Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Found Legalese: "Harmless"

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[This is a piece of actual legalese, discovered in the midst of an online-buying transaction. The names of the corporations/services involved have been altered to avoid embarrassment/me being sued. Scroll down to get The Gist.]

You agree to indemnify, defend and hold us and our affiliates, and any of our or our affiliates' officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns, harmless from and against any liability, claim, loss, expense, cause of action or demand, including without limitation reasonable legal and accounting fees arising directly or indirectly in connection with any breach by you of any term, condition, representation, warranty or covenant contained herein or otherwise resulting from your use of our ________ or ________.

The Gist: I'm rubber, you're glue.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Overheard assholes: "Lighthouses"

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PERSON 1: "She collects lighthouses."
PERSON 2: "She collects lighthouses?"
PERSON 1: "She collects lighthouses."

— posh-looking mother, to another posh-looking woman,
pointing at her posh-looking toddler daughter

who was dangling dangerously off the edge of a 10-foot wall
above the beach
in Jamestown, Rhode Island

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chapter 12

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Then, without warning, she sautéed her way into my office and said:

“Got the time, stranger?”

I leaned forward and, lighting a Lucky, I leaned forward. “Well,” I said, leaning forward, “why don’t you go to hell first—and then I’ll tell you.”

“You’re a real hard case, shamus,” she said, a tear leaning forward down her porcelain cheek. “I have a hard case for you. Probably as hard a case as dropped in the lap of a hard-case shamus like you.”

She was broad where a broad should be, with flowing thighs and creamy blonde hair, and her feminine charms jiggled like a boxcar full of sumo wrestlers. Her high heel shushed over the carpet and I wondered if she’d lost the other leg in the war. Over her buttery soft cleavage she wore a lobster bib with a picture of Poseidon on it that explained the jagged shards of pink shell snagged in her mink stole.

I took off my lobster bib and, tossing it across the room, leaned forward. “All right, sugar,” I said, pouring myself a rye. “Put me wise.”

She leaned forward. “You’re Rex Marfan, private dick, are you not?”

I was not, but I let her go on believing I was because she was the first customer I had all day. My name is Jerry Stumpf, rug shampooer. I shampoo rugs. That’s my job. That’s what I do.

“Yeah, I’m Marfan,” I shrieked. “What’s it to you, doll?” I shrieked.

Then flashing a rock the size of Gibraltar she shrieked:

“I want you to find someone for me. It’s my husband. He’s been missing for three days now, and I’m starting to get worried.”

“What happened?” I asked, leaning forward.

“He’s dead. I buried him yesterday in the St. Jesus of the Last Resort Cemetery on the corner of Lexington and Lexington.”

I drank my dinner and couldn’t sleep, idly firing holes into the ceiling with my Luger to clear my thoughts. It was a hard case, all right. But why was she constantly on my mind? And why did I get the distinct feeling that, while she may have been all she had been cracked up to have been, there was somewhere under that cheap two-bit facade a more expensive three-bit facade, the surface of which I had only just begun to crack? That story she’d laid on me had more holes than a roof on a hot tin cathouse. I kept wishing I had taken that paper bag off my head while she was there.

“How’s the case coming along?” she said, cinching a bedsheet to her naked form and leaning forward seductively into my parlor from the bedroom, where we’d whiled away the minutes making sweet music together and then talking about our favorite colors and radio programs and religious preferences. I had to admit, for a great-looking dame, she wasn’t half-bad.

“Not too bad, sugar,” I said, lighting a Lucky. “Not too bad.”

“Have you found my husband yet? I’m so worried about him.”

I lit a Lucky and leaned forward. “Listen, sister. Why don’t you go to hell first—and then I’ll tell you.”

The truth was, I had found her husband. I’d had a hunch the floozy had bumped him off, and sure enough she had buried him yesterday in the St. Jesus of the Last Resort Cemetery on the corner of Lexington and Lexington. But I wasn’t about to tell her that. Not until I had played my final hand.

She went to hell, and then she came back. Now I felt it was safe to tell her where her husband was.

“He’s dead,” I said, leaning a finger forward at her. “And you killed him, didn’t you, sugar?”

“No,” she shrieked.

The truth was, she didn’t kill him. Later on, we were married.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Overheard assholes: "Leave"

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"I'm going to slap you in front of everybody, and then we're gonna leave."

— mother, to her son, around 5,
at Shaw's, for reasons unclear

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The answers to all your questions

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Having this Website is a big responsibility sometimes. Every day, people come here through bizarre Google searches, looking for the answers I don't have to questions I never knew existed. Then they leave.

These are some actual Google searches that brought people to this Website. Hopefully I can provide some real information for them.

North America, "allergic to mrs dash": This search brings you to this post on Black Fonzie, featuring a movie where I flush out my nose with a neti pot. However, it contains no information as to whether or not people can actually be allergic to Mrs. Dash.

The original flavor of Mrs. Dash contains these ingredients: "Onion, spices (black pepper, parsley, celery seed, basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, mustard, rosemary), garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato, lemon juice powder, citric acid, oil of lemon."


Anyway, if you're allergic to any of those things, I'm guessing you're allergic to Mrs. Dash.

Case: closed.

New Jersey, "how many ounces of water in neti pot": Another neti pot question!

I have a Rhino Horn neti pot that holds 10 ounces. Your face will hold significantly less.

Case: closed.

• Salem, Ore., "picture of fonzie's nephew": No, Salem, Ore., it is not this guy at right. That person with the awful haircut is Chachi Arcola, Fonzie's cousin.

Fonzie's nephew is Raymond "Spike" Fonzarelli. He appeared in four episodes and, yes, even dated Joanie once. However, due to the complicated and rather icky nature of the Fonzarelli family line, Spike was referred to in the show as both Fonzie's nephew and cousin. Because such a relationship would be a crime against nature, Spike's character was rewritten into the douchebag you see here.

Case: closed.

• McLean, Virginia, "dinosaur excrement for sale": This search referred the searcher to a column I wrote some time ago on strange eBay sales. Unfortunately, this will not help him or her if he or she is interested in purchasing fossilized dinosaur shit today.

Dino dung that has been fossilized is known as coprolite. Yes, I know it sounds a lot like "craprolite." If for some reason you really want ancient turds hanging around your house, there are Websites that sell coprolite real cheap.

Case: closed.

• United States, "hamburglar running with money picture": This search took somebody to this archive page, which doesn't contain any such picture. Probably because no such picture exists. The Hamburglar steals hamburgers. He's not interested in money.

Case: closed.

• United Kingdom, "grapefruit make poo black": This person clearly has an immediate problem that this column could not help.

I still can't help. Sir or ma'am: If you're reading this, run, do not walk, to a doctor. Assuming you can run comfortably without pooing yourself.

Case: still open.

• Greece, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Japan, "anal swine": A while ago, I interviewed Stephen Colbert, and I reprinted a transcript here, with the title "You can't spell 'news analysis' without 'anal swine.'" Ever since then, I've been getting Google searches for "anal swine" a couple of times a month.

It puzzled me until I did a brief Google search myself. Just as I suspected, it's a porno movie. Great. I'm not providing a link here, because I'm not a pornographer. The director, Rob Rotten, however, is. If you're interested in some of his other films, has him listed as being an "actor" in such cinematic timepieces as "Magic Sex Genie," "Latex Nurses," "Tails of Perversity 9," and "Boobs a Poppin' 4." He is also actor/director of "Sperm Sponges," "Scurvy Girls" and its sequel, "Scurvy Girls 2."

Before you ask, in case you suspect your girls have scurvy, check them for purplish spots on their legs, bleeding from the mucous membranes, and spongy gums leading to tooth loss. Treat the girls with fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in vitamin C.

Case: closed.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's OK — we're just badly screwed

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If there’s one fundamental principle I live by, it’s to see the good in everybody. It doesn’t matter who people are. Take upbeat people, for instance. Most optimists don’t mean to be annoying — they just haven’t had a good talking-to yet to depress them. See? You take a negative thing and you make it a positive!

Here’s an example. On a recent commute home from work, I was stuck in traffic for about 15 minutes behind a white Dodge van with this silly message painted on the back:

“Why Worry?”

It touched a nerve. Worrying is one of my most cherished hobbies.

If I were a negative person, I’d roll my eyes at that sort of carefree brainlessness. But no, I like to see things in a more positive light. I try to take that cynicism and push it way, way down inside my body, down into my feet, where it gets transferred to my car’s gas pedal and is later expelled as toxic carbon monoxide emissions.

The guy in the “Why Worry” van probably just wasn’t aware of the fact that there are actually thousands of awful, horrifying things he should be worried about right now. He wasn’t being silly on purpose — he just doesn’t know any better!

If I ever see him again, I’m flagging him down. We’ll pull over somewhere safe and brightly lit, and I’ll share with him this list I’ve drawn up, reasons explaining exactly why he should be worried:

• Let’s start with the universe. Let’s just get that out of the way. Our best science tells us that the planets and stars and solar systems and nebulae and black holes and quasars — basically, like, all objects everywhere — are all flying outward from a single point. And someday, the universe could stretch apart in dimensions so radically different than we know now, futzing with the Earth’s orbit and sending the planet either hurtling away from the sun or into it. Both options — either being wicked cold or wicked hot — pretty much stink, particularly if you’re investing for the long term and can’t withdraw your money early without penalty.

• This, by the way, is assuming a comet the size of Finland doesn’t slam into us first.

• Want something to really keep you awake at night? Right now, somewhere in America, at least one kid is kneeling on the edge of his bed with hands folded, begging God to please, please, please let him be on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

• Plus, he’ll be so busy doing it that he won’t read a book.

• Vice President Dick Cheney’s approval rating is in the mid-teens. Don’t feel relief. That means around 15 to 18 percent of people polled are still clinging to the belief that this insane, shambling, flesh-eating Republizombie is doing “a good job.”

• I’m looking right now at someone in my office who looks like she’s about 9 years old. There’s another one, a guy, a few desks away who looks to be around 11. The other day, talking to a guy my age, I found myself absently referring to them as “those kids.” The worrisome part? They’re not really “kids” — they’re college interns. I got old and nobody told me.

• Speaking of kids, they’re not just wearing flannel pajama bottoms as public attire anymore. You want something to worry about? I saw a young woman wearing both flannel pajama bottoms and a pajama top. Like a whole Heathcliff Huxtable pajama ensemble. Also, flip-flops. This is distressing. If clothing habits are going to get even more casual, there’s not much room left — and I don’t mean nudity. That actually takes some effort. No, the only way forward from here is feety PJs and diapers.

• This one hits me every so often. If somebody in your office picks his nose and then touches the doorknob, everyone else who touches that doorknob just picked that guy’s nose, too.

• Worry about this the next time you’re in the car. If tomorrow the price of potato chips suddenly soared to $6 a bag, I’d be fine. I could eat more salad, more chicken, more eggplant, or what have you. If the price of gas suddenly soared to $6 a gallon tomorrow, I’d have to pay it. Either that or I’m fired. I can call out sick, but I can’t call my boss and say I’m too cheap to come in. All my car runs on is gas — try as I may to get it to run on love, the engine won’t turn over. There’s no public transportation that can get me to work. No carpools, either. I can’t ride my bike 45 miles in the morning. And since the price of gas is more or less arbitrarily defined, there’s almost nothing to say it won’t be $6 a gallon tomorrow. Not worried yet? People used to believe $3 a gallon was unthinkable. I paid that last week.

• I love to cook, but there’s no relief from worries when I’m cooking, either. Every time I use my frying pan, the one I use to sauté nearly everything, that the Teflon coating is almost all gone. Flaked off. You know where that Teflon’s gone? Yes, that’s right. Just below the navel, two inches to the left, collecting in a hard, black lump. Probably everyone has a frying pan like that lying around. It’s sitting in your stomach, too.

• Tarantulas in your shoes. You never know. That’s why you have to poke at them a little with a long stick before you put them on.

• I can’t grow a decent lawn. That’s not really worrisome in and of itself. But if I can’t grow a decent lawn, how can I expect to raise a kid who will not only be interesting and attractive and not crazy, but who can get into Harvard and win the Nobel Prize I’m never going to win?

• Sometimes there are worries within worries. I was bored at work today, so I went online and asked Google what percentage of Americans believes in Bigfoot. Not that I do — I just wanted to know. After about 30 seconds of research, these are the figures I came up with, in numerical order: 15 percent, 17 percent, “about 35%,” “a plurality,” 54 percent, 57 percent, 57.96 percent 59 percent, “a lot,” 74 percent, and “about 89 percent.” First, it worries the hell out of me that even 1 percent of people believe in Bigfoot — even just one guy somewhere believing in Bigfoot is a big problem. Secondly, it worries the hell out of me that the Internet can’t even provide a straight answer to a bogus question.

• Want a worry that’s more specific? Some study from Australia just published claims that having a laser printer in your office is as dangerous as having the room full of second-hand smoke. I don’t know how much stock I put in this, but for the record, at my job, I’m in charge of changing the printer cartridges. Just want to state that now, in case there’s a lawsuit later.

• And speaking of that, there’s that cat at the Providence nursing home who can allegedly predict people’s deaths by hanging around them. I have two cats. They hang around me all the time. You tell me — what else am I supposed to think?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Shock the monkey (if by monkey you mean me)

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My wife and I were at the Starbucks in Seekonk one recent weekend, and a very nice man there recognized me as the writer of this column. If I’d had my coffee before he talked to me, I would’ve been awake enough to ask him his name — but I wasn’t. Sorry. Anyway, the nice guy told me he’s at that Starbucks pretty much every day.

My kind of guy!

We people in the newspaper game need lots of coffee in order to function properly. What do you think — the news just happens? We have to sit in front of a desk for eight hours a day and decide whether to suppress knowledge (next month’s hostile alien invasion, for example), spin it to serve Our Secret Liberal Agenda, or ignore it and write something about Paris Hilton instead. Try doing that on just tap water.

My newspaper job wakes me up at the absolutely repulsive hour of 1 a.m. I’m cranky, tired, and in no mood to leggo anybody’s Eggos. All I want that early in the morning is coffee and lots of it.

I usually end up bringing a Thermos of coffee to work, and sometimes I get more afterward. But the caffeine buzz been weak lately. The more early mornings I work, the more caffeine it takes to keep me awake. But the more caffeine I drink, the more I get used to it, which means I can’t stay awake at 3 a.m. — which means I need more caffeine. There’s a word for this effect. It rhymes with “spladdiction.”

To fill my need for greater and greater amounts of caffeine, I bought a product a few weeks ago I thought would help: Shower Shock.

Yes, Shower Shock is a bar of caffeine-infused soap sold by You use the soap like any other and absorb the caffeine through your pores. For someone like me who gets up early, is spladdicted to coffee and who sometimes smells funny, it sounds perfect.

Just read the description: “Shower Shock is an all vegetable-based glycerine soap which does not contain any harsh ingredients like ethanol, diethanolamine, polyethylene glycol or cocyl isethionate.” So, for people who enjoy a smidgen of cocyl isethionate, very sorry.

“Each bar of Shower Shock contains approximately 12 servings/showers per 4 ounce bar with 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving.” By comparison, the National Coffee Association says an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee can contain an average of 85 mg of caffeine.

That sounded promising, so I bought one bar online. charges $6.99 per bar of soap. That price alone made me feel pretty pop-eyed — until I saw the shipping charges: $6.19. Grand total for one bar of soap: $13.17. Yikes! says the soap is “scented with peppermint oil.” Hell, yes. When it finally came in the mail, I could literally smell the soap through the cardboard shipping box. To picture the scent, imagine a Wrigley spearmint gum factory exploded and set fire to the Altoids factory next door.

I decided I’d test it by using it for a week without drinking any coffee at all to make sure the only caffeine I got was from the soap.

At 1 a.m. the next morning, so tired I could only open one eye, I groped for my Shower Shock bar and washed up. The second thing you notice about Shower Shock, after the sickening ribbon-candy scent, is that it looks white — almost clear. For some reason, I’d been expecting soap that substitutes for coffee to be brown.

I showered like I usually do and felt nothing. I wondered if maybe I hadn’t used enough to get the full 200 mg, and lathered up all over again. As I dried off, I did notice that I hadn’t yawned yet since I used it, and my skin felt tingly. Seemed promising.

The rest of the morning was … let’s just say, “eventful.” I kept a diary of it. I should just reproduce that here:

2:23 a.m.: It’s been 30 minutes since I used Shower Shock. No major effects yet except a slightly faster heartbeat, but am hopeful.

2:38 a.m.: Had first yawn. I usually yawn more than this. Apart from that, I’m still tired.

5:23 a.m.: Had second yawn at work. The Shower Shock is definitely working, as it’s been a while since the first yawn. Also not sure if I’ve blinked since then. Found out there’s free hot cocoa at the coffee machine. Must resist.

5:39 a.m.: Co-workers keep asking what smells like candy canes. I say nothing.

6:02 a.m.: Four and a half hours after using Shower Shock. Feel tired, but not sluggish. Definitely caffeinated. Realized again that I paid $13 for this and nearly started to cry.

6:49 a.m.: Jittery. Heart rate elevated. I think. Probably. It feels elevated. Jittery. Eyeballs vibrating. Wow! Hoo! Whoa!

7:36 a.m.: Coughed and saw floaty things. They went: Weeee!

7:50 a.m.: More tired. But not! Caffeine! Works! Soap! Very thirsty! Goodbye!

8:25 a.m.: Seven hours later. Head pounding. Eyes can’t focus. Hands twitching. Leaned back in chair and fell asleep. Woke up when I realized I could still read with my eyes shut. Somehow have transcended space and time. I have never felt so alive!

8:26 a.m.: Uh-oh. I feel the caffeine crash coming…

8:27 a.m.: Just crashed. Will curl up on desk and use PC keyboard as pillow until the headache goes away.

9:29 a.m.: After-effects are not good. Extreme tiredness, also spiders crawling up my back and arms. When I ask people to flick them off, they reply no thanks. Rubbing my back against the computer just attracts more spiders. I’m taking a nap in the stairwell until they go away.

10:43 a.m.: Feel much better now. Caffeine starting to wear off. Ate some cherries. Swallowed a pit. Now my stomach feels weird. I’ll be back in a sec.

From there, the diary goes into rather unsavory details. But I pretty much learned my lesson after the seven-hour hippie freak-out. From now on, if I want coffee in the morning, I’m having it the way nature intended: light cream and sugar, in a 20-gallon drum, piped through a hose and out my shower nozzle.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Flexible pets for people with bendable minds

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An interesting thing about human beings is that we keep inventing new ways to be lazier than the previous generation. In the past two years alone, how many new inventions have we developed just so we can be really, really lazy? Leaf blowers. Drinkable yogurt. I can’t be bothered to count the rest, but it’s a lot, probably.

And now, for the lazy person who has a very small amount of conditional and egocentric love to share every so often, there’s a new invention: part-time dogs!

Read this story from the AP:

“From the state that popularized purse puppies, drive-thru dog washes and gourmet dog food delivery comes the latest in canine convenience — a company that contracts out dogs by the day to urbanites without the time or space to care for a pet full-time.”

Did I mention this is in California, or was it already obvious?

Yes, it’s FlexPetz, a service that rents out dogs for any occasion. Let’s say you really like dogs — nothing makes you feel better than when you’re playing with them, throwing them sticks, horsing around with them. Except you can’t own one. You’re too busy, or you’re too old, or mean old Mr. Roper won’t allow them in his building.

Before, as a dog lover who couldn’t own a dog, your two options were either to deal with it like a grownup, or to round up all the stray puppies in the neighborhood and pack them one-by-one into your tiny apartment by the dozens and never let them out until the authorities are alerted to the stench. What a hassle!

Now you can call up FlexPetz! They’ll let you pick up a dog once in a while, or even deliver it to you. Then you take it for walkies and play frisbee, and return the dog to FlexPetz when you’re finished using it. (After 8 p.m., dog returns go in the mail slot.)

But don’t call it a rent-a-pet service! The good people at FlexPetz bristle at that. See?

“Marlena Cervantes, founder of FlexPetz, bristles when people refer to her five-month-old business as a rent-a-pet service,” the story continues. “She prefers the term ‘shared pet ownership,’ explaining the concept is more akin to a vacation time share or a gym membership.” However, unlike a gym membership, you’ll actually use the dog.

FlexPetz takes the guesswork out of being a responsible pet owner. Can’t remember if dogs eat food? FlexPetz gives you pre-measured food with every rental. Don’t know what kind of surfaces dogs like to sleep on? Not a problem! FlexPetz gives you something called a “dog bed.” Dog piddled on the carpet? Simply return it as defective.

Best of all, there’s no commitment and no intimacy. Hooray, I think. This could revolutionize the concept of companionship. With FlexPetz, having a best friend who always loves you unconditionally doesn’t have to be such a goddam drag.

For this pleasure, FlexPetz charges a modest fee. According to its Web site, that’s $100 a year. Wait. And then $50 a month, in advance. Also, you pay $150 for a training lesson, but that’s it. And also, plus there’s a $25 daily fee for each weekday. If you want weekends, that’s $40. And members are required to rent a dog twice a month or pay for it anyway, so there’s another $50. Think of all that credit card swiping as elbow exercise.

If you’re too lazy to do the math — and who isn’t? — here it is: renting a FlexPetz dog for the minimum number of days per month, weekdays only, will cost you $1,448.15. Want a dog every weekend for a year? That’s $6,044.15. Before tax.

Being an owner of two dogs myself and a lover of all creatures great and cute, the more I researched FlexPetz the more I was horrified. Then, angry. Then, depressed, as I came to realize that people will pay big money for anything as long as it allows them to get out of being responsible.

I’ve taken the liberty of preparing some frequently asked questions about pet rentals, in case you’re still interested. You aren’t, are you? Please don’t be.

Q. I love animals! Except I don’t want them in my life. And I hate dogs. Is there another kind of pet I can rent?

A. Glad you asked! Coming soon to FlexPetz are new FlexFish, the only goldfish that work part-time to service your ego. For a simple $26 per-day fee, $120 yearly payment, plus $37 a month, and a one-time training fee of $229.99, you can rent a goldfish of your very own! And they rent the bowls really cheap, too!

Q. After a long, hard day of flushing fistfuls of wadded cash down the toilet, I’m too exhausted to actually pick up a rental dog. Do they deliver?

A. Even better! Starting now is a new service: NetFlixPetz. Simply go online and make a list of the dogs you want. In one business day, NetFlixPetz will send you three dogs from your list. When you’re finished with one, return it in the handy postage-paid duffle bag, and they’ll send you a new dog from your list.

Q. What if my FlexPetz dog is too tired from being pimped out all week to play when I rent it?

A. As far as I’m aware, FlexPetz currently does not have a “cranky canine” clause to allow for dogs who end up loafing on your couch while you wave your rental contract at them irritably. Try tying pork chops around your neck. That got the dog to play with you when you were an ugly kid.

Q. FlexPetz calls its service “shared pet ownership.” Isn’t that sort of like calling prostitution “shared girlfriendism”?

A. I bristle at that, sir! FlexPetz is nothing like prostitution. With FlexPetz, you don’t have the hassle of a relationship — you just have as much fun as you want. Then, after you’re done with it, you pay them money. They got all kind of bitches (and male dogs are available too). They can do tricks all day, all night, whatever you want, whatever you need. They love you, long time!

Q. I love dogs, but can’t own one. And FlexPetz is expensive! Is there a service out there that’s cheaper?

A. Yeah, it’s called “going to the animal shelter and being a volunteer dog-walker.” It’s free. You’ll love it, and they’ll love you for it. In Fall River, there’s Forever Paws and Faxon. Go there. Shelter dogs need attention, exercise and permanent, stable homes a lot more than they need to be passed around as playthings for rich, emotionally needy saps (although, if you are such a person, most shelters also gratefully accept donations).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Terror on Dairy Air

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Let me be deadly serious for a moment. This is 2007 America — The Post-9/11 Era, baby. Party time’s over. Time to grow up. There are Bad Guys Out There Who Hate Freedom™, and these monsters will stop at nothing to do us harm and destroy our way of life. I know this column is usually about having some laughs, but I just wanted to point out that terrorism is a real threat, and there’s nothing funny about it.

I repeat: There is nothing whatsoever even remotely funny about international terrorism.

Not even this:

“WASHINGTON (AP) — Airport security officers around the nation have been alerted by federal officials to look out for terrorists practicing to carry explosive components onto aircraft, based on four curious seizures at airports since last September … [which] included ‘wires, switches, pipes or tubes, cell phone components and dense clay-like substances,’ including block cheese.”

That’s right. Cheese. Those monsters have started using our own dairy products against us.

This horrific development was publicized by the Transportation Security Administration on July 20 and released to federal air marshals and law enforcement around the country. They’re advised to wear gloves and hairnets before attempting to nab any cheese terrorists, and to keep the evidence stored in a Ziploc baggie to preserve its freshness.

We can no longer afford to stick our heads in the sand over the threat of cheese-related terror, people. Just read the gory details:

“Baltimore, Sept. 16, 2006. A couple’s checked baggage contained a plastic bag with a block of processed cheese taped to another plastic bag holding a cellular phone charger.”

Sure, some naïve people might say, “But Dan, it sounds like two people folks taking a trip, making sure they’ll have working cell phones and a snack!” And some clods using “logic” might protest, “How were these people expected to make a cheese bomb on board an airplane when the stuff was in their checked baggage with the cargo?”

Those silly, silly unfortunates. Wait until they’re trapped on a subway by a mad cheese bomber, staring down the business end of a chunk of smoked provolone. That’ll change their tune.

Just look at how close this flight came to disaster:

“Milwaukee, June 4. A U.S. person’s carryon baggage contained wire coil wrapped around a possible initiator, an electrical switch, batteries, three tubes and two blocks of cheese.”

Again, some people might say this person was carrying a bunch of random gizmo parts and a little something to nosh. Or you might say, “So he was carrying cheese. Isn’t Milwaukee in Wisconsin, America’s cheese capital?”

True. Most people in Wisconsin do, in fact, bring large blocks of cheese with them wherever they go. But they’re properly licensed to carry that cheese and you know it.

I’ve done some research on cheese terror, and my findings would shock the whey right out of your curds. Have you ever stopped to think how many variations of cheese there are, many of them in the hands of evildoers at this very moment? Pepperjack. Mozzarella. Stilton. Brie. Feta. Parmesan. Even American, for God’s sake. Just thinking about that makes me so angry I could bomb Iraq.

Black market cheese dealers sell it in block form, shredded, in wax-covered wheels, bite-sized chunks, in spray cans, and in easy-to-conceal individually wrapped slices. And here’s the scariest part: my sources tell me you can actually make your own rudimentary but still lethal cheese using common ingredients found in any grocery store.

It’s just a matter of time before everyone’s hip to this threat. Until then, I’ve started pitching an action-movie screenplay to Hollywood to help spread the smooth, creamy word. I call it “The Cheese Stands Alone”:

Scene. We’re on board a full commercial flight from Wisconsin to Vermont, at 36,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic (there’s a stopover in Belgium). A worried-looking flight attendant pushes a snack cart down the aisle past Jack Monterey, our tuxedo-wearing hero, dashing foiler of evil schemes and plots.

JACK. Excuse me, miss. You seem a little distraught. Do you need me to save the day?

STEW 1. (distracted) Sir, there’s a man up by first class who looks sort of … well, terroristy. He asked for some crackers. Dry crackers.

JACK. Hmm — that is suspicious. (Stands up and shows her a badge.) Special Agent Jack Monterey, Swiss Guard. Let’s pray he isn’t using those crackers for any contraband cheese he’s snuck aboard.

(Suddenly, the passengers are in a panic — a dark man stands up wildly, a block of cheddar strapped to his vest with cell phone chargers jammed into its sides. He holds a grater to it.)

TERRORIST. One wrong move and I’ll cut this cheese! My name is Le Chevre! I’m hijacking this plane and taking it to France!

JACK. (levels a gun down the aisle at him) Not so fast, you muenster!

LE CHEVRE. Ha ha! Another cowboy American trying to save the day. Your freedom disgusts me! I hate it! (Seizes a second stewardess and holds the cheese to her neck.) I warn you, my cowboy friend — this is a sharp cheddar. Very sharp.

STEW 2. (wincing) Ow!

JACK. (drops the gun and walks slowly forward) I’m putting the gun down. Now let the sexy woman go.

LE CHEVRE. As you wish!

(He takes her to the airplane door and flings it open — the passengers shriek in terror as the drop in air pressure sucks everything not tied down into the darkness far below! But just as the fiend is about to toss the stewardess outside, Jack dives onto him with the dexterity of a jungle cat. I should mention: he should be cast to be short, chubby, with a beard. They begin to struggle furiously for the cheese.)

LE CHEVRE. (despite the fact that he was never actually told his name) I’ll see you in hell, Jack Monterey!

JACK. (hands at his throat) I think your cheese would have more flavor … if it were brined!

(In one final burst of strength, Jack tosses Le Chevre out of the plane. After a few seconds, we see a huge explosion from somewhere in the darkness. Jack closes the door and brushes cheese crumbs off his tuxedo jacket as everyone cheers.)
JACK. Looks like someone was past his sell-by date.

STEW 2. (holding up a package and a gas mask) Jack — look what I found in his carryon!

JACK. (sniffing it, then recoils) Limburger. So bio-terrorism was part of his fiendish plan, too. If he’d opened this, we’d all be dead by now.

STEW 2. Our hero! Is there anything we can do for you?

JACK. (bites his lip) Fondue — melted, not burnt.

(The stewardess uprights through the snack cart and we roll the teaser for the sequel: “Special Agent Jack Monterey will return in: The Gouda, The Brie, and the Ugly.”)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Found Legalese: "As Is"

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[This is a piece of actual legalese, discovered in the midst of an online-buying transaction. The names of the corporations involved have been altered to avoid embarrassment/me being sued. Scroll down to get The Gist.]

The service is provided on an "as is" and an "as available" basis. We do not make, and hereby disclaim, any representations or warranties regarding the service, the ________ and the products and services offered through the ________ or any portion thereof, express, implied or statutory, including (without limitation) implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title, noninfringement of third party rights, or any warranties arising by course of dealing or custom of trade. We make no representation or warranty that any material, content, products or services displayed on or offered through the service are accurate, complete, appropriate, reliable, or timely. We also make no representations or warranties that the service will meet your requirements and/or your access to and use of the service will be interrupted or error-free, free of viruses, malicious code, or other harmful components, or otherwise secure.

The Gist: We can, and probably will, bone you. Deal with it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Uninterested Person

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By now, Harry Potter’s either dead or he isn’t. So far, I’m sleeping fine either way.

The long-awaited last volume in J.K. Rowling’s seven-book series hit store shelves this weekend with the finality of a 1.8-pound hardcover novel being dropped onto a kid ages 9 to 12. At last! After nine years and 4,149 pages, everybody and their cross-dressing uncle will know if the tousle-haired boy wizard has the strength to defeat the evil warlock who killed his parents: Darth Vader.


Oh. Whoever.

Also pleasing to “Harry Potter” fans: the fifth movie is now in theaters, “Harry Potter and the Inordinate Phoenix.” In it, Harry travels to Arizona, where he samples local culture and cuisine, marvels at the hot climate yet relatively low humidity, and uses his psychic mojo to solve crimes. In the end, he’s so good at it that he wins a scooter! Right? What kid doesn’t like a scooter!

Excuse me?

Not in Arizona, you say? No mention of scooters at all, you say? I see.

Sorry about this, folks. I really wanted to explore the whole “Harry Potter” phenomenon for you, I really did. I’m just not into it. Not even a little.

Actually, something about “Harry Potter” makes me want to hufflepuff all over my shoes, but that’s neither here nor there — the point is, I have a duty to inform! And this is the weekend to do it! Across the globe, millions of people are tapping into the “Harry Potter” magic, and “Harry Potter” is magically tapping them of $25. I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about this.

I even started the research, true and proper! I read the first two books! Six years ago.

Meh. They were OK.

Never felt like reading the others.

I haven’t seen any of the movies, but I did see a trailer for the latest one on TV — I caught it between two other, more interesting commercials.

I even probed the darkest, moistest crevices of to learn the true facts about the books. Did you know that “the publication of ‘Goblet of Fire’ caused unprecedented heights of Pottermania to be reached internationally [citation needed]”? It’s true. To this day, the Pottermania-meter is still busted.

But for all those minutes of research, I still can’t muster any enthusiasm for “Harry Potter.” You know what the Pottermania-meter would register if you held it up to me? Probably 3 or 4 Pottervolts. That’s it.

Keep in mind, I’m not begrudging anybody else their “Potter” enjoyment. Go ahead — buy the book, watch the movie, practice your “parseltongue.” Go draw a lightning bolt scar on your forehead with a Sharpie even though it’s permanent ink and you’re 43 years old. Knock yourself out. I’m just saying I can’t get into it — and it sort of bothers me. Just a little.

I’ve been trying, this past week, to pin down exactly why I should be bothered. Ordinarily, popular trends wash over me, and I stand in the midst of them, completely dry, unaffected, undisturbed. Anybody who’s seen the lousy way I dress can verify this.

But the release of the final installment in the largest publishing phenomenon ever? That’ll happen once in my lifetime, unless some other longwinded, pedestrian book series comes along. And who’s to say lightning will strike twice that way? This could be my only chance to connect with millions of people worldwide, and here I am, totally lukewarm about the whole thing.

Maybe I’m just responding to the fact that author J.K. Rowling is making unfathomable sums of money, right now — as in, if you crane your neck slightly east you’ll hear a giant sucking sound of cash flowing toward her castle in Edinburgh.

Maybe I’m just old and cranky.

No, that’s not it.

The best reason I can come up with for being so immune to Pottermania is because Harry isn’t the sort of person I want to care about. From what I’ve read, he’s a rich jock who, like most rich jocks, gets all the attention. Not true? He’s got a vault full of gold coins, he’s apparently the best Quidditch player anybody’s ever seen, and he’s got his name on the book cover. Boom. Rich jock.

Slate Magazine does a more eloquent job excoriating Harry than I could: read on.

I’d probably have more interest in the recent “Harry Potter” hysteria if he were less like A-Rod and more like me: snide, lousy at sports, works for a living, eats too much cheese. I wouldn’t mind the scarf, so we’ll keep that.

In fact, that gives me a fantastic idea. Now that there aren’t any more “Harry Potter” books, I can fill the void! All I need is a catchy name, a couple of sidekicks and a good agent, and we have the next book craze:

“Reginald Magicpants and the Mysterious Secret”!

Just brainstorming here: Reginald is a little boy who lives with his mean relatives in a three-decker tenement. One day, while Reginald is in front of the TV, eating cheese, a strange, massive, hairy visitor knocks at the door — we’ll call this person “Tia Jorgina.” Anyway, she whisks Reginald Magicpants away to learns wizardry at Goofblunder County Regional Community College of Magic. While Reginald is there, he comes upon the title’s Mysterious Secret — a secret so mysterious it’s been kept secret for centuries by a mysterious, secret group whose very existence is a mystery shrouded in secrecy. There’s a whole “middle of the book” thing I haven’t come up with yet, but at the end, Reginald defeats the bad guy.

Or does he…?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Overheard assholes: "$1,000,000"

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"If I got a dollar, I could turn it into a million dollars like that."

— man, talking to his semi-interested date
at the next table over at Blue Ginger in Wellesley

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Whoa, Canada — Part II: You say “potato,” I also say “potato” the exact same way

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When we last saw our heroes, they were stuck deep in the wilderness (a few miles off Route 2 at Route 13) of Prince Edward Island, Canada, stranded with a busted bicycle tube, little water, and several energy bars growing sticky in the heat.

My wife and I, sweaty and thirsty after a two-hour bike ride, stared at her flat rear tire for something like five minutes. We were stranded just outside Hunter River, Prince Edward Island, a village of unspoiled landscapes rendered picturesque mostly because nobody was there to spoil them. We’d had the bike trail to ourselves for the two hours we’d been riding, and there wasn’t anyone around now, either — no one to ask for help.

I snapped my fingers. “I have a plan,” I said to my wife. Then I yelled: “If only Superman were here to save us!”

We waited.

Helpful tip, in case you’re ever stranded someplace: That doesn’t work.

“It’s 15 miles back to the car,” my wife said, shielding her eyes from the sun.

“You got another bike tube?”

“Back at the hotel.”


“You got your cell phone?”

“I don’t think it works in Canada,” I said.

“Try it anyway.”

“I didn’t bring it.”


“Are you wearing sunscreen?”

“Yes. You?”



“Did you bring it?”


“Crap! Do we have flares?”

“Why would we have flares?

“We could start a fire, try to signal passing ships.”

“We’re landlocked.

“I meant helicopters.”

She slapped at a mosquito on her neck.

“We should start walking back,” I said. “At four miles an hour, we could be back in three and three-quarter hours.”

We headed back along the Confederation Trail, walking our bikes. My wife has a Garmin fitness gizmo on her wrist that connects to GPS satellites, and it tells you your precise location on the planet Earth, where you are, and how fast you’re going. She glanced at it.

“Three miles an hour,” she said.


The sun, which had been hiding behind clouds all morning, beat down like a hammer. It was so hot our eyeballs ached. My wife, a marathon runner, decided things would go faster if she ran and dragged her bike behind her. I pedaled slowly beside. That worked for about 6 miles, until she began to turn a shade of eggplant and decided to walk again.

We shambled another kilometer. With my overheated brain baking under a Red Sox hat, I struggled to remember what a kilometer was. I decided it was probably a kind of fruit salad.

Long story short, after running and biking and trudging for miles under a blinding sun on the hottest day of our vacation, after more than 20 mosquito bites between the both of us, after a miniature duathlon by my wife, after a bright, shiny sunburn, we finally made it back to Charlottetown. Our car was gorgeous — and steaming hot from sitting in a parking lot for nearly six hours.

Hmm? What’s that? No. We didn’t go riding again after that, no.

This spud’s for you

Instead, we ate. We ate extravagantly and thoroughly, appetizers and double portions and ice cream, and then we counted down the hours until it could be considered polite to eat again.

We ate raw, live oysters, twice, chasing them with freshly brewed beer — anesthetic, I told them. We had a pound of mussels for an appetizer, just the two of us — which sounds impressive until you figure that most of it was shells.

We weren't the only ones — everyone we saw ate and boozed like the moon was scheduled to crash into the planet sometime later that evening. Mostly boozed. Three college-age Canadian guys stopped into one restaurant, the Gahan House, famous for its brewery in the basement. The waiter brought them a cylindrical tube four feet high, about seven or eight inches in diameter, full of beer, with a spigot near the bottom. My wife and I sipped our pints and watched them drain it, leaving trails of foam down the inside of the barrel, dab their mouths with napkins, and then leave. The next day, sitting in the sun at another restaurant down the street, my wife kept telling me there was a lady two tables over drinking out of a fishbowl.

“Is there gravel on the bottom?” I said, craning my neck.

“I don't think so,” she said.

“A fish?”

“If there was, she ate it.”

She was an average-sized lady, holding a round glass goldfish bowl under her chin and sucking beer out of it with a straw. I watched her set it back on the table, empty, and I softly applauded.

With every meal, there were potatoes. If there’s one thing Prince Edward Islanders are proud of, it’s the damn potatoes. We took long drives around the country, past PEI’s many potato-processing factories, and for miles around it stunk of french fry oil. Every restaurant was the same: Mashed. Hashed. Frenched. Boiled. Sliced. Wedged. Cubed. Au gratin. Totted. Curly’d. Latke’d. Baked. Baked with cheese. With cheese and bacon. With cheese and bacon and gravy. French fried with cheese curds and brown gravy.

At one pub my wife, who has been trying to cut down her meat consumption, ordered the vegetarian option: a potato burger.

The waitress wrote it down. “One potato burger. What’dja like on the side? Fries, baked potato, or potato salad?”

My wife stared at her blankly. “Baked?” she said.

A little later, the waitress brought out the plates. I ordered a burger: two patties between bread with cheese and bacon.

“You got two?” my wife said, and she wiggled her hand at me, a gesture that signified a clot of fatty cow meat shimmying perilously through my aorta.

I shrugged. “I wanted just one, but two was the minimum number I could get.” It’s true — there was a triple burger on there, with options to get extra patties, if for some reason you were feeling suicidal.

The waitress gave my wife her potato burger — actually, a massive tater tot, served with two baked potatoes, each roughly the size of an infant’s head.

I wiggled my hand at her.

What you say about society

You go on vacation to different places on the globe, as opposed to the hotel over in the Industrial Park, to absorb a different culture. Normally, that’s my favorite part of the vacation. On PEI, the culture is … uh … whatever the polite word for “backward” is.

It wasn’t just the leggings, no. And it wasn’t just the mullets. And it wasn’t just the expressions (“What up?”). No. What gave my wife and I the distinct impression that we had somehow traveled back in time several decades to The Land That Pop Culture Forgot was the music.

The most popular rock station there (SPUD-FM, honest) played a variety of music: from 1981 Rush to 1989 Rush.

We waited in a restaurant for our oysters and potatoes flambé to arrive while the radio cycled through a sort of unholy early-Reagan-era compilation album.

“Supertramp,” I said, my head in my hands. “Supertramp.”

“Haven’t heard that song in a while,” my wife said.

Later, I discovered during a Bachman Turner Overdrive two-fer that jamming napkins into your ears is not effective at all.

“Haven’t heard that song in a while,” my wife said.

“When’s the damn millennium coming already?” I barked.

At the next table, three people were talking about a gig one of them just saw. A Grand Funk Railroad cover band.

It was “really wicked.”

My wife cocked her head. “Haven’t heard this one in a while,” she said.

It was “Cuts Like a Knife” by Bryan Adams. Seemed like a great idea. I picked mine up from the table and held it to my wrist.

Canada Day

Just before we left, the locals began a four-day Canada Day extravaganza. It’s their day of independence — except instead of casting off the yoke of British oppression, they asked the Britain for permission to amend their own constitution without British permission. Close enough.

My wife and I took a walk through Charlottetown’s beautiful waterfront park. We didn’t get far — the park had been fenced off overnight. A ticket booth was by the gate, where you paid to see the Canada Day whatnot inside.

Tickets were $45 each. And that, my friends, is how they have free health care.

So we sat under a shady tree not far away and leaned on each other, careful not to touch sunburns, and read books.

“You suppose they have Canada Day re-enactments?” I said to my wife. “History buffs recreate the Great Asking of Permission? The Great Shrugging of Shoulders?”

She shrugged her shoulders. She’s part French Canadian.

Streams of Canadians surged past us on their way to the waterfront, all hopped up on Tim Horton’s. A couple of dorky-looking teenagers came close enough for me to smell the poutine on their breath.

“Dude,” one said. “Who sits around reading books on Canada Day?

I tipped my Red Sox hat in his direction, fighting a strong urge to jam him into the nearest locker. Then I nudged my wife on the shoulder.

“Ow,” she said.

“Having an OK time?”

She sighed and watched the Canadians go by. “I think I’m ready to go home.”

I nodded. “I’m having a good time, but I’m ready to be back in America. I don’t know if we belong here today.”

We didn’t. And I didn’t feel 100 percent right until we came back to the good old USA: yes, days later we were back on my American porch, with American neighbors, my American holiday on the horizon. And I smoked a Cuban cigar I’d found somehow hidden deep in my luggage, watched an empty Tim Horton’s cup rattling down the street, heard a car blasting some song about that good old American hero, Tom Sawyer.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Whoa, Canada — Extra: PEI pictures

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Featured here are some photos I took during my trip to Prince Edward Island. All were taken with my Nikon FM-10 manual camera (except the last one, which was taken with my MacBook's iSight).

1. My bike and helmet on the Confederation Trail. I had been hoping to get my helmet more in focus here, because it has a badass cartoon skull on the front.

2. My wife's bike lying on the ground on the Confederation Trail, I think when she stopped to pee in the woods.

3. A car, obviously. Don't really remember exactly where. Sorry I can't be more specific. A lot of that place looks alike.

4. A landscape in Hunter River with a church and farmhouse.

5. My beautiful wife, outside some bullshit lighthouse. Seriously, I've seen much better.

6. Yes. Lupins. They grow all over the place, from Maine north, in vast purple carpets by the highway.

7. My beautiful wife near her bike, just outside Hunter River. A few minutes later, we would discover her rear tire tube was busted. You may not be able to see it here, but if you could get really close, you could see her tire's already a little flat.

8. Driving west on Trans-Canada Highway 1, away from Charlottetown.

9. Who likes potatoes? That goddam thing's probably full of them.

10. A moody-looking valley somewhere off the Confederation Trail. Some of these pictures, I should add, were taken with 64-speed tungsten color reversal, which if you use it outdoors, without tungsten studio lights, turns everything cyan. I used it outdoors like a moron. It was corrected in Photoshop, but it left it looking dark, even though this was around noon. Helpful tip: Know your film. What? You don't use film anymore? Never mind, then.

Bonus: This is me, back in the USA, on my porch, smoking a Cuban cigar that had somehow gotten into my luggage and past customs. Can't quite figure how it got there.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Overheard assholes: "Abortion"

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"Go grab yourself another abortion, bitch!"

— guy, yelling at his girlfriend/wife,
early one Sunday morning outside my window

Monday, July 09, 2007

Whoa, Canada — Part I: Red Money, Red Braids, Red Dirt, and Red Faces

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I have a grandmother who lives in Canada, a cute little Portuguese Vavó who after three decades still sends me money for my birthday and Christmas. Twice a year, she sends cards, and money that’s blue and red and violet. On the bills are faces of Canadians who I’m guessing are famous for some reason or other.

For years, I’ve been keeping the money in an envelope locked inside a fireproof safe in a closet, next to my funeral shoes.

It occurred to me one day recently that I should count it, on the theory that in case Mitt Romney wins the presidency I’ll know how long my wife and I can live in Canada before we need to find an ATM. I had no idea how much was in my stash — I assumed maybe $300.

I dug out the envelope. It smelled like an attic trunk. I weighed in my palm an inch-thick wad of colorful bills.

All told, it came to $867.

Most of it was in greenish-beige $20s with Queen Elizabeth II’s face on them.

I strewed them across the bedspread and rolled on them for a while, like a dog on squirrel shit.

I called my wife in. She peeked her head through the door.

“Let’s go to Canada!” I said.


My wife and I decided to spend a week on Prince Edward Island, which is Canada’s smallest and, therefore, cutest province. Go to New Brunswick, swim east and you can’t miss it.

We chose PEI for two reasons:

(1) My wife and I like to ride bikes. The island contains almost 200 kilometers of bicycle trails with spectacular vistas of rolling green hills, farmland, seashore and quaint villages; and,

(2) The “Anne of Green Gables” books take place there.

My wife has read the books. I haven’t myself, but PBS plays the movies every so often on rainy Saturday afternoons. In the series of young adult novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne is a young, headstrong, redheaded, adopted farm girl fond of straw hats. She becomes a writer, but her work is often rejected. I watch the movies and get pointedly emotional, marveling at how they could have gotten my life story so right. Also, the scenery looks nice.

My wife and I were oiling up our bike chains for the trip.

“Do you suppose they welcome you like they do in Hawaii — except when you get to the island, some lady in red braids greets you and puts a straw hat on your head?” I said.

“They could,” she said.

“With fake red braids attached to it?”

“That’d just be silly.”

“Yeah,” I said, looking away quickly with a catch in my voice. “I guess so.”

The road

So we sent the dogs to a kennel, packed up our bikes, and early one morning prepared to make the 11-hour drive from Fall River, north and east through Maine and New Brunswick.

We were incredibly excited about this part of the trip. For snacks, my wife and I bought $30 worth of chips and $2 worth of bananas. I loaded up the car’s CD changer with jazz. And the scenery! We got to cross the Zakim Bridge in Boston! We saw a store in New Hampshire where you can buy booze and fireworks! With no sales tax! Cool road signs! “Watch For Falling Rocks”!

We were all chatty.

“You never see any falling rocks, though,” I said to my wife. “Just once, it’d be nice to.”

“Keep the camera ready in case!” she said. She stuck out her tongue while she drove. I put a chip on it.

Five hours later, we were still slogging through Maine, through some of the loneliest, most slack-jawed country we’d ever seen. We were becoming nauseated from the chips and sleepy from the jazz. The only stops along miles of hilly, empty Maine road were gas stations with a single rusty 1950s-era pump, near dilapidated shacks looking like they housed serial killers or militia groups or inbred survivalists living off mung beans and distilled rainwater. Our enthusiasm for the road congealed into a thick, numbing gravy that I imagined I could hear sloshing around inside our skulls.

“Ub,” I said somewhere around Hour Six.

“Mmpf,” my wife said.

Three hours after that, at an indeterminate point inside New Brunswick, I saw some kind of animal by the roadside. I couldn’t be bothered to focus my eyes. I tried to raise the camera but found I’d become far, far too sluggish.

“Bluh,” my wife said.

“Fffh,” I said.

The colors of PEI

Eventually, we came to the 8-mile-long Confederation Bridge that leads to PEI. We became chatty again while we crossed, looking out over the water, and then we drove along the Trans-Canada Highway to our hotel.

“Wow!” I said, snapping a picture of a vast, breathtaking field of PEI’s unique orange-red soil.

Potatoes were growing there. Potatoes, we would soon find out, grow everywhere there.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!” my wife said. “It’s so beautiful!”

The colors seemed extra bright after half a day spent staring at forest, tarmac and marshland. The soil’s deep reds! The foliage’s lush greens! The sky’s rich ceruleans! The potato-processing factory’s magnificent beiges! The mobile homes’ imposing beiges!

But I couldn’t get over the soil. Acres and acres of tilled bright red earth stretched before us, looking uncannily like those NASA images of the Martian surface, except with more pickup trucks parked out front.

“I’ve got to grab some shots of these landscapes!” I said to my wife. “I want to always remember seeing this for the first time!”

I like to use an old manual camera, and went berserk focusing and refocusing on the horizon. I used every f-stop on my lens. Sweat pooled around my temples in the rush of creation. I became slightly deranged, zooming and finding dramatic angles and snapping off a whole roll of film.

“Got everything?” my wife said, traffic having slowed to a crawl behind our car.

I couldn’t speak, still awed by the colorful vistas I had captured. Then I rewound the camera, popped open the back, and removed the film. I’d been shooting in black and white.

Life all around us

PEI is the kind of place where, all around you, you can feel life teeming. On the streets of the capital, Charlottetown, everyone seemed to know everyone else, greeting each other in that Canadian accent where all sentences end in a question mark. The air is clean and crisp, and plants flourish on almost every spare surface. Every farm smells hearty, and they’re all bustling with cows and horses and colts.

A long and gorgeous bike trail snakes through most of PEI. My wife and I decided to see PEI up close for ourselves.

To get to the bike trail from our hotel, we had to cross about a half-mile of hot mall parking lot, during which several Canadians tried to drive over us for points. Then, we had to run across a four-lane highway. After that, we rode through an industrial park or something. There were concrete ingots.

But after that, it was smooth riding! My wife and I rode for hours along the gravel-paved trail, past potato farms on one side and potato farms on the other, and once, a large dump truck full of potatoes.

“I like kilometers,” my wife said as we passed the 25th kilometer sign. “They go much faster than miles. Why don’t we use kilometers again?”

“Because Americans are stupid,” I said, just as we pulled into the quaint village of Hunter River. We’d ridden about 16 miles — it was shaping up to be the longest ride I’d ever taken, and I felt fantastic. My allergies were gone, I felt strong, and I had gone several days in Canada without hijacking even a single ketchup chip delivery truck.

We stopped our bikes and enjoyed the view. An old Canadian guy walked past us and we both said, “Nice day.”

“Let’s go back,” my wife said.

About a mile heading back, my wife’s bike got a flat tire. We pulled over and she inspected the tire tube. There was no hole in it. We also hadn’t brought a spare.

“Crap. I think the air valve is leaking,” my wife said.

I saw that it was bent. “I’ll pump it a little to see if I can get some air in there,” I said.

I put the pump on the air valve and it snapped off. The tire farted contentedly and then sat there, empty.

“Boy,” I said.

We stared at each other for a while, sweating, and did some quick, silent calculations. It immediately became very, very hot.

“It’s 15 miles back,” I said.

We glanced up and down the bike trail. Suddenly, nobody was around. No one at all.

“I have to pee,” my wife said.

Read the second half of Dan’s Canadian adventure next week.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Found Legalese: "Forward-looking terminology"

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[This is a piece of actual legalese, discovered at the end of a press release. The names of the corporations involved have been altered to avoid embarrassment/me being sued. Scroll down to get The Gist Of It.]

Certain items in this press release may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, and are subject to various risks and uncertainties, including without limitation, statements relating to _______'s growth and potential and ability to successfully achieve its roll-out plans and project goals. Forward-looking statements are generally identifiable by use of forward-looking terminology such as "may," "will," "should," "potential," "intend," "expect," "endeavor," "seek," "anticipate," "estimate," "overestimate," "underestimate," "believe," "could," "would," "project," "predict," "continue" or other similar words or expressions. Forward-looking statements are based on certain assumptions or estimates, discuss future expectations, describe future plans and strategies, contain projections of results of operations or of financial condition or state other forward-looking information. _______'s ability to predict results or the actual effect of future plans or strategies is inherently uncertain. Although we believe that the expectations reflected in such forward looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, actual results and performance could differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements. Factors which could have a material adverse effect on _______'s operations and future prospects or which could cause events or circumstances to differ from the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, _______'s limited operating history on a combined basis, _______'s ability to generate sufficient cash flow to cover required interest, long-term obligations and dividends, the effect of _______'s indebtedness and long-term obligations on _______'s liquidity, _______'s ability to effectively manage _______'s growth, unforeseen costs associated with the acquisition of new properties, _______'s ability to find suitably priced acquisitions, _______'s ability to integrate acquired assets and businesses, any increases in the price or reduction in the availability of _______, seasonal and other fluctuations affecting _______'s revenues and operating results, any declines in _______, _______'s ability to obtain additional capital on terms acceptable to us, _______'s vulnerability to economic downturns, regulatory changes or acts of nature in certain geographic areas, increases in competition for skilled personnel, departure of _______'s key officers, increases in market interest rates, the cost and difficulty of complying with increasing and evolving regulation, and other risks detailed from time to time in _______'s SEC reports, including but not limited to its Annual Report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC on March 13, 2007 under Commission File Number ___-_____. When considering forward-looking statements, you should keep in mind the risk factors and other cautionary statements in such SEC filings. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any of these forward-looking statements, which reflect _______ management's views as of the date of this press release and/or the associated earnings conference call. The factors discussed above and the other factors noted in _______'s SEC filings could cause _______'s actual results to differ significantly from those contained in any forward-looking statement. Although we believe that the expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, we cannot guarantee future results, levels of activity, performance or achievements and we expressly disclaim any obligation to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in _______'s expectations with regard thereto or change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any statement is based.

The Gist Of It: The future's uncertain.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Overheard assholes: "Witnesses"

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"I'd slap the shit out of you, but there are witnesses."

— younger woman to an older woman,
staring at my wife and I as we drove past them

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Frankly my dogs don’t need to eat Ken-L-Ration to feel superior

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My wife and I are going on vacation in a few weeks. It never matters what exotic locale we go to or how relaxed we are when we’re there — three days in, all we’ll do is worry about the dogs back home, sitting in the kennel.

They’re the best dogs ever. You heard me — I promised myself I wouldn’t get controversial this week, but that’s just how I roll. My dogs are better than Lassie. Amateur. Miles ahead of goddam Rin-Tin-Tin, which is to Lassie what the Go-Bots were to the Transformers. That dog from the Ken-L-Ration commercial jingle isn’t fit to eat my dogs’ shit. Only my dogs can do that.

I hate to be a pest, but could you baby-sit them? I’d owe you a big favor. A humongous favor. A ginormous-sized chocolate-dipped favor. With sherry-marinated maraschino cherries inside and frothed over with whipped cream — I’ll even use the good stuff, not the spray can.

You would? You’d take care of my two dogs? Boy, what a pal! Seriously, it’s no bother? Just tell me if it’s a bother. Gee, thanks, chum! Say, you don’t know what a load off this is! A professional kennel’s great, but I feel better knowing my two dogs, my two darling baby children that sprang from these very loins, metaphorically, are in your capable hands while I’m away.

Here’s what you’ll need to know about them:

• The little black one is Myrna. She’s a border collie and lab mix. She’s smarter than both of us — trust me.

• The big brown and white one is Stanley. He’s a pointer. He requires more than an hour of exercise a day, or he will destroy things. Bad things. Expensive things. Irreplacable things.

• They eat three meals a day at exactly 8 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. Just one minute later and they’ll let you know you screwed up.

• They sleep in crates. Inside each crate: no fewer than two (2) comforters, a bone, a thinner blanket and various other toys of their own selection.

• They will chew the comforters and consume the batting inside. Keep a few spare comforters lying around. Ocean State Job Lot has them cheap at $20 each.

• Wake up early. If you’re a late riser, like 7:02 or after, Myrna will make retching noises until you jump out of bed and let her out. She doesn’t really have to vomit. She just tricked you. Like I said, she’s smarter than you are.

• If you ignore the retching noises for too long, she will actually throw up, though.

• That’s assuming they both don’t choose to sleep on your bed with you. They might do that.

• If they do, you’ll need a queen-sized pillow-top mattress. They’ll want to go under the sheets, and they’ll hog the pillows.

• When they eat breakfast, Stanley gets three (3) scoops of dry food and Myrna gets one (1), and they both split a can of premium wet food. No goddam Ol’ Roy or whatever’s cheap — premium, I said. Myrna will try to eat Stanley’s food, because he is a slow eater. Also, sometimes when you put the bowl down, he won’t eat it right away if the wet food is in a lump. You’ll need to mash it up and mix it with the dry food into a relatively even mixture.

• Sometimes he won’t eat it even then. That’s when you put a dollop of creamy-style peanut butter in it. Not chunky. Creamy-style. Mixed in evenly.

• Mix it unevenly, and he’ll eat the peanut butter but not his food.

• Fill two Kong toys. These are hollow rubber bouncy things you pack with food. Jam inside them some creamy-style peanut butter and a biscuit. After they eat, give the Kongs to the dogs as a treat.

• You have to pack Stanley’s Kong toy so it’s very easy to lick the peanut butter out of, or he will get bored and gallop around the house in endless circles, destroying bad, expensive, irreplacable things.

• But you have to pack Myrna’s Kong toy so it’s very difficult to lick the peanut butter out of, or she will finish it too fast and then try to steal Stanley’s.

• Myrna will probably steal Stanley’s anyway, so nix that last bit.

• Just let them nap on the sofa. At some point, they’re going to force their way up there anyway.

• Or, Myrna is going to trick her way up there. You’ll be sprawled on the comfiest part of the couch, and she’ll pretend like she has to go to the bathroom. When you stand up to let her out, she’ll jog over and steal your seat. She does a variation of this with your food, too, and always wins. Remember: she’s smarter than you are.

• Myrna likes to spend a few hours a day staring out the window and barking at shifty-looking people who walk past. And the mailman. While I’m on the subject, cancel your mail delivery while they’re with you. It’s just easier.

• Stanley likes to spend a few hours picking up toys from around the house and putting them in other, inconvenient places, and eating your shoes.

• When you take them for a daily walk — you are taking them for a daily walk, correct? — Myrna will walk behind you and pull you back home. Stanley will walk in front of you and pull you forward. Some simple shoulder exercises can keep you from dislocating something.

• Then, they will walk around you in opposite circles.

• Stanley can run for 12 miles at a time. Myrna’s good with an amble around the block. Somewhere in between 12 miles and one block should do it.

• Myrna shits in the street gutters, which is convenient, but sometimes when she’s perched on her haunches and pinching one out she’ll shimmy into oncoming traffic. So watch for that. Stanley only shits on the plushest, greenest lawns when the owners are home and sitting on the porch.

• Remember: Stanley is a pointer, a dog bred to hunt birds. If he sees a bird, he will stop walking and point at it with his nose. You have two choices: wait him out, or shoot it.

• Don’t shoot it. Loud noises scare Stanley.

• He can stand there pointing like that for half an hour, often more. I’m not kidding.

• Yes, even in the rain.

• He will also point at things he thinks are birds, but which aren’t, like lawn ornaments or empty Dorito bags the wind is carrying down the sidewalk.

• Both of them will go to the bathroom many, many times a day. Whether or not that’s inside your house is anybody’s guess.

• Myrna has escaped from leashes, collars, head halters, crates, locked porches, cars, child-proof gates, and out dining room windows — and once, when she was a puppy, we left her locked in the basement on a 20-foot leash attached to a body harness strapped around her chest. When we came home, she was at the front door. No leash, no harness, no locked basement. She’ll escape from you, too, if you’re boring.

• This is 100% true: Just as I wrote that, just now, today, I looked outside my window because I heard her collar tags jingling. Myrna, who was supposed to be in my yard safely behind my padlocked six-foot wooden board fence, was wandering down the street instead. Back in a jiffy.

• At night, the dogs require several hours of TV with you on the couch. Tuck a comfortable blanket over Stanley — he can’t nap if there’s too much light in the room — and watch shows they like, shows that are easy for a dog to understand, like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Top Model.”

• If you sit next to Stanley, don’t touch him with your feet, especially if they’re bare. He gets cranky during prime time and can’t stand bare feet touching him. He takes after me this way.

• Pet them thoroughly and tell them how good they are.

• That’s assuming Myrna lets you pet her.

• Stanley will pet you back, by jumping up and whacking you in the groin.

So that’s their average day. Pretty easy. Just memorize that stuff and you should probably be fine. I think.

I have two cats, too. Look in on them for me? You can? Say, you’re a real compadre! Just dump food in there, I don’t care how much, check that the water hasn’t evaporated, et cetera. As long as they’re not dead, I’m cool. Pet them if you want, but if you do, they’ll want you to pet them for, like, minutes at a time. Seriously, they’re wicked high-maintenance.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Tip me over and pour me out

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[Click the above for a short film featuring Dan actually flushing out his own sinuses with his new neti pot. You know what rhymes with "neti pot"? Snot. Enjoy! --Dan]

Someday, some company will pioneer safe and affordable head-removal technology. You’ll be able to snap off your head whenever you like and reattach it in seconds. Imagine the possibilities. You could rest it on the counter for awhile while your body does the dishes, or set it on the dashboard if you’re tall and drive a small car.

Easy head removal will also make for very disturbing games of Keep-Away at elementary schools nationwide. But think how simple it would be to clean your sinuses!

Until that glorious day, I have the neti pot to clear my head.

My wife saw something on “Oprah” about this old Hindu remedy, described by Dr. Oz — you know, that guy who’s always conspicuously dressed in blue hospital scrubs, as if the producers just yanked him out of the operating theater?

A neti pot is like a small, long-spouted teapot that you fill with warm saltwater. You jam the spout into your nostril, tilt your head over a sink, and pour the water into your nose. Assuming you don’t drown yourself or have water spurt from your ears and belly button, the water comes cascading out your other nostril in lovely waterfall of mucus, pollen, dander, bits of duck feathers, shredded leaves, sprigs of hay, and anything else you have clogging your sinuses.

I started to use a neti pot this week. My seasonal allergies have driven me to the edge of insanity, and then way, way past it.

Oak trees send me into sneezing fits. This year’s record so far is seven in a row. Grass clippings go straight for my lungs. Pollen works its way into my nostrils and eyes, and itches like a thousand miniature lobsters doing the Hully Gully. And I get no relief until fall. You know those once-a-day allergy pills? About three of those mixed with gin stop me hawking up mucus for about a half-hour before spring’s foul, death-like grip closes swiftly around my throat.

Before I slipped on a gas mask and went to the store to buy one, I watched a video demonstration of a neti pot online. has a particularly helpful one starring a blonde lady whose face is frozen in the expressionless gawp of the zombified. Actually, watching it again, I’m not convinced she isn’t a ventriloquist dummy with a garden hose rigged up inside the face.

Lifeless, Canadian-looking, carved balsa wood figurine or not, the lady breathed better than I did, so my wife and I headed out to health stores to buy our own neti pot. There, we learned two things: One, health food shoppers pay double for bananas, even if I cough pollen and saliva all over them. Two, neti pots are sold out everywhere. That’s the power of being on “Oprah.”

I eventually found one on eBay that I’m about 65 percent sure has not been up anyone else’s nose before.

I waited two days for it to come in the mail. That’s 48 hours of itching, clawing, scraping, hawking and snorting; 2,880 minutes of gentle spring breezes prodding all manner of crap into my flared-up, burning sinuses; 172,800 godforsaken seconds of sneezes that wracked my entire body with agony, and watery eyes that made everything look like I was wearing beer goggles but without the nice feeling of invincibility that comes with them.

So I borrowed a sports bottle from my wife — the kind with the squirty top. I topped it with warm water and a dash of salt, poked it up the schnoz, and squirted.

A little weeping, a few pounds of tissues, 10 ounces of water and mucus, and the deed was done. I had flushed out my sinuses.

Cleaning out the inside of my face sounds goofy, and I look goofy doing it, but I emerged from this experience with clear, clean, refreshed nasal passages. Plus, with the salt, everything started to smell like the beach.

I’ve since gotten my actual neti pot, which is much easier to use than a sports bottle and doesn’t leave that odd Gatorade aftertaste in my throat. My wife bought one, too. While I sort through the embarrassing photos I took of her using it, here are the answers to some common questions you may have:

Q.: I don’t like weird things. The neti pot sounds weird. Is using the neti pot weird?

A.: Pish-posh! What could be weird about rinsing out the inside of your skull with saltwater? Next!

Q.: I have high blood pressure and salt is bad for me. Can I use something else?

A.: No, the salt is necessary to the whole nasal-flushing process, as it becomes bland and flavorless without, you know, a little oomph. And before you try it, putting Mrs. Dash in your neti pot is not recommended.

Q.: I used my neti pot recently and became very disoriented. My speech was slurred, I was tired and moody, and I called random people I used to know to tell them how much I loved them. Where did I go wrong? Also, do you prefer olives in your neti pot or those little onions?

A.: You have made a very common beginner’s mistake with your neti pot, which is to fill it with martinis instead of saltwater. They are both clear fluids, I know, but they’ll have different results. To answer your second question, olives.

Q.: I’m in a place right now, emotionally, where I can’t fill my neti pot with warm water. Can I use cold water?

A. Warm water is strongly recommended, as cold water will give you a wicked bad brain-freeze, and hot water is just stupid. Also, cold saltwater attracts sharks.

Q.: Because of the popularity of Oprah, some shysters are selling neti pots for double or triple the retail price! Are there cheaper alternatives that work just as well?

A.: Using a garden hose could work, but more importantly, would be frigging hilarious. Feel free to have a friend document you doing this on video. For best results with a turkey baster, keep yourself at 350 degrees and repeat the treatment every half-hour so you don’t get dry and stringy. Another alternative I can think of is, if you’re having an allergy attack, visit a clown and ask to borrow his seltzer bottle. Actually, if you just walk up to him and say, “Give it to me,” he’ll give it to you, all right.
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