Archive for April 2011
By Jay Walker
NEW YORK, April 30 – Responding to a decades-long trend in newspaper marketing, the New York Times announced today that as of June 30 it would change its classic broadsheet layout to tabloid format. The decision follows months of studies commissioned by the Times management and comparisons with the fates of other newspapers in both the broadsheet and tabloid formats.
Long associated with higher-quality journalism, the broadsheet format has fallen out of favor with purchasers of newspapers over the last thirty years. Although tabloid newspapers have suffered declining sales during the same period, the tabloid format has proved somewhat more resilient, as it remains more conducive to compelling or dramatic photos and headlines that help attract readers.
Although the impending switch took some industry analysts by surprise, many print media experts saw the newsprint on the walls ages ago, says Harold Perlmutter, Associate Professor of Media at George Mason University. “The Times took the revolutionary step – at least by its own conservative standards – and introduced color photography to its front page in the 1990′s,” he said, “but in recent years even the stodgy folks at the Times realized that they needed a wholesale makeover, not some cosmetic touch-ups here and there.”
The announcement garnered mixed reactions among media consumers. According to a CBS poll, 48% of respondents expected the change not to affect sales to any significant degree, while 38% expressed excitement at seeing the paper of record feature front-page headlines such as, “Guv: Feds Too Nosy” and “Cops Nab Pair in Mob Hit”. The other 14% expressed no opinion on the matter. The poll’s margin of error was four percentage points.
Alison Morgan, 38, of New Hyde Park, NY, has had a subscription to the NY Times for seven years, and welcomes the change. “I know it’s supposed to be the best paper and all, but I just can’t wade through everything I need to in the little time I have. It’s great to know the Times will now be on the same level as the Daily News and the New York Post.”
Others are not so keen on the switch. Maureen Baker, 52, of Brooklyn Heights, plans to cancel her subscription once the change takes effect. “I can’t believe they’re selling out,” she said.
Beyond the announcement itself in a press release today, the Times has remained unusually silent on the matter. The press release said, in its entirety, “As of June 30, 2011, The New York Times will switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, in keeping with worldwide trends in print journalism. We anticipate that the change will attract new readers, and we will work to retain our current demanding readership by demonstrating that the format of the paper will not affect the kwality of the publication they have come to expect.”
Please note that I provide this information only because you seem to need it so desperately. This is not an exhaustive list, mind you. You may contribute little puffs of inspiration of your own should you feel so moved.
When a Fart Is an Inappropriate Response
1. “Would you like a side dish with that?”
2. “What’s your name, soldier?!”
3. “…and let us say, ‘Amen’.”
4. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
5. “License and registration, please.”
6. “You have my deepest condolences.”
7. “…and do you, George, take this woman to be your lawful, wedded wife?”
8. “…and the Oscar goes to…”
10. “On your marks…get set…go!”
11. “Now be very careful as I light the blowtorch.”
12. “What a lovely dress.”
13. “Sleep tight, dear.”
14. “Let us relax and feel the energy flowing through us…take a deeeep breath through your nose…”
15. “Everyone say, ‘Cheese’!”
Driver’s Ed vs. Actual Driving
What they taught you in driver’s ed
How you drove for about a day and a half following the test
The way you actually drive now
|Keep your hands in the 10:00 and 2:00 positions.||Hold the steering wheel any which way you feel comfortable.||Grip the steering wheel with the pinky and ring fingers of your left hand, using the other fingers of your left hand to hold your mobile device and text with it; use your right hand to adjust the car stereo, A/C, etc.|
|Come to a complete stop at a stop sign.||Slow to a crawl at a stop sign, making sure no one else is coming from the other streets, and proceed.||Reduce your speed a token amount, but barrel through the intersection if you could see it was clear from way back.|
|Do not put the car in gear until everyone is safely strapped in.||Fasten your seatbelt as soon as you get onto the main road, or when you see a cop.||Seatbelts are for people who aren’t confident enough in their driving ability.|
|Parallel parking must be accomplished in one smooth motion, without touching the curb or other cars.||Parallel parking can be achieved any old way, as long as the car isn’t sticking out into the street or up on the sidewalk too egregiously, and contact with other cars is minimal.||They’re called “bumpers” for a reason, dude.|
|If the traffic signal turns yellow as you approach it, stop.||If the traffic signal turns yellow and you can probably make it through before the red at your current speed, go ahead.||If the traffic signal turns yellow, speed up to get through before it turns red. Even if it does, the drivers from the other directions won’t start moving right away anyway, so you can even go through the first few seconds of red.|
|Scan the rear view and side mirrors every few seconds to monitor the changing conditions around you.||Use the mirrors primarily for changing lanes or reversing, but occasionally to check out whether someone is following you, or if kids are misbehaving back there.||You don’t need mirrors at all. Just turn around to see things for yourself. If you’re backing up, make sure to put your right arm behind the head rest of the passenger seat.|
|Pedestrians at crosswalks have the right of way.||Pedestrians who manage to make eye contact with you at crosswalks might be allowed safe passage.||Pedestrians should jaywalk like real men.|
I thought I could not care less about the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Whatsername. Then an article in today’s NY Times made me realize that in some small way I do care, if indirectly. The article discussed, with no sense of irony or existential shame, how watching the wedding on TV will serve to bridge a generational divide as parents and children bond over the event.
Although I could not bring myself to read the article – my gag reflex did its job – I realized that I could care less – that there was a little bit of caring I still had in me: I care that our society has degraded to the point that the marriage of a person famous for nothing at all other than being born to other people famous for nothing at all, etc., can so captivate an international audience. I care that people in general feel such a lack in their own lives that they must latch onto the lives of celebrities for vicarious excitement. Why do you give a damn one way or the other what Kate’s dress looks like? Does it change your existence in any way? Would not knowing be unspeakable? So why do you waste time reading about it, discussing it and possibly imitating it? What is WRONG with you people?
Serious journalism should not involve Kate Middleton’s dress. The roster of people involved in discussing Kate Middleton’s dress should be: the designer, the craftspeople, Ms. Middleton herself, and possibly William, if he cares enough. Really, that’s it. The dress is an accessory. It will be worn once, featured in photographs of the day, and should then be either left to rot or donated to a dress bank for indigent brides. Or a costume shop. But otherwise reputable news organizations have teams of journalists covering this thing, as if it deserves even a fraction of the attention of the developing Syrian crisis.
I appreciate the little-girl princess fantasy. I, personally, have one daughter and three sons, so the princessing is kept to a minimum; but I do have two nieces whose mother is much more inclined than my wife is to indulge those fantasies. That’s what this whole hullabaloo amounts to, after all: an adult princess fantasy. And that’s just the problem: the idiots yammering away about every last glamorous detail of this party have not matured past the point of the princess fantasy. News flash: that point should have passed at about age twelve, and if you are male, age four.
“But that’s what our audience wants to read about,” protest these news organizations, citing market pressures. Market pressures, my foot. Your audience, as a rule, doesn’t give a fig about border skirmishes between Thailand and Cambodia, but there it is, smack dab among the headlines. Make up your mind, then, and don’t pretend to engage in genuine journalism while peddling hyperbolic nonsense. The Public Interest does not mean, “what the public is interested in seeing,” but, “what the public would be interested in knowing if they knew what was good for them.”
From here, it looks like the public needs a swift kick in the pants.
Summer must be coming, but this realization has little to do with the ambient temperature. I can get all the calendar information I need without even clicking around to find a weather report. All I have to do is sit here, minding my own business, and the unmistakable sounds and sights of the changing seasons come my way from the neighbors across the street. Summer’s approach can be divined from the increasing frequency of their stereo on full blast in their front yard.
I have written before of their taste in music. Far be it from me to judge the aesthetic merits of this brand of ethnic pop. Raised on a diet of classical music where my parents could help it, and the top-forty hits of the eighties and nineties where they could not, I can hardly lay claim to real knowledge of what makes a good Middle Eastern song good. I do, however, possess clear opinions on the matter, so at risk of alienating the neighbors, who can’t read much English anyway, I shall tell you exactly what makes a good Middle Eastern song good: brevity. Preferably, such brevity as to render the thing nonexistent.
I don’t mind the beats. I don’t mind the words, which are no more insipid or uninspired than your run-of-the-mill Britney Spears number. I don’t mind the intervals or instruments, which even Mozart and the Beatles relished in their own ways.
I do mind the incessant whining. Nothing renders a mediocre song bad more effectively than a vocalist sounding like he’s trying to shove the microphone through his nose from the inside. Yet the neighbors love it. They can’t get enough, to the point that they’ll have a single wretched song on repeat for hours at a time. At least I think it’s on repeat. The song goes on and on as it is, with the repetition introducing nothing new, nothing different from the previous fourteen times the guy sang the refrain.
I’d keep my objections to myself, being the non-confrontational sort much of the time, but then, if they kept their music to themselves I’d not be inclined to object in the first place. I enjoy my music collection as fervently as the next fellow (albeit with decreasing resources to do so, as our stereo system no longer likes half the media we try to insert into it), but for some reason I feel no desire to share it with the neighborhood, despite the manifest bodaciousness of Brahms and The Who. And I do like sharing: we all but run a hostel in our home; we love sharing our good food; we give generously, if irregularly, to local charitable causes. So it must be more than generosity of spirit that impels these folks to favor us all with ear-splitting whining to what might be called a tune.
Another indication of summer that these neighbors provide involves the need for body armor. I exaggerate slightly, as the projectiles hurled from their side of the fence seldom threaten life or limb, unless we’re talking old floor tiles, or perhaps glass bottles. The darling child of our dear neighbors thinks it’s a hoot to engage in emptying the yard of accumulated debris, and more of a hoot to do so by making said debris airborne in the process. It’s a good thing our car’s paint is peeling, or we’d never park it in front of our house. When summer comes, and the tyke attends neither school nor camp, he is left to his own devices. He has some entertaining devices, such as a video game system, and, obviously, a stereo, but the attraction of those items pales in comparison with the simple rush to be had by chucking fruit, trash, rocks, sticks or raw eggs over the wall.
It used to be one could tell the changing of the seasons by looking outside. But thanks to modern technology – such as the amplifier – I no longer need to do so.
Moses, I’ve reviewed your list of proposed plagues to visit upon the Egyptians. While I can appreciate a good ironic twist as much as the next omnipotent, infinite being, I think I need to step in here and edit your work. I shall explain presently.
For the first plague, you suggested traffic jams. I wholeheartedly agree with the upheaval such an occurrence would cause, but I did make clear earlier that we’re looking for something a bit more manifestly miraculous. I’m going to override this one and call for all the Egyptians’ water turning to blood.
Your second recommendation has the Egyptian network going down for a week. This would indeed cripple the Egyptian economy, if the Egyptian economy were that of three and a half thousand years from now. I do wish you would pay more attention to anachronisms, Moses. I understand that your unparalleled clarity of prophetic vision grants you amazing insights into future developments, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Frogs, Moses. Write that down.
Lice, we can keep, but it needn’t be mutant alien brain-snatching lice. Though I do admit that for a moment I considered putting something radioactive in there. We’ll have to save that for later in history, I suppose.
For the fourth plague you couldn’t decide between wild beasts and swarms of insects. I understand your ambivalence, Moses, so how about the following: we use an ambiguous term that could mean either one, and leave it to scholars in future generations to debate which one it was.
Because we need to introduce some actual death into the equation at this point – even if only that of some animals – I’m going to veto your proposed plague of lawyers and instead ordain some pestilence. Not to worry, Moses, the lawyers will have plenty of other civilizations to wreck.
As for number six, I must say I appreciate your creativity: an epidemic of paper cuts, exacerbated by rains of lemon juice. However, lemons won’t reach this part of the world for some time, and the Egyptians have barely gotten the hang of papyrus so far, so let’s just go with boils.
Now, number seven: the land gets overrun by hordes of insufferable New England Patriots fans. It is indeed horrifying, but unfortunately, the intended effect will be completely lost on the Egyptians, so let’s keep this one in reserve for when some future society needs to be taken down a peg or two. Let’s go with hail. Bodacious hail, I might add: fire inside the ice. Why, thank you; it is pretty neat, yes.
Your next suggestion had me scratching my metaphorical head, Moses: the seventies return with a vengeance. While even I can’t think of many situations more disturbing or disorienting, again, we’re not talking about a society that would know the difference. Pharaoh and company would feel right at home in the garish getup and cosmetics, so we need to rework this one. If you’d said that an ear-splitting disco party breaks out, I could work with that, but the Egyptians might not distinguish between that and a plain old earthquake. Write down locusts, please.
For the penultimate plague, you propose a really bad acid trip. I see where you’re coming from – we’ve already had non-burning burning bushes and sticks-cum-snakes swallowing other sticks-cum-snakes – but I think we should go to the opposite extreme: not too much for the brain to comprehend, but utter lack of visual input. Let’s have utter darkness for a few days. Oh, and warn the Israelites that the Egyptians are going to be too scared to go relieve themselves outside, so things might get unsanitary.
Almost done. We just need to finalize the last plague. I see you’re torn between a non-stop, inescapable Jerry Lewis movie marathon and an orchestra of demons playing twenty-first-century avant-garde music at deafening volume. We needn’t be that vicious, Moses. Let’s tone down the suffering a bit and just make it the death of all Egyptian firstborns.
OK, that’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss whether the Hebrews should daub blood on the doorposts and lintels, or use it for anti-Egyptian graffiti.
Once more, the increasingly desperate Mightier than the Pen invites outside morons to contribute to its rapidly depleting arsenal of wit. In today’s edition, we shall explore what happens when one takes the title of a well-known literary work and uses its final word or words to overlap with a familiar phrase. Then one provides the revised premise or plot. A couple of provisos: the word that overlaps must be identical in the title and phrase; no added apostrophes or plural forms where the word does not appear thus in the title. If this explanation is too complex for you, we invite you to avail yourself of the myriad word-find puzzles available at the nearest supermarket checkout lane.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator Music: It’s no wonder that Willy fellow went a little wonky.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Seconds: I think we have a labeling problem, sir. Is this supposed to be called Fudge Nipple?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Will: It’s no secret that Will sides with Snape on this one.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, AZ: The better to stay out of the way of he-who-must-not-be-allowed-into-the-retirement-community.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Temple Pilots: I don’t know about you, but I always preferred the Weird Sisters anyway.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and the Pauper: Voldemort’s minions summon their lord by pressing the Dark Mark Twain.
Charlotte’s Web 2.0: At the click of a mouse, you can…hey, why is my trackball sticking?
Stuart Little Women: Jeez, talk about a cheesy novel of mousy little characters.
Tom Thumb a Ride: Considering how dangerously difficult it is for drivers to see even regular-sized humans at the side of the road, this looks like it will be one, uh, short story.
Oliver Twist ‘n’ Shout: In which our hero, Ferris Bueller, insinuates his way into a funeral procession and dances atop the coffin in a rousing series of classical numbers.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being John Malkovich: In the end, Nietzsche was right, and it’s worse than you think: the infinitely recurring cycle of existence resets every fifteen minutes. Then it leaves you in a ditch along the New Jersey Turnpike.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Malfunction: Okay, so the White Witch isn’t exactly a good allegory for Janet Jackson, but hey, if you scratch deep enough you’ll uncover some Biblical motifs, including punishment in the Timberlake of Fire.
The Grapes of Wrath of Khan: Set phasers on Boring, men!
Twelfth Night of the Living Dead: In which the iambic pentameter uses the actual disembodied legs of the characters.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream the Impossible Dream: What the Puck was Cervantes thinking?
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chicken: What, you expect a man named Gibbon to write about humans?
James and the Giant Peach Fuzz: Giant, English-speaking insects. Cloud-people. Fruit transported by seagull. Are we sure this is appropriate for such an immature audience?
The Old Man and the Sea Sickness: That just about describes most people’s experience on cruises off the coast of Cuba, yes.
The Pearl Onion: What happens to root vegetables when they seek status beyond their station in the lowest refrigerator drawer?
War and Peace Process: Wait, which Nobel Prize are we discussing here?
The Turn of the Screw You: Henry James settles the literary debate by making this one explicitly about a poltergeist.
The Princess and the Pea Shooter: If you want to prove yourself worthy of marriage to this prince, you’d better have good aim.
Sleeping Beauty Is Only Skin Deep: Just about summing up every Disney princess ever imagined.
Through the Looking Glass Menagerie: I always thought Tennessee Williams ate a few too many magic mushrooms…
The Princess Bride of Frankenstein: You dismembered my father-in-law. Prepare to die.
The Idiot Proof: The better the human, the more people will screw him over. QED.
Twelve Angry Men in Tights: Well, wouldn’t YOU be?
The Scene: It is Saturday morning. Thag and Miggtha remain in bed as their children scurry about the house.
Miggtha: Shouldn’t we get up?
Thag: Of course we should. That doesn’t mean we will.
Miggtha: What was that noise?
Thag: The plunk? Probably something getting thrown downstairs. A piece of Kid K’nex, I think.
Migghta: Are you sure? It sounded more like a Matchbox-type car.
Thag: No, that wouldn’t have sounded so much like plastic. The little cars aren’t one solid piece, so you can hear the vibrating of the wheels or whatever. It’s just a different quality of sound.
Miggtha: And that one?
Thag: LEGO. You can tell by the telltale secondary tinkling sounds. The little guy must have dropped an assembled structure down there, not just individual blocks. Wonder why the other kids don’t seem to mind that he’s ruining it?
Migghta: Okay, that one was definitely not LEGO. It sounded like wood.
Thag: I dunno. I thought all the wooden blocks were already downstairs.
Miggtha: Must be the Jenga. You hear the way all the pieces sound the same as they bounce?
Thag: Yeah, you’re probably righ – what was that?!
Migghta: Sounds like something hit the garbage can downstairs. Stuffed animal?
Thag: Maybe, but that was pretty loud for a plush bear. And it wasn’t a Tinker Toy.
Miggtha: No, that was a Tinker Toy. Or a handful of them.
Thag: I’m glad we’ve learned to distinguish between Tinker Toys and LEGO blocks.
Migghta: Oooh. If I hear right, I think he’s managed to squeeze a whole bag of marbles through the railing.
Thag: Are you sure it’s marbles? Could be Ralph’s pebble collection. Oh, Lord. Not again.
Miggtha: Wonderful. If I had to guess, I’d say we’re down another sippy cup. Literally.
Thag: Oh, brother. What’s it now, three in the space of four weeks?
Migghta: Something like that. So, are you gonna get out of bed and stop the madness, or let him keep finding things to toss down until there’s nothing left up here but the furniture?
Thag: What, you don’t find this guessing game entertaining?
Miggtha: It’s a blast. But you’re cleaning up afterwards. I told you to get out of bed.
Thag: No you didn’t. You asked me if I was going to do something about it. I said no. Why should I be the one?
Migghta: Because I said so. Now go stop him from throwing more things down, and see whether you can see a puddle from up here. If not, you can come back to bed.
Thag: Thank you so much.
I should apologize. I know that the (consults fingers of one hand, counting silently) several of you screaming, diehard fans of this blog have been positively apopleptic with bewildered rage at my seeming disappearance from the online realm. Fear not, dear idiots, for I had noble and good reasons for taking a well-deserved break. I didn’t use them, though; I just vegged out with a few good books and had the same tired old arguments with my wife and kids.
This might not suit the more demanding reader, I know. Sometimes one gets so attached to, so dependent on, a source of mirth that one cannot fathom functioning in its absence. To which I say: get a grip, loser. You view this blog as a source of mirth? Good grief. Someone needs to call a humor detector repair dude, and pronto. Mirth, indeed. Sounds like a Teutonic god of bad breath or something (little known historical fact I just made up: Richard Wagner had such halitosis that he was known as the Teutonic god of bad breath).
I do suppose a bit of updating is in order, in light of the lack of new posts in recent days. Or at least such updating would be in order if there were anything new to report. But after a brief foray into the bowels of the news media (it’s dark in there), I can safely say that little has changed: the Mets suck, Libya is a steaming pile of unrest, the US State Department favors a tougher stance toward Israel, Donald Trump is a blithering egomaniac, and the emerging roster of 2012 Republican presidential candidates looks about as inspiring as a bowl of spoiled banana pudding.
The things that have changed are not likely to garner notice, nor are they likely to be worth noticing: we managed to keep the house clean for almost two hours the other day, a new record; our middle son exhibited his ability to use a barf bag properly today (as well as to prompt his older brother to offer to show the contents to everyone); and we ‘re running out of the hard-to-find laundry detergent that we favor. These are the momentous tidings you have been lacking.
I would promise to reestablish my pattern of daily posts, but nobody likes empty threats. So you’ll have to settle for the few bones I throw your way. My aim is terrible, you should know; I’m more likely to hit that old lady over there, and she’ll probably blame you, so be prepared.
It’s very tricky trying to convince everyone you’ve got an invisible companion. That’s why I only do it at restaurants.
It started out as a way to justify eating much more than I should; I’d order for two, explaining that my date would be along later. As the meal progressed, I’d switch plates as subtly as possible, as if my partner had already finished eating while I played catch-up. Naturally, this would arouse the suspicions of the staff and other patrons, as no one ever showed up, but all the food disappeared. So I hit upon the idea of acting as if someone else were already there.
For the charade to succeed, I quickly realized, I could not explain that my companion was invisible; people would see right through that one. No, I had to treat my nonexistent dining buddy as fully present, and even get all hurt when someone implied otherwise. This makes surreptitious switching of dishes more difficult to accomplish, since for some reason my ploy tends to attract people’s attention.
But why should they care? I pay for all the food that comes to my table and tip accordingly. And frankly, I appreciate the distance that other diners keep from my table when they see what’s going on. We can use the privacy, Linda and I.
Why, yes, I gave her a name. I had to. You can’t pretend to eat with someone and be completely silent the whole time. So we talk, of course. About sports. About politics, About the menu, naturally, and about family, but not about work. I’m still unemployed, after all. Only I can hear what she says, but boy, is she funny! I laugh quite often, and the consequent emptying of the premises is icing on the cake.
But many proprietors do not tolerate invisible people. Linda and I have been asked not to return to many, many restaurants. That stings doubly, because there are many fine places we would like to patronize again, and because few people accept Linda as possessing human value. I seem to be the only person to whom she can talk, as if she depends on me for her existence.
It can get burdensome, naturally, and I occasionally wish I could just give up the whole thing, but then what would Linda do? No one else could order the broccoli-chocolate truffles she likes me to eat for her. We’re kind of stuck together now.
Oh, yes, I do cook at home occasionally, but having Linda over there would be awkward; my wife would never understand. And I would get so confused, trying to keep track of conversation with two other pretend people. Well, that’s not exactly right; my wife isn’t pretend, she’s just not my wife anymore, not after I refused to stop dining out with Linda and not her. But I can pretend she’s still there, and that makes both of us happy. At least me and the pretend her, if not the not-pretend her. You follow?
It’s too bad, because my wife would have liked Linda. I know my pretend wife likes her, and I always have to think of good excuses why I never introduce them to each other; all that coming up with justifications is enough to tax my imagination, you know?
So I’ve been at this a while, and I figured, hey, this is working well for me socially, so why not pursue vocational fulfillment using the same technique? I started this blog, and I can create legions of adoring fans at will! If you’re reading this, you’re a figment of my imagination, one of hundreds of thousands of imagined devoted readers. You’re probably one of the ones with the tendency to share my posts on Facebook, too.
Of course you will. You owe your existence to me. Show some love for Daddy, now.
Why yes, I am supposed to cleaning the living room, not putting down roots in front of the computer. Why do you ask?
Oh, please. It’s not like the kids won’t trash the place within ten minutes of coming downstairs tomorrow. Wouldn’t all that hard work just be a waste of time and effort? At least in front of the computer I waste only time. I have to save up my effort for the important tasks, such as dragging my expanding butt out of this chair and upstairs to bed.
I used to have a butt that stayed more or less the same size most of the time, but recently, a kind spouse whose relationship to me shall remain undivulged pointed out that the pleats on the back of my trousers were no longer pleats. This was news to me not because I don’t generally look at my butt (I have other people to do such things for me), but because I was unaware that my trousers had pleats in the back. In fact, until that moment, I couldn’t have told you with true confidence whether those trousers had pleats in the front, either (I have other other people to look at my lap region).
It could be that the trousers in question are simply showing their age (as opposed to mine). They’re made by Bugle Boy, a company that went belly-up (hah!) in 2001, which should give you some idea. I tend to wear my clothes beyond wearability. The Timberland boots that got me through winter after winter from 2001 ceased to keep the water out in about 2006. I finally replaced them in the summer of 2010. My undershirts resemble Swiss cheese, and that’s just the way they look; the way they smell cannot be easily captured with mere words. I’ve worn the same light hand-me-down jacket during spring and fall since who knows when, and I keep wearing it despite the stained, frayed cuffs and moody zipper.
So you’ll have to find a more convincing argument than fitness (or fitting) to get me to move my butt and clean the living room. And doing both at once is out of the question. Not to mention hazardous. You want the kids to come downstairs in the morning to find their father collapsed in a heap with a strained butt?
OK, don’t answer that question.
I have this tidbit of astounding news, dear child, and it may shock you, so prepare yourself. This might just change the way you view everything.
The rules your parents set apply even when they are not looking.
I realize this statement flies in the face of your behavior for the last several years. In fact you had reached the point that not only were you disregarding the rules when you thought they weren’t paying attention; you even began to test whether the rules applied while they were looking. Well, those days are over. You can adopt this new perspective now.
It may take some getting used to, as do most earth-shattering revelations. Recall, if you will, the acclimation period when you first discovered that your parents could magically tell when you had actually showered, and when you had merely spent time in the bathroom making faces in the mirror for half an hour. After the initial disbelief wore off, you quickly adapted to the fact that it’s much easier to just shower, as you were told to do, than to evade that task.
Or when you had to confront the fact that your parents and teachers possess the capacity to communicate with each other, thus rendering awareness of your classroom shenanigans accessible to Mom and Dad. You shaped up in a hurry. The current reassessment of circumstances calls for a similar response.
As a corollary to this novel (to you, at least) principle, you should know that if you feel you must whisper something to keep Mom or Dad from hearing, that something should be left unsaid. This holds doubly when what you wish to communicate to your little brother is a suggestion for him to engage in some misbehavior that you know better than to do yourself, but hey, at least you can get the vicarious pleasure of having him engage in it. Not so. You will, in fact, face the consequences of making that suggestion, whether you intended the escapade vicariously, or as a crafty way of getting a rival sibling in trouble.
I am sorry to inform you that this means making clever comments about your little brother’s burping at the dinner table is out of the question. The same obtains vis-à-vis an under-the-table tickle attack from a sibling who has been instructed to remain seated and finish eating, as well as trying to engage said sibling in conversation or play while he has yet to complete his homework.
So go forth, young man, and behave. It doesn’t matter, really, whether Big Brother is watching.
I don’t know if you’re as troubled as I am about this, but it seems Justin Timberlake has not been in the headlines enough recently. At least I think that’s whom I mean. I always confuse him with Brad Pitt. Or what’s his name, the guy from that one movie. With the horses.
Listen, I know you’ve had your hands full with developments in the lives of Charlie Sheen and Prince William, but I’m sure the two of them will live happily ever after together no matter what. This Timberlake fellow, however, needs your attention to survive. I’m sure of that. Relatively. I could mean Al Pacino, or Senator Barbara Boxer. Isn’t that an awesome name? Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Is she still a senator? What about Henry Cabot Lodge? If you see him, relay my regards from my college course in WWI-era American foreign policy. He might not remember me, because that was way back in 1996. Also, Lodge was already dead. Unlike Justin Timberlake. I think.
Yeah, he’s seen better days. Everyone recalls the “wardrobe malfunction” with Tina Turner. Wait, Janet Jackson? Wil Wheaton? Somebody who was big back in the 80′s. Maybe it was Max Headroom. But still, don’t you think Mr. Timberlake deserves more from us? Assuming that’s who it is.
I know I sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s nothing new, you should know; I’ve lots of practice, ever since all those studies came out about a college education not really making a difference in a person’s potential employment. I figure I can wangle a job as a politician, all of whom seem to do what I do fairly well and get power, money and fame as a result. Or maybe that’s meteorologists. Except for the power part. Or the money. Or fame. I do remember Mr. G., or whatever his name was. Is he still around?
I know Justin Timberlake is still around. I just haven’t heard his name in a while. And I know he hasn’t become a meteorologist; that would have been earth-shattering news, more urgent that the nuclear stuff in Japan and the emerging quagmire in Libya. Or maybe it’s Yemen. Did Goldstone find that Timberlake intentionally targeted Bahraini civilians? Probably not. Meteorologists don’t tend to hit their targets anyway.
OK, so there was that escaped cobra in the Bronx Zoo; I understand that sometimes the media’s attention is required elsewhere for a few moments. But Justin Timberlake has had a Twitter feed like, forever, unlike that upstart reptile, who probably doesn’t do his own tweets. Well, to be fair, Timberlake probably doesn’t either, but I’m not in a position to know. You think maybe Timberlake was doing the tweeting for the snake? That would be cool.
Yeah, I think the media dropped the ball on this one. As far as I can tell. Maybe it wasn’t the media at all, but a cabal of corrupt Russian oligarchs intent on controlling the weather. Damn, we could use a good meteorologist. Anybody know one?
It came to pass on the first day of the grade of two, when Enuff, son of Thag, ruler of Krumph, and Nkkkh, daughter of Thag, awoke from their slumber. And the day was warm, and the bed sheet of Enuff did reek with fresh urine, for Enuff, though nigh upon six years of age, had yet to master the task of getting out of the bed in the middle of the night.
And Enuff said unto Nkkkh, “Let us go now to the pantry, where there be wafers and pretzels for us to pilfer.” And the matter found favor in the eyes of Nkkkh; but Ralph, the firstborn, followed them to the pantry, and they did not know that Ralph had followed them. And lo, they beheld the pantry contained not the pretzels and the wafers, for Thag and his wife Miggtha had stowed the junk food in a place the children would not seek, for such a conspiracy had been hatched before, if thou catchest our drift.
And Ralph, the firstborn, said unto Enuff and Nkkkh, “Is this not the thing I have said to you? For lo, many morrows hast thou striven to take from the pantry the wafers and the pretzels and the chocolate. Didst thou think that our father and mother would notice not?” And Enuff and Nkkkh did turn around in shock, and they could not face Ralph, for they were ashamed.
And Ralph said unto his brother and sister, “Fear not, for I shall not bring report of your deeds to our father or mother. Let us go now and adorn the walls of the stairwell with graffiti.” And the matter found favor in the eyes of Enuff and Nkkkh, and they went to procure markers and crayons with which to adorn the walls. But find them they could not, for Thag and Miggtha had foreseen that in the wee hours of the morrow, when decent humans doth still sleep, the children would hasten to apply colors that were not white to the white walls. For Thag and Miggtha were truly wise, and they walked in the ways of the upright, and tolerated not the shenanigans that thou, as a parent, do countenance. For thou art complacent and lazy, whereas Thag and Miggtha all but personify good parenting. But we doth digress.
And Nkkkh, the youngest, said unto Ralph and Enuff, “Let us use the new markers that our mother and father did buy for school.” The matter found favor in the eyes of Ralph and Enuff, and they opened the markers so carefully packed the night before. Enuff and Nkkkh did doodle on the walls by the steps: Nkkkh drew black balloons all along the steps, and Enuff drew black geometric shapes upon the wall on the second landing. Ralph did not partake of the graffiti project, for he did wish to avoid the wrath of Thag and Miggtha.
And when it came to pass that Thag arose from bed and did descend, he cried a great and bitter cry. And there was no dessert in the land of Krumph on that day.
My eldest son collects tea envelopes. He’ll sidle up to anyone and everyone making or serving tea, and request the wrapper from the bag. All well and good; it sure beats a collecting hobby that costs actual money. Such a hobby got me in serious trouble when I was a teenager – it was baseball cards in my case – but we’ll save that story for another time.
This afternoon the family took a walk to the open-air market, with an eye toward getting dinner at one of the local pasta places. Our oldest went slightly ahead of us, pushing the toddler in the stroller. He rounded a corner, and we followed just in time to see him chuck a piece of trash onto the roof of a nearby car.
He thought it was a tea wrapper, lying on the ground, he explained; when it turned out to be some other piece of garbage, he tried to toss it down again, only it landed elsewhere (it was windy). We repeated the oft-revisited admonition that garbage on the ground, once picked up, becomes the property of the person who picked it up; dropping it again is littering. So he went to retrieve the wrapper. And then we saw what it really was.
Our son was absolutely correct: it was not the wrapper from a tea bag. Tea bags, as far as I know, are never made of latex. Nor do tea bag envelopes have little latex items stuffed back into them after use. We watched with a mixture of horror and suppressed laughter as our son asked what it was. My wife demurred; I offered some vague pharmacy-related comment. In any case, the clearly used latex fell out of the wrapper again and flew away. And then, when our son dutifully tried to get the package into a nearby dumpster, the wind took it, depositing it once again on the ground, out of the boy’s view.
Part of me is wondering what the user was thinking. The rest of me wants to beat that part of me up for introducing the subject.
Since you’ve been tense lately about finding ways to make everyone around you uncomfortable, I decided to offer a few helpful suggestions that might provide some solutions.
You’ve been focused so intently on calibrating your body odor just so, and to marvelous effect, but we both know that as powerful a tool as it is, BO sometimes falls short in the antisocial arena. Most westerners have gotten used to the idea that people shower everyday, sometimes more than once, but you won’t always find yourself among westerners. All that bacteria poop will be just another scent in the jungle of human interactions.
So you also need to work on body language, menacing or horribly inappropriate speech, and behavioral techniques that can make the difference between being like the wino in the subway car, relatively easy to ignore, and the in-your-face, spittle-emitting train platform evangelist accosting every single passer by, exhorting him or her to accept Jesus as Lord and savior, or perhaps to buy a time share – it doesn’t really matter what you’re peddling; the key is to engender such revulsion that otherwise happy people question their faith in humanity.
So let’s start with body language. The biggest, most important rule is to violate people’s personal space. Not once, or fleetingly, but repeatedly, for extended, agonizing moments that make people tense their muscles and pull their shoulders close to their torsos. The synergy you create when you’ve got BO or halitosis and then get into people’s faces cannot be overstated.
Twitches help, too. Not little tics that can be endearing, or even conversation starters; you want to aim for grotesque moves that evoke epilepsy. If you can work in a rude gesture or sound while you’re at it, more power to you. You might also find that faking a limp or a nonfunctional body part serves well in this role. Drooling, especially, ups the cringe quotient quite a bit. You can get creative here; you don’t need to rely on me for ideas.
As far as verbal techniques are concerned, you want to develop the right blend of menacing tones and threatening words, though the latter need not be explicit. You can simply wax wistful about the ineffable appeal of using human entrails in household décor, or imply that whoever so much as makes you feel unwelcome is liable to find a few fingers and toes missing. Naturally, certain topics lend themselves to this: scatology and other bodily functions, especially in a culinary context; bizarre sexual proclivities; too-realistic-to-be-fake accounts of stalking people. Here, as well, you probably don’t need me to give you ideas.
Regarding behavior, you want to stay on the closer side of the line that separates the merely revolting from the downright illegal, lest you find yourself in a holding cell with individuals much more practiced in these fields. So keep your hands off, and do not direct your gestures toward anyone in particular, but dry-hump that piece of exercise equipment like nobody’s business. Bark at postal workers doing their rounds. Sit atop fire hydrants with an uncomfortable look on your face. Shave only one side of your face – the one opposite the half of your scalp that you’ve shaved. Pretend to eat other people’s boogers, culled from the undersides of public bus seats. Excuse me, I just threw up a little in my mouth.
Which means we’re on the right track. Go forth now, and make the world an excruciatingly awkward place.
Hello, Mrs. Dawkins. This is George Dowd, of Fundamentalist Web Nanny. I’m calling about little Richard.
Oh, no, Mrs. Dawkins, it’s not what you think at all, but it is serious. Please understand this has nothing to do with what is euphemistically called “mature” web content. Also, please understand that we seldom contact our clients by phone. This is a matter of some urgency, so please hear me out.
As you know already, we provide weekly reports of your computer’s internet browser usage. I just made sure that in fact our reports have been sent to you in timely fashion. Have you been receiving them, Mrs. Dawkins? Good, good. Have you been reviewing them? Good. Now, I must ask: what have you been doing with the information?
It’s a simple question, Mrs. Dawkins. I’m sure you know that pornographic or violent content is not the only threat to a child’s emotional well-being – any person’s well-being, actually. But those are hardly the only kinds of content that can corrupt a developing personality. It is here that our concern lies, Mrs. Dawkins; we believe you have been glossing over this other kind of content once you have ascertained that nothing violent or inappropriately sexual comes up in the reports.
I’ll illustrate with an example from this week’s report: an extended visit to the Wikipedia entry for dinosaurs. Do you have any idea what kind of dangerous content lies there, Mrs. Dawkins? The entry maintains that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, and we all know that the world cannot be older than approximately six thousand years; that’s clear from the Bible. Richard will get entirely the wrong idea, and begin to question tenets we all hold dear. In no time at all, Richard will be casting aside dearly held beliefs and traditions, even blaming those beliefs for society’s ills! Please be vigilant, Mrs. Dawkins.
Yes, it can come as quite a shock, I know; but we must continue. Last week’s report was but the latest in a trend when it comes to visits to sites offering recipes for vegans. Does Richard eat animal products at home, Mrs. Dawkins? Mm hmm. Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian? No? Well, now you do. Just some food for thought.
You might also have missed some visits to You Tube to see clips of Disney animated films. Be wary, Mrs. Dawkins: these films carry subversive, subliminal messages that will corrupt our youth. They should stick with inspiring, squeaky-clean Bible stories. What’s that? No, not the one about Sodom and Gomorrah; no, not the one about Jacob’s daughter; no, not the one about Elisha and the bears mauling the kids; no, not the one about Jesus making a fig tree wither for not having figs when it wasn’t fig season; no, not the parts about wiping out all the Canaanites and their women and children. Please, Mrs. Dawkins. I’m sure you can find suitable stories to share with Richard. Let us move on to the last part.
It seems Richard has been visiting sites that do not reflexively blame 9/11 on our society’s decaying morals. Yes, of course it was perpetrated by adherents of an inherently violent religion, but we have always tried to see the hand of God in current events – there’s nothing like the appearance of the Virgin Mary in refrigerator mold to restore a person’s faith! – and we must always wonder whether sin has some role in those tragic events. Mrs. Dawkins, we must not let Richard get the wrong idea about the world. Complexity and nuance are not something a child can handle very well. We must simplify things for him by making it clear that America was asking for 9/11 because America did not do enough to guard against insidious influences: homosexuality; illegal immigrants; removing prayer from schools; deleting “under God” from our pledge of allegiance; the teaching of evil-lution in schools; the grim list goes on.
Thank you for your attention, Mrs. Dawkins. I’m sure this conversation will bear fruit. Why, yes, of course it was an apple in Eden. What else could it be?
1. Slides are like one-way streets, insofar as going up one is asking to be whacked by an oncoming child. Do not go up the chute of a slide unless you know for certain that no one else is there.
2. Even if you know for certain that no one else is there, blame no one but yourself is someone really is there, and crashes into you.
3. The proper reaction to slamming into a passerby as you swing on the swing is to descend from the swing, apologize, and ascertain whether the victim requires assistance. Continuing to swing as if nothing has happened marks you as a class A jerk.
4. If the victim of your swing happens to be a small child, and you are not a small child, the depth and extent of your empathy must increase exponentially.
5. Sand remains on the ground. It is not to be kicked, thrown, sprinkled or otherwise made to leave the ground, except to place in buckets for eventual return to its place.
6. People who leave broken glass in the sandbox will suffer beheading. With a spoon.
7. Small children have priority on the playground equipment. This includes swings, slides, springy rides, tunnels, seesaws and carousels. If you are over the age of 10, find something to do more in keeping with your age, such as setting off stink bombs in trash cans.
8. It makes no difference that your little Fifi would never bite. Keep little Fifi, big Fido, or any other canine on a leash and out of the playground. Children could not care less whether or not little Fifi bites; children will be terrified even if your dog completely lacks teeth. Keep your canine away and well restrained.
9. The fact that feral cats treat the sandbox as a convenient toilet does not give you the same right.
10. The speed of the carousel is limited to the tolerance of its most sensitive occupant.
11. If you must smoke, do it where the assembled children will not be exposed to your noxious fumes.
12. If you drop food in the sand, pick it up and dispose of it properly. “Properly” does not mean burying it more thoroughly.
13. Swing occupancy is limited to five (5) minutes when others are waiting to swing. Even if you really, really like swinging. Even if it’s your favorite playground activity. Even if you’re really good at it (aren’t you special?). Even if you pretend you don’t know all those people crowded around are waiting to use the swings, and not admiring your prowess. Oh, and we can see your underwear.