Sunday, May 29, 2005

Tristan and Ysolde, the Fall River years

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Last weekend, my wife and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. Initially, that doesn't sound like much, but we've been together for 11 years. My point is, we're ineligible for "The Newlywed Game."

We have anniversary celebrations down to a science, starting with a luxurious breakfast in bed. My wife gets up before I do, so I end up rolling over and spilling her Total.

Some years, we make a big whoop-de-doo about the rest of the anniversary. Lobsters, trips to exotic ports of call, the wine third up from the bottom of the menu -- you name it. This year, it was more low-key, with us snuggling on the couch, sharing a pint of Ben & Jerry's and a fifth of bourbon. Two spoons, two straws.

Either way, we're fine. We don't fight too much and we always try to make the other feel happy. We're the cutesy kind of couple that makes other couples want to vomit in the nearest wastebasket.

Pretty good for a decadelong relationship -- which, by the way, a friend in high school gave, quote, "six months." If you're reading this, Phil: I win, you fucker.

But it almost wasn't to be. When we first met as young teenagers, I was so infatuated with my wife that I wooed her for four full years before I finally got the balls to ask her on a date -- and even then I was almost too chicken to do it.

I often wonder what our lives would have been like today if we'd never dated. It's a horrible thought. So I present to you this short tragic play based on those idle musings. It's got action, drama, comedy, romance and, yes, kung fu. Ladies and gentlemen, "Tristan and Ysolde."

--

SCENE: A Fall River drugstore, 2005. Enter Tristan, a dejected young Portuguese man with a scraggly beard grown more out of indifference than fashion. Also, there's a blot of ketchup in it from lunch. He scratches idly at the AC/DC T-shirt he's been wearing for six weeks straight, and ogles the magazine racks.

TRISTAN. Oooh, the new Dell Crossword Puzzle books are in! (peers at a cover) "Five-letter word for 'bee byproduct.'" Don't make me laugh! "Honey." (starts to fill it in, then stops) What am I doing? Ease up, cowboy -- save some crosswords for tonight.

(He takes one of the books and presses it to his cheek lovingly, like that irritating teddy bear in the fabric softener commercials.)

TRISTAN. Alack! I'm so lonely. Never have I experienced the warmth of a fair lady's hand. None but the cold comforts of crosswords and Nintendo to make my days worth living. You are indeed super, Super Mario -- but not that super.

(Enter Ysolde, a stunning young woman Tristan's age.)

TRISTAN. Could it be? Is that the maiden I used to have the hots for in high school? Look at her! She's still a peach.

PHIL THE APOTHECARY. (entering) Hey, how's tricks? By the way, I checked -- Mylanta doesn't come in beef flavor. You must've imagined it.

TRISTAN. (waving him off) I think I used to know that woman.

PHIL. Her?

(Ysolde cruises to the candy aisle with a shopping cart and packs it full with Twizzlers.)

PHIL. She comes by Tuesdays and Fridays to stock up.

TRISTAN. Her name was Ysolde. I was in love with her years ago, but I never asked her on a date. I've been wondering about her ever since. Pfft! Look where that got me. I sit in my parents' attic all day, building forts with the encyclopedias, then shelving them out of alphabetical order so I can re-alphabetize them before dinner! I wish I were dead.

PHIL. That's in aisle 12a.

(Tristan eyes his crossword puzzle book and flings it aside -- but not very well, as he has the pitching arm of a 6-year-old girl. He strides up to the stunning Ysolde, who is squeezing various bags of Gummi Bears, testing them for ripeness.)

TRISTAN. Ysolde?

YSOLDE. (startled) My God, Dan! I mean -- Tristan! It's been years! How are you doing?

TRISTAN. (sucking in his gut without success) Oh, not too bad. I work at the newspaper now, as you may have heard.

YSOLDE. That's fantastic!

TRISTAN. My paper route goes from Globe Street to the Tiverton line.

YSOLDE. Sounds important.

TRISTAN. Yeah, I'm pretty much holding the place together. How about you?

YSOLDE. (shrugs) I work at the library. They put me in charge of deodorizing the children's books. (Pushing her raven hair back -- only now do we notice she keeps a Twizzler behind her ear, on deck, like a cigarette.) So what else have you been up to?

TRISTAN. (breaking into sudden tears) I never dated. I measure precipitation levels and send them to the Weather Channel, but they never use my figures. I overmedicate myself with Advil and hot fudge.

YSOLDE. (crying too) I dated, but Sven and Keanu meant nothing to me. I'm so lonely. I live in a tent in my mom's yard. Sometimes, when I'm working at the library, I go to the reference room and shelve the encyclopedias out of order so I can--

TRISTAN. Re-alphabetize them later?

YSOLDE. (brightening) You do that, too?

TRISTAN. I never should have let you go when I had the chance, toots.

(The Muzak swells -- and Tristan takes Ysolde into his arms and lays a big smacker on the lips. They part after several hours.)

TRISTAN. Would you like to see a movie some time?

YSOLDE. I'd love that.

PHIL. (swaggering) Eh. I give it six months.

(Ysolde takes Phil by the arm and gives him a kung fu chop to the solar plexus. Phil drops like a bag of manure.)

PHIL. O! I am slain! (dies)

YSOLDE. I also know judo.

(She jumps into Tristan's arms. Then, somehow, Tristan jumps into Ysolde's arms. So there they are, hanging in midair in a sort of pretzel shape. It's best not to try to explain it -- and then the curtain falls.)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sitting docked on eBay, wasting time

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In every man's life, there comes a time when he stands in awe of all that surrounds him and calculates how much he could get for it on eBay.

It happened to me recently. I looked around my apartment, pockets empty with a week left to payday, and saw wads of cash -- all of it locked inside items some sucker hasn't bought yet.

For instance, I own hundreds of vinyl records: jazz, blues, pop, hard rock, rare ones I didn't let myself listen to. I used to keep them fastidiously alphabetized on a bookshelf until last year, when the bookshelf collapsed in pieces. My collection weighs about 300 pounds.

After a search for another shelf strong enough to hold my collection -- I figured titanium-enforced concrete -- I waved my copy of Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" under my wife's nose.

"Somebody will buy this on eBay," I said. "People buy all kinds of inane stuff on eBay. These just collect dust here."

My wife looked at me, then at Freddy. "That's actually a smart idea. Hold on a sec -- I'm trying to figure out how you can screw this up." She glanced away for a moment, then said, "That's actually a smart idea."

So I'm putting part of my record collection on eBay! After expenses, I figure I should make somewhere between $3 and $950,000. With eBay, you never know who's a multimillionaire Freddy Fender fan.

But like any good businessman, I've got to think ahead. What will I sell after the next teardrop falls?

So I researched commonly sold eBay goods. My favorite eBay items are the ones everyone has around the house, the ones no one can put a price on.

Haunted items, for instance. Auctioneers on eBay make a tidy sum every day on everyday household objects possessed by malevolent poltergeists. Everyone has at least one haunted appliance or objet d'art lying around in the garage -- why not trade it in for a little payola?

A quick check of eBay turned up Item No. 5580163845, "Haunted Vase & Contents Was Grandmas." A longer check reveals that, thankfully, the contents are not Grandma.

"I Believe that it is haunted because of the wierd things that have been going on, not to be talked about!" is the bone-chilling description. It includes a picture of what looks like a mushroom-shaped bong with a towel on it. With 12 minutes left to go, three people had driven the bidding up to $5.50 for this unique treasure.

"The Contents that might be haunted are a gift, believe me you can have em!" I'm betting it's dirt from a desecrated Indian burial ground. It could also be mold.

Think it's just useless shit? Hardly! That would be Item No. 6177975304, "Coprolite Fossil Reptile Dino Dung." For just $14.99 you can own half a dozen pieces of ancient history -- very icky pieces of ancient history.

"Dino Dung or 'Coprolite' is the Fossilized Excrement or 'Poop' of a 35 to 65 Million Year Old Reptile (Dinosaur, Turtle, Giant Sloth, etc.)." It's true -- sloths are reptiles. "These are nice shaped specimens," the description adds helpfully, meaning the rocks look more or less like poo.

I'm thinking, since I have a decent yard, there must be some fossilized turds in there somewhere. Did Fall River have dinosaurs? And sloths -- what about them?

Or I could get in on the racket of so many other successful eBayers -- like the woman selling a saltine that she drew Paula Abdul on, or the other guy hawking a grilled cheese sandwich, or the pregnant woman offering the naming rights to her twins ("Bank of America, if you keep playing with your food so help me there is no dessert! That goes for you too, Disney Presents The Pixar Animated Film 'Cars'!").

But the best racket has to be selling money.

There are no less than four "mystery wallets" for sale on eBay. People are bidding hundreds of bucks on wallets stuffed with cash. The unfortunate thing is, with mystery wallets, you could get much less than you paid for. On the other hand, most of the wallets look like Buxtons. They make a nice wallet, Buxton.

Item No. 5578715638 is "Daddy's FAT Mystery Wallet." "This wallet is used and now retired and as you can see is holding A LOT of REAL US Dollars!!" Who doesn't like US Dollars? And who doesn't like a mystery? Some say the mystery is how much loot is packed in the wallet! Others say the mystery is why anybody would spend money to buy money. I say the mystery is, why didn't I come up with this scam first?

After my research, I came up with a list of stuff around my house that I'll be selling on eBay. Now, because you look like a nice guy/lady, I'm letting you in on the ground floor. I'll give 10 percent off to any reader who wants these magnificent items! Did I say 10 percent? I meant to say 1.0:

HAUNTED CAN OF FURNITURE POLISH: I bought this can of Lemon Pledge more than six years ago -- and it still has Lemon Pledge in it. I suspect there is a mischievous demon inside. It frightens me. I also don't like dusting. Please take the Pledge off my hands. Bidding starts at $50.

GRAPEFRUIT SHAPED LIKE A YELLOW SOFTBALL: What an amazing coincidence! I was sitting down to enjoy a grapefruit, and all of a sudden I noticed the striking similarity! Spooky! We'll open the floor at $800.

DERISIVE NICKNAMES FOR SALE: Coming up with snide monikers for people you don't like can often be a chore. Should you attack their weight problems or their glasses? "Ass" -- suffix or prefix? Let me take care of that for you -- banana-face! See how easily snotty nicknames come to me, Tube Top? The power of instant mockery can be yours, with an opening bid of $250.

MYSTERY SOCK FILLED WITH NICKELS AND POWDERED SUGAR: How many nickels are inside? Why powdered sugar? These are just two of the mysteries surrounding this sock. Remember -- this is not a lottery! You're just buying the sock! Any money or sweetener inside is a special prize! Starts at $2,500.

WHAT COLOR SHIRT WILL I WEAR ON JULY 19TH? BLUE OR BROWN? Ordinarily, I just throw on a shirt. Not July 19! You make the call! Consider the power you'd wield over my life. I think $1,900 is a fair price. Bid early and bid often!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mootherrr's Day

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This may be surprising to some of you who've written me nasty letters describing my questionable lineage, but I have a mother. Honest!

With every year, it becomes increasingly difficult to find something to buy Mom for Mother's Day. I can't get Mom chocolates -- I eat them. Tickets to see Englebert Humperdinck? His looks are so gone. And what about that drawer full of expired homemade coupons for "1 Free Hug"? Hmm? What about those?

Luckily, I write for a newspaper, which gives me a convenient and immediate source of power. Using it, I can send anybody almost any message I choose. I LIKE PICKLES! You know why I wrote that? Because I could.

So, Mom, I'm abusing my status as a newspaper columnist to send you a personal message. As my Mother's Day gift, I'll tell this little corner of the world what a great parent you've been. Don't worry. There will also be flowers.

M is for the many things she gave me. I'm thinking specifically of when I was young boy, and she gave me this great Transformers action figure for Christmas.

Yes, and she also gave me the gift of life. Aces job, Mom!

Scorponok was his name -- the Transformers action figure, I mean. There were two kinds of Transformers: the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons. Scorponok was evil. He was a giant robot with a detachable head that itself turned into a tiny robot. The decapitated body became a Decepticon base or a humongous robotic scorpion. One of the best Christmas presents ever.

She also gave me financial stability while I went to college. I appreciated that.

God, I miss Scorponok, now that I think about it. I don't have that robot anymore. No idea where it is. Probably gave it away. Can you believe it? I could've sold that thing on eBay to some collector. There's 50 bucks easy. Maybe less because I threw away the original box. What was I doing?

Some other things my mother gave me that I'm grateful for: moral support, unconditional love, and so on and so forth. So before I forget, here's a tip for any kids reading this: Don't be like me. Never throw away the original box for your toys. You'll thank me later.

O is for the ovaries from which sprang the egg that provided half my genes. Again, that was just great. Thanks.

Pretending I never wrote the above paragraph, O could also be for the opinions she let me express when I was growing up. There was a time, in the mid-1980s, that I actually thought I looked cool with spiked hair. Mom no doubt swallowed any number of giggles, but she quietly bought the quarts of Dippity-Doo necessary to make my thick hair accomplish something almost like verticality.

See, Mom didn't pressure me. She let me discover on my own that my face is too damn round for me to pull off spikes with any kind of authority. For those three embarrassing months, I am eternally grateful.

T is for the thousands of meals Mom cooked for my family. At three meals a day for the first 18 years of my life, that's 19,710. Because I was a picky eater, I ate an estimated 3,702. Even though it's a staple of the Portuguese diet, I didn't try her purple octopus until I was 25, and even then I didn't like it. And I still won't eat codfish. And I used to hide in the bathroom on kale soup nights, for hours, until she grew tired of waiting and cleared the dishes away.

Still, as a boy I ate enough of her lasagna, chourico and eggs, chicken and carne alentejana to grow (and grow) into the man I am today. The best part is, she used to celebrate Easter by cooking rabbit. I inherited her love of cooking and her sense of irony.

H is for my head, which Mom was forever fixing.

So the story goes, when I was 1 year old, I was riding a Big Wheel in the house and crashed into the TV stand. The TV set fell on my head -- and Mom rushed me to the hospital for a dozen or so stitches.

The next year, I'm 2 and leaning back in chair. You can see where this is going. Mom rushed me to the hospital again, and I ended up with another dozen or so stitches in the back of my skull.

A few years later, for some reason it occurred to me to remove the top drawer and jam my head inside my sister's desk. Under Mom's tender ministrations, I emerged, and didn't crack my head open again -- until another nine years or so, when a glass light fixture fell off the ceiling and crashed onto my face. Mom packed my nose with bloody towels and ice until we reached the hospital, where I had 13 more stitches put in. Long story short, thanks, Mom, for taking the time to drive me to the hospital. It was a nice thing.

E is for the eggs Mom puts in her excellent homemade sweet bread. Every spring, she makes the whole neighborhood smell good.

And R is for the rest, relaxation and recreation that Mom deserves on her special day. Go on -- let her use the remote.

Now put it all together!

Gimme an M! Gimme an O! And then gimme another O! And gimme a THE! And gimme a laughing pirate noise: R-R-R!

Happy Mootherrr's Day!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A delicious pyramid scheme

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Two messages have dominated American food consumption patterns in the second half of the 20th century: the "You Are What You Eat" slogan, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's old-style food pyramid, with bread at the bottom, butter at the top, and the sandwich fixings in the middle.

Both messages are confusing. One tells me to eat short Portuguese men. The other measures everything in "servings," an arbitrary figure easily mistaken for "helpings." Like, if I eat a whole pork tenderloin, then serve myself another one, have I just eaten two servings? And does the Parmesan and bread crumb crust count as grain or dairy?

Now, we have the answer. For 13 years, the federal government has had its best thinkers revising the food pyramid, specifically to resolve issues like these. No eight-pack of Crayola markers was too expensive, no denominator too common for these intrepid and resourceful foodsmiths.

Thanks to their efforts, instead of one confusing pyramid, we now have 12. It's like the old pyramid, but with more paperwork.

It's called My Pyramid. The "my" part was inserted to offer, according to the press release, "a more individualized approach to improving diet and lifestyle." Also, if you're accustomed to stuffing your face, calling it "My Pyramid" offers a comforting sense of greed.

The reason for choosing 12 individualized pyramids should be obvious -- there are exactly 12 kinds of people: Fat, skinny, very fat, very skinny, almost fat, skinny now but will be fat later, fat but lost most of the weight, ugly and thin, small everything else but a large behind, very big head with no hips, beefy, and waifish.

The USDA also has a new Web site, MyPyramid.gov, where you can input your age, gender and activity level and have the computer determine which pyramid scheme you should follow.

For instance, according to my calculations, a 110-year-old man who exercises less than 30 minutes a day should eat 5.5 ounces of meat and beans a day, 6 ounces of grain, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, and 3 cups of milk -- that regimen should keep the old boy hale and hearty for another century. Also, he should "aim for 6 teaspoons of oils a day." This is to ensure bright eyes and a shiny coat.

There's a downside to My Pyramid, of course. Some people might still find the portion sizes confusing. People like me aren't used to thinking of food in terms of "ounces" and "cups" -- the easy solution, therefore, is to purchase a postage scale and eat with measuring spoons.

And some wags, of course, will lampoon the pyramid no matter how useful it is. University of Michigan nutrition professor Joanne Slavin aired this concern in an interview with an online news source. "The concern I have with the pyramid is that people will make fun of it and ignore it," she sniffed. I know how hard it can be when jerks make fun of stuff all the time. To prove how sincere I am about nutrition, I've been trying to cram a "$100,000 Pyramid" joke in this column and have been, so far, holding back.

Here are some common pyramidal questions and answers I've come up with for your benefit, based on my extensive research:

--

Q.: Who built the pyramid?

A.: Common theory once had it that the USDA employed hundreds of thousands of Hebrew slaves, who suffered greatly under the yoke of Egyptian oppression to create this monument to nutritional health. We now know that it was actually a few people in a boardroom.


Q.: Why a pyramid shape?

A.: An alternative shape once considered was the trapezoid. However, the government discovered that MyTrapezoid.gov was already a pornographic Web site where obtuse people can leer at acute angles.

Also on the table were the rhombus, the dodecahedron and a formless, amoebic splotch of indeterminate dimensions. These were discarded in favor of a USDA pie chart. However, it caused focus groups to crave pie. Finally, they said, "Fuck it -- we're doing pyramid."


Q.: The food pyramid has steps on it. Doesn't that actually make it a ziggurat?

A.: Fine -- now we all know you went to college. Thanks for that.


Q.: My friend told me the agribusiness lobby pushed for more grains than necessary in the food pyramid, but I suspect he's exaggerating. Is he the paranoid, pudding-brained nitwit I think he is?

A.: Yes! The food pyramid is utterly uncorrupted by the food lobby. In an unrelated development, McDonald's recently launched its new Happy McTriangle, a guide to swell eating the McDonald's way. It is a triangular-shaped graphic featuring the Hamburglar running up the side after a mouthwatering Quarter Pounder with Cheese. If you log on to MyMcTriangle.gov and input your age and activity level, you can get personalized eating requirements. For example, to maintain a healthy McHappiness level, a 28-year-old male who exercises 30 to 60 minutes daily should consume 25 ounces of sesame-seed buns, 42 ounces of Coke and 10 to 13 all-beef patties per day.


Q.: Why does the stick figure on the food pyramid have a head, two arms, two legs, but no torso? It is very upsetting to me and Susan.

A.: It's no mistake! It turns out the torso is where 60 percent of your body fat is found. Therefore, a healthy way to lose weight is to erase as much of your torso as possible.

The rest of your body fat is stored in your bum. The USDA plans to phase that out in the next version of the pyramid.
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