Monday, December 29, 2008

Rigging up the lights

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A woman I work with calls me, quote, "Christmas Boy -- no, well, Christmas Man. Actually 'Christmas Boy' sounds better."

It's not because I was born on Christmas. I just love everything about it: giving presents to people, getting presents, sneaking around in the attic a few days before to sneak a look at my presents, if I can find them, buying a tree, watching the dogs try to eat the tree, shoveling snow, schmaltzy music, acquiring even more schmaltzy music, watching the same badly animated TV specials, listening to "A Christmas Carol" on the iPod over and over, comparing three or four different film versions of "A Christmas Carol" and writing/directing The Ultimate Christmas Carol Version for the little film studio in my mind, having huge meals of roast turkey, drinking heavy beer and alcoholic pancake batter with cinnamon, picking over the various pickable candy and salty snacks my mom and dad leave out on the dining room table for guests, seeing the family and listening to them tell embarassing toilet-related stories until they leave for Midnight Mass -- your basic Christmas stuff everyone does.

Christmas lights are another story. I like having them on the house, and I like seeing them on other people's houses. I think we should have sets of lights of different colors for every month of the year. I even sort of like hanging up the lights, even though it's tedious work in frigid weather and since last year I've lost the electrical staples I nail into the porch woodwork to hold the wires up, so I have to go to Home Depot and buy more. It's no problem -- I'll probably find those missing staples sometime in May, when I'm looking for something else, and will lose track of them again in late October. It's a Christmas tradition.

But dead lights drive me batshit crazy. I'll test the lights, they'll work fine. I'll hang them up, they work fine. I'll leave them running for a while, they work fine. Sometime later when I'm confident they'll be all right and this will be the best Christmas ever, I'll notice half a string has gone dead.

I put lights on the porch this year and actually planned out the electrical connections perfectly, considering how stupid I can be about those kind of things, the less being said about the time I fully strung up two sets with the female connectors together the better.

So all the lights were working great. Then this happened:

See that? That section that's out? It wasn't like that when I tested the lights!

I was upset about it for days. Ready to rip that string down and buy another one. It ruins the artistic integrity of the entire installation, that missing bit. It cheapens the whole Christmas holiday, that kind of sloppiness.

But the lousy economy and common sense prevailed. Besides, it's on the side of the porch, and there are other lights there to distract persnickety Christmas-light critics like myself.

But so just while I was getting used to the idea, my wife peeks out the door one night and says, "Did you fix those lights on the porch? They're working again."

And they were! Somehow, someway, they were lit again. It was a Christmas miracle!

I had full sets of Christmas lights working all over the house for about one day. It was a frabjous pre-Christmas day!

Then this happened:

These pictures show the banister going from the first floor of my house to the second. The first photo was taken just after I put them up. The second photo was taken -- you ready for this? -- just after the porch lights came back.

They died right afterward. It's like I couldn't have a full set of working lights anywhere. This, needless to say, takes a pee-pee all over my happy fucking holiday.

Even now, just after Christmas, I'm debating whether or not to take this down and buy another new set of lights. I can't stand the fact that all the lights aren't working perfectly. Honestly, I get more and more annoyed just thinking about it. It's kept me awake.

But if I did replace them, the Ghost of Christmas Light Failures Yet To Come would strike elsewhere next. Would it take out the candles in the windows? The red and green C7 bulbs I screwed into the porch sconce, which don't provide nearly enough light to illuminate the front walk or guide my key in the front door but which look festive as hell? Would the next thing to go be the tree -- not the TREE?

It's gotten worse, too. See the lights above on the front porch? The strings going around the columns and along the banister? Every other bulb is dead. I tried to convince myself for a few days that they were just blinking very rapidly -- so rapidly the human eye would perceive them as being turned off -- but that's bullshit. They're fucking broken and I know it. One of those sets of lights is brand-new. They were killed, as far as I can tell, during a snowstorm.

So yeah, basically, this sucks. Most of my lights are dead or blinking wrongly or on their way out. I'm torn between wanting to tear it all down with my teeth -- because if it's not perfect it's flawed, and flawed light displays are a goddam travesty -- and wanting to say, "Fuck it, leave it up, lights are nice for the holidays."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another in a long line of reasons why I don't particularly like talking on the phone

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Today, the day after Christmas, I spent the early morning at work, at the newspaper. Around 5 a.m., I had the following phone conversation, or something very close to it:

ME: Hello?

MAN: You may think this is strange or what have you...but could you tell me what day it is today?

ME: It's Friday.

MAN: [snorting] Fridee. So you're the fourth person to tell me today is Fridee.

ME: It is.

MAN: [curtly] I don't know why I should believe that. I went to work on Mondee, I went to work on Tuesdee, went home, and now you're saying it's Fridee. I don't think that's right.

ME: Um, it is. It's Friday, December 26th.

MAN: And you're the second person to tell me today is the 26th.

Then there was an awful, creepy silence for more than half a minute while both of us sat there, breathing. I waited to see how long this would last. It wasn't possible to tell what was happening on his end of the phone. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore.

ME: Hello?

MAN: Yeah?

ME: Are you all right?

MAN: So you're saying it's Fridee?

ME: Yes, it's Friday the 26th.

MAN: You're saying you had your merry Christmas -- what, yesterdee?

ME: Yes. With the tree and the presents and everything.

MAN: [sighing] I think you're sending me to work on Christmas when I shouldn't be going in -- but whatever. All righty.

Then he hung up.

Answering the phone at a newspaper when you work odd hours is a depressing aspect of the job, sort of like working a Samaritans hotline that also answers drunk people's trivia questions. I probably deal with it a lot more than some other editors, because I work the dark hours, when weird people do weird things, and because I tend not to shoo people off the phone line even when they're shouting obscenities or nonsense into it. I imagine people like this must call the newspaper because a newspaper is almost like an authority figure, but it's not the cops or the government. We have something like power -- not me, really, but I know someone who does.

So at least every few months, I answer the phone and wind up having disturbing conversations with people. Some are with people who are very clearly, diagnosably, crazy. I'm not being flippant -- I mean insane and untreated. Some of them probably have Alzheimer's and still know how to operate the phone but not what to do with it. I have no idea how to handle them and wait until there's a natural decrescendo in the conversation so I can tell them so long, thanks for calling.

I sometimes get phone calls from people who are not entirely crazy, but mostly desperate and painfully lonesome, steeped in the kind of boredom that drives people to throw themselves nakedly at the nearest stranger -- old people who have talked to me for half an hour or more for no reason about their grandchildren in Virginia or their war service or about listening to Cab Calloway records, or this lady who has started calling every so often lately, who's a nurse, who works early mornings and who makes toast (I thought I heard a toaster pop once) and who is 45 or 47 or something, and asks how the Bruins did, then talks to me for 20 minutes about how she used to watch games when Bobby Orr was playing, which I wouldn't've because I sound young -- or who wants to know the Megabucks numbers, then engages me in a conversation about how she plays her daughter's birthday and describes what she'd do with the money if she got it.

Other callers are temporarily crazy. They call in the same white-hot rage that I imagine perfectly normal people have when they snap and murder someone, and they unload streams of profanity and ugliness, furious about things I can't ever picture someone being furious about. It's simply not a symptom of sanity to scream at a stranger for 25 minutes about someone on your block habitually parking a shade too close to a fire hydrant -- and then when I suggest calling the police, telling me I'm an idiot because the police haven't cared so far. Why at half-past 1 at night? What possessed that guy to call right then? And what did he expect the newspaper to do, exactly? Shine a light on the person's parking misdeeds? Most of these people burn out after a while then, strangely, end up being polite, and thank me no matter what I've said, even if it was just a periodic "um" to let them know they weren't yelling into a dead phone. They just needed to scream at someone for some reason. I suppose it's better to yell at me than someone they might actually offend.

Other people, I have no idea what's going on. Like today's guy. I've had days where I wake up hazy as to whether it's Tuesday or Wednesday, but I've never needed to make four phone calls to strangers to sort it out. This guy didn't sound crazy, temporarily or permanently, and didn't seem drunk -- just had no idea what day it was. Did he miss Christmas? Seriously? Did he suffer a blow to the head? Was he in a coma for two days, or was it just a regular sleep the whole time? I sometimes have anxiety dreams where I'm too busy or distracted and accidentally miss Christmas or my wife's birthday -- is that what happened here? Or was he just wasted the whole time?

In the spirit of the season I'd like to think he was visited by three spirits who showed him his past, present, and future, and he woke up discombobulated, unsure if he was supposed to give all his money away. But he's probably just got dementia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Followup: The beer undrunk (Part 2)

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Since the last time I tried to make a pumpkin-flavored beer at home, I've mostly been sticking to pumpkin-flavored coffee. What I do is, I buy pumpkin-pie-spice-flavored ground coffee at Target. Then, when I put the grounds in the filter, I add several shakes of actual pumpkin pie spice. Yes. The pre-flavored stuff is very good but not flavorsome enough. I'm like a smack addict who needs greater and greater hits until he's eventually walking around with an IV drip on a wheelie-rack. Except substitute the word "pumpkin" for "smack," and where it says "IV drip on a wheelie-rack," put the word "pie."

Anyway, I did get many wonderful suggestions on how to make my own pumpkin beer without making an ass of myself, many of those suggestions coming from the comments section of my previous post. Eric, in particular, made the ultimate sacrifice of drinking a flavored beer for me. Well done, sir. He gave me some ideas on where and how to get pumpkin-flavored syrup (Monin makes a good one apparently) that I could add to any beer of my choosing. Or, indeed, could drink straight from the bottle, splash onto my chicken salad sandwich, or rig up some sort of IV drip on a wheelie-rack.

But I haven't gotten it yet. Mostly because it's the Christmas season and I don't like to buy things for myself that maybe other people might get me. Not that I expect to get a bottle of this stuff -- I think my wife has pretty much had enough of my yammering on about pumpkin this and pumpkin that and doesn't want to enable another bad habit. But you never know.

Anyway, I did treat myself to a pumpkin-flavored beer the other day, one that was actually made by a brewer and bottled professionally. Sea Dog Pumpkin Ale, it was. To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn't particularly impressed. It tasted more like pumpkin pie than some other beers I've had (I'm waving my naked ass in your direction, Blue Moon), but wasn't exceptionally pumpkinish. It didn't even taste like a great beer -- sort of bland, fizzy, with not much strength except a tiny bit of bitterness afterward. Tasted like I'd had a piece of pie sometime earlier, and some chunk of crust was still tucked behind my wisdom teeth, so I washed it down with a Rolling Rock. Which I wouldn't. I would brush it out.

I'm starting to wonder if maybe I've cursed myself. Have I built it up too much? Maybe I won't ever have that Great Pumpkin Beer feeling again. Ever. The same way I won't ever eat anything as magically, heartbreakingly delicious as the dinner I had in Rome at Il Quadrofoglio in June 2001 with the lamb and the limone liqueur. Perhaps the beer undrunk is the beer most savored. Maybe I should never drink a pumpkin beer again, to preserve forever the memory of the great Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale I had when I wa--

Who am I kidding? I'm buying five cases next September. Less than a year to go. Man, sometimes I say the stupidest shit.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Followup: It's the great pumpkin beer mess, Charlie Brown (Part 1)

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After I went on and on the other day about how much I love pumpkin-flavored beer and can't get my favorite around here anymore, I received a few comments on Twitter about how I should just make my own. Not that I should brew my own -- just take a beer and add pumpkin pie spice.

"That's what goes on at the brewery," someone told me.

I was disappointed. Thought it was more romantic than that. I'd thought maybe it involved carving slices of pumpkin pie -- crust, Cool Whip and all -- into the beer vats, or maybe coaxing pumpkins to cross-breed with hops. But apparently no.

So I bought some pumpkin pie spice and took some Harp lager from the fridge, and I brought them into the laboratory (kitchen) of my Institute for Bizarre And Revolting Foods, or IBARF. I poured a little pint glass of Harp and then guessed how much pumpkin pie spice I should stir into it. I settled on a heaping teaspoon. Seemed sensible at the time.

The beer's immediate reaction was something like a middle-school science fair volcano, foaming up and over the top of the glass -- so, helpful tip to any middle-school kids out there. The foam caught gobs of the spice and carried it instead of letting it settle in the beer, and the action of stirring just made more foam. I wondered how I was supposed to break up the spice into the beer if stirring only made the beer go away. After a few more seconds of stirring I ended up with half a glass of muddy beer with an orange- and brown-flecked head pushing over the top like a dirty meringue.

Then I drank some.

My first sip was a mouthful of foam and a clump of dry pumpkin pie spice. It was unpleasant.

My second sip, I tried to go for the beer at the bottom of the glass, but ended up with more foam that tasted very beery and a lot like cinnamon. Also unpleasant. It smelled like a strange mixture of sweetness and beer mash, sort of like an alcoholic uncle threw up somewhere in the house after Thanksgiving but you're not sure where.

The third sip, I did get to some beer, but there were bits of pumpkin pie spice held in suspension in there, so that wasn't a great experience. It did taste pumpkinny, but tasted a lot more like failure and broken dreams. I dumped the rest down the drain and spent the next half hour before I went to bed wondering if it wasn't easier just to have a beer and a slice of pie.

I still have lots of pumpkin pie spice left, so I'm thinking about trying this again with an ale instead of a lager, though I'm not sure if that will only make the foaming chemical reaction worse. We'll have to see. I'm not done with this yet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pumpkin flavor time, all the time

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Fall is my favorite season. There's new TV, colorful foliage, a smell in the air of freshly ruled notebooks, and various and sundry pumpkin-flavored food products appear at stores and coffee shops near you. Also, I get to wear a jaunty scarf and nobody looks askance at it.

Back to the pumpkin stuff. When I was in Bar Harbor recently, I had a Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, a beer so goddam delicious you can't believe it. It was like drinking a beer pumpkin pie, which is what I yelled in the restaurant to my wife sitting two feet in front of me: "IT'S LIKE DRINKING A BEER PUMPKIN PIE!" I'm not kidding. There was nutmeg and cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice all mixed up and baked in. I detected the floury, toasty flavor of homemade crust in there, for chrissakes. Bringing the glass to my nose was like opening the stove on Thanksgiving. I wanted to handle the glass with oven mitts and leave it on the windowsill to cool. That beer was so fucking good, in fact, that a fruit fly landed in the glass when I was halfway through and started doing the dog-paddle. I was angry but couldn't hold it against the little son of a bitch. I would've done the same thing.

I've been trying to get some Shipyard Pumpkinhead in the area ever since then, with no luck. There's just none around. My wife couldn't even get an Asian woman at a Swansea liquor store to comprehend out the word "Shipyard." ("Sheep-yee?" "No, Ship-YARD." "Sleep-hard?" "Ship-Yarrr-Duh." "Shee-wee?") Tipsters e-mail if you can hook me up. If you can get me a case, you can keep two of the beers. And then we'll share a beer together, on you. So you get one. Still a good deal.

I've been sampling a couple other pumpkin beers, but none are as good as the Shipyard. I've had Blue Moon's Harvest Moon, which looked promising because it had illustrations of pumpkins on the label. When I tasted it, it was good, but about as pumpkinny as your average Octoberfest beer -- which is to say, not really. Then I had Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, which is also OK but it doesn't knock you out with pumpkin flavor. Considering the label features a scarecrow with a pumpkin head standing in a pumpkin field, I expected a little more pumpkinness. But no. Just sort of a vague taste of nutmeg -- like you're drinking a beer in the same room as a pumpkin pie. Which is good, don't get me wrong -- it's just not as pumpkin-intensive as a sturdy man like me requires.

Maybe I expect too much. I want everything to taste like pumpkin. Not only that, but I want things to taste a lot like pumpkin. I may be like a junkie, except with pumpkin, so I can't get my fix unless I'm jacking straight-up pumpkin pie filling. I'm also addicted to the Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes, the little pukes. The other day, at Target, I took three bags of Archer Farms pumpkin pie spice ground coffee off the shelf before I started to feel a bit conspicuous and only bought two. Worst story: In my second year at college, my roommate and I saved spare change for months in a jar, cashed it in for big bills around the middle of November, and bought four whole 10-inch pumpkin pies. We kept them in a mini-fridge and ate nothing but the pumpkin pies for days. There were crust crumbs in the carpet for the rest of the semester.

Last year around this time, I remember Silk making little quart cartons of pumpkin-flavored soymilk. I would fold that into my pumpkin-flavored coffee and sit and drink it and, while I was copy editing badly written news, the double-shot of pumpkinny goodness would soak into my brain and I would pretend I was sitting in front of a warm and hearty fire in an easy chair with my wife and I under goosedown blankets reading leather-bound volumes of Dickens, having just eaten some of that same goose, while snow fell outside and there was a constant jingling of sleigh bells from somewhere, possibly some sort of machine I'd rigged together from an old motor, a wire hanger, and a set of sleigh bells. Long story short, I can't find that pumpkin soymilk around lately.

Why is the pumpkin flavored stuff only around for a few goddam months, anyway? I'd like the taste of pumpkin even in the sweltering heat of summer, believe me. I can handle it. You think I can't? You think I'll get sick of it? A man who eats nothing but pumpkin pie for several days will not get sick of the pumpkin flavor. Trust me. We ate four pies, but if we'd only had more money and less dignity we would have bought more. If I could receive all my necessary nutritional requirements from just pumpkin pie, I'd eat only pumpkin pie starting today. Come to think of it, there's got to be a way to do this, to get your protein and vitamins and minerals in pumpkin pie form. Get on this, scientists.

And food manufacturers: I can handle pumpkin flavor all year, not just the fucking autumn. Beer manufacturers: I can take it. Give me pumpkin flavored beer the whole year round. That's what I want for Christmas. But well before Christmas, please.

And then afterward.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

FAQ me: Why I changed the name

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People who know me, or who have been following this blog, or who've been following me on Twitter know that I recently had an identity crisis. One day recently, out of nowhere, I switched the name of this blog from Black Fonzie to Mister Fonzie. Why'd I do that? Am I giving up the "Black Fonzie" brand forever? Did I have a stroke or something? Find the answers to these questions and more below.

Q. Hi there.

A. Hey.

Q. What did "Black Fonzie" even mean, anyway?
A. Black Fonzie was, and still is, the name of a band. A good friend of mine -- we'll call him Jones, because that's his name -- started this band, and he and I are the only members (occasionally we may ask if someone in the audience plays drums). The band is the world's most popular, best-selling, fictional acoustic/metal/rock/funk/jazz/instrumental/wedding covers combo ever conceived. We have never performed together. Despite this, Black Fonzie has recorded several albums:

(1) "You're Not The Regular Mailman": A four-part instrumental suite concept album consisting of music heard in pornographic films, ranging in style from baroque to jazz to metal. Personnel: Dan on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, slide guitar, steel guitar, acoustic guitar, triangle, sexophone, flute, and harp; Jones on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, mouth noises, drums, and muted trumpet.

(2) "Santa Up My Chimney": Black Fonzie's Christmas album, featuring all the holiday favorites, including snippets of the above album remixed with sleigh bells.

(3) "We Are Your Overlords": A double-disc tribute to Led Zeppelin, featuring 23 cover versions of the "Immigrant Song" riff played over and over (special hidden bonus track: "Livin' Lovin' Maid").

There are also reputed to be several live bootlegs in circulation. Black Fonzie has yet to perform live in front of an audience.

You may begin to suspect that this is all rather difficult to explain when people ask what the name means.

Q. Sorry, I wasn't listening -- so what's "Black Fonzie" mean again?

A. Easy shorthand: the "Black" means evil, as in Black Sabbath. The "Fonzie" means cool, as in Fonzie.

Q. Why did you call this blog Black Fonzie?

A. I liked the name, so I started calling everything I signed up for on the Internet "Black Fonzie." First I used it for my email, then for a couple of usernames here and there, and then this blog, then more usernames, and more sign-ins, and eventually it was everywhere.

When I started this blog, I was writing a newspaper column. I only meant to use the blog for my own personal use, as a way to make a database of some newspaper columns I had written. They would be searchable so I wouldn't repeat topics, and then I could share the columns with people I knew who weren't in my paper's circulation area.

Eventually a few other people started following my blog, and then more people, and I kept using the name "Black Fonzie" for different things all over the goddam Internet. Pretty much anywhere you see Black Fonzie, that's me.

Q. Do people ever ask you what "Black Fonzie" means?

A. All the time. I've tried various ways of shortening the long explanation, and it never seems to come out funny. This is why mankind invented the phrase "You kind of had to be there."

Q. Hey, have people ever mentioned to you that "black" could mean "black" -- you know, as in "black"?

A. Um, yes. It doesn't, though. "Black Fonzie" is not a reference to an African-American version of Henry Winkler's "Happy Days" character. No. The thought honestly never occurred to me until years had gone by and I'd been using the name. Call me stupid, but it never came up.

Q. Yeah, but isn't that what people would think?

A. Yes.

Q. Have people online ever thought you were an African-American guy?

A. Many times, yes. Then they see my picture and go back to their knitting.

Q. I see. Is that why you're changing the name? So people won't get confused?

A. Partially. Lemme put it this way. Let's create an in-joke right now. Remember Spuds Mackenzie? The bull terrier that sold Bud Light to little children in the 1980s? Go on, read the Wikipedia page, relive your youth -- I'll wait.

OK. Now, the dog's first name was "Spuds." Another word for a potato is a "spud." Let's say you sat around shooting the shit with a friend one night, and you decided they should've changed the dog's name from Spuds Mackenzie to Potato Mackenzie. And from Potato Mackenzie someone threw out Mashed Mackenzie. And perhaps that devolved into a series of in-jokes featuring different methods of preparing potatoes followed by the word "Mackenzie," which would be utterly hilarious if you did this very late at night and had partaken of several Bud Lights. So on it goes from Mashed Mackenzie to Scalloped Mackenzie, to Baked Mackenzie, to Mackenzie Au Gratin, to French Fried Mackenzie. And this is the one you latch onto. Somehow it seems the funniest one. Eventually it becomes shortened to French Mackenzie.

Years later you open an e-mail account named French Mackenzie, and start a blog called French Mackenzie, and start calling yourself French Mackenzie online everywhere. Sooner or later, someone's going to say, "What are you, French? Comment allez vous?"

And it's not their fault for thinking that -- it's your fault for picking a name that sounded funny at the time but could be easily misconstrued to be something it's not. Either way, you get sick of explaining the whole thing about the potatoes.

Q. That was baffling. Anyway, I get the gist. You're not Black Fonzie anymore.

A. I'm now going to call this blog Mister Fonzie, and will be using that name as an alter ego online. It's pretty hard to misconstrue that one. And I'm in the process of switching over many of my usernames. But there are some things I just can't switch, because it would be too involved or impossible. So I'll be using both names, but in general trying to use Mister Fonzie wherever I can.

You can still call me whatever. "Black" is Mister Fonzie's first name.

Q. Now I'm really confused. Why don't you just call your blog by your real name?

A. Sit on it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Don't write me in

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I've written here before about what a pain in the ass a presidential campaign is, and about the bizarre nature of third-party candidacies, and about how John McCain's constant splay-fingeredness makes him look like a ghoul. I've been basically implying for a while that I'm not interested in the job. But just so we're absolutely clear, now that America is headed to the polls and you have the write-in option: Don't write me in for president. Please.

I don't want to be the president. Ever. To be perfectly honest, to want to be president you'd have to have a fucking screw loose somewhere.

Yes, that means I think both Barack Obama and John McCain must therefore have a screw loose somewhere. That's right, I said it. Bob Barr and Ralph Nader, too. Quite a few untightened fasteners there, particularly considering their chances. And Ron Paul. Especially Ron Paul.

Listen: As president, you're entire job is to take shit from everyone. That's the whole deal. Taking shit from everyone and having headaches.

You take no end of shit from whatever party you're not in. It's built into the two-party system: it's You and Them. You are not Them. They are not You.

McCain has called Obama everything from "that one" to a terrorist-palling-around-with secret-Muslim Manchurian candidate socialist no-goodnik who faked his birth certificate. If he's elected, Obama can expect things to start getting really nasty. President Bush has been taking shit nonstop for almost eight years, being called everything from mentally disabled to a war criminal -- and while those descriptions might be somewhat apt, it must stink to hear them over and over and over.

You even take shit from people in your own party. Both McCain and Obama have some experience with this, having endured primaries where their party-mates told everyone who would listen that voting for McCain or Obama would be like shooting yourself in the foot, except you can't remove the bullet for another four years -- you'd just have to sit there with a bleeding, throbbing, gangrenous foot until it falls off of its own accord.

As president you take shit from entire countries. That's basically the job. The president is the one guy who we've decided is going to take shit from other nations on behalf of all 300 million Americans. And this shit they're giving us is sometimes grim -- very grim indeed. Imagine being the person who's in charge when the Air Force accidentally bombs a children's hospital in Afghanistan. You can let the pissed-off president of Afghanistan go to voice mail for only so long before it becomes your job, as president, to formulate some kind of tactful reply.

When you're president, everything wrong that happens is your fault -- things that may have nothing to do with you directly. The weather. Too much sex in films. Potholes. Pedophile priests. Lousy housing prices. If it involves America, and it sucks, you did it, pal. Never mind logic. Never mind your dozens of lackeys in the administration who work for you. You did it. The buck stops with you -- every single buck stops with you. That goes for everyone on the planet. If a McDonald's opens too close to the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egyptians are not going to find out who the CEO of McDonald's is, and burn him in effigy. They burn you. You're "close enough."

Sometimes things really are your fault. You approve some stupid decision that seemed like a good idea at the time -- if only to you -- and whole populations end up poor, unemployed, or dead. Which makes the possibility of screwing something up staggeringly high. I prefer jobs with an easily attainable threshold for success. Like being in newspapers. I get a few weeks of vacation every year to do with as I please, weekends off, and as long as every day's newspaper comes out eventually, everyone's a winner.

Everything you do is scrutinized and criticized. Maybe you're too fat. You're too young. Your beard is funny. You drink too much. You're too boring. You're too exciting. Expect to be nagged about those things for the rest of your life. Also, expect nutcases to try to assassinate you, every day, because they're mentally ill and they blame you for their awful, pathetic lives, the same way you're blamed for everything else.

Whoever wins the presidency tonight will inherit a massive debt, huge budget deficits, two wars, crappy infrastructure, an economy one clockwise toilet spiral away from Great Depression II, and about 100 million people furious that McCain didn't win. All this for $400,000 a year plus bennies. And you'll look like a bastard unless you give away your salary to charity. Who willingly applies for a job knowing that it's going to be a major clusterfuck you won't even get paid for? Strange people -- that's who.

You put up with all this nonsense, locked into a four-year contract you can't negotiate with, for nothing except a shot at making a difference in American history. And that's not even guaranteed. Two words for you: Millard Fillmore. Don't use Wikipedia -- name me three reasons why he's important, and one of them cannot be because his name sounds funny.

The one positive thing? You get room and board in a centralized location in a major city. And a maid. Those things would be nice. I'd like that. But I can get them by simply having a good enough job without the hassle of the presidency. And you can too. Kids: if you're reading this, work hard and dream big -- one day you can grow up to not be president, too.

Friday, October 31, 2008

E Pluribus Nougat

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Happy Halloween, everybody. It's a great holiday, candy's nice, everything's fine, blah blah blah, but it's all still not perfect. And I demand perfection from the world.

Since when has nougat been plural?

My wife and I have several bags of candy in the house for trick-or-treaters, mostly leaning toward the miniaturized-chocolate-bar variety. By that, I mean, there are several kinds of Halloween candy: your chalky stuff (SweeTarts), hard stuff (Dum Dum lollipops, butterscotches, hard candies in clear plastic wrappers), chocolate stuff (any bar in the ironically named "fun size"), and stuff that's just meant to be used as space-filler so you can make the expensive candy last the whole night (candy corns, gum, Tootsie Rolls). We mostly leaned toward the chocolate stuff, because in case no kids come by, I'd rather be stuck with a bag of mini Kit-Kats instead of a bag of Starburst.

When we opened a bag of candy to dish it out, I noticed something advertised on the wrapper of the Reese's Fast Break bars: "SOFT NOUGATS."

Nougats? With an S? Hang on. My entire life, it's been just "nougat," singular -- it is supposed to be plural now? Like how "data" used to be plural for "datum" and now "data" is a weird singular-plural hybrid?

Someone's trying to pull something over on me. On us. On the whole nougat-eating world.

Frankly I couldn't even tell you what the fuck nougat is. It's gooey and beige, right? Made with some sort of sugar? Tastes good? But so then the stuff inside a Three Musketeers, for instance, would be just "nougat." But if you remove the chocolate from the bar (you let the chocolate bar sit in your mouth for a few hours until it all melts off, let's say), what you're left with is a bar of nougat. Not nougats. Surely not. When you pour a glass of milk, you're pouring milk -- not putting a whole bunch of milks in a glass.

Hold on -- if there's an answer to a stupid pop culture question, the answer has to be in Wikipedia.

OK, I'm back, and my suspicion was correct -- nougat is "is a term used to describe a variety of similar confectioneries made with sugar or honey, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios or hazelnuts are common, but not peanuts) and sometimes chopped candied fruit." Fruit? There's fruit nougat? I'm going to have to research this later, but let's move on for now.

"There are two basic kinds of nougat: white and brown. White nougat is made with beaten egg whites and is soft, whereas brown nougat (called nougatine in French) is made with caramelized sugar and has a firmer, often crunchy texture."

So maybe the answer is that both varieties of nougat are contained in the Reese's Fast Break. Possible, I suppose. But perhaps not. Check this description of the Fast Break out on Hershey's Website:

"Creamy REESE'S peanut butter and nougat covered in delicious milk chocolate."

See? Nougat. Singular nougat. Not a bunch of nougats. That's just bizarre.

Hershey's: If you're out there, send me a correction. I want to know which nougat conjugation is correct. I'm a copy editor, you know. We're persnickety bastards. And send me some more Fast Breaks. I need to dissect a few (orally) for research into Nougat-gate 2008.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nacho average s'mores

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We here at the IBARF -- the Institute for Bizarre and Revolting Foods, my own private research facility dedicated to the scientific study of weird foodstuffs -- have taken on very many challenges over the years. I once willingly had Coke with "coffee essence" in it. I even drank a caffeinated beer.

Those were easy to dismiss. Not as easy is my latest find: S'mores flavored tortilla chips.

They're from Archer Farms, which is the slightly-more-upscale house brand at Target. The hay-chewing, overalls-wearing owner of Archer Farms doesn't muck around with cows, unless it's to borrow a bit of skim for his rosemary and olive oil artisan bread.

Anyway, back to the S'mores chips. Upon first seeing them on the shelf, my wife and I recoiled visibly. S'mores chips? Made of corn? We found the idea not just unpalatable, but somehow offensive to our ethics and values. A s'more is graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows -- sneaking any nachos anywhere in there is not cool. Not. Cool.

Pepper, cheese, garlic, sour cream, ketchup, barbecue sauce -- these are chip flavors. Not goddam s'mores. I just couldn't even conceive of what they'd be like. Neither could a lady walking by who nodded when I accidentally shouted, "What kind of a fucking numbskull came up with THIS bullshit idea?"

My next sentence was: "Let's buy some."

I don't know what it is, but every time I see some weird snack food, my first impulse is to express horror and disgust. The next is to buy it, thus spending money on the product I'm 99% sure will be disgusting, and confirming some accountant's theory that they can sell any piece of shit to any moron who comes walking by. Do you think the CEO of Archer Farms (I picture a weathered old midwestern guy in oil-stained flannel sitting on a handmade porch swing with his wife, whom he calls "mother," looking out over a field of alfalfa) cares if he sells chips because someone bought them out of irony? Does he really care if s'mores are supposed to be made with graham crackers, not corn? Nope -- he comes up with a flavor, makes it last 10 months in the bag, slaps a label and a $3 price tag on it, and calls it a day. He makes a lot of money, this guy. He's one smart son of a bitch.

Regardless of why we bought them, my wife and I couldn't wait until we got into the sterilized confines of the IBARF tasting lab to start our research. We ate the S'mores chips in the car (the IBARF Annex).

Here are our findings:

- Visuals: Most chips are covered in delicious colors like orange, yellow, green, and red. These chips are covered in brown stuff. I know delicious things come in brown, too, like fudge and steak, but I'm just not used to brown things in chip form. It takes a minute to get used to the idea.

My favorite part of the bag is where it describes the S'mores chips as "authentic-style." Authentic s'mores nacho chips? Authentic to who?

- Bouquet: They smell like marshmallows. And corn. I normally don't smell those things in the same place. Call me old-fashioned.

- Tactile response: Good news! You don't get a lot of brown stuff stuck to your fingers when you handles the S'mores chips. Like you would with Cheetle. Because if you had brown fingers, sucking them and smearing them all over your pants and shirt, people might get the wrong idea.

- Auditory reaction: They crunch pretty much like your standard nacho chip. A molecule-thin gooey marshmallow center in every chip would've been nice to add a bit of softness, but to be honest I don't think chip technology is that advanced yet.

- Flavor: Now the big test. They're not exactly sweet, and they're not salty at all. There's a slight taste of chocolate and even slighter whisper of marshmallow, and only the barest hint of graham cracker flavor, though that may have just been wishful thinking. Mostly what you taste is corn. A mouthful of corn. Imagine a handful of unsalted Fritos dipped in cocoa powder and you've got the gist of it.

That's not to say they were horrible. Almost any snack could be improved by dipping it in cocoa powder. Take an apple. Ho hum. Now smother that apple in rich milk chocolate and you've got my attention. Add a layer of marshmallow Fluff and I'll give you a big wet kiss. Now chuck out the apple and add some graham crackers and you've got the perfect snack. Which is pretty much how the s'mores corn chips worked: Not bad, except for that business with the corn chips.

We still ate them, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


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This is the definition of "domestication": If my dogs didn't have me around, they wouldn't last an hour.

What do I mean by that? If the gate to the backyard is ever left open, they'd run out -- probably right into the traffic, where they'd be smooshed by a car within minutes. If we didn't keep the knives in the knife block, they'd eat them, for no other reason than they look interesting. If my wife wasn't there to pull knots of pillow stuffing out of their assholes when they've torn up their beds, they'd get some kind of obstruction.

Or, Stanley ate a bunch of tarps. Disposable plastic tarps. We had a bag of them, and he took them out and started chewing them and dragging them all over the house. Since when are plastic tarps delicious? Why tarps? It's like a kid playing with a plastic laundry bag.

Latest thing: I'm in the living room, and I hear Myrna in the dining room rolling on her back on the carpet. She does that -- I have no idea why. Then, a few minutes later, she's softly whining. She does that too, so I ignore it. Maybe 20 minutes go by, and I get up and happen to pass the dining room.

Myrna had somehow gotten her collar stuck into the rug. She can't get out, because it's hooked in there good, and she's lying there with a corner of the rug folded over her face. She's just stuck there, on her side, looking pretty much resigned to the fact that she's never getting up again. You could see her giving up. As in: That's it -- I live like this now. I used to be able to walk once, but now I have a rug on my face.

I didn't have the presence of mind to take a picture of this -- I just unhooked her collar, and she ran off and did something else boneheaded where we had to save her from certain doom.

You ever see those YouTube videos where a dog gets a box stuck on his head? I can't stand to watch those things for more than a few seconds -- they freak me out. That's why this one lasts less than a minute, and the dog gets it off.

For balance, this is a person who gets her head stuck in a desk. It's not clear by the end of the video what happens. Kid might still be there for all I know, eating through a straw.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crepes, crap, and dead turkeys: A weekend in Bar Harbor

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I'm back from a few days vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine. Many local T-shirts and license plates, straining for a joke to the point where one can hear tendons pop, write it out quote-unquote humorously as "Ba Ha Ba." I did not hear a single Bar Harbornian pronounce it that way. Not even the guy at the Internet cafe with the greasy black and gray beard who looked vaguely pirateish.

My wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast that sucked at half of that description. The room was fantastic, with a working fireplace and a four-poster king-sized bed, one poster of which came up straight in front of the TV but whatever. The person who had the room before us left half a Rolaids wrapper and a lady's belt in the room, so if there's someone out there with a sour stomach and her pants around her ankles, get in touch.

On a 1-to-10 scale of being appalled, 1 being slightly appalled and 10 being so appalled that the nerves behind your eyes ache and one or two of your heart's ventricles spasm and turn black, the inn's breakfast rated a 9.97. I'm taking back 0.03 points since it seemed to be made of something that had once been food. The rest of the score? Because they're awful cooks and don't give a shit about dietary restrictions.

The first morning, they gave my wife and I a plate heaped with potatoes but only the barest whisper of bacon, all smothered in green onions and yellow onions. The next course was an enormous omelette made with what looked like 7 eggs, stuffed with undercooked mushrooms, yellowish water, and for variety, more onions. A quick run over to my local science lab confirmed that this water was a brackish mix of mushroom fluid because they weren't cooked properly, and trace amounts of raw egg. The entire travesty was topped with more onions. Apparently a sale on onions in Bar Harbor that week.

The innkeeper lady said good morning to another woman sitting at the table, who was a vegetarian, and said, "I know you left a note saying you don't eat eggs, but..." Then she gave her an omelette. The innkeeper said she could either eat it or there was "toast and I think Frosted Mini-Wheats?" The guest picked the toast but left before she could eat it, saying she was going to take a shower to wash off the stink of utter failure.

My wife can't eat wheat or nuts, so we left a note saying that if they didn't want a mess on their hands, perhaps they should avoid making anything with wheat or nuts. We wondered later that day, whilst hiking around the hills and carriage trails of Acadia National Park, how exactly they'd fuck that up. I decided they'd make pancakes. My wife picked "nutty muffins."

I won -- we had crepes. They were stuffed with either yogurt or sour cream or shaving cream. It was hard to tell over all the raspberry jam. Basically, a fancy-ass Pop Tart.

As I was gloating over my crepe victory, laughing hysterically and spewing raspberry seeds over the fine china, and my wife shoveled in only the onion-potato hash, I began to notice the faintest rumblings inside my stomach. These rumblings, as we left the breakfast table, were but the first inklings of a great tsunami -- yes, a storm of acid and shit, a storm of horrific proportion gathering speed and mass inside me. Minutes later I rolled about on the nice marble floor of the bathroom, head hitting the Jacuzzi, cursing the innkeepers for poisoning me, then for forgetting to give us any toilet paper -- and we had just used the last of the free packet of tissues.

I'm not going to explain how I escaped that predicament, but suffice it to say it was a long 6-hour car ride back home, most of it doubled over in pain with one eye on patches of thick brush along 95 south in case of emergency.

I don't ask for much in an inn, but toilet paper would be one of those few things. Food that doesn't try to kill me or my wife would be another. It's the basics of B&B ownership, really: don't poison your customers and make sure they can wipe their asses.

Moving swiftly along, a couple more random thoughts from our Bar Harbor weekend:

- Big high-five to Nature for being really cool. Well played, sky and trees and stuff. Well played.

- Climbing mountains is tough. If you ever find yourself near one, find some way around it.

- That's why Cadillac Mountain is nice. You can drive to the top. They take busloads of seniors up there all the time. You think those old farts would get there under their own power? It'd be a massacre. There'd be stacks of dead elderly people and broken wheelchairs four and five deep around the base.

- You can't throw a handful of dirt in Bar Harbor without hitting someone in the tourist trade raving about the "tea and popovers on the lawn" at Jordan Pond House. Don't believe it. It's a ripoff. A popover is basically pancake mix baked in a muffin tin filled with air until it's burnt. Tea is tea. The lawn? It's cold out there.

- As for the rest of their menu, it's mostly overpriced frozen food served to blue-hairs. Wish I could put it more tactfully than that, but if you'd seen the rice they gave me you'd be livid.

- Not all the food was bad. We had a couple of dinners that were mind-blowing. One was at a Cuban place, where I had my first mojito. Great, except for all the shredded mint that gets stuck in your teeth like you've been gargling with a kale smoothie. The other was at a Mexican place -- they gave us what looked like an entire bag of nachos just for showing up, the way most restaurants give out free bread. We ate the entire basket of chips.

- Acadia National Park is probably the most organized, best-run park I've ever seen. It's the model for every national park. You thinking of starting a national park? See how Acadia does it.

- Bar Harbor needs more geocaches. There are a few, but a place that pretty should be teeming with them. You should be tripping over geocache ammo boxes in the town square. If you live in Bar Harbor and you're into geocaches, get on this.

- At least three times, all by accident, I saw a TV show where people shot turkeys for fun. The camera was bolted down, pointed at a field. Then these turkeys would come wandering out, because some hunter would use a turkey call to essentially trick them into thinking there was some hot turkey love out there. The male turkeys went strutting out into a field, feathers up and chest out, by a statue of a female turkey, as a hunter offscreen squawked the turkey call, which in turkish meant something like, "Uh-oh, the plumbing just broke and here I am, getting ready for a shower with my girlfriend." Just as I was thinking, "Wow, look at the plumage on that bird, they're really amaz--" the hunter would blast them to pieces. Then they'd run over and start checking out their feet. "Lookit the spurs on that one!" one hunter said, holding out the legs and massive claws, breathing heavily as if he'd just escaped danger. It was sort of like watching a slasher film from the '80s, where the horniest teenagers always met the most gruesome fate and the moral of the story was sex = death.

- I bring that up because we don't have hunting shows where I am. Actually, they sort of do, like "Law & Order" and "CSI," but they hunt people instead.

- We're probably going again next year so my wife can run the Mount Desert Island Marathon. We've already decided: next time, no crepes.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Thunder from Down Under across the river

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For those who might be about to rock, I ask you: Is AC/DC secretly planning to bring its latest North American tour to Somerset? Because seriously, I'm starting to wonder.

These are the facts: A few weeks ago I hear that AC/DC is planning to drunkenly grope its way through North America on its Black Ice tour. So being a connoisseur of the cock-rock genre, I try to buy tickets online. I quickly realize that it will require a massive outlay of cash, on the order of $300 plus, just so I and my wife can perch in the rafters of Boston's FleetCenter straining through opera glasses to see, across a vast chasm of screaming, pot-stinking, mulleted humanity, what looks like a 50-something-year-old near-dwarf strip off a schoolboy outfit to Union Jack tighties, playing songs I already have on my iPod while my wife tries to occupy herself with a magazine. No, I didn't get the tickets.

Later, I get an email. It's from AC/DC. Not personally or whatever -- most likely AC/DC's fall semester intern. This is what the message says:

"On October 26 , AC/DC will roll into an East Coast town under the cover of night and rock a secret club show to get the tour started right and they want their biggest fans to be there with them, stomping feet, pumping fists and straining vocal chords with each beat of the drum. ... This contest is for members of the AC/DC Fan Club only."

I think no more of it -- East Coast is sort of a big place. It could be anywhere from Deer Island to Tallahassee. Then yesterday, I'm driving through Somerset and gas up the car near the Quality Inn and see this sign:

"Welcome ACDC"?

"Welcome ACDC"?

Could it be that AC/DC?

I've been going mental ever since. All the pieces fit. AC/DC said their secret concert would be on the East Coast. Somerset is on the East Coast. Wikipedia says Somerset's nickname is "Musictown." The stuff AC/DC plays could most likely be classified as music. So there's that.

Also, Somerset just got a Chili's a few years ago. Just went the other day. They have pretty good fries -- possibly good enough to travel from Australia for?

I've never been in the Quality Inn before -- frankly I have no fucking clue who the clientele is at any local hotel besides hookers and the odd traveling salesman -- but the place looks small from the outside. They do have a "hot breakfast buffet," but what other amenities does it have? Could it even hold an AC/DC concert? Where would they put the cannons? And the giant inflatable naked fat lady? Could its walls contain the sheer amount of testosterone at such an event? Or would they have to move it to the Venus?

What else could "Welcome ACDC" mean, except that Angus and the lads will be in Somerset? Possibly duck-walking into the Stop & Shop for a last-minute Fiji Water before they tear the Quality Inn lounge to shreds?

I'm dying to know, but I'm afraid to call the Quality Inn and ask what's up. I may try a secret coded message -- like, "I'd like to inquire if Rosie is available for the 26th," or maybe, "I'd like a room on the upper-most floor. Is it a long way to the top?" They probably wouldn't tell me anyway. I'm sure AC/DC has sworn to secrecy the manager, front desk personnel, and the cat who sticks the magnetic letters on the sign outside.

Are you AC/DC's fall semester intern? Do you know him/her? Get in touch. Let me know what's going on, and I swear I won't blow your cover. I just want to make sure that if I show up outside the Quality Inn on the 26th in my AC/DC T-shirt, schoolboy blazer, and shortpants, I won't look like a moron.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stupid shit that happens: Coming soon

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You know what? I should write here more often about stupid shit that happens. I only post stuff on here once in a while, and I feel neglectful, like I have this nice website and everything, infinite amount of space, and I'm not filling it with all the sheer tonnage of stupid shit that happens. So starting today, I'm going to try to write a little something at least every couple of days, to record some stupid shit that happens.

It may not be pretty. Stupid shit rarely is. But where else can stupid shit go, if not here? In my job as a news editor, I come across appalling amounts of stupid shit every single day, and I can't do a thing with it. Time was, the newspaper was big enough for me to sow it around willy-nilly. Not anymore. I just see scads of stupid shit all day with no way to evacuate it. I don't have a sewage system for stupid shit -- I don't have a way to flush it out of my life and have it vanish into the ocean to become fishfood. Instead, stupid shit just falls out everywhere as it happens. And I just leave it there, piles of stupid shit all over the floor that I slip around in and accidentally track onto the carpet until there's pretty much just stupid shit wherever I look, stinking up the place, when I should be sharing it with you.

So here's some stupid shit I came across today that you may enjoy! Look forward to more in the future!

German snuff-sniffing competition goes wrong when people end up with Hitler mustaches

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A little less conversation, a little more urination

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I'm fed up with people who think they can chat with me while I'm pissing.

Just so we're clear: If you enter a public bathroom and it so happens I'm in front of the urinal in a state of address, and it's clear I'm pissing, I am officially too busy to talk to you. I'm pissing. Catch up with you once I'm done.

We're all adults here, and during your bog-standard bathroom break I think we can both safely endure a temporary span of silence long enough for me to piss. I also don't want to make eye contact with you. I'm pissing. I can see enough of you out of the corner of my eye thanks to the miracle of nature that is peripheral vision. I am likewise too busy to nod at you and/or mouth the word "Hi." If indeed I'm pissing, then that requires a small amount of concentration which I'd rather not divide between pissing and greeting.

If I'm pissing, I do not want to answer the question: "How you doing?" I'm evacuating my bladder -- that's how I'm doing.

And I'm tired of answering "Fine." It only encourages you to continue the conversation. Maybe if I start being perfectly honest with you, you'll leave me alone to finish pissing. Maybe I should say: "Well, I was sort of uncomfortable a minute ago because my bladder was full. Now that's easing up a bit because I'm draining the urine from my bladder through my penis into this receptacle." What would you rather have: silence, or that?

Listen: I'm not an old man with prostate problems -- I'm a young, vibrant man who can start pissing and finish pissing in 30 seconds. Sixty if I've had a lot of coffee, tops. The answer to how I'm doing can surely wait until then. I'm not going to stun you with any wisdom anyway. I'm going to say, "Fine," regardless of whether I'm micturating or not, so why not wait until I've finished relieving myself and put my private part safely back in my jeans?

If I'm not OK with you asking How I'm Doing, then I certainly don't want to discuss how my day is going, what my commute is like, what I think of some sports team, or what I've got planned for the weekend. Before you ask me any of these questions or any others, first take a moment to decide if you absolutely need to interrupt the confidential act of pissing, or if we can stand there in silence for a while until it's done.

Not that I don't want to make conversation. Whatever. I'm just saying, there's a reason why human beings go away from the rest of functioning society and withdraw to small, often-locked rooms when they must piss. You might even say pissing is private! Yet because we operate in a world where we have communal bathrooms, people are forced to endure a small invasion of privacy for the sake of efficiency. Let's not make pissing in a public bathroom any more invasive than it already is by inquiring, while I have my cock out, what I'm having for lunch or which highway exit I take to get to the office.

So the rule: When I'm pissing, there is to be no talking, no nodding, no eye contact, no communication of any kind. Let me go about my business for half a minute. When I've zipped up, talk all you like.

Is it because the partitions between most urinals only go up to the shoulder? So you can see my face? Is that what encourages you to try to engage me in a dialogue while I'm pissing, the facial contact? Because those partitions are there, as far as I know, to prevent you from seeing my penis. But you're understanding them as an obstacle to be overcome via chit-chat. Wrong-o. Maybe we need to build higher partitions that reach up past the head -- I don't know, I'm just trying to cover all the bases.

One possible exception -- probably the only one -- is if there's a fire in the building or some kind of catastrophe that requires my immediate attention. If I'm pissing and you burst into the bathroom to check if people are in there because everyone has to evacuate, you may turn toward the nearest wall and address me thus: "Um, excuse me. There's kind of a fire in the building and people have to leave." And then go away. Save yourself! Don't attempt to rescue me! I'll finish pissing, shake off, flush, wash my hands, and then make for the nearest fire exit. I'll be just a few seconds -- unless the flames are licking around my feet, I think I can withstand the inferno long enough to shake off and wash, thanks.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Overheard assholes: "Bills"

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"More bills! I got more bills! I pay bills all the time! I pay my bills — I pay everybody's bills!"

— crazy lady who lives in my wife's grandmother's building,
muttering to anybody listening

Friday, August 29, 2008

People on TV don't just contract herpes out of the blue unless it benefits the plot somehow

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Ross. Rachel. Barney Fife. Dr. House. Mr. Furley. Mr. Roper. Voltron. Eddie Haskell. Lovey Howell. Potsie. Punky. Punky's "dad" or whatever. Mr. Drummond. Isaac. Doc. Captain Stubing. Kramer. Barney and Betty. Optimus Prime. Megatron. Gargamel. Samantha. Jeannie. Majors Nelson or Healy. Lou Grant. Bob Newhart. Darryl. Darryl. Lt. Columbo. Buffy. Trapper and/or BJ. Theo. Rudy. The fat quiet kid from next door to the Cosbys. The fat quiet kid's fat quiet father. None of these fictional characters has ever -- and I stress EVER -- contracted herpes for no reason, unless it benefited the plot in some way.

I have not seen, and I feel confident in saying I will never, ever see, a rerun of "Golden Girls" where Blanche tells Rose over their morning coffee that "the basement storage unit is on fire" because she contracted herpes from some younger man she met and had elderly-person intercourse with -- and then Rose grimaces briefly, says some snappy comeback, the studio audience chuckles, and we move on with the rest of the episode nonchalantly without reference ever again to the herpes. It will simply never occur.

I will never turn on my television to see Scully pause while leafing through a manila file folder to wiggle uncomfortably in her chair with one hand discreetly out of sight -- and Mulder will never say, "Something the matter?" and Scully will not reply, "Nothing. Just my herpes flaring up. It'll pass." Never. Not unless the herpes came from an alien and they are investigating this.

Timmy never took Lassie down to the drugstore to fetch his herpes medication. Not even once. And the people behind "Lassie" would never have written such a story unless Timmy's having contracted herpes became integral to the dramatic resolution of the story. Timmy obtained the wrong medicine, let's say -- something dangerous. And he took that instead of his herpes pills. He collapses on the walk home, foaming a bit at the corners of his mouth and convulsing. And Lassie has to fetch help. That might work. But it would be a stretch, narrative-wise.

Nor will I ever, if I live to be a million years old, ever see an old Warner Bros. cartoon where Wile E. Coyote gets a delivery of Acme Herpes Ointment, steps modestly behind a desert rock, appears to apply the herpes ointment liberally to his groin, wipes the excess ointment off his paws onto his thighs, then continues in his latest unsuccessful attempt to catch the Road Runner. Only would this happen if it was necessary to continue the story. Maybe he's trying to lasso the Road Runner and the greasiness from having herpes ointment on his paws makes the rope slip through his fingers. Even then, one might argue why this particular turn of the plot requires Wile E. Coyote to have contracted herpes in the first place -- why isn't the condition he's treating eczema, for instance? Why specifically herpes? Who gave it to him, and how does this affect the nature of his character?

But I can pretty much guarantee it will never, in the history of narrative art, ever happen. I swear, it's not going to happen. Even if they start making new Road Runner cartoons.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How to be a healthy man: 3 quick tips

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* according to the May 2007 issue of Men's Health magazine, which I was stuck reading cover-to-cover in my barber's waiting room in July 2008 (and yes, I'm aware of the significant time discrepancy there).

You are a man! Unless you're a woman. But otherwise, you are a man! But if only men knew how to behave. Someday, we'll invent a male-mother-type person who will provide a good example for you as you grow older. Until then, Men's Health magazine fills in that crucial void between infancy and adulthood where you have no idea how to express your masculinity beyond the usual way (into an old sock).

These are three actual tips on maleness and health, according to Men's Health, May 2007:

1. Buy a cow.

Presumably you have to eat every day, right? And you eat only cow meat, right? Except for vegetarians and people with heart conditions and people who tend to eat balanced diets? But let's not confuse the issue -- you eat only cow meat. According to Men's Health, May 2007, the most economical way to feed yourself is to "buy your own cow."

It's not as weird as it sounds. The rest of the article doesn't suggest keeping livestock yourself. That would just be crazy! No, you're advised by Men's Health, May 2007, to get together with several other cow-meat-loving men (presumably middle-manager-in-finance types also in Men's Health's demographic) and all pool your money together to buy a cow from a local farm. Then you have it killed to provide all of you with cow-meat steaks. One way to kill the cow would be to read to it from Men's Health, May 2007, until it dies of boredom.

It's simple and economical! In fact, cow-meat steaks of the grade that you, as a middle-manager-in-finance reading Men's Health, would normally eat cost about $9 a pound in the grocery store. Buying your own cow costs "$2.69 a pound."

2. Hire the right person for the job.

If you're in a middle-managerial sort of position in finance, it's a bit scary conducting job interviews, isn't it? You're holding someone's career and potentially your own and the fate of your company in your hands. This person across the gray conference table from you has a family, or may be starting one, and has an entire life of experiences beyond your conference room. Will he show up on time? Will he be ambitious, or just slide by? How much can you really know a person, based on a simple resume and half-hour chat? How will you be sure this person will be good for your company?

Fuck that shit. Here's what Men's Health, May 2007, says about hiring people:

"He smiles way too much. What's he smiling about? Is he listening to some sardonic voice that only he can hear? ... One day, when the stakes are high, this greasy stoat will rear up on his hind legs and hurt you, unless you strike him down first."

Good to know! You might also want to force your interviewee's arm behind his back until it pops out of his shoulder joint, then when he's on the floor writhing in pain, urinate on him. That should illustrate your company's management structure.

3. Respect the ladies.

No matter what you may think, Mr. Middle-Manager-in-Finance-at-whom-Men's-Health-is-Pitched: women are not just a collection of hard-to-reach spots guaranteed to make her beg for more when you interact with them (i.e., the spots). Women are not just high-maintenance shrews so emotionally devious that you need a columnist's advice to keep their high-flown wedding plans at bay. Women are not just put on God's green earth to prance around in a bikini, selling you expensive vodka.

Women are also smart! It's very, very weird but true! Men's Health, May 2007, has the science to back it up. This is a quote:

"A woman's brain is, in fact, roughly 10 percent smaller than a man's."


"But ... women's brains contain the same number of neurons; they're just packaged together more firmly and tightly, like breasts in a bustier."

Women's personalities, it should be noted, are also pretty much like men's personalities, except they're longer and shaplier in the calf and thigh areas -- and their hopes and fears are the same, too, just much more pinchable and they tend to sculpt their pubic regions.

Using these quick tips, it should be fairly easy to go from simply having a penis, a Y chromosome, and an asshole with hair on it to being a healthy man in American society today. That said, please direct all complaints to: Men's Health.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Overheard Assholes: "Flip-flops"

Like it? 
"I could run faster in flip-flops."

-- woman, talking to her husband,
waiting to watch their daughter run by
in the Vermont City Marathon

Monday, July 07, 2008

I give the humans from "WALL-E" two hard winters before they resort to cannibalism

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I'm sorry, everyone, but the human beings at the end of Disney Pixar's "WALL-E" are totally fucked. There's just no getting around it. No happy ending.

You probably shouldn't read on if you haven't seen the film, because this pretty much spoils the whole movie, but let's face it -- you're going to read on anyway. I'll recap the film and its ending briefly, using big words in the beginning so kids won't know what I'm talking about, and they'll get bored and leave:

In the not-too-distant future, Earth has become so clotted with the detritus of unfettered capitalism that the biosphere has become unsustainable for all flora and fauna. So there's goddam garbage all over the place. So all the humans bugger off into space temporarily while robots attempt to dispose of all the trash. WALL-E is, 700 years later, the only futuristic Roomba left still cleaning the planet. He's cute and diligent and has a great personality. All the humans have become morbidly obese, sedentary blobs living on what's essentially a cruise ship in space. They eat everything through a straw and move about only on hovering chairs, their limbs reduced to pudgy flippers. Then a bunch of cartoony shit happens. Eventually, the humans discover they can return to Earth because they found a plant that's still able to grow in the toxic soil and atmosphere. The end shows thousands of dimwitted, porcine people landing on the planet and cheering humanity's triumphant return to Earth, even though the planet is still brown-yellow with ash and grime and covered in skyscraper-tall piles of crap as far as we can see, because their brilliant plan to clean it all up didn't work.

One of the main human characters buries the plant in the harsh, unforgiving soil, waters it, and proclaims that he's teaching the rest of the population something called "farming." "We can grow pizza!" he says. Everyone cheers. It's a really cute scene.

I was thinking:

"You will all be cannibals inside two harsh winters."

Here's why.

1. The plant doesn't even look like a vegetable. In fact, the plant that gave everyone hope that living things could survive on Earth looks suspiciously like ivy. Try getting a decent snack out of it -- never mind a meal.

2. There are wicked bad duststorms every few days. The movie shows them happening a few times: horrific roars of sand and dirt and debris whipping across the blasted landscape. Combine that with slow-moving pudgy people and a fragile ivy plant with something like three leaves left on it growing in parched soil, and there's just no good news I can give you.

3. The humans haven't learned a fucking thing. In fact, the filthy swine who left the planet in such awful condition have only gotten worse as the movie goes on. We see them in space consuming more crap than ever before and making more garbage than ever before and chucking it out the back of the spaceship while the autopilot robots presumably check the rearview mirrors for state troopers. Most humans don't even realize, while they're floating around in the giant cruise ship, that they're living near other people, for Chrissake. You think they're suddenly going to band together to clean up 1,000-foot-high pillars of crushed metal and possibly toxic waste?

4. The humans think pizza grows from plants. Screwed. They're all screwed.

5. There are no other animals on the planet besides people and one cockroach. So there's no source of protein other than the cockroach and their own flesh. You see some fish in the closing credits, but who knows where the fuck they came from? There are no cows, no chickens, no livestock of any kind. Either they'd have to synthesize their own milk in their now-docked cruise liner, or people will be eating that pizza with human boob cheese.

6. They're too obese to work more than a few minutes at a time. You ever see a farmer who couldn't stand up because he was too fat? You ever see a longshoreman who couldn't walk a few feet without breathing problems? The humans in "WALL-E" look about 400 to 450 pounds each, maybe even bigger. They're going to put in a decent day's hard labor, tilling poisoned soil and desalinating water to quench the thirst of that parched ivy plant that won't even bear any fruit? Most will die of heart attacks and/or starvation and/or crime first.

7. The humans are plump, juicy, and boneless -- and plentiful. In a particularly chilling scene for a kids' cartoon, the former president warns that humans living for hundreds of years in low-gravity conditions can expect some "bone loss." This leaves behind a race of people that is fatty, meaty, and has few bones -- essentially, humanity is a spicy breading away from being buffalo wings. After a few months of ivy-and-dust goulash, living on a planet completely dead of all other life, with no culture or art left, very little in the way of entertainment, and no food, I'm sorry but the people are going to start looking at each other's round, firm hocks and tender flanks with moist mouths. After maybe half another season of a collective, unspoken, "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" the people will almost certainly begin to club each other over the head with the nearest bit of debris and harvest them for fillets and sirloins. They'd be smart to start with the older ones first. They'll realize they have an abundant supply but a necessarily dwindling supply, then establish some sort of organized farming-and-bartering system. It won't be a pretty picture once that system begins to break down, as it must inevitably do, by -- what else? -- a return of the old capitalist ideas of elitism and social inequality, because some people will be bred to be the eaters and farmers while others will be bred to be breaded. It'll be ugly indeed. Sort of like "The Road." But then after a few years, all that'll be left will be a few hardscrabble boneless obese insane creatures barely recognizable as once having been human living in whatever garbage shelter they can find until they either die of disease or malnutrition or by becoming someone else's nutrition, and then all the humans will be effectively gone -- which leaves our heroes WALL-E and EVE (remember them?) to live on into eternity without care, happily ever after!
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