Saturday, March 27, 2004

Insert funny cliché here

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Far be it from me to question the Internet, but I have a rather sizeable bone to pick with a particular Web site. The Plain English Campaign, a British group that campaigns against the use of clichés, has just released what it says is the most annoying cliché in the English language.

For those of you just tuning in, clichés are those annoyingly common phrases that have long ago worn out their welcome. Think of “worn out their welcome.” By the way, the word is pronounced “klee-shay,” not “clitchie,” as I once overheard in line at a store up the Flint.

Anyway, the Plain English Campaign has taken a poll to decide the mother of bad clichés — to coin a phrase.

Ready or not, here it is: “At the end of the day.” As in, “At the end of the day,

Not that anybody would remember, but last year around Mother’s Day, after hours of cogitation, I came up with the headline “Mom’s The Word.” Get it? That was all mine. You can’t achieve that kind of literary ingeniousness in the newspaper biz unless you have a sack full of clichés handy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The Plain English Campaign compiled a list of some decent honorable mentions. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if people stopped saying “bear with me,” for instance.

“Pushing the envelope,” meaning new and untested, is a cliché that I never really understood — which envelope are we talking about, how the hell are we pushing it, and where's it going? When I hear that one, I imagine people sliding a plain white envelope back and forth across a desk. What’s so interesting about that?

I think we’re all in agreement that “thinking outside the box” should have been strangled in its crib. Also, people who say that one while making finger-quotes should have been strangled in their cribs.

The Plain English Campaign listed a cliché or two that I’ve never heard of, which is always both exhilarating and scary. One such example is “singing from the same hymn sheet.” Must be a British thing — we’ve got the separation of church and state here.

But given enough time and exposure here, I’m sure Americans will start hopping on that bandwagon. Yes indeed. I can see “singing from the same hymn sheet” catching on like gangbusters. Or wildfire. Or hotcakes. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.

My own pet peeve cliché is when people say, “I hate when that happens,” trying to be funny. For example, I’ll tell a story about some poor guy who accidentally lopped off his foot while chopping wood — when comes the jaunty riposte from the peanut gallery: “Boy! I hate when that happens!”

The smarminess of that phrase makes me want to punch faces over and over.

Fie on the Plain English Campaign — “I hate when that happens” is worse than “at the end of the day” any day of the week, six ways from Sunday.

Another beef I have with crowning “at the end of the day” king of the clichés is that, while it may be a tired expression, it actually means something. There really is an end of the day.

Not so with “catch as catch can,” or, still worse, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Somebody must’ve invented that last one. At some point, it was new. A plague on that fateful day! I wasn’t there, but it probably looked like this:


Scene: A duck blind. Ducks frolic in a shallow pond with impunity, the miserable creatures. Hunter 1 enters and blasts one to gooey pieces with a .50-caliber assault rifle. But hark! Hunter 2 enters.

HUNTER 1: How’s tricks?

HUNTER 2: Easy come, easy go. Cold enough for you?

HUNTER 1: (pointing to a nearby campfire, where he’s been trying to heat water for coffee all afternoon without success) A watched pot never boils.

HUNTER 2: And how, my good man. Maybe you need to throw more irons on the fire.

HUNTER 1: That’s the ticket. Hunt ducks much, Diamond Jim?

HUNTER 2: Actually, I’m really a people person.

[Awkward silence ensues for several hours, during which the ducks align themselves into neat rows.]

HUNTER 1: (apropos nothing) Penny wise, pound foolish.

HUNTER 2: Out of the mouths of babes. (holds up a steaming mug) Is this your cup of tea?

HUNTER 1: Nope.

[The bushes begin to rustle with activity.]

HUNTER 1: (raising his gun) Eureka! There’s gold in them thar hills! By “gold,” I mean ducks. And by “hills,” I mean bushes.

HUNTER 2: Stay thy hand, fair prince. You’ve already bagged a duck today. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

HUNTER 1: Mind your own beeswax. Vamoose. Take a long walk off a short pier. Am-scray.

[Hunter 2 raises his own gun at Hunter 1 and shoots him in the foot.]

HUNTER 2: Told you I was a people person.

[Drags Hunter 1 off to his pickup and ties him to the fender, right above the “Keep on Truckin’ bumper sticker.]

HUNTER 2: (starts up car) Help is just a phone call away. Unfortunately, you have no phone.

HUNTER 1: (wiping away a tear) I hate when this happens.


Saturday, March 20, 2004

Busch whacked

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I recently made beer. More specifically, I recently brewed two gallons of a substance that resembles beer in two aspects only: it is vaguely yellow and it is also moist.

For most every Christmas since even before I reached legal drinking age, I’ve subtly hinted to my loved ones that I wanted a beer-making kit. You are likely familiar with the objects in question. They’re sold in the manlier zones of your friendly neighborhood department store.

They usually look like a plastic parody of a wooden barrel, complete with decorative dimples that are made to resemble knotty wood grain. There are a few deceptively simple steps laid out on the side of the box, with something to do with chemistry, blah blah blah — but the easiest part is the last step: “Enjoy!” There’s a frosty glass of pure, foamy brew on the side of the box. It’s sort of like the sumptuous seven-course meals pictured on the box of a TV dinner.

I’d see these kits in the stores and salivate noisily down my shirtfront.

I never flat-out asked anybody to buy me a beer kit — no indeed. Instead, I threatened to buy other men in my family the beer kits. This is called “psychology.”

“You know what I should get for my dad?” I told my wife several times. “A beer kit. Every man loves beer kits.”

“You sure he’d like it?” she said. “Those seem too complicated.”

“Yes indeedy. I don’t know a single man who wouldn’t love a beer kit.” I nodded reflectively and added, “You will note, dearest love, that I am a man.”

This went on for some years. I eventually threatened to buy one for every man in my family, and most of the women.

“Who wouldn’t love a beer kit?” I once said to my wife at a department store, giving one of the boxes a sexy look. “Maybe this Christmas I’ll get one for my Uncle Bruce.”

“You don’t have an Uncle Bruce,” she said.

I rubbed the picture of the beer glass on the side of the box. “Beer genie?” I whispered. “You in there?”

My wife didn’t take the hint. I would have hired a skywriter if this winter hadn’t been so cloudy. But a few weeks later, I found a beer kit under my tree for Christmas.

“Santa got my letter!” I exclaimed, opening the box and running my fingers along the barrel. It was a kit made by Mr. Beer, and how proud Mr. and Mrs. Beer must be.

I reached inside and found a tiny envelope the size of a Sweet and Low packet and began weeping. “No way! No way! I don’t believe it!” I checked the label and found that my suspicions were correct. “It’s yeast!” I cried.

Mr. Beer came with everything except the buzz. I read the helpful instruction guide carefully. It includes a short history of brewing, strangely beginning not with the invention of beer in ancient Egypt, but during Prohibition. It also mentions this: “In 1978, the U.S. Congress ... permitted the production of beer for personal or family use, not to exceed 200 gallons per calendar year in 2-adult households.” In practical terms, I would have to use Mr. Beer more than 80 times a year, and so resigned myself to a life of crime.

One day not long ago, I cleared a whole day to brew and put on my Coors hat. I actually have a Coors hat. I followed the instructions to the letter, mixing water in a saucepan with glop, then adding a can of other glop. I put ended up with a pot of orange liquid that smelled like hot laundry smothered in vomit.

“I can’t wait to drink it!” I cackled. I studied the Mr. Beer book while I sprinkled in the yeast, occasionally giggling at the word “flocculation.” (Look it up — it’s worth it.)

For the week it took to brew, I planned out my next steps. Once my beer was ready to bottle, I thought, I would probably name it and design bottle labels. I considered several options: Half-in-the-Bag Brew; Busch Cassidy and the Sundance Beer; Dan’s Fall River Fall Down By The River Zippy Pale Ale; and my personal favorite choice, bottling it in ceramic jugs marked with “XXX.”

I wondered once in a while if it would taste good.

“I’m hoping for Sam Adams,” I told my wife as I examined a clear plastic bottle of my gorgeous brew, “but I’ll settle for Miller High Life. If it’s anything like Schlitz, it’s going down the drain.”

“It doesn’t always come out right the first time,” she said.


I opened the first bottle — it gushed out like a dam breaking.

“It’s carbonated!” I said.

Then it kept on gushing. I held the bottle over the sink. Foam poured out like lava from a grade-school volcano science project. Ten minutes later, it was still foaming. I poured myself a glass.

The glass was full of foam. Way down at the bottom was a tiny bit of yellowish slime.

“Down the hatch,” I said, and as I held it to my nose I felt my beard start to catch fire.

As I said before, I did not make beer. Instead, I produced some sort of acidic chemical that could be remarkably effective at reviving the unconscious — precisely the opposite effect I wanted. It’s like Schlitz, all right.

I’m dumping it all down the drain, and pretty soon I’ll analyze my data and try again. In the meantime, Mr. Beer and I are on the wagon.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Kerry-Bush: The golden ticket

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I know I’m just a simple moptopped boy. I little understand America’s strange ways and customs. But riddle me this: How come picking a vice presidential nominee is such a delicate balancing act, full of backroom intrigue and mathematical equations — but the job is so confoundedly boring?

Earlier this week, a guy I work with and I were surfing the Internet — riding the crests of rumor, paddling across waves of bullshit, shooting through spiraling tunnels of poppycock — and he found an opinion piece on The Wall Street Journal giving Sen. John Kerry advice on his vice presidential nominee choice.

“If he wants to make a bold choice,” columnist John Fund wrote, “he will offer the job to retiring NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw.”

Yes — that Tom Brokaw.

He went on to write that since most people like Tom Brokaw, and he’s not really associated with any political agenda, he’d be the perfect vice presidential candidate.

Later on in the week, I read a poll published in the Associated Press that showed something like 30 percent of voters want Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to be the Second Banana.

Still later, I read another AP story where John McCain, the Republican war-hero senator from Arizona, said he’d consider a vice presidential run with Kerry, if Kerry asks nice enough.

I’ve read various reports that President-elect Kerry (sorry) is considering no less than eight other people to share the rent and cable bill at the White House. Among them are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, and former Gov. Howard “How Weird” Dean of Vermont. Apparently, it’s a fairly easy list to get on. If Kerry’s heard of you, you’re probably on the list. You barely need any experience and you don’t even have to be a Democrat.

And with those reports and rumors come the political chess moves: Brokaw’s a nice guy that everyone trusts. McCain would lock up the veteran and swing Republican vote. Hillary Clinton’s good at bringing the women to the polls. Graham would help win Florida. The Southerners and poor people would vote for Edwards. Richardson’s long name fills out a bumper sticker nicely.

All this plotting and scheming, for what?

For the most uninteresting, powerless position in U.S. government.

If you haven’t taken a social studies class lately, let me remind you that the vice president of the United States has only one duty: Official Senate Chaperone. If there’s a tie in the Senate, the veep breaks it. Otherwise, the vice president is supposed to sit still and let the important people do their work.

Occasionally, vice presidents are asked to do menial errands, like buying the stamps and warming up the presidential limousine on cold days. Also, the vice president is expected to look vaguely official — there’s a dress code.

The lack of power a vice president holds begs two important but contradictory questions. Why would anybody interested in politics want this job? But knowing what we know about the laziness and lack of real-world experience intrinsic to most career politicians, why don’t more people run just for vice president?

If you ask me, there’s one person who fits the rather small shoes — or, frankly, the flip-flops — of vice president perfectly. If Kerry picked this person, everybody would be happy. I guarantee the entire nation would vote for Kerry, even the most bull-headed, Bible-waving Southern conservatives.

How about a Kerry-Bush ticket, friends? If Kerry could conceivably consider a Republican partner in McCain, why not the Republican?

President Bush has proved himself incapable of being a decent leader. He was never really elected, anyway. His manufactured war in Iraq is getting expensive — yet another example of how American manufacturing is going down the toilet. American corporations are taking jobs overseas with impunity. After Sept. 11, 2001, America had the sympathy and aid of nearly every other nation in the world — less than a year later, the big fucking meatball’s “us or them” attitude turned it into widespread contempt and mistrust. The economy’s in the dumps, except for those making $200,000 or more a year. He’s unconcerned that millions of people have become unemployed with no hope for the future. The man reads at an embarrassingly low grade level. He’s been a failure at every job his family has ever found him. He doesn’t work after 5 p.m. and is proud of it. He once choked on a pretzel.

Long story short, since Bush seems determined to stick with this politics thing for a while, maybe he’d be better in a boring job where he can’t make decisions or hold any power.

At all.

Everybody wins under this plan. Kerry wins easily and puts America back on track. Democrats and Republicans can show their unity by working together. Bush can pretend he’s still in charge, but the beauty of it is, he won’t be. He can sit quietly in the Senate every day and do his coloring books.

It’d be a terrific job move for Bush. No skills required, good pay, easy hours, short commute. Lucky for him, there’s a spot opening up in November.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

When you stare into the dimple, the dimple also stares into you

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The scene is Danvers. Wal-Mart. Thursday. Hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of teenage girls openly weeping and shrieking so loud it sounds like the screech of vultures.

At the center of this maelstrom is Jessica Simpson. You know who that one is? Of the blonde teenybopper pop music star trifecta, Simpson is the one who isn’t Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera.

Need more help? Simpson is also easily distinguished by a rather sizeable dimple in her chin, and a rather sizeable vacant stare. How sizeable a dimple? You could aim a vacant stare into it for hours and never see the bottom.

Like the other two, Simpson sings factory-produced bubblegum songs about love and dating boys. I don’t listen to it, myself. It’s just not my thing. I prefer to listen to real music — like AC/DC.

Simpson was in Danvers Thursday to autograph copies of her new CD for fans. Approximately 70 bergillion teenage girls showed up to touch the hem of her garments (good luck finding it) and acquire her signature.

I saw the images on a Boston TV news station. There were all these kids crying all over themselves while State Police troopers — yes, that State Police — were trying to corral them behind barricades. The girls were screaming, “I love you, Jessica Simpson!” but most were just screaming shit.

I don’t mean to belittle people’s heroes, but here’s a little tidbit of information about Simpson: On her MTV reality show, “The Newlyweds,” she became famously confused about whether Chicken of the Sea was chicken or tuna.

Any-hoo, after a while the crowd became more and more raucous. Then the rioting began, friends. Under police protection, Simpson slipped away. For some goddam reason, they called in the Fire Department. Three teenage girls were hauled off to the pokey, one for assaulting a police officer. That offense, I daresay, is going to be difficult to explain on job applications in the future.

The whole event got me thinking, which is good for a change. I wondered if I would ever cry and howl when meeting a celebrity.

If I met Jessica Simpson, for instance, I’d probably be perfectly sedate. She seems like a nice person, but I wouldn’t cry when meeting her. Much, anyway.

I mean, I don’t think. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner here in case I ever do meet her and start bawling myself sick.

Then again, Jessica Simpson isn’t a role model for me. I don’t want to sing like her, and I sure as hell don’t want to look like her. Although she does have excellent teeth. But I’m sure the teenage girls who went berserk in Danvers hold her in pretty high esteem. They might find a lot to admire in her. Like her cans.

For example, here’s another odd tidbit of information about Simpson: According to her Web site, she’s now endorsing a line of beauty products called Dessert, which smell nice and are, from what I gather, edible. So you can smell and taste like food.

If my sister were younger, she probably would have been there in Danvers, crying and screaming along with the other girls. She’s an emotional person. She even might have been taken away in the paddywagon — my sister is not afraid to use her fists.

My sister is extremely bright, but there’s something about celebrities that makes her go a little — sorry, sis — bonkers.

When she was younger, my sister became heavily preoccupied with the pop music group Duran Duran. They were these five guys who were big into mascara. In particular, she was, from afar, romantically entangled with the bass player, John Taylor. He had lots of hair.

One day, my sister got a phone call from a cousin with dreadful news. John Taylor was married. My sister locked herself in her room and cried for hours — those kind of wet, yowling tears that sound like puking. My mom debated calling 911. Later, we found out that it was really James Taylor that got married. He is old and bald. You may remember his music from past elevator rides and dental appointments.

My sister is now more mature, but she hasn’t outgrown this penchant to weep at the sight of celebrities, either. Not that long ago, she met Emeril Lagasse, the TV cook from Fall River. She told him he was an inspiration, and then turned into a pile of sobbing mush.

I’ve only met two or three quasi-celebrities myself. Once, in Boston, I ran into actor John C. Reilly. He is a tall, goofy-looking fellow best known for playing a tall, goofy-looking porn star in the film “Boogie Nights.” He’s one of my favorites.

We were walking in opposite directions in Boston Common. When he passed by, I waved at him. He nodded and smiled, walking away. See how easy it is?

Maybe it would have been different if I’d met him with a bunch of other people. That could be the secret. Maybe if John C. Reilly were signing copies of “Gangs of New York” or “Magnolia” at a Wal-Mart and throngs of other nerds were aching to see him, I’d start crying and flinging my arms out to touch him. Maybe I’d scream stuff like, “Over here!” or, “I just love you so much, John C. Reilly!” or, in a fit of temporary insanity, “I want to have your baby!

Somehow, I can’t picture it. But we’ll see — next time it comes up.
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