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. NetiPot.org 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.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Actually, you're mistaken—I am the boss of you

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Graduation season is upon us, and across the nation, sensitive, earnest teenagers are leaving school with nothing to their credit but a sixth-grader’s vocabulary, a thin understanding of history beginning and ending with one-third of the state capitals, and the moxie and go-get-em-ism so common to that unspoilt age. Yes, these young Americans are being sown like ripe seed into the hard, untilled soil of our great land. Ready to burst forth and flourish!

And flourish they will! But first, as with seeds, a farmer must dump on them a load of manure.

This is the essence of the unpaid internship.

The idea of doing repetitive tasks for no money and then getting to exaggerate it on your resume has a proud and noble history. It dates back to ancient Egyptian times, in fact. Back then, if you were an enterprising college prep student, you typed up your resume (one foot of papyrus, max) and schlepped it around to job fairs and made a few cold calls—not easy in that climate.

If you were a math major, you’d be lucky to get an unpaid internship working on one of the pyramids, measuring the 1,000-ton stone blocks before you help haul them several miles to the construction site from sunup to sundown in scorching heat.

An English major could look forward to an internship, too—on the fabulous pyramids! You'd haul 1,000-ton stone blocks several miles in scorching heat, and then maybe get to try your hand at hieroglyphics after 40 or 50 summers apprenticing (also winters).

Liberal arts majors? They would find permanent jobs at the upscale coffee shops and record stores that inevitably sprung up around the pyramid sites.

It’s occurred to me that since kids are out of school, I have lots of chores to do, and there are any number of brainy soon-to-be-freshmen who could earn college credit to work for me for free, I should get an intern.

Lest you think I’m being selfish, remember: It’s not all hammock-swinging and Nintendo on my end—what burgeoning young journalist wouldn’t crawl through my unmowed front lawn for the chance to learn the art of column writing at the feet of the master? That reminds me—I could use a foot rub.

Having an unpaid intern could work out great for me. Just as long as it’s not like that intern I hired last year. Step inside the Delorean and let me remind you how that little adventure turned out:



SCENE: Dan’s house, summer 2006. You can tell because the “Lord of the Rings” calendar pinned to the wall is conspicuously turned to “Summer 2006.” Dan, clad in an AC/DC T-shirt and green paisley boxer shorts, is showing his small and messy home office to a bright-eyed, corn-fed freshman girl named Skylar. You can tell because she’s eating from a small bag of corn.

DAN. (expansively) This is where the magic happens. You can’t really frame it in words—I just sit here and think, and beautiful things happen on paper.

SKYLAR. Neat! A real live columnist’s office! Let me just say again, Mr. Dan, I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity.

DAN. No problemo. (pauses) Wait—this is still free, right?

SKYLAR. Yup.

DAN. No problemo.

SKYLAR. (doing a great job stifling her disgust at the piles of loose papers and balled-up socks all over the floor) So where will my computer be going?

DAN. Right, right—computer. (Points out a coffee pot.) Here you go. Actually, I’d prefer you got the good stuff from Starbucks while I sit in front of my laptop and be amusing. (Apropos of nothing, he points at a crooked photocopy of a New England Press Association 2004 second-place Best Humor Columnist award thumbtacked to the wall.)

SKYLAR. Starbucks?

DAN. Yeah, there’s one 22 minutes away. Hope you brought cash. (scratching his stomach) I’ll be completely honest with you, Skylar. Half of this job is learning from me how to write columns, and the other 90 percent is beverage-fetching. Write this down, exactly: Coffee, beer, coffee. Then, beer, beer, coffee. Beer, coffee, beer, then beer, beer, and then a little orange juice. Somewhere in there, I’ll want some pork fried rice.

SKYLAR. (scribbling in a unicorn Trapper Keeper) Beer … oh-jay … fried rice…

DAN. Enough about me. Tell me who you are. Who you want to be. (tapping his chest) In here.

SKYLAR. (confidently) I’m going to be a world-famous journalist someday, Mr. Dan. I was editor of my high-school paper, and I have a full scholarship to the print journalism program at NYU. I’m a National Honor Society student and I volunteer making and delivering meals to shut-ins.

DAN. (yawning like a walrus) Jesus H. Christ. Hopefully all that crap won’t keep you too busy. The kitchen ain’t going to paint itself. (Points to a poster on the wall for the movie “Smokey and the Bandit”) You ever seen that?

SKYLAR. No, sir.

DAN. Frigging hilarious. Bright and early tomorrow, right after you power-wash my garage, we’re watching it. (Indicates that she should write this down) This is called “research.”

SKYLAR. Fantastic! So when do I do some actual writing?

DAN. Right. Usually I stare at the wall until something strikes me funny. Like how work stinks, or how I like a weird flavor of chips. Eventually, I type. Except you’re here, so I won’t need to do that anymore. (Indicates that she should write this down) I also won’t be getting my own chips. Or clipping the cats’ toenails.

SKYLAR. (testy) OK, but when do I get to try writing one?

(Dan stares at her blankly. Skylar coughs into her fist. We hear the soft ticking of a clock for several minutes. During this brief intermission, feel free to visit our fully-stocked snack bar.)

DAN. Beg pardon?

SKYLAR. You know—when do I write a column myself?

DAN. Oh. I thought the deal was, you do my bidding for free and I write columns. No? (Points again at the award on the wall.)

SKYLAR. (folding her Trapper Keeper) Pfft. I’m starting to think this house isn't even properly accredited.

(She trips over a dog as she walks out of the office. Dan follows her to the front door, checking his watch.)

DAN. Yup, right on schedule for that first coffee. Hurry back!



Needless to say, Skylar never returned. Last I heard, she was living in Greenwich Village and was up for a Pulitzer at The New York Times—and that, my friends, is the kind of foot in the door that internship experience can provide.

I guess I wish her well. But if anybody out there happens to run into her, tell her I’m not signing off on her college credits until I get my fried rice.
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