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

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