Monday, December 28, 2009

Overheard Assholes: "You do what you gotta do"

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GUY 1: "So they make you have, like, gay sex or something like that?"

GUY 2: "Well, you know, you do what you gotta do to pay the bills. Like that kid -- what's his name. The one who does all the gay stuff."

-- two men talking
at a Borders bookstore
about Guy 2's military service

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stanley eats a marshmallow

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No purpose really, other than he looks cute eating marshmallows.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Overheard Assholes: "Security guard"

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"Have you ever seen even a slightly attractive security guard?"

"No -- American social ranking would never let that happen."

-- two men in business suits
walking through an office building lobby
just past the security guard station

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More plastic wrap than the human mind can comfortably perceive

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The waiting is over -- the anticipation, the suspense, the worry. My wife and I finally got to the end of our colossal roll of plastic wrap.

We've had this roll of plastic wrap for a long time. At least 5 years. I remember packing it with us when we moved out of our last apartment and into our house, and we've been here for ages now. It may have even been with us in the apartment before that.

No surprise, either, and we're not stingy with plastic wrap -- it was just a big roll. One of those jumbo rolls you get for restaurants or catering companies. Two thousand square feet of plastic wrap. More than the living space in many people's homes.

I don't remember where we bought the damn thing. The brand is "Executive Choice," which is pleasant to say. It's got that ironically highbrow name common to so many off-brand products, as if men and women with dark suits and gleaming hair and briefcases and Audis and foreign help and six-figure salaries pick this and only this kind of plastic wrap to pack their spoiled, sullen, entitled children's sandwiches when they go off to their academy for the day. They wouldn't let the neighbors catch them dead with Reynolds in the kitchen -- using Executive Choice plastic wrap is just one of the many perks when you're an engine of the American economy.

So but anyway, we had this massive roll of plastic wrap for years until today, when my wife used the last of it. We were not dreading the end, because we knew we had another big-sized roll of plastic wrap "somewhere in the closet." This is what happens when you buy things in bulk -- you end up with massive quantities of staple goods "somewhere in the closet." We weren't sure the size or brand or what have you -- we were just always sure that there was more plastic wrap somewhere on hand if we needed it.

We took out the replacement plastic wrap today and only really looked at it for the first time since we got it. It's bigger than we remember. Huge. It's huger than huge -- it's fucking enormous. You ready for the pictures?

You thought we had a lot of plastic wrap before, kid? This one measures 18 inches by 2,000 feet -- that's 3,000 square feet of clingy plastic film. That's 0.07 of an acre.

I don't remember where the hell we got this one, either. It's not even Executive Choice. It's "AEP Food Service Film." No pretentiousness. This is industrial-grade PVC film. No pretty colors on the box, no illustrations of sandwiches or salads. Where the hell would we have picked this up? I've never owned a restaurant. I may have gotten it from my dad, who has been known to pilfer things from companies he's worked for when they're not looking, like cartons of paper clips, buffet-length tables, and computers.

We can't even fit the roll of plastic wrap in our kitchen drawers. Both of us stared at it, stunned, and my wife started muttering that she has to rearrange the cupboards under the sink.

I guess we wrap a lot of food. I plan on using it to wrap sandwiches for work. Often I take two sandwiches at a time, so that'll help. Maybe we'll cover a roast chicken. Those can be kind of big sometimes. It's not inconceivable that I could cover my entire yard with it, like a big glaze, or pave over the driveway so I don't have to shovel when it snows -- I can just lift up the plastic wrap and I have a fresh, clean driveway underneath it. Hell, winter's coming. Why not?

Monday, September 21, 2009

'Mitch Mitch bo-bitch...'

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Sorry I've been away for a while. I've been trying to post interesting stuff, but time keeps slipping away from me. Won't happen again. Who am I kidding? Of course it'll happen again! If I post again before the year is out, it'll be a miracle.

Anyhoo, what lured me back was a story about spotted dick that I read recently (and talked about on a little bizarre-news podcast I co-host). You know spotted dick, right? It's a kind of British suet and raisin pudding they keep in the foreign-food aisle of the grocery store. It's usually right next to the Cadbury chocolate fingers. A spotted dick is always accompanied by a chocolate finger, in fact.

The Daily Mail et al. have reported that a council in north Wales has renamed spotted dick "spotted Richard" because of "childish comments." The nerve!

This story struck me because I've long suggested that people and things with goofy names should change them. Either that or don't complain when people make jokes.

Consider the spotted dick. According to several stories I read, the "dick" in the name isn't eponymous. No one named Dick invented it, and it's not named after a polka-dotted cock. It's probably a bastardization of the word "dough." How the English got "dick" from "dough" is tantalizingly unclear and fascinating -- because it's not as if they use the word "dick" to describe any other dough. Pizza recipes don't call for the dick to be rolled out flat on an oiled board. Bread makers don't suggest adding a sprinkling of extra flour if your dick has gone mushy. But somehow it's come to pass. We're dealing with a culture, the English, where "tea" is a meal and "apples" means "stairs."

However "dough" became "dick," it's dick we're left with nonetheless when spotted and in pudding form. And for years it was fine because the dick didn't ring any alarm bells -- people just ate spotted dick after spotted dick thinking, innocent as lambs, "I like pudding." Fine. Years went by and it became weirder and weirder, until today, on 21st century planet Earth -- here, the term "spotted dick" means the fleshy bit that swings between a male leopard's hind legs. Or perhaps "spotted dick" is a phrase used by horrified ladies to explain to police that they've just seen a flasher.

My point is, I think it's wonderful the council changed the name to "spotted Richard." Sorry, but the rest of society thinks of a penis when they hear the word "dick." Suggesting the overwhelming majority people with a sense of humor not make jokes about the name is being unreasonably uptight. And continuing to name the product "spotted dick" in the face of overwhelming social consensus that "dick" means "penis" and not "dough" is being willfully contrary. If you develop a new variety of apple and on a whim decide to call it "ass fruit," expect people to think it has something to do with ass. That's life.

I don't stop there. Anyone with any weird, profane, or doubly-entendre'd name should change it or not complain. Anyone named Dick, actually. Either understand that you're going to be the target of penis jokes or go with Rich, Rick, Richard, Richie, Ritchie, Ricky, Ricardo, Ri-Ri, or any of the myriad other variations on the theme. If you're fine with the jokes, you don't really care, then you're a strong person emotionally. You also have a name that means "penis." You OK with that? Learn to be.

I used to know someone with the last name that was a slang word for prostitute. This person changed it. Smart move! You know how tiresome it must be to be saddled with that name? The jokes, the sniggering, the innuendo? It sucks but you get one shot at life. Them's the breaks. You can either shake your fist at society for decades, or go down to City Hall, fill out a form, and be done with it. Easy-peasy.

It sounds harsh, but what if your name was Lil Johnson? Mike Hocklicker? Barney Crapo? Harry Butts? Maya Balz? Zowie Bowie? Adolf Hitler Campbell? Tits McGee? City Hall is your friend. Go there and they'll sort it out for a few minutes of paperwork and a small fee. Don't worry about not carrying on the proud and noble Balz family name. It's not proud and noble. It's Balz. As in testicles. If the word "balls" suddenly stops being known to millions of English-speaking people the world over as another word for testicles, fine. Go be a Balz. Until then, when I hear Balz, I think testicles and I'm not wrong.

The English language evolves -- and as with any evolution, sometimes traits become unnecessary, rendered vestigial or even harmful. That's life. Look at this street name that used to be in England: Butt Hole Road. "Butt Hole Road is believed to have been named after a communal water butt that was originally in the area." Dandy -- now it means anus. It used to be something else, and English evolved to the point where it's now the hilarious opening where your body excretes solid waste. They complained and changed it. I think that's marvelous. Why be stuck on Butt Hole Road if you don't have to be? This is what separates human beings from lower forms of life. Celebrate it!

If you do take my advice and change your asinine name to something that can't be joked about, you must be aware that sometimes names don't seem awful at first but they can be. Let's say your name seems perfectly unfunny (Theresa Watley, let's say) but you work in an office where your computer username is rendered as "twatley." This is now a problem. Talk to an IT manager in this case.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Write-By-Numbers: "Golden Goose"

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Welcome to the second in a rare but nevertheless plodding-along series of blog posts where I give away, for free, awful short story or novel ideas I've had -- yes, I give these ideas away 100% free of charge to you, the reader, to write them as you will, and I'll even throw in the basic outline for the low, low price of only 4 easy payments of $49.95. But if you call in the next 10 minutes, I'll knock off one payment so it's just 3 easy payments of $49.95. But wait! There's more! I'll even throw in the first idea absolutely free. If you don't like the second idea, you can return it for a full refund at any time ... but keep the first one as my special gift to you.

This idea is a fairly recent one, as I woke up one morning around 2:30 a.m. last month having dreamed about a man who suddenly developed the power to shit money.

I got no further than that. I could sense on some subtle emotional level that a book about a man who shits money wasn't the sort of idea that would lead to a rich vein of wealth, praise, artistic freedom, book tours, &c., &c. My guess: the constant descriptions of shitting money would be a stumbling block.

But maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps in these troubled economic times, shitting money is just what people want out of their literary entertainment.

So what say we brainstorm this one together?

1. There's a man living somewhere in an average mid-sized city in America at a regular work-a-day job. Let's say he's in construction. Ooo! Ooo! You know what? He's in plumbing.

2. OK, so this plumber supports a family and lives your standard lower-middle-class life, aiming for bourgeoisity but not quite attaining it. He's got a wife with dreams of one day seeing a ballet that isn't on PBS, a kid is still in diapers pooping himself (foreshadowing) who Mr. Plumber would like one day to go to a decent college and work in an office and make lots of money shifting paperwork from one end of a desk to another.

3. One day without any warning or reason, Mr. Plumber goes to the bathroom to do his regular No. 2s, the way you do -- and right away the reader is going to know there's something different going on here. Because usually fiction writers leave this stuff out. Much the same way they don't make characters speak the way real people speak, including for example they cut out the "ums" and "you know, likes" and other related verbal stalling. Writers never bother to include bathroom breaks by characters unless it's integral to the story. Like, Melville didn't show Captain Ahab squatting over a bucket on the Pequod, breeches laying around his leg and stump, examining his nails or staring at a ball of dust in the corner while he relieves himself, because taking a shit on a boat was the one aspect of whaling life Melville figured was unnecessary and perhaps better left unexamined given their steady diet of warm beer and whale meat. So right away when you show Mr. Plumber unbuckling his Wranglers and sitting down for a shit, the reader is clued in. They are trained by previous experiences with storytelling to know Something Is Different. They will think, "Hold on a second. Characters don't shit in stories unless something good happens. Something good must be about to happen." Which it does, because as Mr. Plumber stands up to clean himself off, he notices there's money down in there. Mixed in. When he fishes the bills out and rinses them off in the sink, he counts $167, to be exact.

4. Come to think of it, this could be very Gabriel Garcia Marquezzy. Forget this America business. America doesn't sell. Nobody in the literary world is interested in what average Americans are like. Mr. Plumber is Señor Plumber. I'm pretty sure this whole story takes place in a village somewhere in a fictional magical realist Latin American country not unlike a mixture of Chile, Cuba, and Atlantis.

5. But he's still a plumber. The most famous, most talented plumber in all the land, who is bringing -- hold on, this is getting good -- bringing modernity to this backward village of magically realist Latin American villagers by tearing down their outhouses and selling them flush toilets. We're locked in. You can't tell this kind of story without involving "modernity" somehow.

6. Being able to shit money has obvious benefits. This is the part of the story where everything looks good for our characters. The plumber's wife and baby are becoming fat and happy and entitled. They're able to buy nice things and become big-shots in their village. Luckily for Señor Plumber's family, the exotic Latin American food in his fictional country doesn't quite agree with him. Thanks to this, he soon becomes even wealthier than he would have if he'd just been peddling his toilets from hovel to hovel. However, coins are difficult for his system to deal with, and hard to get really clean.

7. One day, Señor Plumber is settling down in his now opulent bathroom for his usual 3-hour after-breakfast session at the commode, forcing himself through circular breathing and patience to expel as much baksheesh as he can. As he does, he notices something curious (yes, more curious than a man shitting money). He gets up, wipes, and instinctively reaches into the toilet water as usual. Except this time, he hasn't shitted out pesos or whatever fictional currency used in his land. It's deutschemarks.

8. The plumber tries to shit money again after a particularly spicy lunch, but again no dice. He shits out 3,480 drachmas. They don't take drachmas anywhere! This is wherever-the-hell they are, not pre-European Union Greece! There's nowhere to exchange this currency! Again and in increasing desperation, the plumber withdraws to the facilities, and Señor Plumber keeps coming up with nothing. Bupkes. British pounds sterling. Malaysian ringgits. Indian rupees. He fishes them out of the water, rinses them in the sink, and hangs them on the clothesline anyway, just in case, but he is growing worried.

9. From here it just gets more absurd, and while the stress is not good for Señor Plumber's bowels and therefore should be good for his wallet, he just isn't producing money the way he used to. The plumber begins to shit obscure Arabian currencies belonging to countries that haven't existed for centuries. Confederate States of America greenbacks. Roman coinage. Spanish doubloons. Beads and feathers of the kind once traded by the American Indians. He shits out a long furry thing that after running through the washing machine proves to be a beaver pelt, and, in one cringeworthy paragraph, some stone arrowheads. [Insert more stuff about modernity here.]

10. Señor Plumber, of course, is thrown into poverty because his intestines aren't making money for him anymore, and he's been so busy shitting money that he hasn't sold and installed any toilets to the villagers lately. His wife is disgusted with him, and the constant odor, and has decided to divorce him and take the baby to The Big City where she can pursue a career in some sleazy endeavor and come to a morally unambiguous end (whatever fictional magically realist Gabriel Garcia Marquezzy city that is -- a mixture of Las Vegas, Rio, and Atlantis). The plumber grows lonely and despondent and one day while he's digging a trench to install new flush toilet pipes at the village monastery, he drops to his knees in pain and dies on the spot with a confession to God on his lips. The Franciscan friars are concerned, of course, and several of them carry him off to the doctor, noticing how heavy the plumber is despite his slight build. When they get to the village healer's humble shack, the old doctor presses the plumber's abdomen, his eyes widening with amazement. The doctor slices the plumber open and finds the cause of death -- he's got a 20-pound trapezoidal bar of solid gold lodged diagonally in his colon, engraved with the legend: "PROPERTY OF U.S. TREASURY." This has something to do with American imperialism, but I haven't worked that bit out yet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The compassionate friend; or, "Neglect Your Teeth and They'll Go Away"

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Had a dentist appointment today for a cleaning. I never mind the dentist. Some people are petrified of dentists, but not me. My dental hygienist is fantastic -- her name's Ruth, which is a lovely name for a dental hygienist because it's Hebrew for "compassionate friend." Isn't that nice?

I've been going to Ruth for years, and I always have the same probing questions about dentistry -- but I'm always too afraid to ask. Like, if you go to the dentist and you've got a great mouth with no cavities and very little cleaning to do, how does she feel about this? Is she happy because somebody out there is taking the focus of her chosen profession seriously? Like the way firefighters admire good fire prevention? Or is she secretly upset because there's no challenge? The way some of your more petty mall cops hope there's at least a little shoplifting?

I think she likes the challenge. The first time I went to this particular office, I hadn't been to a dentist in years (no insurance) and Ruth took one look in my mouth and announced that it was going to take a while. She sweated over my open mouth for over an hour, scraping and poking and spritzing, puffing out her cheeks in exasperation from behind a surgical mask, and when she was done I remember her being exhausted but energized, as if she'd spent the day chopping wood. Every so often she likes to remind me of that day. "You're pretty good this time," she'll say. "Not like that first time you came in." And she'll smile.

Ever since then, I've never had to sit in the waiting room. I can waltz in 15 minutes late. And I often do. The receptionists know me by name as soon as I walk in, and if I'm late they just wag their finger and chuckle and say, "Oh, Dan!" Seriously. I'm like a king over there.

Another question I always have about the dentist: What would they do if I refused to open my mouth? How long would they try to cajole me into opening my mouth before giving up and demanding politely that I get the hell out? Not that I'm about to do that -- I just wonder how Ruth and the other hygienists would handle it. It's all part of my bottomless curiosity about how mentally abnormal people function in the world. Like, how many times in a hygienist's career does that happen: a grown adult sits in the chair and keeps his lips pressed shut, shaking his head over and over, going, "Mm-mmm! Mm-mmm!" Does that ever happen, or is that just in movies?

I wonder a lot about what would happen if someone went nuts in a socially inappropriate situation -- what if I gathered up snowballs outside the CVS and tried to start a friendly fight with the cashiers? Or tried to pay for stamps with an equally priced package of beef? Little things amuse me.

Ruth is pretty good about not trying to engage me in small talk. Instead, she does all the talking -- monologuing, which I suppose must be a skill you have to perfect at hygienist school. She once told me about a neighbor who was keeping a rooster for some reason. I can't recall why at the moment, but there you go.

Today, I'd started out the cleaning session by warning her that an icky spot on the inside of my lip was not a cold sore, but that I'd merely slammed a car door into my own face a few days earlier, long story -- actually not that long a story because that's pretty much the gist of it. Ruth countered, telling me was taking down a large pine bough wreath from Christmas, and she leaned toward the wreath to grab it, and she got a twig in the left eye. I said, "Gaaaaaah!" even around the mirror and fingers and sickle probe. But, she added, somehow she had no idea she'd been stuck with a pine-needle twig in the eye until later when her husband noticed she had one regular eye and one red one. That's some bad-ass pain management, and precisely the kind of story you want to hear while you're lying on your back with a lamp shining in your face and sharp metal instruments feeling around the hinge of your jaw.

The actual cleaning bit went well, with the usual mix of drool and sharp pain, and a single tear rolled down the side of my face. My favorite part of any cleaning is always when Ruth is scraping my teeth with a probe, then it suddenly stops as if caught on some kind of outcropping -- then there's an awful stone-on-stone snap, and she starts scraping again. What the hell is chipping off? It sounds enormous, and I probably don't want to know what it is.

After that, I had an x-ray taken. I was tempted to ask Ruth for a copy of it -- "Can I post that on my blog?" -- but I didn't when I realized how dorky that sounded. I figured I'd just blog about it instead. That's not dorky at all.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Overheard Assholes: "Push"

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"What are you pushing me forward for? Go back!"

-- sullen-looking mom in a wheelchair
at Target, to the pre-teen boy helping her
and filling her cart with heavy groceries
(all she had was a broken foot
and it was one of those wheelchairs you can operate yourself)

Monday, February 02, 2009


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I keep getting tagged in the "25 things" Internet meme that's being passed around, like a cute catchphrase or the flu. You're supposed to write a list detailing 25 things that no one knows about you, then publish the list -- making said list obsolete because now people know all these things about you. Thus, another pop culture phenomenon eats itself. Hooray!

Coming up with 25 things about me that no one else knows is more difficult than it sounds. I don't keep secrets. Even if I did, I wouldn't write them here, thank you very much. So I'm ignoring that bit. Some people may know some of these things. Some people may know others. The point is, these are little-known facts about me, 25 of them, and I'll try to veer as far away from self-indulgence as I can. M'kay?

1. When I wear a watch, I wear the watch face on the inside of my wrist. I picked this up from my maternal grandfather, who used to wear his watch the same way. I remember seeing it done that way when I was a kid, and it seemed like a fine thing to do at the time. Besides, it's much more comfortable.

2. Nevertheless: when I mime "looking at my watch" for someone, I look at the outside of my wrist. It's just easier than explaining #1.

3. My grandfather, by the way, was probably one of the last people on the planet still sniffing snuff regularly. He bought his snuff in rectangular foil-wrapped packages that looked like little sticks of butter. The snuff was transferred to a brown glass bottle he carried in his pocket. When he needed a sniff, he'd tap out a little brown pile into his palm, fine like cinnamon. He'd pinch some in his brown stained fingers, poke it into his nostril, and take a quick snoot. I have never used snuff but at one time it also seemed like a fine thing to do.

4. In my office we have a coffee machine that I don't use, because the coffee it makes is shit. It uses packets, not loose grounds. While some of those kinds of machines can make good coffee, this isn't one of them. Anyway. On top of the coffee machine, we keep stacks of paper cups in which to drink the shit coffee. Whenever I walk by the machine, I check to see if the stacks of cups are evenly distributed in height. If not, I make them even.

5. I have been caught doing #4 every single time. I can't imagine what people think I'm doing.

6. As I said, the coffee that comes out of that maker is shit. There are people who drink it regularly. Either they don't know what a cup of decent coffee tastes like, or they don't care. I feel bad for them either way. They work hard and deserve good coffee.

7. I won't swim under any circumstances. No, I'm not interested in learning. No, I don't feel like I'm missing out.

8. Some asshole I used to know once told me I "murdered my future children" because I refuse to learn how to swim. That's one of the shittiest, needlessly mean things anyone's ever said to me. He thought he was being helpful. What a cock.

9. If I could get away with it and not be considered mentally unstable, I'd buy 7 copies of the same outfit and not bother picking out new clothes every day. I don't kid myself that I'm "expressing myself" when I pick out what to wear on any given day. I wear what's clean and in my closet. I'm OK with it.

10. Speaking of clothes, I think the fashion industry is pointless and elitist. I'm not talking about average people who like to make clothes. I mean The Fashion Industry. The one in New York and Paris and L.A. The industry where pompous frauds create ridiculous non-clothes and then fawn all over themselves or tear each other down according to their own arcane rules. Yes, I saw "The Devil Wears Prada." I saw Meryl Streep's little monologue about how a ridiculous-looking scrap of fabric that someone calls "a dress" gets filtered through various channels, becoming tamer, more mainstream, until a barely-if-at-all-related dress that The Little People will wear finally makes its way down into mass-market stores. It's like "trickle-down economics," except with apparel and just as elitist. I call bullshit. Sorry. I realize you may not agree. It's not just the fashion industry -- I hate any elitism in any art form -- but that's just the most egregious example I can think of right now.

11. I get about two haircuts a year. I don't get haircuts more often because, while my barber is a fantastic guy -- my cousin, in fact -- I hate having to spend 35 minutes sitting in the chair making conversation. I'll gladly talk with him over a beer any other time, but it's too awkward when my hair's wet and there's snippings all over my face and lips and he's got razor-sharp metal around my ears, throat, and eyes. I just want to sit in the chair, have him cut my hair quickly and in total silence, and then let me up. We can make chit-chat afterward.

12. Oh, and when he holds the mirror to show me the back of my head, I always say, "That's great," even though I can't tell what the hell's going on over there.

13. I only spent a few weeks or months in kindergarten, then was moved to first grade because I'd been reading by age 2. The only things I remember from kindergarten: (1) toilets in the classroom, (2) nap time during which we had to put our heads on the table and sleep, except I was never tired so I stared at the blinds, (3) a creepy puppet named P. Mooney.

14. It was only 2008 when I finally got up the nerve to Google "P. Mooney." You know what? That fucking puppet is still creepy.

15. When I was in first grade -- I must've been about 5 years old -- I got in trouble for writing "FUCK" on my desk. I've been swearing ever since.

16. I don't understand why some people don't swear. They're just words. Besides, it's fun and relieves stress! Try it!

17. Things that make me stressed that might not make other people stressed: being submerged in water, traveling, being in high places, insects -- actually any animal with antennae -- and using the phone. I hate using the phone.

18. I'm a kid, maybe 6 or 7. The phone rings, I answer it. A man with a brusque voice doesn't give his name and asks for Tony. My dad's name is Tony, but he's not home, and I say so. The guy on the other end of the phone says, "You tell him: 'Tony's in trouble.' Got that?" I don't say anything. He says, louder: "Hear me? Tony's in trouble! OK?" Then the guy hangs up. I run to my mom who was folding laundry and I tell her about it and start crying because I think someone's going to find my dad and kill him. She says it's probably one of his friends playing a joke. I think she was right, because my dad came home just fine and didn't seem to know who that could've been. To this day, I have no idea what it was about.

19. I love airports. The stores, the gates, the crap restaurants and bars, hundreds of rows of seats, convenience stores and shops that sell T-shirts and tacky tchotchkes and national newspapers and every kind of magazine. The only place I feel comfortable eating a Toblerone is in an airport. All the luggage and the variety of people -- it's fascinating. Everyone is surrounded by technology: speakers referring you to electronic boards updated second-by-second from radar and x-rays and giant whirring conveyor belts and steel and glass structures and those machines that flatten pennies into oval souvenirs and people dressed for travel with their gaze locked to their laptops or Blackberries and TV screens everywhere streaming live cable news. I love the fucking airport. I love layovers. If the airport weren't so difficult to get to, I'd go there just to hang out.

20. I'm also fascinated by places where there are no people and no technology. Most of these places tend to be in the polar regions, which is why I'm fascinated by the polar regions, like Antarctica. I'd love to visit, because it's the closest I'm ever going to get to being on another planet. Alert, Nunavut, Canada is the northern-most permanently inhabited place on Earth. There are five sorry son-of-a-bitches living there. Five. Enough for doubles-dominoes while the other poor fucker reads a magazine. What the hell is life like there? What was life like before now? Do they ever get sick of each other? Barrow, Alaska. Look at the Google Map satellite view of that place. Jesus. It looks like a hunk of bad cheese. How did human beings ever evolve to live in a place like that? People living off nothing in the middle of the desert. Why don't they move?

View Larger Map

21. Scenario: Somebody says I'm being sent to a remote desert island and I get one variety of vegetable to eat for the rest of my life, and that's it. They'll fly it out to me, or maybe there's already a lifetime supply on the island. I've got my choices narrowed down to either yellow bell peppers or okra.

22. I suck at gardening and I'm fine with that.

23. I used to spend hours at a time shooting pool on a hand-made, regulation-size pool table built by a tenant of my dad's, up in the attic. Real slate top covered in cheap felt with pennies glued to the rails as markers. I was pretty good at it but I haven't played in ages, because the only pool tables where I live are located in beaten-up dive bars that I don't want to go into. The second I get the money, I'm putting a pool table in my house. Being a professional pool player used to sound like the best way to make a living. It still does.

24. If I hadn't skipped kindergarten, as described in #13, I shudder to think what the hell my life would be like. I wouldn't have met any of the people I knew then, which led to me meeting other people later on, which led to me meeting the people I know now. I wouldn't have gone to the same schools. I probably wouldn't have gone into the career I did. I'm having an entirely different life than I might have had, and the one I might've had seems fucking awful. When I think about everything that's happened in 32 years, all I see is something a lot like natural selection: a series of precarious coincidences leading to a creature that has evolved to fit perfectly in its surroundings.

25. Got it. Yellow peppers, definitely.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Self-improvement, tentatively pencilled in for the next 12 months

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Before moving on to 2009, I think it would be constructive and enlightening to cast a brief look back at 2008, recapping some of the highlights of the year that was.

2008 sucked. Just -- ugh. Fucking awful.

OK! So here are my New Year's resolutions for 2009, off the top of my head:

- Write more often here. Someday, and it's probably going to be sooner than we can imagine, a nerd somewhere in America is going to invent a device that you implant in your brain which sends your every waking thought to your online social network. You think about cheese, and boom -- the brain chip updates your Facebook status to say "Dan is ... thinking about cheese." You have a fleeting idea that maybe "Mad Men" is overrated, and instantly your brain uploads a 500-word post to your blog. We're already 95 percent of the way there (I'm looking at you, Twitter). Until then, though, I'll have to have actual thoughts and type them out. I'm going to attempt to do that more often, is all I'm saying.

- Write shorter blog posts. Because how much misplaced outrage and yammering on about beer can people stomach? Speaking of which:

- Drink more beer. I'm not saying, "Get plastered," because I hate plasterization. I mean sampling some new beers I've never tried before. I've scouted the packy up the street from me, and it appears their selection of beers may hold my interest for a while. On a related note, my wife and I should probably do a wine-tasting sometime in 2009, because we're now in our early 30s, and people in their early 30s must attend wine-tastings.

- Read more. Essentially, I read for a living. So when I'm at home, I don't do as much reading as I once did. I have a stack of novels and collections and nonfiction books I have yet to crack open and which are mocking me. I've had Underworld by Don DeLillo bowing my bookshelf for years, unread. I had a grand notion once that I'd tackle the U.S.A. trilogy by Dos Passos, and instead The 42nd Parallel sat for months on a side table in the living room, the cover curling from being in steam heat, then summer humidity, then steam heat again. Mason & Dixon by Pynchon. Books on skepticism by Joe Nickell and Michael Shermer. An essay collection by David Foster Wallace. Sensing a pattern, that maybe I'm trying too hard? Maybe I should start with something small and easy -- one of those books with big thick pages, about bunnies or ducklings with a bit of fluffy fabric built into the cover.

- Write more. I have a master's degree in creative writing. I should use it, as opposed to being a moron.

- Go to finishing school to relearn basic table manners. I have noticed over the past year that my eating habits are atrocious -- specifically, how I eat. Because of my dumb work schedule, most of my meals are eaten alone and hastily. So when I do eat around other people, I always make a mess because I've gone so long without caring. I spill soy sauce all over the table when my wife and I are at sushi restaurants. Something always falls off my fork onto the table. I get stains on my shirts and on the crotches of my pants. I'll bite into something like a vegetable or a piece of chicken, and a chunk of the remaining bit will hang out of my mouth for a second and then drop off. I knock restaurant tables with my knees and send the napkins flying. I'll overestimate the sharpness of my front teeth and realize halfway through a piece of beef that I can't bite through. My latest thing: seems like every meal, I'll attempt the impossible by chewing and breathing simultaneously, shooting a morsel of food into my windpipe. I'll flail my arms, coughing and sputtering and clattering the silverware and turning purple while my wife waits to see if it's serious enough to put her spoon down. Then somehow I work my alimentary canal in such a way that I dislodge it and gasp for air like a landed fish. Every goddam meal, this. I used to eat politely -- you know, like a human being not raised by wolves. Got to improve that.

One of these resolutions is screwed already -- another long blog post. What a start.
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