see rinsing his dishes in the retention pond behind his building.

Cured for the moment of the wish to hire anyone to do anything, if I wanted a faucet in my kitchen sink, I was going to have to install it myself. Probably not a good idea considering my history with this home. Everything I do seems to be wrong thing. Hiring Chris’s Plumbing Services, for instance. And while I'd like to think I was handy around the house, all I had really ever done was strip and re-finish some old furniture and hang window blinds.

The Moen faucet, with side spray hose and soap dispenser went in just like the directions said they would. The directions didn’t actually say anything; they were all pictures. The first time I tested it, it worked fine but I had not installed the side spray hose. Oops. I turned off the water and disconnected the plumbing where I’d have to put in the side spray hose connection. The water left inside the tube drained out all over me. Oops. I hooked it all up and tested it again. The connection where the hose met the main water line leaked. I turned off the water and took it apart. Water drained out all over me again. Oops. I added more sealing tape, re-connected it and it worked. It worked!

And did not leak.

I made a mess when I tried to pour 18 ounces of liquid soap into the dispenser, which appears to hold 16, and I had to towel dry the puddles I made when disconnecting the plumbing but it otherwise went well.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You're Not Taking One For The Team

Memo to people who show up to work with a hacking cough that won't quit:

The first time we ask if you want some cough drops, it's out of concern for you. The second time we're hinting that the racket is distracting us from doing our jobs. The third time we offer we are subtly suggesting that we don't care what it takes -- including your death from emphysema -- we just want you to shut up.

When you're at work sounding like you're trying to cough up a Mini Cooper, our sympathy ends in the first ten minutes. If it's going to be an all-day affair, do us a favor: Stay home and annoy your family instead of us. We have work to do.

Thank you.

Happy for a Friend


You made my day. I am so happy for you.

Stay well.


That was my reply to a friend of mine who e-mailed me yesterday to say that she and her husband were expecting their first child in January. The news overjoyed me. She is a wonder woman. Beautiful yet not full of herself. In fact she's the type who never gives herself enough credit, which only makes her more appealing. Knowing her, she's not celebrating her pregnancy because she's too worried that she won't be a good enough mother. That's too bad because she'll be great, just like she is in everything else she does.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Plumbing Complaint 2

As "A Girl from Texas" suggested, I have contacted both Angie's List and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about my experience with Chris's Plumbing Service (aka Chris's Plumbing Services).

It appears that you have to be a member of Angie's List to submit a report about a company but I was able to file the BBB complaint right online.

I don't think anything will come of it -- at least not for me. My goal is to spread the word about this outfit so others know about its tactics before deciding whether or not to engage its services.

As I said, maybe this is par for the course for plumbers. If so, I'll have to search much more carefully next time I need a plumber. All I know is that I felt much better last night after making my posting on craigslist.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Plumber Problem

My new home is coming along. My stuff is all in the place even if it appears to have been organized by a windstorm. I had a bad experience with a plumber recently, which I decided to share on craigslist. Here you go:

CONSUMER ALERT: If you live in the Riverview, FL area and need to hire a plumber, BEWARE the following company:

Chris's Plumbing Service, Inc.
aka Chris's Plumbing Services
6404 U.S. 301
Riverview, FL

Phone: (813) 623-6830
(813) 671-3993

I visited their offices on U.S. 301 July 6 to ask about having kitchen sink plumbing re-connected in my home. I had granite countertops with a new sink installed and needed the pipes re-connected. This is a new home so the "old" pipes had not been used.

Why replace countertops in a brand new home? You ask. It was thousands cheaper to buy the home with the included laminate countertops then hire Home Depot to rip them out and install new granite ones than it would have been to have the builder install them in the first place.

Home Depot would have done the re-connect for a flat fee of $270 but the sales person recommended hiring a plumber on my own because it would be much cheaper. He said Home Depot only charged so much because of liability issues. "We're a big company so people like to sue us," he said.

Actually, it turns out that people like to sue Home Depot because it farms out work cheap subcontractors who do shoddy work but I didn't know that then.

I go to this Chris's Plumbing Service (and, yes, it's spelled "Chris's" on its business card) because it is less than a mile from my home. I explain to them what I need and they say they'll come out the next morning. I ask for an estimate of what it will cost, even mentioning that Home Depot could do it for $270. One of the plumbers -- I don't remember his name because I didn't think I'd need to -- says that the charge is $75 an hour for labor. "Even at three hours, you'd be saving money," he says.

A plumber named Jose, according to the patch on his shirt, shows up the next morning and immediately proceeds to tell me that I need a new faucet (the faucet's already new) and a new garbage disposal (the one I have has never been used) and new pipes and fittings and that this would be a three or four hour job at $75 an hour plus the cost of the parts. If he uses any of the "old" parts, I'll have to sign a waiver absolving them of any liability.

Smelling a rat, I tell him that I don't want the service. He says that he has to charge me $75 for coming the 0.75 miles (I measured) to my home essentially to make a sales call. I call Chris's office and talk to Joanne Hoffman. (She and Chris Hoffman are listed as co-owners). She was in the office when I visited the day before and did not mention any of this stuff Jose's telling me now. I tell her that this is not the service I wanted and that I should not have to pay for what appears to me to be a rip-off. She says that if I refuse to pay that she'll put a lien on my property. I don't know if she can legally do this without my getting a chance to dispute it or not but I don't have time at the moment to research it.

I cave in. I do not buy a new disposal and I don't have the faucet installed at all and it still costs me more than $50 in parts plus three hours of labor, which included my call to the office to argue with Joanne plus another 15-20 minute break while Jose had to wait for a part to arrive.

Why it takes a quarter of an hour to drive three-quarters of a mile, I don't know but -- and this will shock you, I know -- Jose had the replacement faucet and garbage disposal he wanted to sell me [at twice what you could buy them at Lowe's or Home Depot for] sitting on his truck available instantly!)

So instead of paying Home Depot $270 to do the entire job, I pay Chris's Plumbing Service $282 to do part of it. I had already installed one of the drains in the sink and will still have to install the faucet myself.

Perhaps I am an ignoramus and this is standard and accepted business practice by plumbers but it felt like a con job to me. If you feel similarly, warn people about how Chris's Plumbing Services operates. I can't get my $282 back but I can inform others of my experience with this outfit so that they don't have to endure similar frustration.

If you have some spare time and feel so inclined, you can do something too: Call Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview at (813) 623-6830 and let them know that you are now aware of their tactics and that you are going to take your business to a plumber that deals with customers more honestly.

That's pretty self explanatory but I can't tell you how angry this experience made me. I was careful not to call them crooks, creeps or criminals to protect myself from charges of libel but if readers were to draw that conclusion I would not feel motivated to disabuse them of the notion.

I'll look for other ways to spread the word. Then, of course, I'll let Chris's Plumbing Service know that I didn't take their treatment (Mistreatment? You decide.) without a response.

The plumbing story continues:

Thursday, June 22, 2006


After wondering if I would ever actually move into the home I signed the contract for last June, I finally closed on the new home.

I'm moving most of my stuff this weekend, provided that I remember to rent a truck before then. I go tomorrow morning to pick out the slab of granite from which they will make my new countertops. The house comes with countertops but I wanted granite and it's thousands cheaper to pay Home Depot to come tear out the current countertops and install granite ones than it would have been to have the homebuilder install granite in the first place.

It should be fit for company in a few weeks, though I figure most of my out of town friends will want to visit when it gets cold where they live.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Read All About It

I walk the half-mile to the entrance to the development to buy the Sunday St. Petersburg Times. About 20 yards before I get to the vending machine I see that it's empty. I walk the half-mile back home then get in my car and drive to a nearby intersection where live people hawking both the Times and the Tampa Tribune stand in the median.

I prefer the Times. Not only do I think it's a better paper, it costs half the price of the Trib. Fifty-cents for the Sunday edition is worth it for the three crossword puzzles alone.

As I get to the intersection, the light has just turned red so I don't have to disrupt traffic to make my transaction. Good. I'm sure crack buyers feel the same relief except they're not making their drive-by purchases at 8:30 a.m. on a sunlit suburban street. I see the papers stacked up but I don't see the vendors. Finally, I see the Times' guy lying down on his back with his eyes closed. I stop next to him, roll down my window and say, "hey."

Nothing. Not a wink or a nudge. I call to him again, louder this time. Still nothing. I honk the horn. This doesn't rouse him. Perhaps he is sleeping off last night's crack binge. Then I spy the guy from the Trib running across the street, probably returning from a bathroom break at the Hess station. But I don't want a Tribune. He comes up to me and asks, "Did you want a Times?"

He hands me one as I pass him the two quarters. "He's been passed out all morning." It was good of him to cover for his counterpart from the rival paper. Maybe they help each other like that. It looks like a tough job, standing in the median holding copies of the Sunday paper in the air then dashing between lanes of traffic to make a sale all day.

I still laugh as the light changes and I make the U-turn to go back home.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


My parents left for vacation out west early this morning. I shuttled them to the airport. After my chauffeur assignment, I went to Clearwater Beach. As you can see above, if you get there at 8 a.m. you have the beach to yourself. It's not kayaking on Waikiki but my chair, towel and Michael Beschloss book on World War II kept me good company again today.

Came home to find an e-mail from a friend who detailed the nosedive of her sex life since she had a baby earlier this year. Is it the very definition of irony that someone who has not had a relationship in three years would be asked to counsel two people who sleep next to each other on how to have more sex?

Then, speaking of ending droughts, it rained hard for an hour. This has been the oddest day. But interesting.

Friday, June 09, 2006


I got to pretend to be an actor again last night. We shot it in an Ybor City office building where the passing trolley interrupted us every 20 minutes.

The producers were the same people who made the film in which I appeared last year. They have the delusion that this project is going to wind up as a show on the f/x network. It is not going to become an actual television show on that or any other network. In the exceeding unlikely event that it does become an actual television show, the network will replace me with a real actor. I may have no shortage of my own delusions but being a Hollywood star is not one of them.

I did have a scene in which I had to stand in close proximity to an attractive young lady wearing. (Yes, had to. Forced, chained-to-the-chair, gun-to-the-head, child-held-for-ransom had to. It was tough going, lemme tell ya, but I made the sacrifice for the sake of my art.) She wore an outfit that showed off her bust as I encouraged her to use her, um, assets to close a deal. My character was a creep, which means I got a free pass to sexually harass someone. Only in a pretend world could I ever imagine looking at a girl and telling her, "You have tits. You know what to do." Her character was a creep, too, so she didn't feel harassed.

If she's a creep in real life, she's a better actress than I thought because I found her perfectly charming. Her real name is Jessica and she's a trained ballet dancer who wants to make it on Broadway. She's got an audition in Chicago next week, she said, for a musical based on Billy Joel's work.

She sure looked like a dancer, legs and all, which I promise I only noticed because it said so in the script. She explained that dancers have to be 5'5" or shorter and meet a certain weight for their height. She has to keep 108 pounds or less on her 5'3" frame. "Gee, that's not a recipe for anorexia," I said. She said it was tough, which I could understand since she had actual breasts -- again noticed only in the course of dutifully playing the role to which I had been assigned -- instead of the chest-less look you'd expect to see on a dancer.

The creators of the project earnestly believed they were making a comedy masterpiece. They also played characters and they'd ruin takes laughing at my dialogue. Maybe it's a generational thing (these guys were in their early-to-mid 20s) and the jokes went over my head. More likely, though, that the jokes just weren't that funny.

But I had fun doing it and they seemed happy with my effort again so maybe I'll get to do some more.